It’s been a busy week for the team. They’ve completed three jobs in quick succession and were starting to feel heavy with cash and – as is always the case with a runner’s life – heavy with new problems to take care of. Except for Shadow. Shadow doesn’t need to fence a truck or save a homeless man, he just has to go home.
“You look like you’ll all be busy for a while, but I just want to put my feet up and rest. So, since our business is done, I’ll be going home.”
“I can give you a ride,” Elros says, “but I need to make a few calls first.”
“Don’t bother over me. I’ll make my own way. Does anybody know where the nearest train station is?”
The team answers his question with blank stares.
“Bus stop? No? Light rail? No? I guess I’ll call a taxi, then.”
“Do you not know where you are?” 2Graves asks.
“Yes, we’re in Redmond. But there must be some kind of transport around here. Redmond is still civilisation, isn’t it?”
“No. It’s really not.”
“No hotels, no buses, not even a stuffer shack. What kind of place—“
“It’s the barrens!”
“Nevermind.” Not one to let a little thing like urban decay shatter his stiff upper lip, Shadow sets on a new plan: he’ll just buy a vehicle. Elros agrees to drop him at a dealer after taking 2Graves, Sunny and B back to 2Graves’ clinic. There, Shadow buys himself a brand new Suzuki Mirage. He doesn’t even flinch as the dealer runs his fake SIN and driver’s license. By way of thanks for the ride, Shadow makes a call to a contact in Tir Tairngire’s cover operations division. They could have need of a branded Renraku truck. His contact says:
“Maybe. I’ll get back to you,” and Shadow passes the message to Elros, then heads home for that much desired rest.
Elros, however, has his own contacts and his own plans. Now he knows of a probable buyer, he decides to investigate the cost of keeping the van. He has his van carry out the rest of the team drop off on dog brain, and calls his one contact, Bull, and asks if he knows anybody who can clean up a recently acquired van, the kind acquired with a five digital finger discount. Bull sends him the number of Joe’s Garage, a chop shop in Auburn. Elros makes the call immediately and connects with a gruff voice that says
Elros says hello and presents his problem.
“Fuck off!” the voice says and the call terminates.
Elros tries again, this time speaking English and not his customary Sperethiel. “Do you service trucks?”
“Trucks, cars, people. You name it, we take care of it.”
“Did you say people?”
“Forget about it. We can do a truck. What do you need?”
“I need a truck cleaned, some windows replaced, a new paint job and a couple of modifications.”
“What about ownership?”
“What about detonation?”
“Why would I—“
“Forget about it. Bring it down to the shop and I’ll take a look.”
Elros tells Joe – or whoever – that he’d be down promptly and programs the dog brain’s next destination. He then occupies himself with a review of the truck’s diagnostics so he’s not conned into paying for services he doesn’t need.
At 2Graves home and street clinic, Sunny and 2Graves grab a snack and sit down to watch an episode or two of Neil The Ork Barbarian. They invite B to join them, but the elf junkie quickly gets restless and begins to wander aimlessly around the apartment. 2Graves keeps an eye on him so he doesn’t wander into any weapon lockers, but for now he’s not causing problems. She’s made a promise to help him, but her head is still ringing from taking a couple of flashbangs to the face and now she just needs a beer and a moment to catch her breath and organise her thoughts. But an episode and a half later, B starts muttering to himself, scratching at his skin and, no longer content to wander, begins to grope around at his surroundings. The pain has begin to dull, so it’s time to work.
“B, it’s me 2Graves. I’m going to help you”
“Have you got any bliss?”
“No. No more bliss. I’m—“
“I need bliss. I have to go get some bliss.”
“B, you said you were a doctor. If your patient said he wanted bliss, what would you do?”
“I just… I need bliss. Have you got any bliss?”
