The Trouble with Fixers

(a lost boys story)

by shapcano


"Working fer a fixer?" The light reflected from the Dwarf’s silver eye covers flashed as his chromed hand stroked his chin. "Sure. Me an Hamon worked fer a lot a fixers, kid. Some ya could count on fer da straight skinny on a job, but dey’d lie like rugs on da opposition. Some would give ya da bear bones minimum and treat ya like a moron if ya asked fer clarification. Some just figure yer da meat, an it’s obvious dat yer livin through the job is entirely up to you. Every once in a while, ya find one who takes a personal stake in ya succeeding. Dey’re da ones ya wanna work fer. Ya got support, added info, a pipeline ta other resources- Fixers who got dat kinda rep gets da pick a shadows in a town cause everybody wants ta work fer dem."

The young ork decker absorbed and considered the Dwarf’s words. "But, Lug," he asked, "Isn’t Felix one of the last kind of fixers? Seems to me dat he’s got a killer rep. Hires da prime talent, pays top dollar and I hear he almost never loses a runner."

"Yeah, Felix is one a da prime fixers in da plex, but ya gotta watch how much a da hype ya swallow, Mouse. Nobody has a perfect record fer protectin runners. Felix is one a da best, but nobody’s guaranteed ta come back from a run. And, uh...Felix is a female."

"Really?!" the ork responded incredulously. "I thought.....uh, I guess...I didn’t think. I just assumed. But, Lug, my question still stands, why is it we never take jobs from a fixer. Doesn’t Felix think we’re good enough?"

"Well, it definitely ain’t dat. I’m pretty sure she’s tried a bunch a times ta get da team workin for her, its just dat Sensei ain’t havin none a dat."

"But why not?" Mouse asked with some confusion. "Dere’s been a couple a times even I can think of where a fixer, a good fixer like Felix, coulda got us equipment or data or reinforcements. Why doesn’t Owen take advantage of dat resource? "

After several minutes of silent consideration, the dwarf sighed and set aside the ammo bin through which he had been sorting. "Lemme tell ya a story about me an Hamon, kid. Maybe it’ll make it a little clearer."

"It was about 5 years ago," the dwarf began, "Hamon and me had worked together fer a while an were startin ta put together a decent rep as some muscle dat could be relied on. We’d never been big on wet work but we weren’t bashful about doin whatever da job required, if ya know what I mean. Raj, he’s a ork fixer, had been around fer a lot longer dan us and even though he had a very high rating in da community, was not one a dese slots dat operates long distance, ya know. He had some major contacts and a pretty heavy rep, but he had people’s confidence because he left his hoop out where irate runners could confront him if a run got hosed and a pal got cacked. Dis was seen as very stand-up and made runners more anxious ta work for him.

"Now, he puts out word dat he’s lookin fer muscle fer a job. He’s got magic, matrix and transport covered, but he needs some muscle and a demo man fer dis job. When he puts out word dat he wants ta contact us, naturally, me and Hamon jump at da chance ta hook up wit such an arctic chummer.

"We meet, an pretty soon it’s clear dat he’s done a lotta homework on us, even ta back before we started partnerin. I’m thinkin, ‘if he knows so much about us, why is he goin ta all the trouble of a face ta face sit down’ when all of a sudden it hits me dat dis meetin is for us. It’s so we can see him, look inta his background, ya know, like dat.

"See, dere’s fixers dat just set up meetins between da Johnson and da runner. Dey get a kinda finders fee and den dey’re outta da loop. Dere’s others dat get da job and den become da Johnson, and Raj was one a dose."

Seeing the look of confusion on the young ork’s face, Lug explained. "Mr. Johnson says, ‘Hey, I don’t know the shadows well enough and I don’t want ta have any involvement in what gets done. Here’s a pile of creds and here’s da assignment. Let me know when it’s all over.’ Well, a fixer for dis kind a job takes the money, hires whoever he needs for the work and gets the job done. If more money or some other resources are needed, the fixer supplies them because he only gets ta keep da creds if da job is successful. Advantage is, a fixer has a rep to maintain and if he cuts corners it’ll come back to haunt him. Disadvantage a dis set up is dat when ya ask for additional support, yer basically eatin da fixer’s profits, so some of ‘em screech like scalded cats if ya ask fer more dough."

"Anyway, Raj lets us meet him and gives us some time ta do some legwork on his rep. He den calls together all of us at a bar called Ryan's."


A rainy-gray Tuesday afternoon. The pair of street samurai climbing out of the ubiquitous beat-up, monkey-shit brown Nissan jackrabbit were a study in contrasts. The norm was handsome and well built. A body builder’s physique which caught the eye only after one had focused on the crossed katana hilts jutting up from behind each broad shoulder. When magically ascensed, which he was by Chordun the mage as soon as he entered the bar, no cyberware was detectable. Much of the muscle, nerves, bone and skin was, however, of different ages, indicating extensive bioware modification. Known in the parlance of the shadows as a "vat job", the silent figure carried a virtual arsenal beneath his armored long coat.

The figure beside him was a hard faced Dwarf. The silver eye covers and mechanical hand bespoke a lack of both subtlety and pretense. This was someone displaying the tools of his illegal trade with a straightforwardness that was simultaneously honest and challenging. The Dwarf’s entire attitude bespoke a no-nonsense, no-apologies display that was aggressive in its forthrightness. While his arsenal was also covered by an armored longcoat, the open garment did less to conceal the stocky figures’ firepower.

As they entered the bar, the pair received the nod of an 8ft tall troll. The 12lb. sledge carried casually in one hand was noticeable only after one tore one’s eyes from the bloody froth which seemed to drip from the giant’s steel capped tusks. Having visited Ryan’s before, both samurai knew that although Sally "The Polish Hammer" Putsky used the stage blood and sledge for intimidation, the huge metahuman had no hesitation about doing permanent damage to any and all who endangered her livelihood by making trouble in her place of employment. Signifying their respect for the rules of the house the pair made their way towards the table in the back.

