Smoke and Mirrors
Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
(Language warning in effect, though not as bad as Subject 13.)
Monday, April 13, 2071
Suppressing the urge to look behind her, Numbers kept a steady pace as she approached the women's washroom. The black briefcase in her hand felt heavy. She avoided looking at it as she maintained the pretense of it being hers. Inside the washroom, Numbers entered an empty stall. She set the briefcase down then switched over the augmented reality. A quick scan for electronics found a security camera focused on the door. The firewall on the camera lasted three seconds before Numbers drilled a way into it. She brought up her edit program as she accessed the camera's memory. Numbers found the footage of her entering the washroom and prepared to alter it. The first thing changed in the video was her hair colour, from its current blonde to dark brunette. Next, she altered her image's breasts, bringing it down several cup sizes. Lastly, she changed her image's clothes. The person she walked in as no longer existed in the camera, replaced by a completely different woman.
Returning to the real world, Numbers started taking off her clothes. She reversed her skirt, its colour now matching the saved video. A tap on her commlink activated a pre-programmed macro. She looked down as her chest deflated. Pulling a compact from her purse, she checked her hair, making sure that it had changed colour. Numbers examined her reflection carefully for several seconds before putting the compact away. She removed her bra, now too big for her, and dropped it on her jacket. She put her blouse and skirt back on, taking her time to make sure she looked the same as in the video. Numbers grabbed the briefcase and her discarded clothes. As she exited, she dropped her jacket and bra into the garbage can. Numbers added the costs of replacing the clothing to her expense report on her headware commlink.
Stepping back out into the mall, Numbers took a casual look around. Overhead, the monorail slowed to a stop at the station. Numbers grimaced; there was no way she could run up in time to catch the train. She forced herself to keep her pace steady. A quick check on her wrist commlink gave her the next arrival. Ten minutes, she could keep to schedule despite the delay. Numbers sent a quick email to her team; Charles would be waiting at the next station for the train that was about to leave.
As she expected, Numbers was only halfway up to the platform when the train left. She slipped through the crowd, making her way to a bench. AR advertisements popped up on her contacts' image link. She adjusted her filters to shunt the ads to the side; killing them completely might be noticeable afterwards. More commuters arrived on the platform, a cross-section of the people who lived in Seattle. Numbers kept a wary eye on the crowd, making sure no one got close to her or the briefcase.
The monorail arrived as scheduled. Numbers moved with the crowd as she boarded the train. She found a seat close to the rear exit. A message arrived on her commlink. Numbers checked it – Charles emailed asking for a status update. The reply was quick; Numbers gave him her ETA. She settled back. If anything was going to happen, it'd have to be at the stations. As the monorail left the station, the incoming call icon appeared on her image link. After a quick switch from her secondary commlink to her headware one, Numbers answered. "Hello."
"No video, dear Numbers?" Baba Ganoush's Eastern European accent carried amusement. "You know there's a betting pool here on what you look like when I call."
"Sorry, Baba," Numbers said. "Too public right now."
"Does this mean you can't talk biz?"
"Depends. What do you have?"
"Bodyguard job. Your team is the first I can think of for this."
Numbers allowed herself a smile. "You mean Charles is the first you think of. We're working right now, though."
"No rush, dear. Think you'll be done by nine tonight?"
"Good. Johnson will meet you at Elliot's on Pier 60. Reservations have been made under the name 'Smirnov'. I recommend the paté." The fixer disconnected the call.
The monorail slowed to a stop. The crowd changed as new passengers embarked. One noticeable passenger had to duck when he entered; few public vehicles were designed for trolls standing over two and a half metres tall. This troll wore a well-tailored suit and carried a briefcase. Numbers' commlink buzzed. She set her briefcase on the floor, giving room on her seat for the troll to try to join her. He managed to fit one leg in behind the seat in front, but his other remained in the aisle. "Couldn't find a better seat?"
"Sorry, Charles. The sideways seats were already taken when I got on." Numbers turned her attention to the massive troll as the monorail got moving again. "Ganoush called. She's lined up another job for us. Bodyguard work."
