The group mumbles their affirmative responses, some more grudgingly than others, and they drive off into the night in search of slow-cooked pork.
Yulong settles into his seat, dipping his fried okra in barbecue sauce and taking slow, deliberate bites. “Well, this was certainly one of the more interesting jobs I have ever taken. Besides being the death of every Brotherhood man we encountered, we also managed to meet some of the strangest characters I have yet to see during my short time here in the Triangle.”
The monk chews his food and swallows before continuing. “There was the mantis shaman at the first house we visited, who seemed to be guarding some sort of astral sinkhole which I did not comprehend. Who can say what his role was in all of this?”
“And then there was Lilith, the crimson woman with her bodyguard in full plate. I could not be more relieved we managed to keep from crossing swords with them.” The adept shoots the nameless man a telling look. “What task had those poor men failed which brought her wrath down so? And the ebon crow, what mysterious sorcerer did it serve? Was it even there to watch us, or did it have some other purpose?”
Yulong rubs at his bald head and takes a sip of tea. “Why did the Brotherhood take the orklings at all? What plans did they have for them?So many questions left to answer—perhaps things will be illuminated as the great wheel turns. And more immediately, where will our next paycheck come from? Although I do not covet material possessions, I have at least learned that progress often takes root in the soil of a fresh credstick.”
Linus plops his wings, biscuit and gravy onto the table.
“Credsticks are just a means to an end, and … well … I suppose some are bizarrely motivated by credits alone but… what I mean to say is that we each seem to have our own… motivations.”
Linus looks to the giant robot, the elf, the hillbilly, the woodsman and back at the monk.
“I’ve frankly not sure that any two of us share a motivation. But our combined … competencies … are a force to be reckoned with, certainly.”
“I, too, have questions about the strange things we’ve seen today, but I don’t expect that the answers will be forthcoming. The magical forces we encountered suggest to me but one thing that I have known already: That there are powerful magical forces at work in this area, forces I can only assume are drawn to the irradiated city of Raleigh. There is something powerful there, something to which gangs like ourselves are only pawns.”
Linusbites down on the juicy fried chicken. A rivulet of grease runs down his chin, unnoticed.
“But of course that doesn’t concern you fellows. "
“There’s something here, alright.” The snake shaman’s eyes are far away, and his sudden contribution causes the other members to pause in their eating. He rocks his chair forward and puts his arms on the table conspiratorially. “The things that happened today aren’t a meaningless chain of events, that’s for certain. Our paths do not idly cross those of a spirit familiar, a toxic shaman, and an astral hole in one day.” He sips his icewater and licks his lips acidly.
“Neither do I deign to know the origin of these mysteries, but I would put money on the fact that they draw us together again.” He sets his cup down, empty, and rises to leave, regarding them all. “I will take my share of the proceeds now. What we did today, I cannot say whether it was for good or evil. I know some kids are happy and safe tonight, and that is good. But I know there are those of this group that value destruction and death and are drunk on the power it gives them. To those of you, I give my caution: Nature takes its due from us all. If for nothing else, I will remain with this band to make sure She has it when the time for you to pay is come.”
Yulong stands with Asclepius, handing him his portion of the earnings. He doles out the rest of the reward to the other team members before turning back to the snake shaman. “Unless anyone else has something pertinent to share, I believe I shall be going as well. Alexander, you strike me as a practitioner of the quiet arts. Would you care to join me for my evening meditation? I am renting a wonderful little cottage on the outskirts of the DLA; there is a bamboo forest and a screened-in porch which is perfect for sitting in zazen.”
All this time the cyborg has been sitting unu – well…not unusually quietly, but very quietly – but he lifts his chin as Yulong talks and accepts his payment from him.
His voice cuts through the din of the restaurant, less mechanical and more plaintive than before, and he speaks with an eloquence which seems to surprise even him:
“I know nothing of myself except that I am here. I do not know any of you, and yet after the past day I feel as though I may as well ask for I have nowhere else to turn. I have discovered old talents and predilections that have come up from within, previously established habits and ingrained skills have taken over almost without conscious direction. These must have come from somewhere and I must find out where and how and why lest I collapse back into nothingness.”
