23 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 8

Corporate War Council

(Language warning in effect.  Reader discretion advised.)

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.
Friday, April 17, 2071
0922 hours

    The Humvee Civic drove into the Westin Seattle's underground parking lot.  The attendant opened his booth's window.  Treehugger transmitted her security info.  The attendant confirmed the codes then opened the main gate.  He gave the rigger directions for her designated parking spot.  Treehugger put the Humvee into gear.  Deeper under the streets, Treehugger stopped in front of the parking entrance to the hotel.  Charles stepped out of the SUV then opened the door for Tarkov.  Numbers followed the security manager, adjusting her skirt once out of the Humvee.  She took her place in front of Tarkov, keeping an eye out for potential trouble.  Charles closed the passenger door then brought up the rear as the small group entered the hotel.

    At the elevator, Tarkov entered his personal code into the AR display.  After a moment, the elevator door opened.  Charles stepped in first to make sure the car was safe.  He gave the all-clear signal, letting Numbers and Tarkov in.  The doors slid shut.

    The ride up was smooth and had no interruptions.  The doors reopened on a hallway done up in neutral, calming tans.  Charles again took the lead, making sure no one else was in the hall before letting Tarkov to come out.  Tarkov's commlink guided him to the meeting room.  Two guards dressed in the hotel's uniform stopped the group.  "Weapons check," one of the guards, an elf woman, said.  "Sorry."  Her partner, a human man, ran a MAD scanner over Charles.  The device beeped several times.  "Weapons, please."  The elf held out her hand.

    Charles reached into his jacket and pulled out with just thumb and forefinger the Ares Predator Tarkov arranged for him.  "Need the clips?" the troll asked.

    "No.  Any other weapon?"

    "Yeah."  The troll's cyberspur shot out.  "This."  Charles retracted the blade.

    The elf guard held up a restraint.  "I'll have to put this on.  Please hold out your arm."  Charles complied.  The elf snapped the restraint on.  "There.  Try not to break it."  Her partner ran the MAD scanner over the troll again, then nodded.

    The human began his scan on Numbers.  The hacker brought out her loaned Ares Light Fire and passed it to him.  "That's it.  Rest is internal cyberware, nothing weapons grade."

    "I still have to check, ma'am."

    "Of course."  Numbers remained still as the guard completed his scan.  He motioned her to continue.  The scan on Tarkov revealed little.  He had no gun, no internal cyber that could be considered a weapon.  The guards let the group continue.

    Inside the meeting room, over a dozen people, corporate reps and their retinues, milled around a U-shaped table.  Charles remained close to Tarkov, using his bulk to clear a path through the throng.  Tarkov guided his bodyguards to small table holding pastries and carafes.  He poured himself a soykaf as Charles examined the doughnuts.  The troll activated his subvocal mike on his commlink.  "Recognize anyone?"

    Numbers slowly turned, acting natural.  She shook her head.  "All new to me.  I might be able to figure out their employers."  She smiled as she caught the eye of a tall elf with jet black hair.  The elf blinked, gave a wan smile, then returned his attention to the other elves in his group.  "Treehugger stays outside."

    Another group arrived, all human, primarily Asian.  They remained as a group as they walked along the U-shaped table.  "Could use Oz," Charles said.  "Some of these guys look wired."

    "I think we've got some shamans here."  Numbers nodded at an dark-skinned ork in a grey business suit festooned with numerous fetishes.  "There's another at the far end of the table."

    "Are they dangerous?" Tarkov asked.

    "We all are," Charles said.  "If anything starts, the crossfire is going to be the problem."

    "What do you recommend?"

    "Act like everything's going to plan."

    Numbers nodded in agreement.  "It helps that everything is going to plan."

    "If this was a trap, it was done badly.  It'd turn into a massacre fast."  Charles picked up a cruller.  "Everyone has bodyguards.  Everyone's on edge.  Stay cool.  Let us worry."

    "If you were in our position, Mr. Tarkov, what would you do?"

    Tarkov thought for a moment.  "Nothing much different."

    Numbers poured a soykaf for herself.  "Let's go sit down.  It might ease tension a little."  She led the group to a setting where a pitcher of water and several glasses were already placed.  Tarkov sat down.  Numbers took the chair beside him while Charles stood directly behind the Johnson.  "I'm going to check the Matrix," the hacker said.  "I'll message if anything's out of place."  She closed her eyes.

    The shift to virtual reality was smooth.  Numbers found herself is a simple node with one egress.  A quick scan of the system showed a flow of data from a number of security cameras heading out the egress.  With a thought, the hacker's icon floated on a carpet of ever changing numbers up one of the streams of data.

