Shadowrun - Welcome to the Future

Strange Encounters

For the next few days, Pet was happy to have her life not involve any time on water and to return to normal. She spent a lot of time making up to her cats who hadn't been at all happy about being left alone. Whenever she happened to be out and about, she couldn't help keeping an eye out for cats and kids.

She made an appointment to have the maintenance done on her eyes. And replenished her supplies of ammo.Although she didn't hang around, she brought Shar-Chi a couple of cannoli every day. "Hope he doesn't get fat," she thought to herself with a smile. She cooked a couple of extra special meals for Meegai. And she was also happy to spend some extra time training with her new swords She even found some time to spar with Kelly and KK at the dojo. "Sometimes quiet is good," she thought at least once a day.

She went in for her maintainance and was happy to see that the zoom function once again was smooth and the focus was tight and crisp. Two weeks passed before she received a message from Shar-Chi. When she dropped by, he explained that she had an appointment to start processing the ID. She needed to have 40KY ready to hand over, as well as information about the name she wanted for the idea and any specific background data she'd like built into the history, bearing in mind that anything unusual would drive up the price. For the ID she'd requested, they'd be taking fingerprintsas well. The appointment was a vacant lot not far from Pet's place, two days later at noon. They shared a quick cup of tea and then Pet departed.

Pet hadn't put much thought into a name for her ID. Later while she was working out she thought about it. "Naturally, it can't be my name," she thought, shaking her head at her own blind spot. She gave some thought to using her mother and her grandmother's name but immediately realized that using anything connected to her real life would be foolish.

As she continued moving through the form, a picture book she'd seen in a library as a child came back to her. There'd been a picture of a queen from a very long time ago. She'd been beautiful... a warrior queen from what she remembered, and her name had been... Eleanor. "Eleanor. Sounds elegant. And," she laughed a little, "many things that are not me, but that may be for the best." And what was the mostly unlikely thing she could think of? Water! Icky nasty stuff! Ocean? No. "Lake. Eleanor Lake." She continued to flow though the form making a little mantra of "Eleanor Lake".

Eating dinner later that night, she thought about specifics for her background. "Well, really what does it matter? As long as it isn't my background, it's pretty much all the same to me."

She showed up exactly on time for her appointment in the vacant lot, after first having cruised the area on her bike. A few moments later a large winnebago style vehicle pulled into the parking lot and came to a halt. The door slid open and two obvious thugs hopped out and took up positions on either side of the door. One beckoned her over, "Pet?"

Pet nodded.

He popped open a luggage compartment on the side of the truck. "Weapons in there," he said.

"Really?" she said. "Bother." With a sigh, she shed swords - two, knives - six and gun - one. "There ya go. I expect to get all those back and in the same condition they went in there."

The goon nodded, without smiling, closed the door and tapped the lock. Then he whipped out a metal detector. He ran it quickly and professionally up and down her body, nodded, opened the door and stepped inside. The other goon gestured for Pet to enter, then followed her in. The caravan was set up as a rolling lab. Computer gear clustered the walls and several tables stacked with other pieces of equipment occupied most of the rest of the space. Seated at one of the desks and jacked in to the equipment was a petite bald woman. She indicated a seat for Pet and stuck out a hand. "Payment?" Pet handed over the credstick. The woman took it, popped it into a reader and debited 40KY. She handed it back to Pet. "Check the balance," she said. Pet did and confirmed the amount debited.

"Alright," said the woman. "Give me the specs on the ID. Name and whatever else."

"I like the name Eleanor Lake. Other than that," she shrugged "just a nice, quiet person no one would notice."

"Good. Straightforward. You wanted fingerprint ID," she said, sliding a scanner forward. "Hand on the glass and hold ... good. Are these prints likely to be hiding in other database out there?" she asked. "We'll do some searching, but if we know where to look it'll be easier."

Pet's voice was level although she had tensed at the question. "Nothing local. Nothing in the UCAS. When I was much younger and much, much stupider, I got picked up for petty theft in Texas. The Great State wasted little time in deporting my illegal butt back into Aztlan, the place of my birth, to serve my sentence." Again she shrugged. "Luckily I didn't know any hand to hand combat then or the Great State would most likely have executed me for what I would have done to some of their "interrogators." The bitter memories had seeped into the tone of her voice.. She took a deep breathe and finished - again speaking in a level tone. "So I guess the short answer is the CAS and Aztlan."

