No Time For Second Chances (Part 11)
No Time for Second Chances
By Dr. Bender
Finding a place to set down that wasn't too far away from Clover's was tougher than I expected. In the end, I settled for the roof of the highest apartment building I could find, one without a good view from any surrounding buildings. My air spirit dropped us unceremoniously in the loose gravel and while I managed to land on my feet the other two were nowhere near as graceful. "Air spirit," I addressed the being respectfully, "if either of these two attack me, kill them both."
I needn't have bothered; they weren't in any shape to resist even if they wanted to. The 'street sam' broke down on his hands and knees, crying like a little girl and his friend was still practically catatonic. Standing over what looked to be grown men, I felt like a schoolyard bully picking on kids half my age. Shaking my head, I leant over and checked the wannabe street samurai's pockets, finding my commlink and a stun baton. "Oh, you're the asshole that zapped me?" I snarled, giving him a kick to the ribs that made him grunt.
"I'm sorry," he gasped as much from my blow as through his tears.
Squatting next to him, I pressed the button on the stun baton which made an impressive electrical crackle to illustrate my point. "You know you have this set for fragging trolls, right? Ever been hit with one of these?"
He winced, rolling onto his back and holding up his arms like he thought I was going to strike him across the face. "No! No, please! I'll do anything you want, just don't hit me!"
"Jesus Christ," I blasphemed under my breath, standing back up and flicking off the stun baton with my thumb. "Are you two really shadowrunners or did someone delay Halloween a few days without telling me? Who the fuck are you two anyway?"
"Dark Shadow," the fake street samurai introduced himself, "this is one of my partners, Steel Machine."
"Dark... Shadow?" I asked incredulously. "Did you get that name off a cereal box?"
Scrabbling in the gravel, he turned and rested his forehead on the floor at my feet, aping a traditional Japanese bow. "Please, I'm so sorry, I swear we didn't mean to hurt you things just spiralled out of our control! I'm sorry we hijacked your merchandise; we were just trying to make ends meet. Please, I'm begging you, I don't want to die."
Looking down on him, I found myself rubbing my temples trying to alleviate my frustration. I wanted to order the air spirit to throw them both off the roof but I couldn't bring myself to order a man's death solely to make myself feel better. On the other hand, the idea of turning them in to Knight Errant also rubbed me the wrong way, they might be wannabe posers but it still felt like a horrible breach of professional courtesy. Letting them loose wasn't an option either, they had kidnapped me, knocked me out with an AZ-150 Super Stun Baton designed to put down a troll and probably wanted ransom me back to Clover. Who knows if they'd have actually given me back or sold me into slavery, or maybe turned my body in to the Tamanous crime syndicate for organ harvesting. Something told me that if the tables were turned, these two would be singing a different tune.
There are times I hate having common decency. "Get up," I ordered, "think you can slap some sense into your friend?"
Nodding, he crawled over and started shaking Machine while I dropped my AR glasses over my eyes and booted up my 'link. It only took a few moments for me to have an agent sifting through the 'trix for the two schlub's biometrics and just a few more moments for it to come back with hits. Both of these boys were SINners. 'Dark Shadow' was really Geoff Parker, he even had a day job at a Renraku shipping warehouse. Steel Machine's real name was Nigel Standing, a former limo driver who'd been fired for using stims on the job, though he had no drug or BTL convictions. Both had registered cyberware, Shadow sporting a skillwire while Machine had been installed with a basic vehicle control rig. A quick look at Netranger told me that the two idiots weren't linked in to the runner community at large which got me curious. "This your first job?" I asked.
Shadow nodded ruefully, Machine still unresponsive. "We just thought we could sell on any magic crap we found," he explained in a small voice. "But then we were afraid anyone we sold to would sell us out to the triads."
"And that led to kidnapping me how?"
He fidgeted like a schoolboy. "We were getting kind of desperate."
"Unbe-fucking-leaveable," I muttered darkly. "So you weren't hired to harass Clover's? No Mr. Johnson targeting us, it was all your own idea?"
Shadow nodded. "We thought we were proving we could handle biz."
I didn't believe him, or more correctly I believed he was someone's dupe. "What about the body stuffed in the fridge back at the autoshop?"
"What body?" he asked, obviously shocked.
"Looked like a mechanic, wore grease-stained overalls, looked kinda derpy?"
"Sparky? Sparky's dead?!?" His eyes went wide as his knees started shaking. A moment later they gave out, the weight of Machine dragging him down until he was sitting stunned in the gravel. Staring into space he shook his head absently, as if he could make things better by denying the reality. "Sparky was an idiot but he was a good guy... I smelt something nasty when we tied you to the chair... hey, how the frag did you get out of those cable ties anyway?"
Scowling at him, I rolled my eyes. "I doubt you'll ever get a chance to tie someone up again but here's a tip: when you're searching someone check for concealed blades as well as guns and commlinks. So, was there anyone else in your crew besides you, Machine and Sparky?"
"Madeline Smith and Raven Darkmayne," he spilled without thinking. "Raven's our hacker, Madeline... I guess she's our face? Sparky wasn't really a member he just let us crash at his place for some reason. We knew Raven from high school; Madeline was Raven's squeeze so she kinda invited herself along. We were looking for a first easy score when Raven suggested we hit the post."
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I counted to ten. "Ok, let me get this straight. You two idiots have no idea what you're doing? What the frag are you thinking playing shadowrunner?"
"Hey, if I had my Gun Kata 'soft right now, I'd kick your skinny ass from here to...."
I cut him off with a kick to the face, standing over him as he spat blood and teeth. "Let's get something perfectly straight. If you had your skillsofts I'd still kick both your asses off this damn roof. I whisper one word to my air spirit and it'll send you base jumping without a parachute, are you scanning me chummer?"
"I scan, I scan," he gasped.
Putting my hands on my hips, I grunted. "Ok, what the frag is this guy's deal?" I asked, pointing to Machine.
Shadow winced. "He talks a big game but he can't handle violence. Usually he just drives the car. He'll be ok in an hour or two; we were going to get him therapy as soon as we got some nuyen flowing in."
This was getting better and better, it was hard not to laugh. I was going to have a ball telling this story on Netranger, no-one was going to believe it. "So, where are Madeline and Raven now?"
"Gone to see some drekhead biosculptor called Jean Phillip," Shadow muttered. "Madeline's a manager at the A-Mart in Castle Hill. She's paying for Raven to get some work done."
