1 Aug 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 18

Shadow Information

(Language warning in effect)
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Tuesday, April 21, 2071
1209 hours

    Numbers arrived back at her apartment building shortly after noon.  She walked past the main door as she hacked the building's security camera.  The hacker found the recordings for the past few days and downloaded a copy into her commlink.  She continued to a Koffee Shop around the corner.  The hacker paid for her soykaf, then sat down to watch the comings and goings of the building's tenants and visitors.

    Satisfied that neither Wulfe nor any of his people had been to the apartment, Numbers finished her drink and returned home.  As she entered her apartment, she verified with her home node that no one had tried to enter.  Numbers set the security system to its highest setting, then stretched out on her couch.  She put some soft Europop music on and let her hair change colour with the tempo of the songs.

    Numbers jumped deep into the Matrix.  Her icon flowed around her consciousness in a swirl of digits.  The hacker made a beeline to the one VR location that would have the data she needed -- Jackpoint.  She used her guest access to login, then found a quiet node to work.  Numbers scrolled through file after file, making notes as she traced one lead after another.  Around her, software agents searched through more files, setting links aside for the hacker to follow later.  She felt a presence enter her node.  Numbers set aside her research to see who arrived.  "Slamm-O."

    "I heard you were here.  Hard at work, too.  New contract already?"

    "Never rains but it pours."  Numbers saved her research notes.  "Do you mind a question, one that might not be all that professional?"

    "Depends.  Is it about my love life?"

    "No."  Numbers laughed.  "No, nothing like that.  It's about this past weekend.  Did you have your regular team with you?  Skater didn't."

    Slamm-O's icon shrugged its shoulders.  "No.  It happens from time to time.  What's going on?"

    "That's the question, isn't it?  The entire weekend was to answer that question."  Numbers conjured a long thin number one to lean on.  "What's the likelihood of Seattle seceding from the rest of the UCAS?"

    "You want the odds?"

    "I'm not trying to bet on anything.  Right now, given the current situation with the city, what do you think?  Will Seattle leave the United Canadian and American States and go it alone?"

    "Not now, no.  Maybe if Joey D got elected.  Right now, we've got Governor Brackhaven.  He's more likely to send the Metroplex Guard out to take land back from the NAN."

    Numbers swept her arm through a stack of files, scattering them.  "Thanks."

    "Don't get me wrong.  There's a lot of people here who don't see the point of being the remote state in the Union.  Brackhaven just ain't one of them."  Slamm-O cocked his head.  "Where's that music coming from?"

    "That's me.  I've got a playlist running at home.  Helps me concentrate."

    "Is that German?"

    Numbers listened to the music for a moment.  "I think it's Czech.  How does FastJack feel about me passing along music files?"

    "Again, depends.  If you're selling, best not to if you like your neurons unscrambled.  If it's to share, I'd drop him a line with the track titles to see if he wants a copy, too."

    "I'll do that.  Want a copy of the song?"

    Slamm-O listened for a bit longer.  "Nah.  Not my style."


1544 hours

    Charles entered the back office at the Big Rhino.  Mr. Marco talked to the air, subvocalizing so only his mouth moved.  He laughed, then ended his call.  The troll fixer turned his attention to Charles.  "So, how can I help you?  Here to pick up your winnings?"

    "Those can go towards the New York-Atlanta game on the Rebels.  I have some data you can pass on, though."

    Macro sat down.  "Oh?  What will it cost me?"

    "Nothing.  It's a more private matter.  You've heard about what happened at DeClerry's?"

    "Yes.  The news feeds said it was a gang hit."

    "The news got it wrong.  They don't need to know the truth, though.  Both gunmen are dead."

    "Are you sure?"

    "One on the scene.  The other in a warehouse.  I got to witness it."

    "I see."  Macro tapped on his desk.  "And who was behind it?"

    "A megacorp.  The hit was on a group of runners who were at the bar.  The problem is being dealt with.  Shouldn't happen again."