His voice picks up steam and his artificial eyes begin to glow with an organic light.
“All I have to go on is the hospital I awoke in. Unfortunately, I did not leave…gracefully. I would require some assistance in returning.” The cyborg’s head turns on stationary shoulders towards Skip, assessing his sauce-smeared face, PBR can, with it’s label celebrating an award won nearly two centuries previously, paused in mid-flight between table and mouth: “It would seem that perhaps we have the most in common, or at least we share similar…methods.” His neck cranes towards the con man “and you, elf; you have a silvery tongue that would appear to enable you to go places you would otherwise not be allowed. I do not know what I can offer you but….”
his voice trails off. The realization of his utter lack of possession has hit him and he looks down confusedly at the table. Gathering his thoughts appears to take an inordinate effort, but the cyborg meets the struggle and raises his gaze anew
“…but I have talents, which you have seen, and which should not be undervalued. I may be of service to each of you in turn if you would do me this.”
It’s almost as if a flash of recognition runs fleetingly through the cyborg’s eyes; he has re-realized his worth as a shadowrunner for hire and, albeit somewhat unwillingly, has bowed again to it’s call.
Skip tips the rest of the beer into his mouth, and grins at the cyborg.
“A’ight Mister Machine-O-Man, Ay’thinks ay’gots a’place y’ can stay o’er at the cabin. We can head on o’er to that thar hospital and scope it out t’morra. Course ay’thinks ay’oughta get me s’more of them detenater caps, and s’mor explosives. Seems to come in mighty handee hangin’ out with y’all, and ay’done blowed most of em up already. And y’s welcome t’hang out, y’seem like a good ol’feller to have around case shit starts t’go sideways. Which course it ’bout always does these days.”
He ponders for a moment. “Wouldn’t s’prise me if som’them crazy folks we met today come looken fer us again. Or’if Mister Maurice figers out who done instigated som’this nonsense, he might come round askin’ questions. Well, actually, seems like that feller had bigger problems. Them human s’premasists a’ways seem t’run short on friends.”
From somewhere, he suddenly has another beer, which he cracks open. He takes another bite of barbecue. “Y’know, I herd b’out this big ol lota diesel-burnen dump trucks w’out in north ‘range county. None of em werk n’more, but ay’been wonderin bout maken that feller an offer, say I fix two of em up, one fer me, one fer him. Course this was Billy Macinzee who tol’ me bout this feller, and he n’ver seems to be ‘zackly raght ’bout mucha nothin. Anyhows ay’sure would like ona them, might com in handee. Them hydraulics is made the same way t’day as they was back then, course the pumps and all is diff’rent but, bas’cally not a dern thing’s changed…”
He continues to ramble about dump trucks, motorbikes, and various fishing stores to anyone who’s listening (or isn’t).
Linus leans over to the cyborg, closer than a man with any presence of mind would, and quietly relays a tale:
“Have you ever heard of Ascanio Sobrero my friend? Of course you haven’t. He was a chemist in the 19th century, a man I like to think was under the secret influence of the Fire Bringer before the awakening made such associations more… fluid. Anyhow he invented nitroglycerin. Never heard of that either? Well you would do well to learn about nitroglycerin, because you are it’s spitting image: volatile, powerful, explosive, and deadly. Yes… quite a lot like you I think…
“I tell you this because Ascanio Sobrero never wanted his creation to be used as an explosive, but a brash and bold man named Alfred Nobel, him perhaps you have heard of? No? Well he tamed the powerful bonds held deep within nitroglycerin and shaped it into a powerful force that reshaped the world: TNT, dynamite. Of course dozens died in the process but the invention, the invention of dynamite, that changed the world and saved millions of lives by revolutionizing transportation and industry.”