    The camera's node had a large window set in the virtual air.  On the other side of the window, Numbers saw the gathered group starting to take their seats.  The hacker looked for the volume control so she could hear the meeting.  She felt a presence arriving in the node.  Her analyze program was running by the time she turned her attention to the newcomer icon, a young man wearing a ball cap and carrying a bat.  "Slamm-O?  I wasn't expecting you here."

    "Hey hey, Numbers!"  The bat shimmied out of existence.  "Fancy that.  Gotta ask, though.  You here to spy or protect?"

    "Protect, but I could be lying."

    The icon smirked.  "You wouldn't lie to a good source, would you?"  He pointed at the vidwindow.  "Besides, I see Charles in there doing his bodyguard thing.  That must be you beside the old guy.  Nice hair."

    "Thanks."  Numbers waved her hand, conjuring a large six out of the ethernet.  "What about you?  Do you have your own Mr. Johnson in there?"  She sat down, using the six as a chair.

    "That's her over there."  Slamm-O pointed at a woman sitting beside the ork shaman.  "Do you know who is all here?"

    "I can take a good guess."  Numbers accessed the camera controls.  She brought the camera to focus on the end of the U-shaped table nearest the entrance.  "Not sure about her.  She has at least one runner."

    "Four," Slamm-O corrected.  "My Johnson, so to speak."  He laughed, an electronic cough.  "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours."

    Numbers nodded, sending a cascade of numbers down her icon's head.  "Fair enough."

    "Doc Wagon.  That's Nabi and Firebane with her.  Firebane's the ork.  I'm outside with Shakur keeping an eye on the place.  There's only that one node in and out."

    "Good to know."  Numbers moved the camera's focus to the next setting.  "I don't think I've ever seen this outfit before."

    "Me, neither."

    "Might not be corporate.  The suits don't look tailored.  Moving on."  The camera zoomed in on the next group, skipping an empty place.  "This guy screams cop.  Knight Errant, I'm guessing.  He's just missing the corporate pin.  Skipping the blank spot beside him, we have PacRim."

    "Good eye."

    "Eye, nothing," Numbers said.  "I've had to infiltrate them before.  I know the fashion.  And, returning the favour, Federated-Boeing.  It's the full team, Charles and me inside, Oz and Treehugger securing the outside."

    "Your Mr. J. hired the whole lot of you?"

    "And is paying us well.  It's his first time hiring runners.  TH took advantage."

    "Good for her.  So, FedBoeing is here.  Interesting.  And beside your Mr. J. is Mitsuhama."

    Numbers shifted the camera.  "Yeah, it is.  How could you tell?"

    "Two of those men are from Research Unit 12.  Heavy hitters.  Heavy magical hitters."  Slamm-O shook his head.  "What the fuck did we get ourselves into?"

    "I wish I knew.  Not sure who the elves are.  My guess is some Tir corporation."

    "The last guys are Lone Star.  Good idea keeping them away from the Knights."

    Numbers pulled the camera back.  The vidwindow showed a new group of three, an ork moving too fast to be natural and a human woman flanking a dwarven human, arriving.  "Looks like Evo.  Also looks like they contracted out their security, too."

    "That makes your Johnson, mine, and Evo's all doing that."

    "Strikes you as odd?"

    "The whole affair is striking me as odd."

    A new icon, a young elf woman in a figuring skating outfit, entered the camera's node.  "As odd as a security camera not following protocol."  A hockey stick appeared in her hands.  "Care to explain or do I have to drop my gloves?"

    Numbers stood up from her six.  "Hotel security?"

    "Are you asking me or telling me?"

    "We're with the meeting," Numbers explained.

    The hockey stick de-rezzed.  "So am I."  The newcomer looked at the vidwindow, then back to Numbers.  "You're with Charles, aren't you.  Why didn't you say so?  The handle's Skater."  The girl offered her hand.  "Are we sharing info?"

    "Numbers."  She shook the figure skater's hand.  "Federated-Boeing."

    "Slamm-O, with DocWagon."

    "DocWagon?" Skater repeated.  "Weird."

    "No shit, but there you go."  Slamm-O leaned on a solid piece of nothing.  "Who are you with?"

    "Evo's internal security.  Who are your backups?"  Slamm-O and Numbers answered, leaving the prompt for reciprocation unsaid.  "Laughing Tusk, who is solid enough.  The Storm Sisters?  I'm babysitting the younger one.  Pain in the ass."  Skater spotted the door opening.  "Last group, fashionably late.  Anyone recognize them?"

    Slamm-O zoomed the camera in.  "Megacorp, just from the expensive suits."

    Numbers took a look.  She cut off a curse.  Back in her meat body, she felt her heart race.  "Saeder-Krupp," she said.

    "Are you sure?" Skater asked.

    Numbers kept her attention on the delegation.  "Positive."