    "Charles, I just can't take your word, as good as it is.  I'll need details to pass along to the right people."

    Charles placed the dead gunman's commlink on Macro's desk.  "Here.  My hacker didn't get much out of it.  Maybe yours can."

    Macro examined the 'link.  "There's some damage."

    "The body was dealt with already," Charles said.  "What about the other guy in the bar?"

    Macro shook his head.  "The Knights have it locked away."  The fixer pocketed the commlink.  "I'll see what my people can do.  Anything else, Charles?"

    "Maybe.  I'm looking for information about odd runs against certain corporations.  Runs that had no immediate effect on the bottom line for the target or for the hiring party."

    "That's going to cost, Charles.  I'll have to break a few confidences to even start looking."

    "Don't bother.  It's just an annoying leftover from my last job."

    "Speaking of jobs, when do you think you can do something for me?  I've got a list of clients who would appreciate your special talents."

    Charles grinned.  "Next week.  I'm working right now, but I should be done by the weekend.  I'll call you when I'm free."


1745 hours

    Oswald settled in at the dining table, ignoring the stack of boxes around him.  Nabi sat across the table from him, looking uncomfortable.  "My daughter insisted," she said with an apologetic tone.

    "Don't worry about.  It's been ages since I've had a properly cooked meal."  Oswald smiled warmly.  "I hate to bring up business with pleasant company, but I just have a question about this past weekend."

    "Anything, Oswald."

    "Please, friends call me Oz."

    "Oz, then.  Your question?"

    "Your team over the weekend.  Have you worked with any of them before?"

    "No.  I had heard of some of them through their reputations, but that was the first time working with them.  It made for difficulties setting up the security arrangements.  What about you, Oz?  Was that your regular team?"

    "It was.  Our Johnson isn't big on shadowrunners and had never dealt with any before except maybe as targets.  He never thought about us double-crossing him.  My guess, and it's just a guess, is that your Johnson and the other one with runners felt that a team could all be compromised."

    "Except that it just takes one to cause problems."  Nabi lowered her head.

    "Look what it took to get you to betray your Johnson.  Extreme measures.  In the same situation, I would have done the same thing."  Oswald reached across the table to take Nabi's hand into his.  "And Sun Jung is worth what you did."

    Nabi squeezed Oswald's hand.  "Thanks."  A crash followed by a series of curses came from the kitchen.  "Sun Jung, mind yourself," the woman called.

    "Sorry, Mom," Sun Jung called back.  She came out carrying a tray with several plates.  The teenaged girl set out the meal in front of her mother and her guest.  "Mom, do we have any candles?"

    "Packed already.  We don't need them."

    Sun Jung rolled her eyes.  "Ignore my mom," she told Oswald.  "It's been a while since she was on a date.  She's forgotten everything."  The girl picked up a plate.  "I'll be in my room to give you two some privacy."  She slipped away through the piled boxes.

    "My daughter has fanciful ideas at times.  It does her well in her creative writing classes.  Not so well in her math class."

    "So you wouldn't call this a date?"

    Nabi laughed nervously.  "Oz, you are charming.  But a dinner in a half-packed home is not my idea of a romantic evening, even if I was looking to expand my social life.  Especially with my daughter in the apartment."

    "So, you're saying that if this dinner was at a more intimate setting, like, say, Wanda's Witchery, you would call it a date?"

    "I might."

    "How about, once you've settled into your new place, we find out?"

    Nabi gave Oswald a demure smile.  "I'd like that.  I'll need someone to watch Sun Jung."

    "I know just the person.  He's quite good at keeping people safe."


2043 hours

    "I know your shop got shot up," Treehugger said.  "It wasn't my fault."

    Two-Tone stopped short, forcing the rigger to dodge around him.  "There were bloodstains, Treehugger.  Bloodstains.  People don't like bloodstains on their upholstery.  They pay me to get the stains out, not put new ones in."

    "What do you want me to do, Two-Tone?  I got the people responsible to pay for the damage.  Do you want me to scrub your floors, too?"

