NEWS

[5e IC] Sunt Venatores Venationem

  • 297 Replies
  • 33569 Views

Tecumseh

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3793
« Reply #195 on: (16:55:53/06-24-15) »
Achak is too amped on combat stims to notice that the pain in his shoulder is rapidly receding while Sister Rebecca works on it. The endorphins and the adrenaline are largely overriding the pain response anyway, which is muted now that he's not banging his shoulder around in combat situations any longer.

<<@Team [Achak] Negative on the comm cracking. Let's try to get him to cooperate.>>

Achak breaks away from Sister Rebecca once she's done, not even noticing the obvious pain she's now in. He strides forth to stand over the prone runner. He brandishes his Alpha menacingly.

"MARKs! Unless you want us to chop that thing outta your skull with a dull spoon you'll give us full MARKs! Gimme the MARKs MARKs MARKs MARKs MARKs!!!"

He shakes the rifle, wishing he had a bayonet or something that he could poke the downed man with. The chainsaw on Sister Rebecca's grenade launcher would be awesome for this.

"We ain't gonna kill ya! Nah, we're gonna start with the knees! Or the ankles! Work our way up from there!"

Achak drops his Alpha, throwing it over his shoulder on its sling. He takes out his gunstock war club and imitates a few practice swings.

"HEY, ever play GOLF?! It's fun, but you need a couple BALLS to play!!" He lines up a swing on the man's groin.

rednblack

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3225
  • TECH-NO-LOGIC-KILL
« Reply #196 on: (11:21:35/07-02-15) »
Ikiryo breaks his gaze from Achak, and turns back to the ork magician.  "You really are the dumbest fucking runner I've ever been on a job with.  Things would be so much better if we were all dead, but you had to think of your boy here, and you lack the forethought to know that he's much worse off now.  If you had any sense . . ."

He turns back to Achak, and the group of hunters and priest surrounding him.  "You want some MARKs, sure.  Have at it."

Achak momentarily gets a notification on his comm.

<<System Notification: MARKs Granted (3)>>
<<Personal Commlink (TransysAvalon): Ikiryo>>


Around that time, Rusty makes his way inside the church with a small entourage of gangers.  Respectfully, they have holstered their weapons in the church.  "Hoi, Pastor," he says with a nod.  Surveying the scene, he gives out a low whistle, and shakes his head, but delays anything he might want to say, seeing that Achak and his crew seem to be in the middle of something important.
Speech
Thought
Matrix/Comm
Astral
Subvocal

Malevolence

  • *
  • Ace Runner
  • ****
  • Posts: 1552
  • Matrix Addict
« Reply #197 on: (02:18:26/07-08-15) »
Mercer is utterly stunned that Achak's gambit payed off. He requests that Achak forward what he finds - if the man wiped the 'link before granting access, then this was far from over.


Mercer creates a group for the new team and adds Achak and Sister Rebecca's commcodes to it. Then he checks the tracking rounds he put in Tiny's and Iki's rides, verifying that they are still parked where they were left.


<< @Team [Mercer] There are a couple more vehicles that the locals might not know about. I propose we drop the troll and the wizard off there - they aren't of any further use for us right now and one of the cars belongs to the troll - and we can keep vamp food here on ice until we verify the info on his commlink. Once we have what we need, we can decide what to do with him. He's as good as dead as it is - it's pretty obvious he's workin' for bloodsuckers, and they aren't going to let him live. I'm half inclined to leave him and a knife in the slaughter room they took Stake to and let him end himself. I'd leave him to the gangers now if I thought we were done with him. I've been playin' dead for months and I ain't keen to lose that edge now. If he hasn't already told them I'm alive, I'd prefer he not make his way back to his employers to spread that news. >>

<< Either way, we should move into the van and clear out of here - bound to have the heat on scene shortly, or worse. >>


A few gang members walk into the church, greet the Father, and stand quietly, politely observing the scene. One looks like the leader, and Mercer pinches the lid of his hat while nodding in his direction in a lazy hat tip, casually acknowledging him.


"I don't want to over stay our welcome." He looks to the ork mage, "We're taking Iki here with us. I imagine you want to take Tiny. We'll take the commlinks as well, but the rest of the gear stays in order to cover damages and the hospitality of our kindly hosts here." He nods toward the gang leader. "I'm not keen to take the corpses with us, so if you want them, you gotta make your own arrangements. We'll drop you off wherever you like," he specifically avoids mentioning the other two vehicles while the gang members are present, "so long as it ain't too much trouble. Or you can make your own way from here. Up to you."