“Come with me. I’ll get you sorted.” 2Graves takes B by the hand and leads him towards the bathroom. For the first time since she got home, she notices the dried slap patches peeling off his body, trailing like breadcrumbs wherever he walks. 2Graves sends Sunny to buy some clothes from the nearest working vending machine. Sunny is out of the house just in time, just before the struggling and the screaming starts. B’s cries hit 2Graves with a twinge of guilt, but it’d only be harder if Sunny was here panicking with him. It’s the sudden spray of water that does it: a sudden sensory overload shocking B’s system. If he had working eyes, he might have seen it coming, but blind and zoned out, all the junkie knows is he was on the street, then picked up and pushed into a van by strangers, and now he’s in a strange place with strange people that aren’t giving him food anymore, now they’re dousing him with water, stripping away his clothes, forcing him around who-knows where for who-knows-why. Before long, the real withdrawal symptoms will kick in and it will just get worse. He’s not nearly strong enough to overpower 2Graves, not by a long shot, but it’s that guilt that gets her, the guilt that makes it hard. Even through the detached haze of all that chrome, she never stops feeling the guilt.
2Graves keeps B in the shower until he wears himself out. By the time Sunny gets back, he’s screamed himself hoarse and can’t make any more noise. Together, they drag him out, wrap a towel around him, escort him to a bed in the clinic and 2Graves hooks him up to a drip. He’s too exhausted and perhaps too afraid to resist the needle with anything more than a scared flinch.
“What now?” Sunny asks.
“Detox. We feed him, we keep him warm, we let his system reset. Then we can work on his eyes.”
“Are we doing the right thing? He doesn’t look… He doesn’t look grateful.”
“Of course not. We’ve kidnapped him, we’re holding him prisoner, as far as he knows the shower was water torture and just the beginning.”
Sunny stays silent.
“This is what you wanted, isn’t it? To help?”
“What if he doesn’t want help?”
“I don’t… Actually, there might be a way to find out. Watch him a moment while I make a call.”
Elros parks his van and truck outside Joe’s Garage and materialises his persona in AR. A hulking troll with dark blue-tinged skin and one horn wearing a jumpsuit that says Joe steps out of the garage and greets him with a hint of a Russian accent.
“You call earlier?”
“Yes,” Elros says.
“The Renraku truck.”
Without another word, the troll begins inspecting the truck inside and out, rifles around the engine, and sends one of his human mechanics underneath. After conferring with his assistant, seeming to satisfy himself of the condition of the truck and says to Elros:
“You mentioned you wanted a modification.”
“Yeah. I want a Gridlink and override installed.”
“I can do that. I can also fix the window and do the paintjob. The tires are okay, but the engine has heat damage up the back and your blood stains have dripped onto the rear axel. You ever see what blood stains do to an axel?”
Elros curses quietly to himself in Sperethiel, takes a moment to compose himself and says “There’s nothing wrong with the engine. I did a diagonistic, myself, and I know blood stains don’t do anything to an axel. Just the fix the window, paint the side, and clean the blood off the inside.”
“Suit yourself, but I should let you know I don’t have any LT-21 windows in stock. I can retrofit from a newer model, but it’ll take some extra time and manpower.”
“How much is it going to cost?”
“All up, leaving aside the axel damage – and that’s on you – it’ll be 8k.”
“Are you kidding?! Look, Bull recommended you because you can service it for a reasonable cost. I could do this myself if I had a body.”
“You want a body, now, too?”
“Nothing. But, hey, any friend of Bull is welcome here. You should have mentioned that earlier. I’ll drop the price to 8k.”
“That’s not a price drop.”
“It is when you count tax.”
“What tax? Look, nevermind. I’ll give you 4,000. That more than covers parts and labour.”
The troll looks over the van again, strokes his chin, then back at Elros and says, “I’ll tell you what. I can do the clean and paint for 1k, I can do the modification and repair for 3k, and because you’re kind of an ass, I’ll charge you an extra thousand. That’s 6k, and I guarantee you won’t get any cheaper anywhere else, or my name’s not Greg.”
“Fine. Just do it.”
“Excellent. We’ll be done in three days!” Business done, Elros takes his SUV and leaves Joe’s Garage. He has no home to go to, but he does have a long night of playing Age of Neil: Barbarian Adventures to help him relax after a long long day.
The following day, Thursday January 18th, begins bright and early for Shadow, Sunny and B, with a call on 2Grave’s commlink.
