Shadowrun General => Fan fiction => Topic started by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <10-11-11/2308:29>

Title: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <10-11-11/2308:29>
Manila, 2052.

         "T minus five.  Main ops on final approach.  Support ops confirm.  Over."  The squashed-band transmission of the normally tonal Japanese sounded flat in her ear, the digital compression robbing the speaker on the other end of tell-tale tics and tone.  She didn't need to hear the voice to know who it was, though; the commander's call-sign was appended on her HUD via the gear the mercenaries had loaned her and her associates.  "So we can keep in contact," their quartermaster had said with ill-disguised scorn, contemptuous of the 'special ops' group their mutual employer had saddled them with.   All of the mercs were Japanese and human, and most of them were male; of her seven associates, she was the only female, the only one who professed being from Nihon, and five of her group were metahuman -- scum kawaruhito, lower even than gaijin, and her contaminated by association.  The fact that the op was in the ‘pacification zone’ of Luzon, largest island of the Philippines, made no difference to them; they were Japanese, and so they ruled the world.
         Holding up a finger to her 'teammate', she pointed at herself as the first group, a sniper and his spotter, called in their readiness status.  "Support op two," she thought back in the same language the mercs used, the implanted thought transducer silently sending the signal through her subdermal microphone into the tactical unit, which held the data.  "In place, awaiting engagement.  Over."  The last word signaled the recognition software, which compressed her brief response and sent it through the burst transmitter.  Her nominal teammate, a burly Filipino ork who looked ill-pleased to have to be babysitting the back door and the new girl, allowed a low grunt of understanding to momentarily replace his scowl at her presumption.  In the low rumble of the forest, the sound blended where speech would have not.
         It took another two minutes for the sounds of the laboring trucks that made up the primary operational team to reach them through the jungle.  As they did, she and the ork rose from their waiting positions, seiza and squat respectively, and started to move through the jungle once more.  She was as a wraith, but her companion was better; while her passage silenced wildlife, they treated him as just another creature, to be hunted or hid from or ignored in turn.  The village that was the target of the operation would never have seen him coming.  As it was, the two halted at a distance from the wall that was uncomfortably close for her; she would have expected a place like this to have cut the jungle back some distance from the barrier, but instead it grew almost up to the wall -- inside it, so she might swear.
         In the distance, at T minus 30 seconds, the lead truck coughed, rattled, and died just after coming around the final turn.  Beside her, the ork took cover behind a troll-thick bole, bracing his battered AK-97 against his shoulder and the tree and sighted it in on the panel of the in-set back door, ready for hell to break loose.  As their tac-comms updated the information, his via helmet screen, hers via implanted image link, the second and third trucks took the curve wide, snorting their way towards the gate -- and accelerating.  Behind them, two men dropped from the tailgate and stepped clear, each dropping to one knee and lifting a fat tube to their shoulder.
         One of the gate-guards, already looking alarmed at the two charging trucks, shouted and pointed at the two distant men.  Some of the more reactive guerrillas raised their assault rifles and chattered bullets downrange, even as two columns of flame erupted from the backs of the tubes, the anti-tank missiles throwing themselves at the upper outside corners of the gates.  A couple of guards, more wise, threw themselves off the back of the catwalk, tumbling to the ground in a desperate gamble for a few more minutes of life.
         She rose to her feet as the ATGMs impacted upon the gates' hinges, sending chunks of steel and concrete screaming through the forecourt of the village; she couldn't see the direct results, but she was smart enough to be able to predict it.  Slapping the ork on the shoulder, she sprinted forward; cursing with surprise, he hesitated, then followed, clumsy in comparison to her liquid flow.
         The same moment the second, now lead, truck hit the crazily-dangling gates and smashed them open, she kicked off the ground, off the reinforced-concrete column of the gatepost, and chinned herself momentarily above the level of the greened wood panel.  Beyond, the village closely resembled a kicked-in ant's nest, responding rapidly to the assault at the front gate.  She held there for a moment, dark hair and painted face blending into the twilighting jungle behind her, then twisted back to offer her hand to the approaching ork.  He needed the boost, but only barely, gripping the panel and pulling himself just past eye level over the wood.  After letting him take a quick glance -- and listen to the ferocious gun battle at the gate as far more weapons than were on the 'expected opposition' list engaged the merc team -- she spoke, quickly but concisely, using Tagalog when she could, Japanese when she didn't know the local words.  He stared at her for three precious seconds, astounded at her brutal audacity, then nodded, once.
         With a kick and a heave, they moved over the gate, two against two hundred, to take the enemy from the rear.

Edited for formatting and due to research in the Sixth World Almanac.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: Deepeyes on <10-20-11/1150:25>
Very nice!! When's the next part coming?! ;)
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <10-26-11/0612:36>
Part 1 edited for formatting and due to research in the Sixth World Almanac.

Seattle, 2073.
Three Weeks Ago.

         Despite her most-public commlink being tucked away in her bag, the 10% opacity of one of the few people trusted with a direct link to her headware address popped up in Suki's image link.  Perhaps a flicker of distraction showed in her eyes as the electronic ghost formed beside her opponent; with a shouted kiai, he sprang forward, upraised sword sweeping down from jodan no kame in a fierce cut to the head; with a huff of breath, she deflected it with a flicking snap of her own blade, drifting a half step backwards, and thought her greeting to the ghost.  "Konnichiwa, Sanchez-sama.  Ogenki desuka?"
         The Japanese man in front of her struck again, switching sides; she pivoted her hips, bringing her sword from left to right while taking the other half of the pace backwards.  Again, the strike; again, she parried, rhythm building between the two, broken only by her assailant choosing to double up on one side of her head or the other.  Once she reached the limit of her ability to retreat, she first parried, then swiftly counterattacked with a fierce strike to her opponent’s skull, stepping forward as she did.  As she had before him, he retreated, blocking each of her advancing strikes with his own weapon.
         As they exchanged blows, she spoke via thought with the electronic ghost of Julie Sanchez, who gave her a very slight smile and spoke in English.  “I am well, Ms. Hashimayatsu.”
         “And Miss Buttercup?”
         “Well also.  Miss Yuri?”
         “Peculiar.  She has stated she likes, as she calls it, ‘exciting music’.”
         “‘Exciting music’??”
         “Her exact words.  Mostly ork and troll thrash metal, from what I can tell.”
         “Oh dear.”
         A sharp snap of sound and held block signaled her opponent’s own limit-of-retreat; once more Suki began backing away as she blocked, the Japanese man testing her high and low guards on either side.  The ghost, self-muted, spoke momentarily to someone in the distant office before returning.
         “Miss Buttercup requests Miss Yuri be guided towards less violent music, Ms. Hashimayatsu.”
         “Please tell Miss Buttercup I will endeavor to do so.  Is my daughter well?”
         “Excellent, in fact.  Her internship continues most promisingly, and she shows a particular aptitude for the binding and banishing of spirits.”
         This caused Suki to pause in the block at her uttermost retreat for a heartbeat longer; showing an aptitude for spirit-control while amongst several powerful free spirits could be a swift road to immolation.  Her opponent, moving like a cobra, snapped a strike at her head.  Blocking it reflexively, she returned the favor of exercising his quarters, pressing forward with each strike.
         “I hope this is not proving to be a problem, Miss Sanchez.”
         “Of course not, Ms. Hashimayatsu.  She is a valuable member of our team, and her other skills are coming along quite nicely.  Though she has asked that you not be told until she can speak to you in person, she has in fact spoken of a possible religious calling.”
         Thinking about this while her body took care of her rhythmic strikes, Suki pondered her twenty-two-year-old daughter’s pursuit of the Shinto tradition of magic.  It was traditional, and in many ways it would allow her to fit in almost anywhere in the world where there were Japanese people.  “I thank you for the information, Miss Sanchez.  Please tell her I hope to speak to her tonight.”
         “Tonight may be somewhat difficult for you, Ms. Hashimayatsu.”
         “Why would that be?”
         “I expect you will be in the air, and Philippine Airlines’ HSCTs are old.  Even your multitasking capacity must be challenged by erratic linkages and irritated contacts.”  Meaning they weren’t likely to have been upgraded to full modern capability.  A flickering icon floating over Julie’s head indicated a message and info-bundle waiting for her in storage; though she didn’t let her eyes flicker over it, a mental toggle banished the icon until she could deal with it.
         “Thank you for the call, Ms. Sanchez.  Please let Riian know I will speak with her as soon as I can.”
         As the 10% opacity ghost vanished, she committed herself to a very low block.  An error, perhaps one she could recover from -- and then the Japanese man’s wrists flexed.  The edge of her opponent’s blade slid along the block and swept upwards, speed and power undiminished, for her throat.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <11-07-11/1914:12>
Philippines, 2052.
2 Weeks Earlier.

          “Ang matugunan ay nakatakda para sa siyam na,” said the solid, authoritative dwarf in Tagalog to the rest of his team of six; “The meet is set for nine.”  He gave the new girl -- definitely a girl, not a woman -- a glance that carried a wealth of contempt and derision, not bothering to translate into Japanese or Spanish for her.  If she wanted to know what was being said, then she’d have to learn the language; it was obvious just from the lack of stains that her SecureTech jacket was a recent purchase, no matter how broken-in her katana hilt was.  What was even worse was the fact that the young twenty-something Japanese girl was half-cloaked with a blanket, an infant tucked under and (from the sound of it) actually nursing.  He was offended on half a dozen levels.
          ‘The new girl’ glanced at two of the others -- the robust young ork Aswang, ‘Ghost’, sitting there with his arms crossed and bracing the wall, and the lean human shaman Pating, ‘Shark’, lounging arrogantly across one of the couches -- then gave a slight nod.  When she responded, her accent had the slightly haughty sound of someone who’d been chip-taught instead of in person by a native -- though it sounded like it was a good chip.  “Ako doon,” she said -- ‘I’ll be there.’
          The dwarf, known as Mahirap or ‘Hard’, gritted his teeth.  Damn Uri for dumping this newbie Japanese dulo on him; who cared if Shiawase was hunting her and her baby?  Well, the Kind Man had his reasons, but he couldn’t see what this lean little thing was about.  He continued in Tagalog, giving the location to the group and fortunately not needing to tell them who should be where.  He paused, then said to her in crude Japanese, “You.  What we call you?”
          She paused, clearly thinking about all her digital lessons, then said, “Talim,” the Tagalog word for ‘blade’.
          He grunted.  “Talim,” he repeated, then continued in Tagalog.  “Fine.  You’re with me.”
          Her eyebrows went up, but she nodded.
          “And leave the baby at home.”
          “Yes sir.”


