Shadowrun@QUT - Finished

The Drone Run, pt 1

A tale of a (Dick)man and his drone

Rube glanced out of her window. Scian’s van was still parked by the kerb, the motionless form of the decker apparently napping in the front seat. Wonder how long it’ll take to find anything?

A day or two ago Trac-E had called them to a meeting in VR. “Something different”, she’d claimed, giving them the location their next Johnson had asked to meet at – a Stuff-R-Shack warehouse down near the bay. Upon arrival they’d been only slightly surprised to be greeted by two stocky goons. Much to Hyde’s annoyance the goons turned out to be only bodyguards for the Johnson and they’d been ushered in without so much as a punch thrown.

The Johnson was a smallish, snazzily dressed corper-type; shiny black shoes, mirrored glasses, sharp suit. The run he presented was simple: destroy some prototype drones manufactured by an Evo subsidiary called Triple Helix. Not snatch, not grab; just destroy. Hyde (unsurprisingly) had been extremely enthusiastic about the idea, to the point where he’d almost been willing to do the run for free. Scian… had been much less so. Fortunately for the group Scian had eventually been talked into accepting the run and Hyde had been convinced to take the pay.

The Johnson hadn’t been able to tell them too much. There were somewhere between five and ten of the drones currently built. Initially he’d portrayed them as modified MCT Fly-Spys but after a few pointed questions had admitted that they were Renraku arcology-based wasp drones – in other words, designed off insect spirits. After some negotiating they’d accepted five thousand nuyen as a base rate (three of that up front) as well as twenty-five hundred per drone. Now it was simply a matter of finding out how many drones there were, finding where they were kept and nuking them.

Rube’s fingers itched; the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. She’d spent the last few days studying combat spells with one of the older Wiz Kids and had perfected her fireball spell. As long as I can get at the drones before Ugly does…

Scian’s still-annoyed voice snapped her attention back to the present.
‘So, good news and bad news. The good news: there’s only eight drones. The facility’s in downtown Renton and it looks fairly small and simplistic; security shouldn’t be too difficult to deal with.’

Dybs’ voice broke over the commlink. ‘The bad news?’

‘The bad news is only seven are at the Renton facility. Number Eight was checked out by an executive for a presentation at Evo HQ on Monday. It’s being kept off-premises, location unknown.’

Rube frowned slightly. ‘So we have to get rid of these things before Monday.’

‘You guys have to. I’m not going anywhere near that lab.’

‘We have to get rid of the drones by Monday and you will be getting us through security,’ Dybs growled. ‘Wear a balaclava or hack the cameras or something. You’re coming.’

Before Scian could argue further, Rube butted in. ‘So we’ll take out the labs first, yeah?’

A brief pause. ‘No. The moment Triple Helix find out about the wrecked drones they’re going to give every last scrap of security they have to the executive. We wouldn’t be able to get near him.’

‘But if we grab the guy first and they hear about it they’ll ramp up security on the labs and we won’t be able to get near them. Getting to one guy in his house is much easier than breaking into a fully alert lab compound.’

‘Yeah, but—’

The ork sighed. ‘Compromise. We hit them one after the other. Grab the executive stealthily, get him to give up his drone and then hit the labs as soon as possible after the fact. Given it’s the weekend we should be able to make that before they hear about the disappearance. They shouldn’t have time to revoke his credentials either. Do you have his information?’

Scian grumbled, ‘Give me a second.’ After a minute of silence he suddenly burst into peals of laughter.

‘What is it?’

A stream of data popped up on her view. After a few seconds she snorted loudly and promptly dissolved into a giggling fit as well.

Dybs’ disgust was evident. ‘How old are you two?’

‘Come on, man; he’s a corporate executive named Sly Dickman. You –’ the elf dissolved into laughter again before collecting himself – ‘You can’t say that isn’t the perfect name for an excecutive.’

‘Hilarious, I’m sure. If you’re quite done sniggering like five-year-olds, where does he live?’

Rube wiped her eyes and looked back at the data. ‘Corporate suburb not too far out of Renton.’

‘So we’re not just going to be able to go in and beat Dickman—’

Both elves dissolved into laughter again, joined by a deep snort from Hyde.

A deep sigh echoed over the commlink. ‘As I was saying, we’re not just going to be able to interrogate him in his house. We’ll have to extract him and make him talk elsewhere.’

