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Author Topic: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale  (Read 12464 times)

The Wyrm Ouroboros

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Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
« Reply #15 on: (23:33:56/07-15-12) »
          Seattle, Present Day.
          One Week Ago.


          Wiping the steam from the mirror at her home in Vasa Park, Suki looked at her damp self for the second time that evening, critiquing her body. Breasts on the small side of moderate, sleek-muscled and just a little too tall for a Japanese woman. That was the elf in her, that height; it tended to turn Japanese men away. Not other men, she noticed, so that was consolation. The musculature was a combination of natural aptitude, hard work and bioware; the latter had been in place for quite a while. Even when she was younger, subtlety had been her byword, ever since ...
          She frowned at herself, old memories dredging themselves up. Hitomi, then a sweet little girl, now Empress of Japan. She had visited the Empress once - no, twice - but both times were ... on business. No time for a bodyguard and her old charge to catch up, and politics in Japan being what they were and are, it would not have been wise for the Empress to invite her by to catch up any time soon. Especially when that visit happened to be inside her old corporation, one which still had her on its 'kill just as soon as we can get away with it' list.
          Wiping off the mirror again as if to wipe away memories, she considered the woman in the mirror. Yes, the additional flare of the hip that pregnancy and birth brings, even in an elf. And the purple hair, down there as up above. She met her own gaze, the violet in her eyes intense enough to fluoresce in blacklight, and pondered the futility of trying to dye her hair again. As she did, the timer she'd set clicked down to zero, and the call indicator began cycling, blithely ignorant of her lack of attention. One, two ...
          "Deckard."
          "Oh, crap. Hi, Deck."
          The rough baritone of the troll's laughter came through the implant. "Hi back. Sounds like I'm an unexpected intrusion."
          Shaking your head even though the person can't see you is just a habit for pretty much everyone. "No, not really. Keeps me from woolgathering, I suppose. Just trying to decide if I should -"
          "- leave the hair? Leave it. If you really have to, you can dye it in Manila, for all the good it'll do you. Black-streaky-leaky purple is far better at calling attention, as I'm sure Cindi would tell you, than just straight purple."
          "Violet. Yeah, you're probably right. So tell me what I should pack." She shook her hair out, fluffing her fingers into the roots as she passed from sybaritic bathroom to sumptuous bedroom and out into the hall connecting the bedrooms - or at least, her bedroom, Tamako's bedroom when she ever came home, and what the realtor called a 'guest bedroom' - but what was her specialist closet.
          The main part of the room held a wide assortment of clothing, most of it armored to one level or another. Specialist fare she called Mr. Cleaner for; that niche organization was precisely who you wanted to know if you needed current business casual for Shiawase or what the Ares Knights fan was wearing to the game, and presuming you didn't want to spend half your gear allowance on clothing every mission. Mr. Cleaner didn't rent haute couture with weapons allowances, though, which means she usually spent several thousand every year keeping up with current top-level fashion. Some items she could sell, while others she didn't want or need to. Those wound up in here, next to subtly-armored clothing of the ever-fashionable sort, like black leather.
          The room's walk-in closet had in turn been converted into enough of an armory to give any Knight Errant officer a coronary should he come in and see it. Racks of firearms waited patiently to be selected, loaded, and fired; similar racks of loaded clips awaited selection, loading, and firing. While many 'gun-bunny' shadowrunners of her acquaintance purchased wide varieties of firearms, prizing an assortment of a dozen or more different brands just within one type of weapon, she was, well, a loyalist. More important, she hated wasting time and effort having to purchase a new weapon and clips for it, and sitting for hours unloading ammunition from old clips and reloading it into the new. She tested new weapons every year, decided whether or not the new was better than her current choice, then either traded in bulk to and from shadow suppliers or departed satisfied with her current possessions.
          "Well, that's a good question," said Deckard as Suki clicked the light on in the room and pulled out a rucksack. "Um. Anything you might have that's corrosion-resistant would be a good idea. Two of 'em, maybe three. You're probably going to be there for a while, at least two weeks. Any specialist ammo you really want to have, but it looks like either combat drones or heavy paracritters are involved, so ..." He paused suggestively, then continued. "I'd suggest camping gear if you got any that's gonna be easy for you to hump through the hills, 'cause somehow I don't think they have anything better than canvas or maybe nylon over there. Did I mention two weeks?"
          "You did." She pulled a brown faux-leather armored jacket off its rack and hung it in the 'to go' section. "What's wrong? I haven't heard you this nervous since after that scene in the Eye of the Needle."
          "Iiiii ... would really rather not say over comms."
          She paused, frowning at a set of form-fitting body armor - FFBA - before hanging it too in the 'to go' section. "Seriously?"
          There was a long minute's pause, then Deckard finally spoke. "'Come into my parlour ...'"
          "'Said the spider to the fly,'" Suki finished the quote. "All right. Two weeks, upcountry, bring my own specials. Um. Should I be worried?"
          Deckard hesitated again before answering. "I think so, yes."
          "Should I hurry?"
          "... don't finish packing before you come over."
          This time it was her turn to stand there and consider all the implications of that piece of advice. She stood there staring at the half-completed packing, then said, "I'll see you in the Web in twenty."
          "I'll be there."