          That night at the nightclub in Manila that was the meet location, Mahirap and Talim passed over their weapons at the door (her a short wakizashi blade and an old Seco LD-120 pistol, him a battered carbine-frame AK-86, a Colt Manhunter, and a combat knife) and made their way through the club, their target the door to which the doorman sent them.  There, two wrestler-looking Japanese bodyguards stopped him and the girl (without baby, thank the spirits) as they stepped forward.  “Your name,” one snarled in Japanese, shoving his knee against the dwarf’s chest, “or shove off, kawaru gaijin scum.”  Thunderclouds filled Mahirap’s face and he moved, gripping the back of the knee against his belly and punching down and sideways against the bodyguard’s other knee.  He felt more than saw the newbie shift as well; holding onto the leg, he levered the bodyguard to the floor and, with a twist of his foot, kept him there.
          A glance sideways at the girl showed her pressing her hand against ‘her’ guard’s chest; he in turn was looking down at her, nostrils slightly flared and an expression of offense on his face.  A longer look at her hand resolved into it holding a lean pistol that the weapon scan at the door really should have caught, pointed directly up towards the human’s throat.  She glanced at Mahirap, and he nodded for her to go ahead.
          “We,” she said in excruciatingly polite Japanese, “are the party your employer awaits.  We apologize for the pain your partner has and may be experiencing, but rudeness is inelegant.  And violence is unacceptable.”
          The guard made a slight gesture of his head back towards the door at his back; Talim nodded, and put the pistol away under her too-new jacket with a smooth assuredness that surprised Mahirap.  No doubt, it was that same rapidity that got the weapon out quickly enough to forestall the bodyguard.  The stocky human knocked on the door and opened it.  “The people you are expecting, sir,” he said in a calm professional voice.
          “Let them in.”
          The guard nodded to Talim, then to Mahirap; the dwarf grunted, and let go the other guard’s foot with a warning twist that stressed his ligaments without giving a lot of pain; if he tried to do anything else nasty tonight, he’d find the leg giving out on him.  The Japanese girl had preceeded him into the room, looking around swiftly but not hastily; by the time he dropped the guard’s foot, she was turning towards him, giving him a bodyguard’s nod, though she already seemed twice as tense as outside.  With a grunt, he entered past her, and heard her closing the door behind him.
          The table inside was occupied by the expected G. Salaysay -- ‘Mr. Tell’, for someone who would tell people what he wanted and expect them to do it for a pittance -- who turned out to be a middle-aged Japanese man in a Western-style pinstripe business suit.  Behind him against the wall stood another bodyguard, this one looking much more competent than the tripwires in front of the door.  Mahirap lifted himself into his chair, eyeing the lean muscle standing against the wall for a moment more before turning his attention to the corporate employer; beside him, Talim sat down as well, folding her hands in her lap.
          The Salaysay immediately started speaking in Japanese, and from the look on his face, he didn’t care if Mahirap could understand him.  Oh, he could, but not very well, and not easily at the rate he was going on.  The dwarf could feel his expression tightening, the thunder rising; this anak sa labas was at least as bad as the offensive thug out front.  Shoving his presumed superiority just at being Japanese in Mahirap’s face, not even bothering trying
          “Ginoo Salaysay,” said Talim when the Japanese bastard paused as if for a reply, turning her head towards him as though she’d been hired specifically to do this, “does us the honor of bringing to us a request for our assistance in reinforcing a small mercenary strike force during an operation.  We would be staging out of Alfonso Castañeda, east of Pantabangan Lake.”
          The Japanese girl’s courtesy surprised a grunt from him before he thought about it.  Pantabangan Lake wasn’t too far from San Jose City, and he knew a couple of people there.  “We’re capable,” he replied.  “What sort of support is he looking for?”
          Talim turned back and spoke in Japanese to the Salaysay, the two of them exchanging words for a few moments.  Oh, he understood about one in ten -- enough to get an idea of what was going on, anyhow.  The Salaysay was talking about specialists -- mage, sniper, scout, that sort of thing, just the sorts you’d expect a group of soldiers might maybe need in the middle of the deep green.  The word ‘firebase’ was another.  Oh, and ‘nuyen’; he understood that word just fine.  Finally, Talim turned to him again.
          “Ginoo Salaysay asks for two sniper teams, one line mage and one in support, a drone rigger if possible, and as many scouts familiar with the jungle as possible.  The mission is to eliminate a terrorist firebase in the mountains, fifteen kilometers generally northwards of Alfonso Castañeda.  Estimated time of completion is three weeks.  He offers one hundred fifty thousand nuyen, to be divided as you see fit, with ten percent now, twenty percent upon departure from Alfonso Castañeda, and the balance on mission completion.”  The girl had plenty of self-control, but a hint of irritation had crept into Tagalog.
          He could see where the irritation came from.  The raw amount was generous for a crew of his size.  Each of them would net over fifteen thousand with another plus-fifteen going to group expenses; that was a serious amount of cash for most of them.  But for three weeks in the boondocks -- four, probably -- it was less eight hundred a day, with serious risk to all of them.  Besides, the base was likely to be one of the Huk’s, and most of his people had Huk leanings, if not outright links.  Hell, he had Huk contacts that wouldn’t like him if they knew he was doing this.
          Which meant either he needed them to not know, or else he needed to tell them that some bad juju was about to go down fifteen klicks north of Alfonso Castañeda...
          After a moment of thinking, he decided, “Tell him two twenty-five will get our co-operation.  We can give him one sniper team, the two mages he’s asking for, and two scout teams.  We could get a rigger in there, but the only thing that’d be coming out would be the man himself, and then G. Salaysay would be paying for the drones to boot, and I doubt he wants that.  One third now, one third at Alfonso Castañeda, the last third in third-party escrow.”
          The Japanese female inclined her head and shoulders -- that was a bow, wasn’t it?  It was then that he realized then that there was something troubling him about the girl, even as she turned to negotiate with the Salaysay.  He thought about it, watching the man on the other side of the table, listening to the two rattle back and forth with growing intensity until Talim spoke at his side again.  “He offers two hundred plus a recent-model three-axle transport,” she informed him.  Three-axle; deuce and a half territory, that was, and pretty good, even if G. Salaysay was likely to turn over a beat-up one out of his own corp’s pocket.  “He agrees to your payment schedule.”
          Mahirap nodded.  “Good.  I like a reasonable man.  Get the contact information and when he wants us in Alfonso Castañeda.”
          Talim gave him another of those shoulder-bows and, turning, supplied another to G. Salaysay.  Japanese, and then a datachip and three credsticks went from male Japanese to female.  Seeing that, Mahirap grunted, then shifted to slide off the too-big chair.  “See you,” he said casually to the Salaysay, and sauntered towards the door.  With a fluidity he associated only with elves and those with their joints all lubed up, Talim was there ahead of him, opening the door and keeping watch on the whipcord bodyguard inside.


          Outside the club, walking down the street, Mahirap finally nailed it down, and spoke on it immediately.  “You’re an elf, aren’t you.”
          “Yes, Mahirap.”  Her voice was controlled, but there was a nervous tremor to it.
          “Why aren’t you on Yomi?”
          “I look enough like a human to be acceptable, Mahirap.”
          “Your baby?”
          “Clearly elven, sir.”
          “The father?”
          “Didn’t want an elf baby, sir.”
          “Stop calling me sir.”
          “Yes, sir.”
          Mahirap shook his head, stumping into an alley laced with clotheslines, most of them with clothes on them.  “That why you’re here?”
          “Yes, Mahirap.”
          “Right.  Why’d you tighten up when we went through the door?”
          “I recognized the bodyguard inside, sir.”
          He let that stretch for a moment.  “Going to be a problem?”
          “I hope not, sir.  He is extremely competent.”
          Mahirap grunted, and led the way through a hovel that was busy housing a six-person family when it wasn’t thinking seriously about collapsing.  “You’ll have to tell me about him.”
          “Yes, sir.”
          "And about that pistol."
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: rasmusnicolaj on <11-08-11/0343:45>
I like your characters. Cool story  :)

Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <11-14-11/0228:21>
Seattle, 2073.
Three Weeks Ago.

          The bokken froze precisely as it touched her throat; she and her opponent held in place for one heartbeat, then another, before separating and straightening up.  She bowed, low from the waist, a bow which he returned precisely.  He being Nanadan, it being his dojo, the bow drew a deep sussuration of amazement from the twinned rows of students, swiftly stifled as the two straightened up.  With self-effacing quietude, Suki took a step backwards, then three to her right, turning precisely before moving back enough to be over the line of the practice area -- what western-style olympic fencers might call ‘the lane’ -- before settling into seiza, bokken held by her hip within her left hand.
          Her opponent turned to his assembled students, some sixty individuals of various gender, metatype, and most important, skill.  “What,” he asked generally, “did she do wrong?”  Holding his own bokken very much like his recent opponent (though less precisely), he pointed to the newest of his advanced students.
          “She blocked too low,” came the reply.
          “Correct..”  The sensei pointed to the next.
          “Her right foot was too wide.”
          “Her hips were too far forward.”
          “Her timing was growing erratic,” came the response of a student several correct answers later; a more advanced student, he knew that sensei wanted analysis of the entire encounter, not just the last moments.
          “Her grip on her bokken was wrong.”
          “Her blocks were too vigorous.”
          “She was not direct enough in her paces.”
          “She did not have enough zanshin,” the late-twenties Japanese male human stated emphatically a dozen more answers afterwards; several of his fellow students on either side were unable to control at least a minimal roll of their eyes; clearly, ‘not enough intent’ was the go-to phrase for the man.  Even the sensei paused for a moment before giving a brusque nod and pointing at the next in line.
          Suki’s lips twitched.
          “All correct,” stated the master of the dojo after the last of his advanced students had spoken of an error in her form, walking slowly back up along the line.  “The rest of you -- any thoughts?”
          Towards the end at which the master had begun, a girl’s hand lifted tentatively.  “Kira. Yes?”
          The girl looked the dozen yards over towards Suki.  Her voice giving the same uncertainty showing on her face, she offered diffidently, “She was distracted.  And she was holding back.”
          This pair of suggestions caused more unrest among the assembled students as the bow and the zanshin comment combined.  The sensei, however, lifted his eyebrows, then turned to regard Suki.
          Suki bowed, this time all the way to the mat.  “Isamu-sensei.”
          “Were you holding back?”
          Suki’s lips twitched again.  “Yes, Isamu-sensei.”
          “And were you distracted?”
          “Yes, Isamu-sensei.”
          “Did I not tell you to leave your commlink in your locker?”
          “I cannot remove the implant, Isamu-sensei, and certain calls I cannot refuse.”  More uneasy shifting among the students; Isamu-sensei was quite firm about distractions in the dojo.  Besides, an implanted commlink cost a pretty sizeable chunk of cash, and though half the students were corporate, the simple fact was that only one or two might have had the means to implant a commlink -- or that they were important enough that their corporation would have retained control over its activation.
          Isamu regarded her for several long seconds, long enough for her to bow herself to the mat again.  He appeared to consider that a suitable apology, and stated, “Again.  Do not be distracted.”
          She rose, assuming position opposite him, and settled once again into low guard, both hands upon the hilt of the bokken as he assumed high guard.
          With a shouted kiai, he sprang forward, sword sweeping down from jodan no kame in a fierce cut to the head; with a huff of breath, she deflected it with a flicking snap of her own blade, drifting a half step backwards.


          As before, she committed herself to the very low block.  As before, Isamu-sensei’s wrists flexed, sliding his blade over the block and sweeping it upwards with speed and power, straight for her throat, where it froze precisely upon touching it.  Suki and Isamu held in place for one heartbeat, then another, before separating and straightening up.  Again she bowed low from the waist, a bow which he returned precisely before straightening and turning to his students as she returned to her resting position.  “Again -- what did she do wrong?”
          This time he did not select any specific individual; almost all of the students were staring at Suki as she settled primly back into place.  Each of her movements had been precisely the same as the previous; Isamu had picked up on it almost immediately, and had done the same.
          “She did not have enough zanshin,” the same Japanese male asserted vociferously, a certain belligerence on his face.  The look in his eye as not only his fellow students but his sensei looked at him suggested that he was becoming aware that that answer was not going to be tolerated for much longer -- but this wasn’t going to stop him from putting this young Japanese woman in her place.
          But once more, Isamu simply gave him a long look, long enough for the rest of the students to turn their attention back to him, then ordered, “Hibiki, you will be permitted to be her next opponent, so that you may illustrate the point of today’s lesson.  Get armored up.  Nash, Bug, help him.”
          The lips of the late-twenties human tightened slightly; Suki could see the corners of his mouth turn upwards just a touch as he bowed.  “Yes, sensei!”  Surging to his feet, he stepped back out of his line and headed towards the alcove where the bogu were kept, even as the two other students named bowed, rose, and followed to help.
          She made a mental point to ensure he would regret that arrogant enthusiasm tomorrow.
          “Anyone else?”  Isamu looked at the rest of the students, waiting for a moment as nobody volunteered a thought before singling out the girl who had spoken before.  “Kira.  What do you think?  Was she distracted?  Holding back?”
          The girl hesitated, then gave a credible bow.  “Holding back, sensei.  I don’t think she was distracted, this time.”  She eyed Suki warily; the Japanese woman’s lips flowed into a full smile, and she gave the girl a respectful bow of her head in reward and recognition for her perceptiveness.
          “Very good.  Suki!”
          She bowed again, though not so low this time.  “Yes, Isamu-sensei.”
          “Were you holding back?”
          “Yes, Isamu-sensei.”
          “And were you distracted?”
          “Not as such, Isamu-sensei.”
          Isamu gave a snort of amusement, then turned back to his students.  “Distraction is death.  Within these walls, where we pursue the philosophy and pure art of the sword, distraction is death to the growth of learning and comprehension, to the growth of your art with the blade.  Outside the walls, distraction may well be death to you.  Remaining aware even while you are distracted is something to be assiduously studied.  A point in favor of this: Suki.”
          “Yes, Isamu-sensei.”
          “Again.  Cleanly, this time.”
          “Yes, Isamu-sensei.”
          She rose, assuming position opposite him, and settled for the third time into low guard.  This time both her hands gripped the hilt of her bokken with the slight differences that made right from wrong; Isamu again assumed high guard.
          With a shouted kiai, he sprang forward, sword sweeping down from jodan no kame in a fierce cut to the head; this time, her deflection was accompanied by a bare puff of breath, a light tap of her blade guiding his to the side as she paced backwards, the legs of her hakama rippling, ready for his follow-up -- which this time came at speed much faster than the first two.