"If she has that much cash, why is Madeline looking to get in the biz?"
Shadow shrugged. "I dunno, didn't care, didn't ask."
For a moment I was seriously reconsidering pitching him off the roof. These idiots were literally too stupid to live. "Ok, here's what's going to happen now. For some stupid sentimental reason, I don't want to kill you. But before you start getting ideas, I swear I'll have my spirit snap your neck in a heartbeat if you try something stupid, scan? The only reason you're alive is the same reason I avoid stepping on ants."
He nodded quickly.
"So, here's what's going to happen. I'm going to cast a masking spell on you both as a disguise and then we're going back to Clover's. You assholes owe her big-time, so if I were you I'd start practicing kissing her dimpled red ass."
We got lucky on the trip over to Clover's, which went off without a hitch. I disguised the two idiots as kids about my age to prevent anyone from asking awkward questions. I was forced to dismiss my air spirit just before sunset on the way over but they were so crushed that I had no problem wrangling them to Clover's front door. Just to be sure I reminded them I could drop the masking spell in the middle of the street and have Knight Errant pick them up.
Of course, Clover wasn't happy. The look on her face when she opened the door spoke volumes so I decided to head her off before she launched into a tirade. "I'm sorry, I was about to head home when Ricky Hand insisted on taking me to meet his boss then I got kidnapped. Give me ten minutes and I can explain the whole situation."
And I did, from beginning to end, without omitting anything. When I was finished, Clover glowered at the two idiots while they grovelled before her hooves. They were terrible grovelers, nowhere near as polished as a proper Shiawase wageslave. Watching the gears turn in her head, I found myself once again stepping between the idiots and a quick death. "Um, Clover," I said soothingly, "I know they're idiots that did us both wrong but they're really not worth the laundry bill for cleaning their blood out of our clothes. They know they owe us big time but they can repay what they owe better alive than dead, right?"
"Darling, they can't actually be arrested for your kidnapping," Clover said in a low, dangerous, tone. "You're SINless, in the eyes of the law you don't exist. The only way we can protect you is to send a message that screwing with you isn't conducive to anyone's continued health."
"I'm SINless, they're not," I pointed out. "It's screwed up but if we kill them, we can be put up for murder charges. I know we need to do something about them but killing them isn't a real option. On the other hand, as you pointed out, the only thing they've done wrong in the eyes of the law is the postal robbery. We hand them over to Knight Errant, they'll go to jail and the Triads will probably have them murdered on the inside, so that's just as good as pulling the trigger ourselves. I know I don't want that bad karma haunting me and if you think about it for a moment I know you'll agree with me."
Clover sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "All right, no need to lay it on so thick. Luckily for these bozos, my shipment was insured or I probably would kill 'em, bad karma or not. Hell, I'm a hair's width away from killing them just for the possibility they might try to turn you in for the corporate bounty on awakened SINless. But I've got a better idea, just leave them with me. What about their accomplices, though?"
"Don't worry, I have a plan," I reassured her, "just give me a few days to clean this mess up."
With one last growl, she summoned one of her bound air spirits with a snap of her fingers. "These two try to leave these premises, hurt anyone or access the matrix, kill 'em," she ordered the vaguely humanoid mist before clomping away. Shadow and Machine cringed when the spirit turn to stare at them emotionlessly.
Taking that as Clover's sign of assent, I finally took a moment to take stock of myself. Luckily I was relatively unhurt aside from some cuts and bruises, particularly around my wrists and ankles. My jacket, bodysuit and the skin underneath at my right shoulder blade were burned slightly where Shadow had hit me with the Stun Baton. A light healing spell took care of the burn and my jacket was still useable but I mourned the loss of the bodysuit. I had a few spares but those things are expensive. I'd also lost my AR goggles somewhere along with my skateboard, yet more items to place on Shadow and Machine's bill.
Back in my room, I pulled out the bag in the back of my closet that contained my real work clothes. I started with a set of form fitting body armour, basically a full body condom with strategically placed armour plates and kinetically reactive gel pads. Mottled grey cargo pants and a white singlet went on over the body armour with a shoulder holster for my first gun: an Ares Light Fire 70. Unfortunately I'd discovered at the shooting range that my small hands and slender wrists really weren't built to handle the recoil of a heavy or machine pistol. The Light Fire was reliable and I was able to get the version that came with the silencer and a red-dot sight attached to the top rail. Best of all, the thing weighed only two kilograms loaded with caseless explosive ammo.
Luckily the body armour doubled as socks, so my steel-capped combat boots went straight on over the cargo pants. A Dikote™ treated ceramic survival knife went into the sheathe in my left boot. Dikote™ is a wiz chemical process that coats a blade with a fine layer of diamond, making it both stronger and unbelievably sharp. With the knife secure, I threaded my tactical belt through the loops in the cargo pants. On the belt went my commlink, a small torch and spare clips for the Light Fire. A pair of Shock Gloves went on over my hands to literally add a bit more power to my punches along with some forearm guards for blocking. A scarf and gas mask went on around my neck, two items that weren't unusual on the street in the age of rampant pollution, overcrowding and disease scares. Lastly, I pulled on my armoured Securetech hooded leather longcoat, which reached my knees and concealed the shoulder holster.
Taking my tactical backpack out of the closet, I took my Ingram Smartgun out of the duffel bag and stuffed it inside along with the clips and flash grenades. Getting my katana in there was impossible but I had a plan for that. These days, I kept the weapon focus in a long postal tube meant for large artist's designs, so I simply strapped that to the side of the backpack and shouldered the whole thing. Finally, I found myself standing there loaded for bear, staring at the amulet I'd pulled from Sparky's dead fingers. After a moment's consideration, I slipped it over my neck. I needed all the help I could get.
With that done, I linked up to the Matrix and made a call to an old friend. Foresight answered after a few seconds. "Hoi, chummer, what's up?"
"Foresight, I need a no-frills car with a decent autopilot. Renting the car would be a better option if available. I need it ASAP but I'd appreciate it if you kept the price gouging to a minimum."
"Let me look at my portfolio... you in hot water chica?"
"I've had better days."
"Wires are buzzing about a shootout between the Knight and the Triads in your neck of the woods... care to comment?"
"I've discovered that I'm allergic to hot lead accelerated beyond the speed of sound."