"Thank you," said the woman. "What we do should still hold up, but in the CAS and Aztlan, if you somehow get flagged as a likely criminal and they cross-check those databases, you might have problems. Shouldn't be an issue anywhere else, or even there unless they're already suspicious. Could you stand against that screen there, please?"

Pet did as requested. Nothing seemed to happen, but she was pretty sure she was weighed, scanned and probably photographed.

"Alright," the woman said. "For this level of work, you're looking at ..." she tapped a few keys, "hmm, Friday, September 14. You want to leave a contact number or shall we go through your original contact channel?"

"That will be fine. Thank you." Pet said sincerely. "As far as contact, the original channel will be fine. I take it you don't need anything else from me right now?"

"Hold on a sec," she glanced at something only she could see, probably on her retina, "Nope, we're good." Pet watched the caravan drive off, then walked over to her bike. "I wonder what that last thing was about? Oh well." She headed home, thinking she'd give the kittens some extra attention today. "Little bastards have long memories! I didn't think cats remembered stuff that long."

"Pet, wait up," the deep voice belonged to KK. He jogged up to meet her. In the last few weeks, they'd become, if not friends, something more than mere business associates, although he did still show up for the Steel's cut every month. "You were interested in those kids a while back, so I thought you might be interested to know that Father Santos got some money from some where and is turning that warehouse next to the church into an orphanage or something."

Pet smiled up at the big troll, and an eyebrow rose over one golden eye. "Really? Haven't met this Father, but now might be a good time to do that. Thanks big fella. I suppose he's around all the time?"

"I dunno," said KK. He was about to elaborate, when a noise caught both their attentions. They were standing by an alley, and at the other end, a man staggered in. A man and woman wearing the faux-leather jackets of the Ruff Knights pursued him in. "Damn," said KK, "can't have them on our turn. 'Scuse me." He started down the alley.

Pet hesitated, not sure whether the troll would appreciate her help. She shrugged. "What the heck. I can wait to see what happens." She moved down the alley and pulled out a sword to have it at the ready just in case. Shooting into a crowd generally not being a great idea. She stopped a little back from KK.

KK hadn't stopped. She noticed that he was falling into the classic Coup de Vitesse guard position as he charged toward the RK, calling out, "Bad move, punks, this is British Steel territory." The two Knights already had knives out and the wounds on the man slumped against the wall indicated they weren't afraid to use them.

Pet flicked her sword out and in one motion slashed at one of the Knights, opening a gash along his arm. The other one was cutting at KK at the same time, KK blocked in a textbook manouvre and smashed a backhand across the punk's temple. A Coup de Vitesse backhand from a troll is no small thing, and the punk was knocked to the ground. KK followed and stomped on him. The one fighting Pet decided discretion was the better part of valor and backed off a step or two, then took off running.

Pet flicked the sword back into its baton shape and put it away. Then went to the bleeding guy who'd been the cause of this little dustup to see if she could help him.

The man was hurt bad, and as Pet approached he struggled to focus on her. Something lit behind his eyes. "You ..." he gasped. "You are ... one." He clawed at a pocket of his jacket, "Take ..." His voice failed and his eyes rolled back and his whole body went limp and slack.

Pet looked up at the troll and shook her head. She reached over and closed the man's eyes and muttered softly in Cherokee "May the Great Spirit watch over you, and may you be at peace." Then she put her hand into the pocket the guy had been reaching for, asking KK over her shoulder, "You know this guy?"

"Never seen him before," said KK, watching the guy he had put on the ground scramble away, shake a fist and then run off.

Pet opened the pocket and found a datachip and a small smooth stone that, for a moment, seemed to glow as she took it out.

"You are certainly built for the Coup," she commented looking up as the guy ran away, "and it looks like that extra practice we've been doing is paying off. Although I tend to get cranky when they can get up so quickly." She shrugged. "On the other hand, you don't have to prove you're strong. Hope you didn't mind the assist. And ... I wonder what the heck this is?"

"A rock?" he asked.

Pet laughed. "You're pretty smart for a troll." Without saying anything more she slipped the stone and the chip into a pocket. Then she figured she might as well search the rest of the guy's pockets.

She found a credstick, a little charm of some kind - a bone disc with a snake or dragon etched on it, and something like a primitive compass.

She stood up, and slipped the rest of the stuff into her pockets. "We should probably get gone. Eventually someone will come to investigate this." On her way to her bike, she called over her shoulder "I'll be at the dojo later. Come by if you can and we'll work out some."