‘Get him to spit it out, if you will,’ Scian sniggered.

Deliberately ignoring the elf, Dybs continued, ‘I’m thinking we go tonight. We’ll scope the place out, head in, grab him – Rube can mind-control him for added security – and use him to get his drone. Once that’s done Rube can wipe his memory of us and we’ll dump him back with nobody the wiser. Easy.’ Before Scian could say anything more, he added, ‘As the decker, you’ll be coming to get us in his house in the first place. We’ll need the van for transport anyway.’

‘Fine. Time?’

‘Meet at the van at eight.’

‘Okay. I’ll be parked out the front of Rube’s place.’ The line shut off with a click before Rube could protest.

No, not like I have housemates who might object to a strange van parked outside or anything. She’d be surprised if Scian made it until eight without one of them trying to buy drugs off him. She glared out the window and was surprised to see he’d vanished from the driver’s seat. Immediately she dropped into Astral and strode out to the van to satisfy herself he was still there. To her relief she found his aura lying prone in the back of the van, propped up beside a solid cube of cold she assumed was the Doberman.

I don’t know how he could deal with having that much coldness around him. So much tech. At least his aura’s clear of it. She turned to head back but something in the back of her mind made her pause. Frowning slightly, she took another long look at his aura. It was definitely clear. Odd. Weren’t deckers meant to have decks, or datajacks at the very least? I’ll have to ask him tonight.

As she slid back into reality a thought occurred to her. After a few minutes of searching online she’d found what she was after and her frown deepened. Maybe Dybs’ paranoia wasn’t too far off the mark at all.

She relaxed back with a small, self-satisfied smile._ I know why you’re scared of Evo, Scian._ She’d have a little chat with him tonight. If he was cooperative then the team would have much more than a measly decker on hand – and perhaps he’d be less inclined to make jabs at Dybs so frequently. If he wasn’t and couldn’t be swayed… she tried not to think about it. Six or seven figures was a lot of money, true, but she couldn’t help recalling her father’s words when she’d told him about the drug-free ‘trips’ she’d been having: ‘People are willing to pay thousands for anything that gives them an edge over the next guy. You’re that edge. Just remember that you’re only useful while you can be controlled. The moment they feel they can’t control you… well, reverse-engineering humans isn’t particularly easy, but that won’t stop them from trying.’

She looked at the cramped, dirty room she was in and tried to ignore the queasy feeling in her stomach.
*
Dybs had arrived promptly at five to eight, Hyde trailing in ten minutes past. Not particularly keen on her housemates asking any more questions about the van, Rube had demanded they head off immediately despite it being too early to make any move on the house. Traffic was surprisingly light for a Friday evening and after doing a brief drive past the property, Scian settled for parking in the next suburb over.

In the back Hyde rested quietly against the van wall, his massive bulk packed in beside the Doberman. After stating that they’d move out at ten Dybs fell into a meditative silence on the other side of the van. Beside her in front Scian stared aimlessly out of the windscreen. She checked the time; eight-thirty, still a couple hours or so before they had to get serious. Plenty of time for a chat.

She pulled up a private channel with Scian. ‘I have a little question for you.’

He kept his eyes straight ahead, like the van was still moving. ‘Yes?’

‘Where’s your deck?’

‘Implanted. Head.’

‘Funny. I can’t see it from astral. Actually, I can’t see anything in you from astral. You’ve got no ware at all.’ A small cat darted across the road; she instinctively looked for its aura to confirm, not breaking line of sight until she was satisfied that it was only a tabby. ‘Bit odd for a decker.’

‘You’re looking wrong. You’re stoned most of the time. You’ve probably overlooked it.’

She continued as if she hadn’t heard him. ‘Actually, very odd for a decker. Not so odd for a –’

‘For a what?’ His tone was even, measured. Too measured. ‘Not so odd for a what? For a mage? I can assure you I’m no—’

‘Technomancer.’ The silence was delicious. She counted eight full seconds of silence, then—

‘If you sell me out I swear I’ll take all of you down with me.’

Surprised, she looked over at him. His knuckles were white around the wheel and his eyes were locked firmly on the horizon; his voice was even, his aura terrified and furious in equal measure. ‘Sell you out?’

‘That’s what people do, isn’t it?’ A snarl was beginning to enter his voice. ‘Corps pay good money for people like me. They probe into our brains, take us apart at the seams trying to see what makes us tick, force us to perform mindless tasks endlessly while they analyse us…’

‘I hadn’t thought for a minute of selling you out,’ she said, and it was almost the truth.