“You my friend, are nitro, and you are looking for your Nobel. This is a quest that I understand only too well. I think we could learn to understand each other, and perhaps further each other’s ends? Danger is a catalyst for invention, after all…”
The group sits and chats, the time growing later and later. Allen’s Son and Son has a posted closing time of 2 a.m., which isn’t too far out from the current time. Surely, helping the Cyborg recover his memory would be a worthy task for the high minded, put people need to pay rent and buy supplies, which just means more money. Surely there’s paying work out there. Perhaps tomorrow would bring something new, a fresh paycheck. After all, today hadn’t been a bad haul for the small group.
The cyborg inclines his head at the hillbilly and the scientist and responds simply “I can do these things.” It would appear his verbosity has subsided for the time being. As Skip rises, the cyborg rises too and prepares to follow him to his cabin.
Linus, done for the night, heads out to his van to head home. Yes, his wife will wonder where he was, but conferences always have a way of running late. Linus is already preparing a new excuse for his next adventure.
The group shuffles on, going about their daily lives. A few days pass uneventfully. Each party purchasing gear, reflecting, and trying to scrape by. A few pounds of explosive here, a mystical math book there, a hand of cards, a case of PBR. But something has to happen eventually. After all, these are shadowrunners, not robots. A few phones ring, a job offer here and there. The group decides to reconvene to discuss their options.
[I’ll be sending out options for missions to people I feel are appropriately situated to receive them. Then, as a group, or as a split group, we can decide what to do.
Yulong sends out a group text to the rest of the party: “Hello all. I received word of an easy job this afternoon. Unfortunately it involves hunting innocent wildlife which I am averse to because of my religion. But I imagine this job would be perfect for some of you. Maybe we can collaborate about possible work so everyone can make some money. Please meet at Allen and Sons and Sons tomorrow at noon if you would like to exchange work details. Sincerely, Yulong.”
Skip follows with his own message:
My good gentlemen,
linus follows up:
I need help 2. should be ez to work out, just need sum help wit a gunrunner. no problems, just the guns. see u at a+s.
Sent from my mobile device
Thursday night rolls around. After 4 days off, the group is feeling a bit rested, and has accomplished a few things. [any buying errands or short learning expeditions are complete.]
Meeting up just after 7 for a nice, delicious dinner at Allen’s Son and Son, the group sits down, pondering what moves to make next.
Often the first to break the silence amongst these odd westerners, Yulong decides that tonight is no different, and begins. “Hello my friends. I have thought about each of you a great deal during the last few days, and I am glad to see you are all well.” The monk beams to each of them in turn as he speaks. Some of the less cynical men at the table almost believe him.
He pulls a small rolled note from his sleeve and inspects it. Sitting next to him, Linus notices that it is lined with Chinese characters jotted in a precise, uniform hand. “So, I have received a bit of work, but it is difficult for me to justify performing the task myself, let alone be a conduit through which someone else is inspired to such action. My contact would like us to go to. . .” He studies the paper. “An. . . Umstead park, to hunt wolves and deer.”
The adept runs his finger down the characters. “three hundred yen per fang, and for the antlers, forty yen per point. He needs twelve to twenty fangs.” Yulong looks up. “That’s all he said. Skip, you sprung to mind when I first heard of the job. I would be happy to join you if I have nothing better to do, but I do not wish to do the killing. And above all I would ask that you make sure they have a swift, clean death, if it is truly their time.”
Zin flips through his personal message system, acknowledging the monk. “Let’s see… There’s motorcycle retrieval, going hunting, and… Linus, your message was certainly ambiguous. Tell us more.”
The cyborg looks to Skip and nods at him, acknowledging a willingness to go along, both on a hunt and lusting after a withheld donorcycle.
He then turns and looks Linus in the eye, almost gleefully. “I would be willing to assist you as well, if you would let me know more. Would I be able to keep any guns I found?”
The emptiness in the cyborg’s brain is almost deafening but even he knows that he must reconstruct his defensive (and offensive) shell before rushing headlong into the potential mayhem of his past.
“I can’t imagine that the Leiutenant I talked to would have a care in the world if you took a few, all he wants is the credit for nabbing this guy.” Linus responds.