          The block she committed the third time was still low; it remained the block necessary to conclude the exercise pattern.  Again, Isamu’s wrists flexed, sliding his blade over the block and bringing it to touch her throat, freezing into the tableau once more before the two separated, straightened, and exchanged bows.  The entire sequence had taken half the time of the others.
          “Thank you, Suki.  For the benefit of my students; the first time, were your errors intentional?”
          She smiled.  “Yes, Isamu-sensei.  If I may?” she added, with a slight sideways nod of her head towards the two rows of students; he gestured for her to speak, stepping back in his turn into waiting in seiza.  Turning to face the threescore, she let her gaze draw over the assembled students, knowing that Isamu’s most advanced ones were not among their company.  “Isamu-sensei and I agreed that I would commit errors, many of which were seen by the advanced students here.  The two errors that were the basis for the others, however, were discovered by this young woman.”
          “Kira.”  She again gave a head-bow to the girl, who was starting to be nervous about being singled out so frequently.  “Was I holding back this time?”
          After a long moment’s hesitation, she replied in a subdued voice, “I think so …”
          Suki nodded.  “Very good.  I was.”
          This admission caused a widespread murmur of disbelief, which Suki waited through.  “Yes,” she again stated, “I was.  And this time Hibiki-sama would still have been correct; I did not have enough zanshin.  However, this lesson is on practical swordsmanship; here Mr. Hibiki comes to help me demonstrate that what does not have enough zanshin can still kill you.”  She turned towards the alcove, stepping back to take Isamu’s place while Hibiki bowed at the edge of the mat, then at the edge of the court before stepping forward and lifting his shinai into middle guard.
          “Bug,” said Isamu in a firm voice.  The student, a short ork, bowed his respect.  “Exchange their weapons.”
          His eyes wide, the ork took the bamboo sword from his fellow student and brought it to Suki, exchanging it for her wooden one and bringing the bokken back to Hibiki.  Then he and Nash settled at the prescribed safe distance from the edge.
          Hibiki, clad in full bogu armor, lifted the wooden blade above his head.  Suki readjusted her obi, having thrust the shinai through the belt, then settled her hands to either side of its knot, her hakama covering but not concealing the casual ease of her stance.
          From the side came the voice of Isamu-sensei, giving final instructions.  “This lesson is on street rules and practicalities; the foremost rule on the street is survival.  All rules of the dojo are suspended, except that you will not step outside the court line, nor push your opponent into doing so.  This match is blood and bone; it will not end until blood is drawn or bone is broken.  There will be no yield accepted.  Do you understand?”
          “Hai!!”  Hibiki, vigorous, stern, determined to give this girl a thorough thrashing, armed with the superior blade, armored.
          “Sure.”  Suki, quiet, casual, throwing her attitude down like a gauntlet, her practice weapon not even out, at her ease in her gi.
          A moment of silence.  The students watch, tense with uncertain anticipation.

A few notes on language:

Edited for clarity and story issues.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <12-01-11/0055:57>
Philippines, 2052.
2 Weeks Earlier.

          I sat uncomfortably in the midst of the rest of the team.  Have you ever been there?  The only person who doesn’t fit in?  And it isn’t like it was just that I was Japanese, and I was surrounded by Filipinos and kawaru sent to Lagu-Lagu and who’d escaped.  It wasn’t that I was human, because I wasn’t, but maybe that was a part of it; I looked it, and that lack of appearing kawaru kept me     that hellhole they sent Japanese ... metahumans ... to.
          Metahumans; I have to get used to calling them that instead of kawaru -- changed.  These days, those who get sent aren’t usually changed, they’re born that way.
          But still, I didn’t fit in.  I know you don’t know me, but think of yourself in my place -- Japanese, so human-looking for an elf that my parents were allowed to keep me and raise me and even enter me into the usual corporate school.  Shiawase, Shiawase, our family, our home ... I still sing it under my breath when I brush my teeth.  It was my life until only months before, when … well.
          Best not to dwell on the past, right?
          Where was I?  Oh yes -- Mahirap’s team.  Mahirap, dwarf, hard and stolid, patient as the stones, with ruthless violence in every fiber of his being.  Lawin, his spotter, flying his trucks and bikes and drones just like the hawk the ork was named after.  Pating, so quiet, never saying anything but what is to the point, and smiling, always smiling, ever more viciously in the middle of a fight.  Palakol, almost the Shark shaman’s polar opposite, a Japanese troll as kind and gentle as you could believe of any born healer -- but you didn’t want her irate at you, otherwise the Shinto non-priestess mage would unlimber the naginata they named her for, calling it an axe.
          Suno and Yelo, fire and ice, ork and human, sister and brother -- twins.  She a decker and the team’s demolition girl, liable to go off about the Japanese, the corporations, rape of the countryside, toxic shamans, or the elven conspiracy; he an experimental subject of the corporations, detached, twitchy, by need extraordinarily self-controlled and fulfilling the ‘street samurai’ archetype by always limiting approaches to himself.  Aswang ... ork, adept, powerful, magnetic.  A predator as much as Pating, he had a quiet intensity that frightened me.  For many reasons.  And me ...
          Well, you know me.
          But do you see what I mean?  I’d gotten Riian back from her babysitter -- Suno and Yelo’s sister -- and was feeding her, and, well, that wasn’t going over well with anyone but Lawin and Aswang.  (Should have expected that.)  Mahirap was, I don’t know, still ... simmering.  You know how people are when they’re sitting there getting upset at you, just watching you, and you’re waiting for them to go off?  Maybe for you it’s your boss.  Or your boyfriend.  Or your husband, or parent, somebody who has an enormous influence on your life.  And he’s just staring at me, hard, just like his name.  And Riian’s nursing, and ... I’ve never been comfortable at interviews, on either side.  And this one was ... well, hostile.  So finally he speaks, and it's like an earthquake, shaking up my world.  Again.
          "Take your pick, Talim.  Gun or guy."  It wasn't like that in Tagalog, but it's as close as I can come in English, and my Tagalog is -- well, was at the time -- very academic.
          I couldn't make up my mind, but I guess my body decided for me, because I pulled out one of my pistols out of my shoulder holsters and placed it on the coffee table in front of me.  "It's a Springfield design," I said quietly after staring at the gun for a minute, just like the rest of the team was.  "All of it.  Most of the weapon itself is what they called a squashed composite, a carbon-fiber weave fused into an aluminoceramic, invisible to MAD detectors, incredibly durable, usable in extreme combat conditions -- as a hand-to-hand weapon, too.  Slim profile, silenced -- virtually no recoil, even with the special rounds.  Rangefinding smartlink, but it was upgraded ... a couple months before I left, with a lockout function.  Eighteen plus one rounds of ten millimeter caseless.
          "The bullets I have for it are made of the same stuff as the weapon -- excellent armor penetration, even vehicular.  They're very good at, um, what we called 'pest removal' -- killing drones."  I glanced at Lawin a little guiltily.  "Sorry."
          He waved it away, looking amused at my discomfort.  "As long as we're on the same side, Talim, you don't have to worry about that, right?"
          I didn't miss his use of the word 'you'.  I shifted a little, still nervous, looking back at Mahirap.  "I don't like using them, though.  They have too much penetration, and the shoot-through danger is very high.  I tend to use, er, chemical rounds.  DMSO and, um, a fast-acting paralytic." 
          Lawin started to laugh, while Suno groaned her contempt.  "Come on, little girl, we're not going out to play patty-cake with people.  If we sneak, oh, that's dandy, but when it comes down to the knife's edge, you have to hit fast and you have to hit hard."
          "Oh, now, that's not true, Suno --"
          "Don't you start on me, Palakol --"
          "Hey, at least she has options --"  (That was Lawin.)
          "Shut up."  Mahirap stared at me for a long minute that felt like a year while I calmed Riian down, then he glanced at smiling Pating.  He gestured with his chin towards the shaman.  Of course; Pating, even more than Aswang or Yelo or even Mahirap himself, was all about efficiency in a fight.
          "How fast is this chemical?"
          I hesitated, trying to remember the specs.  "Two, two and a half seconds?" I said, uncertainty in my voice.  (I'm still ashamed of that.)  "Sometimes a little faster, rarely a little slower.  I've heard of some people that are immune, but ..."  I gave a little shrug.  "I've never met any.  And ..."  I inhaled slowly, not wanting to disturb Riian and said, "It doesn't exactly shoot through armor, but at firearm speeds the liquid will go right through ballistic cloth and make contact with the skin.  Impact-resistant shells are a little better, but the smartlink helps to shoot for their edges; even a quarter-dose is enough to take down, well ..." I gestured at Palakol's massive size, big even for a troll.
          Pating kept staring at me for a moment, then turned his even-wider grin on Mahirap.  "I like.  Where can I get some?"
          The dwarf snorted, still watching me and my infant.  (I sure hope adrenaline doesn't get into breast milk.)  "Did you bring enough for everyone?" he asked, then waved away what I was going to say even as I opened up my mouth.  I'm glad he did; I, um, I wasn't sure what ... I hope he was talking about bullets.
          I'm blushing just thinking about that.
          "The Seco?" Mahirap asked.
          "Decoy, sir.  Nobody would walk around unarmed, so ..."
          "Where'd they come from?"  Yelo, clinically curious.
          "I used to work for Shiawase," I said, trying to stay vague.
          "Oh, the 'let the power plant nuke the countryside until it glows, then use the radiation-poisoned everything to power the plant' people?"  I can't say I didn't flinch just a little from Suno's vituperation.  "Or is it the 'build a mobile underwater mining platform and dump the heavy-metal spoil behind us so that it kills all the fish' people?  Or maybe the --"  She shut up with a 'bah!' and a spit to the side when Yelo reached out to touch his twin's arm.
          "What part?" asked Yelo, cool.
          Again I hesitated, glancing around at the rest of the people; Mahirap sitting in judgement, Palakol carefully winding up a gauze bandaging roll, Pating watching me with a grin like he'd eat me if I gave the wrong answer.  Aswang glanced away from the alley down the hall to look over at me, and the look in his expression was ... I don't know if I can explain it right.  Neutral supportive?  He looked interested in the answer, but not like whatever I'd say would cause him to tear out my throat right then and there, you know?  Like it mattered, but it didn't matter.  It was just a point of information.
          "Personnel protective services," I told him, even though he was back to keeping watch, looking down the hall and out at the rag-football game two dozen grimy kids were playing.  "So far as I know, they're the only ones the gun is given to; Springfield is a wholly-owned subsidiary, and all the parts and techniques were developed in-house.  I was assigned to Hitomi Shiawase.  For two years.  She's a good little girl," I added, looking over at Suno with, I guess, a certain amount of defiance, "no matter what Sadato-san or Tadeshi-san or the rest of her family do.  She's only eight."
          "You don't strike me as a bodyguard," Palakol mused, tucking the end of the bandage into the wrap, then carefully inserting it into its place in her medkit.
          "Tend to be big and bulky," Lawin agreed.
          "Bullet magnets," noted Pating.
          "Sniper bait," suggested Lawin.
          "Target practice," offered Pating.
          "Trolls.  No offense, Pala," added Lawin.
          "None taken," the healer replied with equanimity.  "Many of them are.  Well?"  She looked at me over the woefully tiny glasses she had to use for close work; far-sighted, which is okay for a mage, bad for a healer, and fixable anywhere but in the middle of this sort of poverty.
          "Sadato-san wanted someone who blended in," I admitted.  "And someone who could get her away from trouble, not wipe trouble out."
          "Which is where you saw this bodyguard of Ginoo Salaysay's?" asked Mahirap, moving me to the next point.
I couldn't help it; I bowed, or as much as you can when you're nursing a three-month-old.  "No, sir."  (A snort from Suno.)  "I recognize him from before my training."  Mahirap made the universal finger-rolling-forward gesture for 'keep it rolling, keep it moving, keep talking', so I did.
          "I was in the Shiawase Junior Athletic Championships when I was fourteen -- kendo.  All the sports had guest star judges for the final rounds; usually they did some sort of exhibition before the final contests.  Mine was Senior Lieutenant Hattori Takezo -- he'd been four-time Inter-Corporate Junior Athletic kendo champion, went into Tsunami's OCS right out of secondary school.  I was amazed at his skill when he performed his katas; every one of us in the competition was.
          "That was him, at the meet.  The bodyguard.  By his shoulder flash, he's made Major.  He's probably commander of the mercenary team we've been hired to assist."
          After a thoughtful silence, Aswang asked, "Do you think he recognized you?"
          "I don't know," I admitted.  "I came in third that year.  He wasn't a judge the year after, and then I was assigned to personnel protective services, which made me ineligible to participate.  It's been almost a decade."
          "Must have made quite the impression on you, then," suggested Palakol.
          "Yes, ma'am."  I blushed.  "He was handsome and very skilled, I was young and impressionable and wanting to get that good."
          "How good are you then, huh, swooner?"  Suno never gave anyone a break, I swear.
          "I was awarded my second-degree black belt, Nidan, before I entered PPS.  It was indicated by my instructors upon graduation that though I might want to continue, my technique may have suffered due to my other training -- that I wouldn't be able to restrain myself to pure kendo form.  So I never tested for a higher degree."
          "Doesn't answer the question, girlie."
          I looked up at her with fire in my heart and ice in my eyes.  "Right now, the only reason you are not unconscious or dead for your kawalang-hiyaan is because I respect Mahirap for taking me on.  Only your brother is faster than I am, and surprise counts for much."
          Silence reigned throughout the room, during which I carefully buttoned myself up, shifting Riian to lay on top of the blanket and over my shoulder while I started to gently pat her back.  I didn't want to dry up on Riian, but I also didn't have time to find the medication that would make me do so. I was going to have to leave her here, which meant my breasts were going to fill up ... the next weeks were going to be intensely painful for me.
          I wasn't looking forward to it.