He looked at her with reproach. ‘Sure, because money is clearly not important to you.’

‘I’m not going to sell you out. I don’t betray teammates.’ Unless there’s a damn good reason. ‘Besides, if I sell you out, I’m just as liable to end up a lab rat or corp prisoner myself. Or had you forgotten people like me are still a viable commodity for some?’

The first hint of a frown traced across Scian’s brow. ‘Then what’s it to you whether I’m a decker or – that?’

She shrugged nonchalantly. ‘I don’t like being lied to. Your charade was going to fall apart sooner or later, especially with Dybs watching your every move. If at least one of us knows the truth it’ll be a lot easier to smooth over should word get out to the team. Besides – if we know the truth you don’t then have to worry about limiting yourself in the name of keeping up appearances.’

‘And if word gets out beyond the team?’

‘If there’s no rumours, there’s no need for anyone to talk about it. You understand?’

He scowled. ‘Yeah, easy for you to say.’

‘At least you can masquerade as something legitimate,’ she growled, irritated. ‘Try passing off obvious magic as a lucky accident, or spirits as block-wide drug trips. Magic licences require registration with UCAS – having a SIN’s bad enough, never mind being tagged as Awakened. I’m in just the same bind as you are.’ A deep breath, then she continued: ‘Look. Here’s what I’m getting at. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Give me a hand and I’ll back you up if needed. You and I… we’re not so different.’

‘I beg to differ,’ he snorted. Then he paused. ‘Well, besides the whole elf thing. And the classical music.’

No shit, Sherlock. New tack. ‘What do you know about the Chaos tradition?’ When he looked at her blankly, she sighed. ‘Traditions are flavours of magic—styles, beliefs, if you will. Magi can follow any of a number of traditions.’

‘Can you give me an example?’

‘Blood’s probably one of the best known ones, if one of the least followed. Or Black—surely you’ve seen those gothic tryhards lounging about being miserable.’

His grip on the wheel relaxed slightly. ‘Yeah, okay. So it’s what kind of magician you are, got it. What’s that got to do with me?’

‘Chaos magicians…’ she found herself at a loss for words. She knew what she experienced, she knew what she saw. She hadn’t tried explaining it to someone since she first Awakened. ‘We do magic through manipulating the code behind the universe. When I cast a spell, it’s like when you script.’_ I think._ The most complex script she’d ever written involved two love triangles and a dead body. ‘You hack the matrix. I hack reality.’

At this, Scian’s eyes had lit up. ‘You’re saying the universe is code-based?’

‘For me.’ Another pause. ‘What’s it like for you?’

He slumped down a little and looked out at the street. ‘It’s just like being in VR 24/7. I can see WANs and PANs and icons everywhere, all the time. I can see the flow of data through the air, manipulate it as it passes. I don’t need a datajack to access anything; I can do it all remotely. Everything is connected. Only virtually, though. Can’t touch reality.’ Scian straightened up again and looked back to her. ‘So tell me. If we have no real overlap in skills, how exactly are we meant to scratch each other’s backs?’

‘We scratch each other’s backs because we have no real overlap in skills. Rather than doing our own little things, let’s…network more. I help you when hacking just won’t cut it; you help me when magic isn’t a viable solution.’ She quickly added: ‘For the good of the team.’

Scian contemplated her words. ‘I think I see what you mean.’

‘We have a lot to offer each other.’

‘I can’t see that I have that much to offer you.’ A small grin played across Scian’s face. ‘Though I think there’s plenty you have to offer me…’

Rube furrowed her brow. Plenty? Scian didn’t do drugs, at least not that she was aware of. Her spells were useless for hacking. Unless he meant… Rude bastard! ‘Excuse me?’

Now it was Scian’s turn to look confused. ‘What? What do you think I meant?’

Mentally preparing to fireball him, she raised an eyebrow and pulled a track from the matrix. Bom-chika-wow-wow, chika-wow-wow began to drift over the channel on a loop. Now it was Scian’s turn to raise an eyebrow. ‘What the hell kind of spells do you have?’

Oh. Spells. She briefly wondered if altering his memory was an acceptable option. ‘Plenty. What’s your interest?’