I thought I'd get a laugh but there was nothing but dead silence on the line for a few moments. "You wouldn't know what happened to a boy going by the handle Sparky would you?"
Pausing, I considered my answer carefully. "That sounds like paydata."
Foresight snorted. "All right, I'll knock some off the price of the goods."
"Fifty percent," I offered. We settled on twenty-five. "Sparky was dead before I woke up," I explained, "I found him stuffed in a fridge like a rag doll."
More silence, which was worrying. "There are some people who'd like to know more about Sparky. He had family, scan?"
My mind raced, trying to work out what he was saying. "I'm guessing you're talking about a gang."
"Go-gang called the Road Rippers," Foresight confirmed, "Sparky's big brother Cold Eyes is on the warpath with his crew tearing the strip apart looking for the guys that were dossing at Sparky's autoshop."
"Can you set up a meet?" I asked cautiously. "I'm willing to swear on whatever he wants that I had nothing to do with Sparky's death. Hell, I'll take a polygraph to that effect."
"Do you know where Sparky's friends are?"
I considered my answer carefully. "I'm on my way to find a wannabe 'runner called Raven and her girlfriend Madeline, they were some of Sparky's friends. The other two are dead, I got them out of the firing line and they turned on me. Now they're ghoul chow."
"I believe you," Foresight sighed, "but Cold Eyes is out for blood. If he can't geek the ones responsible, he's going to settle for the next best thing."
"Then tell him I'm willing to give him the one responsible on a silver platter. I was kidnapped by these assholes; we've both got something to prove."
"I'll see what I can do and I'll get that gear to you. If you want my advice, if you've got any friends you'd best call 'em in."
Hanging up, I took his advice immediately and called Beth. Unlike Foresight, her answer wasn't so prompt, it took her a full minute to pick up and when she did she sounded annoyed. "Naomi, I'm kinda busy right now...."
"Sorry, Beth, I'm in trouble and I need backup," I interrupted quickly, taking the wind out of her sails. There was a long pause before I heard her cupping her hand over the receiver and screaming "Frag!" at the top of her lungs. "All right, all right, I've got your back. Where? And do you want me to call Vallerie?"
"No," I answered, sorely tempted. "I don't want to risk bringing the Angels into this; it's already escalating out of control. I've got a car coming; we can link up on the way. Sorry if I interrupted a big date or something."
"Just tell me where," she growled, showing off her orkish temper.
We arranged to meet up at a Stuffer Shack on the way to Jean Phillip's bisculpting practice downtown. Clover gave me a penetrating look when I wandered back into the living room. "Where'd you get all that gear?"
"I've been coding at night," I explained with a shrug, "earned enough nuyen to pick up some essentials.
Sipping her coffee, Clover looked away. "Let me know when you're coming home. If you're not back by morning, I won't be expecting you."
I nodded once before leaving, giving Shadow and Machine one final glare on my way out. Foresight acted fast, I found a tricked out Volkswagen Elektro waiting for me on the curb. Getting in, I ordered the Elektro's autopilot to drive me to the Stuffer Shack.
Beth met me in the parking lot with a couple of hot stomach-fillers leaning against the heavy frame of her refitted Yamaha Rapier. It was vat-grown meat, fungus and soy product but I scarfed it down like it was my last meal. With that done, I was all biz. A quick look at Beth and her bike told me she was ready. In the last year she'd grown like a weed, at seven years old she was now five-eight and as mature as a fourteen year old human. Life in the Penrith Barrens had also left its mark; she was well muscled and athletic in the way that only someone who's grown up fighting can. She also sported a few new scars. I also happened to know she was already sexually active, which wasn't abnormal for a Barrens kid. Orks in particular lack the luxury of time the rest of humanity enjoys.
"How's everyone?" I asked politely between bites of my fake food.
"Angelo caught a bullet," Beth stated matter-of-factly after she finished inhaling her burger, "they're looking at fitting him with a cyberleg. The Lidless Eyes are getting more traction with the younger kids; I think Vallerie and Morork are debating giving Dexter a dirt nap. Otherwise it's biz as usual."
"Sorry if I interrupted your date," I apologized.
She sighed. "Null sheen; sisters before gigolos and all that drek. What you packing?"
"Light Fire, Ingram, couple of blades," I rattled off. "I haven't been able to get a decent backup yet but I can fall back on magic. Hopefully we won't have to draw down on anyone, though; I'd rather resolve everything with a minimum of fuss."
Beth sniffed. "I brought a SPAS-22, a Predator II and a Walther. We seriously need to get you some bigger guns."
Snickering, I held up her wrist next to mine. Hers was twice as thick. "I tried firing a Browning High-Power at the shooting range. I hit myself in the head with the barrel. Don't worry, I'm training."
"Awwww, poor little pixy," Beth teased, her grin showing off a set of large tusks.
Giving her a mock glower, I looked back at my car. "Ok, let's ride. Just follow the car; we'll work out the plan of attack when we know more."
As it turns out, Jean Phillip had some nice digs on the North Shore. The ultra-modern three-story building was made of white ferrocrete and large glass panels with small gardens inside and out. The man himself was obviously working late, there was a receptionist at the desk despite there being no-one in visible in the waiting area that we could see through the windows. The sign on the front door said the place was closed for the night. The building also had its own underground garage, a real boon considering the premium put on parking space in the inner city.
We cased the joint from the comfort of a coffee shop across the road; I sipped a latte while Beth took hers black with nine sugars. "Your call," Beth told me in a low voice.
"Surveillance cameras on all entrances and exits, security guard in the garage, maglocks on the doors, alarms on the windows but from the looks of things very little magical security... piece of piss. Give me a minute."
Flipping my AR goggles over my eyes, I smiled as the landscape around me was overlayed with bright neon signs and streams of data clamouring for my attention. The wireless Matrix was only a few years old and security providers were still getting used to the tech. Initializing my Stealth program, my Matrix Icon reached out to connect to one of the security cameras. Whoever had designed the office's system architecture knew what they were doing however; the cameras were slaved to a 'gateway node' which immediately demanded a username and password. Smiling, I ran my Analyze program over it to make sure there weren't any particularly nasty surprises before hitting the Barrier IC with one of my custom-built Exploit programs.