Talim says Suno's treatment is 'kawalang-hiyaan'.  This translates to 'hooliganism', which is the sort of thing you'd expect from someone who learned a translation program  ... and just exactly what I got when I tried to translate 'invective'.

Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <12-21-11/0251:18>
Seattle, 2073.
Three Weeks Ago.

          Hello again.
          Every once in a while I wonder who you are, watching me, listening to me, being me.  Not later on, when this gets fed through somebody and turned into a recording and released six or twelve or eighteen months down the road; now.  Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes, I've heard the rumors.  Right now, right now, someone -- maybe a few someones, maybe several, maybe many someones -- is hooked up to ego-submersion drugs, receiving the feed coming from my implant.  For the tech-heads among you, let me access ...
          Commlink Evo Tesla, running Xiao Technologies Bù Shào OS v. 7.12.13 beta.  Simsense recording interface gear Yamatetsu Productions/Xiao Technologies YouRThere 2.62 delta, transmitting raw ASIST wet record to node *******-******.*****.
          There.  Sorry about that last; classified.  I don't even know where this goes.
          I guess it goes to you.
          Sometimes I imagine there being hundreds of you, each of you resting in custom-made recliner-beds and living vicariously through me, all of you fabulously wealthy and paying hand over fist for the privilege of being me, live and in person and in real-time -- or at least live, in-person, and real-time as it's technologically possible to be.  Sometimes I think maybe there's only two or five, an intense ad agent along with a crazed screen writer or three, and when I'm asleep for my three hours you come suddenly awake, yammering at each other in an orgy of crazy-hair-tearing creativity until spikes in my alpha waves trigger the receiving system into sending you back unconscious, to go back to receiving my transmissions..
          Sometimes I wish there wasn't anybody at all, because I know that when I receive that call, it means there's no privacy any more.
          Odd, the things you remember when you're waiting for someone to attack you.  Aswang once mentioned that I was as much of a combat monster as Pating, that when I got into it, I was into it until I was down, or all of them were.  I suppose I was.  I suppose I still am.  I think that maybe it comes from what Musashi-sensei called 'resolute acceptance of death' -- that as one enters battle, one accepts that the result may be, will be, your own death or the death of your opponent.  Killing a stranger is not a natural or easy thing for a human to do; like the man said, nations and megacorporations spend weeks upon weeks training perfectly normal human beings to learn how to do this without first getting angry or frightened. 
          Maybe it's just competitiveness.
          I speak, half to Hibiki, half to the other students, half to you out there.  "In a street fight, there are no judges to decide whether your opponent does not get a point because he did not have enough zanshin.  The street's rules are direct and brutal, and there is no appeal.  You win, or you are lying in the gutter.  Dead, dying, surviving if you're lucky."
          But anyhow.  You can see him, can't you?  You should be able to, you who can see what I'm seeing.  That little shift in his attention, even though we can't see his face beneath the kendo mask, the adjustment from 'she should attack' to 'I'm going to kick her ass.'  Time for the first lesson for Hibiki-.  And for the rest of the class.
          Hibiki is starting to move, coming down at me from that ridiculous jodan no kame stance.  For his sake, for Isamu's sake, I hope he never assumes that in a street fight.  He seems to be moving so slowly, but I know it's just the power flowing through my veins, through my nerves.  Yes, my nerves; belly a little weak, my heart rate is up.  Breath rate, too.  Fear, that's what that is, fear and adrenaline.
          I'm almost always scared during combat.
          Does that surprise you?  It shouldn't.  Any human being, every human being, should be scared when their life is on the line.  Even with all my training, all my meditation, the times I am calm during combat are very, very specific.  Whether unarmed or with a firearm in my hands, my heart rate goes up as the adrenaline and the 'fight or flight' (or fornicate, but nobody mentions that around the kids) instinct makes every one of my muscles quiver ever-so-slightly.  In most circumstances, for me it never really goes away.
          My right forearm comes up and across to catch his in a block, because my feet have taken a quick pair of steps, left-right.  It's harder to do this against a long blade than against a knife; to strike with a knife, you're already inside arm's reach.  I move faster than he suspected, maybe because he was busy when Isamu and I went at our own workout speed.  I'm even faster than this, but for his sake I rein myself in.
          Forearms press before he's gone more than five inches, before his movement really has any amount of momentum, and the movement stops him in his tracks for a fraction of a second, too short for him to think about doing anything, because the next thing that happens is that my left palm ascends into his elbow at the same time that my right arm slides to my right.  My right catches the back of his wrist and pulls downward, while my left continues to push up on his elbow.
          The way the metahuman arm is built, and the way its muscles are connected, means that he can't strength his way out of this maneuver; all of my upper body is behind this, and unfortunately for him, what momentum he has in the rest of his body wants this to happen too.  With his wrist now all but locked in my right hand -- he still has both his hands on his bokken, that's good, let's see if he keeps it -- I step in with my left foot and pivot upon it, sweeping the mat with the bottom of my right foot.  His wrist comes with me, and because of the way my left hand is locking his elbow, his entire body's momentum comes around with me, left hand releasing the bokken in an instinctive attempt to keep his balance.  Good; it'd get messy otherwise.
          Aikido in motion (lowering my arms to bring Hibiki down to the mat, as gentle as I can) is all about circular movement.  Even its straight lines (bending my left knee, Hibiki thumping not-so-gently onto his belly, left arm slapping at the mat to rob the movement of its energy) have circular-ness about them, curving out of the way and then continuing the curve with the opponent drawn into its embrace.  I don't know if Hibiki (my thumb sliding onto the back of his hand, the bone that leads to his smallest finger now controlling his hand, arm, entire body) has studied O-Sensei's teachings; I doubt it.
          I take the bokken from him with my left hand, my thumb's pressure on his right hand opening up his fingers.  A bit more twist, his palm now virtually parallel to the floor; he cannot move without popping something painfully out of joint, and he knows it.
          I turn to my audience.  Not you, whomever you are; Isamu's students.  Kira in particular, but all of them as well.  "Never underestimate your opponent.  You may surprise him," Hibiki pats the mat twice, tapping out, and I release him, taking several smooth steps away (I love how fluid I can move; sometimes it's a joy just to walk and feel my limbs move) while I talk, because this is street rules, and what I know and Hibiki might eventually appreciate is that on the street, the only rule is 'Survive', "but you cannot count on that, or on being better, or on not being surprised in your turn."  I keep Hibiki in the corner of my eye as he climbs to his feet and turns towards me.  "As much attention as you can spare should be for your opponent."  I throw the bokken towards my faceless opponent, who reaches out to catch it.
          Even planning to do this, my heart triphammers in adrenaline panic.  See how everything slows down for us?  Adept reflexes, moving us faster than the bokken flies through the air.  I don't often commit myself to ki shouts, but digging my left foot in behind the line of his feet so that I can bring my left hand behind the level of his shoulders and twist my torso -- "Hhaa!!" -- while striking his do over his belly requires the exclamation, just to twist all my body's momentum together and channel it into the palm strike.  I am not much stronger than many men, but momentum counts for much, and technique for more.
          The way his unbalanced body lets his hips kick backwards and upwards in reaction to the palm strike, my momentum becoming his, is exceedingly gratifying.  My Arnis instructor would have grunted and said something about my form, but Hibiki is practically flying back into my left hand, which I keep as solid as I can, deflecting his upper body downwards while his hips and legs keep going.  He again lands on his belly on the mat, this time sliding several feet while the bokken slaps into my left hand.
          "Never give your opponent a moment's rest."  I glance sideways at Hibiki who, though armored, has had the wind punched out of him; he's recovering his breath.  "Take advantage of every break, no matter how temporary," I add to the class as I walk over Hibiki, letting the hands-smoothed wood of the bokken slide into position in my palm.  You -- not the class, not Isamu over there, but you, you whomever you are, hearing me think, feeling me breathe and move and calm down -- you can feel my heart slow down as the practice blade eases into my hand.
          I love the sword.  Everything becomes so simple.  There is the edge, and there is everything else.
          Stepping next to Hibiki, I lay the last several inches against the back of his neck; he knows, and I know, and everyone in the class knows that he's dead.  "Never give him a break.."  I smile, and lay the bokken next to him, turn my back on him, and walk away.  "Never turn your back upon your opponent."
          I speak, but all my attention is on the momentarily-humiliated young man behind me.  I can hear his hands and his sandals against the mat.  "Never take your attention away from him," I counsel the students, looking directly at Kira, feeling my heart rate more than double in those few seconds.
          Hibiki lunges, committing himself to follow the point of his weapon; I side-step, turn, grab the back of his hand as he's lunging past.  Pressure against his thumb rolls the sensitive part of its joint against the hard wood of the bokken, and in an instinctive attempt to escape the excruciating pain, he collapses to the floor.
          Doesn't that feel great?  This guy has been irritating me since I walked in...
          But I'm playing with him.  Like his 'death', everyone knows it -- now, anyhow.  It's ... well, my Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū kenjutsu sensei would be very disappointed in me right now.  I can easily imagine that Isamu is.  As for me, well -- I'm sure you can feel that, too.
          Sometimes I hate this thing in my head.
          My thoughts should be my own.
          So should my shame.
          I help Hibiki up, and hand him the bokken, taking half a dozen steps back.  "Most important of all, respect your opponent."  I bow, keeping my eyes upon him.
          "Respect his skills."  The shinai slides out of my sash, lifted in middle guard, tip pointed at his face; my left foot moves backwards to test one position; you and I both feel my uneasiness with it, so I adjust it several millimeters forward, tightening the angle.
          "Do him the honor of taking him seriously."  My breathing slows with the feel of a blade in my hands, even this bamboo-strap imitation.
          "Do not play with him."  Hibiki mirrors my stance, then shifts warily into high stance.
          "Finish him as quickly as possible."  I take a sliding half-step back, shinai easing down into an underhand low retiring guard.  I can feel his gaze shift over me to try to figure out what I'm doing, and to be honest, I'm playing out my favorite scene from my favorite movie, and from the blockbuster simsense version that helped launch Nicky Saitoh to stardom.  If you've seen it, you know what I'm doing; I know Isamu recognizes it.
          Besides, Kyūzō was always my favorite of the Seven Samurai.
          With a shout, Hibiki surges forward, sweeping his sword down hard and fast; unlike the movie, Hibiki's goal is to crack my collarbone, so my stroke needs to be perfect.
          It is.  Time slows down, the blade is in my hand, everything is clear and precise, my opponent and I a unity of intention and movement.
          There's an underground document out there -- I got it from the friend of a friend, never mind how -- in which a man claims that in a fight between an adept who focuses with the intentions of a warrior, and one who focuses with the intentions of an athlete, the warrior adept will be the one walking away.  That may be true in his experience, and to a certain extent, it's true in mine; most athletes compete, they do not make war.
          This is not true of me, nor of any athlete within the schools in which I studied.
          Acceptance of death, your own or your opponent's, does not make you a Warrior, any more than running in a footrace makes you an Athlete.  A Warrior seeks to triumph over his opponent; an Athlete seeks to triumph over herself.  The Warrior seeks vindication of his skills outside himself; an Athlete seeks purification of them within herself.  As an Athlete, I am a harsher taskmaster by far than any Warrior who seeks my blood.
          As my bamboo blade describes an arc, my left foot retreats from lead to rear; the point of Hibiki's aim is now two feet further back, stealing the power from his blow. My stroke requires a fillip, and here you can feel how my wrists and arms snap to the side as the bokken comes to rest on my shoulder as Hibiki reaches full extension.  The snap creates a wave in the flexible shinai,a wave that the bokken could not duplicate; however, you and I watch how this flexiblity causes the tip to slide under the shoulder-protecting flaps of the men, tracing the gap between that helmet and the body-protecting do, to impact with precise force against my opponent's clavicle.  The leather saki-gawa applies in the strike well over the five percent of his weight of directed force necessary to break the bone, clean and precise.  I've had that bone broken myself, so what's going to come next may be a surprise to you at home, but it's none to me.
          Hibiki screams in pain.
          I catch him and his bokken before either hit the ground, easing both gently down to the mat.  Looking at the class, marking each face and their reaction to the speed of the strike, the debilitating break, the painful lesson inflicted upon one of their number of which they will be reminded every time Hibiki comes to class, I offer one last piece of advice.
          "Show mercy if you can."
          A Warrior could walk away.  An Athlete would not.
          Isamu claps twice, ending the bout.  "Bug.  Nash.  Help him to the benches.  Suki ..."
          "Already dialed."
          "911, what is your emergency?"