          ---

          The Web was located in a warehouse on the north shore of Lake Union. A few people thought the name was in poor taste, considering what happened in the Renraku SCIRE - now the ACHE - downtown, but neither Deckard nor the rest of the hackers he associated with particularly cared about the opinions of people who considered the Matrix only one step up from Gehenna. She pulled her cycle up to the security node, and poked the broken-looking call button to activate it.
          "Yeah?"
          "Hawatari to see Deckard."
          "Pull 'round back, H. Mind the bumps."
          She gunned the Vector 2600 down the long straightaway, braking hard to manage each of the two corners that followed. She was good for a non-rigger, but the warning the hacker on security detail had given her meant that he knew her motorcycle's capabilities as well as her skill with the bike, and had given her a very strict window of time to make it through the checkpoints that followed. A rigger on a lesser bike would have been able to match her, his greater skill balancing out his cycle's lesser capacities - but hopefully, he wouldn't have known what the warning meant. She slowed for just a moment to let the ramp finish dropping, then drove down it into the warehouse's basement. It closed behind her with impressive rapidity.
          The tunnel took a turn, then went back up onto the main level before stopping inside a garage with reinforced walls and ceiling. Most of the hackers who took advantage of and supported the Web drove around in fairly heavy vehicles to keep themselves safe, so the garage had to keep their vehicles safe while the hackers were doing their work. Some of what went on in the Web was theoretically legal - utility programming, that sort of thing - but most of it was 110% against the laws in any civilized nation on the planet. Or off it, for that matter. Hacker tools, electronic warfare, every one of them highly illegal and just as profitable.
          A small portion of the work in the Web had less to do with secure programming space and more with space secure from electronic intrusion. After submitting to a retinal scan, the blast door unlocked, allowing her to pull it open far enough to slip inside; she presumed that actual members had assistance applied, because the door's balance caused the great weight of it to swing back shut after she released it. Standing on the landing leading down to the main space, she looked out across hundreds of square meters of ex-industrial space - space now taken up by Faraday cages of a size from one-person programming suites to alcoves with room for twenty-plus to sleep comfortably. The all-encompassing cage frames were made of copper-plated steel, in some cases backed by ballistic cloth for added physical protection; all were grounded, making their insides as secure as it was physically possible to be. Any electronic equipment inside was run on long-duration rechargeable power cells, swapped out at regular intervals by assistants, students, or just other hackers who needed to get up and stretch their legs.
          A burst of laughter drew her over to twenty or so people gathered around a massive trideo player; she spotted Deckard's form down in front as he enjoyed the show with the rest of the e-heads. "Deckard!!" A fresh wave of laughter drowned her voice out, and then did so again at her second call. Scowling, she reached over and snatched a squeeze ball from out of the hand of the hacker who was jugging it in one hand. "Hey!" he exclaimed, but his reaction came too late; she'd already snapped it out across the pool of techies. The heavy foam rubber smacked into the back of Deckard's head and ricocheted off into the walkways between the cages.
          "Bitch," commented the hacker next to her mildly.
          "Sorry, Pasco," she replied. "Hack Deckard's RoboLobo when we kick it out and have it go get it."
          "Ooo, fun with toys."
          At the bounce, Deckard had sworn, but at least he'd turned around. Seeing her, he waved and heaved himself up from the floor, lumbering around the rest of the group as the runner team in the open-cab SUV continued to careen its way through the picturesque Tyrolean town. The troll beckoned her to follow him down the path between the Faraday cages. "Hey, H."
          "Hey, Deckard. What was that?" She gestured with her thumb back towards the group, from which a bland voice narrating the action caused the group to howl with laughter once more.
          "Pokerface released another one of his nature documentary overdubs." Deckard grinned. "Old British-German trivid, Wunderkrieg. Bizarre normally, but oh God what Pokerface does for it ..."
          Suki looked over her shoulder back towards the screen, then shook her head. "You just like the dye-job blonde in the court jester outfit."
          "Haw! Don't let Bette hear you say that, she'll kick my ass." Bouncing Bette was Deckard's wife, a troll that outmassed him by more than half. She got her name from her legal work as a bouncer, her illegal work as a demolitions tech and maker, and the fact that when she hit you, you bounced. Cindi was their seventeen-year-old daughter, also a troll, and with the best of both her parents' bodies.
          Suki shrugged and followed on. "Pasco's going to hack your RoboLobo to go get his ball."
          Deckard laughed as he opened the mechanical lock keeping the unit he was renting closed. "All right. Lupo!" he called; the metal-sheened wolf-drone inside lifted its head, giving a low-voiced woof. "Pasco's going to come knocking. VM his hack, go find his ball, then lure him into keep-away, huh?" The mechanical canine woofed in agreement, scrambled to its feet as Deckard entered, then twisted past Hawatari before sitting down just outside the door to wait for the incoming attack.
          She closed the door and engaged the several latches necessary to re-establish the entirety of the electromagnetic protection, eyed the Kevlar-III cloth lining the inside of the cage, then turned back to look at her friend. "So now that you've got me cut off from Central, what didn't you want to talk about?"
          The air between them flowered with the data compiled from that which Julie Sanchez had sent. "Evo Philippines has been the target of over twenty attacks in the last month," Deckard said through the topographical map between them. More than a score of icons appeared on the map, of different sizes. "Icons are sized by the financial impact of the strike."
          Suki shook her head slowly, looking at the information laid out before her. "They're all over the place," she murmured.
          "Yeah, I know. I can resize them in order of whatever info you want, if it helps."
          She scowled. "You've already done this," she said. "This you could have shown me over the comm. Show me what you saw that made you call me in here."
          Deckard, stretching his slim-for-a-troll body, leaned forward out of the chair sized for him. "Let me change a few things, then. This," he said, tweaking the map to add in a heat-pattern, "shows the current toxicity danger zones. These," he continued as the strike icons started multiplying, "are publicly-reported terrorist attacks over roughly the same time period. This mod estimates the ecological damage done by the outflow from each strike. Turn that dial there to see the damage-over-time; all the way to the right to lock it on play-through."
          She looked at the map, reaching out to turn the holographic dial all the way to the right, watching as the red of the eco-damage crept downstream, spread into the ground water. "That's not good. They hit sites in or upstream of relatively untouched areas. What's the time-step on this?"
          "One week, stepped out to twelve months. You want me to extend the back end?"
          "No ..." Suki frowned at the map. "Is this toxic waste?"
          Deckard shook his head. "Mostly just ordinary chemical plants. These two," he touched two oceanside Evo plants to highlight them, "did produce toxic waste, but they containered it up for transshipment and destruction. I'd guess they were bound for that experimental cracking plant your bosses have got up in the Gobi."
          "How do you know about that?? No, never mind. How about these other corp sites, are these toxic producers?"
          "H, you know nobody's going to admit to having a toxic site. Ordinary chemtech."
          She considered this for a minute or so, then slowly shook her head. "Even if it's just chemtech, it'll turn the ecology toxic.  And there's only one sort I can think of who would want to turn areas more toxic."  She continued to look at the display, running through its twelve-month cycle before jumping back to the start.  "Too much clutter. Take out all the Evo sites." The first ones disappeared, and she reached out to twist the dial back and forth again. "Hm. Add in the Evo leakers." Two-thirds returned, and she fiddled with the time display, shaking her head slowly.
          After she hadn't said anything for several minutes, Deckard spoke up.  "Hawatari, you're thinking.  Talk to me, let me help."
          She shook her head again.  "I don't know what it is.  Look, highlight the rivers."  He did so, and she twiddled the exposure cycle again.  "Look at that.  There's half a dozen rivers untouched.  Somebody's doing this, dumping this crap into the ecosystem on purpose, but I really don't think they're so stupid as to do the job half-assed."
          "C'mon, H, everyone makes mistakes."
          "Seriously, that's your argument?  Add in all the sites again."  She spent a moment, then reached out to tap one of the unaffected rivers.  "This river system," she said, then moved her finger an inch.  "This site can't be more than ten flight miles away, maybe thirty on-road.  There is no way - no way - that a group doing this would completely miss an entire unaffected system when they're doing a job next door.  What's missing is information."
          Deckard scowled at the map.  "You think Evo is hiding something from you?"
          Suki shook her head.  "I don't think so.  They included the two toxic-producing oceanside sites, so they probably included everything.  I can't shoot trouble if I can't find it, right?"  The troll grunted reluctant agreement, and she went on.  "No, I think what we're missing is the full data dump from the other sources."  She glanced at the clock in her AR overlay, then shook her head.  "Look, I need to get moving.  You willing to do some digging for me?"
          The troll relaxed back into his seat and grinned.  "Well you know - for the right price ..."
          "Have I ever not paid you properly?"
          "Oh, I can think of a couple times."
          "Just because you get curious doesn't make it my fault."  She wiggled her finger through the shared holographic imagery.  "Go hunting.  Shiawase, Renraku, MCT are your most likely suspects.  Saeder-Krupp, not so much ..."
          "Teach your granddad how to suck eggs, much?"  Deckard had a smile on his face as he said it.
          Suki's return smile was distracted.  "Hm.  Check Yakashima  too.  They were pretty solid when the Japanacorps were top dog in the islands, pretty pissed off that a bunch of kawaruhito kicked their asses out."
          The hacker frowned in response, looking at the relief map.  "Right."
          "You have that fixer I need?" She turned, starting to unbolt the door.
          "Not yet.  I have a few leads, though, so I should have one by the time you touch down.  Call me before you take off, tell me where you're going.  Then when you hit the ground?"  Suki glanced back at him, and they exchanged a rueful smile.  Simultaneously they said, "Sorry - bad phrasing."
          With a laugh at the memory - at least they'd survived it - she pulled open the door.  "Yeah.  Take some time off, too, it's a slow flight.  Go home for a while, spend some time with your family, get some sleep.  Don't make Bette kill me when I get back."
          "I'd pay solid cred to watch that match.  Stay safe, H."
          "Thanks, Deck.  See you when I see you."  She closed the door behind her, heading for where she'd come in, thinking of what she needed to pack to enter into chemical hazard zones.  On her way out, Lupo bolted past her, ball in its mouth, with Pasco scrambling along behind, swearing at the drone.
Pananagutan & End/Line

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The Wyrm Ouroboros

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Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
« Reply #16 on: (12:11:01/02-11-13) »
Philippines, 2052.
10 Days Earlier.



