Shadowrun - Welcome to the Future

Boat Run

Pet was trying to keep busy, but was going slightly stir-crazy. Cash flow was slow and in another week or so, KK would be by for 'rent.' She had bumped into him a couple of days before at the dojo and he had greeted her politely and told her that the Moores' dog had been found. Pet didn't delude herself into thinking that the cordiality would prevent him from requiring British Steel's payment.

So she was delighted when the phone rang and Shar-Chi requested her presence (with cannoli) the next day at two in the afternoon.

After Shar-Chi's call, the day passed more quickly than most had recently. The fate of the kids from the squat stilled floated around the back of her mind, but she knew she'd done her best to find out what had happened to them. And for all she knew, it might even have been something good, although if she'd had to make a bet she definitely would not have bet that way.

Still, she had more immediate issues to deal with. She grinned thinking she might be able to take out KK if it came to that, but she couldn't take out all the Steel even if she'd wanted to - which she didn't. This really was, by comparison, a pretty quiet few blocks, and she'd just as soon keep it that way. Plus, though she wouldn't necessarily admit it, she rather liked some of them. Which meant, Shar-Chi could probably look forward to a couple of extra cannoli tomorrow.

Besides, in the confusion of cats and kids she hadn't asked him about getting her another baton sword. Although it wasn't on the top, it was definitely on the list of reasons to play to Shar-Chi's sweet tooth.

With a cup of the new tea in hand, the cannoli safely set aside, and the scramblers and bafflers activated, Shar-Chi got down to brass tacks. "Pretty lady, I have a job. There is no place for you to hide at a distance, you will have to go with the insertion team. Are you interested?"

Pet sipped the tea but saw no reason not to be upfront especially since she was pretty much convinced the old man knew everything anyway. "I'm very interested, depending on if the money's right, of course. And who else will be on the team, if it is a team effort.

"And I've never said I'm only interested in jobs where I can hang back at a distance. Granted," and here she laughed, "I don't want to mess up my Pretty-ness. I'm know I'm not a sammy, but I do all right close up when it is necessary."

Shar-Chi nodded approvingly, "The money is good. Possibly very good. The team will be appropriate, after all, this time, I will have skin in the game. I will arrange things, but at my age, actually making the run is, of course, impossible. If you are in, here, tomorrow night, ten pm. Be discreet."

"So this was Shar-Chi's run?" Pet thought, eyes narrowing as she stared at him. She suddenly had a lot of questions. Though they had "worked together" for quite some time, she really knew little about him beyond the fact that he loved cannoli to the point of greediness and made an exceptional herb tea. So she paused for a very long moment.

Eventually though all she said was, "I am always discreet, and always on time... at least for runs, as you well know. 10 PM tomorrow night. I will be here. Will tomorrow night be team info or for doing? So I know how to... dress?"

"Info and planning," said Shar-Chi. "We have time. Enough time, at least."

"Excellent," she nodded. "Then perhaps we also have time for this." She carefully pulled out the baton from inside her jacket and laid it on the table. "I would very much like another one of these. Might it be something you could acquire for me... at a price I could afford?"

Shar-Chi took the sword and examined it carefully. "I will see what I can find. It shouldn't be difficult to track down, since it's clearly not a custom job. That means someone is making them in quantity."

Pet smiled with genuine excitement. "I really do like this weapon, for some reason. And my sensei has told me about a two sword kata I can learn, once I have another one. I truly appreciate your help with this."

She took another sip of tea and offered, "lemon verbena?"

"Indeed," he smiled.

The next evening, Pet arrived and was greeted cordially by Shar-Chi. He led her to a larger meeting table than the one they usually used and introduced her to the orc who was seated there, "Pet, this is Starfish. Starfish, Pet." The name Starfish rang a faint bell for Pet. A driver, she thought, specialist in boats, perhaps. "Good to meet you," said the orc.

Pet nodded. "You too." Pet wondered why he was here, but decided to wait until she knew more before asking any questions.

"Excuse me," said Shar-Chi when the gate chimed. A moment later he returned, leading Spike. "Spike, Starfish. Pet, you know."

"Hey Pet, good to see you. Starfish, nice to meet you," said Spike.

"Likewise," said Starfish.

"Now that we are all here," said Shar-Chi, "Let us begin. First, there is tea and cannoli on that table. Please, help yourself. Pet brought the cannoli yesterday, but they are still fresh.

"I have been approached by a client who is offering fifty kay to make certain that a specific cargo ship does not make it to its destination. I ascertained two important facts about this ship. First, the client does not care what happens to it, as long as it does not reach ... ah, safe harbor. Second, the cargo may be valuable. This suggests to me that rather than simply destroying the ship, if we can can ... redirect it, we stand to make a significant amount of money.

"The deal is quite simply this - you three take the ship and bring it to me. I liquidate it and its cargo, and we all split all the proceeds. That's twelve and a half thousand nuyen each to start with, plus an even share of the salvage.

"The ship itself, according to the data I have been given, is unmanned, which as you all know, does not mean undefended.

"Sound interesting?" concluded Shar-Chi.

Pet softly breathed out two words. The first, if you understood Cherokee, meant "water". The second was an untranslatable swear word, the use of which had gotten her smacked by her grandmother several times in her youth.