“It’s an interesting story. By the way I wouldn’t be mired in any of this if they hadn’t caught my van on a security camera while I was supposedly at a conference. We can’t keep using my vehicle for these things, it’s going to lead everything right back to me. Anyway this cop comes in and demands that I track down this gun dealer named McDonald or something like that. It’s in the data he gave me, I haven’t looked at it yet,”
“Here’s the only wrinkle I can see: this guy seems to have connections. When the order came down to nab him, he disappeared. I’m wondering if he has people in the department. It’s a chilling thought, especially since it means there might be elements of the Law that don’t want him found.”
Linus tosses the data key onto the table for any and all to take a look at.
“I think I am going to need help with this.”
Linus’ story perks the shaman from his restive state. “Corruption in the law, this is surely the first anyone has heard of this kind of thing? This strikes my interest more than hunting animals or bone-burners, but I have a fourth option for us to consider.”
“The mantis shaman from a few days ago: has nobody been wondering what he was doing in the house and what his project in the basement involved? I have not been able to get what I saw in that house out of my mind’s eye; I think it is more important than we know. I’d like to investigate that when we have the time.”
[this is the info that Linus got.]
The data stick contains photographs and videos of a white human male, seemingly mid 40s, about six feet tall, with medium length brown hair, notable widow’s peak, swept back, not terribly oily. Some jawline, a bit of stubble, and dark eyes. Some of the photos include vehicles and locations. The man is seen driving a Eurocar Westwind 3K, and is also seen being loaded into a Mitsubishi Nightsky. He is rarely, if ever, alone. Often flanked by men with dubious concealment skills, the man never appears armed himself. His most usual accessory is a briefcase, though nearly as often he sports a duffel bag, or a ski case.
There are known locations, mostly in RTPC controlled area, a few sightings within Raleigh, and evidence that he comes and goes freely from Cary.
None of the evidence shows clients, visible weapons of any kind, or even any drop offs or pick ups. Whatever he holds when he enters is what he has when he leaves.
A few names are listed as well. Contacts, associates, what have you. Of the five listed, three have been crossed off as deceased. The remaining two are a city councilman in Cary, and a captain in RTPC’s security force.
The monk pushes his empty plate away. “I would like to help bring this gun dealer to justice as well, especially if it means rooting out crooked cops and keeping some of those barbaric weapons off the street.” Yulong picks up the scientist’s device and looks over the information before handing it along to the rogue.
After flipping through the data Zinedine pipes up again. “Well this is the most interesting task to me for a number of reasons, and it should interest all of you as well, since we all live under RTPC. I’ve mentioned to Linus before that I know of some amount of police corruption, but never anything this bad. There are a number of ways to approach the problem. We could pose as buyers, try to hunt down his suppliers, or stake out these known drop points. I think a stake out would be an easy first step, and I have some contacts that could help. Is there anyone that doesn’t want to clean up our police force?”
Linus grins at this show of help.
“Well if I have stepped into the deep end, it’s good to know you men are with me.”
“I agree, these two contacts are all we have, and they aren’t much. Honestly I think the security force captain would be the more informative of the two options, but he is also likely the more dangerous. The city councilman seems lower yield, but perhaps more likely to be found unarmed and without a phalanx of armed thugs in tow. Zin should, by all means, get in touch with his contacts, but I suggest we also go to his residence during the day for an easy drive by. Just see what there is to see, look at the layout, check the ins and outs. Who knows, maybe there will be a mantis shaman in the basement and the whole god forsaken neighborhood will be blown to smithereens. I hear that happens.”
Yulong leans back in his chair. “Finding this man will not be easy. . . he sounds dangerous and well connected. His file says that of his five known associates, three are already dead. I don’t think it is a leap to guess that he had a hand in some of these deaths. In addition, we know he has an inside connection on the police force. We should be very careful to make any moves which would draw his attention to us, thereby thwarting our attempts to capture him. Zinedine, you should reach out to your contacts only if you trust them. If we value our lives, I do not think we should let this gunrunner know we are after him.”