    Two-Tone considered the idea.  "It'd be a start."

    "Isn't that why you have drones?"

    "Why were you here last night?"

    "I was returning the Commodore.  It ran well, but it's no Eurocar."

    Two-Tone snorted.  "It'll still beat your car off the start line.  And your car can't hold a body in it."

    "Hey, he was alive when we brought him in.  You can't pin that on me."

    Two-Tone turned his back on the rigger and walked to his workbench.  "You owe me for the mess, Treehugger."

    "Fine, what do you want?"

    "A friend of a friend has a package that needs to be in Los Angeles by this weekend.  You've got your Westwind back.  You should be able to do it without getting the border patrols on your back."

    Treehugger closed her eyes.  "Smuggling run?  When this weekend?  Does your friend need the package in LA by 2359 Sunday night or Saturday at 0433?"

    Two-Tone faced the rigger again.  "Does it matter?"

    "Yes, it matters.  Two-Tone, I'm working this week.  I don't know if I'll be free by the weekend."

    "Quit.  You have other priorities."

    "How do you think I'm getting your door fixed?"  Treehugger pointed at the makeshift entrance.  "I negotiated getting your warehouse fixed up as part of this job.  I quit, no door for you."

    The dwarf looked over at the tarp covering the remains of the loading dock door.  "When are you supposed to be done?"

    Treehugger shrugged her shoulders.  "Johnson's deadline is the end of the week.  Whether that includes the weekend or not, never said."

    "Damn.  There goes the bonus.  Can't you call me if you're free?  It's still a good job.  It'll get you out of the metroplex for a bit.  Nice wide open roads, minimal traffic, no worries about the Knights cracking down on parking violations."

    Resigned, Treehugger said, "I'll call.  Now, if you can excuse me, I have some work to do."


Wednesday, April 21, 2071

0934 hours

    Numbers heard someone knocking on her door.  She grabbed her Ares Light Fire and turned on its laser sight.  "Who is it?" she called.  A red dot appeared on the door as Numbers aimed her pistol.

    "It's Oz.  Can I come in?"


    "Yes, Oz.  Your friendly neighbourhood mage.  Can I come in or what?"

    Numbers ordered her home's Matrix node to unlock the door.  "It's open."

    Oswald entered the apartment.  He ducked when he saw the gun in the hacker's hands.  "Whoa, Numbers, easy."  He raised his arms.  "It's me."

    Numbers lowered her Light Fire.  She flicked the laser sight off.  "Sorry, Oz."

    "No problem."  Oswald closed the door.  "How are you feeling?"

    "What do you think?"  Numbers set her pistol on a table.  "I didn't sleep well.  Every creak kept me awake."

    "Here."  Oswald guided his teammate to her couch.  "Sit.  Relax if you can."

    Numbers sat.  "I don't think I can, Oz.  I should've known my past would catch up, but," she shook her head, "I never wanted the rest of you involved.  My problem, you know?"

    "No, I don't."  Oswald sat beside Numbers and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.  "We're a team, Numbers.  We work together.  We rely on each other."

    "You can rely on me for this run, Oz, if that's what you're worried about."

    "I'm not worried about that.  Hell, Numbers, you're the most professional runner I've met.  You're even rubbing off on the rest of us.  It's you that I'm worried about."  Oswald gave Numbers a quick hug.  "I've never seen you this rattled.  You don't have to tell me anything, but I'm here if you want to talk."

    Numbers looked at Oswald then at her lap.  "I used to work for Saeder-Krupp.  An accountant.  Someone's data steal run went bad while I was working late.  There weren't any surviving witnesses other than me and security needed to pin the intrusion on someone.  Wulfe decided I was that someone.  Now, well, here I am."  The hacker played with her artificial hair.  "Do you know how much I spent to not look like me?  The hair, the breast implants, I even thought about plastic surgery to change my face.  And I just couldn't take that last step.  I wanted to be able to be me again.  I even saved my real measurements so I can get all of this undone someday.  And now?"  Numbers buried her face into Oswald's shoulder.  "All this effort was for nothing!" she sobbed.