KK waved back and set off down the alley.

Pet had intended to go by the church, but decided finding out what was on the datachip might be more interesting, so she headed home. Once there, she called Spike on the phone he'd given her.

"Pet," he said. "We gotta stop meeting like this. What's up?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe nothing. But I think you're the dwarf to help me find out. Can I buy you a drink someplace quiet?"

"Toby O'Briens?"

Pet grimaced but agreed. "An hour?"

"Alright," said Spike.

Pet again looked through all the things she'd picked up from the dead man and debated leaving some at home. But in the end she put them all into a small bag and took them with her. "Who knows what might mean something?" she thought.

Precisely an hour later Pet walked into Toby O'Brien's and looked around for Spike. He was at she had already stated to think of as "his" booth. He waved her over.

"Hey Big Man," she said with a smile as she slid into the booth. "We really have to find a place to meet with better drinks and grub," she continued as she ordered a mug of what she considered the least dreadful ale in the place.

"I like the beer here," said Spike, glowering at her.

"All right! All right! No need to get your pants in a wad!" Pet answered and made a mental note to herself to keep her opinion of the brews in this place to herself.

After her ale was delivered, and the server was safely away, she said, "Assuming you've made it so it's OK to talk here?"

"As safe as it ever is," he said.

"With you, that's pretty safe, I'm sure," she complimented. "I've found a couple of things. On a dead gentleman. Killed on Steel territory by some now slightly mangled members of the RKs. Not sure if they are anything, but thought I'd give them to you and have you check it out." She paused for a moment going back to the scene in her mind. She took a sip of the ale which she immediately regretted. "He said something sort of weird at the end. To me. Like 'you are one'. No clue what that means. I brought you everything he had on him. You'll know the bits you can work on, but I figured anything might be a clue." She pushed over the bag, and almost took another sip of the ale before she remembered what the stuff tasted like. "And one more thing...and no I haven't gone mental... but there's a stone in there. When I first saw it... it ... sort of...glowed." She stopped again looking hard at the dwarf to try to detect if he did think she'd lost it. "Anyway," she finished, "if there happens to be anything of value.. 50/50 split And I get the non-useful bits back. OK with you?"

"Glowing rocks? I don't do magic, Pet," he said. "I'll see what I can find out. Starting with the cred - after all, 50 percent of nothing isn't worth a lot of my time. But," he smiled, "I'm at loose ends right now and my share of the last gig means the pressure's off, so I'll take a poke at it."

"Oh, I wasn't hoping to find out anything about the magic bits from you, that was just... information ya know. But the credstick and maybe the datachip - that's you all over. I'm hoping for value there. And you're right our last job paid out nice. But so far I've never had too many nuyen." Pet grinned as she forced down a healthy swallow of the ale to mollify the dwarf.

"True that," said the dwarf.

"Any idea how long it'll take you to check them out?" Pet asked.

"Nope," the dwarf beamed. "It depends on what it is. If you don't mind my asking," he continued, "if you're going to bitch, why do you keep ordering that swill?" He indicated her drink.

"To be honest, I usually only drink tea. A little wine with dinner now and again. I didn't know what else to order," Pet responded sheepishly.

Spike looked at her like she was crazy. He shook his head. "So order the wine. Or the Old Town Porter." He lifted his own glass, "It's not wine, but it's damn decent. Why do you think we come here? It's sure as hell not for the food ..."

"I'm so glad to hear that. I have quite a lot of respect for you so I couldn't understand you liking the food here. I'm really a pretty good cook and the stuff here barely deserves the name food. What's Old Town Porter," she asked looking interested.

"It's a porter, a dark beer, made by Old Town Brewery. They're local. It's delicious," he said. "Try." He pushed it across.

Pet was a little hesitant, but she took one careful sip. And then another before pushing the beer back to the dwarf. "Well... that was surprising. And quite good actually. I guess I just assumed everything they served here tasted like that ale I always order. I'll have to be more open."

She waved at the server and ordered a mug of the Porter. When it was delivered and the server was gone, she took a sip, smiled and nodded at Spike. "Thank you for the advice." She suddenly got another thought. "I wonder if that mage who helped us out on our last job might be able to figure out anything about the glowing stone? Guess I know where my next stop will be... after I finish this," she said with another smile.

"Magic is all greek to me," said Spike.