Unconcerned about what the others thought, she pushed away from the table, stood and paced around the room for a few minutes, her thoughts at first revolving around how very much she hated water that wasn't in tea or a shower. Then around a reasonable plan for getting what Shar-Chi had specified done, preferably without getting wet.

She finally sat down, folded her hands around her teacup, and began speaking as if there had been no break.

"Tell us, please, Shar-Chi, everything you know about this boat and where it is docked."

"Docked? No, child, it is on the open sea, approaching Port Alexander even now. I take it you are in? Spike, Starfish?" asked the old man.

Spike nodded.

Starfish said, "My line of evil exactly. I'm in."

"Good. The boat is conventional drive, three decks, ten meters long, five wide. It is approaching Port Alexander with an estimated time of arrival approximately one week from today," said Shar-Chi.

An eyebrow slowly raised over one eye as Pet heard this. "And how exactly are we supposed to get to this conventional, three decker in the middle of the sea?"

"Well, darlin'," drawled Starfish in what Pet decided might be an Australian accent, "if you don't object, I'll drive."

"Yes," said Shar-Chi. "That is the plan exactly. I will provide the boat, to be returned naturally, to get you out to the target. Starfish will drive."

Pet considered telling Starfish how she felt about people who called her "darlin'", then decided to leave it for after the run. "You said the incoming boat is unmanned? So Spike will 'drive' that boat back?"

"Not me," said Spike. "I don't sail. Or whatever."

"The boat is unmanned. But it is still being controlled somehow, Spike will disable those systems and do what is neccessary to allow Starfish to drive that boat. Which he will do, taking it to a location which I am in the processing of arranging," said Shar-Chi. "Towing the original boat, I imagine."

"Ah," Pet nodded "I was assuming Spike would takeover those systems and use those to "sail" the boat. But whatever works. I don't sail either," she continued smiling at Spike. "I don't suppose we have any way of knowing if this Flying Dutchman has any accompanying boats with it?"

"It's supposed to be flying, ah, sailing solo," said Shar-Chi.

"And," said Starfish, "if we can't hijack it, we should scuttle it, right?"

"Correct," said Shar-Chi. "The client does not want it to arrive safely in Port Alexander."

"Exactly what I was thinking," Pet agreed looking at Starfish. "I don't suppose you're a demolitions expert too?"

"Nah, not me. You?" he asked looking at Spike.

"I wouldn't say 'expert.' But then again, we shouldn't need an expert. A big sloppy hole in the bottom should do the trick, if we need it to," said Spike.

"Big enough so it sinks quickly!" Pet agreed.

"OK. So as I understand it the plan is: We take one boat out to the spooky vessel, and attach the one to the other. We take a look around and disable any traps that might kill us. Spike finds the controls and disables them. While he's doing that Starfish and I plant some explosives below the water line. When Spike has done his thing, Starfish takes over and drives us back to land. If anyone shows up in yet another boat trying to stop us, I kill them. If something bad happens and we can't get the boat back, we blow it up and escape on boat #1. So we need a boat, a bunch of explosives, commo units and some life jackets. And possibly a lot of bullets."

She stopped and looked around. "That about it?"

Spike nodded, "Sounds about right."

Starfish agreed, "Yep."

Shar-Chi said, "No need to kill interlopers, just stop them. But, yes. I will provide boat, explosives and comm gear. All to be returned, hopefully. The rest is up to you."

"I guess my only other questions are, when do we start and where can I get a life jacket?" Pet responded.

"Boat comes with lifejacket," said Shar-Chi. "I'll be in touch. Expect to leave in four days, to intercept the vessel a day or so out of Port Alexander." He slid credsticks across to each of the 'runners. "Here's seven kay each. The remaining five and a half on return. Shares of the cargo, when it's been sold.

"Pet, one other thing," said Shar-Chi. "You wanted this?" He placed another extendable sword on the table. "For you, only 750Y."

Pet had been looking a bit and sounding a bit stressed, but she broke into a big grin at the sight of the sword. "Fan-tas-tic!"

"We can take it out of your next payment," Shar-Chi smiled. "Anything else? No? Good. I'll be in touch." He led them out of the shop.

Shar-Chi called and gave Pet an address not too far from her place for a rendez-vous. "I can provide transport to our departure point, or you can take your own vehicle if you'd prefer. If you take my transport, I will arrange for your bike to be shuttled to a secure location."

At the appointed hour and place, Pet arrived to find Spike already loading a few sling bags into a biege van. Shar-Chi beamed happily at the process. "Ah, Pet! So glad to see you." A few people Pet didn't know were also there, and Shar-Chi explained that they were the drivers.

Pet muttered a long string of Cherokee curses as she handed over her keys, and made certain that the driver assigned to her bike saw several of the knives strapped to her body. Since all her weapons save the Uzi were on her body, and since not having her weapons near at hand made her very jumpy, she held on to the bag holding her extra clips and the SMG.

Starfish arrived on a motor-trike, and greeted the others. He hopped of his orc-cyle, grabbed a duffel and slung it into the van. He tossed the keys to one of the drivers. "Wreck it, and I'll take it out of your hide," he said with a toothy grin.

"Then we are ready," said Shar-Chi. "Here is the the data on the location of the ship and the place to take it. The commgear and explosives are in the van. If all goes well, I shall see you in four days. Good luck."