    Oswald rubbed the hacker's back.  "It's okay," he soothed.  "You're not alone.  We'll make sure you're safe, Christa."


1052 hours

    "You're not here for a tune up, Charles."  The woman tied her steel grey hair into a bun.  "And you don't need me for on the job injuries.  What's up?"

    Charles sat down on a reinforced stool.  "Just a couple of things, Doc.  First is a teammate needs her fibre-optic hair replaced.  Nothing urgent."

    The street doc raised an eyebrow.  "Fibre-optic hair?  She has the basic work already in?"

    "She says that she's been overdoing the electrostatic charge lately.  Everything works right now from what I can see."

    "I'll check my suppliers.  What else?"

    Charles took a breath.  "Jade, you ever work for DocWagon?"

    "No.  If I had, I probably wouldn't be here.  Why?  What's going on?"

    "Weird shit that has security at several corps paranoid.  DocWagon's one of them."

    "I see."  Jade sat down.  "No, I don't see.  Why ask about DocWagon if they're one of the paranoids?"

    "Three corps had outside contractors.  One of the contractors had her girl kidnapped."

    Jade's mouth formed a grim line.  "Insider?"

    "That's the working theory.  We're getting a good payday out of finding one.  I just want the insider to be real."

    "I can put out feelers if you want.  In return, just act as a bouncer this afternoon during the open clinic here.  Shouldn't be a problem today as long as the gangers play nice."


1533 hours

    Numbers woke up on her couch, her head on Oswald's lap.  She stirred, stretched.  "Oz," she said, her voice rough, "what time is it?"

    Oswald's eyes flicked to the clock displayed on his AR glasses.  "Three thirty."

    Numbers pushed her self up so she was sitting.  "Three thirty?  Oz, why didn't you wake me sooner?"

    "You needed sleep.  You said so yourself."

    "And you've been here all this time?"

    "I didn't want to wake you up."  Oswald smiled.  "You looked so adorable sleeping on me."

    Numbers blushed.  "I had things to do.  And you must have been bored just sitting here."

    "I have my glasses and commlink.  What I am is hungry.  Now that you're up, want lunch?"  The mage got up from the couch.  "I've a deft hand with the soy processor."

    "Are you sure?"

    "You need to relax."  Oswald cocked his head.  "Hang on, I'm getting a call."  He focused on the display on his glasses.  "Hello?  Hey, Sun Jung, how's the packing going?  How's your Mom?"  The mage nodded.  "I'm going to put you on speaker.  I've got a friend with me who should hear this."  Oswald adjusted his commlink.  "That should do it.  Still there, Sun Jung?"

    "Still here."  The teenager's voice came through clear and strong over the 'link.

    "Sun Jung, I have Numbers with me.  She helped us rescue you."

    "Hello, Sun Jung," Numbers said.  "How are you doing?"

    "I'm okay.  Thanks again.  Mom mentioned that you were trying to figure out who kidnapped me.  I thought I should call and see if I can help."

    "Does your mother know you're doing this?" Oswald asked.

    "She'd freak if she found out.  Don't tell her, please?"

    Oswald grinned.  "She won't hear from me."

    "Sun Jung," Numbers started, "what do you remember of the kidnapping?  Where did they find you?"

    "Saturday morning on my way to class.  I was almost at school when these guys grabbed me."

    "Did you recognize any of them?"


    "That's okay, Sun Jung," Oswald said.  "Did you have any unusual visitors in the past week or two?  Guest speakers, DocWagon responses, police, wino disturbing the peace?"

    "Have you seen my school?  We're lucky if the cops don't come by during class.  Same with DocWagon calls."

    "What company comes out for the police calls?"

    "Knight Errant, duh.  Who else?"

    "No visits from Lone Star?" Numbers asked.