As he talks he gathers up the commlinks, double checking them to ensure they are turned off.
Speech Thought Matrix/Text Astral

Poindexter

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3844
  • If you lack empathy, you are worthless.
« Reply #198 on: (16:03:39/07-13-15) »
<< @Team [Mercer] ...Either way, we should move into the van and clear out of here - bound to have the heat on scene shortly, or worse. >>

She glances down at the readout from her bio-monitor on her visor and is not happy with what she sees. The chems keeping her awake are starting to wear off a tiny bit, even now. With a frown, she mentally responds.

<<@Team [Sister Rebecca] Agreed. I'm on my feet for now, but I don't have long before I'm baggage again.>>

When the gangers start slowly filing in, she feels reasonably safe for the first time all evening. Lacking the time to reflect on the irony of violent armed criminals making her feel safe, she keeps her eyes and ears open, swiveling her head like a security camera. The thought of summoning another spirit to watch their backs dawns on her, but she decides against it, knowing that in a few minutes, she'll be unconscious again, and the spirit will depart.
"speaking out loud"
<<matrix actions/communication>>
thought
astral
subvocal/whispering
non-english

rednblack

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3225
  • TECH-NO-LOGIC-KILL
« Reply #199 on: (16:46:55/08-15-15) »
"I don't want to over stay our welcome." He looks to the ork mage, "We're taking Iki here with us. I imagine you want to take Tiny. We'll take the commlinks as well, but the rest of the gear stays in order to cover damages and the hospitality of our kindly hosts here." He nods toward the gang leader. "I'm not keen to take the corpses with us, so if you want them, you gotta make your own arrangements. We'll drop you off wherever you like," he specifically avoids mentioning the other two vehicles while the gang members are present, "so long as it ain't too much trouble. Or you can make your own way from here. Up to you."

"Well, wiz then, I guess.  If you're planning on going, go, feels like we've been standing around for a month.  Don't worry 'bout a ride; we're already home."

Achak takes a poke into Ikiryo's link to see only one contact, named Johnson, and only one message between them: a rather graphic image of Stake with shotgun-sized holes through his body armor, and blood coming out his ears.  He can feel Ikiryo's smirk before he sees it when he lays eyes back on the runner team leader.

#

By the time the team of hunters had made their way to Mercer's van, Sister Rebecca is unsteady on her feet and obviously about to crash out quickly.  The need rest, and a place to do it.  The main question now is where and for how long?
Speech
Thought
Matrix/Comm
Astral
Subvocal

Tecumseh

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3793
« Reply #200 on: (22:33:55/08-15-15) »
Achak looks around at the mess, and apologetically at the Pastor.

"I'm really sorry," he says, completely aware of the inadequacy of the apology. The responsibility for the church weighs heavily on him, and that it was so badly damaged as a consequence of his presence. "Once this is all over, I'll come back and make this right." It sounds so weak, but it's the best he can offer at the moment.

Achak can feel the Jazz wearing off. Sister Rebecca getting ready to crash off her stim patch. They need a place to lay low.

He communicates via comm so that Ikiryo doesn't forward the information with his internal commlink. The Jazz is still tweaking his synapses so he overshares, figuring it's best to be upfront and honest.

<<@Mercer, Sister Rebecca [Achak] I have a doss just up the street. It's not nice. There’s a bare mattress on the floor, stacked crates for a table, and a single folding chair. The water is brown, the soy is unflavored, and the only entertainment are hobo fights in the basement. But it's got four walls, a strong door, and a healthy stipend paid to the Black Jacks so it should be secure. They should be able to watch Mercer's ride too. It's not comfortable but it should buy us some time to get back on our feet and figure out next steps.>>

<<If we want to clear out of the area, the best I have to offer is a trailer in the forest. The problem is that it's across the border, which we'd have to negotiate. Or we can go back to Stake's flat if we figure that everyone who knows about it is dead or incapacitated. Either way, Mercer, you would need to drive. Sister Rebecca is already in a tailspin and I'm a few minutes away from being a mess.>>


The photos of Stake twist him up inside. His initial reaction is denial - That drek can be faked - but he's reasonable enough to know that's not likely. They should make him angry, but mostly he's just sad. Maybe it's the after effects of the Jazz creeping in. Once the drugs wear off he's going to sob, he can already tell. He'll try to keep it together while Rusty is watching him - no sense in letting the big ape see it - but Mercer and Rebecca are going to get a big batch of waterworks. That is, if Rebecca's awake to see it.

Despite the sadness and the drugs, he's not willing to kill Ikiryo in cold blood. Not in the church at least. He slides over to Rusty.