The runners nodded and got in the van. The driver took his place and they were off. They ran out of town and down the coast for a couple of hours, before pulling in at a dingy looking marina. The van ran down to a boathouse and the driver said, "Last stop, everyone out." He hopped out without waiting for an answer and unlocked the boathouse.

Inside was a sleek, low craft, about seven meters long. Starfish smiled, "It'll be a little cramped for a couple of days, but she'll do just fine." He jumped in and began checking various things on the boat."

Pet eyed the boat with every appearance of unhappiness. But she'd made up her mind to make the best of it, so she sat down and waited while Starfish mucked about with things. She looked around until she found a life jacket and then said "Where the heck are we going to pee?"

"Head is at the back, belowdecks," said Starfish. "There's a small galley, but only two bunks. Someone'll have to stay awake - or share beds," he leered toothily, then became serious. "Having someone awake and on guard is probably the best plan."

An eyebrow raised over one of Pet's golden eyes showed her opinion of and the likelihood of sharing beds. "I think having a guard is a good idea. But what happens when you need to sleep, Star? Who drives this tin can then?"

"I think that I'll be able to get us to where we need to anchor before I need to crash," he said. "Then one of you can spell me."

Something else he'd said came back to her. "There's a galley? Anything worthwhile to cook? And is there any tea?"

"MREs," he said. "I didn't look for tea."

Spike meanwhile had popped the chip into his head and was staring at something only he could see, "Here's your coordinates, Starfish. Star? Or Fish?"

"Either," said the orc.

"Right," Spike rattled off some numbers and Starfish fed them into the ship's computer. "Yeah, we'll aim to get about here," he pointed to a spot on the map that looked to Pet like any other bit of open sea. "That should take about twelve hours. Then we'll wait, and our little lobster will walk into our trap somewhere in the next twenty-four, if the original timetable holds. So let's get moving!" He pulled the boat out of the house and aimed toward the harbour mouth. Behind them the van pulled out marina parking lot and begin to drive away. "Ah, it's good to be back at sea," said Starfish happily.

Pet thought glumly it was good someone was happy. She settled in. She was more or less convinced you could put up with almost anything for a short period of time. She really hoped this wasn't the time she'd be proved wrong.

Sailing, at least when someone else was driving, was also boring. She went down to look at the galley, and found it stocked with MREs, enough to feed the three of them for two weeks. Since they were only supposed to be gone three or four days, that seemed ample. She also found coffee capsules and a machine for them, and to her delight, a smallish bag labelled, "Lemon Verbena and ?" There was also a tea-kettle.

When Pet found the bag of tea, shesmiled what was probably her first genuine smile since she'd found out she had to be out on the ocean. She decided to make some immediately. "Do orcs and dwarves like tea?" she wondered. She called up, "Hey, either of you like some tea?"

"Sure," came a reply from Starfish.

"Is there any beer?" asked Spike. "No?" Coming down into the galley, he spied the coffee-pod brewer. "Ah, this'll do for me."

"I suspect Shar-Chi didn't want us all liquored up on the run. And considering all we have to eat are MREs, which are meant to keep you alive, not tickle your taste buds - the coffee and tea may be the best tasting things on this tub!" Pet replied, putting the kettle on, then moving aside so that Spike could brew his cup of coffee.

As the day wore on, the three runners sat on the deck and even Pet had to admit that it was fairly pleasant zipping along with nothing but the open sea around them. They talked, comparing notes and specialities, finding mutual acquaintances and the like, all without mentioning any specifics of past runs with the bone-deep caginess of the succesful solo runner. Starfish liked being solo, "And with my skill-set, a team would be out of work most of the time. I'm a specialist, me."

Spike sounded more open to the idea of a team. "You can balance things and work together. I mean, this is the third run Pet and I have made together, and I've got an idea of what she can do. On a hot run, that can save your bacon."

Pet nodded, agreeing with Spike. "Yeah, its nice to know your team mates' skills. I know Spike can handle the 'net, and he's not bad with a gun. But also he knows when to duck and let me do the shooting." She grinned. "What about you Star? You're a specialist, eh? What do you specialize in when you're not driving motorized oversized bath tubs?"

"Whaddya mean, 'when I'm not?' This is what I do. I'm a specialist, I specialize. A lot," he smiled.

Spike went down to the galley and called out the MRE options to the others. Having taken their orders, he returned with their meals. Starfish opted for pork rib, Spike took the maple sausage. Pet decided to be daring and try the Southwest Beef & Black Beans.

A little later, Starfish killed the throttle. "We're here, or close enough." He went aft and tossed over the sea anchor. "We shouldn't drift much over night, and I'll correct our location in the morning. I'll take first watch. Someone want to spell me about 2?"

"I take that watch," Pet volunteered. She'd found that much as she disliked the sea, she disliked being below decks even more. And being by nature a night person, she did enjoy the quiet and the stars. Besides with the other two out of the way there was enough room for some abbreviated katas, which the discipline of the katas was what was keeping her sane out here.

With her eyes dialed up to maximum light intensification, she kept her watch, doing katas now and then to keep loose and to keep sane. About six thirty a yawning Spike came up, coffee in hand to relieve her. "Catch some sleep, Pet. Fish says we might see the boat as early as this afternoon."

Pet relinquished the watch, but sat up with the dwarf for a little while longer, before, somewhat reluctantly, going below decks to sleep.

