The point was to try and get a sneaky commission out of the Shadowrun people.
Don’t think it worked, but I really like the thing I wrote anyway, so I figured I’d put it up here 🙂
‘You absolutely did not!’
There was a roar of laughter from the ever-increasing gaggle of runners as the elvish barmaid brought them another round of drinks. An ork with a lone cyber-eye and a jaw like rough granite snatched a tankard from her tray and took a large gulp.
‘Chip truth, chummer,’ he said. ‘I walked right in the door. No-one stopped me. Got all the way into their offices, chatted up a couple of temps. I was in and out with the package inside of half an hour. I’m telling you, stealth is the way to go, every time.’
An arm shot up from somewhere in the middle of the group, followed by an attached dwarf pushing herself to the front. ‘Bulldrek!’
‘You calling me a liar?’
‘Damn right, I am,’ the dwarf said. ‘The clue is in the name, genius. Humanis. No way they let a troggy mother-fragger like you through the door, let alone wander around freely.’
The ork scowled, his back straightening. ‘I had a disguise.’
‘Was it a paper bag?’ the dwarf said. ‘That’s the only way they aren’t noticing you’re an ork.’
There was a sharp intake of breath from the rest of the group as the ork stood up, slowly. He made a show of it, drawing himself up to his full height and carefully placing his tankard down on the table. The dwarf, for her part, was unimpressed. She stared up at him, arms crossed, her expression unreadable.
The ork leant closer. ‘You saying I spin lies?’
‘You know that’s exactly what I’m saying.’
Without warning, the ork slammed his fists down on the table, silencing the bar. Anyone not already watching the group was doing so now, and those closest to the ork had taken a few steps back. The tension was thick.
He brought his face even closer to the dwarf’s, mere inches between them. Then smiled. ‘I spin the best ones, though, yeah?’
The crowd erupted in laughter again, killing the tension dead. The ork and the dwarf shared a friendly fist-bump and he slid a drink into her other hand. She drained it and called for another. Time for someone else to tell a story, it seemed.
Mercy had been at the bar for several hours at this point, and most of it had been spent listening to the ever-changing mob of off-duty runners swapping stories. To the ork’s credit, his had been one of the more believable ones. No-one had called out the elf who had claimed to best Lofwyr in an honour duel a couple years back, or the pair of humans who had insisted they were the ones to kick the mafia out of California.
She signalled for a drink of her own, and the barmaid dutifully provided something brown in a dirty glass. They took great care in dirtying the glasses, she knew from her previous visits, to really sell the whole criminal underworld ambiance. It was why she came.
Today, her badge was burning a hole in her jacket. She had never brought it with her before, not here. Just having it there was a betrayal, and would cause no end of trouble if anyone happened to catch a glimpse of it. But today she was there on business, so she didn’t have a choice.
Her quarry wasn’t part of the raucous group, but he was sat close enough to them that she could outright stare in his direction without attracting attention. Not that it would have mattered, he was so deep into a BTL chip that she could have squatted on the table in front of him and he’d not have noticed. That didn’t make him any less dangerous, though.
If the warrant was to be believed, his laundry list of crimes would give the braggards one table over pause. He was responsible for more runs against the company in a single year than all other runners combined. And he’d not been shy about it.
‘You want another?’
Mercy blinked. She’d hyper-focused on him so much she’d missed the barmaid’s approach. ‘Please. Something that tastes a bit less like engine degreaser would be appreciated, though.’
‘Top shelf la-di-da stuff it is,’ the elf said with a wink. ‘Not to make you feel all self-conscious or anything, but you’re becoming a bit of a curiosity here.’
That caught Mercy’s attention. ‘How do you mean?’
‘We get a lot of humans in here, but very few come here on their own,’ she said, gesturing around the room. ‘And those that do? Very few come back a second time. You come here enough that I’d know your usual drink, if you ever ordered something specific. Don’t you have a home to go to or something?’
‘What would your boss say, you trying to dissuade a paying customer like this?’
The elf laughed, and Mercy could see why she was the only person on staff today. She was all that was needed. The woman knew how to handle customers. ‘I’m not dissuading you from anything. I’m just preparing you for when one of those awkward trolls over in the corner there gets brave enough to make his approach. You do realise you’ve not paid for a single drink yet, yeah?’
Mercy followed the barmaid’s eyes to a pair of young trolls shifting nervously and trying to pretend they weren’t watching her. It was cute, but she didn’t have the luxury of humouring them today. ‘Don’t go taking any more of their money for my drinks.’
‘They’ll be crushed.’
‘They’ll get over it.’
The elf handed her a fresh drink – a burnt orange liquid that tasted like turpentine this time – and she downed it in one. Dutch courage.
One last gear check. No chance of misplacing the badge, so she didn’t need to check that. Pistol holstered in her jacket. Back up pistol in her boot. Collapsible baton in a holster on her thigh. Not much, but everything she needed. Hopefully, more than she’d need, in fact.