Arranged around the table were a motley crew of individuals. Chordun the mage, a norm male, was tall and gangly. His spiked hair, currently in a shade of green, was long enough to give his head the look of the planet’s first orbital satellite, sputnik. The featureless, reflective full face mask that the mage wore did nothing to disrupt this image. Sitting to his right was an elf with a cocky sneer on his face and cold, calculating green eyes. The elf affected the "Todd" look currently in vogue. His head was shaved but his mustache was dyed neon red while his goatee was bright purple. The huge number of rings perforated one ear looked like grenade pull pins and completed Drake’s stylish statement.

To the elf’s immediate right was Raj the ork. Dressed well enough to pass for a corper without wearing a neon "victim" sign in this neighborhood was a challenge, but Raj pulled it off effortlessly. His long dark hair, pulled over in a roman Gladiator’s top knot, along with the way he carried himself, told those who needed to know that this was not a soft wageslave out for an evening of slumming but a professional who was not to be trifled with.

The figure to Raj’s right was as strange looking as his confederates. In some misguided tribute to a figure from history, the dwarf had affected the mittle European, straight black hair and abbreviated black mustache of the previous century’s leader of the third Reich. The chrome jack at Adolf’s temple was the only anachronistic element of the dwarf decker’s mimicry. To Adolf’s immediate right was a norm whose acne scarred face wore a singularly vacuous look, due to both her completely slack facial muscles and her pupiless gray cybereyes. The MOTORHEAD logo tattooed on the thin norm woman’s forehead, combined with the multiple plugs in the shaved right side of her skull identified her as the rigger of the team that Raj was assembling for this job.

After introducing everyone Raj got down to cases. "The job is straightforward. There is a corp, we’ll call it A. A has...arranged for a group, like yourselves, to appropriate a prototype developed by another corp, we’ll call it S. Corp S would very much like to have their prototype back. You are being hired to retrieve it. Since the people that A hired have not yet handed off the item, retrieving S’s property before A gets it is the best solution." That Raj neglected to mention he had brokered the original ‘appropriation’ is perhaps understandable in light of the dim view that the shadow community normally takes of fixers who arrange runs against their own teams. In fact, were it not for some incredibly sensitive material from his past the Shiawase had threatened to release on him, Raj himself would not have entertained the notion of such betrayal. As it was, however, Raj found himself in the unenviable position of needing to tracelessly retrieve the prototype (eliminating his original team) and return it to it’s nominal owners while simultaneously inducing Aztechnology to sanction with extreme prejudice the team he was currently employing, thereby removing another link between him and this ill fated job. As he saw it, a clean sweep was the only way to salvage his reputation in the shadows while forestalling Shiawase’s blackmail. The rub was, of course, that team two had to be good enough to take out team one but not good enough to survive the assignment.

"Your opposite numbers were...uh..damaged when they appropriated the item. Kali, a tiger shaman had much of her left side ripped up by explosives. Her arm and foot are currently missing in action. Dobbs, a troll sam caught several rounds, but I don’t know if the injuries have even slowed him down. Their decker, Billy Dietz is dead and their rigger, a slot named Speedy Gonzales had a machine link shot out while he was rigging." Noting the first sign of consciousness from Motorhead, a grimace and shudder, Raj continued, "I don’t pretend to understand what that has done to him, but I surmise it’s harmful. This is the good news. The bad news is that Mr. Clean and Sgt. Fury were providing muscle for the group and both of them are still functioning." All eyes swung to Lug and Hamon. Clean and Fury were legendary for their abilities as razors. The joke with Mr. Clean was that it was easier to kill him with water than bullets as he had titanium laced most bones and covered his body with a metallic dermal sheath. He might drown or rust, but he wasn’t going to fall to some handgun. The joke with Sgt. Fury was that he wasn't really alive to begin with, but unplugging his batteries was a job for a battalion. Fury was ex-military and in place of a left arm had a high speed tri-barrel assault rifle. His fleshless metal skull with it’s sharpened steel teeth were rumored to have been modeled on the ancient vid Terminator. The difficulties his looks created in most social settings was only equaled by the terror they inspired in battle.

"A little Plas-ex, properly applied will take care of ‘em." Drake’s nasal voice brashly asserted. "A little c-12 suppository will end those worries."

"Provided you can get them to hold still long enough to apply it," Raj said after briefly rolling his eyes. "Their co-operation in the implantation is, of course, problematic." The ork said dismissively. "However, the odds of successfully completing this mission are significantly increased should that pair drop out of the equation. Your pay for the mission remains as I previously discussed with each of you. The prototype to be retrieved is a featureless Silicon cube of approximately 1 cubic foot. Don’t damage it" he said with a hard look at Drake, "The address where your opponents were last seen is 187 Aaran way, you each have your own stock of equipment for the assignment and should you need to contact me, my number is on the card." Hamon and Lug shared a brief look at the fact that the fixer was giving each team member a business card. "If there are no questions I hope to see all of you in 24 hours at this location with the cube. Good Luck"

Raj’s departure was the signal for contention to begin. Adolf and Drake, each assuming the mantle of authority, began loudly disagreeing with each other. Where Chordun’s silence was lent an air of sphinx-like disinterest by his reflective facade, Motorhead’s, accompanied as it was, by her slack features and singularly vacuous look, was more reminiscent of a brain dead coma victim’s. Apparently until connected to a machine the emaciated female’s ability to interact (or even react) was sharply limited. Lug and Hamon, ignoring the contention around them, quietly began planning while reviewing the ammo that each carried in anticipation of dealing with their heavily armored opponents. Between the two samurai there were only four clips of armor piercing armor. Hamon hand signaled that the APDS would have to be conserved and that the rest of the teams abilities would be critical in getting the opposition into a position of vulnerability. Lug nodded, sighed and finally exclaimed "SHADDAP!"