By three o'clock, all three were above decks, Spike and Fish with binoculars, Pet with her cybereyes at maximum mag. She noticed again that little glitch with the zoom and made a mental note about maintainence. Small talk was gone and a subtle tension was in the air as they each scanned the horizon, Fish looking now and again at the nav console with its radar and sonar.

"There, I think," said Spike pointing off to this distance. The others trained their varying sensory apparatus in that direction. Both made out something coming roughly their way.

Fish checked his instruments. "Looks like that's our baby. Pet, how do you want to handle this?"

Still watching the approaching boat, Pet said, "I'm hoping to visually verify that no one's on deck, at least, before we go over. And speaking of that, Star, I suppose we'll have to do something "daring" to get from this tub to that one?"

"Up to you," he said. "If you think it's safe, I can pull up next to her and we can just climb right up." He fired up the engine. "I'll take her in closer and you can do your visual. Let me know if I should stop."

The orc began to close in on the ship, and Pet and Spike kept raking it with, respectively, cybereyes and binoculars. They saw nothing and Fish kept moving them closer and closer.

"When we get close enough, I'll go on over to check for traps, and to see what's up below decks. If it seems OK, Spike can come over. Once he's disconnected the phantom driver and stopped the boat, then Star can join us."

"Check," said Spike.

Fish just nodded and concentrated on bringing the the two vessels close together. "Toss those bumpers over," he directed. Pet and Spike complied, putting the compressible foam between the two boats, and a moment later, Fish brought the two together with a gentle bump. "Grapple!" he cried, and again Pet and Spike obeyed, tossing the hooks up and over the railing of the cargo ship. Fish cut the engine and leapt to help lash them close. Nothing untoward had happened as yet, but all three were on edge. Fish shrugged and tossed up the hooks on the rope ladder. It took him two tries to get it secure, then he stepped back and sketched a bow. "After you, m'dear."

Pet looked distinctly unhappy, but after checking that her weapons were in place, she scrambled up the ladder with more speed than grace, went into a semi-crouch with the pistol at the ready and the Uzi slung across her front, and began looking around.

The boat was squat and utilitarian. The bridge was at the front with a door visible on this side, and another on the other side if the specs they had on the boat were accurate. Behind the bridge were cabin and galley space, although if the craft was unmanned, they had probably been retrofitted. There was a door on this side into those, just a few feet ahead of her, with the bridge door beyond that. Behind her, according to the specs, was the door that led down a short flight of stairs to the cargo decks.

Pet commed: "Spike, come up. Need you to watch my back. Star, stay put."

Spike clambered up, drew his roomsweeper, and whispered, "Watching your back."

"Keep an eye on that door into the down below," Pet whispered, then moved forward to have a careful peek in the door to the cabin. As she was about to move she had a thought. "Spike do you see anything that looks like an electronic device of any kind up here?" she asked. "Something I might miss? Camera? Bomb?" And she smiled, though it was a rather tense little smile.

"Not yet," he grinned.

With a soft snort at the dwarf, Pet turned and moved forward to have a careful peek in the door to the cabin.

She'd taken only a step when Spike whispered into his com, so all three could hear, "Pet, we've got a corpse here."

Freezing, she turned back toward the dwarf. "On the stairs?"

"In front of the door," he said.

"Glub," said someone who sounded faintly like Starfish.

"Frell! Don't move! Star?" Pet said, heading back to the rail.

Pet stepped back to the rail and looked down. On the deck of their boat, Starfish was completely surrounded by a vaguely humanoid shape that seemed to made entirely of water. He was thrashing violently but she could see that the water was resisting him.

Not at all sure it would do any good, but seeing no other options, Pet fired her pistol at the... water shape. The heavy slug ripped through the thing, leaving a swirling gap where it passed. The water filled the hole but she still had the impression somehow that she had hurt it. Whether or not her bullet had done any good or not, Starfish burst out of the side of the creature, which reformed behind him, and slapped at him with a watery tendril. Fish tried to duck but got hit a glancing blow.

"What's going on," shouted Spike, who had not given up his watch.

"Is the dead guy wet?" Pet shouted over her shoulder, as she fired off two more shots at the creature. The bullet hit it right where it would have had a head, if it had a head and drilled down through the watery center of mass. The whole thing just collapsed, drenching the deck of their boat.

"Doesn't look like it," said Spike.

Pet was torn between feeling intense relief that the person who could get her back to land was OK and serious annoyance that the place she thought had been safe to leave him had NOT been. But the feelings were fleeting and immediately pushed to the back of her mind which snapped back to the problem at hand. "The dead guy is not wet, and that seemed like a magical critter..." she thought. "Spike," she shouted again, "shot the dead guy!"

Spike shrugged and sprayed the corpse with buckshot, then poked it with a toe, "Whoof! He's been dead a while, Pet."

Fish shook his head and caught his breath. "Water elemental," he said. "Good thing it was a small one. The big ones laugh at bullets."

"Crap. Guess I'm not the one to understand magic," she said. "Oh well. Star grab the explosive toys and get up here. Guess we should stay together."

"Up in a minute," said Starfish. He gathered the bags and scrambled up.

Pet quickly re-thought her original plan while the orc got aboard. She still didn't like going downstairs without checking the upstairs. On the other hand ... they had been watching the upstairs as they approached and there was the really and truly dead guy in front of the hatch.