    "No.  Why would they be at my school?"

    "And you've never been in trouble with the police before the Knights got the contract?" Oswald asked.

    "My mom would've killed me if I was.  She's old fashioned.  It's a pain in the ass at times.  She won't even let me go out if there's guys involved."

    Numbers chuckled.  "Parents don't change at all.  Mine were the same way, Sun Jung."

    "Sun Jung, did you have any presentations or assemblies recently?" Oswald asked.

    "A couple.  There was one for health class and another about careers.  I recorded both so I could watch them later.  Want a copy?"

    "You recorded the presentations?"

    "Yeah.  They're dull.  I record them on my commlink so I can do other shit instead.  If it's important, I'll watch later."

    Numbers smirked.  "Oz, you must have done something similar in high school.  I used to play games on my deck when classes got dull."

    "If your mother asks, I know nothing."  Oswald opened a port for the file transfer.  "Go ahead and send.  I'll take a look at them.  Maybe there's something."


1748 hours

    Treehugger entered Murphy's Bar.  She easily spotted Charles at the bar.  The rigger slipped through the dinner crowd to join her teammate.  "Hoi, Charles."  She noticed the troll's black eye.  "What the hell ran into you and is there anything left of it?"

    "Had to break up a fight at Doc Jade's.  Some people don't take hints well."

    Treehugger sat down and ordered a draught beer.  "How did anyone reach your eye?"

    "I had to tackle one guy.  He must have been hopped up on a BTL.  Good thing for him that his chummers were willing to pay the doc to fix him and me up afterwards."

    "Omae, after that, I've got the next round."

    "Thanks, TH."  Charles drained his pint and set down the mug.  "Any news?"

    "Not much.  I talked to a Johnson who uses me for deliveries from time to time.  He hasn't heard about the infiltrations.  Got a small bonus from him for the data, though.  He doubts the Star would be competent enough to pull off an extraction of this sort.  Too many cops in the corp."

    Charles nodded.  "Yeah, and the Star isn't in favour in town anymore.  Jade also talked to some people she knows at DocWagon.  They're in the same boat.  Anyone capable of snatching the girl wouldn't."

    "We can strike them off the list, then?"

    "Off?  No.  Put on the bottom of the list, yes."  Charles tapped a finger on the bar.  "TH, what was your impression of the kidnappers?  Did they strike you as being in the biz?"

    "Hardly.  They knew how to use AKs.  Wait, no, they knew how not to shoot themselves in the foot.  We were in a stand-off.  Then again, having AK-97s shows some knowledge.  Fucking guns are almost as common as devil rats."

    "So, put yourself in the Johnson's shoes.  If you wanted to kidnap a girl and not have it traced back to you, what would you do?"

    Treehugger waited until the bartended had set down her beer and left.  "Use runners.  That's what we do.  We're deniable assets for hire."

    "But you're kidnapping a runner's kid," Charles said.  "We tend to brag to each other, Numbers being the obvious exception."

    "If we left them alive, yeah, the bragging would filter through the social networks.  Which, yeah, that would get to Nabi somehow."

    "That's what I was thinking."

    Treehugger took a long swallow of her beer.  "So, what, we saw corporate security?  We would have been in deep shit if they were competant."

    "No, not security.  Cubicle dwellers.  Remember the guys who jumped us at the Rubber Suit?"

    "Vaguely.  I was more concerned with getting Johnson out of there."

    "Good point."  Charles ordered a second beer when the bartender walked by, then continued, "Decent equipment, decent fighters, but not security level and definitely not gangers.  No colours."

    "Which means?" Treehugger prompted.

    "Not gangers, not runners, not corporate security.  These guys had to be chosen from within.  Whoever wanted the kid snatched knew about how shadowrunners work and talk."

    "So, we're now looking for a corp that doesn't use its own security or runners for black ops.  Charles, that's not helping."