"Or some other language I don't speak," she agreed. "By the way, have you heard anything from Luce? How she's doing?"

"Last I heard she was doing well. She's keeping busy," he said.

"Glad to hear it. I almost wish she'd been on that last run with us. She could have taken that awful green thing I bet!" Pet said with a laugh and a shudder. "Why don't you return the rest of the junk to me - the bits you won't be working on - and I'll go see a man about a mage," she continued, finishing off her beer and rising to leave. "And thanks again for letting me know that there is something drinkable here."

"No worries," he slid everything but the credstick and datachip back to her. "And you're welcome."

She smiled and nodded at Spike, then left the bar. She paused beside her bike as she considered where she would go next.

"I expect the stone will keep. Think I'll go by the church." she decided. "I'd like to see this 'orphanage' and meet this priest." She got on her bike and headed that way.

The Church of Saint Omobono was a moderately sized church, that had clearly fallen on hard times. One wing appeared to be closed off and all the windows were boarded up. The doors were open, however, and the signboard seemed up-to-date, listing the times for Mass.

Pet narrowed her eyes as she pulled up in front of the rundown looking building. "Omobono, eh. Wonder what he or she is the saint of?" She stood for a couple of minutes surveying the building and the area around it. "Tough area," she thought to herself. "Wonder what kind of priest gets send here to set up shop?"

Pet's experiences with priests had generally leaned toward the negative, so she was a little tense as she walked up to the building and went in.

A few candles were lit at the back of the dim interior. At first glance, it appeared to be empty, but as her eyes clicked over to lowlight, she saw a small woman in one pew, apparently praying. The church interior was somewhat dilapidated, although the architectural bones were strong and beautiful. Still, there were touches here and there - the candles, the overall cleanliness and the like - that suggested that it was still loved.

Pet grunted softly to herself when she didn't see the priest in the sanctuary. She looked around to see if there were any other doors she could check. "If he's not in here somewhere, I can always walk around outside," she thought. "I want to see this 'orphanage' anyway."

There were no doors that looked inviting in the church itself, but just outside was a door labelled Church Office. Pet walked over to the door, and after a moment's hesitation debating whether or not to knock, simply opened it and walked in.

She found herself in an empty lobby space, off of which a corridor extended. There was some noise coming from further down the corridor, squeaks of a chair and the like, probably emanating from one of the open doors she could see when she moved to look down the corridor.

Pet walked down the corridor toward the noises, looking in any empty door she went past.

The first door was closed, and the second was a fairly humble office with a very basic computer setup next to an antique filing cabinet. At the desk sat a stocky middle-aged man dressed in the clothing of a Roman Catholic priest. He looked up as she came around the corner. "Good afternoon," he said. "Can I help you?" He smiled.

"You in charge?" Pet asked from the doorway.

"Yes, I'm Father Santos," he said.

"I heard a rumor you might be helping some kids," she said. "Any truth to that?"

"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't get your name?"

An eyebrow rose over a golden eye that examined the priest critically before she responded. "They call me Pet. I live in the neighborhood. Haven't had very good experiences with priests. But if you're really helping kids, I might help you."

"That's good to know," he said. "The last part, not the first. So to answer your question, yes, I'm trying to construct a shelter for the the homeless youth of the neighborhood."

Pet's eyes narrowed a bit. She really didn't like priests. Although she couldn't get a read on this guy yet. "You willing to tell me what you're doing? Show me around?" she finally said.

"I have nothing to hide," he said. "But, why should I? Who are you?"

A lot of bitter memories almost spilled out of Pet's mouth. But she took a deep breath, and shrugged. "I'm the person who said they'd help you out. But of course," she continued turning away, "I should have realized from the looks of this place, you don't need any help." And she began to move back down the corridor.

"Actually," he said mildly, "you're the person who barged in unannounced, didn't give your name, and demanded information without saying why you want it." His voice began to shake and he stood up, "I'm trying to build a safe place for children, why should I give access to any random, street-life thug who comes in? Why do you want to know about the children? What is your interest and why do you come into God's house seeking lost children? These children are nothing but prey for people like you and I'm trying to protect them. Help! Hah, I've seen the help you and your kind offer! 'Help' to keep my church from burning down! 'Help' to provide food for the kids, food becomes drugs, and then I see them on the street for sale like any other commodity! 'Help' in exchange for 'favors-to-be-named- later! Thank you, but I don't need that kind of help. And they," he waved vaguely off to the side, "need that help even less." He collapsed into the chair. "Please, I think you should go."