When Starfish was on board Pet said "Star watch the doors on this side." Dragging the bag with the explosives, she moved toward Spike. "Spike, Watch the other side. And could you," she indicated the really and truly dead guy "move this out of the way?" Looking at the mess, she added, wrinkling her nose, "Please."

Spike pulled the guy out of the way and took up a position on the far side of the boat.

She left the bag near Spike, stuffed a couple of the explosives in her pockets, and tried the door, which was, of course, locked. She switched places with Spike, who popped the case off the keypad, slapped on sequencer and had the door open in under a minute and a half.

She spun the handle and opened the door. Down the flight of stairs she went to the first landing, where there was a door leading to the cargo space on this deck, and another door leading to the stairs down to the lower deck.

Pet stopped at the landing, adjusting her eyes to low light to compensate for the dim interior lighting and had a careful look around while listening for any sounds that might indicate people, animals or water critters moving about. She heard nothing, although the thick bulkheads would make it difficult in any case. To her relief, the interior doors didn't appear to mag-locked, just closed with the usual spinning bulkhead handles.

Pet moved to the door leading to the cargo area and opened it , looking in. She saw rows of what looked like medical equipment hooked up to enclosed bays along both sides and running down the middle. They all looked similar in that each was a closed capsule containing some creature, from where she was she could see a monky, a dog, some kind of big cat, and what looked like a human child, all partially covered in some sort of green moss or fungus. Life sign monitors and equipment were attached to each pod, as were what looked like feeding tubes and the like. Something caught her eye, down at the end of the right hand row, one of the capsules looked damaged or open or something.

Pet narrowed her eyes, that Cherokee swear word that got her smacked as a child springing into her mind as she made note of the human looking child. Still, first things first, she was sure that damaged capsule was probably going to be a problem at some point. She took another look around to see if anything was moving in that part of the room.

There was nothing moving down there, but something was coming up on her left. A large form completely covered in green moss or fungus, a bear or a troll perhaps, was lurching toward her. The creature swung a fuzzy arm at Pet, who ducked and drove a sharp punch with stiffened fingers at the thing's midriff. It landed solidly enough, but seemed to have no effect. Not being one to "play with her food," since the punch didn't seem to do much, Pet just shot the thing. The bullet squelched into the critter who didn't even seem to notice, really. Pet put another slug into the thing with as little effect as the first.

Pet really stared to get cranky with the thing. "What will it take to make this thing notice I'm here?" she thought. Pet pulled out her new sword and with a quick flick extended it. The thing swung a squelchy arm and Pet blocked with her sword, feeling the edge bite but not deeply enough to have a serious effect. Pet decided that since the sword seems to have been her best weapon so far to put her all into it. She sliced with all she had to little effect.

As the monster attacked again, she heard Spike's voice on the com, "Pet, is something up?"

Pet grunted out, "Something - right -word! Thought - I - could - handle! Big - gun- cargo space - now!" As she grunted the last word, she zigged when she should have zagged and the big green arm smashed into her ribs knocking her back into one of of the pods and to the ground. Since she was down, Pet went fully on the defensive, hoping to avoid any more damage. She rolled away and avoided some of the smashing blow from the thing.

She saw Starfish come sailing through the door, a long knife in his hand. Even wounded, she admired the quality of his weapon. Right behind him was Spike, Roomsweeper in hand. The thing swung its head to regard this new threat. While it was distracted, Pet took the opportunity to stand.

"What the hell is that!" shouted Starfish as the thing turned to him and swung its mushy green arm. Fish expertly blocked it with his blade, and the thing roared in inarticulate anguish as the blade bit deep. It swung its other arm at the orc, who again blocked with his knife this time with no apparent effect. Fish dropped low and took a wide swipe at the thing's knees, sending a spray of fungus across the room. Spike cursed since he couldn't fire his shotgun without hitting his friends. "I gotta buy another gun," he muttered.

"And a knife," Pet agreed as she tried again to slice a piece off the thing, hoping for better luck this time. The thing was whirling wildly now, seemingly unable to focus. It thrashed madly at Pet who imitated Fish's knife-blade parry, which kept it at bay, even if it didn't actually hurt it. Fish took advantage and buried his knife in the thing's back, it roared and mashed at him and he danced away. Pet was beginning to think the damn thing was unkillable, but she gave it her best effort anyway.

Pet glanced at Spike as he was whining about lacking another gun. "Not big on giving up my guns," she said, "still this may be the time to make an exception," she said and tossed him her pistol.

Spike caught the Predator juggled it for a moment then smiled. "Alright," he said.

Meanwhile, while Pet was distracted, the thing smacked her again. Sending her back into some equipment and down to the ground. Fish took another piece out of it as it did. Then Spike fired the big Ares twice, but neither bullet had any effect. "Damn, I need a bigger gun," he said. It turned back to look at Spike and Fish jammed his knife into its throat and twisted. The thing staggered back, then dropped to one knee, the collapsed forward. Fish pulled his knife clear as Pet got to her feet.

"Thanks guys," Pet gasped out, leaning against a wall. "So much for me protecting you." Moving as little as possible, she eyed the other containers checking to see that they were all still intact. The rest of the containers on this floor were intact. One of the ones Pet had smashed into was flashing red warning lights, though. It contained a small quadraped of some kind, maybe a piglet. Pet wasn't sure how she felt about these things, but she looked and Spike and said, "Can you hook this thing back up? Likely we'll get less for the cargo if they're all dead."