    The bartender set down the troll's pint.  "Yes," Charles said, "it does.  It eliminates Lone Star completely; all of their people are trained on firearms and hand to hand combat.  It eliminates DocWagon; all of their personnel who could pull off the job are security trained.  Most of the rest are or were paramedics."

    Treehugger nodded.  "That just leaves Evo, PacRim, and Telestrian.  No, wait.  Scratch Telestrian off the list.  It's a Tir corporation.  They sent family members.  How many elves did we fight?"

    Charles thought for a moment.  "I don't remember any.  That doesn't prove anything, TH.  If Telestrian was the insider, they'd avoid sending an elf."

    "And point the finger at themselves that way?"  Treehugger brought up the companies public page.  "Look at the employee demographic.  They're an old school Tir employee.  Elves only, unless you have a very specialized needed skill.  Where would they find all the humans that we tossed at us?"

    "Okay, bottom of the list with them, too.  That leaves Evo and PacRim."

    "Let's call the others.  Maybe they've found out something that can narrow things down more."


1845 hours

    "Well, well," Oswald said.  "Good idea making the video larger, Numbers.  I'm going to call Nabi."

    "Put her on speaker."  A knock came from the door.  Numbers walked over to answer the door.  "Who is it?" she called.

    "Charles and TH," the troll said.  "Pass code Blue Thirteen."

    Numbers opened the door.  "Come in."  She stepped aside to let her teammates enter.

    Treehugger sat down in the room's easy chair.  "You said you found something?"

    "Definitely found something.  Let me cue it up.  What about you two?"

    Charles sat on the couch.  "We've narrowed down our prime suspects to two corps, Evo and PacRim."

    "Good," Numbers said.  "Just adds weight to our evidence."  She restarted the video from Sun Jung's health lecture.  "Pay attention to lower stage right."  The hacker pointed to the area.  "Charles, you might recognize someone."

    The video played.  The guest speaker droned on about the dangers of various diseases in a combined anti-drug and abstinence speech.  Charles and Treehugger tuned the speaker out, paying attention to the area Numbers highlighted.  "Is that . . .?"  Charles got up to walk around the trid unit.  He peered closely at the dwarf woman half hidden is shadow at the edge of the school stage.  "That's the Evo rep.  What is she doing there?"

    "Interesting, no?"

    Oswald joined the group.  "I've got Nabi."  He turned on his commlink's speaker.  "Nabi, I've got the rest of the team here."

    "Hello," the Asian woman said.

    "Numbers has a few quick questions for you."

    "Hi, Nabi," the hacker said.  "Do you remember if your fixer approached you because he needed you for a job or because you were requested by name?"

    There was an extended silence before Nabi answered.  "I'd have to ask my fixer.  I don't recall if he mentioned it."

    "Can you find out, please?  Call Oz as soon as you find out."

    "I will.  Give me twenty minutes."

    "Thanks, Nabi," Oswald said.  "I think we've got a strong possible on Sun Jung's kidnapper.  We just need to know that one detail to know for sure."  The mage broke the connection.  He looked over to the newcomers.  "You've seen the video clip?"

    "Yeah," Charles answered.  "Do you think it's really just a coincidence?"

    "No," Numbers said.  "But if we're handing someone over to Lofwyr's people, I want to be certain we have the right person."

    "Speaking from experience?" Treehugger said.

    "Damn right I am.  Remember we're passing our suspect off to a corporation with extraterritoriality.  Wulfe is going to have carte blanche to do anything he needs to pull data out of her head."  Numbers shuddered.  "I almost feel sorry for her already if she is the insider."

    Oswald came up behind the hacker and hugged her.  "Better her than you."

    Charles raised an eyebrow but ignored the comment.  "What now?"

    "We come up with a plan for the extraction," Oswald said.  "We need to be subtle.  We also can't send anyone the insider might have seen.  TH, up for sneaking in?"

    Numbers slipped out of the mage's hold.  "Excuse me?"  A copper red flowed through her hair from roots to tips.  "I was seen at the meeting dressed as a FedBoeing employee."