Pet tensed and turned around. "People like me, eh? People like me who work the land, hanging on with nothing but the work of their hands and the love of their families to get them through? And 'good' people like you who come in the night and take their children away - because it's for the best to take them from their homes and their families and beat them if they speak their own language or pray to their own gods. Very good people like you who turn people like me over to the police when we come to them for help or food. I have no use for people like you!

But... I have children of my own who are ... far away from me. I help any child I can for their sake. Like all your people you make assumptions about who I am, what I am, and what I will or will not do. Because of how I look." She shook her head angrily. "But about one thing you are right... I should go!" And she turned around again and stomped off.

"God go with you," said the priest sadly and turned back to his work.

"What possessed me to go to see a priest," she thought as she headed out of the building. Once outside, she took a couple of deep breaths and managed to calm herself down. She decided to walk around the outside of the building. "He may object, but nothing he can do about it."

Next to the church, on the adjacent lot, was a warehouse space with a new fence around it, with an open gate. The warehouse was in pretty bad shape, but a pile of rubble inside the fence in one corner spoke of some effort at renovation. As she watched, a couple of men brought a wheelbarrow-full of rubble out of the warehouse and added it to the pile. A sign caught her eye - Saint Omobono Youth Shelter, Open Soon. We desperately need contributions of furniture and bedding. With your help, we can provide the children of the street with a safe haven. See Father Santos or Mister Ruiz at the Church. The message was repeated in Spanish.

She grunted. "He could have just said that," she thought. "But of course, I'm one of those people." She looked around to see if there was a sign with the name of a construction company on it.

There didn't appear to be permits, which was not a big surprise, but a truck parked nearby had "James and Tsukiros Construction" written on it. She made note of the name and went back to her bike. Still feeling more than a little grumpy for having let herself get anywhere near a priest, she headed home.

Once home, she worked off some of her annoyance by working on her sword katas. By the time she'd calmed down, she'd also determined that straight on wasn't always the most efficient way to get something done. She put in a vid to Shar-Chi.

For once, he was in. "Pretty lady, what can this one do for you?"

"I have need of a favor, perhaps even two. If you would be so kind as to meet with me at your convenience?" she replied.

"Urgent?" he asked.

"No. In no way urgent."

"That will be perfect. It's after time for fresh cannolli to be put out. I'll see you then. Thank you."

After she hung up, she checked the clock in her eye and realized she was running late if she intended to prepare dinner for Madam Meegai. Luckily she was pretty sure there was enough food left at the dojo for her to whip something up. "And I'll go by the fish monger's. I might get a good deal on something at this time of day."

With that thought in mind, she jumped on her bike and took off in the direction of the fish monger.

The next day, with the preliminaries taken care of, Shar-Chi raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

Firrst, the lesser. I have these objects," and she pulled out the bag with the stone and the other items, "and I would very much like to know if they have any meaning. I think it will require a mage. My favor is that you might arrange for one to take a look at them?"

"Mages do not work cheaply. For this ..." he speculated. "Perhaps a thousand nuyen. If it becomes more complicated, there may be additional costs. Which," he smiled, "you would have to authorize once the estimate was made." He swept the pieces away. "And the other?"

"The other is more personal. The Saint Omobono Youth Shelter, I would like to provide some assistance. Perhaps funds to this James and Tsukiros Construction who seem to be renovating the place, or perhaps some or all of the furniture and bedding they say they need. Or whatever. But I would prefer that my assistance be anonymous. I hoped you might be able to arrange for a third party intermediary to handle this for me. In addition to whatever the fees for this service may be, I will be very much in your debt personally if you can help me out with this."

"Charity for children?" Shar-Chi looked almost surprised then gave a barely perceptible shrug. "This can be arranged. And I would very much like to have you in my debt."

Pet smiled at Shar-Chi. "I thought you might," she said.

"How much assistance do you wish to provide?"

"As for that, 5,000 nuyen to begin. But find out how much they need. I might be willing to provide more."

"In my experience such things always need more," he said. "But so be it. So ... credstick? Six kay nuyen, and the the fee for the church will come out of the five kay." He waited for her to slide a credstick over, debited the stated amount and returned it. "I will be in touch when I know something."

She stood, and bowed respectfully. "I am very grateful."

She was about to turn away to leave, when she said "Oh, I almost forgot. Passion flower in the tea?"