“Good morning, Sunshine!” Carter, her fixer, says with his usual morning pep. “I hear you’ve been busy making enemies down in The Verge.”
“First blowing up a factory, then a shootout with Lonestar, now taking down BTL dealers. You’ve had a big week. I’ve got something else for you, if you’re not too tired.”
“Only that it involves helping little old ladies cross the street. I’m giving you first offer since you’ve got that heart of gold thing going on. Meet is tomorrow morning, here at the bar.”
“Got it. We’ll be there.”
2Graves sends the details on to the rest of the team and continues with her soykaf breakfast. Any other day, she might be asleep, but this morning she’s expecting company. Said company arrives promptly at 9.30, buzzing her apartment from the street. 2Graves lets the man in and opens her door. A few minutes later, George Hampton, well dressed and well scrubbed talismongre, steps inside carrying a synth leather briefcase.
“Good to see you again, 2Graves, Sunny,” he says. “Where is the patient?”
“This way,” Sunny says and gestures for him to follow her to the clinic. There, George looks over the barely conscious B. He hasn’t eaten yet, he woke up and screamed early in the morning, then settled into a dazed state for the next few hours, sweating profusely, occasionally muttering to himself, and shivering constantly.
“I won’t waste time,” says George. “Please, give me some space.” George sets down his briefcase, opens it to reveal a collection of shaman fetishes and reagents. He lights some incense, waves a bone wand over B’s body with one hand, beats a small drum in his other, and begins to chant in a low rhythmic voice. The ritual only takes a few minutes, and by the end George is looking more raggard and much sweatier than when he first arrived. “He should wake up any moment, now,” he tells 2Graves and Sunny. “His system will be clear of any toxins and, until sunset, he will be remarkably sober. After that, you can expect the withdrawals to begin again. The road will be difficult for him.”
“Thank you, George,” 2Graves says. “How much do we owe you?”
“Forget it. I never properly paid you back for what you did. Please, call me again if you need me.”
“We will,” says Sunny. “Say hi to your daughter for us.”
George nods, and with a smile, packs up his kit and leaves.
Shortly after, B wakes, sits up and moves his head as if looking around.
“Where am I?” he asks with none of his usual hesitation of weakness of voice.
“It’s a clinic,” 2Graves says. “My clinic. My name is 2Graves.”
“Right. Yes, of course. 2Graves, Sunny, you brought me here. But, something’s off. I feel strange.”
“You’ve just been seen by a shaman. He said you would be sober until sunset.”
“A shaman? That explains it. I feel like, like a curtain has been pulled over half my brain. All these thoughts and feelings are there, but suppressed and I can actually think straight.”
“B, do you have a name?” Sunny asks.
B hesitates, runs a hand over his face, then says. “B. B is my name.”
“B is my name.”
“Okay. B, then,” 2Graves said. “You told us yesterday that you’re a doctor. Is that true?”
“I was. Quite a brilliant one, if I do say so myself. General practice and the occasional surgery. I had a practice in Chicago.”
“What happened to you? How did you go from doctor to bliss addict?”
“No.” B shakes his head and, for the first time, looks vaguely in 2Graves’ and Sunny’s direction. “No, you don’t get to kidnap me and interrogate me. God, I’ve been so frightened since I got here. You had no right to do any of this.” He doesn’t sound angry, but thoughtful, as though he’s processing it all as he says it. He opens his mouth to speak again, but stops and lets the silence drag on until Sunny speaks:
“Do you want us to keep helping you?”
“Yes. Yes, after being able to think like this for so long, I want to… I need to escape. Help me keep clean, help me fix my eyes and get back on my feet. If you can, I’ll gladly help with your clinic until I’ve repaid my debt.”
“All right. We’ll keep helping, won’t we?”
2Graves nods. B thanks them again, then lays back and asks them to let him rest and think a while by himself, while he still has a clear mind.
The team spends the rest of the day in relaxation and leisure. Then, on the following morning, Friday January 18th, they gather at the Errant Knights bar in Redmond, only a stone’s throw from 2Graves’ apartment. Carter is inside and behind the bar, but the establishment is closed and so the only other patron is their contact: a little old Japanese lady by the name of Ms Johnson.
