27 Jun 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 13

Post Mortem

(Language warning in effect.)
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Sunday, April 19, 2071
1823 hours

    Charles escorted Tarkov from the meeting room to the Humvee Civic.  The SUV's passenger door opened to let the security manager in.  Charles looked around before getting in the oversized front seat.  The door closed.  Tarkov settled in as Treehugger put the Humvee into gear.  "I could have used you this afternoon, Numbers.  Never get a bunch of security men to work out budgeting details.  Miss DocWagon I think made the most sense during this afternoon's session.  She suggested we remain in contact with each other, share evidence when it relates to these infiltration attempts."  Tarkov eyed Numbers.  "Can you tell me why you were missing?  I am paying for a full team of bodyguards."


    "A security issue that needed a delicate hand to solve," Numbers said.  "Preventative measures."

    "And this also explains why your mage isn't here?"

    "He's wrapping up a loose end," Treehugger said.  "Where would you like us to take you?"

    "Home.  The FedBoeing facility in Everett.  I'll get Owen to meet us at the gate.  Once he meets us, your contract can end."

    The drive through the Seattle streets remained uneventful.  A comfortable silence grew in the SUV.  Treehugger took the most direct route back to the Boeingville.  She stopped at the main gates.  Charles climbed out of the Humvee and looked around to make sure the area was secure.  Carter left the guard booth.  "Is Mr. Tarkov with you?" he asked.

    "Inside."  The troll opened the passenger door to let Carter verify.  "Can we pass him to you?"

    "Sure."  Carter looked inside the SUV.  "Good to see you back, Pete."

    Numbers got out of the vehicle.  "We've got some gear to pick up and to return."

    "Including a car and a motorcycle," Treehugger added.

    "Pete?"  Carter deferred to the security manager.  "Your call.  I can get some men to escort them."

    Tarkov nodded.  "We'll give them a lift to their vehicles."  He got out of the Humvee.  "Thanks again for your help.  I hope that we don't meet again."

    "I understand completely," Numbers said.  She offered her hand.  "For someone who doesn't care much for us deniable assets, you were easy to work with."

    Tarkov shook the hacker's hand.  "Your team was not what I expected."  He got back into the SUV.  "I can only take two of you back in.  Your security clearances will be expiring soon and I don't want to deal with the security headache if all of you pass a restricted zone.  Owen, can you handle the driving?"

-**-

1917 hours

    The team regrouped at the Alabaster Maiden.  Treehugger and Charles claimed a booth in a dark corner.  The sound system pumped out trance music loud enough to make hearing the next table over difficult.  Numbers joined the group, a glass of beer in her hand.  Her hair shifted through the spectrum, fading from colour to colour.  "About time you got here," she said.  She swayed in time with the music.  "Nice place."

    Treehugger regarded her teammate.  "Just how many of those," she eyed the beer mug, "have you had?"

    "Enough."  Numbers fell into a chair.  "Oz not here yet?"

    "He's helping the kid and her mother, last I heard."  Treehugger sent her order over the nightclub's wireless.  "What's with him and children?  This wasn't the first time he went out of his way to protect a kid.

    "What's in his past is his biz, not ours."  Numbers drained her beer.

    "Could have saved a lot of hurt if we dealt with with Nabi at the hotel."

    Charles shook his head.  "And get the rest of her team out looking for us.  No, not good for us or Johnson.  The paranoia in the meet was stratospheric.  Numbers, what was that you had here?  Any good?"

    Numbers shrugged.  "Beer's beer."

    "I'm taking you on a proper bar crawl some night.  You need to drink something that isn't a generic brew."  Charles read over the nightclub's offerings.  "I've got this round.  You'll appreciate this lager.  TH, want one?  I'll get a pitcher if you do."

    "Yeah, sure."  Treehugger took in the surroundings.  "For a magician's haunt, the place is jumping.  I guess wizards don't have to worry about work Mondays."

    Oswald approached the booth.  "Job security," he said as he sat down.  "There's not many of us to begin with.  The corps have to entice us to work for them instead of us sacrificing our lives for them.  Sweet deal if you can get it."

    "Oz!"  Numbers lurched out of her chair and sat on the mage's lap.  "About time you got here."

    Treehugger smirked.  "I've that sweet deal already," she said.  "Shadowrunner."

    "Yeah, but corporate mages don't get shot at day after day."  Oswald wrapped his arms around Numbers.  "Someone's in a party mood.  We got paid, right?"

    Numbers giggled.  "Baba Ganoush confirmed the money transferred.  She got her cut, of course."  She ran a finger down Oswald's arm.  "So, how is Nabi?"  The hacker winked.

    "She is home with her daughter."  The mage looked over at Charles.  "Just how much has our hacker had to drink tonight?"