0940 hours

    "Ladies and gentlemen," the representative from Evo called.  She held up her hands.  "Please, if we can get started.  We have a long agenda for today."  The murmuring ceased.  "Thank you.  I see we all brought security with us.  Understandable, but please try to remember that we're here to work together.  This meeting is to let us know how big the problem is, what we can do to contain it, and how we can work together without necessarily compromising each other.  To begin, we'll introduce ourselves."

    The tall elf stood up.  "With all due respect, I'd prefer if our names weren't used."

    The Lone Star representative stood up.  "I second that.  If this leaks back to our employers, we could be looking at suspension and termination."

    The dwarf woman nodded.  "I understand, believe me.  Shall we just introduce ourselves by our employers to make things simpler?  Our other option is to all call ourselves Mr. Johnson and that could get confusing.  You can call me Ms Evo."  The dwarf looked to her right.

    "Call me Mr. Errant," a fit human said.  "From Knight Errant, obviously."

    The Lone Star rep rolled his eyes.  "Obviously."

    "Next, please," Ms Evo said.  She glared at the Lone Star rep.

    "Fraulein Krupp," a human woman said with a light German accent.  She wore a grey business suit, accentuating her severe look.

    Beside the Saeder-Krupp representative, an Amerindian man with long black hair said, "I guess you can call me Mr. Pueblo."

    Slamm-O's Ms Johnson spoke next.  "That makes me Ms Wagon."  The middle-aged woman shrugged.

    At the other side of the U-shaped table, the Lone Star rep drawled, "I'm Mr. Star."

    "Only in your dreams," Mr. Errant said.  A smattering of laughter erupted despite Mr. Star's glare.

    "Next, please," Ms Evo said.  She looked at the tall elf.

    "Hello, I'm Mr. Telestrian," the elf said.  "No relation."

    In a smooth accent, the Asian man beside the elf said, "Call me Mitsuhama-san."

    Tarkov nodded to Mitsuhama-san.  "Mr. Boeing," he announced.

    The last person, another Asian man, said, "Rim-san, if you must."

    The dwarf smiled.  "Thank you, all.  I'm sure there are questions, but if we can table them for later, we can get through the preliminaries."  She took a breath as she called up her agenda on her commlink.  "The main reason for us being here is that we all noticed unusual activity in our respective jurisdictions.  We may not be alone, but we found each other through social networks.  We are all taking a risk being here, for which I thank you.  Trust is a rare commodity and never traded lightly.  Mr. Pueblo can fill in the details.  Mr. Pueblo?"

    The Amerindian stood up.  "Thank you."  He looked over the gathered representatives, meeting each in the eye one at a time.  "Over the past six to nine months, various agents under my purview have reported unusual infiltration attempts.  The targets changed on each attempt, but data modeling showed a pattern.  Each target had access to critical but non-sensitive data.  One infiltration was successful at turning its target, which allowed my agents to begin a source.  The result was inconclusive but revealed a pattern of infiltrations at other locations, primarily centred around Seattle.  This brought me into contact with Ms Evo, who had been investigating similar unauthorized entries.  We expanded our efforts at contact."  He waved his hand at the gathered people.  "You are the results of those efforts.  I can tell you what each of you have found.  Multiple attempted intrusions targeting non-essential personnel with access to a control mechanism, be it for policy or for a physical asset.  You may even have found that one or more employees had been compromised and had to be terminated from service."  Several of the reps nodded.  "We appear to have a common foe, whose motives are unknown.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we're here.  To determine a course of action to neutralize this foe.  To stymie him, her, or them.  To make sure our employers remain unblemished."  Mr. Pueblo sat back down and sipped his water.

    Ms Evo got back up.  "Thank you.  That's is our common problem, this unknown foe.  We need to share our data to determine the foe's most common and most likely vectors so we can be prepared."

    "Shouldn't we figure out who this foe is?" Mr. Star asked.

    "I hate to agree," Mr. Errant said, "but this makes sense to me."

    "Trust the law enforcement reps to want to make an arrest," Mr. Telestrian said.  "Cost-wise, deterring makes more sense."

    "Deterring is great if we can make it too expensive for this person or persons to infiltrate us," Mr Star said.  "Of course, we can't make deterrents too expensive for us.  Accounting tends to grill us over unexpected expenses as it is.  Budgets are friendlier to specific goals instead of general security."

    "If I may."  Mitsuhama-san stood up.  "Perhaps we should let an infiltration occur.  Let our foe think he was successful.  Give him data that isn't critical.  Then interrogate the corrupted employee and anyone connected."

    "That's great within your own borders," Mr. Pueblo said.  "My staff are constrained by laws.  Extraterritoriality doesn't exist for me."