Amid the sudden silence, the Dwarf turned to the mage and asked, "Ya got sleep an invisibility spells?" when the satellite headed mage nodded, Lug said "Good. Drake, ya got any knockout gas?"

"Yeah," responded the elf, "But it would be a damn site more effective ta blow their sorry hoops inta orbit than ta......"

"I didn’t ask ya that." Lug said as he cut the elf off. Turning to the diminutive Hitler impersonator he asked, "Yer da decker, right? Do somethin useful and check da matrix ta find out what ya can about the opposition’s HQ." The slap of a new clip of ammo into his beloved Colt Cobra was casual enough to be a coincidence and deliberate enough to be a threat, depending upon the observer’s level of paranoia. Adolf was paranoid enough to begin unlimbering his deck. "Yo, Motorhead," Lug continued, "You got drones?" After several seconds the words seemed to sink in and the rigger began nodding. The dwarf sam then patiently asked "What kind?"

Again there was a pause before the rigger began spewing technical specifications for the drones under her command. Lug managed to grasp the abbreviations for a rotodrone and a Doberman patrol vehicle before he cut the rigger off. "Ok. The other side is only about 8 blocks from here. We need to keep an eye on them. I want you to keep your drones out of sight but to let us know what they are up to." Without a word the emaciated female rose from the table to carry out her orders. Lug signaled Hamon to follow the rigger, anticipating that the strange woman might carry out her assignment only to lose track of those she was gathering data for.

Seeing that Lug’s partner was departing, Drake made his bid for control of the group. "So who put you in charge, shorty?" he asked with a sneer.

"Hey, ya got a better plan, let’s hear it" the Dwarf shot back, putting the ball back in the elf’s court, "I mean, other than blowing up everything".

Nettled by the fact that his planning did eventually simplify to demolition most of the time, Drake settled back in silence.

Lug then said, "All right. I think me an Hamon got a way of doin dis dat gets us da prize widout us catchin bullets. It'll depend on da location, but if were lucky, were in and out like a duck mating. If were not lucky, you" he said, pointing at Chordun "gotta neutralize the tiger shaman and you" he said with a nod at Drake, "Have gotta have enough boom-boom for Clean, Fury and Dobbs. Just cause Raj is countin him out, doesn't mean we can. Think about what you need to get the job done."


187 Aaran Way was the sort of anomaly in which Realtors delight. Located on an intersection of alleys in the middle of a square block of brownstones, the small, free standing residence had exactly three neighbors. All four homes were the result of an inventive and particularly greedy builder cutting off the back access to the brownstones which faced the street to build additional housing. Each of the four old houses was an old, run down affair, but 187 was particularly ramshackle. The gray-green shutters on the beige-yellow house were tightly closed, but gaps, where the slats had been broken out, abounded. The house lacked any surrounding greenery or decoration and the most generous description of the domicile would involve the word "bleak".

Peering out through one of the broken shutters, Dobbs checked the alley for the hundredth time. "Why don't Raj bring da fraggin Johnson so we c'n get rid a da fraggin cube an end dis fraggin job?" He asked. "It's been a clusterfrag from da getgo an I hate dis sittin aroun drek. I wanna get my creds and get outta here."

"We all do, you stupid trog." Mr. Clean muttered under his breath. He glanced over at Sgt. Fury who was cleaning his grenade gun one handed and snorted at the bare metal skull's lack of expression. I hope that stupid son of a slitch doesn't need that weapon in a hurry. He thought. He'll have a hell of a time putting that back together under fire. As he looked around at the team he shook his head in disgust. We got the job done but Deetzy is dead, Speedy's twitchin like he sittin on a joy buzzer and Kali's magic is gonna suffer when she gets some metal to replace the meat she had blown off. Only shiny skull and me made it out ok, though the trog don't seem to inconvenienced by the rounds he caught.

Yawning, the samurai thought, Man, I'm tired. I want this fraggin job over so I can rest. I'd like to lay down right here and....... Whazzat?! Spinning towards the sound while reaching for his pistol it took the sam a moment to realize that the sound had been Kali's body rolling off the couch and onto the floor. He yawned again and bent over to pick the wounded shaman up off the floor only to stumble forward as he too hit the floor, soundly asleep.

*******

Motorhead's voice was oddly sweet as she gave her clipped summary of the situation. "Gassed. Sleeping. Go."

Hamon and Lug exchanged a look in the back of the riggers van as they decoded her responses. Gassed meant that the sleep agent that Drake had supplied had been delivered. The Doberman drone which had approached the house under Chordun's invisibility spell had released a lighter than air agent through the basement window while the rotodrone had pumped the same formula, with an inert binder which made it heavier than air, through a dormer in the attic. Between the doses of gas and Chordun's sleep spell, the occupants of 187 Aaran Way had been rendered unconscious. The "Go" signal was the rigger's way of conveying that the time was right for the team to move.

While Motorhead and Chordun remained in the cramped quarters of the van, Motorhead to direct her drones and the magic user to rest, Lug, Hamon, Drake and Adolf entered the house. Moving quickly but carefully they avoided the trip wires on the stairs, and Drake demonstrated the utility of his jewelry by using three of his ear loops to safe the grenades which were connected to the booby-trap.

"I can always use grenades," he said. When his teammates hissed for silence he smirked, removed his gas mask and said "Why? You think those fraggers are gonna hear us and wake up?" The urgent gestures from te other members of the team were similarly ignored as he said "You think I don't know the know how long my own sleep agent is active? Puh-leeese! It's ok."

Only Adolf reached for his mask as if to remove it, while Lug and Hamon made their way to the room where their opponents slept. Thinking better of trusting the grinning elf who was now juggling the three live hand grenades, the dwarf decker left his mask on as he followed the sams.