He smiled ruefully and shook his head, "I thought it would take you longer. You are getting better. I will make it harder next time."

"I look forward to it. As always." Pet smiled again and took her leave. She decided to head for the dojo to get in a bit of extra practice.

On the way to the dojo it occurred to her she ought to look into getting her swords dikoted. She decided she'd head over to a shop she'd heard about that did that kind of work the next day.

The shop was a boutique in the corporate part of town, so she had to consider carefully what equipment she wanted to carry and how she wanted to carry it, since security would be much tighter than it was in the free-wheeling Ramparts of Commerce City.

Pet always felt undressed without her weapons, but she decided she'd leave everything home except the swords which she'd leave in the saddlebag of her bike until she got to the shop. She decided to wear a pair of plain black pants with a dark green shirt and her leather jacket. She thought this would be inconspicuous in that part of town. She'd just have to hope she was right and that she didn't get stopped or searched.

She drove her motorcycle carefully through the 'Parts, and then approached the line that separated Commerce City from Midtown. Although there was nothing as dramatic as a well, the change was obvious. Sleek cars replaced older models, security cameras sprouted from lamp posts and streetlights, arcologies covering entire city blocks appeared and more. She made a few turns found a parkling lot and slotted her credstick. She entered the shopping arcade and found "Nanohance - Delightful nanotech for the discerning consumer." The girl behind the counter was probably enhanced as well, since nature did not distribute that particular figure all that often. She smiled brightly as Pet entered, "Welcome to Nanohance! How may I help you?"

Pet decided polite back was the only way to go here. "Hello," she responded with a smile of her own. "You've been recommended to me as experts in applying dikote." She carefully and slowly laid her batons on the counter. "I would like that done to these. May I find out the cost and how long it might take please?"

"The exterior of these ... batons?" she asked. "All the way around?" She picked one up, "The cost and time depend on the surface area to be coated. Let me just scan this." She turned and stepped toward a scanning table.

"One moment," Pet said. "I'm sorry. I guess I wasn't clear." She reached for the other baton, and opened it up with the blade carefully away from the girl.

"Oh!" she said. "Neat! Did you want the whole thing done?"

"By the whole thing, you mean...?" Pet asked, carefully folding the blade away and laying the baton down again.

"Blade and handle and ... the whole thing," she said. She fidgeted with the one she was holding and the blade slid out slowly and then locked. She looked pleased, "How do you make it fold up again?"

Pet showed her how to make it retract, saying mildly, "Do be careful. It is sharp."

Pet thought for a moment and then said, "Yes, I think the whole thing. But do you think I might have two prices? One for the blade only, and one for the whole thing. If it wouldn't be too much trouble, of course."

"Not a bit. Let me think. Yes!" She popped the closed handle onto the scan-bed and tapped a few keys, humming to herself. Then she picked it, snapped the blade out with a certain grace, and placed it back on the scan-bed. She tapped a few keys again. "Alright," she said. "Cost for the whole thing would be seven thousand, cost for just the handle would be three, so just the blade would be four."

Pet nodded approvingly at the girl's graceful use of the sword. "You're getting quite good with it. I think.. the whole thing. As you first suggested..." Pet said with a little laugh.

"Very good!" she said, returning the blade to the handle. "Let me check our system load. You wanted both of the swords? Right, I think I could have them for you ... Wednesday the third? I'll need a ten percent deposit."

Pet repressed a sigh. She'd gotten quite fond of those swords. Two whole weeks without them would seem like forever. But she simply nodded, smiled at the girl, and handed her her credstik.

"Pet," said Spike on the phone he'd given her, "two things. First, here's my regular phone code, these pre-paids are going to burn out pretty soon if we keep doing this. Second, I got a little data for you ... you pick the meeting place this time."

Pet made note of the code, then volunteered her own. "I don't go out much," she began "but there is a place called Thai Japan. Spicy food which I love. Diesel fuel they call Saki which I also love. Open round the clock. And it's generally both crowded and loud. There's almost always a drum circle going. It will be perfect. No one will notice us at all." Pet finished up by giving him directions.

Spike came through the door, looked around and came over to Pet's table. He sat and slipped the usual box onto the edge of the table, flipping the switches. He saw her looking and shrugged, "Probably safe, but force of habit." They ordered and then Spike dove right in. "The credstick wasn't a certified one, so I scavenged what I could get off it, a name basically. Here it is." He slid it across to her. "If you want, I can pass it on to some folks who specialize in squeezing cred out of 'sticks. They pay a flat rate of 200Y if we get it to 'em now, since it's fresh. As soon as the stiff gets ID'ed, the accounts start to get closed."