    Mr. Errant nodded.  "Doesn't really work for me, either.  I have to not only answer to my boss, but keep an ear out for word from upstairs.  I don't have the flexibility if the problem hits the parent company, and I really don't want the problem to get higher than me."

    "Mitsuhama-san's idea is a good one," Fraulein Krupp said.  "It will get results."

    "And have our company behave like Aztech?" Mr. Telestrian said.  "Employee morale would drop faster than Renraku's stock during Crash 2.0."

    Numbers cleared her throat.  "Maybe we're jumping the gun a little," she said.

    The dwarf representing Evo turned to the hacker.  "I'm sorry, I don't believe we've been introduced."

    "I'm Mr. Boeing's assistant."  Numbers looked over at Tarkov.  "Do you mind if I say something?"

    Tarkov waved his hand.  "Go ahead."

    Numbers stood up.  "Searching for your, for our enemy is going to cause paranoia.  If you can't trust your employees to be loyal, they will start protecting themselves.  Shouldn't we, as a group, first figure out what we have in common?"

    "My assistant makes a good point," Tarkov said.  "All of us here are in security in some form or another.  Our employers, however, are diverse.  Mr. Errant's and Mr. Star's are security for hire.  Mine makes aircraft.  Ms Evo, Fraulein Krupp, Mitsuhama-san, all of them are from AAA corporations that deal in everything.  Yet, we must have something in common."

    "What?" Rim-san asked.  "What could we have in common?"

    "That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we're here."  Ms Evo checked the time on her commlink.  "We have the entire weekend.  Let's use our time wisely."

    Numbers settled back in her chair.  "Sorry for stepping out of line, Mr. Tarkov," she whispered to her employer.

    Tarkov shook his head.  "You had a good point.  Thanks."

    Numbers poured herself a glass of water.  She felt the weight of the Saeder-Krupp delegation starting at her.


1010 hours

    Oswald paced around the Humvee Civic.  He grumbled to himself about the lack of company.  "Hey, TH, you back here yet?"

    An Aztech Crawler creeped along in the parking lot on its treads.  It turned to face the mage.  "Yeah, I'm here."  The rigger's voice came from the Crawler's speaker.

    Oswald looked down at the drone.  "Cute, TH."

    "Oz, I'm trying to maintain a connection to the Kull.  Crawlers were never meant to retransmit signals to other drones."

    "The what?"

    "The flying thing-y.  I wish I had one more Crawler.  I could put it on the roof."

    Oswald sat on the Humvee's bumper.  "Your other new toy.  Got it.  I need a soykaf.  Want anything?"

    "I'm good."

    Oswald walked into the hotel.  The concierge flagged the mage down.  "Are you looking for someone?"

    "Yeah, the guy with the soykaf."

    "Of course, sir.  May I get your access code?"

    Oswald shrugged and transmitted the ID he received from Tarkov.  "That good?"

    "It is, sir."  The concierge read over the data.  "It looks like beverages are being covered as part of the cost for the meeting space.  Would you like a proper coffee?"

    Oswald smiled.  "Love to.  Are snacks also covered?"

    "Of course, sir."

    "Give me two twisters.  To go, if possible.  My co-worker would appreciate the sugar rush."  He felt his commlink vibrate.  "Excuse me."  Oswald answered the call.  "Yeah?"

    "Oz, possible interference," Treehugger said.  "I need you out here."

    "Coming, coming."  Oswald looked back up at the concierge.  "Can you get someone to bring the order out?  I'm at the black Humvee.  Huge beast, sleeps four.  You can't miss it."  The mage ran back outside.  One of Treehugger's Crawlers met him and led him back to the SUV.  "Okay, TH, what the hell's going on?"

    "Ask the big ork there."  The Crawler pointed itself at a towering ork in a business suit.  "He's been following my drones."

    Oswald approached the ork.  "Good day, sir.  Is there a problem?"

    The ork appraised the mage.  "Yeah.  Your toys are all over.  You need to get them out of here."

    "Do you work here?"

    "What's it to you?"

    Oswald used his official voice.  "Police investigation."

    "You're a cop?"  The ork leveled a glare.  "Let's see some ID."

    "Here."  Oswald brought up his FedBoeing credentials.

    The ork roared with laughter.  "A little out of your jurisdiction, ain't ya?"  He flashed his AR badge.

    Oswald examined the ID.  "Impressive, except Lone Star lost the contract for Seattle."

    "I guess that makes us both fucked."  The ork opened his jacket to reveal the butt of a holstered pistol.  "I believe this trumps your ID."

    "You might not want to show that pea-shooter around, chummer."  Oswald chuckled.  "You got a guy inside, too?  You know, big meeting, very hush hush?"

    The ork's brow furrowed.  "What do you know about it?"