A few notes on language:
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <12-21-11/0308:02>
Sorry -- had to edit something.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <01-01-12/0816:14>
Philippines, 2052.

          For a moment, he stared hard at the magazine of half-inch-thick bullets, willing them to react as though he'd banged it on a hard surface.  Normally he would have, the floor or the parapet or the Picatinny rail if nothing else presented itself, but in the middle of the jungle, while in position to do bad things to good people (or at least good enough people), he couldn't bang it on anything.  It'd disturb the wildlife.  Disturbing the wildlife would alert the good-enough people he was about to put .50 Browning Machine Gun rounds through.  For him, at least, that would be bad.  He fought against his natural inclination, willed the springs internal to the thing to be working properly, and snapped the ten-round box magazine into its receiver.  He'd already chambered an individual round from the rucksack of reloads laying between him and his spotter, so the urge to rack the bolt to chamber a round had to be fought, too.
          Successful at both, Mahirap eased back off the sight-line to the camp, drawing the ghillie shroud away from his face as he waited for the main team to call for their readiness.  Taking a sip from the tube leading to the electrolyte-rich sport-drink-filled Hump, he settled a bit more comfortably, watching Lawin visually scout out the village / camp on the other side of the hump.  "So.  The new girl.".
          There was silence from Lawin for a long moment before the ork eased back down as well, bringing his binoculars with him.  "Talim?  Good kid.  Intense but controlled.  Ready to learn; you can tell she'll do what she has to in order to survive."  He closely inspected his eyepieces for a moment, then glanced up at Mahirap.  "You're going to have to tell Suno to cut her some slack."
          Mahirap let his head settle back against the thin jungle duff, looking up at the leaves and brances fifty feet above him.  "Suno's never cut anyone any slack in her life, maybe excluding her brother.  I've never told her to, and I'm not about to start."
          "You've told her to back off before."
          "I've told her to shut up before; completely different.  Only person who can get her to stop when she starts going off is Yelo, and you know it."
          Lawin gave a noncommital 'mmm' and, after looking slowly around, went back to looking down into the camp.  After several minutes of silence, he volunteered, "You should teach her."
          "Teach who her?  Suno?"
          "Teach her what?"  The dwarf craned his neck back, trying to see the ork's face. "Sniping?"
          "That too, but ... planning.  Thinking about the entire thing, the way you do.  Everyone's abilities, everyone's positions, how things work together and play off each other."  He leaned back, adjusted the after-market polarization caps, then went back to watching.  "Thinking as far ahead as possible, planning on what to do at every step if you can, thinking of what can go wrong, what can go weird, what can go psycho on us, even if you don't tell us."
          Mahirap looked around at their hide, then went back to looking at the canopy above him.  "She's afraid of me."
          "She'll get over it."
          "She thinks I hate her."
          "She'll get over that, too."
          "I'd have to be twice as hard on her."
          "You remember Balitang?"
          Frowning, the dwarf rolled his head, to find Lawin looking at him and waiting.  Sometimes that was the problem with Lawin, he could be so goddamn patient.  Returning his attention to the leaves above, he hunted through his memory.  Balitang, Balitang ... "Ork, maybe sixteen, spoke with a lisp?"
          "No, that was Talino.  Named himself that, stupidest thing I ever heard and I told him so."
          "Whatever happened to him?"
          "'Bout six months ago, he got mouthy with one of the Kapunín."
          "Oh, shit.  Did he survive?"
          "What do you think?"
          "I think if you enrage an always-pissed-off troll, they're gonna be playing football with your head."
          "Got it in one.  I helped with the grave.  Balitang."  Lawin had a way of letting things go only so far off-point; one of the reasons for his nickname was the focus he brought to the team.
          Mahirap growled, but dove back into his memory.  A few long moments later, he had to abort a move to sit upright.  "Balitang.  Dwarf.  Intense little bastard, twisted around when he walked.  Had to use crutches most of the time.  Too charming for his own damn good, twice as smart as he was charming.  He'd talk to anyone, and anyone would talk to him."
          Lawin went back to observing the 'firebase'.  "Two tries, not bad.  Scoliosis, it's called."
          "What are you, studying to be a doctor, now?"
          "I got curious after you took him under your wing, asked Palakol.  You remember how you were with him?"  Mahirap frowned, doing just that.  Lawin gave him only a moment, and didn't let up.  "You drilled that poor kid into the ground.  Didn't mean a thing to you that the furthest he could walk without grabbing on to something to keep from falling over was three steps, did it?  You drove that kid harder than anybody I've ever seen."
          The sniper pressed his lips into a tight line.  "He was good.  He saw all the angles."
          "He had to see all the angles, all the time.  It was that or curl up and die.  But he didn't get all of that on his own, and you know it."  The rigger eased back once again, taking a sip from his own Hump.  "He had potential, and you saw it.  He was a dwarf, and you wanted to make sure he'd have a chance.  So you nurtured that potential.  What did he do, every time you hammered on him for missing something?"
          Mahirap grunted.  "Hunted for more angles."
          Lawin knew when to let the rabbit struggle itself the rest of the way dead; he remained silent, instead reaching for the AK-86 carbine he'd lent to his team leader on the night of the meet, removing its magazine and checking it over yet again.
          "You think she has Balitang's potential?"
          "I think she could be twice as good as Balitang will ever be."
          "Explain the logic behind that conclusion, please.  That's a ballsy claim."
          Carefully pulling the AK's charging handle back and letting the loose round drop into his lap, he slowly worked the action several times, making sure the old weapon moved smoothly.  "Because she's already almost where he was when he went underground with the Huk.  I watched her at the planning meetings; she doesn't have as much control over her face as she'd probably like to admit.  You could watch her thinking, wondering why you were making this suggestion or that to that bastard Takezo.  She'd get it, after a little bit, maybe eighty percent of the time."
          Mahirap watched him as he put the loose round back into the magazine, then locked it up and charged the weapon -- again, as quiet as possible.  "You want me to train my competition.  Or my replacement."
          "I want you to try to bring the best out of your team, Omar.  The way you always have."
          He sighed.  "I don't like her, Raffi."
          Lawin started laughing, very quietly, as he rolled onto his belly and returned to watching the firebase.  "You don't like the fact that a nursing mother is on your team.  Bet you're wondering about what she's like in bed."
          "Not my type.  And don't lay on my doorstep what keeps getting you hard.  You and Aswang, I swear.  Can't let a good pair of tits go by without staring."
          "Comes from having competition for your mother's milk.  Haven't met an ork that didn't get fixated on breasts, one way or another."  He paused, then with a sly grin, added, "Suno's been looking, too."
          "Oh, you gotta be kidding me."  Mahirap joined in with his friend's almost silent laughter.  "I gotta kick all you ork assholes out, just so downtime doesn't turn into an orgy."
          "Hey, have you ever seen Suno get so pissy with someone so fast?  Repressed lust."  That brought a new wave of laughter from both of them, virtually silent but no less tension-relieving for it.