To an observer in virtual space, I would have appeared to be a shadowy nine-tailed kitsune listening to the barrier with a stethoscope while spinning the dial on a combination lock. That is, of course, only if your Analyse program was more powerful than my Stealth prog, otherwise I was completely invisible. I was in the node in less than a second and suddenly found myself standing in what appeared to be a security office straight out of a trid show with banks of screens displaying all of the camera footage being piped in. Looking around the complex, I got a good idea of the layout, which included an operating theatre where a skinny young woman with black hair was lying strapped to the table. She was unconscious and naked except for the sheet that covered her. A datajack was also visible implanted in her right temple.
In another room there was a brown-haired man in a black suit arguing with a blonde in a grey suit. Unfortunately the security system didn't have a microphone installed so I couldn't hear what they were arguing about but I tagged the man as Jean Phillip and the blonde as Madeline, which made the girl on the operating table Raven. Flicking through the rest of the footage, I found another couple of security guards playing poker in a room barely keeping half an eye on the trideo feed of their surveillance cameras. Getting a picture of the logo on their uniforms, I did a quick browse of the matrix and found that they belonged to Amiston Security Services, a small private firm who pointedly didn't shorten their company name to initials on any of their PR. Closing my browser window, I dug into the guts of the node and left a neat little back door in along with some code that would enable me to control the slaved cameras later.
Opening the only doorway zapped me to another node deeper inside the system. It appeared to be a sterile white hospital room complete with the cloying scent of ammonia hanging in the air. In the middle of the room stood a surgeon next to an operating table and a tray upon which laid a scalpel, syringe and bone saw. Thick rubber gloves adorned his hands and his mask moved in and out like the icon was really breathing. The moment I arrived, he started to scan the room with his silver cybereyes, the irises focusing on different objects like the lens of a camera.
In reality, the surgeon was Grey IC, an intrusion countermeasure designed to fry a hacker's commlink. Its icon looked around because something about my arrival had tripped off its sensors, though it didn't seem able to lock onto me. Chuckling, I hit the IC with a Spoof program to make it go dormant before running Analyse again to read the purpose of the node. I hit paydata when an icon that appeared to be a thick medical textbook appeared on one of the benches. This one was both encrypted and had a nasty Databomb attached that would attempt to scramble the data if anyone attempted to decrypt it without the proper passkey, which appeared as a flask of acid wired to spill over the book. Holding up my hand, my Defuse program appeared on my icon as a pair of tinsnips which quickly cut the wires attaching the Databomb to the book, rendering it inert. My Decrypt program took a bit longer to unscramble the contents, the incomprehensible doctor's scrawl within slowly resolving into a clear sans serif font.
Jean Phillip was keeping 'highly confidential' records of his clients here, which included everything from the dirt he'd dug up on them to the illegal 'ware he'd installed on request. Taking a copy, I my icon flicked through the book as I ran a Browse program to search for Raven and Madeline, both of which gave me hits and both of which were surprisingly empty and unremarkable. Raven's file had a brief bio which detailed her B-grade high school performance and a dead end job selling AR game chips at the department store Madeline was manager of. There were two request forms filed in her folder for biosculpting work, one detailing modifications into a goth bombshell while the other appeared to be intent on altering her into a precise copy of Madeline down to genetic therapy to alter her DNA markers. By contrast, Madeline's file was bare bones, listing nothing but a glowing employment history with A-Mart.
Moving my icon into the hallways, I blended in with the data packets that looked like orderlies wheeling gurneys to and fro between nodes under the watchful eyes of some cartoonish security guards wearing the Amiston uniform. I was able to analyse several nodes without drawing their attention before I discovered my goal: Jean Phillip's personal office node. The ornate wooden doors where closed with what looked like a maglock but I sleazed through the Barrier IC with ease. Inside was a distressingly ultra-modern office, with a white leather chair, glass table, soft white carpets and faintly glowing white walls. It was well programmed down to the feel of carpet underneath my icon's bare feet. Decrypting his personal files was even easier with only a token white Trace IC protecting it. After a minute of sifting through his dodgy books, I copied the lot and cut my connection, my awareness slipping back into my meat body.
"Ok, let's go," I told Beth, knocking back the rest of my coffee in a single gulp. I knew my bladder would make me regret draining the glass later but we needed to look as inconspicuous as possible. Having already paid for the drinks, I led Beth down the road a little before we crossed, doing the sensible thing and watching for cars. Only when we were safely on the other side of the street did I trigger my wiz little Edit program which let me trigger the cameras we might appear in to playback a looped feed of nothing interesting going on at all.
Beth took point as we walked down the steep incline towards the security guard in the box beside the underground garage entrance, mostly out of sight of the street. Spotting us, he got up and adjusted his belt as he stepped outside the protection of the bullet proof glass, seeing nothing but and elf and ork kid possibly needing some directions. The belt looked heavy, laden down with a Ceska vz/120 light pistol, three spare clips, a long reinforced torch and his commlink. "Hey, girls, need some help?" he asked with a smile. I almost felt bad for what was going to happen next.
Smiling, my friend nodded and whipped her SPAS-22 automatic combat shotgun out from under her leather duster and levelled it under the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, you can sit back down and shut up," she growled, pushing him back down into his seat. Wasting no time, I breathed in the mana flowing through the world around me and willed my spell into my hands. A single tap on his forehead rendered him unconscious as my Knockout spell took effect. Beth took a moment to pose him with his arms crossed and his cap over his eyes before we moved on into the garage.
"Must be nice to be magical," she grumbled while I took pictures of the few cars left in the parking spots with the camera built into my commlink. "It's awesome and a pain in the butt," I answered her in a low voice. "Sure, I get to knock someone out with a touch but it takes intense study and meganuyen to get good at it."
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," she muttered, covering her shotgun back up with the duster before following me through the emergency door into the bare concrete stairwell beyond.
Fire escapes are wonderful things when you're entering a building illegally. By law they have to be accessible and always open at least from the inside. With a bit of know-how they're easy to circumvent. Less easy to circumvent is the alarm system that lets security know every time one opens or closes and logs the alarm. Fortunately with their security footage showing nothing on screen but the same old empty stairwell, the two buttheads would probably glance at the screen then go back to their card game if they even noticed the alarm at all.
The stairwell gave us access to all three floors of the building, which left me uncertain of exactly where Raven was in relation to Madeline and Jean Phillip. Playing the odds, I directed Beth to the first floor and let her check the hallway beyond before leading me out. I immediately caught the antiseptic hospital smell of the air as soon as the door was open, the deserted hallways and rooms beyond matching up with the architecture of the building's matrix systems. It didn't take us long to find Raven's room, the girl was still there. What hadn't seen on the cameras was the empty gene therapy tanks where she'd be kept isolated and unconscious for a few weeks while she underwent the transition. Knowing what they were used for and imagining that she might be undergoing such treatment against her free will disturbed me.