********

Having secured the silicon cube neither Lug nor Hamon was particularly interested in butchering the unconscious shadow runners of the other team. Drake, however, argued that it was a heaven sent opportunity and proceeded to place his recently acquired grenades under the bodies of Kali, Dobbs and Gonzalez, retaining his safety pins. Unfortunately the rigger's body continued to shake so badly that Drake abandoned the idea of leaving a live grenade beneath him and moved a second Gren under the troll. Mr. Clean and Sgt. Fury each had plastique packages with mercury switches placed on difficult to reach portions of their unconscious forms. The explosives were set so that anything which moved them out of level once activated would detonate the charge. Estimating the amount of time his victims would be unconscious, Drake also set up a small alarm clock radio with several sticks of old style TNT attached.

"Looks like a time bomb, don't it?" The Elf said in response to Adolf's questioning look. "It is, but I set it so that they'll be awake before it goes off. When they try to defuse it or even move to get away, AMF." The dwarf's questioning look earned him the clarification "Adios, Mother Fragger"

"Why don't ya just put a bullet in 'em?" Adolf asked.

"Because I'm a fraggin artist, man!" The elf responded indignantly. He and the decker hurried to rejoin their team.


Raj was well and truly screwed. No sooner did he start to relax when the comm began chirping. First it was Dan Wackerman calling from Shiawase to remind him of the importance of a timely return of the prototype. After assuring the corper that he was working to solve the problem he hit the disconnect and within seconds another chirp sounded.

"Raj, I'm not happy with you" the silken menace of the female voice was by no means diminished by the "NO VIDEO" message that kept flashing on the screen. Raj immediately recognized Hawkins' tone but knew better than to interrupt Aztechnology's local expediter. "I arrive at your safehouse for transfer of the merchandise to find several of your unconscious agents booby trapped with explosives, no merchandise and no satisfactory explanation for how this came to pass. You wouldn't be, uh, playing games, would you, Raj? It wouldn't be prudent, or even particularly healthy for you to attempt to deceive us, Raj. Not healthy at all."

The fixer's mind raced as he constructed his response. "This is news to me, but you can be sure I'll look into it very closely." He said. "It wouldn't do for ANYONE to cut corners in this business." He felt Hawkins' confusion in the ensuing silence and knew that the accusation in his tone had been just enough. It had suggested to the Aztechnology rep that he was able to take the shocking news in stride because he'd been around the shadows long enough to know that Hawkins own team might have staged an ambush and subsequent discovery as a way of avoiding paying for the prototype they had ordered stolen.

When Hawkins considered that Raj might actually be innocent she gave a fairly detailed account of how her team had found the sleeping shadowrunners and no cube. They had easily disarmed the time bomb and the simple pair of level-triggered Plastique bombs. That was the good news. The bad news was that the grenades beneath Dobbs and Kali had not been detected. The result of attempting to wake the shadowrunners had been predictably loud and messy. Hawkins indignantly described the injuries to her team and her own sartorial splendor by the untidily wet portions of Kali, Speedy Gonzales and Dobbs.

Hawkins, beyond her annoyance at having her ultra chic Jacque Charles Pennoit ensemble ruined by Shadowrunners who lacked the breeding to keep their internal organs internal, wanted detailed reassurances from Raj about his non-involvement in the blown hand-off. After impassioned appeals, cold logic and desperate oaths the fixer had at least temporarily allayed the expediter's suspicions, but the threat of personal violence lingered at the periphery of the remaining conversation like a vengeful wraith.

"So, you're going to put the word on the streets, wakaru mas?" The woman asked. "The runners who relieved your team of the cube have interfered with my employer. They, and the fixer who arranged this, are under death sentence unless the cube is surrendered immediately. You will begin searching the cesspool you wade through daily to find who set this up and who did the job. You will.....explain my displeasure to all the street scum you know and suggest that the rewards for those sharing information on this will be as generous as the fate of the uncooperative will be gruesome...... I expect answers to my questions immediately. Get on it."

Raj had no sooner stepped away from the comm when it began shrilling again. He saw Mr. Clean and Sgt. Fury staring back from the vid screen.

"Raj. We need data, man." Mr. Clean said as he scowled at the screen "Fraggers gassed us and ripped off da cube. Left fragmentation grenades under da trog and Kali. Dey're dead. Speedy too. Sarge and me need data on who did it. Fraggers are gonna be a long time dyin. So's whoever fraggin hired dem."

Sgt. Fury then opened his maw of sharpened steel teeth and a tinny sounding voice said "Data NOW"

"I'm really sorry about the loss of your teammates, gentlemen, but you needn't be concerned." Raj said. "The Johnson who employed you has taken a personal hand........." Trailing off at the steel skulled sam's waggling finger, the fixer found himself staring into the still open steel-rimmed maw of the Sgt. He noted that Mr. Clean was shaking his head and was about to ask why when the tinny voice explained "Personal".

There was an actual squeak of protest when the Razor closed his steel jaws, having said all he needed to. Mr. Clean reiterated his demand. "Name of da team, location, name of fixer, location, name of Johnson, location. Now."


"So we got da package" Lug said, "and nobody got hurt. Chordun, Adolf, even Motorhead liked the idea that we didn't haveta swap bullets ta get da package. Only da elf was pissed about us not hangin around ta watch da fireworks. Dat slot was sick." As the dwarf shook his head at the memory of the bomber, he noted how Mouse was hanging on every word. With an internal smile he continued, "Anyway, we hightailed it ta Chinatown ta hideout till it was time fer us ta meet Raj. It was a great place to lie low. It had been a dojo once, I think, but the place had gone under and Chiang Ku found he could make more money letting hot teams crash there than he could with a martial arts school. It was on the third floor of a building dat ya could only find by goin through this roofed over alley. Once you found it, the stairs ran up the outside of the building and da place had no windows so it was easy ta defend. One way in or out unless ya climbed down through an escape hatch inta Chef Po's Noodle factory."