    "Free coffee and doughnuts.  Go talk to the guy at the desk and flash your badge at him."  On cue, a young man came out with a styrofoam cup and a plastic plate with the twisters on it.  "Did I mention that it's real coffee?"

    "Real coffee?"  The ork slapped Oswald's shoulder.  "You're a good man, omae."

    "I'll be over at the Humvee if you want company.  My teammate is a little preoccupied at the moment."

    "Sure.  Just let me get my real coffee.  You just don't get those perks like that these days."

    "Tell me about it."  Oswald returned to the team's SUV.  "Crisis averted, TH."

    "Yeah, yeah," Treehugger said through her drone.  "Do you think he's really Lone Star?"

    "He's definitely a cop."

    "That didn't answer my question."

    Oswald fixed the drone with a stare.  "Ask Numbers to hack his commlink if you want to check his ID.  All I'm saying is that he has the right mannerisms.  He had a beat at some point and beat cops do enjoy a good coffee."  The mage took a sip of his black coffee.  "And this?  This counts."

    "I hope so."

    "Anything going on around us?"

    "Teenagers making out, general traffic zipping by, and I think I see a drug deal going down in the hotel.  Idiots didn't even close the curtains."

    "The best kind of problems.  Someone else's.  Ignore them."

    "Are you kidding?  I could sell the footage, especially if--  Whoa!  Jackpot!"

    Oswald leaned up against the Humvee Civic.  "What did you see?"

    "Do you know anyone in the news business?  I just got great footage of the Knights taking down the drug deal."

    "Check KSAF's site later.  We're working right now."  Charles bit into his twister.  "And if you don't get back to your body, I'm eating your treat in front of you."

    "Okay, okay, don't get your panties in a bunch.  Just let me tie down my network first."

    Oswald glanced over at the hotel's entrance.  He saw the ork exit, steaming cup in one hand.  The mage waved.  "Company's coming, TH."

    "Omae, you were right," the ork said.  "You said you had a guy inside?"

    "Yeah.  Same project as yours, apparently."

    The ork took a long swallow of his coffee.  "Do you have any idea what's going on?"

    "None, chummer.  I don't even have a link inside.  We'd hear if there was a problem, though."

    "Yeah, you're right."  The ork took another drink of coffee.  "Are you really a cop?  I didn't think FedBoeing had much outside security grunts.  No offense."

    "None taken.  And I used to be one in Manhattan.  I made detective before moving out here."

    "Detective?"  The ork whistled.  He held out a meaty hand.  "Sam Quinn, Sergeant.  I'm with the FRT."

    Oswald shook the ork's hand.  "Interesting.  What's a Fast Response Trooper doing here as security?  Isn't this a little below your pay grade?"

    "You'd think that, but this isn't a security detail."  The ork looked around.  "I probably shouldn't say, but this could help you.  My boss in there is in Internal Affairs.  If anything, this is way over my grade."

    "Curiouser and curiouser."  Oswald slapped the ork's shoulder.  "My new friend, I think we need to stay in touch."


1142 hours

    "Order, please."  Ms Evo thumped the table with her hand, trying to get the assembled reps to pay attention.  "Order."

    "Quiet!" Mr. Errant bellowed.  The arguing stopped.  "Thank you."

    "Yes, well . . .."  The dwarf glared at the reps.  "Accusing each other is wasting time.  We don't have that much of it.  We are also not here to discuss the ramifications of tempo or other addictive substances."

    Fraulein Krupp got to her feet.  "Who isn't under suspicion?" she asked.

    "Who hasn't been hit?" Mr. Star countered.

    Mitsuhama-san started counting off his fingers.  "One, Aztechnology.  Given their reputation in certain circles, that makes them a prime suspect.  Two, Horizon.  Mitsuhama's own intelligence on Horizon shows no possible vector to infiltrate successfully.  And their Consensus, whatever that could be, doesn't seem to go for destabilization."

    "Three, Brackhaven."  Mr. Telestrian stood up.  "No evidence of being infiltrated and the companies hit are known for their diversity programs."

    "You're joking, right?" Ms Wagon said.  "Are you really implying that Humanis is behind all of this?"

    "Besides," Mr. Pueblo added, "I can point out the flaw in your argument.  Lone Star."

    "Hey now," Mr. Star said.  "Our record has been improving steadily."

    Mr. Errant laughed.  "Even you don't sound convinced."

    Mr. Star pointed at Mr. Errant.  "I have had enough of your bullshit--"

    "Enough!"  Ms Evo's voice echoed off the walls.  "Gentlemen, leave your grievances outside."  An uncomfortable silence fell over the meeting.  "Now," the dwarf said, "let's start over.  Who do we believe has been compromised?"

    Rim-san stood up and read from his notes.  "Renraku, as confirmed by Mr. Errant.  Gaeatronics, as confirmed by Mr. Telestrian.  Pueblo Corporate Council, as confirmed by Mr. Pueblo himself."