Lifting the sheet, Beth gave the girl a cursory examination before pulling the covering back to show me a couple of bruises above her left breast. "Gel rounds, probably a double-tap at close range. Narcojet and DMSO cocktail goes straight through clothes and skin into the bloodstream. She'll be out to it until dawn."
"Great," I sighed, "we can't leave her here either. Help me get these straps off and wrap her up in the sheet."
"I can't fight and drag her ass around with me," Beth protested as she unclipped the wrist straps while I got Raven's feet free.
"I'm telling my car to drive into the garage," I told her while I worked, "take her downstairs and dump her in the front seat. It'll take her somewhere safe, I'll ride with you."
Nodding curtly, Beth wrapped her up and hoisted the girl over her shoulder while I searched the room for her things. Luckily, I found a pile of clothes and a commlink in a white laundry bag marked for incineration, which I gave to Beth to take with her. "You going to wait here?" Beth asked. I shook my head, taking off my backpack in order to retrieve the Ingram Smartgun and jammed a clip into the receiver before cocking it. "Nope," I answered, "I reckon Madeline and Jean Phillip are on the top level. I'm going to ask them a few questions. Don't worry, I've spoofed the cameras, just secure the stairwell and stay in contact."
Nodding again, she quickly opened a channel between our commlinks before heading out with Raven in a fireman carry over her shoulders. The girl might envy my magical powers but there was something to be said about raw orkish strength. I really didn't want to think about her being old and grey when I was in my thirties looking like a twenty-something. Putting morbid thoughts aside, I zipped my backpack back up and crept quietly upstairs.
The moment I cracked open the second floor door I knew I was on the money. I could hear the argument as a low buzz from down the hallway. There were several offices but the prominent corner office had the nameplate 'Dr. Jean Phillip' right there on the false wooden panelling. The argument, however, was coming from the central meeting room which I cursed, considering there was more than one doorway out of the large room. Walking up to the closest door, I tried turning the handle but found it was locked. Unfortunately this time is was a straight up mechanical lock rather than anything electronic, which left me in a bit of a pickle.
With a heavy sigh, I took a step back, hefted the Ingram, flicked off the safety, set the fire selector to single shot and blew the fragging door handle off the fragging door with and explosive bullet. The effect of the small detonation on the plastic door was quite impressive, blowing a big chunk out of it as the bullet slammed straight through and the fragments tore up the table inside. The door itself swung away from me into the room so I took cover in the frame, only peeking into the room with the gun pointed. Inside, Jean Phillip whirled around to stare at the sudden destruction, mouth agape as he was interrupted in mid-yell.
Madeline didn't hesitate. I watched her assess the situation, come to a decision and enact a plan as easy as one-two-three. Flicking her right hand, a set of blades sprang from her wrist as she took cover behind Jean Phillip, wrapping her arm around his neck. Her left hand went for an Ares Predator III which had been holstered at the small of her back under her jacket. She levelled the smartlinked hand cannon at me. Her aim was a little shaky which I concluded was due to her being right handed, which gave me a little bit of an edge if it came to a shootout. "Who the frag are you?" she demanded.
Thankful that she wasn't shooting I obliged her. "Name's Nine Tails. You might not know it but you two drekheads seriously fragged over me and mine."
"Cry me a fraggin' river!" Madeline snapped.
"Uh, Madeline," Jean stammered, his fake French accent slipping a bit as he sweated with her blades pressed against his neck, "please don't antagonize the young girl with the Uzi."
It was an Ingram but I didn't bother to correct him as I lined up the smartlink's targeting reticule on Madeline's head. Not that I was willing to shoot, a submachine gun isn't really accurate enough even with the 'link. "What's with all this bulldrek Madeline? Selling out your team and setting up Raven to take the fall? Genetic surgery's an expensive way to cover your tracks."
"I think the bounty the Triads have out on us will more than make up for the overhead," Madeline growled, "not that I see that this is any of your fragging business, little girl."
"It became my business when your partners decided to hold me hostage," I countered, leaving the word 'bitch' unspoken but intimated in my tone of voice.
"I see," Madeline mused speculatively, "then you know exactly what I've put up with babying those losers. Do you know where Shadow and Machine are now?"
My eyes narrowed. Her tone had suddenly shifted to annoyingly reasonable. "Maybe, why do you ask?"
"Like I said, the bounty the Triads have on their heads is very large; large enough that I wouldn't mind a two-way split."
I ground my teeth together for a moment. "You're suggesting I... we hand over Shadow, Raven and Machine to the Triads. Pin all this business on them; let the Triads have their revenge for the vig?"
"Not to mention the good graces of the Red Dragons," Madeline added. "Triads always need Shadowrunners to do their dirty work. You can't put a price tag on that sort of goodwill."
It took a beat for Naomi to register the slang. "Well holy frag. Let me guess, Assistant Manager?"
"What?" she asked indignantly.
"That goodwill drek you were spouting just now. I can smell the marketing seminar bullshit from here. You're putting up just as big a front as the other assholes you run with. The sims make it look so simple don't they? Make a break from your old life as a wageslave, learn to shoot a gun, shell out for some chrome and suddenly you're your own boss. Just whizzer ain't it?"
Madeline squeezed her arm tight around Jean's neck, artificial muscles slowly closing his windpipe, her frown turning into a scowl. "What's your point?"
"You're a spoiled rich brat playing shadowrunner," I growled. "You're getting off on the freedom without considering the consequences, selling out your nakama the moment the heat went up. You picked out chumps that would fall for your line of bulldrek and you're reaping what you planted. I'd have to be a fragging idiot to get in business with a backstabbing blowhard like you."
I'll give her this, she kept her cool but her single blink told me my words had hit home. Glancing down again, she took me all in this time, not just my face and the muzzle of the gun pointed her way. Jean was starting to turn blue, unless she wanted him to deal with his dead weight she was going to have to make a move soon. My gut sank when her scowl suddenly turned into a grin. "A kid like you thinks I'm playing? You were right about one thing, dollface, I am a spoiled rich brat. My daddy's money bought me gene surgery to make me fit and healthy, cosmetic enhancements to make me pretty and a corporate university education to make me smarter. His money made powerful friends that got me a cushy job that was all pay and no work. But you know what the best thing he ever bought me was?"