"Well, everything was lookin good until I notice that fraggin Drake is usin a cell ta talk to somebody. Now I don't know dis slot or what kinda security he's got ta prevent somebody tracin da damned comm unit, so I'm pissed enough to go off, but before I can begin screamin, Hamon asks who he called. Drake tries ta bluff it out, but eventually he admits he's called da fixer ta tell him that we done da job and dat he's da only one wit any scalps cause he left da bombs. As if dat ain't bad enough, da stupid slot tole where we wuz hiddin out." Noting the young decker's look of confusion at why the dwarf would be so concerned about a team member contacting the fixer and revealing the team's whereabouts, Lug held up his flesh and blood hand and explained "Operational security, kid. Raj was specific. Get da cube, meet him in 24 hours at Ryan's, collect da rest a da pay for da job. Simple. Callin a fixer wit updates, braggin about how good ya tink ya are, tellin him where yer hidin, none a dat is very smart, specially if yer employer ain't asked for it. Just a invitation fer trouble."


 I must be living right. Raj thought as he stared at his comm unit. Just when I start thinking that bugging out is the only way to survive this mess, fate steps in. Unbelievable! Smiling for the first time all day, Raj planned how he could best take advantage of this windfall. He immediately made a call.

"Mr. Clean? Raj here………………Yes, I do work fast. I've got a line on the team that ripped you off. They're in Chinatown right now…………………The place doesn't have a street address. It's the floor above Chef Po's noodle factory………Yes, now, but I'd suggest you hurry. I'll keep digging to try and get the fixer and Johnson. I'll let you know as soon as I have anything………right."

No sooner had he ended the call when he dialed another. "Hawkins? Raj. Word has it that the boys who ripped off your item are holed up above Chef Po's noodle factory in Chinatown. If you're going to retrieve the item, I'd suggest you hurry as I believe the surviving agents of the initial appropriation may have already uncovered this info and I'm sure they are going to be out for blood…………………. Yes, of course I understand your position and where I would normally be protective, if my…assets prove an impediment to your retrieval of the item, I do see where you would have to…remove them. I'm not thrilled, but, if the truth be told, were I in your shoes I might be a bit… pre-emptive in dealing with individuals with that sort of reputation for, um.., collateral damage……….. Glad to have been of service."

He then called Drake back. "Drake? Raj. Streets are buzzin, Omae. Too dangerous to move around for a bit. I'll arrange pick-up later. Stay put and lie low. Good work."

The fixer then sat back and waited.


As soon as Lug and Hamon realized that Drake's call had compromised their hideout, the two sams held a quick conference.

"Bad" Hamon said with characteristic brevity.

"Yeah. Real bad. We could cross our fingers and hope nothin comes of it or......" Lug trailed off.

"Professionals stay alive. We should act like pros and get away from here."

"Yeah, my skin ain't much to look at but it covers my body so much better if I keep it in one piece. I agree we gotta go. How do we convince da others?" The dwarf asked, "It was our choice of hideout ta begin wit."

Hamon's shrug eloquently conveyed his lack of concern over the good opinion of the other team members.

******

The two samurai were about a third of the way through their explanation for why the team should move when Drake entered and announced:

"Just got a call from Raj. Says there's heat on the street. Orders are to sit tight and lay low. What are you guys talkin about? How to spend your creds?"

"Lug and Hamon were talkin about movin." Adolf said, "Dey don't tink were secure enough here and dey wanna take ta cube an get movin."

"What's dat about?" Drake asked. "You two picked dis place ta begin with. Now your sayin we gotta leave? Why?"

"Because you called out and announced were we are, Drake. Da location stops bein secure as soon as ya call out and tell somebody where yer hidin." Lug explained with his hands on his hips. "Now who knows how many people know our location. We gotta relocate."

"But Raj just specifically told us ta sit tight." Drake responded, "He said da streets was too hot and......"

"How could the streets be too hot?" Chordun asked. "Does he mean that the entire plex is suddenly filled with shadowrunners looking for our team? How could that happen?"

As all eyes turned to Drake he responded irritably, "I don't know. I just know he specifically told us to stay here and I don't wanna lose any creds just because some people don't have the balls to hold their water. What if Raj wants ta make an early pickup? Maybe give us a bonus for workin so fast. We run away after he told us to stay and maybe we miss dat chance."

"Is it just me, or is there a smell of bullshit in the air?" Lug asked rhetorically. "You honestly expect a bonus and dat's da reason ya wanna sit here like a clay pidgeon until somebody decides to pop you?"

"Listen, Halfer," Drake gritted through his teeth, "If you weren't such a coward you'd know that we are perfectly safe...."

"TROUBLE!" Motorhead yelled. " Sgt. Fury. Mr. Clean. Alley!"

"You were saying?" Lug asked as he passed Drake on the way to the escape hatch.

"Aw, bite me."


Motorhead's remote had spotted Clean and Fury as they entered the alley. Her warning gave Hamon enough time to grab the silicon cube and meet Lug at the escape hatch before the attackers had reached the foot of the stairs. Lug gritted "Check astrally to make sure the coast is clear!" as he, Hamon and Adolf shoved the stack of crates out of the way to reach the trapdoor. Chordun promptly slumped to the floor as Drake hurriedly left "surprises" near the front door. The elf returned to the team as the mage picked himself up and said "Clear". As Lug held the heavy trap door open, Hamon lithely dropped through the hole into the darkness below. Within seconds all of the team had descended into the unused store room. They had gathered near the room's door when the distant thunder of Clean and Fury's footsteps pounded up the outside stairs.