Pet shrugged. "Sure, pass it along to them. We may as well get what we can off it. That many nuyen may pay for drinks." She thought for a moment then said, "I don't suppose they will, but it sure would be nice to know how much they are able to get off the thing."

"Not part of the deal. Maybe nothing, that's why the price is so low," he said.

"Of course," she agreed. "I didn't really think they would. What was that name you got?"

"Richard Warburton. He traces back to the UK, which is kind of interesting. What's a Brit doing getting knifed in PA?" mused Spike.

"What indeed," Pet wondered. "Did you find out anything else about him besides that?"

"Nope," said the dwarf. "I slotted his stick in a reader, it asked for a fingerprint and I bailed. The name and part of the address showed up, that's it."

Pet grunted and thought to herself "I wonder if that info would be helpful to the guy S-C has looking at the rest of the junk? What the heck. I'll let him know as soon as I can."

He continued, "That other piece, now that's something else again. It's coded, there's some serious crypto on it. More than I can handle, that's for sure. On the upside, that means there's something in there that someone thinks is worth protecting," he said.

"Of course there is," she sighed and took a sip of Saki and continued after it had burned it's way down. "Something worth protecting might well be worth more than 200Y, don't you think? Guess that means it is time for a visit to our friend S-C. You got time for that?"

To herself she thought, "I really don't understand how that old man doesn't gain weight from all those cannolli! I have to stop eating so many. On the upside, there will be a new tea."

"You wanna crack it? I know a guy who can do it. It won't be cheap and he's a pain in the ass, but he's good," said Spike.

"Pain the ass, eh? Is he a dwarf too?" she asked jokingly, with a big grin. "You think he'll do it for a percentage of whatever it ends up being worth?" She doubted it but thought it couldn't hurt to ask. "And if not, how much is not cheap?"

"Nah, he's human. Smartest guy I've ever met. Problem is, he's up in LEO and never comes down. So, if we want him, we've got to go up," said Spike. "He'll take a look and give us a quote. How much the quote is depends on how tough the crypto. Probably in the tens of thousands. But heck, I'm in for a percentage, so I'll split the cost ..."

"Tens of thousands," Pet squeaked, choking on her Saki. "With no idea if whatever this is, is worth anything!" She began to look grumpy. "Frell. And LEO? How does one get there?" she asked suspiciously thinking at least there wouldn't be any boats on water.

Spike looked at her, "Pet, we're sitting within 100 clicks of the best spaceport in North America ..."

Pet looked back at him. "Oh. I guess I've never had to kill anyone there." She blinked a couple of times and considered. "How long will this little ride take? Yin and Yang hate being left alone."

Spike looked confused, so Pet explained. "My cats."

"Ah," he said. "Well, it depends on how long Ray takes," said Spike. "The trip itself isn't all that long."

"Hmmm... " Pet sipped some more Sake and thought. "So probably days? Can we set this little jaunt up for the end of next week? I've got a couple of things going on that should wrap up by then. And..." her eyes suddenly widened "can you take weapons into space?"

"Only if you can get them through security," Spike smiled.

"Frell. Frell. Frell! I hate going places without my weapons. Nobody should have to do that. Its... its... indecent!" she sputtered. "And it seems to be happening to me way too often lately. Nothing to be done I suppose. Can you set it up? End of next week?" To herself she thought "I certainly hope this turns out to be worth it!"

"You just buy tickets, it's not rocket science," he said. "I'll send you the flight data, then you make your reservation."

She grimaced at him. "Killing people is easier." Then she smiled. "OK. Friday after next. Let's get some curry. You'll love it. It'll put hair on your... well, someplace you don't already have hair. If there is any such place!"

"Maybe someday I'll show you," he leered. "Red or green?" he asked looking at the menu.

Thinking about seeing anymore of Spike uncovered may have had Pet looking a little green herself as she replied "Both are good. I usually order the green. And we need more Sake!" After they ordered, a new round of drumming started, and she grinned as she kept time by beating on the table. "There are some great drummers who play here," she said rather loudly to be heard over the noise. "Many different styles. Drink a little more Sake! It'll help you keep the beat." After having some more of the Sake herself, she began to explain about the history of drumming.