I didn't like where this was going but I was expecting Beth to come around the corner behind the bitch at any moment. All I had to do was keep her talking to buy a little more time. "What's that?"
"Skillwires," she said before whipping her gun at me and pulling the trigger so fast that I didn't get a chance to pull the trigger.
She missed but not by much. The bullet winged the plasticrete doorframe next to my head, biting a chunk of the wall out that ricocheted off my temple. The Ingram went off way too late, I was falling backward already so all I managed to do was put a hole in Jean's shoulder and rip some more in the ceiling. Before I even hit the ground she snapped Jean's neck, shoving him to one side as she broke into a run, moving like quicksilver. My vision swam as I hit the floor, her high-heeled foot coming down on my gun before I could raise it again and I found myself looking down the barrel of her Predator III.
"Well, not just the Skillwires," she admitted. "The Wired Reflexes help too, plus the Muscle Augmentation. From the way you look I'm guessing you're Clover's apprentice, right? The one my stupid 'nakama', as you call them, screwed over? Let me lay some enlightenment on you, dollface, while I decide whether or not to paint the floor with your brains. Working to get to the top is for chumps. The game is rigged from the start, I learned that when I was about your age. I've never been to a shooting range or done martial arts. I've got a couple of chips plugged into my brain that turn me into a fraggin' action star. I never got an MBA either, I just slot another chip at my day job and go through the motions.
You can keep your dusty tomes and weird squiggly runes and all that drek. The truth is you'll never be faster than me, you'll never be stronger than me and, frankly, no matter how big a spell you sling a gun will always be better. I don't get a nosebleed every time I pull a fraggin' trigger. You see, money is the most powerful force in the Sixth World, not magic or any of that drek. That's what the dragons know that everyone else seems to forget. It's 2060, bitch, I can always upgrade my body and mind and let me tell you something. That bulldrek about cyberware chipping away pieces of your soul is just that: bulldrek. My nervous system is a superconductive alloy, my muscles augmented, my bones woven with titanium, the skinlink connecting my gun to the heads up display projected onto my eyeballs is telling me that my bullet will pass right through the centre of your forehead. And you know what? I don't feel any different."
She pulled the trigger and I didn't feel a thing. There was a loud noise and then... nothing. Opening my eyes, I saw Madeline still standing over me, blinking rapidly in disbelief. Feeling an itch, I reached up to my forehead and plucked something hot and heavy from between my eyebrows. Staring at it for a long moment, it finally registered that I was holding a bullet in my hands. The impact with my bare skin had perfectly mushroomed the projectile like it had hit durasteel plating. "What the frag?" I asked rhetorically.
"Sometimes you just need a little help from a friend," a disembodied feminine voice answered me before breaking into a fit of giggles.
"What the frag!" Madeline shouted, keeping her foot on my Ingram as she whipped her gun about the room, trying to spot the invisible intruder. "Clover?"
I considered going for my weapon focus but she was too fast with that gun for me to draw the katana and I wasn't going to count on a second miracle. With the martial arts training I'd been doing, I was sure I could do some real damage to her leg and maybe free the Ingram but I also knew I only had one shot to take her out. Chances were, she'd take my punch with aplomb and try to put another bullet between my eyes. Ditto went for me trying to awkwardly draw the Light Fire from the shoulder holster with my left hand or stabbing her with the combat knife from my boot.
While I was still making mental calculations, Madeline was suddenly hurled ten feet through the office's bulletproof glass, through a plasticrete wall, destroying several pieces of office furniture in her wake before finally leaving a crater in the stronger outer wall of the building. A breath that I didn't know I'd been holding came out in a whoop of relief, my heart hammering against my ribcage. Scrabbling to raise my Ingram, I half-crawled and half-slid around to see what was going on, aiming down the iron sights.
A strange girl had Madeline pinned against the wall with telekinetic force. At first I took her for a changeling, one of the recent victims of the mana surge that came with Haley's Comet five years ago. But the way her pink Sakura-themed yukata floated in an ethereal breeze undermined any idea that her fox ears and nine bushy white tails might be any kind of physical manifestation. Glancing over her shoulder, she flicked her long white hair out of her face with one slender, pale, hand, revealing deep blood-red eyes that seemed to bore into my soul and a vicious fanged smile that made my hands tremble. "I'm sorry, did you want to finish this or will I?"
Looking over her head, I saw Madeline gasping and straining against an adamant invisible force, her gun crushed into scrap. "I don't want her dead," I answered, making an effort to keep my voice steady, "there are people who want to make her answer for the drek she's done."
"Bo-ring!" the spirit sighed in exasperation. "She stole from you, almost killed you a few times. If you don't make sure she's taking that dirt nap now you'll regret it later. You can give them her head if it's really important."
I just stared at the spirit for a long moment. "Where in frag did you even come from? Why are you interfering? Hell, who and what are you?"
"Well, those are good questions," she mused. "For now let's just say that I think you're interesting." I winced when I heard the sound of Madeline's bones snap like wet kindling, her head twisted nearly one hundred and eighty degrees as her body slumped to the floor with limbs sprawling at odd angles. In the blink of an eye, the spirit was kneeling next to me, gently pushing the barrel of the Ingram down towards the floor. "Also, my name is Ibiki and if you tell anyone that I exist, I'll kill them just like her. That includes that cute orc Beth, your mistress Clover... anyone. And in case you've forgotten already: I just saved your life. If I hadn't cast that armour spell on you, your pretty face would have been turned inside out." She emphasised her point by tapping me between the eyes with a clawed finger.
Blinking rapidly for a moment, she was suddenly gone, vanished into thin air. The sound of a fire door being kicked down made me whip around and bring the Ingram up to bare once more but I only found Beth taking cover in the doorway, her shotgun at the ready. "Damn it Beth! You're late!" I scolded, lowering the gun yet again.
"Sorry, Lone Star patrol stopped off at the café," she explained, "took me longer to get the girl loaded than I thought and I couldn't get you on comms."
I cursed under my breath. I should have considered the possibility that Jean would hold a clandestine meeting in a room shielded from wireless traffic. "Ok, sorry... that was a close one." Sighing, my knees were still a bit shaky as I hauled myself to my feet. Turning to the body, I looked down at Madeline's twisted corpse and considered my options.