Without a word the two cybered sams threw their heavy metal frames at the dojo's front door. The pair had their weapons sweeping the room for targets as Drake's surprises on the room's floor hissed. Had either of the sams taken the time for analysis they might have recognized the smell of the micro-fine spray that the canisters were dispensing as being high octane gasoline. Further analysis might have identified the motion sensor which suddenly began sparking as the air currents in the room were disturbed. Unfortunately the combination of the two surprises left very little time for their victims to understand the danger of Drake's fuel-air bomb booby trap before it ignited.

BA-BOOOOMMM!!!! The explosion tossed the heavy humanoid figures back through the door way as if they were weightless. It also threw them through the external stair roof and more than 20 feet into the alley before gravity inexorably asserted itself and drew the flying ronin back to mother earth's embrace. That Thomas White Crow, a native American shaman employed by Aztechnology as part of Hawkins' squad of expediters, found portions of his anatomy interposed between the cybermen and the earth proved an unhappy coincidence for that worthy as his neck was cleanly snapped by more than 500 lbs of metal and meat as it hurdled to the ground.

Had Thomas White Crow's spirit been polled as it emigrated from his cooling body, it might have expressed it's dismay at the state of a world were reputation, experience, knowledge and magical power were of no avail against the odd heavy weight from the sky, but none of his associates had the time or inclination to launch such a philosophical query. In fact, since the magic user's untimely demise had freed the pair of huge, blood-red mastiff-shaped spirits that served as his body guards and enforcers, the other expediters were now pre-occupied with preventing the suddenly emancipated spirits from converting their bodies into bite-sized, easily digestible gobbets of flesh.

Pig, an overweight, (well, to be honest, a near critical mass), ork decker expressed his desire to avoid the fate the mastiff spirits had planned for him with a high pitched squeal of fear as he clutched his deck to his vast, overstuffed chest. The spirits were not impressed. The bleat of fear became one of pain as one spirit snapped its obscenely wide, impossibly tooth filled maw on the porcine ork's posterior while its partner tore away at the decker's belly. Hawkins' pistol quickly began barking at the spirits, which were, unfortunately, not phased in the least by the lead pellets passing through their forms. By the time Donk's combat ax had come into play, Pig had been mauled so badly that he was dying of shock. Again the shaman's hasty departure from this plane of existence was keenly felt as White Crow had heretofore been responsible for magically mending injured expediters.

The Troll moaned as he continued chopping at the spirit 'puppies' which he had always admired from afar. His previous admiration did not, however, diminish in any way the purity of his intention as he minced the carmine canines and it was this manifested intention which eventually banished the slavering spirit hounds. Donk, in spite of his just completed ax work, cringed at the violence Hawkins began visiting on the bodies of the two metalicized mercs who had just cost her two valuable team members.

Of course, for all the wear and tear of riding the concussive edge of an expanding explosion, neither Mr. Clean nor Sgt. Fury were particularly receptive to Hawkin's chastisement. Apparently neither was entirely comfortable with the concept of being stomped to death by a screaming woman. That the female in question had some justice in her complaint that she had saved the pair from the boobytraps intended to destroy them and had been repaid for her kindness by losing members of her own team, seemed to make little impression on the groggy sams. In point of fact, Sgt. Fury's sharpened steel teeth made the only noticeable impression as they met in Hawkins' foot as he closed his mouth on her the toe of her fashionable boot after a particularly poorly placed kick to his metal face.

"AHHHHHHH! GET HIM OFF!! GET HIM OFF!!!" the Aztechnology expediter screamed.

When Donk and Tsuretsu moved to their leader's aid the tri-barrel in Sgt. Fury's left arm spun up to speed. The lead stream which flowed from the merc's weapon gave Mr. Clean enough time to regain his feet. As the slugs from Hawkin's sidearm flattened themselves against his dermal sheath, Mr. Clean added his SMG fire to the Sgt.'s lead hose. The snarl of the two mercenary's weapons and the counterpoint of Hawkins pistol was soon supplemented by the boom of Donk's shotgun in a cacophony of hellish noise.

Tsuretsu, who fancied himself a Ninja, lacked the body armor for the sort of pitched battle the others were engaged in and opted to pursue the original objective rather than provide a target for the random bits of led whizzing through the air. Since the explosion which had propelled the two mercenaries into the expediters' midst had taken much of the third floor of the building with it, the Ninja decided to search for his quarry on the lower floors of the noodle factory. He immediately put this plan into action.

*******

Lug's team meanwhile, had problems of their own. Drake's fuel-air bomb, beyond propelling Clean and Fury through their aerial sojourn to the meeting with Aztechnology's expediters, had removed most of the third floor of the building. This had, in human terms, the same effect as kicking over an ant hill would have in the insect world. Not only did the explosion bring panic and chaos to the noodle factory workers, but, due to the entrepreneurship of the landlord, disturbed the illegal Mah Jong/Fan Tan gambling parlor on the second floor, the equally illegal BTL Chip distributors on the main floor and the semi-legal but extremely violent black market arms dealer in the basement. The patrons and employees of these enterprises and the heavily armed guards who provided security for those businesses joined the confused maelstrom of running, shouting, panic filled people all seeking safety/escape/information.

Fortunately, the team followed Lug's lead in seeking a way out in a calm, quick and efficient manner. Unfortunately those occupants of the building calm enough to recognize the runners order among the chaos of screaming running bodies, slipstreamed in behind the team to follow it's lead. Within seconds the group had moved from 6 to 14 to 30 as the ranks swelled in following somebody who appeared to know what they were doing. This meant that as the runners approached the loading docks and a means of egress, they were enough of a center of attention that somebody recognized Drake. The appearance of such a well known demolitions specialist at the site of an explosion was enough to prompt someone to open fire. The previous hell of confusion paled to idyllic calm as everyone began using side arms, magic and more explosives to defend or counterattack.