"Maybe," he stepped in and started working.

"My guess is this is the thing that killed the guy we found upstairs. It occurs to me that if no one had moved the body there probably aren't any more people on board. Plus they probably would have to come to see what was happening in here. We weren't exactly quiet." She winced, and Fish spoke up, "I don't know, darlin'. That door was locked pretty tight. I'd guess the elemental killed that guy outside."

"Really?" Pet said. "He wasn't wet, but I guess maybe it just might been long enough for him to dry out. Still my point about how noisy we were still stands. My best guess is still that there aren't any more people aboard. " She shrugged and wished she hadn't.

"Yeah, I agree with that," said Starfish. Spike sort of nodded.

Pet continued. "Of course, we don't know if there are more escaped "things" on board." She paused again as she was still feeling pretty weak, then went on speaking. "I guess I'm saying we still need to be alert. But as soon as I'm on my feet again, let's go on down to the cargo hold and set the charges. Considering everything that's happened we should probably do it together. That should still leave time for you two to make this tub go where we want it to go."

In Pet's case, she was pretty sure that was directly to land, not passing "go," not collecting two-hundred yen. Well maybe the yen. "And we'll be able to sink it if we run into any other weirdnesses. To be honest, I'm almost inclined to just sink the damn thing now." She looked again at the containers. "I don't like this at all."

"I'm with you on that sister," said Starfish. "You want to rest, or shall we go now?"

"I have to rest," Pet said unhappily. "That thing beat the naughty out of me, as my grandma used to say. But I'm not happy just sitting here. There are so many things we don't know. Are there really no other people on this tub? Are there more of these nasty green things running around? Are there traps?" She trailed off, clearly frustrated. "But I've got nothing left. One more good hit and I'm pretty much done. And I don't want you guys wandering off alone either."

"Pet," said Spike distractedly. "We can't just sit down here while you rest. This thing is beaming data back home right now, and our little fracas here has probably set off some sort of alarms. I've got to go and start breaking some connections."

Pet looked over at the dwarf for a long moment, then said "You're right. Just help me out of this room and up on deck. We'll see if we can find something to put in front of the door to this room. Then you and Star go and do whatever it is that needs to be done to the tub. I'll stay on the deck and watch the door into this area. Hopefully, I can still lift a gun if need be."

"Gimme a minute," said Spike. They watched for what was more like two, then the red lights blinked out. "I don't know if that did it, but at least it shut up. Let's go."

The trio made their way up to the top deck and put Pet with her back to the railing facing the door. "Don't wait so long to call for help next time," said Spike as he and Starfish headed toward the bridge.

Pet tried to rest, but it wasn't easy. After about ten minutes, the engines cut out and the ship began to drift. Another fifteen minutes passed, and the engines came on again, but their course began to change. Another twenty minutes or so passed and Spike came back to check on her. "I've got jammers running and the autopilot disconnected. Fish is in control. I think I've got the alarms and tracking disabled, but I'm gonna go double-check it. Everything quiet here?"

Pet nodded. "I still feel like warmed over green fuzzy stuff, but it's getting better. Go do what you have to do."

Pet gazed at the dead body and tried to stay alert as the other two worked. Starfish came back and sat down. "We're on auto-pilot and running straight out to sea at the moment. If Spike's got the tracking turned off, we should run off for a while before heading for our destination."

Spike came out and joined them, "Guys, I'm worried. I'm pretty sure I've got all the remote control and sensing turned off, but ... that elemental thing. There's magic here, or was, and I know squat about magic. For all I know we tripped magical alarms left and right when we came on board."

"Yeah, I've been worrying about that too," Pet responded. "When I was thinking about this in the beginning I was worrying about electronic traps and alarms. I have to admit magic and strange fuzzy green things didn't even cross my mind. I think we've got to get those explosives down into the hold, and" here she sighed, "I'm afraid you guys are going to have to do it. I'm still pretty wiped out. Unless we can be sure of this tub sinking with the explosives on deck? I admit to not being excited about any of us going back below decks."

"Spike, can those things be set-up underwater?" asked Starfish.

"Sure," said Spike. "Shar-Johnson gave us the right tools for the job."

"Then no problem with that," said Starfish. "I'll take the demo charges and set up on the exterior of the hull. I'll go cut the engines and do it now."

Starfish headed back to the bridge. "That still leaves our magical problem."

"Yeah," Pet agreed. "And maybe even Shar-Chi can't anticipate everything, cause I have to think he would have sent along a mage of some sort if he'd had any idea. But that's blood under the bridge." She laughed. "Mostly mine. Anyway since none of us are, I think the thing to do might be to abandon ship so to speak. Which is to say, head it toward where ever it needs to go, then get into our little tub and follow alongside. If nothing happens and we get to the spot where Star needs to drive then we get back on. But if something does happen, we blow this thing and haul ass."

"Pet, if something is tracking us, that doesn't do us any good. I mean, if they send in an airstrike, being next to this boat doesn't get us away. Or if they send elementals at us - can they do that? - same thing."