The monk frowns to himself. “I believe these two living associates are our best leads, barring any new information from your contacts. I will go to find them and see what I can learn, through friendly conversation or otherwise.” The monk looks to the snake shaman. “In the interest of keeping our tracks covered, perhaps it would be best if they did not remember our visit? Once again your talents would prove invaluable, if you are willing to join me. We can take the old Brotherhood van—it runs well enough, although it stinks of beer and tobacco.”
Linus looks a little hesitant, then sighs.
“Yes, that sounds wise, a two pronged approach. But look let’s be in close contact, yes? If this corrupt cop is about to find out someone is on to him I would sure like to know it sooner, rather than later, yes?”
Zin stands up, buttoning his armored blazer and drawing his phone in one deft movement. “Ok, let’s not all get ahead of ourselves. I’m going to step out to make a call. Yulong your idea sounds fine, but hopefully I’ll have more input.”
Zinedine walks outside and call’s Papa Xenith.
Alexander watches the elf leave, the screen door slapping shut pleasantly behind him. He scratches at the worn wooden table and muses, half to himself. “You know, we might be going about this the wrong way. We don’t know this is a bad man, just like we didn’t know those two men we left to die were kidnappers. Maybe this time we should weigh the options in favor of innocence, instead of presuming guilt. Politicians and police officers may not tread the straight and narrow path often these days, but that doesn’t mean we must condemn them, as well.”
He looks around, and sighs, feeling his words fall on deaf ears. “All I’m saying is, let’s exercise caution. Any engagement we can walk away from without drawing steel is in our favor.” He eyes the monk’s sword, the cyborg’s arms, the redneck’s firearm. “Yulong, your plan is acceptable to me. I will journey with you and the suit to root out the politician.”
The monk leans his elbows against the table. “Well, we have a hard target and a soft target, and men enough to cover them both, I think. We could divide into two groups: Asclepius, Zinedine, and I to root out the politician, leaving Nameless, Skip, and Linus to find the security captain. These divisions feel the most. . . harmonious to me. Well balanced, and congruently oriented. But I am only speaking my mind. Does anyone else have a better plan?”
“Look no one is talking about… heh, I mean… by the fires of the sun I hope no one is talking about taking anything like the approach we took with the Brotherhood!”
Linus looks around.
“Because I mean tussling with the Walled City of Cary security forces… that would be… if I can just emphasize this point, that would be quite another thing entirely from our previous activities. No no. Let’s save the … shall I say more forceful measures… for the runner himself. And please try to remember that we’d like to take HIM alive… looks better on the news that way.”
The cyborg bows his head. His quest is of the utmost importance to him but he seems to have somehow found himself in a group of people who, far from ostracizing or attacking him, appear to have actually begun to tolerate, even accept him; even without a sense of his past, a quick glance at his own modernized body is enough to remind the cyborg that these interactions must have been few and far between.
His head rises as his mind is made up. “I have a path of my own to follow. Bits of my past have resurfaced. Some useful. Some confusing. You-” he indicated yulong with a hushpuppy, “and you,” he inclines his head at Alexander, “were intrigued by the crow that followed us. I did not give it much thought beyond my frustration in lacking a weapon, and yet it appeared again to me, and led me to a portion of my past. I am content with this portion for the time being and will assist you in your chosen path, but after I must pursue my own ends. Or, I suppose, beginnings.”
Yet again the cyborg’s eloquence and reasoning is nigh on stupefying. It would appear that it takes their current milieu to reach into the depths of his tortured being to find whatever shreds of his essence remain. Soul food to reach a soul.
The men spend the evening chatting and planning. Much is talked over, and plans are formed. The groups made, the men go their separate ways, planning and plotting.
Friday morning, and it’s time for action. Papa Z is due back with the information any time now, and besides, there’s much work to be done.