"I hope it involves someplace with room for me to move," Charles grumbled. "You got the details?"
"I'll send them out shortly. See anything or anyone out of place here?"
"Besides me?" Charles scanned the car. "Nothing obvious. You?"
"Same. Doesn't feel right, you know?"
"Yeah." Charles tried to adjust his position in the cramped seating. "But, if they're going to follow anyone, it'll be me. I'm obvious."
"Better get ready. Your stop is coming up."
Charles reached down and grabbed Numbers' briefcase. He stood up, his spiral horn just touching the monorail's roof. "Ja ne." He made his way through the throng of people to the exit.
Numbers pulled the briefcase the troll left behind under her feet. She examined the crowd, looking for people not reacting to Charles as he worked through the crowd.
The crowd parted for Charles as he left the monorail station. The Aztech Pyramid shone in the afternoon's light, forcing the troll to put on a pair of sunglasses to block the glare. On the street, Charles started his walk towards Pike Street. He kept a brisk pace, forcing anyone following to hurry to keep up with him. An email arrived on his commlink. Charles read it over his image link, dividing his attention between the message and his surroundings. Numbers had sent the info about the meet this evening, including the location and time. With a blink, Charles filed the email away. It wasn't relevant to the current run.
Charles kept up his pace as he walked up Pike. He still hadn't spotted anyone following him. He kept in mind that drones could be watching from a distance where he wouldn't be able to see them. His part in the run would be over once he handed the briefcase off to Treehugger. Anything that happened after that would be dealt with.
The walk to Seattle University took about fifteen minutes. The after work crowds thinned the closer Charles got to the university. He maintained his pace as he walked to the main parking lot. Charles spotted Treehugger leaning against a wall in the shadow of the campus buildings. He pinged her commlink to let her know he was arriving. She looked up and waved to him.
Charles joined the young woman in the shadow. "Hoi. Ready?" He towered over the tiny Treehugger, giving her more shade.
"Yeah, ready." Treehugger adjusted her jacket. "Just had to be during the day, huh? I'm going to remind Numbers that I'm allergic to the sun." She sighed. "Any tails?"
"None that I saw. Doesn't mean anything if they're using drones."
"I think I can draw them out. I'll run to my car."
"I don't think that's a good idea, TH."
Treehugger smirked. "I'm going to be burning out of here in a black Westwind. Look at the other cars here." She swept her arm out to point out the commuter cars and the rare sedan. "Already sticking out. Besides, if I know I'm being followed, I can lose them."
"Can't argue with that." Charles handed the briefcase to Treehugger, who grunted with effort.
"What the hell is in this?"
"We're being paid to not know."
"We could have been warned this thing is made out of lead."
Charles smiled. "You just need to work out more. You can't let drones do all your heavy lifting."
"I'm a rigger. That's the job description, getting drones to do all the work." Treehugger returned the smile.
"And check your messages. Numbers lined up a new job for us."
"Yeah, I saw. See you at Elliot's tonight." Treehugger adjusted her sunglasses. She ran off, lugging the briefcase.
Charles slowly turned around in a full circle, trying to find anyone flushed out by his teammate's maneuver. He saw a man in a rumpled grey suit dash out from a nearby building. Charles walked after Treehugger, keeping himself between her and the running human. As the newcomer arced around, the troll quickened his pace. His path and the running human's coverged near a malnourished tree. Charles shot a massive hand out to grab the runner. The human ducked under the troll's reach and spun to face his assailant.
The two circled each other, waiting for the other to provide an opening. In the distance, Treehugger's sports car roared to life. The human backed away. Charles took the moment, lashing out with a blow. He felt his muscle replacement kicking in, adding more speed and strength to his punch. The troll's fist connected with the human's chest. The man fell backwards. Sprawled on the ground, he gasped for breath. Charles bent over and grabbed the prone human. Despite the blow, the human struggled, slapping at the arm holding him in the air.