    "Are you sure you want to do this, Numbers?"

    "Yes, Oz.  Look, I appreciate the thought, but I need to keep working.  I need to prove to myself that I'm still in the game."

    "We won't think less of you if you don't want to go," Charles said.

    Numbers shook her head.  "No.  Doing this gets Wulfe off my back for a bit.  I've got a good motive to go in."

    "The chica has her mind made up, guys," Treehugger said.  "Any ideas on how to get in and out?"


1925 hours

    Oswald's commlink chirped.  He answered the call before the second ring.  "Oswald here.  Nabi, hi!  Thanks.  I'll tell the others."  He listened to the woman for a moment, earning the attention of his teammates.  "I will.  Say hi to Sun Jung for me."  He disconnected.  Noticing the stares from the others, he said, "Nabi just confirmed that she was asked for by name."

    Treehugger smirked.  "Did she confirm anything else?"

    "Yes."  Oswald returned the smirk.  "Looks like Plan A is a go.  We just need to find our way in."

    "Hang on a moment," Treehugger said.  "We've just put DocWagon back on the list.  Nabi worked for them, remember?"

    "Damn it."  Numbers started pacing.  "Who do we check first?"

    "DocWagon," Charles suggested.  "TH and I worked out why they wouldn't be the insider."

    Oswald pulled over a chair from the dining area.  "We don't have a plan of attack for DocWagon."

    "Let me get a fix on the rep's location," Numbers said.

    "We need to move," Treehugger said.  "Nabi's fixer could be in on the conspiracy."

    Numbers sat down on the couch beside the troll.  "Give me a few minutes, then.  I have her commcode.  I should be able to trace her current location with it."

    Charles got up from the couch.  "I'll go get my gear."  The troll walked towards the door.  "If anyone needs me, I'll leave my comm on."  He left, closing the door behind him.

    "We're going to need the Bulldog for this," Treehugger said.  "Anyone want anything while I'm out?"

    "An Energy Cake," Oswald said.


    "A medium Yucatan roast café au lait with extra nonfat steamed milk," the hacker answered.  "And a light stim patch.  I'm going to have a migraine with this trace."


2137 hours

    Treehugger let her step-van's coast to a stop several blocks away from Stuck's Casino.  The casino itself lit up the night sky with garish neon colour.  "Alright, guys," the rigger began, "remember we're not in Seattle right now.  Welcome to the City of Stuck.  Anything that happens here tends to stay here."

    "Still have a lock on Ms Wagon?" Oswald asked.

    "She's still in the casino," Numbers said.  She slipped off her shoes.  "I'll go make contact with her.  Treehugger, back me up?"

    "Sure."  Treehugger put the Bulldog into stand-by.

    "Thanks."  Numbers released the top two buttons of her blouse.  Her breasts inflated, forcing the shirt to strain.  "That should do it."  She slipped on a pair of three inch high heels.

    Oswald nodded with approval.  "Nice.  But we don't know if she prefers men, women, or small furry woodland animals."

    "Oz, with her pheromones going, I'm willing to do her on the spot."  Treehugger got out of the van.  She waved to Charles sitting on his Scorpion the next block up.  "I'll go in first.  Wait for my signal."  The rigger closed her door.

    "Damn, Numbers, have I ever mentioned that you dress up well?"

    Numbers rolled her eyes.  "That's something else I miss, Oz.  People liking me because of me, not because of some damned implant.  It makes me wonder why anyone stays near me and if they would if I didn't have the pheromones."

    "Christa, the tech doesn't work that way.  Besides, we, the team, have talked to you over the Matrix.  We're still with you.  I'm still here, aren't I?"

    "I suppose, Oz, but that nagging doubt is there."

    "It's one of the drawbacks of implants," Oswald said.  "One that no one talks about, either.  How does it feel to have a natural part replaced?  How many street docs will answer that question?"

    "Same as the number of proper doctors, I imagine."  Numbers paused.  "TH is in.  I should get going."  She opened her door.