          "No, no, no, no, no!!  Too slow, dammit!  You're dead, you're dead, Toshi, you're dead - Kino, how can you possibly be dead?  You're dead!!"
          I stood with Pating across a road in San Jose City, watching Major Hattori chew out the twelve members of Yamato, one of his four short platoons from Tsunami, the large East Asia mercenary company.  We had just finished a relatively brief house-to-house scenario, Pating and I against the Tsunami team.  Supposedly, the exercise was meant to give the Tsunami personnel an idea of what they had to work with, as well as some more experience in the field; practically, it was turning out to be to give Pating a sense of what I could do, me a sense of how to work in close support with a mage, and the mercs some experience in losing.
          Using low-end spells, paint rounds for our firearms, and several of MCT's line of "realistic practice weapons" in place of our melee gear, Pating and I had just 'killed' the entire team of Tsunami men in a battle that had crossed most of this portion of the tenements.  Clearly the team members weren't pleased with being shown up by us, but more than one during the re-assembly process had giving me grudging 'good work' congratulations.  I suppose they were pleased to have someone competent guarding their backs during the strike on the firebase, but it was pretty clear they had an issue with Pating.  Either he scared them as much as he did me, or else they didn't like working with a gaijin Filipino.
          Working so closely with someone was not something I was used to; my training and my duty was to keep myself aware of possible threats, and if one showed itself, to get to my protectee, analyze the threat axis, and move myself and her away from it, violently if need be.  On the road here, though, Pating had sat with me and discussed what my training had been, and how to adapt it for working with a team.  He'd helped me think through a dozen or more scenarios, proposing something and listening to my ideas for my first steps, prompting me sharply if I hesitated in responding.
          "You must think, yes, but now is the time to discover how you think, and to decide how to change it," he'd told me in a mixture of Tagalog and Japanese. "Do not take so long in responding.  Say what your reaction is.  We will you and I tell the results of the doing, and figure then what it is you should do to make better your goal.  Now is time to decide how you will think in the future."
          His ruthless instructions had borne some fruit, because the cybered Tsunami mercenaries had been heavy game, but only that.  The teams didn't have any really heavy weapons - Kagi and Yamato each had a light machine gun, but that was it - and as a consequence, we'd punched through their screen, and gave them a choice between keeping in contact with us or supporting each other.  If they kept in contact with us, we wiped them out; if they kept in support with each other, we flanked them and hit them where they weren't expecting us.
          Pating let me lead the way, and even if I had to hold myself back so that he could keep up, he would nudge me from time to time when I paused, trying to figure out what I was going to do next.  His question was always the same: "How are we going to attack?"
By training and by nature, attacking really isn't what I'm used to.  Sure, I liked to compete with a blade, and that got me into the PPS path in secondary school, but even then I was the grab-and-run agent, not meant to fight unless that was the only (or best) way to get clear.  So thinking of fighting my way clear, and then going back and hitting them again ...
          Not what I'm used to.
          I have to admit, though, it sure felt good, watching how upset Major Hattori was getting, knowing how completely Pating and I had shredded them.  Takezo had been treating Pating, Mahirap, everyone on my new team with precise civility, a civility that had been growing more and more thin and more and more offensive with every passing day.  Though the Shiawase corporate culture was a strict Japanese framework, my parents had loved me. They were Japanese enough to remind me that being clearly kawaruhito was a shameful thing, and that I should be glad of the blessing of the kami that the stigmata of my metarace was so minimal, but they had taught me to respect myself and be proud of who I was - even to be confident of my metarace. That made me Japanese enough to feel like maybe I deserved his scorn, but human enough to feel irritation, even anger, at receiving it.
          "Wow.  He looks really pissed off."  Suno sounded extremely pleased at the prospect.
          "He is not used to losing," replied Pating, smiling as always as he sat down on a pile of rubble at the foot of a wall, extracting tobacco and a pipe from the satchel of his Suno had brought.  With movements made familiar with long practice, he packed the bowl as he watched Hattori.
          Suno nodded slowly, watching, then nudged me on the shoulder.  "Good job, little girl.  Someone that much of a prick deserves to get his tail twisted as often as possible."
          Getting praise from Suno, even if it was only because she wanted someone else roasted, was about the last thing I expected; I blushed.  Suno laughed, soft and nasty.
          "How long did it take?" asked Pating, his hand patting his vest pocket before reaching in to extract an actual old-time wooden strike-anywhere match.
          "Twenty-six minutes," replied Suno.  "I thought you guys would be faster.  What happened, had to stop and count how many bullets your gun holds, little girl?"  That was more like it.
          The shaman paused, long-stemmed pipe held between his grinning teeth, match paused to rake across a rock.  He stared at Suno until she shifted nervously, then went back to where her brother was reloading clips.
          "So.  Talim."  Deliberately, he scraped the match across the stone, then lifted it to the bowl of his pipe and drew upon it with deliberation; I watched the flame dip into the tobacco once, twice, four times before he first puffed smoke out.  "Why did it take so long?"
          That would have been the second-to-last thing for me to suspect someone to say.  We had eliminated twelve men, hard targets in armor, used to working together and as a team; Pating and I had barely known each other a week.  "I ..."
          "Come, now.  You must have some thoughts about it.  What did you do wrong?  What should have you done faster?  What opportunities were there that you missed because you did not act," he puffed smoke leisurely out towards me, "immediately?"
          I sat there, trying to review the action in my head.  My instructors in gymnastics, in kendo and even in bodyguarding had done the same thing - tried to get me to learn how to commit my actions to memory even as I performed them, so that I could review them later.  I could do it, but I've never been very good at it.  Maybe it's one of those things you get better at with practice; maybe I just hadn't practiced enough.
          "By preference," Pating said with bite, "before old age finally claims me."
          "I ... should have dropped smoke earlier," I blurted, the first thing that came to me.
          "True.  Smoke is dangerous; it lets them know where you have been.  Still, it makes you harder to find.  What else with the smoke?"
          I tried to remember the moment.  Pating and I had just combined to drop one man, driven others behind a corner, then ducked into a tenament.  I'd hesitated, Pating had prodded me, and I'd impulsively re-opened the door and dumped a smoke grenade in the hall-like alley we'd just vacated. We found a hole, went through to the next hovel, and sniped at the reduced squad of three as they approached the door. If I'd popped smoke sooner ... "I should have tossed it down the alley ... ?"
          Pating gave a wag back and forth of his head.  "Maybe, maybe not.  It gave us a chance to get at them.  What about dropping it in the room?"
          I considered what advantages that would have conferred.  "The smoke would have built up," I thought aloud, watching the wrinkle-faced shark grin and nod at me, smoke seeping through his yellowed teeth.  "When they opened the door ... it would have billowed out."
          "Meaning ... ?"
          "In ... stead of going into a smoke cloud, it would have been sudden."
          "And so ... ?"
          I looked at the team, still getting their tails chewed by Hattori, thinking about what it would be like to approach a room you know has smoke, but having to go into it anyhow.  "There would have been ... more cover for us?"
          "Maybe, maybe not.  Did they have backup immediate?"
          "No ..."  I thought about this; we'd known already that the other two teams had been trying to flank us; that's what gave us the opportunity to double back on the one chasing us to take out another man.  "Their focus would have been full forward, into the room with the smoke instead of all around as they went into the cloud.  We could have gotten them all there, up close from behind the same way we came, instead of just one."
          Pating nodded, holding a lungful of smoke before letting it ghost slowly into the air.  "Yes.  It would have been risky but very possible.  Knowing that, how would you have laid that ambush?"
          I mulled the idea over for a little bit as the members of Yamato team went back into the tenement block, no doubt to do their own review.  It would have required some fast blade and gun work, but like Pating said, it would have been possible ... if there was something for them inside.  "You at the hole - a fast spell, or maybe just a grenade or a couple of shots to concentrate their attention.  Me finish them up from behind."
          Again, the smile with the slow nodding, the held smoke, the seepage the light breeze slowly took away.  "Good.  What else would you have done differently, faster?"