‘Not whatever the hell you thought,’ he snorted. He twisted around in the seat to face her straight on. ‘Mind control.’

Rube smirked, embarrassment quickly fading. ‘I was hoping you’d say as much.’

‘I saw you send that Yakuza to his death, and I saw you looking through Xa’s mind to confirm our information. You’re coming in tonight to mentally control Dickman for added security. I can control machines. I can control cameras. I can control vehicles, drones, guns, implants – but I can’t control minds.’ Yet. ‘That’s where you come in.’

‘Where I come in to what?’

‘I may have a job for you in the future, if you’d consider working with me. Less than legal, of course—’

She held up a hand. ‘You’re offering money?’

‘Plenty.’

‘Power?’

‘Of course.’

‘And the chance to use all of my favourite spells on a regular basis without interference?’

‘The job would rely on it.’ His smile grew. ‘I’m assuming you’re up for it?’

A grin split Rube’s face. Oho, am I up for it. ‘You’re offering me precisely the three things I started running for in the one place and on a grand scale. Of course.’

‘Excellent. It won’t be for a while—I’m hoping to bring all of you on board, though Trog Boy may prove difficult to sway.’ He twisted around to glance into the back of the van. Rube glanced back as well. It took her a moment to spot the darkly-clad ork settled against the wall; when she realized he was looking at the pair of them, she swung back around, a strange feeling of worry growing in the pit of her stomach.

‘What?’ Dyb’s voice floated from the back.

‘Nothing you need to worry about, trog,’ Scian replied evenly.

Dybs glared at him. ‘You’re awfully mouthy for a measly decker.’

Rube smiled; she’d been spot-on in guessing the ex-military operator had picked up on Scian’s paranoia and lack of visible deck. She waited with interest to see how Scian would react.

Scian held Dybs’ gaze and nodded slightly. ‘I suppose I am. Perhaps you’re owed a small apology.’

‘I doubt I’ll get it,’ the ork grunted, but returned to his commlink.

‘You weren’t wrong there,’ she said. ‘You were planning on swaying Hyde… how, exactly?’

‘Chance to disappear people on a regular basis and get paid for it. What we’re doing at the moment, really, just a bit more regular and with far more leeway. I’m sure the brute won’t have to think too hard.’

Rube glanced around again, this time at the brute in question. As always his expression was hidden under the mask but from the cracking of his knuckles she guessed he wasn’t happy. Well, he’s stuck in a van several sizes too small for him and he’s forbidden from damaging anything when we get there. ‘I’m not sure he could, to tell you the truth.’

Scian chuckled. ‘Probably. Well. Do we have a deal?’

‘It’s a deal.’ She smiled and stretched a little._ That went better than expected._ ‘There’s still an hour or so until we can move out. Any games you could recommend to kill the time?’
*
She didn’t know when she fell asleep – possibly somewhere around the fifty-eighth level of Angry Birds 6: Godzilla Space Odyssey 11: Farm Tower Saga 3 – but woke to a light tap on the shoulder from Dybs. ‘We’re moving into the area now. Astral?’

Rube yawned, nodded and stepped out into the astral plane. There wasn’t much to see in this area. All the fancy houses looked like the same dark prism, their occupants’ auras well masked; only the very occasional animal running about; not even a single idiot walking the street.

Something flashed a bit further up the street. It was heading towards her. Correction: at least one idiot walking the street. Cautiously she moved off the main road and off into a yard, unwilling to risk being spotted in the event the mysterious interloper was Awakened. As it turned out it was a good choice; the flashing light was a watcher spirit on patrol. She scouted the area carefully for more but found no trace. Estimating the patrol spirit’s route to take about fifteen minutes, she hurried back to her body.

‘A single watcher patrolling on a fifteen-minute circuit,’ she said. ‘It’ll pass his house shortly. We can hit him then.’

Dybs nodded and pulled on a mask. ‘Everyone catch that? Good. Scian, you’re staying in the van and taking out his security systems. Don’t take them offline. That will probably trigger an alarm of some kind. Just keep them off us. Hyde, Rube and myself will enter the premises where I will incapacitate Dickman. Rube will then place him under mind control for added security. Hyde will be there in case of an unexpected fight and will not cause any damage to the property or the target at all. Understood?’

Rube and Scian nodded. Hyde paused, shrugged his shoulders resignedly and grunted assent. Rube assumed it was assent, anyway. She carefully wrapped a bandanna around the lower half of her face and switched one of her contacts off in preparation for casting. ‘Give me a few seconds and I’ll be back when the watcher’s out of range.’