Spike nodded and tried to keep up, "I prefer jazz myself. Some of those drummers are unreal."

"Many are. You're right. But it is much more an individual experience. This...," she gestured to include all the drummers and the folks beating along on the tables, "this is a community experience. And this is a place that can use a little community, eh?"

Early the next morning the throbbing in Pet's head reminded her of the drumming she'd so enjoyed the night before.

"Why in the world did I drink so much Sake?" she thought as she forced herself through her usual morning katas, a little more slowly than usual. "Probably nerves. I've never been off our Mother before. Oh well. Hopefully it can't be worse than being in a boat."

After she showered, dressed and spent some time with Yin and Yang, she vidded Shar-Chi, hoping he'd have a couple of minutes for her.

"Busy time right now, pretty lady," he said. "Can it wait a few days?"

"It isn't urgent. Just information on something with which you are assisting me that may or may not be useful. But it would only take a few minutes." She replied.

"Tomorrow then, seven am? I have a busy day ahead of me," he said.

Once off the vid with S-C, Pet growled a bit. Waiting was not her best thing and it seemed like that was all she was doing at the moment. Oblivious to everything except their own kitty needs, Yin and Yang bounded over. Pet gave them a fair share of attention. Then spent some time practicing with her knives. Later in the afternoon, she headed out and picked up some fresh vegetables for tonight's dinner for Meegai and some cannolli for S-C. It wouldn't be fresh, but the bakery didn't open until later in the morning than her appointment. She ended up at the dojo, took instruction, did some additional practice and made dinner. At the end of the day she felt pleasantly tired and a little less wound up.

The next morning when she arrived, an elderly Chinese woman directed her to a staircase that led to the roof, and then returned to her housecleaning. On the roof she found Shar-Chi just finishing what looked like a Tai-Chi exercise. "I have been banished from my rooms. Mrs. Yang," he pointed downstairs, "Is a dragon. Now, what is so important?"

After handing over the box of cannolli with an apology that they were from yesterday's batch, she said, "Just a quick bit of information on the magic bits I left with you. They belonged to a Brit named Richard Warburton or at least he's the guy I got them from. That may or may not be helpful to the mage working on them, but I thought I'd pass it along."

"Thank you, yes I'll pass that on," said Shar-Chi.

"And thank you. I am very appreciative." Pet bowed respectfully. She was a bit curious about what was going on with the money for the children's home, but decided not to overstay her welcome. Besides she was sure S-C would let her know when he had something to tell her.

Thursday night, Pet came home to find a message from Shar-Chi on her machine, it said simply, "Tomorrow, two-fifteen for pickup. Same place."

The next day, she returned to the lot where she had first met the ID forgers. At two-twelve, a two-seater electric runabout pulled into the lot and two thugs hopped out. One of them she recognized from the earlier meeting. That one approached her. He pulled a terminal out of his pocket, "Balance due." Pet handed him the credstick and watched another fifty-thousand nuyen dissappear. The thug handed her back her credstick and then gestured to his companion who walked up and handed him a small case. He opened it, removed a credstick and handed it to Pet, "Here you go, 'Eleanor.'" The faintest hint of smile appeared at one corner of his mouth, "Nice doing biz with you."

He turned to go.

"And with you. Tell... eh... say thank you for me... please." Pet responded. She'd never had much use for 'empty politeness' as she tended to think of it. But after her experience with the priest and the girl in the shop, she was reconsidering her position. Besides you never knew when you might have to do business with someone again.

"It probably makes sense to put a few yen on this stick," Pet thought to herself. She considered and decided that she'd take a couple thousand from her stash of cash and start the account. "Hopefully, this trip will net us enough yen to pay for it and more. Much more. Or I'm going to be one unhappy

The next morning Pet dressed in some of her "I am a respectable citizen" clothes, took 3K yen and her shiny new Eleanor Lake credstick, and drove to Atlantic Coast Mutual in Midtown to start an account.

The process of setting up the account was painless. The only moment that gave Pet any pause was as they slotted her new ID and ran the background check. It came up clean and the young man smiled and explained all the advantages of banking with ACM. He took her certified stick, slotted into his terminal and at her request moved three-thousand Y across.

"Thank you," Pet smiled at the earnest young man, took her new banking information, stood and left the bank. She let out a breathe as she approached her bike. "Glad I said thank you. That stick was obviously excellent work." She headed home.

Part 6 - Up, Up and Away
Shadowrun Home