          ---

          "B-3."
          "Bang."  A ruby dot appeared on a map.
          "F-8."
          "Bang."  The dot appeared in another portion of the map.
          "That's F-7."
          "Crap.  This is giving me a headache; I feel like a damn bombadier behind a gunsight."  Mahirap leaned back in the chair and rubbing at the back of his neck.
          "Well," said Lawin with some equanimity, "if it makes you feel any better, that's what you look like."
          "That's enough out of you," Mahirap growled.
          Lawin laughed, and got to his feet. "Want a beer?"
          "Sure," the dwarf answered as the door opened.  "Pating.  How'd it go?  I heard lots of gunfire, and eventually Hattori shouting, so it couldn't've gone all that bad."
          The shaman followed Lawin into what the original designers of the townhome had designated a kitchen, and though it was missing most of a wall, still functioned as such for the support team. "We have any beef left?  I would kill for a beef sandwich."
          "Aswang finished it off before he went out.  The exercise?"
          "Have a beer.  Mahirap's talking to you."
          "He does that a lot.  Give him a beer, it'll shut him up until I get some food into me."
          "I'm sitting right here."
          "You've made him testy."
          "God made him that way, I just gave him a kick in them.  Oh well, chicken will do."
          Lawin returned, carrying two bottles.  "Have a beer, boss.  You know what he's like."
          The dwarf scowled, but accepted the beer.  "Yeah.  Pating, where's Talim?"
          "Aswang came by when she and I were finishing post, carted her off somewhere.  Do we still have swiss?  Ooh, mustard."
          "He on a job?"
          "Just making contact with a couple I know near here."
          Lawin drew slowly on his bottle, head tilted back so that the beer wouldn't drip around his tusks, one eye on his friend.  "That wouldn't happen to be David and Maria, would it?" he asked quietly.
          Mahirap gave the door a quick glance, then lowered his voice.  "Look, I need to know if we're hitting the Huk.  If we are ... maybe they'll leave enough there to make it look good, not so many to do real damage."
          Nodding thoughtfully, Lawin moved towards the door, leaning against the frame to watch the street and one of the Tsunami teams all but running in lock-step past the run-down row of homes they'd commandeered as temporary headquarters.  The three old two-and-a-half ton trucks that they had available to them for transport rested a few dozen meters down the way, one of the other teams performing some preventative maintenance on them.  "Dangerous game."
          "I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have these Japanese bastards running around more than necessary."
          Pating emerged from the kitchen, a shred of sliced chicken dangling from his mouth as he ate, sandwich in one hand, bottle in the other.  "Play nice for now, Mahirap.  Just watch our asses; I don't like the smell of Takezo."
          Dwarf and ork exchanged a long glance before the latter returned his attention to the street and the former to the human.  "Why's that, exactly?"
          Pating shook his head, sitting down at the folding table with the village and its grid spread out in front of him.  "Can't say.  Don't know.  Keep having to hold back the urge to take a bite out of him, but we can't handle all forty-eight of them at once."
          Mahirap's eyebrows went up.  "Caution from a Shark shaman?  What's the world coming to.  All right.  So tell me how it went."
          Pating's grin widened.  "Even with hesitation and indecisiveness on our newest little blade's part, clean sweep.  Give me six or eight weeks of hard training, and I won't have to be cautious any more.  She's made for close quarters work."
          Lawin spoke from the door.  "Girl goes around with a pistol and a sword, she'd better be."
          "I'm not kidding."
          "Neither am I," the ork drawled, taking another mouthful of beer as he watched the Tsunami mercs work on the trucks.  "Came from Shiawase with nothing but two pistols, two swords and a dagger - she's got the whole corporate samurai thing going.  Surprising to find in someone that young -- what is she, twenty-two, twenty-three?  Someone there must have seen some serious potential in the girl.  And she must have done a seriously good job already, they don't give that kind of honor to just any woman that comes along.  Betcha whoever set up the hit that drove her away is having to answer some hard questions."
          This time it was Pating that Mahirap exchanged glances with, the sniper tapping the inner curve of his boots together, the shark shaman chewing slowly on his chicken-and-swiss-with-mustard.  Lawin might pull the strangest tidbits of knowledge out of his hat; he flew in the face of the idea that orks were dumb thugs, then shot the face up with high-caliber rounds.  Silence reigned for a few more moments as Pating took another bite.
          Lawin again raised the bottle to his lips, finally noticed the quiet behind him and turned to find both of them watching him.  "What??  I read.  You dickheads should try it some time, expand your horizons."
          Pating snorted, and turned to Mahirap.  "Hattori said how he wants to do this?"
          The sniper shook his head.  "Not yet.  Probably playing around with a couple of ideas, just as I am."  He nodded towards the blown-up map on the table.  "What do you think?"
          Pating laughed.  "You ask me that?  Kill 'em all, however you can.  The sea knows its own."
          "And that's why you don't plan missions," growled Mahirap.  "Crap.  Lawin, can you get Suno in here?"
          "She and Yelo are coming this way now."  He stepped outside to clear the door for the ork female and her cybered-up human brother.  "Mahirap was just asking for you."
          "Hey, boss.  What's up?"  Suno had found some gum somewhere, and was cracking little bubbles in it.
          Mahirap pushed the satellite map towards her.  "Take a look at this.  How big a hole do you think you could blow in this outer wall?"
          She barely looked at the image, instead glancing towards her brother as he entered and settled down on a seat against the wall opposite the door.  "Quarter-inch, maybe, unless you can get these Tsunami bastards to share their toys, or get me something to work with before we leave Alfonso Castañeda.  And that's only if I use Lawin's pecker for a drill."
          Not-quite-reflexively, Lawin reached out to cuff the back of her head, which generated a not-quite-mock fight between the two orks which generated more laughter than damage.  "Hey," growled Mahirap.  "Hey!  HEY!!  Enough already!!"
          A grinning Suno gave the laughing Lawin's crossed arms another smack, then returned to the table.  "Any more of that?" she asked, eyeing the remnant of Pating's sandwich.
          "In the kitchen.  Bring a couple more beers.  He asked you a question, though."
          "Depends on how much of what kind I can get my hands on," she called back as she went into the kitchen.  "Depends on how much time I have to prep the charges.  Depends on what that wall is actually made out of, logs or brick or reinforced concrete or, or plascrete for God's sake.  And no matter what, we'd have to get right up against the wall.  But give me ten or twelve kilos of Semtex and I'll give you a hole big enough to drive one of those deuce-and-a-halfs through."
          "Lot of unknowns," Mahirap muttered, pulling the map back towards him.  "Crap."
          "Night attack," suggested Yelo from behind him.
          "We haven't worked with the Tsunami team anywhere near long enough for that," replied Lawin, back in the doorway as he finished off his beer and tossed the bottle along the outside of the wall.  "Lots of 'friendly fire' opportunities."
          "Infiltration."
          "That's why they wanted us in the first place," said Mahirap.  "Pating, what's this look like to you?"
          "Bombardment."
          "Well, if this is the road in, and this is the gate ... back door?  Wait, what's that over there?"
          "We'll do some of that anyhow, Yelo; somewhere along these ridges is the perfect sniper's perch for shooting into that place.  Looks like another back door.  There a path from there?  There's one on this one ..."
          "Airdrop."
          Everyone, even Suno coming out of the kitchen with her mouth full and the necks of two bottles in her hand, stopped and looked over at Yelo.  He returned their gaze with his flat, affectless face.  "What?"
          "Brother dear, we are not parachuting anywhere."  She handed Pating the bottles.
          Yelo shrugged, then climbed to his feet and headed into the kitchen to get himself something to eat as well.
          Mahirap looked back at the map, and sighed.  "I goddamn hate frontal assaults."
          "Cheer up," Pating told him, handing him another beer.  "We have almost fifty mercs to do it for us."
« Last Edit: (23:51:55/02-11-13) by The Wyrm Ouroboros »
Pananagutan & End/Line

Old As McBean, Twice As Mean
"Oh, gee - it's Go-Frag-Yourself-O'Clock."
New Wyrm!! Now with Twice the Bastard!!

Laés is ... I forget. -PiXeL01
Play the game. Don't try to win it.

Warmachinez

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Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
« Reply #17 on: (14:03:45/04-12-13) »
Very good story!

I am enjoying it immensely. Anything else coming up soon?
Chaos? Lack of protection? Enemies lurking in the shadows? Sounds
to me like the fun’s just beginning. Sorry you’ll miss it, omae.
> Kane

The Wyrm Ouroboros

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Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
« Reply #18 on: (03:33:22/08-02-13) »
Manila, Present Day.
Six Days Ago.