"Wow," Beth commented, sounding impressed as she looked over my shoulder. "What the fuck did you do?"
"What I had to do," I murmured, feeling a pang of guilt over the lie. Making my decision, I drew the Katana from its sheath. "I think I saw some pressurized canisters downstairs that had flammable written all over them. Be a doll, Beth, and bring 'em up here while I do this."
>>>>>[Well. That de-escalated quickly.]<<<<<
>>>>>[I disagree with bringing the Desolation Angels into this.]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[No choice, the Road Rippers weren't paying attention to whose turf they were trashing in their search for answers. Reparations need to be made before this blows up into a turf war.]<<<<<
>>>>>[LOGIN*#$NETRANGER; username=Dragon Master; password=*****]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[Thank you for attending this little gathering. I believe everyone is aquainted?]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[Mr. Green, my compliments on your new protégé.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[Not mine, old man. I am but a humble enabler of her education.]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[I believe the Red Dragon Triad can put her talents to better use than a down-on-her-luck talismonger.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[Please, this isn't the place for this.]<<<<<
>>>>>[Indeed, we should concentrate on business. My informant in Knight Errant tells me that the case for the robbery of Australia Post, while still open, has been put on the backburner for now and will likely be buried under a mountain of more important cases.]<<<<<
>>>>>[Easy enough when one knows what words to whisper in the right ear.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[I talked to Cold Eyes. He'll honour the deal as long as Nine Tails does her part.]<<<<<
>>>>>[Yes indeed, though one has to wonder what exactly happened to poor young Sparky.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[I thought it was you.]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[What makes you say that?]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[A spirit could have twisted him into a pretzel and stuffed him in the icebox with ease. You had the most to gain sending an ally after the thieves who robbed from one of your couriers.]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[Of course, you might also be pointing a finger at me for your own doings. After all, it was part of your business network that suffered a loss due to the robbery.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[I didn't have any opportunity to set up any sort of sympathetic link to the thieves. Even if I sent a spirit to track them down, I wouldn't have ordered them to snuff the perpetrators. I would have handed their location over to you.]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[Indeed, while I would have sent Ricky Hand to deal with them. Neither of us have the motivation to murder Sparky, even if the fool was simply caught in the crossfire.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[Sparky's fate is a nonissue. When Cold Eyes found out what he had gotten into, he changed his tune. He knows the way things work and isn't about to go after the Red Dragons just because they did what he would have done in their place. Besides, he holds this 'Madeline' person ultimately responsible. Revenge is served; everyone can get on with business as usual.]<<<<<
>>>>>[Yes, the Penrith Orks can always be relied upon to advocate the status quo.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[Cutting observations aside, I've been asked to mediate this conversation and such jibes aren't getting us anywhere. The Red Dragon Triad and the Penrith Orks have an accord, is the matter of Clover's apprentice still a sticking point?]<<<<<
>>>>>[Not if Mr. Green agrees to allow me to handle her training.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[She's beyond your training, Yun. Stick to grooming Ricky Hand and don't be too greedy.]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[Very well, I'm not about to start a war over one mongrel girl.]<<<<<
- Dragon Master
>>>>>[DISCONNECT:username=Dragon Master; ... Connection Ternimated.]<<<<<
>>>>>[And that, my friends, is the beginning of wisdom.]<<<<<
- Mr. Green
>>>>>[DISCONNECT:username=Mr. Green; ... Connection Ternimated.]<<<<<
>>>>>[So... who do you think really killed Sparky?]<<<<<
>>>>>[My money's on Nine Tails.]<<<<<
>>>>>[You really think the girl has it in her to do that? Sparky was harmless.]<<<<<
>>>>>[Sparky was also involved with two kidnappers and was in love with a psycho wannabe street samurai. Just because someone's simple doesn't mean they're harmless. Someone kidnaps you and you have a shot at escape do you stop to wonder if the asshole has family or do you do what you have to do?]<<<<<
>>>>>[Point taken. So that's your scan? Unfortunate misadventure?]<<<<<
>>>>>[I know he's the brother of a friend, dude, but Sparky made some bad choices and the one responsible for them is dead. Cold Eyes can sleep easy.]<<<<<
>>>>>[DISCONNECT:username=Morork; ... Connection Ternimated.]<<<<<
>>>>>[DISCONNECT:username=Foresight; ... Connection Ternimated.]<<<<<
'Reknowned Plastic Surgeon Goes Up In Flames' was the title of the digital screamsheet Cold Eyes was reading while still straddling the seat of his motorcycle. The warehouse Foresight had set up for the meet was nice and spacious. It needed to be, there were a few more guests than I'd anticipated. Cold Eyes had insisted on bringing along his crew, the Road Rippers. The Desolation Angels turned out in support of Beth and to bare their teeth at the Road Rippers a little. The Penrith Orks, not trusting either gang, sent a delegation to mediate and Clover insisted on backing me up. To top it off, Ricky Hand just showed up out of the blue, turning an otherwise tense situation into a powder keg waiting to explode.
Getting out of Clover's car, a cheap refurbished Mistubishi Runabout, I took in the gang leader. He was a little under six foot but had packed on the muscle. His cybereyes had a bluesteel coating polished to a blank mirror sheen, leaving them featureless without pupil or iris. He wore a Beretta 200ST at his right hip with a nasty-looking Laser Crescent Axe hooked under a loop from his belt on his left. A red, grey and white synthleather jumpsuit personally customised with spatters of UV paint made him look like part of a crime scene and his sandy hair had been shaved away from both temples to show off luminescent tribal tattoos that circled two chrome datajacks.
Lifting his leg over his bike, he stalked across the intervening space between us to meet me half way in the open space between palettes of soyfood. The heavy waterproof bag I was holding in my right hand was starting to make my arm ache by the time we stopped. I was at least a head shorter than he was, forcing me to look up into his intimidating poker face. "I'm sorry about your brother. I would have delivered Madeline alive if I could have," I told him truthfully, trying not to think about the white lie of omission I was making.
He nodded, silently holding out his hand. Lifting the bag with both hands, I placed the handles into his palm. He hoisted it over his shoulder with ease. "Not your fault," he admitted curtly, "it's over." With that, he turned on his heel and stalked back to his combat bike, gunning the engine and leaving without so much as a glance behind him.