Leaving her limp body in the passenger seat, she quickly skimmed over to their target’s house. The watcher spirit was a few hundred metres up the road. Within thirty seconds it had passed Dickman’s house; in another ten it was around the corner and out of sight. She returned and straightened up, blinking. ‘We’re clear. Time to move.’

Scian brought the van up through the other end of the street, parking outside the small mansion and killing the ignition. ‘Give me a minute to get the external cameras.’

‘Internal would be good as well,’ Dybs said.

Scian shot him a glare. ‘Well, no shit, but let’s start with the ones that might be able to see the van first, hmm?’ Muttering darkly to himself, he slipped fully into hot sim and began looking at the house’s network. Blech. Definintely a corper. It wasn’t the most secure of networks but it certainly wasn’t too far off it.

He poked at the mainframe experimentally before shaking his head and deciding to try going in through one of the cameras instead. Cameras rarely had the same type of security the mainframe did and provided one of his most frequently used entries into secure systems. Dickman’s system was no exception. With a few quick scripts the camera was his, followed by the security systems. He eyed the locked-down personal data storage areas wistfully and thought about formatting the server on the way out – Not tonight. If their plan was to work there could be nothing indicating that the team had been there at all. He satisfied himself with rearranging the cameras to give the team a clear run to the bedroom where their target was sleeping. ‘You’re good. Be quick.’

Dybs activated his chameleon suit and silently slipped out of the back door, followed not-so-silently by Rube and Hyde. He reached tentatively for the door handle – locked. ‘Mind letting us in?’ A sharp click sounded a few seconds later. ‘Thanks.’

The three stepped into an opulently decorated hallway. Well, perhaps not that opulent; certainly the decorations were pricey, shiny and no doubt valuable but they were sparsely spread out. Instead of photo frames, two or three mirrors sat on the wall instead. Hyde’s mask fixated on a large Asian-style vase and he sighed wistfully.

‘Where to?’ Dybs asked.

‘Follow the hallway. Second arch on the right, through the living room. His bedroom’s on the far side,’ Scian’s voice said. ‘Don’t stray from the straight line between the couch and TV; the cameras are faced to the sides of the room.’

‘Affirmative.’ He moved silently down the centre of the hallway, turning sharply at the second arch. The living room was decorated in a similar fashion to the hallway; a hard-looking couch sat on the back wall, opposite a full-wall black screen. ‘Where’s this line, Scian?’

A bright green track appeared on his AR overlay about a metre in front of the couch. ‘Couch is visible on the camera. No closer than that. Careful when you go in the next room – he’s asleep. Cameras are on the ceiling there, so you have room.’

The ork began treading lightly along the path, thankful that the man slept with his bedroom door open. As with the living room, the bedroom was sparsely furnished. Most of the floorspace was taken up by the king-sized mattress in the centre of the room. Their target sprawled unconscious in the centre of the bed, snoring softly.

Dybs looked back to Rube. ‘I’ll nervestrike him and bind him, then you’re up.’ She nodded. ‘Hyde… just don’t damage anything.’

Hyde nodded, fingering the spray-can of paint on his belt.

Dybs turned back to the sleeping man. He raised his right hand. With a sharp spark he struck the man’s neck. Dickman’s eyes shot open and for a terrifying moment Dybs thought he’d missed the mark but the man did nothing beyond blink furiously. He let out his breath in a stream. Done. Quickly the ork pulled out rope and tape and bound the paralysed man for security, making sure to plug his ears and cover his eyes and mouth. Satisfied with his work he waved Rube over. She didn’t bother to touch the man; a few seconds later she nodded as well. ‘It’s done.’

Dybs turned to Hyde, intending to ask him to carry the paralysed form out to the van.

A metre-high grinning skull in a top hat (complete with a bow tie made from the letters ‘H’, ‘Y’, ‘D’ and ‘E’) stared back at him from the rear wall.

Hyde slipped the spray-can back onto his belt and looked at Dybs. ‘It’s only paint. It’s not damaged!’

Dybs groaned audibly. “Go shadowrunning”, he said. “They’ll be professionals too”, he said. Motherfucking liar.

‘Got him?’