          She called Deckard from the plane almost as soon as the 'no wireless activity allowed' light went out; Philippines Air had in the air what were probably the oldest HSCTs outside of Africa, and they didn't handle the activity of the Matrix 2.0 wireless protocols any better than their battered predecessors in the late 20th century handled electronic devices radiating interference. He'd given her a name - Musang, an older ork changeling who'd been involved with the Huk for almost two decades, and who was familiar with the ins and outs of the Manila shadow scene.
          "He said he'd do the chauffeur thing at baggage claim," Deckard told her, "so look for 'Purple-Haired Japanese Kick Artist' on a sign."
          "Deckard," she warned, only to hear him laughing on the other side. "All right, wiseguy."
          Chortling, Deckard continued. "Look for 'Hashimayatsu'. Can't imagine too many Japanese people are willingly going into Manila on a non-corporate carrier these days."
          "Yeah, I was pretty much alone. They permitted the swords, though."
          "You corporate samurai are all alike."
          "Not all of us. You get to any digging?"
          "Here and there. I've had a few problems ..."
          "Grey IC?"
          "Not defenses - the amount of available data. Something weird is going on with this."
          "I told you that before I left town. You're just now coming around?"
          "Yeah, well - you also promised me data to find."
          "No, I just sent you to find it. Lack of information is an information point, too. Look, we're pulling up to the gate, I gotta go. Call me when you have something solid - or have too much of too little."
          "Yeah, 'cause that's clear. Discomm, H."
          She mentally closed down the call from her side, then rose; around her in First Class, megacorporate middlemen and businessmen from top nationals trying to break into the big scene did as well. Excluding a couple with a lack of either sense or care, most of them respectfully allowed her space to maneuver, unclipping her katana and wakizashi from their holders on the seat before her, then extracting her carry-on pack from the overhead. She wasn't the first to disembark, but the respect for the corporate samurai infused nearly every company doing business on the Pacific Rim - even in the Philippines, where the Japanese megacorporations and their Imperial Marine puppets had been ejected from the country comparatively recently.
          The walk up the jet bridge gave her time to properly set the two blades in her sash - not a proper obi, but rather a variation common to the modern samurai, while the Tesla in her head began automatically downloading the 'local corporate policies' file from Evo she was forced to receive every time she entered a new Evo corporate jurisdiction. She kept herself both alert on the long walk through the secure passenger-only portions of the terminal by picking apart the security, idly determining how (if she'd had need) she would gain entrance, move without calling attention to herself, isolate a target. It also kept her entertained while she mentally thumbed through the local rules and regs, looking for policies she'd best not let the locals know she'd be frequently violating and for others that she should report to her boss, but finally the last escalator brought her up to the common area just outside of baggage claim. Her contact-covered eyes scanned the professional placards, AR projections declaring the name of the individual for whom they were awaiting; she nearly missed the simple cardstock sign held by the tiger-themed Class III changeling, 'Hashimayatsu' sketched in an almost-passable kanji.
          "Ako ay Hashimayatsu," she stated, identifying herself.  'I am Hashimayatsu.'
          The changeling ork gave her a long hard stare before gesturing with his head towards baggage claim. Folding the placard into a tight roll, he moved ahead of her with the sort of grace borne by predators, whether tiger or metahuman.  Every fourth stride, he'd smack the cardstock faux-baton against his thigh, creating a repeating thwock that rose into the high vault over the baggage carousels as he led her down the row. "Hashimayatsu, is it?" he asked, continuing in the Tagalog she'd used.
          Keeping up with him was no great feat; despite his military step, he was an old man, which for an ork meant forty or so.  Still, the attitude his question carried brought a combat alertness to her, vibrant and still simultaneously.  "Yes, that is my name," she replied.
          A grunt, a nod, a thwock as he led her towards an unmarked door, one towards which a Filipino ork sanitation worker was also going.  "Ever use another one?" Musang asked, his manner continuing abrupt, reaching the door as it was starting to swing shut, pulling it back open and going through.  The sanitation worker, barely three meters in front of them, didn't even look back.  "Maybe here in Manila?"
          Suki followed, the access maneuver's smoothness increasing her confidence in him a bit despite the questions.  "I've worked this side of the Pacific, yes."  Leaving a name behind you was sometimes necessary; in the shadows, names could carry baggage, and it might be worth your life to claim a name, whether it was yours or not.
          Musang looked over his shoulder at her.  "Mmm. Didn't ask that, though, did I?"  He shook his head as he lead her deeper into the off-limit section of the airport; she let the movement put a halt to the conversation, going through more doors and down several flights of stairs.
          "Here, put this on," he said, stopping at a door to remove two pre-dropped lanyards from its handle and handing her one.  "Security supervisors.  Underground tunnel will take us out to Cargo 4.  Dyed your hair, didn't you?  Can't say as purple looks good on you, Talim."
          "Violet," she corrected him automatically as he pulled the door open, feeling a frission of surprise and shock rush through her.  "Do ... I know you?"
The ork grunted, looking around before walking over to a recess containing several electric carts, multi-person and built for larger metahumans.  "Come on.  Supervisors don't walk."  He waited until she had climbed in, then swiped the outdated identity card through the magnetic-strip reader on the cart.
          Remaining silent for some time once he'd gotten them on their way, he finally nodded.  "Yeah.  Been a long time, though; a lot more changes in me than in you.  How's that daughter of yours - Tam-something, wasn't it?"
          "Tamako," she agreed faintly, trying to push her imagination into stripping away the short, patterned fur, compress the muzzle, and turn the clock on the ork backwards the twenty-odd years she'd been away from Manila.  How many orks had she known in the city, after all?  Certainly it had to be a finite number, and for him to know that she had a daughter, much less even part of her daughter's name, meant he had to be someone close ...
          "Aswang," she said in a murmur, not even loud enough to be heard over the electric whine of the transporter.  He had to be.  "Aswang?"
          The slow smile on his face was all the reward she needed.

          ---

          When it came, the violence was sudden, swift, and resulted in a Mexican Stand-Off.  The entire time, she and Aswang - Musang now, from cannibalistic ghost to wildcat tiger - had been heading to recover the two rucksacks she'd packed and shipped from Seattle, talking about old acquaintances and whether or not they'd be able to get proper gear without her having to resort to Evo.  She generally operated sub-rosa, and making beeline tracks to the local office to pick up some needed gizmo endangered that. Where they were, however, was somewhere they both knew they shouldn't be, even if the badges said they should, or could.  It was just the sort of double-edged luck she'd come to expect around Aswang/Musang when they turned a corner right into a quintet. 
It was the quintet who, not belonging either and faced with two members of airport security, first raced to draw concealed weapons.  One with the facial features and skin tone of a North-African Arab reacted with fists instead; Aswang/Musang proved that though twenty-some years made him older, his survival proved he'd learned plenty of tricks with age, slapping the other's forearm with just enough force to make him miss while simultaneously reaching for his own concealed firearm.
          In the expansive meters-wide and -high corridor, Suki had plenty of room to unlimber her sword, and on the draw she knocked wide the pistol that had appeared in the plastic hand of a Russian man; her momentum allowed her to sweep his legs from under him.  A psychic concussion struck at her mind; from the growl coming from his throat, Musang had felt something similar.  Before she could finish clearing her sidearm from its holster, the ork tigre spun away from the Arab to put his pistol against the forehead of one of the two women.  "Freeze or she gets it!!" he snarled as Suki's katana dropped to the Russian she'd floored, her gun slowing on its course towards its target.
          That was the third man, a leanly-muscled blonde with chiseled features and a buzz haircut, who had a matched set of heavy pistols out by that point, one trained without the slightest quaver on the heads of each of the two. The fifth member of the group was a petite Japanese female, her skin milk-white and her wealth of buttock-length hair dyed cherry red; apparently willing to hear conversation before seeing blood, her outspread hands were lifted into the air before her.  The tableau held for a long moment before Suki looked down at the man on the floor.  She blinked twice, then spoke in English.
          "Piotyr Kostolitz. What are you doing in Manila?"
          The Russian scowled up at her from his position on the floor, the tip of her katana tucked up against his throat. "Hashimayatsu. Take that boar-sticker away and maybe we talk, yes?"
          "Hmm. Interesting proposition. Your team just jumped me, so, no, not until I have a better idea of whether or not I should put you somewhere out of my way -- like in a crate headed to Paris."
          The scowl deepened. "I hate Paris."
          Suki smiled slightly. "Yes, I know. All those Parisians."
          "Is the croissants. Curious, though, you mention Paris. You remember Jonty Geldenhuys, yes?"
          A trickle of liquid hydrogen raced down her spine. Opening her mouth, nothing came out for a moment. She tried again. "Yes. Of course."
          He lifted his chin slightly. "We talk?"
          She sheathed the blade.