"I don't suppose you want to tell me who sent you?"
The human glared at Charles. "Fuck you, trog."
Charles hurled the man into the tree. The human bounced to the ground and lay still. Charles waited a moment to see if the man would get back up. Satisfied that the immediate threat was gone, the troll walked off.
Treehugger maintained the Westwind 3000's speed to the legal limits on the Downtown Seattle streets. The car's onboard computer flashed the Grid Guide icon on the head's-up display. The young woman ignored it; she much preferred to do her own driving. She pushed a lock of her blonde hair past a delicately pointed ear. Treehugger let her finger linger over the point. The plastic surgeon had said he had done his best work on it and the rigger had to agree. All she had to do now is get the cash for gene work to complete the transformation to being the elf she knew she was.
Shaking off her brief reverie, Treehugger plugged in the control cable into her datajack. Within a heartbeat, she switched her perspective from sitting behind the steering wheel to becoming the Westwind. She felt the air flow over her metal skin, felt the asphalt beneath her hands and feet. Her heart revved, constrained, pleading to be allowed full throttle. Treehugger set her destination on her GPS. If she was going to be chased, she didn't want to have to worry about finding her way back out of side streets.
The drive to the I-5 was uneventful. Traffic flowed smoothly for a Monday afternoon. She let a Knight Errant patrol car pass her before she turned on the highway's on-ramp. The Westwind accelerated to speed and threatened to go faster. Treehugger let the car surge ahead, zipping past two semi rigs before she brought the Westwind to heel. She giggled from the heady burst. Nothing else in her experience matched the thrill of being one with a performance vehicle.
A twitch between her shoulder blades warned her of a car approaching behind her. She switched her view to the Westwind's rear cameras. A grey Toyota Coaster loomed, the distance between the SUV and her diminishing. Treehugger opened the throttle. The Westwind responded with a roar of its engine, Treehugger's heart. The young woman returned her attention to the traffic in front of her. She guided the Westwind through gaps. Horns blared behind her. She painted the Coaster on her radar, marking it separately from the other vehicles.
Treehugger had to admit that the SUV's driver was good. He kept on her tail as she wove through the cars and trucks on I-5. The traffic kept Treehugger from using her Westwind's speed to full use. The sports car did have the nimbleness to keep away from the grey Coaster as long as no one cut her off. A gap opened in the sea of cars. Treehugger gunned the engine. The Westwind raced ahead. The rigger looked back, the Coaster powered through the gap but lost ground to the sports car. Treehugger cut through three lanes to take a steep approach to the off-ramp, leaving a wake of cursing drivers. At the bottom of the ramp, she roared through the intersection and pulled a tight left turn.
Compared to the I-5, the city streets were less crowded. Treehugger kept to highway speeds for several blocks before slowing down enough to make a turn. She wound the Westwind through the neighbourhood, trying to make it difficult to follow her or predict where she was going. Treehugger cruised through the neighbourhood, keeping an eye out for pursuit. She meandered back to the highway and pulled to a stop under the overpass. Her breath slowed down as the Westwind's engine idled. She turned on her radio scanner and listened, waiting for her location to be broadcast.
The Westwind's weak radar signalled blips at both ends of the overpass. Treehugger zoomed in on the one in front of her. A MCT-Nissan Rotodrone hovered over the middle of the road as it scanned. Treehugger briefly considered hacking it before pushing the idea aside. Instead, she accelerated the Westwind. The sports car reached a hundred klicks before leaving the shelter of the overpass. The Rotodrone in front spun to maintain facing. Treehugger felt sharp stings over her back and legs. She checked her rear cameras; the drone spat a stream of lead from a mounted submachinegun. Biting off a choice curse, Treehugger wheeled the sports car to the on-ramp and back on the highway.
The highway's Grid Guide warned the rigger about her excessive speed. Treehugger disengaged the Westwind's link to the system. That had to be how she was tracked. Running without Grid Guide, without her car broadcasting its access ID and license plate would get the attention of any KE patrol on the highway. They'd have to catch her first before she could be given a ticket. And, Treehugger mused, better a ticket than a bullet. Her back itched where the Rotodrone had hit the Westwind.