She’d loitered enough, it was time to do what she had been putting off doing all night.
With every step, the damned badge felt heavier and heavier. It wasn’t as though her job could ever be accused of being safe, but as she skirted the group of runners she was acutely aware of how unsafe her situation currently was. By the time she sat down across the table from her target, she’d already burned through her Dutch courage.
He didn’t move. There was the faintest glimmer of something twitching behind his sunglasses, but that was all. ‘Cathode Ray, please. It says it right there on the warrant, least you can do is get it right.’
‘How did you –’
He groaned and tilted his head so he could look at her over his sunglasses. A pair of high-grade cyber-eyes slid into view, bathed in the glow of an AR display built into the lenses. ‘I do my research. It’s not just you, I do it on everyone who comes in here more than once. I daresay they do the same. Thing about running the shadows is that secrets are a sort of luxury.’
Mercy slumped forward, leaning on her elbows and moving her hand a little closer to her gun. ‘So, you know why I’m here?’
‘I’ve got a notion,’ he said, stretching his arms wide and sinking deeper into his chair. ‘I’ve pissed off the wrong people, they send a goon or two. It happens.’
‘I’m Lone Star.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Premium quality goon, then. I confess, I couldn’t get all your details, but the gaps told most of the story. Here to haul me off to some corp prison then, Star? Or are you going to geek me, right here in front of everyone?’
Mercy shifted in her seat. ‘What have you got against the company? The sheer amount of runs you do against them –’
‘There’s no point holding grudges,’ he said. ‘Every corp is into some shady drek, there are no angels here. Just so happens the runs against your paymasters pay the best. Most efficient way to keep myself in chips.’
She watched him pop out a BTL chip from a slot behind his left ear. He let it dance over his fingers for a minute before slipping it into a pocket. The hand didn’t come back out, which she took to mean it had found a gun or something tucked away in there. A smooth move, and perhaps not one she would have noticed had she not already been on edge.
‘Seriously?’ she said. ‘No grudge, no loyalty, just Nuyen?’
He flashed a grin. ‘Sorry to disappoint.’
‘Oh, quite the contrary,’ she said, and tapped at her wrist.
Displays flashed across her eyes now, brought into being by her AR contact lenses swapping into tactical mode. Less conspicuous than actual glasses, but she had to concede they weren’t as cool. The curse of working corporate – you get the good toys, but they never look quite as sexy as the ones the bad boys get.
She reached into her coat and grabbed her badge. Before she could pull it, Ray put a hand on her arm. ‘Don’t. All that will do is make this worse. You’re here for me, don’t bring them into it. Keep it between us, eh?’
Mercy looked at the gaggle of runners again. With her AR on, she could see the ID tags for a number of concealed weapons, discreet cyberwares – most of it restricted – and her data-suites were digging up hundreds of warrants for them all. Ray was right, it would be suicide to draw any unwanted attention from that lot. She was a good shot, but she’d never be able to drop enough of them to make a difference if things got violent.
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘But you’re also quite wrong. I am here for you, true, but I never said I was here to arrest you.’
It was timed perfectly – of course it was, she could see the countdown on her AR display. The second she was done speaking, the front door to the bar exploded inward, showering the room with splinters. In its wake, a Lone Star-branded response team, armed to the teeth and with enough armour to make a tank blush.
It would have been suicide for her to take on all those runners. But that had never been the plan.
The runners were caught off-guard, and by the time they had thought to draw their guns a good quarter of them had already been cut down. Those that survived long enough to reach their guns fought back hard, however. During the planning phase, her boss had insisted this would be a slaughter, that the street scum couldn’t hold a candle to a properly orchestrated surgical strike. They were doing a fine job of proving him wrong.
The slaughter became a rolling gun battle, the runners doing their best to beat a retreat while the soldiers did their best to cut down every last one of them. The runners were making their mark, but the soldiers had much better armour. For every one of hers that died, three of four runners fell first.
Mercy sat in silence, one eye on Ray, while the smoke cleared. The gunfight had happened around them, but never near them. She had known that would be the case, and it seemed Ray had cottoned on quickly.
Once the last of the runners had fled or fallen, the soldiers set about securing the building and Mercy turned back to Ray.
‘You’re not Lone Star,’ he said.
She shook her head. ‘The company has a job for you. High risk, even higher reward.’
‘If you wanted to hire me,’ he said. ‘There are ways and means.’
‘The execs wanted you interviewed first. And they didn’t want any witnesses.’
‘Typical corp horsedrek,’ he said. ‘I had friends here.’
Mercy smiled. ‘With the money we’re offering, you’ll be able to buy new friends.’
Ray sighed and looked over the scene. He knew that this was more than a way of removing witnesses. It was a statement of intent.
And he had never been one to play the hero.
‘Hell,’ he said. ‘you had me at high reward. Where do I sign?’