          ---

          Suki sat with Musang at a dilapidated table on unstable chairs in what was an average cafe in Mandaluyong - which, if it were moved to any city in North America, wouldn't have passed muster with the health department. She glanced aside at the continuing oddity of his black-and-white-striped tail, its tip twitching slowly as her old friend watched the Russian talk with his four comrades at their separate table.
          "Do you trust him?" asked the aging ork.
          Thinking about it, Suki slowly shook her head. "No, but that's kind of out of habit. Yes, I suppose I do, in a lot of ways more completely than a lot of other shadowrunners I've worked with. He's professional, task-oriented, and the three times we've worked together the only thing we've clashed on is specific plan details and who the goods go to. From what sense I get of him and his group, their philosophy isn't far off Evo's, really, so ..."
          Musang frowned, an expression that looked out of place on his furred muzzle. "Hm. Well, it's your show.  He's coming back."
          "So," said the Russian with brusque warmth as he sat firmly down. "You will introduce me?"
          Suki nodded. "Shivowtnoeh, I'd like you to meet one of my oldest friends. Musang helped me out when I was just getting started in the shadows -- warrior adept." She glanced at Musang, saying, "Shivowtnoeh's a mixed salad like me -- rigger-sorcerer. What was your totem?" she asked the Russian.
          "Idol, if you must call it that," Shivowtnoeh replied briskly. "Is bogatyr Svygator. Wise Warrior, from Kiev." He reached out with his right hand to shake Musang's tiger-striped clawed one.
          The ork's eyebrows lifted in surprise as he recognized the feel and look of bioplast. "Artificial arm?"
          "Da, happened before I Awaken. KGB stakeout turns into KGB shoot-out with Vory v Zakone, shoot-out turns into block war. I still miss little Vanya. He was good drone."
          The corner of Musang's muzzle quirked up in a smile. "I think I know how you feel."
          Suki tapped on the table. "Piotyr. You mentioned Geldenhuys."
          "Ah, yes, Jonty, bloody little bastard. Three, four - four? - yes, I think four, four months ago, I am running escort on exchange, very precious cargo. I think Jonty is losing his touch, he is not waiting for us the way he was in Paris." He exchanged a long look with Suki. "Anyhow. He has very large crew, so he tries to attack us, get this cargo. He is acting even more mad than Paris -"
          "That would take some doing," Suki muttered, though not softly enough.
          Shivowtnoeh nodded slowly. "I agree. Paris, though, he wants only to spread his filth, yes? This time, he wants cargo so he can make it like him. Ah, thank you."
          Musang and Suki stared at Shivowtnoeh as he expertly paused the story to take a slow sip of the vodka the sallow-looking waitress was distributing. "What was the cargo?" Suki finally asked.
          The Russian stared at her for a long minute. "Sensitive.  Live.  Very fragile.  I think you must be knowing who it is I work for, you connect dots."
          She stared at him for a moment, then for the second time that day her blood chilled.  "You can do that to them??"
          "This is not something I wish to ask her, eh?  What I do not want to know, I do not want to explore.  Is enough that I know Jonty thinks this is possible."  Shivowtnoeh took another sip, then smiled up at the returning waitress to place his meal order.  Suki and Musang did so in their turns, then resumed looking at the Russian until the waitress was out of earshot.
          "So, this ambush?" asked the Filipino ork.
          "Ahh, yes.  You ever fight people, what is to say," he wiggled his bioplast fingers in mid-air, "those who believe very much in what they do?  Believe so hard they believe nothing else?"
          "Hrm?"
          Suki frowned; she'd had to play 'find the word' with Shivowtnoeh before.  "True believer? Fanatic?  Um ... cultist?"
          "Da, yes, that is it - cultist.  He has these many people, these cultists, they spend themselves as fools, attack without thought.  Very difficult to handle, they do not fall down, run away when hurt, eh?  Jonty in Paris, he has plan, very well thought out - not many people but they are tough to beat because they use brain.  Caracas, not so - rushed, sloppy, many people, cultists, many of them die.  Still," the Russian mused, "there are many sorts working for him.  Implants, magics, even strange computer people like little Mitsuko, but even stranger than her."
          Suki and Musang glanced towards the clearly-albino-on-inspection woman.  "Strange computer people?  Oh, you mean technomancers?" guessed Musang.
          "Yes, but ... like Jonty, yes?  Crazy in head, crazy in heart.  This makes for crazy plans."
          Shaking her head, Suki leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms.  "That doesn't explain what you're doing in Manila.  Last time I checked, you were based out of Denver."
          "Special assignment - I am unlucky enough to have experience with Jonty.  Certain things crazy cultists we capture say Jonty or people like him, his group of crazy people ..."  He sat back, fishing in his inner jacket pocket as the food arrived. As it was distributed, he extracted a pack of cigarettes (slightly flattened from the fight in the airport) and a lighter.  Steel scraped flint, and he lit up, watching the ork waitress return to behind the front counter.  "They are planning something.  Here.  So ..."
          Musang dug into his steak and eggs - fake both, but at least the guy in the back tried.  "So you're here to find out what it is?"
          Shivowtnoeh, his smoking Target between two fingers as he used both fork and knife to eat, shook his head.  "To stop them.  First we must find what they are doing, though."
          Suki's lips pursed around a forkful of shaped, dyed, and flavored krill-patty.  "Well, it just so happens that I have chemical and toxic spills being done, but I don't know who it is doing them."
          Her tight smile met Shivowtnoeh's in a wordless bargain.
Pananagutan & End/Line

Old As McBean, Twice As Mean
"Oh, gee - it's Go-Frag-Yourself-O'Clock."
New Wyrm!! Now with Twice the Bastard!!

Laés is ... I forget. -PiXeL01
Play the game. Don't try to win it.

The Wyrm Ouroboros

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Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
« Reply #19 on: (02:19:51/04-10-15) »
Philippines, 2052.
10 Days Earlier.