‘Affirmative,’ the ork growled, glaring at Hyde’s tag in the hopes it would melt off under his gaze. ‘We just need to clean up –’

‘Good, because you’ve only got another two or three minutes before that spirit’s back. We need to move it.’

Dybs sighed. Perhaps Rube could add in a false memory when she wiped the other ones. Surely a corper’s bedroom wall was the ideal place for some popular noveau street art. ‘Hyde, grab him. We’re leaving.’

They made their way outside without incident, Hyde depositing Dickman roughly in the back of the van. With one last furtive glance at the mainframe, Scian jacked out, resetting his connection to be sure he wouldn’t draw any attention. The engine sputtered into the life and they began driving towards a less populated area of the town.

Dybs adjusted his mask before sitting Dickman to lean against the wall, removing his commlink as he did so and passing it up to Scian. ‘Have a poke around that when we stop. See what you can dig up. We’ll need to wait for the paralysis to wear off before we can do much.’

Scian eventually parked the van in a quite area of Redmond and began fossicking with the commlink. ‘Doesn’t look like much. Business emails, personal emails – an email to Ares about a year old, looks very suggestive of an offer to sell out – bills – nope. Nothing here but generic blackmail fodder.’

‘Okay. Rube, that means you’re up. Get him talking?’

She frowned and shook her head. ‘Doesn’t work like that. I can’t make him talk about stuff I don’t know about. Get him thinking about the drone first and I can probe his mind for information. If you can get him talking outright, so much the better.’

A low chuckle rose from Hyde.

Dybs sighed. ‘Right then. Masks up or look away.’ He turned back to Dickman and with one fluid motion ripped the tape covering the man’s eyes off before carefully removing the earplugs. ‘So, Sly, we need to have a little chat. You’ve got something we want. It’s small, looks like a bug and you’ve got a presentation for it Monday. Know what I’m talking about?’

The man’s eyes widened a little and a sheen of sweat began to form on his brow.

‘Now, we’re reasonable people. We don’t want to cause unnecessary trouble.’ He pointed over to the corner where Hyde sat, idly swinging his mace the way a teenager would swing a baseball bat. ‘That being said, my colleague there is much less reasonable.’

Hyde swung the mace into his palm with a loud smack.

‘So here’s how things are going to work. You are going to cooperate with us. In exchange, we will not hurt you. In fact, we’ll even return you to your house as soon as the job’s done with the memory of this whole debacle removed. However, that hinges entirely on your good behaviour.’ He paused to let his words sink in. ‘We’re after that drone of yours. The one you’re planning to show off to the big fish on Monday.’

Dickman’s eyes widened further and he shook his head weakly, murmurs coming from behind the tape across his mouth.

‘You’re worried about Triple Helix interrogating you? Oh, don’t be. I’m sure you realised that our mage had you under mind control earlier; you won’t be responsible for any of your actions during this. Just cooperate with us and everything will be just fine.’

He seemed to consider this, then bowed his head. Dybs nodded to Rube. ‘All yours.’

Rube began to probe inside the man’s now-open mind, wincing as a sharp pain spread across her forehead. She suddenly felt tired. Shaking her head to push the feeling away she forged deeper into the swirling thoughts, looking for – ‘Found it.’ A small, waspish drone. With a poke it exploded out into a three-dimensional diagram. Only mildly interested, she glanced at the contents. A few seconds later she was very interested. ‘So. Do you want the interesting news, the really interesting news or the bad news?’

‘Interesting news,’ Dybs said.

‘It’s not even remotely close to a Fly-Spy. It’s nanite-based. If his memories are to be trusted, it’s capable of exerting short-term emotional control over nearby targets, with the particular feelings and emotions entirely controllable by the owner. Wireless reprogramming’s still in development though.’

Scian pricked his ears up at ‘emotional control’. ‘Very convenient for the Johnson that the diagrams didn’t show that. What’s it worth, does he know?’

‘That’s the really interesting news. This meeting on Monday isn’t just a sales presentation – there’s too many big movers and shakers lined up for it. Evo CEO’s there, looks like half the controlling board is too. If the range he’s been given is accurate we could split the profit from a sale four ways and still be making almost as much each as the Johnson’s paying us for this whole run.’

Dybs gave a low whistle. ‘Well. Looks like we’ll need to have a bit of a chat with him; I think we’re owed a bit more than we first thought. Where’s he keeping it?’