    "Numbers, be careful in there."


2142 hours

    Numbers found the DocWagon representative sitting at a poker table.  The rep threw down her cards in disgust as she folded from the hand.  The game continued, the pot growing.  Numbers walked up behind the rep.  "Why, hello there," she said, her voice smooth as silk.

    The DogWagon rep didn't look away from the game.  "Not interested."  She picked up the cards dealt out.

    "Oh, but I think you are."

    "Sorry, I'm straight."

    "Nabi sends her regards."

    The rep turned to face Numbers.  "Who?"

    "Your bodyguard last weekend."

    "I don't know what you're talking about."

    Numbers sent a still image from her wrist commlink to the rep's.  "Maybe this will jog your memory?"

    The rep put on a pair of AR glasses.  "I see."  She turned back to the game.  "Think of trying anything and security will be on you before you twitch."

    "We're just talking for now, Ms Wagon."

    "Talk."  The rep tossed in several chips into the pot.

    "You went outside DocWagon for your bodyguards.  Care to say why?"

    "Not really."

    Numbers looked around the garish casino.  "What is DocWagon's policy on extracurricular activities especially in places like this?  I wouldn't call this a sanctioned corporate activity, would you?"

    The rep snorted.  "Rank has its privileges.  Call."  She added more chips to the pot.

    "Even if a respectable manager has a call girl hanging on her arm?"

    "Blackmail doesn't become you."

    "You could answer my questions and I'll just walk away and we'll never speak of this again.  What do you say?"

    The rep looked at her cards.  "Fold."  She set down the cards.  "What do you want to know."

    Numbers smiled.  "What did you know about your runners?"

    "They came recommended.  I was told they were the best at what I needed."

    "And you never asked for any of them?"

    Ms Wagon turned to face Numbers.  "How would I know who to ask for?  That's why I went through a fixer.  They handle the arrangements, especially with the fee I had to pay."

    Numbers leaned in closer.  "If I find you you've lied to me, I will visit you again.  You'll find that I won't be as nice as I was tonight."  She kissed the rep on the cheek then walked away.


2303 hours

    The team regrouped at Numbers's apartment.  The hacker filled her teammates in on the details she got from the DocWagon rep.  "I think we're clear on hitting the Evo rep," she said.

    "Agreed," Charles said.  "If you can locate her, I'll scout out locations tomorrow."

    "She's probably aware we're after her," Oswald said.  "She'll be buttoned up tight in Evo's campus."

    "I've got a few thoughts there," Numbers said.  "We'll have to take a more oblique approach.  Might even be easier to make the run on Friday."

    Treehugger shook her head.  "That's cutting it close, Numbers."

    "We need an Evo employee's ID.  I don't have the time to forge one, but I can alter one on the fly."  Numbers looked over to the mage.  "We'll have to find a bar popular with the Evo crowd and someone who resembles Oz enough to make the hack passable."

    "Sounds like TH and I have a job for tomorrow evening."

    "What about you?" Treehugger asked.

    "I'm going to be Oz's one night stand.  I'll work up an ID for another employer."

    "Aztech," Charles suggested.  "Few people want to fuck with them, even for an ID check."

    Numbers smiled.  "Works for me.  I'm going to start tracking down where Ms Evo lives.  You're welcome to stay as long as you want."  She settled down on the couch.  "I'm not going to be pleasant company."

    "Charles, TH, if you want to go, I'll stay," Oswald said.  "I've got some reading to catch up on."

    Treehugger looked over to Numbers then back to the mage.  "Did I miss something?" the rigger asked.

    "No," Numbers answered, "you didn't miss anything.  Oz helped me earlier this afternoon.  None of you have to stay."

    "I know."  Oswald knelt down beside the couch near Numbers's head.  "I don't mind, Numbers.  Besides, you're going to need me for your shopping trip."

    "I'd like to stay, too."  Treehugger wandered through the living room.  "I don't have plans and you owe me a night's stay."

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