“Thank you for coming. I’ll get right to the point, I suppose. My husband and I own a restaurant in Auburn called Teppan Yummy. We have a close relationship with a farmer just outside Seattle who keeps chickens. It’s really nothing but a hobby farm, but he breeds enough chickens to sell to us. The cost is low for us, which means we can sell dishes with real chicken at our restaurant at a fraction of what others charge. But the last two shipments we’ve been expecting have been stolen and the drivers killed. After the first one, we added some dashboard cameras in case it happened again. It did, at the same place: The intersection of 197th and 324th Streets, not far from Lake Morton. I’ve brought the video for you to review. I thought it might help.” Ms Johnson slides a datachip across the table to them. “The next shipment is tomorrow, and we’re worried it might happen again. In fact, we’re worried it might keep happening. I’d like you to make sure the delivery arrives at the restaurant and, if possible, find and stop whoever is attacking our shipments.” She offers them 10,000 nuyen for the job and agrees to pay half up front.
“I think we can help you,” Shadow says. “Would you be able to provide us with the number of the farmer?”
“Of course. I’ll let him know you’ll be calling.” With that deal made, she leaves the runners to plan, thanks them and Carter, and heads out the door and into the city streets.
The runners begin by watching the video. The dash camera shows the delivery van driving through Auburn. The night sky is remarkably clear, and the moon is visible between the buildings. Of course the lights of the sprawl make seeing any stars a fool’s hope, but it is none the less a rare sight. As the truck enters an intersection and begins to turn, two holes appear in the windscreen like cigarette burns and blood sprays across the dash. At the edge of the frame, a body slumps forward and the truck begins to rapidly veer away from the road. But before it can crash, bright headlights appear at the mouth of an alley and a Bulldog with no plates screams out onto the road and crashes head on into the van. The video ends with a few seconds of static.
“At least two people, then, a driver and a sniper,” 2Graves says.
“The windows were tinted. The Bulldog could have been on autopilot,” Shadow says. “Either way, it was clearly an ambush. The obvious choice is to change the route and avoid the ambush entirely. We could even send that van through as normal, and load the chicken into another. What about the Renraku truck?”
Elros shakes his virtual head. “I doubt it’ll be ready on time and, even if it was, it’s not refrigerated.”
“Well then we could hire a van, send it along the normal route and have the actual van go on a detoure.”
“But then we’re still sending somebody to die in an ambush,” Sunny says.
“Autopilot. No driver, no harm,” Shadow says with a shrug. “It’s fool proof.”
“It’s suspiscious,” 2Graves says. “No, your first plan was the best. Change the route and then escort it that way. It’s probably only going through this intersection because it’s the shortest route.”
“Maybe we could change the timing, too. In fact, why don’t I call the farmer and see if he’s ready now. We go at a different time, we ruin the ambush plans entirely.” Shadow turns away from the group, punches the number into his commlink, and connects with the farm and a baritone Japanese voice.
“Hi there. We represent Teppan Yummy, and we’re wondering if your chickens are ready to go tonight?”
“Chickens? What?” the Japanese voice asks, sounding short on temper. “Who are you?”
“Did the owner of Teppan Yummy not tell you? She’s hired us to make sure your van makes it to the restaurant.”
“No. She didn’t tell me anything.”
“Well, now I’m telling you. So, chicken delivery tonight?”
“No. The chickens will be ready tomorrow when we make the delivery. If the delivery was ready now, I’d deliver it now.”
“That makes sense. Well, how about we meet you when the delivery is ready, so we can check security and escort you the whole journey?”
“I don’t need security the whole journey, only where the ambush is.”
“We’ve got a plan to avoid the ambush. What time should we meet?”
“Fine. The truck crosses the border into Seattle at 9 o’clock. I’ll meet you then.”
“Excellent. We’ll see you then.” Shadow ends the call and turns back to the team. “I’ve set up a meet tomorrow when the truck crosses the border. I guess the farm is in Salish-Sidhe.”
Sunny grins. “All right. Sounds like we have a plan!”