Chordun's water elemental was beset by a pair of hell hounds while the mage battled a shaman's conjured hearth spirit. Hamon paired Katanas wove a steel curtain of death as he faced a pair armed with Sang Kauw (Chinese hook swords) and a third warrior working with a red tasseled Dan-Gien (Chinese double-sided long sword). Adolf began hammering away at any available target with his shotgun, Motorhead dropped flat to the floor, Drake giggled as he began snapping off shots with his grenade gun while Lug emptied and reloaded his Colt Cobra as fast as the SMG was capable.

Tsuretsu, entering the factory through the loading dock, found himself under fire from his intended victims. His attempt to answer, with both neurotoxin dipped throwing weapons and blowpipe darts, met with zero success. While on first blush this might be interpreted as a lack of accuracy on the ninja's part, this was not the case. Each time the assassin had a clear shot and sent a poisoned weapon at the group he assumed was the enemy, some other inconsiderate factory resident would interpose him or herself between missile and target. Tsuretsu estimated that he had inadvertently ended 9 lives while failing to so much as scratch his intended targets.

Unfortunately, the ninja's actions were not lost on his victims, inadvertent or otherwise and that worthy soon found himself completely occupied with keeping his skin unperforated by the bouquet of flowering lead slugs which blossomed from the assorted firearms aimed in his direction.


While it is a truism of law enforcement that all enclaves of particular ethnic groups develop their own solutions to problems like violence and are united primarily in their lack of cooperation with authorities, traditionally Chinatown has been one of the most blatant examples of this generalization. No police agency has ever been embraced by the residents of any major urban center's Chinatown and the growth of Tongs and eventually Triads is a direct example of the perceived need for an internally sponsored protective agency. In spite of this, however, blowing an entire top floor off a building and following that up with a gun battle of epic proportions will prompt some action by any law enforcement group which is worthy of the name. The pair of attack choppers and the citymaster riot vehicle dispatched to investigate the situation at Chef Po's noodle factory proved that Lone Star recognized that something was going on.

Lone Star's attention drew increased action from the already responding CPSRMD (Citizen's Protective Society of the Red Moon District, a.k.a. Red Moon Tong) which, of course, necessitated the action of the HEA (Heaven and Earth Association, a.k.a. Tin Tei Wui Triad). Although the action had started in the shadows it quickly grew to a level that Newsfaxes and trid crews were attempting to broadcast.


"So there we are, tryin ta fight our way outta da damn factory. We got spells, bullets, shrapnel flyin in every direction, more noise dan ya could believe an what we don't know is dat outside dere's a Azzie hit squad fightin wit some cybered mercs about who gets ta off us while Tong, Triad an Lone Star are mobilizing like da gulf wars fer a shot at sweepin up whatever's left a us." Lug paused to enjoy the way Mouse was perched on the edge of his seat hanging on every word.

"Well, WHAT HAPPENED??" the Decker demanded. "How did you get out? Who was waiting? What did you do?"

"You sure ya got da time fer dis, kid? I mean, I wouldn't want ta....."

"LUG!!" Mouse exclaimed

"Ok, where was I? Oh, yeah....."


Although the volume of noise was staggering, as Hamon's opponents legs were shot out from under them he recognized the "cuff-cuff-cuff-cuff" of a silenced SMG. Realizing that Motorhead was firing into the unarmored ankles of the men with whom he was struggling, he focused on using the time to his best advantage. After a quick scan to get his bearings and decide on a course of action, he shouted "Stunners!" and tossed his pair of stun grenades. He tightly closed his eyes and covered his ears while dropping to the floor. When the stun grenades detonated he led the team towards the open box of a truck in the loading bay. When the team gathered he signaled Lug to use his smoke grenades.

Tsuretsu, who was the only one focusing exclusively on the runners, smiled to himself as the smoke grenades went off. A minute later the team was gone and the rear door to the truck was closed. So ka the Ninja thought, Stunners to disorient, smoke to hide and then the team is out of the fight. Excellent Metsubushi.(Ninjitsu sight removal technique) When the truck moves out they are chauffeured away from the action without firing another shot. Tsuretsu smiled as he admired the simplicity and completeness of the plan.

Slipping through the shadows while darting from cover to cover, the Ninja slipped the lock into the latch on the truck door and then went forward to the cab. Fortunately the truck was old enough to not be exclusively a rigger's vehicle. Jamming his way through a bewildering number of gears, Tsuretsu stalled the truck out twice before he was able to pull out of the dock. Eventually he was able to get the vehicle moving smoothly as he congratulated himself on capturing his opponents.

As he drove he put in a comm call to Hawkins. "Tsuretsu here. Am proceeding to rally point alpha. Mission accomplished. Have captured opposition team and recovered item."

As furious as Hawkins had been when the assassin had abandoned the team in a firefight so he could freelance, his message that he had accomplished the mission made up for it. Breathing a sigh of relief, the expediter checked herself over. She had several minor wounds were rounds had found flesh in spite of her form fit armor and many painful bruises where they had not. In pain but still functional seemed to sum up her situation. She looked over at Donk who was not in as good shape.

While Donk's ax had crushed Mr. Clean's right side in spite of both bone lacing and dermal armor, and had actually destroyed the assault rifle built in to Sgt. Fury's left arm, the troll had paid a high price. As Hawkins took tally she could see that Donk had lost an eye, an ear, several pounds of shoulder and had shattered all of the major bones in his left leg. She began to consider the arrival of Lone Star fortunate as it had caused Clean and Fury to abandon the battle in favor of escape and evade procedures.

Bastards were pretty tough she thought with begrudging admiration, but then my team stood up to em AND we got the prize. Feeling a little better she helped Donk out of the area.


Raj nodded to Sally as he entered Ryan's and made his way towards his usual table. He was brought up short by the sight of an ugly female troll and a corper sitting at his usual table. He quickly recognized that the Troll seated in his spot was a fixer who went by the name of Felix.

