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The main draw for the crowd at DeClerry's was the combat bike match between the Tacoma Timberwolves against the Cleveland Commandos, live from Cleveland's Ares Global Entertainment Arena. Charles settled in the booth to keep an eye on the game while listening to his teammates. The crowd in the bar roared as Tacoma scored.
Once the uproar died down, Numbers continued, "So, that narrowed down to several dozen calls and messages. I still can't count out coded messages through social networks on top of all that. Unless I find something blatant, I've exhausted everything I can think of."
Treehugger sipped her wine. "You're overthinking things, Numbers. Too bad I didn't think to grab the commlinks from the kidnappers at the time. I doubt there's anything left to them after the fire. Speaking of, Oz, did you really have to burn the building down?"
"I wasn't expecting a fire elemental," the mage said. "I had to do something to get rid of it."
"It's behind us," Numbers said. "No use going over something we can't change."
"Numbers is right," Charles said. "Let's focus on what we know. Main thing I found out was that the weekend was the Evo team was the first time they worked with each other."
"Interesting," Oswald said. "The KE team was internal security. Lone Star had FRT troopers attached to an Internal Affairs officer. Why the difference?"
"Known elements versus unknown?" Numbers suggested. "With runners and the paranoia at the meeting, a team could be fully compromised without any outward sign to the Johnson. An internal team could be hand-picked. Tarkov had no problem with Carter watching his family."
"That's more misplaced trust than anything else," Treehugger said. "Hey, what about the elves?"
"Isn't Telestrian family-owned or something?" Charles asked.
"It is. Hey, Numbers, do you have an image of the Telestrian group?"
Numbers searched through her commlink's memory. "Here." She transferred several files to Treehugger.
The rigger examined the images through her datajack. "I think they're related."
"Are you sure?" Numbers passed the image files to Charles and Oswald.
Oswald put his AR glasses on to see the pictures. "I suppose."
"Our elf expert should know." Charles ruffled Treehugger's hair.
The rigger glared at the troll. "I'm serious. I think they're part of the Telestrian family."
Number shrugged. "I'll set some biometric scans on the pics to run overnight. Did we find anything else out?"
"No, but Two-Tone wants the Commodore back. My Westwind should be ready."
"That reminds me." Numbers turned to Charles. "Can you call your street doc friend? I need to get my hair replaced."
Charles nodded. "Sure. When did you need it done?"
"No rush. I've got at least a month of--" The crash of breaking windows cut Numbers off. Smoke billowed out of canisters rolling on the floor. The front door burst open. Gunfire erupted. Several of the crowd fell, bleeding. A woman screamed.
Charles jumped to his feet. He grabbed the table and pushed it over on its side. Plates and glasses crashed to the floor. Treehugger fell flat on the floor behind the makeshift cover. Oswald grabbed Numbers and pulled her down behind the table. The gunfire continued. The crowd panicked. Men and women ran away from the shots, not knowing where to go. Charles drew his Defiance Shocker taser.
A man carrying an AK stepped through the doorway. He held the trigger down, spraying the bar. Behind him, his partner raised the barrel of his assault rifle and fired the underbarrel grenade launcher. A bright light flared, blinding the remaining customers. Charles raised an arm, too late to shield his eyes. Treehugger blinked as her cybereyes adjusted from the flash. Oswald's glasses adjusted, darkening. The mage drew his Manhunter. Numbers squeezed her eyes shut and curled up into a ball.
The first gunman kept holding the trigger. Bullets tore through the simulated wood of the table. Charles fired a taser dart at the gun at the gunman. The dart flew past the the gunman's head and buried itself into the wall. The gunman turned. The action of the AK changed; Charles felt the burst hit him, glancing off his natural dermal plating. The second gunman rolled past his partner, coming up in a crouch. On the ground, Treehugger drew her Predator. The gun's smartlink synchronized with her. She got to her knees.
Oswald peeked around the table. He assensed the two gunmen. Both showed the effects of invasive implants. "Shit. Guys, they're cybered."
"Great," Numbers muttered. Her eyes still watered from the burst of light. Keeping her eyes shut, she shunted her attention to the virtual realm. She sent a general ping, trying to find all the Matrix-capable electronics around her.
The first gunman kept shooting at Charles, forcing the troll to duck down. Treehugger got to her feet and fired two quick shots at the lead attacker. The gunman twisted, unhit but forced to pull his gun's barrel away Charles.
On the floor, Oswald gathered the mana around, focused it into a stunbolt, released the spell. The released magical energy soared at the standing gunman. He stiffened briefly but remained standing. Charles, with the pressure of the gunman's attack lessened, fired another taser dart. The gunman shook as the dart discharged through him then collapsed in a heap.
Numbers let out a curse. "Who the hell doesn't use smartguns?" she grumbled. She twisted her wrist, popping her Cavalier Scout into her hand. The hacker returned to virtual reality, dove into the bar's node. DeClerry's PanicButton alarm shrilled, echoing through Numbers's head. Numbers jacked out. "The Knights are coming!"
"It'll take them a few minutes," Charles said.
The remaining gunman laid down suppressive fire. He started backing back through the door, picking over his comrade. Charles took another hit. He grunted, dropped the taser. Treehugger felt a line of fire across her leg. She shot back wildly, then dropped down behind the table. Oswald focused on another spell, grabbing an upset bar stool and throwing it behind the retreating gunman. The gunman tripped, stumbled backwards. He caught himself before falling completely. Bullets ripped into the ceiling, showering dust and debris on the dead and wounded on the floor.
Charles reached into the pocket of his long coat to grab his Cavalier Deputy. He swung it in the gunman's direction. The revolver roared. The gunman doubled over as the slug ripped through him. Gasping, he turned. Treehugger got back up and pulled her Predator's trigger. Her shot nailed the gunman in the back. He fell, laid still.
Numbers got to her feet. "We better get out of here."
Charles grabbed his coat and picked up his taser. "What about him?" He gestured at the unconscious gunman on the floor.
"Grab him." Oswald stood up. "Someone had to send him."
Treehugger looked down at her wound. "They could have been robbing this place."
"DeClerry's is Mob controlled," Charles said. "No one is stupid enough to rob this bar."
"And they never made a demand for money or goods," Oswald added. "They just came in shooting. That tells me this was a hit of some sort. Considering what we've seen this weekend, I want to make sure we weren't the target. Charles, grab him." The mage headed to the door.
Numbers let Treehugger lean on her as she hobbled after Oswald. Charles grabbed the unconscious gunman and followed. Outside, Treehugger sent a signal to the Commodore to open the trunk. Charles deposited the body inside then stepped back. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"Two-Tone's," Treehugger suggested. "It's out of the way. Charles, you'll have to follow. The Commodore hasn't been modified for large passengers."
The troll closed the trunk. "No problem. Try not to lose me."