          "Aswang?"
          "Mmm?"
          "Where are we going?"
          Talim looked around the neighborhood as the ork tried to tug his armored jacket into something resembling respectability. For once, Talim fit into the environment while Aswang failed to match the surroundings; the houses in the neighborhood through which they walked sat on their own minute plots of land, a few with actual grass but most with small, well-tended gardens highlighted with pots of flowers. She felt herself vaguely surprised at the intense care on display, her vague mental framework of Filipino culture having been more satisfied with the poverty and squalor she'd seen in the Manila favela. The precise and elegant lines of each house's floral beds, despite the unfamiliar blooms and color choices, were nonetheless pleasing to the eye and clearly tended with close attention.
          "Hm. Let me ask you something first, Talim. What would you call us?" Aswang resumed walking along the side of the road, moving easily but not as swiftly as he had on their way to the bus.
          Talim kept pace, but frowned at his question. "I don't understand. What do mean?"
          "Us," explained the ork, gesturing to the two of them with his thumb. "You, me, Mahirap, Suno and Yelo. All of us, the whole team."
          "Um ..." She fought her way through the Tagalog she knew, trying to figure out what he meant. "Kawaruhito? Metahumans? Well, I guess not Yelo."
          Aswang shook his head. "No, not that. The team as a whole, people who do what we do. Not our metatypes, but ... our business."
          "Oh." She was silent for a few steps, trying to translate from one language to the other, finding words that half-meant the terms she knew in Japanese. "Hanzai-sha? Mga kriminal?"
          "Well, okay, criminals, sure. Anything else?"
          "Um ... supai? Batyaw?"
          He lifted his hand and rubbed at his cheek. "Spies ... I suppose."
          They walked for several more seconds as she thought it over. "I don't know. Most of the time we just called them criminals. Or kugutsu-kage, shadow puppets. There is ... a phrase in English they use. Shadow-runners."
          Aswang snorted, a rough and inelegant sound. "I guess it gets the point across. Yeah. Agents-for-hire, black gloves, whatever you want to call it. Well, here in the Philippines, there are also rebels."
          She blinked at the bald statement, then glanced quickly around. Though there were signs of the Japanese (there were always signs of the Japanese, both Imperial Marines and security from the various corporations), they were few; the closest security presence she knew about was a couple blocks away. Still, that was the closest she knew about. "Should we be talking about this in the open?"
          "If the Japanese wanted to throw everybody who talked about the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon," he said wryly, "they'd have to throw us all in jail - and half their own people to boot. Seriously, do you really not know about them?"
          She blushed, looking down at her feet, inexplicably remembering grabbing the running shoes from her closet and shoving them onto her feet into them at the start of the chaos of her escape from the Tengoku Enclave. "I ... had other things on my mind."
          The ork grunted. "Gotta get your head out of your ass. You don't know what's going on around you, you can't see where the shots are coming from. I'd guess they taught you that in bodyguard training, but it don't apply only to bullets and bodies."
          Nodding, she looked up and around again. "You mean, like, the news?"
          "Yeah. Lawin keeps up with it the most, but Mahirap pays pretty good attention to corporate stuff. Really, we all keep our ear to the ground - our asses are on the line too. So it's a good idea for you to pay attention, ya?"
          "Yeah. Sorry."
          "It's okay. You're new at this. First time on the wrong end of the law, huh?"
          She looked back down at her running shoes. Two shoes, two guns, two swords, a dagger and a baby girl, all in a mad desperate dash to survive another second, another minute, another hour. Another night. "Pretty much."
          "How old are you?"
          Talim looked up, blinking. "Me? Twenty-five."
          "Really??" The ork looked sideways at her, down and up, then shook his head and seemed to be paying attention to the fronts of the buildings. "Geez."
          "What?"
          "I dunno. I would've guessed younger."
          Annoyed, she asked, "Well, how old are you??"
          Looking surprised at the irritation in her voice, he glanced sideways at her again. "Eighteen."
          "What?!?"
          "Whaddaya mean, 'what'? I'm older than you are, 'leastwise where it counts in this biz. Been on the streets my whole life." He looked irritated in turn, his shoulder blades lifting slightly as his body responded by getting him ready to fight back. "Mahirap picked me up once I got some control of my adept abilities under my belt, four years back, but I'd already been doing small-time stuff for a while. Orks grow up fast. We have to, if we really only live forty or fifty years. I've been in a gang, or pretty much one, ever since I could run around outside and get into trouble on my own."
          "When was that?" she asked curiously.
          Aswang shrugged. "I dunno, not like we keep really close track of time around here. Four, maybe five years old? Probably five, I guess."
          "Five ..." She looked away, her heart seizing up in her chest. Someone like him, caught in a place like the favela. Born there. The poor were poor because they didn't follow directions, didn't want to advance or work hard - so she'd always been taught. Now, she was actually talking with someone whose childhood family feast had been the food thrown away from a decent restaurant.
          It was forcing her to see the stark contrast to the way she'd been raised - advantages, opportunities, instruction. Thinking of him as real, as a person, instead of one fleck of the grumbling, dissolute masses outside the corporation, was something Shiawase hadn't wanted her to be able to even imagine, she realized with bone-deep shock.
          The ork looked at her out of the corner of his eyes, and didn't miss her reaction. "Well, it wasn't like it was a real gang, y'know, protection and guns and drugs. We were five.  It was about football games and little bruises and brawls with the kids from the next block over. Getting into fights where the worst that could happen was a cut or something from a thrown rock."
          "Thrown rocks can kill people."
          The ork mused upon that for a dozen or two steps. "I guess. Tough luck if that happened, though, from a five-year-old, even a five-year-old ork."
          She shook her head again, feeling again a sudden sharp loss of place, a difficult thing for a young Japanese woman who'd always known where she fit in.
          Once more, Aswang looked sideways at her, then reached out and gripped her shoulder. "Hey, don't be that way. You bring something the rest of us don't have, you know?"
          She looked up and over at him. "You think so?"
          "Sure," he said, dropping his hand and looking back at the neat houses and their tiny gardens. "If you didn't, Mahirap would never have let you stick around."
          That surprised a laugh from her, though there was some bitterness to it. "Not one to keep useless things, is he?"
          "Oh, sometimes," the ork smiled, deliberately jutting out his lower jaw. "Not for long, though. Everyone has their place, their advantage and reason for being in the team. Not just muscle, but upstairs, too, you know? Telling him about the Tsunami guy, that probably clinched it. You got insight to the corper mindset, none of the rest of us have that."
          She nodded, considering his words. "So what do you bring? Upstairs, I mean."
          "Me? I'm his ear on the street, of course. Having been in gangs for so long, I met a lot of people, lot of people know me, hey? Gangers especially. Got a rep as a tough guy to fight even before Mahirap got a hold of me, so I get respect from them. Pating would say I'm a big-ass mako shark in a bay full of barracuda or somethin'."
          Talim smiled at the suggestion. "Probably. What about Suno and Yelo?"
          "Well, you got a taste of Suno. Besides Matrix stuff, she does conspiracies and all that. Goes after the crazy stories." He glanced at her. "Likes giving the newbies a hard time."
          She gave a sour smile. "And Yelo?"
          "Yelo ... pays attention. He isn't one for planning, and really he doesn't track news or anything, but if he's awake, he's always paying attention to everything. And to be honest, I've never seen him sleep, so I'm honestly not sure if he does."
          "Kind of ... a bodyguard, then?"
          "More like a watchdog. But when Mahirap and Lawin are doing the planning thing and Pating is tearing their plans to pieces, Yelo will suggest pretty much every possible angle for them to consider."
          She frowned, considering that. "Do you think ... do you think he gets that from an implant?"
          Aswang considered that for a little, then shrugged. "I dunno. Don't think it matters, really," he added, then snorted and stopped. "Almost missed it. Here."
          The house was completely unlike every other one on the street, and in that way, completely like them as well. A profusion of flowers and vegetables, tended with what looked like microscopic precision, decorated every square foot of front yard space. That every other house had similar flowers and vegetables made them look practically identical to her eye, but clearly the pattern was unique and identifiable, for Aswang swung onto the quarried-stone walkway and jandered to the front door, knocking on it with confidence.
          "So who are these people?" she asked, scanning the street as they waited.
          "David's a carpenter and a sculptor," Aswant replied. "Works only in wood.  Getting pretty well-known in corporate and government circles, in fact; he's very particular about who he sells to.  He makes the approach, doesn't put his stuff on the open market."
          "That's ... kind of odd."
          "Way he does business, is all.  He makes enough, though; bought this place."  He waved to the tidy house.  "Maria's his wife."
          As if on cue, a plump matron opened the painted panel up, wiping her hands clean on either side of her apron.  "Javier!!" she caroled in a voice that carried for several houses in every direction, extending one flour-dusted hand towards the ork. Aswang managed to look embarrassed, but returned the short human woman's one-armed embrace, patting her on the back as she hugged him tight. "Come in, come in!!" she sang, looking past him to see Talim trailing reluctantly up the path after the ork. "Is this all you brought? Where's Raffi, you lunk? Come in, girl, come in, don't be shy - Javier hardly ever brings pretty girls by, so he's easily embarrassed."
          Talim blushed, but allowed Aswang to gesture her into the spice-scented house ahead of him as he glanced in both directions before closing and securing the door behind. "Talim, this is Maria.  Maria, Talim. Is David here?"
          "Another Talim?" Maria's response held amusement instead of scorn, the way Suno's had. "Yes, yes, he's in the shop - a bit of fine cabinetry work. You know how he likes to keep his hand in."
          "Thanks," said the ork. "If you don't mind, I'll go and get him."
          "You go right ahead, give us girls some time alone." Maria smiled at the ork with clear fondness, watching him stalk through the house before turning back to her newest guest, her other hand emerging from behind the apron quite competently gripping a small but clearly well-used and -cared-for pistol.
          "Into the kitchen, dear.  I don't like interrogating people in the foyer."

---

          "David? Maria said you were in here." Aswang stopped at the shop's entrance, nostrils flaring at the scents of machine oil and wood shavings.
          "Workbench," came a man's laconic voice.
          Stepping through the first room and its various electrical implements, Aswang halted again in the doorway between the two rooms, blinking at the ork with a wire connecting his head to the ceiling.  The ork held a mallet in one hand and appeared to be carving a fairly sizeable log.  As Aswang watched, he picked up a chisel without looking, quickly but carefully placed it, delivered a precise whack to seat it, and then used a series of judicious, sharp blows to peeled a strip off the block.  Without taking his eyes off the block, he replaced the first chisel and selected a second, simultaneously engaging a foot-pedal to rotate the turntable and bring another portion of the block into view. "That always gets me," Aswang said, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorjamb as he looked at the row of chisels, the first one replaced exactly in its place, as it had been before the other ork had picked it up. "Like a machine."
          "You knew what I was up to when Maria said I was doing fine cabinetry work, so don't start complaining," replied the other ork, flicking a glance towards the adept while knocking several chunks out of the block with the new chisel. "Why are you here?"
          "Mahirap wants to know if the Huk have a camp up in the mountains past Alfonso Castañeda."
          "What a stupid question; of course they do.  Devil's in the details, boy.  If I know Omar, though, he sent you along with exact data.  Plug's on the workbench next to you."
          Aswang looked down, and after a moment found the console underneath a piece of oilcloth.  Another moment had the chip out of his pocket and slotted into the receiver.  "Got it?"
          "Hmm. No, nothing of the Huk there, and nothing within five air kilometers of that.  Rough terrain, there; I'm surprised there's anything at all in that area.  Probably used to be some sort of resort."
          "What makes you say that?"
          David moved his current chisel to the turntable and tapped it.  An ancient-style trideo projector in the corner clicked on, its pseudo-hologram slowly coming into focus.  "Here.  See this rectangle?  That's a swimming pool if ever I saw one.  You don't get many swimming pools in mountain rebel training camps.  Give me a minute, let me pass this around."
          Aswang watched David work for a few moments, then wondered out loud, "Do you know any other decker with this kind of setup?"
          David smiled, the turntable twitching the clamped-down block of wood first one way, then the other, mallet and chisel knocking off chips each time. "No. But then, there aren't a lot of deckers who've invested in a reality filter; it takes a lot of time to hone the programming. You can bet that if I ever run into something that suppresses my filter, I'll engage the RAS overrides faster than you can blink."
          "Yeah, but doesn't it bug you that you can't tell what's real and what's not?"
          "Right now, big guy, it's all real to me," the woodcarving decker stated as he continued to work. "So who's that cute little piece you brought along? Does she know you're interested?"
          "I am not!!"
          "Denial, thy name is Javier. Did you know she's interested??"
          "What?!?"
          "Obliviousness, thy name is also Javier," the woodcarver said with a laugh. "Never mind. Hmm.  Here's something for you - nobody on-call knows anything of what's up there. If I were you, I'd be ready for anything.  Everything.  If they're not part of the Huk, they could be anyone, though I think I'd guess a training camp for someone international.  TerraFirst!, ecoterrorists or anarchists or who-knows-what.  Why your Salaysay wants it hit, I can't imagine."
          Aswang looked a little disgruntled, but kept his peace. "What's the target you're working on?" he asked as David klocked mallet against chisel a few times.
          "Government system on Mindao. Relocation data."
          "Oh.  Gonna sell it to them?" he asked, gesturing with his chin at the block David was working on.
          "After I get it polished up, turned into something that looks like something, of course.  By the way, who vouched for your chit inside?"
          "The Kind Man."
          David paused, mallet lifted.  "Uri himself?" Whack! "Well, crap.  You better go tell Maria that before she puts two into the girl."
          "Huh?  Oh, crap!!" Aswang left at a run.
          "They're in the kitchen!!" David called after him, shaking his head and knocking more pieces of wood off the block in front of him.
Pananagutan & End/Line