          "T minus five.  Main ops on final approach.  Support ops confirm.  Over."
          "Nip bastard."  Lawin lowered his head slightly, moving the hand-held corded to his support unit upwards towards his lips.  "Support op one in place, awaiting engagement.  Over."  The unit gave a little chuckle as it spat its package off.
          "Support op two.  In place, awaiting engagement.  Over."  Talim and Aswang, watching the back door, not quite opposite Lawin and Mahirap's over-watching position.  On the grid-reference they'd overlaid onto the map of the village, Talim and Aswang were watching the small gate at A-1, with Lawin and Mahirap another hundred fifty, two hundred meters off from I-7.  The ridgelines linked up maybe three hundred meters beyond I-1.
          "Support op three.  In place, awaiting engagement.  Over."  Suno and Yelo, closer off of I-2, , watching a well-used trail Lawin had spotted off the satellite recce.  The road entered the firebase -  camp - village at C-7 and D-7.  Though Lawin couldn't see it from where he was, the coordination technology and the sounds rising through the jungle gave him enough information for him to imagine it pretty well -- the trucks snorting up the road, the one dying, the other two growling ahead at full speed.
          With the surplus military binoculars all but glued to his face, he had a box-seats show to the destruction of the gate.  Already, though, he was scouting through the responders, hunting for targets for Mahirap to service.
          "B-5, male human, no weapon."  They'd practiced in Alfonso Castañeda and in camp at night on a large-scale map, and most of the day on the actual base until the dwarf was shifting his weapon towards the sector before even getting complete target information.
          The thunder of the Barret M82A3 was unmistakable, WHAM, but down in the village it was probably lost in the storm of gunfire.  The smack of the air coming from the muzzle brake was like a firm slap in the face, but Lawin was used to it; a third of a second later, the man -- mage, from what he had figured, what he had seen -- went tumbling, backwards into the ground, as the .50 BMG round violently dumped its energy into his body.  Lawin only watched long enough to see the start of that particular movement, and went scanning for more mages.
          "F-4, female ork, no weapon."
          "D-1, female human, pistol."
          "C -- holy shit, is that --"
          Mahirap triggered his mike with a twitch of his head.  "Talim, what the hell are you doing?!? Over!!"
          "Lawin, do your fucking job!!"
          "Ah, shit, uh -- G-5, male human, AK!"
          "Taking the opposition from behind, sir.  And prisoners.  Over."
          "F-6, male troll, machine gun!"
          "Get your ass back behind that gate!!  Over!!"
          "C-3, female elf, staff!!"
          "Negative, sir, over."
          "B-5, male human, no weapon!"
          "Shit!!  Shit shit -- Suno, Yelo, get your asses in there, back that crazy-ass bitch up!!  Over!!"
          "D-1, female human, no weapon!!"
          "Wait, did you --"
          "On our way, over!!"
          "What the -- fuck it!!"
          "See if she gets up from two!! Reload!!"
          "You shot her once already!!"
          "I know, what the fuck?!?"
          "Ops teams, be advised shapeshifters are present!! Comm, relay all sets to broadcast in the clear!! Over!!"
          "No shit!!"
          "Fuck, where did it --"
          "All units, Zetsumetsu Protocol is in effect!!"
          "My leg, it tore up my leg --"
          "Jiro's hit!!"
          "D-4, leopard!"
          "I don't want to die, I don't want --"
          "Asahi, punch through that gap!!"
          "Bet that keeps the bastard down!!"
          "Seiji!!  Stay with me!!"
          "Mahirap!!  Mahirap, Pating is losing it!!"
          "H-3, leopard!"
          "Whack him on the head if you have to, Palakol!!"
          "I don't want to --"
          "He's faced off with one of their mages, and I can't get to him!!"
          "Man your post, you troll bitch!!"
          "Kagi, pull back!!"
          "Lawin, find me that --"
          "E-5, male human, unarmed!!"
          "Regenerate from that!!"
          "Mahirap, that wasn't him!!  I don't --"
          "WHAT THE FU --"
          A cataclysm from the village as the reactions of a dozen and more trained mercenaries reached, pulled, and threw, all in the space of a second and a half.
          WHAM.  WHAM.  WHAM.  WHAM.
          "Reload!!  Find that fucking mage!!"
          "No damage!!"
          "Regenerate THIS you -- die!  Die!  Die!  Die!"
          "I know, goddammit!!  Find the mage controlling that thing!!"
          "Yamato, lay fire on that blockhouse!!"
          "Pating!!  Pating, no, you're burning yourself --"
          "--  Die!  Die!  Die!! DIE!!! DIE!!! DIE!!!"
          "Kill it, oh please Kannon have mercy --"
          "Yoshi, can you --"
          "G-2, male ork!!  Fuck, he's shifting!!"
          "Shitfuck!!  Where'd he go??  Did I get him?!?"
          "I have him!"
          "Yoshi, get on that spirit --"
          "Fast-acting paralytic, sir!"
          "Mahirap, look at her wake!!"
          "PATING, NO!!!"
          "It's toxic, Major, I can't --"
          "Palakol!!  G-1, sniper!!  Palakol, is Pating --"
          "He's dead, Lawin!!  He burned himself out!! He kept overcasting --"
          "Shit!!  Suno, Yelo, you're on Palakol!!"
          "On it!!"
          "Roast the fucking thing, Yoshi, or I swear --"
          "Tōkyō, displace right!!"
          "Wha -- where'd it go?!?"
          "A-3, leopard!!"
          "Fuck!!  Where does that --"
          "Yoshi, good job!!"
          "Major, I didn't --"
          "A-1!!  Back gate!!"
          "Palakol, Kagi team needs you now!!"
          "Talim, Aswang, get that fucker!!"
          "I'm coming, I'm coming!!"
          "Holy shit, that girl can move!"
          "Lawin, find me --"
          "Asahi, covering fire!!"
          "Watch it!!"
          "H-1, gunner in good shot Aswang! G-1, doorway shotgun!!"
          "Mahirap, there's nobody here!!"
          "Lawin, you didn't --"
          "Hey, where'd they --"
          "Yamato, cease fire, cease fire!!"
          "I wasn't -- wait a minute."
          "All units, cease fire!!"
          "Cease fire, cease fire!!"
          Silence, falling nervously.
          "Where'd they all go?!?"

A few notes on language:

Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: Deepeyes on <01-19-12/1644:54>
... can't... stop... reading....

Oh wait... I'm done!! :'(

Hope there's more!! :D
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <03-29-12/2155:59>
Seattle, 2073.
Three Weeks Ago.

          She placed her first call while still racing along 520 eastbound on her Honda Vector motorcycle, approaching the aging six-lane New Rosellini Bridge.  Political and economic AR tags arguing over the cost and usefulness of the proposed replacement fought for attention from her public commlink; she'd forgotten the other debate of this political season while she'd been mulling over the conversation she'd just had in the locker room.  She thought commands to the Tesla, which obediently moved the public comm from its active to its passive subscriber list.  Another thought sent a digital song out into the ether, receiving a reply in a matter of moments.
          The audible chaos on the other side of the call was only a fraction of the volume of what it undoubtedly actually was.  "McCarran."
          "Hey.  Busy?"  Always the first question you asked, because sometimes he was, and if he was, you hung up and called later -- or waited for him to call back if it was slow.  Suki always called later, because she knew that McCarren's job at Sea-Tac was never slow.
          "Depends on if this is business or booze," replied the ork.  To someone on the other side, he said, "No, shift the -- yeah, left.  Don't back up, just give it a shove, it'll move."  His commlink's filters kept it at an audible level for everyone involved; she could see the heavy sound-dampener muffs on several fellow workers, almost entirely orks and trolls, in the background.  Must be a brand new crew he was training; basic aural dampeners were standard implants for most ground-crew at the airport, a sign-on bonus included in their initial eighteen-month contract, put in after three months of training.
          "Business," she replied, knowing she had enough of his attention, and giving him enough of hers.  Still, discretion was the byword of the shadowrunner -- even if you were a company man.  Especially if you were a company man.  "I need movement on a package or two," she stated, leaning to the side and shooting along the flanks of a quartet of minivans.
          "When and where?" McCarran asked, direct as always.
          "Within six, maybe within two; I have an infodump I need to assimilate.  Philippines, probably Cebu City, maybe Manila.  Probably not Marawi."  Honks followed her up the road, but she was hitting the bridge itself, and mere honks would not stop her.  Nor would GridGuide's fumbling for her license; the modified spoof chip (which the designer gloatingly called a ghost chip) in the bike emitted an echo of the license of the nearest other vehicle -- so long as the chip was close enough to read that license, within a meter or so.  Perhaps it encouraged her to speed closer to traffic than was safe, but she was only metahuman, and racing through traffic was almost as thrilling as matching blades with an expert like Isamu.
          "I'll still be on in two, and I can stick around, but you'll have to exchange with Mitchell if it's more than four.  Marawi sucks.  Ship into Manila, go from there.  Not that you need to know, huh?  What you moving?"
          She gave a tight grin into her helmet and replied, "Not that you need to know, huh?  Don't know yet.  Probably the standard two-week pack, probably not the heavy pack."  The public commlink started to vibrate an out-of-lane warning as she swung out of the leftmost lane of the bridge and accelerated up the straightaway.  She ignored the warning, intentionally driving up the narrow passage between vehicles and jersey barrier, only to see blue-and-red start to reflect in the vehicles she was flashing past.  She popped her cycle's rearview sensor from 5% opacity in her AR feed to 25%.  Some badge on a bike must have seen her go past and decided to go after her.  Wasn't often she had to look in her rearview, usually people faded fast.
          "Probably two, two and a half, then; one to me or Mitchell, the rest on the other side.  HEY!!!  THIS AIN'T A RACE COURSE!!  Look, I gotta go.  Comm me back when you know for sure, huh?"
          "Yeah, I have company too.  Discomm.  Call Deckard."  The headware flickered a quick 'disconnect' image in the lower left of her visual field before the 'dialing' image started circling.  Before it made it around twice, the call was picked up on the other end.
          The police cruiser was trying to close up with her, so she goosed the Honda up towards 160 kph.  Reactive smart-tires let her tear up the two-meter-wide channel, but apparently the Knight Errant behind her was running tough too, because he kept coming.
          "Deck, I need a little help.  Got a Kee zipper on my six, getting boxed in."  At a thought, the Tesla started feeding Deckard location information; he'd immediately recognize the issues of being on the New Rosellini.  Almost simultaneously, the public comm's icon send a squawk, and the Peace Officer Override (POO might not have been the best acronymic decision) forced its programming to feed the Tesla a small 60%-opacity overlay of the Knight Errant motorcycle cop's imagery, which the Tesla turned down to 30%.
          "Stop your vehicle immediately, citizen.  This is not only illegal, it's dangerous to your health."  Fortunately, Knight Errant didn't quite have instant access to GridGuide, and her public comm had a 'license' for her Vector ready to feed any snooping cops.  If he'd been aware of the ghost chip spoofing the traffic control system, 'citizen' would have been replaced with 'scum' or something similar.
          "Gotcha, H.  Far side toll barriers are wide enough for you to get through -- barely -- but that won't lose him if he's good."  A diagram of the toll booths and the lowered crossbar clicked in at 15%, then shot into miniaturization to overlay the distant target.
          "He just crapped in my throwaway, Deck, and he's keeping pace."  A new alert popped up from the resident agent running security in her headware, warning her of an intrusion in the public commlink.  "And he's got an agent trying to shut me down."
          "That ain't standard.  Just the throwaway, right?  Gimmie P's and let me hack him back."
          "You can do that?"  With the direct neural link, she didn't even need to move a hand to reactivate Deckard's on-file temporary permissions.  That was fortunate, because someone had left a not-quite-shredded tire on the side of the road that took her perilously close to a lumbering drone-driven semi.
          "If I didn't have to take the time hacking permissions, I could take a virtual stroll from here to NYC via only commlinks in ten minutes.  Well, most of the way, anyhow."
          "Stop the bike now and I'll only give you a ticket."  The corporate cop's words promised leniency, but his tone promised ruthlessness.  In her business, tone could matter more than words ...
          "Damn that's a buff agent.  Frozen now, he won't be alerted that it's crashed.  Even with an employee discount, this guy spent a lot on this thing -- Ares all over it.  I can't screw with his bike, he's running a tight ship over here, looks like he's got experience with hacker tricks.  He really must like catching people, H.  I don't think he's going to let you go."
          "Crap.  If I wasn't on the bridge, all I'd need is ten seconds out of his LOS.  Crap, hold on!!"  Horns blared around her as she dodged back into traffic, brakes and engine working in rapid concert to keep her moving at the highest speed physically possible.  She barely kept from flinching as her left shoulder made a soft 'huh!' of sound brushing past an old VW Superkombi III van's rear panel, and boosted her speed back up as soon as she could.
          "I maybe could edit you out of his AR feed ..."  Deckard sounded thoughtful; he was not usually a thoughtful sort of troll.
          "You can??  For how long??"  A lane-changing Hyundai Shin-Hyung, blatantly sporting quasi-legal modifications to show how 'independent' he was, forced her back out to the edge; his comic outrage at her screaming past him at three times his current speed was something she would have enjoyed if she wasn't being chased.  She poured on more speed, blowing past 200 kph almost as quickly as she had the Hyungk of Jyungk.
          "Knight Errant protocals require me to give you a last warning before I blow your hot little ass off the road, lady.  You got ten seconds to cut your speed."
          "Fifteen, twenty seconds, taking care of all the reflections and echoes.  Twenty-five at the outside.  Ah, no you don't!  His agent's trying to reinitiate.  Call it twenty."
          "Do it five seconds before we hit the plaza."  The pilot-assist adjusted its countdown to the upcoming toll plaza as she poured on speed.  She needed to get beyond the plaza and disappear ... "Deckerd, if the bar is down, can you make him think it's going up?"
          "While making you disappear and him think his agent's seizing your commlink?  Sure, why not that too?  Make it seventeen seconds of freedom I'm giving you."
          She leaned hard to the right, cutting back into traffic, standing on the brake before cutting back left and gunning it again.  Getting among civilians was both good -- KE frowned on their cops shooting into crowds, even if the crowds were surrounded by half a ton of plastics -- and bad -- it forced her to slow down, and her boss frowned on using civilians for cover.  Over the open POO link, she heard the KE cop swear at her maneuver, gaining distance on him as his bike proved less maneuverable than hers.  As the pilot assist clicked past '5', she could hear him really start to swear as Deckard worked his technological magic to make her invisible.
          Flashing through the toll plaza approach, she ducked under the end of a descending bar, and mentally slid the throttle bar to maximum plus 15%; the Vector popped a 'temperature gauge' potential-damage indicator below the throttle bar, sliding a marker steadily up from the green zone.  Seconds ticked past as she streaked by cars and trucks, working to put as many of them between herself and the toll plaza as possible.
          The sound of brakes squealing was almost immediately superseded by that of automotive plastics shattering; Deckard crowed triumph through her link.  "Ohh, that's gonna be on the Crash boards tonight!!  Ha ha haa!!  You're all clear, kid, now let's blow this place and go home!!"
          Ordering her public comm to turn itself completely off, she slid the Vector's acceleration bar back to 95%, mostly keeping her metaphorical foot in it to put space between herself, the bridge, and the flattened officer.  It was something under five kilometers from the toll gate to the 520-405 interchange; she made it in little over a minute.  As she approached, she killed the majority of her speed in order to ghost in the shadow of a rigger-guided land train, using it to shield her from the traffic cameras.  Knight Errant loved Bellevue for many reasons, so vanishing completely was as difficult as they could make it.  Not impossible, though.
          "Deckard, back to business.  I'm sending you some documentation, our standard CDA.  I need you to sort through it, be ready to give me a précis in fifteen so I can plan my packing.  No, make it thirty, I need to shower first."
          "Shower first?"  Deckard sounded amused.  "Hair dye coming out?"
          "Yeah, again.  Can you do it?"
          The technologist pondered the files as they started spawning on receipt.  "You should just stop.  I know three guys who'd ask you out in a New York minute if they saw your real hair and eye color.  Hmmm.  Thirty ... yeah, probably.  Five hundred on receipt of proof of scrub."  He meant proof of his removing the files from his system, part of their standard classified documents arrangement.  "That all?"
          She shook her head, even though she knew he couldn't see her.  "No.  I need you to find me a fixer to work with over there.  Minimum five years in the biz, preferably someone with operational experience as well.  Meta preferred, but use your judgement on Evo ties on this one."
          Deckard blew out a breath.  "There's a lot of little radical groups over there; you want me to avoid them?"
          "Radicals, yes.  Majors ... not necessarily."  She mulled this over as she slowed, looking for one of the holes the Hellhounds habitually knocked in the noise barriers.  Spotting one, she slid off the road, smart tires reacting to the shift in terrain and helping her cross gravel, grass, and rubble as though it were a racecourse.  Gaining the surface street, she took the first underpass and headed towards Vasa Park.  "Listen, if you find someone with ties to the old Huk -- not necessarily the new government -- give them precedence."
          "Meta, Huk, five years, ops ex-pee, no weenies.  You call?"
          "Yeah.  Thanks, Deckard.  How's Cindi?"
          He sounded disgruntled.  "Still dancing.  I keep telling her I don't want her to, but she just ..."
          Suki laughed; she couldn't help it.  "It's an independence thing, Deck, and a rebellion thing to boot.  Bet you fifty she'd quit within a week if you told her you thought it was a good idea."
          Deckard sighed, an explosion of disgust.  "Sucker bet, H.  Sucker bet.  Comm me in thirty."
          "Will do.  Discomm."
          "Discomm," she agreed, driving on through the night and thinking of the conversation not many minutes past.