She winced. ‘That’s the bad news. It’s in a bank safe-deposit box.’

Dybs frowned. This complicated things. ‘One of the big ones?’

‘Surprisingly not. It’s just a local. Seattle Prime, down on Eighth and Main.’ A pause. ‘It’s biometrically locked and filled with cameras, if his memories are to be trusted. Can’t see anything astral because he’s not a mage but they’ll likely have wards over the withdrawal areas. Probably no wards anywhere else in the building; they’re not a big enough place to warrant it. I don’t think they’ll have much in the way of spirits or on-site mages either, especially at this time of night.’

‘Can you confirm any of that?’

‘Not until we’re there.’

‘Then how do you know?’

‘I do study magical security,’ she said, affronted. ‘Banks that size can’t afford the full load-out of the big names. They’ll cover the critical areas with magic but rely on pure mundane security for the rest.’

Dybs turned back to the motionless man. ‘Right. When we get there, you’re going to head in. Two of us will accompany you as bodyguards. You will be under mind control for the duration and your commlink will be monitored at all times. Any attempt to call for help or escape and the rest of your very short life will be spent as a piñata for –’ he gestured again to Hyde – ‘this fine gentleman. Are we clear?’

He nodded mutely.

Dybs replaced the tape as Rube craned her neck over the seats. ‘Not to be too much of a stick-in-the-mud but I can’t help noticing he’s in his pyjamas. I know it’s nearly midnight and all but I think the bank might be a little bit suspicious if he makes a withdrawal dressed like that.’

The ork paused. Heading back to the man’s house for a suit would be time-consuming and risky; attempting to buy a suit at this time of night would be foolhardy.

‘I have a spare suit in the van,’ Scian offered. ‘It’ll need some alteration though.’

‘Give it here then,’ Dybs grunted. Thankfully Dickman was only slightly pudgier than Scian and he set to work altering the suit with gusto as Scian – well, the autopilot drive program, anyway – drove them towards the downtown area.

Scian watched him stitching up the folded material in the interior feed, frowning at the soon-to-be useless suit. ‘You’re a surprisingly good seamstress.’

Dybs grunted noncommittally.

Scian rolled his eyes and returned to watching the road ahead. Tweet: Apparently the British Army is a great place to learn to sew #orksandcrafts #dybsdoesntsuckforonce

In short order, a tape-free Dickman was wriggling into the suit under the watchful eye of Hyde. As he buttoned up the shirt she spoke into her sub-vocal mic, ‘You know he’s going to be out of my control once he goes past the ward, right?’

‘He may not necessarily know that,’ Dybs replied. ‘Just get it up again the moment he’s back in range. We won’t let him stay long.’

‘Who’s “we”?’

Dybs looked at his three teammates and tried to picture any of them as professional bodyguards. It was a depressing activity. ‘Scian and I.’

‘Why do I have to come in?’ the elf complained, pulling into a side-street around the corner from the bank. ‘I can’t do anything in there.’

‘Because you’re dressed for it and guys like him don’t make withdrawals with only one bodyguard,’ Dybs growled. He quickly shifted his chameleon suit to resemble something a bit more legal-looking, matching Scian’s dark slacks and clean shirt. A wave of déjà vu washed over him; it had been a good number of years since he’d done bodyguard work. Well, fake bodyguard work. ‘Besides, you need to be near him to keep a close eye on his commlink traffic, don’t you?’

‘Give me a moment to check out the astral,’ Rube said. Her body went limp quickly and she trotted over to the imposing building, keeping a sharp eye out for spirits. As she’d expected there were none present; the only ward she could spot covered the entrance to the deposit box area. She returned. ‘As I thought, no spirits and only one ward over the safe-deposit boxes. Keep an eye on him.’ She refreshed the control link and settled into the seat. ‘I’ll stay here. Don’t want to be more visible astrally than I need to be.’

‘You stay here to make sure Hyde doesn’t decide to practice his painting skills,’ Scian grumbled, ignoring Dybs. He unbuckled his seat belt and slid out the front door. A wave of butterflies went through his stomach; he’d have to be extremely cautious of cameras in the lobby. ‘Shall we?’

Dickman stepped out of the van, brushing down the suit automatically. He quickly trotted forward to take his place at the front of the pack; Scian and Dybs fell in behind him. They walked around the corner and out of sight.