Traffic on the I-5 thinned out. Treehugger turned her access ID on to get the traffic report. A computer generated woman's voice spoke in calm, even tones, warning about a possible gangwar on the highway. The young rigger compared the location of the fighting with hers. Identical. Treehugger disengaged her ID. The Westwind's radar chimed with multiple contacts approaching from behind. Checking the rear cameras, Treehugger saw four motorcycles, all Norton Countesses, bearing down on her.
Even with the traffic thinned out, there were still vehicles around. Treehugger ducked through the gaps. Her pursuers stayed on her tail. Anything she could get the Westwind through, the Countesses could with more room to spare. The lead motorcyclist reached into his jacket and pulled out a pistol. Treehugger cursed, the Westwind's horn honking harshly. She checked her clock; forty-five minutes to make it to the drop point. The rigger knew she could do it, but she would be bringing a small parade with her.
The silver Nightsky was out of place at the Bothell Mall. Most of the cars still in the lot were either cheap commuters or used sedans modified for street racing. Inside the Nightsky, Mr. Johnson checked his commlink for the time. The shadowrunners had guarenteed delivery at 1825. Five more minutes and the deal would be off. Johnson glanced over at his bodyguard, an ork wearing an expensive grey suit that hid at least one pistol and the ork's cybernetics.
Squealing of tires caught Johnson's attention. He looked out the limousine's tinted window. A black Westwind 3000 tore into the lot far faster than was safe or sane. Behind it, three motorcycles followed, taking the turn slower. The Westwind bolted down an aisle. The motorcyclists followed, one behind, the other two flanking in the adjacent lanes. Johnson looked over at the ork. "Get ready. We're leav--" His commlink buzzed with an incoming message. Johnson read it. "Open my door? Levitt, open your door."
The ork complied. The Nightsky leaned as if someone got into it, but neither Johnson nor his bodyguard saw anyone. The door closed. The ork drew a pistol from under his suit jacket. A tall human faded into view, laughing. "Peace, Mr. Johnson," he said. "The name's Oswald. You were expecting me." He lifted a black briefcase up so that the others in the back of the limo could see it. "A few minutes early, too. Can't beat that service."
Johnson nodded to the ork. "Then the chase outside isn't related?"
"Oh, it is. Consider it a bonus. Briefcase and a show, if you will. Theatrics to hide the real briefcase."
The ork put away his pistol. "Boss, the tracker says that the briefcase is in the sports car there."
"Ah, yes, RFID." Oswald ran a hand over his five o'clock shadow. "Our hacker found it on pick up. Copying it and placing it on a decoy? Child's play for her. You can check the contents to make sure that you have what you want. The briefcase hasn't been opened."
Johnson looked over to his bodyguard. The ork nodded. "The seals are still in place."
"Good." Johnson tapped a passcode into his commlink. "You should be seeing the rest of your pay in the escrow account now."
Oswald grinned. "A pleasure doing business with you." He opened the limo's door. "You might want to leave before Treehugger's friends notice you. I don't think they'll be happy with losing the briefcase." Oswald stepped out of the Nightsky. "Pleasure working for you." He closed the door, then turned towards the chase. The Westwind screamed in a circle, tires smoking. The motorcyclists wove around each other, trying to get a clear shot on the sports car. Oswald twitched the fingers on his right hand and whispered a word of power. One of the bikers stiffened then fell sideways off his motorcycle. The bike wobbled, toppled, slid into a parked Jackrabbit. Oswald cast a second spell, fading from sight. He walked away from the Nightsky as it left its parking spot. Punching in a number on his commlink, he called the rest of his team to let them know the delivery had been made. The Westwind pulled out of its maneuvers and roared across the parking lot, leaving the remaining motorcycles behind. Oswald walked towards the bus stop, unseen by anyone around.