          Her shower at the dojo had started the problems with her hair again; quietly disgruntled, she'd wiped the steam from the mirror, watching the heat from the showers try to put it back.  Though the old warehouse's receptionist's office became the front entrance for the place, other offices had been turned into locker rooms, and the massive main storage area held the heavy padded mats that made up the totality of the practice area.  Even with enough space for all of that, there was still enough for whatever storage Isamu and the dojo might need.  Really, it was larger by far than was strictly required, but Isamu had once told her privately that since he'd had the money, he'd might as well get some use out of it.  Suki had sighed, fingering the straight hair that was her Japanese heritage, then looking at the slight smear of black dye that was her last-ditch effort at trying to deny what was part of her mystic heritage.
          She'd once again had pondered just giving up and accepting that her hair was going to be violently violet.  At least she could cover her matching eyes with programmable contacts; the slight electronic emissions it gave off helped suggest that the false-front commlink she carried strapped to the inside of her forearm was the real thing.  To help the illusion, she typically used Horizon's TouchIt fingernail-appliqués, ostensibly running on a skinlink.  Would-be hackers generally found hacking her to be fun, funny, and ultimately useless, since the contacts were hardwired for color only and not to throw up any AR feed.  Still, for the look of it, it was a great cover, and sometimes it distracted combat hackers long enough for her to find them and, well, make them stop.
          Washing her hands in the sink, the dye on her fingers had swirled down the drain.  In the distance, she'd been able to hear Isamu -- whom she'd first met under his shadow-identity of Shiinto -- drilling his special students.  Adepts every one of them, learning the sword.  If she was talented in that direction, maybe Kira would soon --
          "Ms. Suki?"
          Speak of the devil.  She'd turned, seeing Kira clad as she was -- bath towel wrapped around herself from arms to knees, hair soaking wet and clinging to her back and shoulders.  "Kira."  She smiled a little sheepishly, lifting her fingers to her hair.  "I dyed this three days ago.  It never sticks for longer than three or four -- rinses right out."
          The girl had blinked at least a half-dozen times before figuring it all out, at which point her lips had expressed that recognition in a round O.  "Are you -- I mean, err, I mean I don't mean, to pry, you know --"
          "Relax."  Telling her that hadn't helped much.  "Yes, I'm Awakened, but I think you already knew that."  She'd gestured up at her hair, adding, "And a changeling to boot.  Never go into the Amazonian jungles after lost Incan temples if you can help it, no matter how many little gold god-statues they say are there."
          Kira had looked baffled, but had at least gotten over it a bit faster than she'd figured the hair out.  "I was wondering -- how did ... I mean, in there."  She'd gestured towards the dojo floor.  "How did I know?"
          Suki had shrugged slightly.  "Intuition, combined with a very subtle sort of mystic awareness -- not really even astral projection, just a hunch."
          "You mean I'm ... I'm really a magician?  Really one??"  The young woman sounded utterly amazed and delighted.  Becoming a magician of some stripe was still one of the biggest fantasies among, well, almost everyone; corporations from Saeder-Krupp to Spinrad Industries to Suzy's Five-and-Ten played to that fantasy and sold billions of nuyen worth of 'let's pretend' goods every year.  At least two 'mystic' AR overlay themes of some sort have  remained in the top ten best selling products of their type for years.  "Why didn't the testing --"
          Shaking her head, Suki had run her hands through her hair -- and then had to wash them again.  "None of the tests are a hundred percent, Kira.  I was almost forty before I Awakened."
          Kira's eyes had widened again.  "Forty?!?  You can't be forty!!"
          Suki had sighed, not wanting to get into her actual metatype, then had stripped off her towel and bent over to scrub vigorously at her hip-length hair.  Perhaps half of it wound up leaving dye on the towel.  "We're getting off-topic, here," she'd said, twisting her hair back up inside the towel as she'd straightened, then looked Kira right in the eye.  "Yes, you seem to be Awakening.  No, the tests don't catch all of us.  Stick around, watch the advanced class; if you work at your sword properly and hard, you might be joining them in a half year or so, depending on what your magic is like.  Talk to Isamu-sensei, either tonight or before your next class; he set this place up in part to help people like you find teachers."
          For another moment, the sharp kiais of the special class were the only sound in the shower, the two women facing each other.  Finally, Suki had addressed what the girl no doubt had been wanting to ask.  "No, Kira, I can't be your teacher.  Isamu might not, either, but he'll send you in the right direction.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have some business to take care of."
          Her violet hair wrapped in the towel, she'd walked back into the locker area to dress and head home.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: Deepeyes on <04-02-12/1131:07>
[stares at the screen waiting for the next part to appear]
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <04-23-12/0126:55>

Philippines, 2052.

          It took Mahirap and Lawin almost ten minutes to get down to the village from their sniper's position, and I dreaded every minute of it.  Did some of the villagers get away through the back gate that Aswang and I had come over?  I didn't think so, and as I followed my team member (difficult to think that, even now, uncomfortably aware of his musculature) in his restless prowling I'd had the opportunity to check it.  The gate was still closed.  In fact, closed and locked and, so far as I could tell, so corroded it'd take a seriously determined troll to smash it open.  But the jungle here ...
          I was not mistaken about the jungle here against the wall.  Not too far from the back gate a heavy tree, with vines creeping and draping down from it, was slowly shouldering the reinforced concrete of the wall off its base and into crumbling ruin.  Its thick branches reached out to shade several roofs, and even seemed to stretch down to press against one.  I frowned at that, but Aswang kept prowling, so perforce I followed.
          Working by pairs and teams, Aswang and I had helped the uninjured members of the four fire teams finish up a quick-and-dirty sweep through the houses, putting burst-fire through bedding but confirming what everyone already knew -- that there wasn't anyone but us and my two prisoners in the village right now.  Aswang continued to prowl around, which meant I had to prowl too.  I could call it wandering, but ...
          ... Aswang didn't wander.
          By the time Mahirap and Lawin managed to get to the temp medic station Palakol and the merc's medic had set up in a carport, you could almost see the steam rising off Major Takezo's head.  I'm sure he would have abused Palakol more than the brief verbal lashing he'd given her for not instantly helping his wounded, but Suno and Yelo had taken Mahirap's in-battle order as still being in force, backing her up.  Suno ripped into the Major the third time he was nasty, and they spent a good thirty seconds screaming into each others' faces, but at some unspecified instant, Suno shut up in mid-tirade and stepped aside.  Yelo had apparently touched her, just touched her elbow, and she moved, and then Major Takezo-san found himself face-to-face with Yelo's unhuman detachment.
          Suno annoys me, and Lawin amuses me, and Mahirap fills me with, I don't know, the desire to do well enough for him to approve of me.  Pating scares me ... scared me ...
          Oh kami, great and small.  He's dead.
          He scared me so much, he had such complete confidence in me.  It was like he knew that I could do whatever I told him I could, that he'd be there to support me doing it.  Or maybe just that if I said I could do something I couldn't, if I lied, he'd be there to eat me.
          ... that smile ...
          When Aswang and I had joined back up with the rest of the team, our team, we got there only a little after Suno and Yelo did.  Palakol looked up at me with this, this, this terrible grief in her face for a moment, and then it just vanished, vanished completely.  I've never seen her be so Japanese before.  She looked at me, and then she slowly lifted both of her huge, gentle hands, each held perfectly straight, slowly up to lay across her eyes.  The Tsunami soldiers, medic and assistant, saw this and went as utterly silent as I did, simply watching her.  I have never seen the Noh gesture for great weeping done with greater passion or better timing.  I know I felt like bursting into tears myself.
          When Palakol and the Tsunami medics returned their attention to their acid-burned wounded, I knelt at Pating's side and looked down at him.  I don't think I had realized how old he really was.  With his shark's smile gone from his face, he looked tired, he looked ...
          I cannot describe it.  But for the first time since I met him, he looked old, weary, frail.  Perhaps it was a good thing that he died, for I do not think he would have liked his body breaking down.  He once told me that sharks are there to end pain and suffering, and when their own grows so great, they seek out the pain of something greater than them, and try to gorge themselves upon it, to take both the other's pain and their own out of the world at once.
          I do not like death.  I wish I had never stepped on this path...