Rube frowned. She hadn’t thought of that corner; she wouldn’t be able to re-establish her control until the man came back into sight. I’m sure it’ll be fine. Dybs and Scian are with him; he won’t try anything. She brought up Dybs’ optical feed, watching as the small group entered the building.

‘No undue activity on the commlink,’ Scian said. ‘He’s behaving.’

‘Of course he is. His head’s still mine,’ she replied.

The group were greeted by a suited man who listened politely as Dickman requested to withdraw his ‘deposit’ and passed across his account information. The man nodded and motioned for the group to follow him to the back of the building. When they reached the door to the safe-deposit room, he turned to look at Dybs and Scian. ‘I’m afraid only the account holder may enter the room.’

‘It’s wireless protected. I can’t monitor him while he’s in the room,’ Scian said.

‘Then he’ll just have to be quick about it,’ Dybs said. ‘Check it once he gets back out.’

Rube’s stomach turned. With a sternly-worded instruction to not try anything stupid, she dropped her control and watched as Dickman entered the small room, leaving Dybs and Scian behind with the teller. Fifteen agonizing seconds passed, then twenty, then –

He walked back out, a small box in hand. ‘Thank-you.’ Even through the second-hand feed Rube could hear the dismissive tone in the voice. Good; he looked for all the world like a normal arrogant corper.

‘Any sign of trouble?’ Dybs asked.

Scian tilted his head side to side. ‘None. No undue traffic at all. We’re clear. Got him again, Rube?’

‘I need natural line of sight. Get him back around the corner as soon as you can.’

A half-minute later the group rounded the corner and she reached out for his mind again. As her control settled into place another spike of pain went through her head, this time strong enough to make her grit her teeth and audibly groan. Another wave of exhaustion washed over her.

‘You okay?’ Scian asked, climbing back into the driver’s seat.

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Just in need of a good rest.’

Dybs climbed into the back, re-binding the unprotesting prisoner before stashing the box near the front of the van. ‘We’ll take a break before we hit the labs; we need to take a good look at this drone. If you can find an empty warehouse or something similar towards the Barrens we’ll rest there for a few hours and prepare.’

‘M’brothers can keep watch,’ Hyde grumbled.

Dybs considered the idea of a team of tiny Hydes running about and shuddered involuntarily. ‘Sounds like a good idea. Know of anything suitable in your gang’s territory?’

Hyde nodded and passed an address to Scian, who satisfied himself that Hyde hadn’t tagged anything before starting the van. Hyde’s directions led them to an abandoned building at the edge of the barrens; an old concrete warehouse covered in graffiti and rubbish. The roller door at the front was open. Scian pulled in, parked to one side of the main area and was careful to set his Doberman to guard it before locking it.

Rube yawned, releasing her control on Dickman with a stretch. ‘I’m going to nap in one of the side rooms. Wake me if you need me earlier.’

Scian nodded, an odd look crossing his face. Concern? Bad smell? She couldn’t quite tell. ‘Rest up.’

She found a small office that was still in relatively good nick and dragged a couple of cardboard boxes to form a rudimentary bed. She lay down begrudgingly. I’m not going to get any rest on this shit.

Within a few minutes she was sound asleep, blissfully unaware of the rats skittering through the walls.
*
Something clattered in the distance and Rube cracked her eyes open. It was still dark. Yawning, she checked her commlink; surprisingly she’d been asleep for almost six hours. Should I be pleased or concerned that nobody came to wake me? With a shrug and a stretch she made her way back to the main room. Dybs sat against the left wall, apparently meditating; three gangers milled around silently near Hyde at the back of the room. Scian was seated on the right, staring off into space. What appeared to be a crudely constructed Faraday cage containing a motionless wasplike something sat near him.

The elf blinked, turning his head to look at Rube. ‘Oh, good. You’re awake.’

Hyde shifted imperceptibly and an unexpected chill went down Rube’s spine. She took a few more steps into the room, struck by the tense atmosphere. Scian motioned her towards him. She’d taken four or five steps in his direction when he turned to look at Hyde and made a slight nod.

Suddenly and without warning the man raised his gun, followed instantly by the three hangers-on. Rube took an involuntary step back and half-raised her arms, stomach turning over and heart racing, before realising that the weapons weren’t pointed at her.

They were pointed at Dybs.

Unperturbed, Scian rose to his feet and turned to glare at the shocked ork. ‘We need to talk.’

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Cyron Dracohel

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