    "I am still interested in knowing how we can trust Mr. Pueblo," Mitsuhama-san said.

    "Like I tried to explain before," Mr Pueblo started, "the problem was inherited when the PCC absorbed the Ute Nation.  Their public servants were absorbed into the Pueblo bureaucracy without proper vetting.  I've managed to isolate suspects from doing any damage."

    Ms Evo smiled at the Amerind.  "Thank you.  Rim-san, please continue."

    "Suspected of being infiltrated includes Neonet, Microdeck, the Seattle Metroplex Guard but not Joint Task Force Seattle, and, yes, each and every one of us."  Rim-san sat down.  "Beyond that, we know little."

    "This is getting us nowhere," Mitsuhama-san said.

    Fraulein Krupp glanced at Tarkov.  "Mr. Boeing hasn't said much in some time.  Perhaps he has some wisdom to share."  She addressed Tarkov directly.  "Or do you only let your assistant speak?"

    Tarkov sat impassively.  "We've been circling the issue all morning.  Everytime we come up with a possibility, we find an exception that breaks the pattern.  I'd say it was getting us nowhere except that we are getting somewhere."  He shrugged.  "I'm beginning to think that the exceptions are intentional.  Let's start with the idea that all the targets are in Seattle.  Works for all of us except the PCC and Saeder-Krupp."

    "So, you're saying that whoever we're up against is playing with our heads?" Mr. Star asked.

    "Throwing us off the scent," Mr. Errant said.

    "I don't see it," Ms Evo said.  "What is the payoff for the extra work involved?"

    "It confused us, didn't it?" Tarkov said.  "I do have some questions.  Mr. Errant, when did you first noticed the issue?  Was it before or after KE got the Seattle contract?"

    "After.  I don't see the point."

    "Hang on.  Mr. Star, have you seen any attempts since losing the contract?"

    "Yes, several.  Looks like that shoots your theory down."

    "Maybe, maybe not."  Tarkov ran a search on his commlink.  "According to what I see here, Lone Star still has the penal contracts for the metroplex.  I'd say that could be useful."

    Ms Evo cleared her throat.  "What possible use could our foe have for prisons?"

    "I think I see," Ms Wagon said.  "Mr. Boeing, correct me if I'm off base.  Prisons might not be useful but the prisoners might, if one isn't fussy about quality."

    "Or have brutal training methods," Mr. Pueblo added.  "I wouldn't want to rely on them, but as front line forces that I don't care about, sure, send them in."

    "That brings up a far more chilling scenario, Mr. Boeing, assuming you're right," Mr. Telestrian said.  "That's a private army."

    "What's the point?" Fraulein Krupp said.  "It is far easier to hire mercenaries.  There are no training costs involved, no need to sneak around."

    Tarkov sat back in his chair.  "I'm still trying to figure it out."

    Ms Evo checked the time on her commlink.  "Perhaps we should break for lunch.  Everyone come back for thirteen hundred."


1155 hours

    Oswald knocked on the roof of the Humvee Civic when he saw Charles towering above the crowd.  "TH, wake up."

    Inside the Humvee, the rigger stirred.  "This better be important," she grumbled.

    "They're coming back."  The mage slipped into the SUV's back seat.

    Treehugger fired up the engine.  "Let me recall the drones."  She sent a signal through her drone net before driving the SUV to the entrance.  The rigger triggered the passenger doors to let the others in.  "Good meeting?"

    Tarkov climbed inside.  "Remains to be seen."

    The SUV lurched as Charles got in.  "Weird shit is happening," the troll said.

    "Widespread, too," Numbers added.  "We're in."

    Treehugger closed the doors.  "Where to?"

    "Mr. Tarkov?" Numbers prompted.

    "No idea."

    "How does the Pink Door sound?" Treehugger suggested.  "This early in the day, the baked goods will be fresh."

    "Works for me," Charles said.  "Easily secured, too."

    It took Treehugger longer to find a parking space than it did to drive the five blocks to the bar.  Oswald entered first to make sure the location was safe; Charles brought up the rear as the group entered.  They found a booth in the back and placed their orders.  Once the waitress left, Tarkov asked, "Any problems outside?"

    "None," Oswald said.  "Met someone from the Lone Star team, though.  Decent fellow.  Might even make it to command if he keeps his nose clean.  How is it going inside?"

    "Too many egos and too many personal stakes to make things work.  Unfortunately, things have to work.  The problem is bigger than I expected."

    "We've got megacorporate involvement and they don't know what's happening," Numbers said.