"Bossman there has some wiz tech in his head," he says, jutting his chin to Ikiryo. "Should be valuable." He manages to resist throwing Ikiryo's smirk back at him.

He grabs the bags he took from Stake's place and immediately feels the electric burst of pain from the gunshot wound in his shoulder. He hobbles out of the church into the cold December air.

Malevolence

  • *
  • Ace Runner
  • ****
  • Posts: 1552
  • Matrix Addict
« Reply #201 on: (01:34:02/08-17-15) »
The news from Iki's commlink is troublesome, but not entirely unexpected. Mercer expected him to be a tough nut to crack, but he was angry with himself for missing the implanted commlink. That bit of sloppiness had cost him one of his greatest assets - the presumption of his death by his enemies. The smile Iki gave as they reviewed its sole piece of content made it clear that Iki had accepted his fate and was enjoying his last moments by torturing his interrogators. He was loathe to murder the man, but with each passing moment the idea became less loathsome. Achak solved Mercer's dilemma by setting the stage for the gangers to do the deed for them. Of course, cutting him loose would result in the soul suckers doing the deed anyway, which had a much more poetic vibe to it.


But Mercer wanted to try one last time to gain the man's cooperation. He knelt down close so he could speak without the gangers hearing. "You know you're a dead man, even if we let you live. Leaving you to the gangers is a kindness. But I want to speak plainly for a moment. I know you are working for Infected, a vampire or vampires most likely. Maybe you already know this too, or maybe you don't, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and give you an idea of what they do to their food - people they have no more emotion for than you do a soyburger at the local Belly Buster. I'll leave it to your imagination how much worse it could be for someone that has earned their ire."


And with that, he transmitted a dozen images from as many jobs to Iki's commlink. Grizzly scenes of torture and cruelty, bodies showing obvious signs of mistreatment and a long, painful slide into death - images that put the disgusting display Mercer had missed the night before to shame. In the years he had been hunting the Infected, such scenes had been an all too regular part of his life, and yet still they haunted him, filling his nightmares on far too many nights. He kept these images - took them in the first place, in fact - to remind him why he continues to do what he does. After awhile, everything, even Hunting, just becomes a job, as much a way to keep the nuyen flowing as as it is simple inertia - easier to keep on doing it rather than trade in for a life of, well, anything else. There were far easier - and less dangerous - ways to make far more money. And when he began to feel the apathy set in, he browsed his private collection of horror, including images of lost friends and allies, and the fire in his belly reignited. The image of Stake was now a part of this collection, though not one of the images he had selected to share with Iki.


And on occasion, the collection helped to reach the dying light of humanity in even the most jaded of people. He hoped that this might be one such time. After Iki had had a chance to review the images, Mercer spoke again. "If you still have even a shred of your humanity left, help me put an end to these monsters. I still haven't decided if I'm going to let the gangers have you or let you take your chances with your 'Johnson', so I'd keep the fate of those you just saw in mind as you make your decision."
Speech Thought Matrix/Text Astral

rednblack

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3225
  • TECH-NO-LOGIC-KILL
« Reply #202 on: (12:25:20/08-17-15) »
Achak looks around at the mess, and apologetically at the Pastor.

"I'm really sorry," he says, completely aware of the inadequacy of the apology. The responsibility for the church weighs heavily on him, and that it was so badly damaged as a consequence of his presence. "Once this is all over, I'll come back and make this right." It sounds so weak, but it's the best he can offer at the moment.

"Once this is all over," the Pastor repeats back to him.  "I know you didn't mean for this to happen, Achak,but please just, just leave the church."

"Bossman there has some wiz tech in his head," he says, jutting his chin to Ikiryo. "Should be valuable." He manages to resist throwing Ikiryo's smirk back at him.

"Wiz," Rusty says, giving a crack to his knuckles, before Mercer breaks in with his last attempt to elicit cooperation.

"You know you're a dead man, even if we let you live. Leaving you to the gangers is a kindness. But I want to speak plainly for a moment. I know you are working for Infected, a vampire or vampires most likely. Maybe you already know this too, or maybe you don't, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and give you an idea of what they do to their food - people they have no more emotion for than you do a soyburger at the local Belly Buster. I'll leave it to your imagination how much worse it could be for someone that has earned their ire."

Ikiryo scoffs as the images flicker across his link.

"If you still have even a shred of your humanity left, help me put an end to these monsters. I still haven't decided if I'm going to let the gangers have you or let you take your chances with your 'Johnson', so I'd keep the fate of those you just saw in mind as you make your decision."