    "Good question," Treehugger said.  "She started before me and Charles got here."

    "I'm comfortably numb."  Numbers flicked back her hair.  "I think I deserve a night off."

    Oswald helped the hacker back to her own chair.  "Let's wait on that.  I managed to get some data from the rescue."

    Charles raised an eyebrow.  "From where?"

    Treehugger shrugged.  "Beats me.  I didn't see Oz until he reappeared on top of the girl."

    "You could've phrased that better."  The mage glared at the rigger.  "However, I ran into the mage or whatever he was in the back of the office."

    "I was wondering about the nose bleed.  How is your nose now?"

    "It's okay.  I had to overpower a stunbolt to take out the fucker.  Didn't kill him, though.  I managed to get a few things out of his head.  His name was James Middlemas.  Not sure what sort of magician he was, but not hermetic and not shamanic.  He got his orders from a fixer named Graves.  Anyone ever hear of him?"

    "No," Charles said.  "I can ask around, though.  Did you tell Johnson this?  Or the kid's mom?"

    "I have no evidence.  There's a reason why a mind probe isn't allowed in courts.  My word only."

    Numbers sat up in her seat.  "I'll do a search for Middlemas tomorrow."

    The waitress arrived with the round of drinks.  Once the beer was poured and passed around, Oswald continued, "The other problems is that someone knew Nabi had a kid.  I talked with her for a bit."

    "Oh, sure."  Numbers winked.  "'Talked.'"

    "Her daughter was there.  Besides, Nabi didn't strike me as the type to bed hop, unlike certain runners I could mention."

    Treehugger finished her swallow of beer.  "Hey, elves are all for free love."

    "You think the kidnapping was an inside job?" Charles asked.

    Oswald shrugged.  "Who else would have known she was there?"

    "Someone watching outside could have run an image search on her," Treehugger suggested.  "We've done that before."

    "Numbers, you dealt with her the most.  Describe Nabi for us."

    The hacker closed her eyes.  "She was, um, Asian.  Slight accent.  Black hair, shoulder length.  Brown eyes, probably natural."  Numbers cocked her head.  "She was dressed like a businesswoman.  Grey suit, no corporate pins."

    Oswald kept his attention on Numbers.  "Anything else?  Anything distinctive about her?"

    "She had some sort of reaction enhancer."  Numbers opened her eyes.  "I didn't see her draw her gun.  It was just there."

    "I didn't see any sign of wires when she was in the meeting room," Charles said.  "She kept the same pace as the DocWagon rep."

    "Charles, did you see anything distinctive about her?" Oswald asked.

    The troll shook his head.  "Asian woman."  Charles shrugged.  "That's all I got."

    "Your point?" Treehugger said.

    "She looks like an Asian woman," Oswald answered.  "Her description matches three quarters of that demographic.  You'd have to use facial recognition software and get a really good close up of her to run an image search on her.  No one got close enough in the lobby."

    "Didn't happen in the meet, either, unless it was her own team," Charles said.

    "And now our paranoia starts."  Treehugger drained her beer mug and poured herself a second glass.  "Before we start jumping at shadows, can I ask an important question?  Are we getting paid for this?"

    "Right now?  No."  Oswald took a sip of his drink.  "Does it matter?"

    "We're off the clock, Oz.  The problem no longer concerns us."

    "Are you sure?  Hold on a tick."  Oswald put on a pair of glasses.  He focused on the AR display appearing on the lens.  "Found it.  Looks like Kiser did put a call in for the fire department today.  'Firefighters found the bodies of three men in the 1800 block of [name road] in Redmond after an abandoned office building caught fire.  A Knight Errant spokesman said that it appears that the men were squatters trying to keep warm when their fire got out of control.'"

    "Yes, and?" Treehugger prompted.

    "How many gunmen did the Lone Star goons off?"

    "Three.  Oh, shit."

    Oswald nodded.  "Middlemas got away.  I should have put a bullet in his head."

    "Why didn't you?" Charles asked.

    "Sun Jung wasn't secure yet."

    "So we now have a mage after us?" Numbers asked.

    "Or his boss," Oswald confirmed.  "Maybe.  Depending on how vindictive they want to be."

    Numbers sighed.  "Are Nabi and her daughter safe?"

    "Yeah.  I helped them look for a new place.  Sun Jung wasn't happy about it, but she knows why."

    "So our payment for this research is avoiding retribution."  Treehugger half chuckled, half huffed.  "How likely is it that this Middlemas will come after us?"

    "The million nuyen question, TH."  Oswald stretched.  "If he was a runner like us, not too likely.  But, he has a mentor spirit of some sort.  That tosses in a whole new variable.  I want to be ready for the worse."

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