    "That's because they're too big."  Treehugger shifted to let the waitress set down the pitcher of draft beer.  She waited for the server to pour the mugs and leave before continuing.  "The megas control a lot.  That's a big weakness that we shadowrunner types exploit well.  It takes time for reports to get around and read by the right people.  If I hit say Aztechnology looking to get a leg up on Stuffer Shack but strike through, oh, I don't know, Hawker-Siddley or Dassault, it'll take Aztech's security time to figure out what I was really up to."  Treehugger turned her attention to Tarkov.  "Meanwhile, FedBoeing does aircraft.  If I hit you guys, it'll be for something airplane related, even if it's to get dirt on an employee.  You'll be on me faster even if I don't trigger an alarm."

    Tarkov drank a swallow of beer.  "Okay, then why hit the smaller companies?  Or a government?"

    "Government?  Since when were they involved?"

    "That's classified.  But one nation's been hit, if you call the Pueblo Corporate Council a country."

    "Works for me," Oswald said.  "Does have me wondering what's happening.  The Star sent someone from Internal Affairs to the meeting.  I mean, between you, Tarkov, and the good Sergeant Quinn, we're looking at something going deep."

    "Saeder-Krupp had reps, too," Charles said.  "The dragon must agree with you."

    Numbers sighed.  "Not everyone at S-K works directly for Lofwyr."

    "The company doesn't have holdings here."

    "Unless they were spying on the meeting themselves," Treehugger said.  "They might not have shit here, but their competitors do.  What better way to find out?"

    "Guys, I appreciate the help," Tarkov said, "but the meeting already covered this.  I just want to eat and relax before I go back into that pit of voles."


1304 hours

    Back in the meeting room, Tarkov sat in the same chair as before.  The rest of the representatives and their bodyguards slowly filed back in, milling around until Ms Evo called the meeting back into order.  The group slowly sat back down.  "I trust everyone had a good lunch," the dwarf said.  "Shall we get back to business?"

    "Point of order," Mr. Telestrian said.  "Is it wise to have all our assistants and personal security in with us?  We are barely able to trust each other.  It is asking a lot to extend that trust to underlings."

    "Is Mr. Telestrian offering to pay for the overtime for our staff," Mr. Pueblo answered.  "I much prefer having my people here.  Saves time later."

    "I tend to agree," Mitsuhama-san said.  "My men are loyal."

    "I withdraw the point," Mr. Telestrian conceeded.

    "Anything else before we start?" Ms Evo asked.  "No?  Good.  Let's get started.  Mr. Boeing came up with an interesting scenario before lunch.  I've had a chance to think about it and would like to present my hypothesis.  Could our mysterious foe be trying to takeover Seattle?"

    The crowd murmured.  "What's the point?" Mr. Star said.  "Between the Metroplex Guard and JTF-Seattle on top of all the corporate security in town, it'd be a bloodbath."

    "And if this foe takes over key corporate security forces here?" Fraulein Krupp said.  "That is why we are here today."

    "Separatists?" Mr. Errant said.  "This is a joke."

    "What other explanation do we have?" Ms Evo asked.  "Mr. Boeing's company can provide military aircraft.  Mr. Errant, your parent company makes weapons.  Your own company provides troops and controls the streets.  Mr. Star's company did that before the election.  Ms Wagon's company provides health care."

    "That still leaves several questions," Mr. Pueblo said.  "The Pueblo Corporate Council's borders are far from here, as are the former Ute Nation's.  Then there's Fraulein Krupp's company.  Saeder-Krupp has no holdings here."

    Fraulein Krupp held up a hand.  "That is true.  It is also true that my employer has interests in the area.  It is possible that this foe of ours wishes to keep us in the dark on its motives."

    "We've been down this rabbit hole already," Mr. Star said.  "It's getting us nowhere.  Besides, taking over Seattle?  What's next, slotting the latest Suki Redflower sim and use the plot from that as our next theory?"

    "What should we do?" Mitsuhama-san said.  "Ignore the problem like Lone Star did with the tempo issue?"

    Mr. Star stood up.  His chair toppled over with a clatter.  "I don't have to stay here and be insulted by a rep from the Yakuza."  He stormed towards the door.  His two bodyguards followed, rushing to keep up.

    "Oh, for the . . . ENOUGH!"  Ms Evo slammed her hand on the table.  "This is not helping.  We are not here because of tempo.  We are not here to criticize how any company has handled past problems.  Everyone, please take your seats."

    "So that I can be dumped on?  Think again, sweetheart."

    "Take your seats!"  The dwarf's voice rang through the room.  "We need to set aside our pride and work together.  We are dealing with an organization that can infiltrate past our tightest security and turn employees under our protection.  Our meeting this weekend is to protect our employers.  We must set aside our differences and petty issues and work together."  Ms Evo addressed the Lone Star representative.  "Do we understand?"

    Mr. Star stopped.  He took a deep breath, released it slowly.  "Yes."  He returned to his seat.