Pet looked glum. "I was really trying to save the cargo. Think we could take even one of the containers with us on the small boat? Of course, I guess it could be the containers that have tracking devices. We should just blow it up and be done with it shouldn't we?"

"I'm not too worried about anything tech; I think I've got that covered. It's the magic that has me worried, and I don't know anything about it," he said.

Starfish waved at them from the small boat, "I'm going over now. Back in a while." He was wearing his form-fitting body armour with his knife at his belt and had donned a pair of goggles. The explosives were in a satchel slung across his chest. He slipped over the side and vanished from view.

"Can we 'follow' from far enough away that we couldn't be spotted?" Pet asked. "Or can you just take over the remote and we could simply leave?"

"Two problems with that. One," he raised a finger, "I don't know how far we can be spotted. Two," another finger, "if I take it over, they might be able to take it back. We could always blow it at that point, I guess. But if they get aircraft out here, there's not a lot of cover for us to hide under. We're running fast, or will be in a minute, and every minute that passes means that they've got more space to search. Unless they know where we are. Which gets us back to the magic problem. Tech side, we're covered, I think, and if we don't have something watching us, we should be able to get out. Although the clock is ticking. Like I say, I'm worried about stuff like that elemental. It was hiding out in the, whaddyacallit, astral plane, right? Who knows what else is in there?"

Pet smiled sourly at the dwarf. "You are such a downer. So you're telling me the safe play is to blow this thing and run? Give me a minute." And she closed her eyes, but she was far from resting.

"Hell," muttered Spike to himself, "I'm not sure there *is* a safe play."

After a bit, Pet opened her eyes. "Is Star back yet? Might as well talk to you both at the same time."

"Not yet. I'll go check the bridge again," Spike said. He returned a bit later "All looks good."

A few minutes later, Starfish surfaced and climbed out of the water, removing his goggles. "That should do it," he said, joining them. "What's the word?"

She looked from one to the other. "Spike's pretty smart. I've thought a lot about what he just said about the magic and all. And here's what I think. We're screwed!"

She paused for a moment, then continued. "I'm a simple person. I solve my problems with my guns, my blades and my fists." Anyone who was looking closely might have seen a flicker of something flash across her face. But she simply continued, "I know magic, but I don't live it. I hate this! I can't see the magic, I can't know if it is seeing me! I don't know how to plan for what it can do because I don't know what it can do." Her voice had risen, she was clearly frustrated. But she took a deep breathe and got herself under control. "So here's what I think. The explosives are planted. Let's get back on our little boat, far enough away so we can blow this thing if we need to, and continue into port. Either it'll all go well, one way or the other, and we'll earn lots of yen, and lots of points on our street reps; or it won't.

"And at the time of ''won't'' we'll do the best we can." She shrugged. "We just don't know what may happen. We could blow the boat right now and run, and the magical whatevers might find us anyway. So what the heck? Might as well not blow it up and take the chance it might go well."

She looked at the two of them again. "What do you say?"

Starfish said, "I don't know much about it, but I've seen those elementals a couple of times. I think they can be sent to go do things a long way away, and they move through astral space really fast. And a guy I know said that he knew when one of his elementals got fragged. So we gotta think that somewhere out there is a mage who knows we're here. The real question is this - can we shake him off somehow before he calls down a world of hurt on us?"

Pet sighed. "I don't know, Star. When I thought the mage was the dead guy, I had Spike shoot him. Can I shoot this guy? Can I put a knife in him? Cut him up with my sword?" Pet shrugged.

"Wish we had a mage running cover for us right about now," said Starfish.

Pet's eyes suddenly widened as the idea struck her and she shook her head, appalled at her own stupidity. "Call Shar-Chi! Tell him what we need! Why didn't I think of this sooner?"

Spike sat up, "I've got his number! I can scramble it through the sat-phone on this rig."

"Yeah!" added Starfish. "Alright!"

"Pet, you just rest up here," said Spike. "Fish, I'll send a message, you run as good a set of evasive manouvres as you've got."

"Check," said the the orc, and the two took off for the bridge at a trot.

Spike returned a few minutes later. "I sent a squirt with our situation and Starfish attached a plot of the manouvres for the next couple of hours. After that, I guess we'll just have to chance it.

It was about an hour later, while the three of them were gazing out to sea, that they were startled by a shimmering figure taking shape floating above the water. It was a short, portly man, wearing a utilikilt, a cableknit sweater and sandals. Without preamble, he spoke, "You're clear now. Ess-See says you should run south for another couple hours then cut toward the coast, there's a storm coming in which should help hide you from mundane scrutiny." He smiled, "He also said to tell you that it's now a five-way split, but he said you wouldn't mind."

"Since we've no choice, and since living is better than dying, I guess we won't," Pet responded. She thought longingly of the chunks of cyber she wouldn't be able to buy with the smaller split. Still living was better than dying. "We understand."

The image nodded, "Ess-see said you would. Anyway, I took care of the guy who was tracking you. I'll keep watch for another hour or so, in case something turns up. Take care." The image dissolved.

"Right," said Starfish, "I'll go change our heading." He headed toward the bridge.

Pet was feeling a bit better though she was still learning against the side of the boat resting. "Spike, it's a good thing you thought of all that magic stuff. It's definitely something I'm going to have to factor into plans in the future. That and calling for help sooner." She smiled a bit sheepishly at the dwarf. "Thanks."