Glancing around the bar, Raj was impressed by the number of magic users and heavily armed samurai who were in attendance. Apparently Felix was not shy about her protection being obvious. Difference in style Raj thought with an internal smirk. Just then Felix looked up from the beer she was nursing and signaled the ork over to the table.

"Raj," she said, "we were just talking about you. Do you know Mr. Wackerman?"

Paling at the recognition, Raj attempted to cover his dismay by saying "I've never had the honor in person"

The corper's look at the extended hand would have been exactly the same if Raj had offered a fistful of dragon dung.

"Sit down, Raj" Felix continued as though oblivious to the by-play. "I have been hired to make a delivery, Raj. Unfortunately, my employers encountered a great deal of unexpected difficulty over the item. All that nasty business down in Chinatown, actually, and, well I'm afraid the price has gone up."

"I can understand reasonable expenses for additional wear and tear." Raj said with guarded generosity.

"I knew you would" Felix said as her smile became distinctly predatory. "The cost for the return of the item is now 60K."

Raj gasped as though he had been unexpectedly kneed in the groin.

"And, of course, my fee for being personally involved in this issue will be another 15K." Felix said as Raj's eyes bugged out of his head.

"75?! Thousand? NUYEN??" Raj gasped with complete incredulity.

"Yes, and I'm afraid that's very firm." Felix replied. "Of course, we could negotiate, but I believe my employers have been far too easy going and it's only fair to warn you that I'd cut a much sharper deal." Glancing at the corper she asked "You're not really in a very good position, are you?"

Fuming with impotent rage, Raj began pulling certified credsticks out of his pockets. When 75 thousand had been tabulated and confirmed, Felix snapped her fingers and an invisible magic user materialized at her elbow with the silicon cube in hand. The spell worm handed the cube to Felix who handed it to Raj who immediately handed it to the sarariman.

"This isn't the way I do business" Wackerman announced.

"I understand completely," Felix replied, "and I'm sorry that you have been placed in this, er..awkward position. It really wasn't my choice, but we must adjust to the situation as it stands. You are a long way from home with a very valuable item in your hands. An item which your competition has spent a great deal of money to acquire. I will be leaving momentarily. You can take advantage of the protection I offer and my guarantee or....."

"Oh, very well. Here's a certified stick for 25K. I'd like to leave immediately."

"The citymaster I promised will be out front momentarily. No need to worry. You're in good hands." As Felix gathered the last stick and stood to leave she said to Raj, "Oh, by the way, my employers wanted me to let you know that they will be checking with the other groups involved in this episode. If, as they suspect, you have played both sides against the middle, they've mentioned that they will be visiting you about it. I'm sure that the other groups will be equally anxious to see you." She'd started towards the door when she turned and asked "Have you considered another career? I don't think either of the corporations involved in this are going to be very happy with you. I'm also afraid that when the details of this episode are posted on the watcher board the action committee may feel severe sanctions are in order for your sharp practices. At the very least the Heaven and Earth Association will want to talk to you about your choice of battlefield. It might be a good time to consider travel."


"WAITAMINIT!!!" Mouse yelled "Wait, wait, wait. What the hell happened? One minute you're locked in the back of the truck, on your way to an Aztechnology rally point, the next you're making a fortune from the sale of the cube. I don't......"

"I never said we wuz locked in the back of the truck, kid". Lug deadpanned. "I'd never hide someplace I couldn't get outta. That'd be stupid."

"But you said that Ninja locked the back of the truck....."

"Which he did."

"But you disappeared in the smoke if you didn't get into the truck, where did you go?" Mouse asked.

Lug smiled and said nothing. Mouse thought furiously as he visualized the situation. "Under the truck?"

Lug shook his head. After a second Mouse said, "Yeah. Too easy for him to spot you when he's locking the thing or going to drive it............On top of the truck?

"Why?"

"Well, it's high ground if the firefight starts. Bound to give you some cover from people below. If you laid flat you couldn't be seen.....it's closer to the exit......"

"And when somebody drives the truck out......" Lug continued.

"Slick." Mouse admitted, "Very slick. Closing the door?"

"Hamon saw that the clown in the black pajamas was only aiming at us in all of the chaos." Lug explained, "Since we were his targets you have to figure he'd try to follow us and dat he'd take advantage of the kind of capture opportunity we presented. If he'd had more time he probably woulda realized that only a moron puts himself in a box he can't get outta and da odds are we ain't morons. He mighta even seen us climb down as soon as we were outta da area, but da poor slot had so many problems wit da truck's tranny dat I don't think he ever checked his mirrors."

"And Mr. Clean and Sgt. Fury? Did they come after you guys?"

"Naw. They was a while gettin rebuilt and healed. Den dey wanted Raj's head more dan ours, plus dey hadta keep a low profile ta avoid da azzies.

"What about Hawkins?" Mouse asked. "Was Aztechnology after you?"

"Well, see we didn't actually run against Aztechnology. Dey may have been unhappy but they can't afford to send sanction squads after runners that haven't actually violated their territory. They were more focused on finding Raj and getting back the cube. And before you ask, no, I don't know what da cube was."

"Well, at least you know it was valuable, In the end you guys split....."

"30K. Dat's as far as we thought we could push it. Dat's what we asked Felix ta get for us. Da 45K she made from Raj and the 25K she got from da corp work out to about 1,000 nuyen a minute for the time she was involved. Never faced a bullet or a spell, never had ta get her hands dirty. Just knew how ta be in da right place at da right time and make it work fer her. She got everybody what dey wanted and made megacreds doin it. Dat's da trouble wit fixers. When dere done, even if ya get exactly what ya asked fer, dey got somethin dat coulda been yours if ya'd been smart enough ta ask for it yerself."

END TRANS


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