Old As McBean, Twice As Mean
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New Wyrm!! Now with Twice the Bastard!!

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The Wyrm Ouroboros

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Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
« Reply #20 on: (02:20:27/04-10-15) »
---

          "Honest, I don't know anything about you people!!"
          The plump homemaker gave a cynical smile, tapping a couple more keys on the console seated on the kitchen counter.  "Another thing a Japanese spy would say."
          "So me being an elf doesn't do anything either?"
          "Just makes you a traitor as well as a spy, dear.  Lift your chin a little, this thing's a bit glitchy when it comes to targeting for the retinal scan."  She caught Talim's glance towards the pistol, and twitched it slightly.  "No sense in that, dear.  My reflex boosters may be a few generations old, but we've kept them in top condition, and I'll put them against any shop-new wires you have.  Now sit still, and we can find out who you really are."
          Talim's face set as the thread-thin low-level lasers flitted their way over her eyes.  She knew with a sinking in her stomach that the moment the woman connected to the SIN database, it would be all over.  Shiawase would be alerted to her location and send another kill-squad; maybe two this time, since she'd taken one out already.  And as soon as her identity as a born Shiawase citizen popped up on her console, this Maria woman would open fire.  Sending a silent prayer to the kami of luck, Talim tensed her body, ready to move as soon as the console chirped 'identity found'.
          "Maria?  Talim?  Where are you?"  Aswang's combat boots clomped against the tile floor of the living room next door, then moved towards the kitchen in which the two faced each other.
          "It's all right, Javier," Maria told the young ork as he appeared behind Talim. "Retinal scan is in and running, we'll find out in a moment where our little spy is really from."
          "Maria, come on, you don't really think Mahirap -"
          "Has been known to have a soft spot from time to time.  DON'T," the pistol rose with cybernetically-enhanced speed to full extension, into the direct line between a pair of human eyes and a pair of elven, "try to get in the way, Javier."
          "Honest, Maria. It's okay. She's been vouched for."  Aswang brought his hand up to Talim's shoulder, slowly gripping.
          "Mmm-hmm.  That's what they say."  The console chirped, but Talim's pre-planned surge was halted by Aswang's grip.  "Javier, move away from her.  She's a Shiawase plant."
          "She's a Shiawase escapee, Maria.  They're gunning for her."
          "So she says, Javier.  Now move, or you're going to get dirty."
          "So Uri says, Maria."
          The increase in pressure the housewife had been applying to the trigger halted, though her concentration never wavered from her target.  "She tell you that?"
          "No, Mahirap told me that."  His grip eased Talim back from the kitchen counter, enabling him to move between her and the gun.  "Do you really think Mahirap got blinkered by someone claiming Uri told them to tell him something?"
          "Well ... "  Maria trailed off, her concentration wavering, then decided, "there's always a first time."  The muzzle shifted for a shot past the solid ork.
          "That's my wife," came David's amused voice as he stepped in behind Aswang.  "Paranoia is her middle name."
          "David ..."  Maria's voice held warning.
          "Relax, Maria.  I contacted Uri; she's good.  Or do you want to talk to him yourself??"
          The matron held the pistol in a shooter's grip for a moment more, then sighed, lowering the weapon.  "No, I suppose not.  Sorry - Talim, was it?  David is a valuable resource, and we'd hate to lose him."
          "So I gathered," responded the elf, still sheltered by Aswang's mass and looking back at the man - ork - in question, her hands close in against her body.  "Is she always like this?"
          "And I wouldn't ever want her to change," replied David stoutly.  "Saved my life more than a few times.  Maria, is that marranitos I smell?"
          "Yes, dear."  The pistol vanished into whatever belly holster she kept it in and Maria became the busy housewife once more, moving to the oven to peek through the window.  "They'll be ready in a few minutes."
          "Wonderful.  Shall we adjourn to the living room?"
          "Not yet, dear."  The razorgirl-turned-housewife straightened. "Talim and I have a few things to talk over."
          "What, right now?"
          Maria eyed him from her spot by the oven.  "You're picking up back habits.  Go away, dear. Both of you."
          Aswang and David exchanged baffled glances, then David withdrew; Aswang shifted and looked down at Talim, his eyebrows raised.  "You okay with this?"
          She gave him a brief smile, lifting a hand to his shoulder while under the cover of his body drew her own weapon from her shoulder holster before moving it behind her back.  "Yeah.  I'm good with it."
          He gave a snort of laughter.  "Play nice, Talim."
          "I will if she will.  You go have a talk, and I'll see what Paranoia Lady has to say."
          He shook his head, and headed back out the way he came, and Talim shifted her gaze back to Maria, who was cleaning up the last of her baking mess.  "So?"
          "Your profile said you recently bore a child?"
          Talim blinked.  What was this about?  "That is correct."
          The woman glanced up from the dishes she was filling the sink for.  "Only a couple months ago?"
          "Seven weeks, yes."  She shifted slightly, her hand flexing slightly on the grip of her weapon.
          "Still nursing?"  Maria turned off the water, then moved to check the breadlike cookies in the oven.
          Talim blinked.  Where was she going with this?  "I ... was, yes."
          "But you left the babe behind, of course.  Who's caring for it?"
          She hesitated for a moment, then figured that Maria probably wouldn't try to use Tamako against her; she'd kill the woman if she tried, though.  "Nadia, Suno and Yelo's sister."
          "How are you handling the pressure?  Hand-milking?"
          "I'm sorry?"
          Maria beamed, her face transformed into a plump Filipino Madonna by it.  "You must still be producing milk," she said, taking the soft pig-shaped molasses gingerbread treats out of the oven and moving over to the counter, transferring them from baking pan to cooling rack.  "How are you giving it?  Do you even have a pump?"
          Talim blinked again, surprised by the change in the woman's attitude.  "I ... no, I don't."
          "Mmm, so by hand.  If you like, I can give you a breast pump - and pouches, if you want to save it, but without refrigeration that won't do you much good.  Hmm ... if you're okay with it, I know a few women along the way who could use a wet nurse for a day or so.  It would keep you giving until you get back to your own baby."
          "I ... that's ... very kind of you."
          "Well, maybe it helps make it up to you for the little scene earlier ... Suki."
          Talim's face blanched.  The report.  Shiawase.  "I have to go.  Shiawase -"
          "Doesn't know you're here, dear.  Give the Huk some credit for competence; the address for this comm gets generated every hour.  Right now, if they tracked that inquiry, they'll be looking for you in ..."  She paused to look at the Matrix addres. "Hah.  Xinhua, right now.  Back to the topic, though.  There's another method available too, though.  Have you thought about, mmm, the pleasures of mature companionship?"
          Her head spinning, Talim reached out for a stool and sat down hard.  "What??"
          Maria smiled sideways at her.  "Aswang likes you.  And believe me, girl, orks obsess over a good pair of tits ..."
« Last Edit: (08:03:11/05-08-15) by The Wyrm Ouroboros »
Pananagutan & End/Line

Old As McBean, Twice As Mean
"Oh, gee - it's Go-Frag-Yourself-O'Clock."
New Wyrm!! Now with Twice the Bastard!!

Laés is ... I forget. -PiXeL01
Play the game. Don't try to win it.

Thanael

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Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
« Reply #21 on: (17:30:43/04-08-17) »
*slow clap* That was an awesome read.