Zin returns from his car smiling. “I know you all are very talented in your various ways, but sometimes knowing and organizing the talents of others is equally effective. Anyway, I have found some information on our gunrunner. His name is Terence McDonagh. His previous employer, Ares Macrotechnology, authorized him to sell small arms in the carolinas, but he has since started trading privately in larger quantaties than authorized. Additionally, he has attempted to acquire something larger, of the type that might make you drool Skip. Whatever it was, he hasn’t gotten it, and his buyer I assume and certainly his previous employer Ares are gunning for him. Unfortunately, my source has not seen him in a few weeks, which given his knowledge of his previous work should be grounds for concern. Alex, I hope that this assuages some of your concern about our current plan, although I’m afraid I can’t share more details from my source.”
Alexander holds up his hand placatingly. “Not necessarily. But it does assuage some of my concerns about bringing this fellow to justice.”
He looks around at the group. “We have our plans and targets. Yulong, Zin, shall we go? If someone can drive the BC vehicle, I can scout ahead on the astral.”
Aside, to the nameless one, he says, “Remember well what the crow tells you in the future. It will be of great interest to us all, I’m sure.”
Yulong scans the parking lot, empty save for a few truckers getting their morning breakfast. “I am ready to move. Zinedine, perhaps you should drive? We can take your car or the van.”
The monk adjusts the strap of his broadsword. “Linus, can you tell us what you know of this councilman associate?”
The scientist rubs his temples. “He will be… I think… quite hard to access. His name is Robert William. He’s served on the city council for Cary for 12 years, and he has not listed his residence. I have some other personal facts about him, of little use, but it seems that he is high enough on the food chain to be quite difficult to access. Here’s the description I wrote down… only mildly helpful, I know”
His notes read:
He is a white male, old but not elderly, perhaps mid 50s, 60ish. His hair is dark gray, and cut to a short length, though not buzzed. It would seem to be have once been black, or at least dark brown, but those days are passed. He wears rectangular glasses, and is often found in a suit.
Yulong folds his arms into the sleeves of his robe. “We will have to find these men before we can question them. We could go to their places of work and hope they show themselves, but this seems unreliable at best. Linus, perhaps you could contact your student to see if he can dig up their home addresses, or at least places they frequent.”
Linus shrugs. “Here is what I could find on the captain, not a lot, I know, but at least a starting point. The problem with all of these fellows is that they’re holed up in Cary, for the most part… It’s beginning to look like we need a way to penetrate into the city and stay unseen to get the job done”
Nathan Joiner is a captain with RTPC security, or RTPSEC. His position, responsibilities, and a short profile are public knowledge. He is the captain in charge of procurement, armaments, RTPSEC internal discipline, and the investigation of suspected RTPC inside jobs. He’s a black male, mid 40s, short hair, appears to be in good shape. He has cyber eyes, but not other visible enhancements. He often wears dress shirts and slacks, but rarely wears a jacket. Access to him can be gained by appointment, though he is unwilling to meet outside of his office at RTPSEC.
Yulong furrows his brow. “Well, it sounds like we are going to have to gain entrance to the Walled City if we are going to run this man down. Perhaps we should make some calls to contacts, to see if they can get more information on the two associates we’re looking for—home addresses, restaurants or clubs they frequent. We should also check to see if anyone can help us gain legitimate access to Cary. Perhaps someone does delivery or works with someone inside who could set us up as employees? I will call my mentor in the Crusaders to see if they ever do business there.”
The monk steps away from the group to make a phone call. He returns to the group momentarily, his phone call complete. “I have work to do for my mentor within the Walled City. He can supply a writ for two people, but they must be humans. I apologize, Zinedine. We can pursue our other marks once we’ve finished my bit of business, but we must be discreet or we will blow my contact’s cover, as well as our own—a mistake I do not wish to make so early in the game.”
The monk folds his arms into the sleeves of his robe. “Asclepius, I would have you join me, provided your nature spirits allow it. Your capacity for discretion is. . . considerable.”
The shaman nods. “My commune with Nature is greatest in the wilderness, but Her power extends well past the walls of some city-state. I imagine I can be of aid to our quest. Let’s delay no longer.” Inwardly, he is relieved; the monk has proven to be a mite more discriminatory in his dealings than their other companions. He feels their abilities will compliment each other well.