          I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to ... make you hear that.
          Where was I?  Suno and Yelo and Major Takezo-san.
          Suno was ranting at him, giving as good as she got, and then stopped in mid-sentence and stepped aside.  Yelo was there ... like I said, utterly unhumanly still.  Yes, unhuman.  Inhuman, I think, you can understand, they are like human, but not.  Unhuman was Yelo.  Once human; human no more.
          Aswang had been squatting just inside the doorway of a two-room apartment, one in a row of twenty identical ones in a low sullen concrete structure that screamed 'minimal corporate laborer housing', bouncing gently on his heels and scowling at the grenade-blast-shattered structure across from him.  I didn't know what to do, so I stood just against the wall next to the door, watching Suno storm back over to Palakol, who was gently putting Pating's body in repose.  Takezo and Suno had been far away enough that I hadn't gone deaf at their mutual tirade; now Takezo and Yelo were barely close enough for me to hear.
          Takezo-san hissed and spat words, horrible words at Yelo, and Yelo simply stood there, motionless.  I was ready to run in moments, but it took Takezo twenty, maybe thirty seconds more to grasp the fact that this Philippino was not moving, was waiting for something.  When he fell silent, Yelo let his words sit there for a moment, then said very calmly, as if reciting the properties of a chemical, "Please do not interrupt her work again."
          The threat of death was in the air, and I believe, then and now, that the more certainty came from Yelo.  Not that he was driven to it, just that it was computed, clinical, a number in its place awaiting tallying.  Pating scared me; but Yelo terrifies me.  I am glad I am on his side.


          With Lawin there to back him up, Mahirap and Takezo-san went away from the medical station.  I do not know what Mahirap was thinking, but I believe Takezo-san did not want to acknowledge a disaster, that already a quarter of his forty-eight men were dead or crippled, with another eight of them functional injured.  They argued; oh, how they argued.  Unlike Suno, Mahirap kept their voices down; they also stayed inside one of the concrete buildings, but all of us could hear the tension in their voices as they argued.
          Aswang could not keep still, though, so I was unable to eavesdrop.  Again and again, the ork returned to the back gate, turned and looked at the rest of the complex, and began prowling from there.  It was obvious he was looking for something, but I could not fathom what it could possibly be until he grunted in satisfaction and sat on his heels, cupping a handful of stones and shying them down a half-meter-wide hole under the foundation of one of the buildings.  They thumped at first, but then there was a fading clatter -- and they kept clattering, like an echo.  He looked up at me.         
          "Tunnels," I said softly, settling into seiza next to him.
          The Philippino ork nodded slightly, then eyed the hole.  "I'm never going to fit into that."
          I thought about it for a moment, then gestured with my head, rising and stepping away from the hole before crouching down again.  In a low voice, facing away, I told him, "Unless they're all shapeshifters, they will need a normal way to get into the tunnels.  That sounded like something other than dirt down there -- concrete?  There should be trap doors," I suggested.  "There were some trolls here, so ... some of them will be big trap doors."
          Pursing his lips, Aswang looked back at the hole.  "If that goes under the building, then the other way in ..."
          "... should be inside the building," I finished along with him.
          "Come on," he said, rising and moving on his ever-bare feet towards the corner.
          As we neared the door to the rooms, I saw Mahirap outside the place in which he and Takezo-san had been arguing.  Suno was busy patching his cell phone into his communications unit, and as he waited, Mahirap was looking around and talking to Lawin, seeing how the Tsunami mercenaries did their work, and how his team compared..  Mahirap bore an expression of immovability, that he'd made up his mind and nothing Takezo could say would change it.  From the expression on Takezo's face, Mahirap had decided to go over his head.  I suppose as, um, 'independent contractors' we could do that, but from what I now knew of Takezo's personality, I don't think he liked his authority, real or perceived, being challenged so openly by one of the kawa- -- by a metahuman.
          Mahirap, looking around, spotted me; he watched me for a long moment, which caused me to pause at the door to the rooms behind which the tunnel was.  The dwarf gave his ork spotter a nudge and nodded towards me; Lawin looked over at me, then grinned at something Mahirap said, breaking away and trotting towards me.  I felt suddenly nervous; why would they want to talk to me all of a sudden?
          Lawin arrived, grinned at me again, and said to Aswang, "Mind if I borrow her for a bit?"
          My ork partner grunted permission, then said to me, "I'll let you know if I find something in here."  He waved, and headed inside.
          Once Lawin and I got over to Mahirap, he gestured at me with his chin.  "Give Suno your comms cord; I want her to patch you in so you can listen to this call.  No talking, mind you; listen only."
          Baffled but obedient, I unplugged the slender optical cord from my own tactical unit and held it out to Suno.  The other end was held magnetically to the subdermal implant at my temple, and as Suno plugged it into the little hash of the mercenaries' gear she'd needed to use to link Mahirap's phone into the portable satellite link, I mentally flipped the 'outgoing' toggle to off.  Listen only it would be.  "Mahirap," I said in a low, private voice, "Aswang and I think there are tunnels under the village."
          He nodded at the information, then waved me to silence as he dialed.  Twenty, thirty seconds passed before I heard in my head the tone meaning the phone on the other side was ringing.  Once, twice, and then it picked up.  "Yes?"
          "This is your short friend," Mahirap stated in Tagalog, his arms crossed as he looked up at the mountain ridges behind the village.  "Your lackey and I are having a difference of opinion, and to be frank, you're the only one who can decide."
          Ginoo Salaysay replied with barely-sufficient civility.  "What seems to be the problem, my short acquaintance?"
          Mahirap's lips twitched in cynical amusement at Mr. Tell's alteration of the word he'd used for their relationship.  "He says the village isn't empty.  I say that if you have one of those satellites or drones you used to get all that information for us to take a therm image of the place right this second, it'd only find his team and mine.  Clear the village, that's the contract.  Village is cleared."
          "If you are right, that does sound like the completion of the contract.  How can there be such a difference in opinion?"  The Japanese man on the other side of the line sounded polite, but I could hear the threads of tension in his voice.  Watching Mahirap, I could see that they shouted out to him, too.
          "There are things," replied Mahirap with politeness that I found surprising, "that were not in the contract.  Toxic mages.  Shapeshifters."  He paused for a delicate moment, and then added, "An underground complex."
          Even Japanese men expert in controlling their emotions let them slip from time to time.  The slight hiss of a faint indrawn breath caused Mahirap to smile in a vicious, silent grin.  I covered my lips with my hand to silence my own laughter at my team leader's pleasure at that little sound.  "I see where the difference in opinion must lie," G. Salaysay finally said, and the threads of tension had turned into cold anger.  "You wish to leave before the job is done."
          Mahirap's grin got even harder.  "I don't wish to lose any more team members to a situation which was lost before we started.  I don't expect the Major wants to lose any more men either, but that means he wants my people as back-up."  The meaning was clear to everyone on the line -- contract renegotiation.
          There was silence on the line for a long, long moment as Mr. Tell struggled with needing to release more funds to a mixed bunch of Philippinos.  "Put the Major on," he finally said.
          Mahirap turned and made a 'come here' gesture to Takezo-san, who stalked over like an offended cat.  With a push of a short finger, he said, "You're on speaker."
          "Major," said our employer in Tagalog, "is there anyone but your team and theirs in the village?"
          "All of the targets --"
          "Answer the question."
          "There were --"
          "Yes or no, Major, is there anyone but your team and theirs in the village?  Yes or no ??"
          The struggle for Takezo to control his temper was a live thing upon his face; I wondered what could have caused him to have to fight so terribly for self-control.  Finally he spoke in a flat voice, retainer to lord.  "No, sir."
          "Were there toxics involved?"  I frowned as the Salaysay shifted over to Japanese, and at his tone of voice; there was something that struck me as wrong, though I couldn't put my finger on it.
          "Yes, sir."  Takezo shifted languages too.  He knew that Mahirap didn't speak Japanese very well; it had to be deliberate.
          "And shapeshifters, there are shapeshifters involved?"  The first word he used was yōkai, animal-who-changes-form; the second, kitsune, the clever fox who could take human form.  Again, something was wrong with the way he spoke of them; most Japanese have subtle but deep-seated fears of the yōkai.
          "Yes sir, shapeshifters."  Takezo used yōkai, adding, "Jaguars.  Many," he finished, sounding reluctant to admit to it.
          "And an underground complex?"  The tone was still subtly off.
          To my secret delight, Takezo looked baffled, then I saw Aswang emerge from the rooms he'd been investigating.  He saw me looking, and gave a firm nod.  Reaching out, I touched the Major lightly on the shoulder; he turned on me with a fierce expression of offense.  I pulled back quickly, then gestured towards Aswang, who had gestured over and was now talking to two of the Tsunami soldiers, one of them a sergeant.  The two soldiers looked towards Takezo, who waved them permission, and the three went into the rooms again.  To his employer, he stated, "We're confirming that now, sir."
          "Very well, I'll wait."
          Fortunately he only had to wait a couple of moments before the trooper emerged and nodded agreement to Takezo.  "It's confirmed," he relayed to our employer.
          "Very well.  Put the koborokuru back on."
          Hitting the privacy button and handing the handpiece back to Mahirap, Takezo gave to me an expression of contempt before walking away, making no apology for his employer; it was clear he felt he should not have to work with metahumans, and that though I was female, as a Japanese I should have enough pride to agree with him.
          Perhaps after all this is done I'll tell him I'm really an elf.
          "Very well," Ginoo Salaysay said in his accented Tagalog again.  "What do you propose?"
          "Triple," replied Mahirap with grinding finality.  "The full remaining balance on the six hundred thousand payable immediately.  It will be necessary to confirm distributions before we take one more step into this cesspit you dropped us in."
          "An extra one hundred," countered the Japanese man immediately.  "Payable upon extermination of the pests."
          I frowned at the use of the word pests, my eyes going to Mahirap's face to find him doing the same.  It wasn't the same term used for metahumans, but it was certainly the same attitude.
          "I'm sorry if you thought we were negotiating," replied my team's leader grimly.  "You want my team -- down one mage -- to go into an underground complex against toxic-magic-wielding regenerating shapeshifters.  If you want my team to take on a suicide mission, you're going to pay us at a rate and in a manner attendant to that mission.  My people are going to know their people taken care of before they take one step further into this place."
          "Two hundred, one payable now, the other when you return," Ginoo Salaysay said, sounding a little more tense.
          "Well, if that's how you feel about losing the rest of your people, I'll make sure to tell them that as we leave.  Good-bye."  Mahirap didn't hang up in his usual abrupt manner, though.
          "Wait," replied the Japanese man.  He fell silent for a moment, then finally said as if biting the heads off nails, "Two now, two in Manila."
          "Two now," suggested Mahirap, "two in escrow with Hong Brothers again.  You pay the escrow fee this time."
          There was a long silence, then reluctantly: "Done."
          "Good.  You have ten minutes to set it up.  Any more time wasted and we'd be walking into even worse shit than we already are; you don't come through, we walk now."
          "Very well.  Let me speak to the Major privately, please."  I frowned again at the Japanese man's tone.
          "Yeah, sure."  Mahirap reached out and pulled my plug before turning and shouting for Takezo, tossing the phone to him and pulling me with him as he walked away from the communications setup.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: Bio ex Machina on <05-02-12/1831:03>
*avidly scrolling down page* more...more...more...! this is some amazing writing! keep up the good work. only 1 thing that prevents it from being perfect, and it's a small thing: your syntax is a little confusing when the soldiers are throwing their grenades. but other than that its absolutely amazing! i can't wait to see more!
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <07-15-12/2333:56>
          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 ...
          "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.
          "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.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <02-11-13/1211:01>
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?"


          "Bang."  A ruby dot appeared on a map.
          "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."
          "That's why they wanted us in the first place," said Mahirap.  "Pating, what's this look like to you?"
          "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 ..."
          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."
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: Warmachinez on <04-12-13/1403:45>
Very good story!

I am enjoying it immensely. Anything else coming up soon?
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <08-02-13/0333:22>
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?"
          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.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <04-10-15/0219:51>
Philippines, 2052.
10 Days Earlier.

          "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."
          "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."
          "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??"
          "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.
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <04-10-15/0220:27>

          "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 ..."
Title: Re: Pananagutan -- A Limited-Ongoing Tale
Post by: Thanael on <04-08-17/1730:43>
*slow clap* That was an awesome read.