    "Good."  Ms Evo gripped the table.  Tension drained from her arms.  "Could organized crime be involved?"

    Murmurs arose around the table.  "I don't see why not," the DocWagon representative said.  She brushed a stray greying bang out of her eyes.  "The pharmaceuticals we deal with alone are worth millions."  Ms Wagon looked over to Mr. Errant.  "Ares has weapons that could arm every gang in the city several times over, not to mention the benefits of having the police under Mob control."

    Mr. Star's harsh laugh carried over the table.  "The Mob?  Really?"

    "Or another criminal organization."  Ms Wagon shrugged.  "The Yakuza, perhaps.  Or the Russians."

    "Why would the Yakuza take special effort in infiltrating Mitsuhama of all places?"

    "Mr. Star."  Warning carried through the undertone of Ms Evo's voice.

    "It is an open secret that Mitsuhama Computer Technologies has had Yakuza backing," Fraulein Krupp said.  "Money is money, even if there are strings attached."

    "Sometimes better a criminal enterprise than a dragon," Rim-san said.

    "Ignoring which gang," Tarkov said, trying to head off another argument, "what's in it for them?  I can see getting them contacts within DocWagon and Knight Errant.  Why Mitsuhama?  Why Telestrian?  Why Federated-Boeing?  What does a criminal gang need with fighter-bombers?  Or the power from Gaeatronics?"

    "Mr. Boeing is right," the Knight Errant representative said.  "I can confirm it with my Organized Crime Task Force later, but what we're seeing is beyond the scope of the likes of the Mob."

    "Lone Star's Department of Organized Crime will say that same thing," Mr. Star added.  "Having a corporation to launder money is one thing.  Controlling manufacturing?  It's easier to bribe some schmuck in Shipping to 'lose' a crate or two."

    "What about blackmail?" Fraulein Krupp asked.

    Mitsuhama-san shook his head.  "Again, there are far easier ways to accomplish the task.  Sokaiya is far more effective."

    "I don't believe I've heard that term," Mr. Telestrian said.

    "It's a form of blackmail," Ms Evo explained.  "Unless a certain amount of money is paid, agents will disrupt shareholder meetings to the point where nothing can happen.  Companies usually pay the demanded amount as being cheaper than hiring excessive security."

    "So, what does this mean?" Ms Wagon asked.

    "Organized crime isn't involved," Tarkov said.  "They don't have the motive needed."

    Mr. Errant tapped his fingers on the table.  "Who do we know hasn't been hit?"

    "We've been through this already," Mr. Telestrian said.

    "We were looking at them as suspects.  I want to see what they have or don't have compared to us."

    Mr. Star nodded.  "I hate to agree, but why not?"

    "To our best knowledge, Aztechnology has not been hit," Rim-san said.

    "That's because no one wants to die horribly," Ms Evo said.  "The company engages in practices that the most jaded person would call foul."

    "Even if they were infiltrated, their main asset here is the Pyramid," Mr. Star said.  "I'm fairly sure they won't make the same mistake Renraku did and use an AI to keep the place running.  I don't see taking over the Pyramid is cost effective and could very easy wind up be a career ending move."

    Ms Evo nodded in agreement.  "I believe Brackhaven Investments was mentioned earlier.  It does strike me as odd that control over the Governor isn't part of the motive."

    "Please," Ms Wagon said, "the fastest way to get the Governor to listen to you is to make a deposit in his campaign fund."

    "It doesn't hurt to wear a white sheet when you make the donation," Mr. Telestrian added.

    "Hang on," Tarkov said.  He pulled up data on his commlink.  "Damn, not here."

    Ms Evo focused her attention on Tarkov.  "You have an idea?"

    Without looking up from his display, Tarkov answered, "I might.  It's a long shot, though."  He raised his head.  "Do we have the racial breakdown of the targeted employees?  Elf, troll, whatever?  Let's add sexual orientation, just in case."

    "I can't speak for the others, but Evo is an equal opportunity employer."

    "But Brackhaven isn't," Mr. Telestrian said.  "The Governor's uncle was the head of the Seattle chapter of Humanis for a while."

    Mr. Errant shook his head.  "The Governor isn't.  The muckrakers have tried to find a connection beyond his uncle and have failed miserably."

    "Of course Governor Brackhaven isn't going to be a member," Ms Evo said.  "Metahuman members of the Republican Party could have problems voting for someone who wants them exterminated."

    "And metahuman friendly corporations in town can hide behind the fiction, too," Mr. Star said.

    "Mr. Boeing's suggestion is worth looking into," Fraulein Krupp said.  "Can we all get the data for tomorrow?"  Murmured assents came from around the table.  "Good.  I move we adjourn for a twenty minute break."

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