"It's alright. You just keep resting," he stood, "Makes you think, though. A team with some finger-waggler on it sounds pretty appealing right now."

Pet nodded her agreement.

Although tension was still high, nothing untoward happened as they ran south and then turned towards the coast. The storm was not severe, so Starfish ran their original boat out behind the new craft and kept them moving. Pet was feeling enough better that she and Spike decided to check out the lower deck and found it to be more or less the same as the upper - pods with fungus covered living things. They also examined the corpse more thoroughly, and decided that he probably had drowned, just quite a while ago. They found an AK97 caught against some of the deck mountings where it slid when the man dropped it.

Pet was still none too happy about the living cargo, but, it was obvious that whatever it was, it was either too delicate to live on its own, or too deadly to let loose. Besides now was certainly not the time to bring up any reservations. At the moment all she really wanted was to be back on land. "Can't say this trip has made me hate water any less!" she thought to herself. "It's really meant to be used in teas, not for people to be riding around on. And not too fond of it being made into ... people-things either."

The rest of the trip was, blessedly, uneventful. They made the coast under cover of the storm and then hugged in back north to their rendez-vous. When they pulled in to the pier that had obviously seen better days, a camo tarp had been thrown up to make a somewhat covered workspace. Starfish eased the boats to shore where they were quickly made fast. As they got off the boat, work crews were already swarming the ship. Shar-Chi met them and took them back to a temporary hut where tea and a warm meal were waiting.

"Good job," he said as they sat. "Here's the rest of the upfront money. The shares will have to wait until I see what we have and how much I can sell it for."

Pet had gotten off the boat as quickly as possible while trying not to make it too obvious that she was hurrying. "Oh thank goodness," she thought with relief as soon as she was safely on the ground. Once she got to the hut she drank tea and tucked into the food with the others. She would have a few words for Shar-Chi about the cargo the next time they were alone, but for now she accepted her credstick and only said "Thanks old man. The tea on the little tub was a nice surprise. Rose Hips?"

"Yes," he smiled. "I will have something new for you soon."

"Good. Thank you." she said. "And these two," she continued as she rose from her place slowly, still being a bit sore, "they were great. They saved my pancakes! Just thought I'd say." She turned to walk toward her bike. "Happy to work with them anytime... if they will have me."

With that she began the ride home, wondering if her cats had stuffed themselves on the first day on all the food she'd left out for them. "Bet they'll be cranky if they did," she thought to herself. She smiled with the sheer joy of being on her way home, a few thousand yen richer, and most especially off the damned water!

Pet didn't start to get antsy until two weeks had passed, after all it takes time to unload a literal boat-load of high-end medical equipment. Still, she had just about decided to check in with Shar-Chi, when a message appeared on her comdeck asking her to come by the next day.

When she arrived and the usual amenities had been observed, Shar-Chi slid a credstick across to her. "One-hundred and nine thousand nuyen," he said. "I cleared almost five-fifty."

Pet took another sip of tea before slowly reaching out and picking up the credstick. "I guess I should have brought you more canolli today," she said, a slightly stunned tone evident in her voice. "I... eh... um... thank you."

He waved a hand negligently, "It is just biz. You did well. So you owe me cannoli, you pay next time."

"Oh I will!" she replied in a more natural tone. "And, of course, it is business, but not *just* business. Some business works out a good deal better than others. And some people arrange business better than others. I've worked with those who didn't arrange it nearly so well as you do. And I just want to be clear, I am grateful you include me from time to time."

Shar-Chi simply nodded.

Pet considered the reservations she had had about the cargo as she drank a bit more tea. Then decided if she hadn't mentioned them before the sale, bringing them up now served no point. She'd just have to be a bit more careful about the questions she asked before accepting a job the next time.

"I have been thinking," she said obviously introducing a new subject, "that some things are a bit difficult here in the Port without more ID than I have, which is to say none." She looked at Shar-Chi. "I was wondering if perhaps that was something you might be able to help me out with?"

"Hmm. Possibly. What sort of ID do you need and what kind of checks will it face? An ID that will pass muster at a military base would need more work than one that would work to book a suborbital. One that lets you get discounts at the Stuff-and-Go is easier still."

Pet had been thinking about this for quite awhile. She'd been more or less going wherever the wind blew her since she'd left home. This was the first place she'd had more than a room in some broken down squat to call her own. And she was actually feeling sort of... settled. She had cats for pity's sake!

"I'd like to get something that'll mean my cats aren't going to end up out on the street." She smiled. "And that I'll be able to keep getting the best of you at the "tea" game for awhile longer. Maybe even get a real driver's license." She shrugged. "So the best I can afford. Maybe around 80k yen, now that I have that available. If I can stay around, I can hope to earn the coin for other things on my wish list later."

"For that, you can get a good quality ID. I shall ask around," he said. "It may take a few days to find someone of sufficient quality."

"Excellent." She sipped some tea. "Dandelion root?" she asked.

"Sadly no," he said. "I regret that I must cut this interview short, but I have task to which I must attend that can not wait."

"Of course. Thank you again." She bowed respectfully as if he were her sensei and left the room.

Once she was outside, she took a quick look around to make sure she was alone, then did a little Cherokee war dance of pure pleasure. Then she walked over and jumped on her bike, still unable to stop grinning just a bit.

Part 5 - Strange Encounters
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