Vallerie gave me a nod before joining Beth and the Desolation Angels, getting on her bike and riding off with the rest of the Penrith Orks. When I turned to walk back to Clover's car, I found Ricky Hand talking to my teacher, a black van pulling up behind the car. Walking over with a frown on my face, I tapped Clover on the elbow. "Master? What's going on?"
Colver held up her hand to wave me off. "Not now."
The doors to the back of the van opened and several Triads hopped out. It took everything I had not to draw the Light Fire but after a tense moment Clover popped the boot and the group turned to drag something out. I recognized Shadow and Machine's boots sticking out from inside thickly padded garbage bags as they were dragged into the van. "Clover?" I asked, bile welling in my throat.
"A small recompense," Ricky explained, grinning as he popped some gum into his mouth. "What do you care? They kidnapped you, remember?"
"I told them I wouldn't hurt them," I hissed.
Clover glanced at me. "I didn't promise them anything."
I gave Ricky a flat glare. "What'll you do with them?"
"Don't worry," he chuckled. "We've got a nice little business in refurbished working girls that'll keep them very happy."
"I thought Bunraku parlours were a Yak thing."
That made Ricky laugh out loud. "The Yaks like to do things the old fashioned, legitimate, way. Gives them the illusion that what they're doing is business. Less squeamish clientele prefer our services. We like to take things to the cutting edge."
Some of the Triads came back for Raven's still, packaged, form, placing her next to the boys in the back of the van before shutting the doors behind them. Ricky gave us both a salute before wandering back to the passenger door. "Pleasure doing business with you both; catch you 'round Nine Tails."
I stayed silent all the way home, two voices warring within me. One represented the desire to protect, even drekheads like Shadow, Machine and Raven. The other was the voice of practicality and vengeance. Either way, Shadow and Machine had been fools, not long for life in the shadows. Raven got suckered in by a smooth talker, her only real fault being gullibility. It didn't seem right that the Sixth World had just chewed them up and spit them out... and it was Clover's fault. I had to consider that my compassion was also a weakness. What would I have done with them? Let them go? What if they'd come back? At what point does an enemy deserve death?
But they weren't dead. A shiver went up my spine when I considered their fate. Sure, I might kill someone if it was them or me. I'd try to reduce casualties as much as possible but... people die. When you do dangerous drek, people die. Sometimes there was no choice. Squeezing my hands into fists, I imagined myself squeezing the trigger and killing Madeline and I realized that if I had another chance I'd do it in a heartbeat.
Selling someone in to slave traders, though? That was something else. I could never do that, never, and it disturbed me that Clover could.
When we finally got back home, Clover stopped me from walking back to my room. "Lessons start again in the morning."
Nodding in assent, I turned away from her and walked, needing nothing more than a warm bed and some sleep. When I opened the door, however, I knew that I wasn't likely to get either. Ibiki was lying on her stomach on my bed, nine tails waving about in the air. Shutting the door behind me, I dropped my armoured coat over the back of the swivel chair and slipped off the Light Fire in its shoulder holster.
"You seem upset," Ibiki observed.
"It's nothing," I mumbled.
"Liar. Not that I mind."
Taking a deep breath I tried to centre myself. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I'm anywhere you want to take that little trinket of yours," she pointed one clawed finger at the magatama hanging around my neck.
Grabbing the jewel, I ran my thumb over the smooth surface. "So what? You're bonded to this stone?"
"As you are, as we are. Love the nickname by the way, Nine Tails. It suits us."
"So it's us now?" I asked incredulously.
Rolling over, she rose gracefully to her feet, circling me like a shark as her tails twitched behind her. "Of course, you've been paying attention to your teacher's lessons haven't you? A Free Spirit requires...."
"Karma," I finished her sentence. "You require karma in order to evolve but you can't gain karma for yourself in the usual manner."
"Well, that's true for most Free Spirits at least," she said, giving me a little shrug and a fang-filled grin. Do you acknowledge that I saved your life?"
"Sure," I answered, shrugging back, "but as far as I'm concerned you did that on your initiative. I'm grateful but...."
"Not indebted," she finished for me. "Agreed, I saved you for my own reasons, not the least of which being that I was interested in you. I admit that I wasn't being entirely altruistic so holding you to a pact on that basis would be tasteless of me. Besides I much prefer entering into a mutually beneficial relationship with my partners."
Both my eyebrows shot up. "Partners?"
"I wouldn't want to give you the wrong idea by calling you my mistress," she snickered, "though that might imply that I'm willing to take your orders which I am not. Partners implies more of quid pro quo relationship does it not?"
"Sure," I answered. "Why'd you kill Sparky?"
"That lump of wasted flesh was attempting to steal my magatama."
I blinked and shook my head. "No... that can't be right. There's no way he could have known...."
"He was awakened," Ibiki whispered, leaning in close to my ear, her hands resting on my shoulder. "Not the brightest spark was Sparky, a fact that prevented him from ever being successfully tested for talent. But Madeline, she was perceptive, saw the signs and seduced him in secret where Raven couldn't see."
My mind ticked over, putting together the facts. "Between them they convinced the other three to knock over a courier full of magical goods."
"Sparky didn't know much magic but he did have a reasonable grasp of a rudimentary hypnotic suggestion spell. He knew my magatama was special the moment he saw it and resolved to steal it for Madeline, just as planned."
"They'd frame the other three for the crime and run away with the nuyen."
"Madeline was going to ditch Sparky in an actual ditch of course," Ibiki purred. "Young fools, one does not frag with magic that they do not understand fully."
"And to think I was feeling sorry for Sparky," I muttered angrily. "How'd you know all this?"
"I know a very useful Mind Probe spell," she explained, "Nathan McArthur." I froze, balling my hands into fists so tight I barely felt my nails bite into my palm. Giggling, Ibiki wrapped one of her tails around me, leaning closer. "Don't worry, it's not like I'm about to announce your secrets to the world. We're going to be good friends you and me, I can tell already."
"Somehow I doubt that," I snapped but when I turned to look at her she was gone. Gritting my teeth together, I turned and punched the wall, leaving a small dent and giving myself a set of raw knuckles.
Madeline should have killed me. I should have opened fire when I had her dead to rights before she even knew I was there. I should have confirmed that Beth was en route before engaging. As much as Ibiki claimed I didn't have a debt to her the only reason I hadn't hurled the necklace into a river was because I'd be dead if it wasn't for her. I needed to do better, I needed to be better.
I took that thought with me into my nightmares.