"Drek, you're the one calling them sick.  Haven't met a Zeke yet that keeps shots of his dinner.  But you like to hold onto 'em, don't ya?  Research purposes?  Yeah, I bet it goes a lot deeper than that with you, doesn't it omae?  Keep you warm at night?  Maybe you find 'em exciting.  A little titillating pic before bed, another when you wake up.  So, what's the deal.  You like to think you're the one in the pic, or the one doing the dirty?"

The use of the word "Zeke" is troubling to the team.  To their knowledge, no one outside the hunter community knows or uses that slang.  Whether it's a part of Iki's role in the shadows that he's chosen for himself, or whether Grotto1's been compromised is difficult to say for now, but Ikiryo continues.

"But yeah, chummer, I'm ready to turn a new leaf.  Save that wiz tech in my head for in my head.  What now?  You want me to code home, say all is well, and come along for the meetup?  Wiz plan, let's do it, and then we can all die together."

The ork cuts in, "Hold on now, I didn't sign up for any of this drek.  Really," she says, locking eyes with Achak.  "This was a rival team that fragged up and needed to get theirs kinda deal, chip truth.  I don't know anything about any fraggin' vampires.  As for the ride, I appreciate the offer, but the deal was, I tell you what I know, and we get to hit the plascrete.  I need to get Tiny to my doc, and then find a place to lay low.  She turns to Ikiryo before saying, "What the fuck do these things know about us?  What did you tell them."

"Well, apparently I lied and said I'd found a team of professionals.  But I wouldn't worry about it too much, Margot Nakamura, AKA Talita, AKA Miss Bones.  I'm sure you'll be just fine.  And Tiny, I'm sure Peg will be just fine too.  You over there, chummer.  Looks like he's still out.  Well, Talita, be sure to tell him when he wakes up, nothing to worry about," Ikiryo says.
« Last Edit: (11:29:19/08-18-15) by rednblack »
Speech
Thought
Matrix/Comm
Astral
Subvocal

Tecumseh

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3793
« Reply #203 on: (03:01:48/08-18-15) »
Achak struggles out to the Roadmaster with his bags, the Pastor's dismissal ringing in his head. He throws his bags in gingerly, then turns to see if Sister Rebecca is still conscious. He helps her with her things, then gets in and collapses in the back. He stares at the roof, chin trembling, until finally his Jazz-fueled high becomes a low. His lips quiver as he tries to blink back the tears.

This, too, shall pass, he tries to console himself. He knows the despondent emotions will pass in 15 or 20 minutes and secretly hopes that Mercer spends most of that time interrogating the runner team.

Malevolence

  • *
  • Ace Runner
  • ****
  • Posts: 1552
  • Matrix Addict
« Reply #204 on: (02:09:42/08-25-15) »
"Suit yourself" Mercer says to the ork. He turns back to Iki and stares at the thing crouched on the floor, jaw hanging loose. "When you part him out, I'd sure appreciate it if you could make sure he feels every bit of it" he says over his shoulder to the gangers as he keeps his eyes locked with Iki's. He lowers his voice again as he addresses Iki. "And for the record, I imagine I'm the one that killed the fraggers responsible, and prevented hundreds more such scenes from happening. Which is easy, 'cause it's true."


He gets up and heads for the church exit. He stops as he reaches it and pulls the commlinks he had picked up out of his pockets and places them on a shelf containing some hymn books. They didn't have anything of value. He had the commcode of Ikiryo's employer and was certain that he was the only one that had any contact with those further up the chain of command. The other runners would have no useful info on their comms, so there was no point taking them. He turns, removs his hat, and gives the Pastor a nod. "Father" he says, then dons his hat, turns back to the door and leaves the church, leading the others to his van.


Once safely inside, he commands the van to head back to the point of the rendezvous where Iki's car was waiting. It might be a challenge to get into, but he had the firepower to do so, and it would hopefully have a few more crumbs he could follow back to the Zekes that had made a run at him. As the van drives he turns to talk to Achak and Rebecca, only to see that they are nowhere near coherent. The good Sister is passed out, but had managed to lay herself across a seat. He can see that her wounds are taking a toll on her, so he hooks her up to his medkit to help speed her recovery. Achak ismumbling to himself as he sobs, and Mercer can all too clearly see that the man is coming down from a dose of Kamikaze. There isn't much Mercer can do for him, so he returns to the driver's seat and watches the road pass by.
Speech Thought Matrix/Text Astral

Tecumseh

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3793
« Reply #205 on: (16:17:24/08-25-15) »
Achak sinks into the back of the Roadmaster, overcome with a wave of hormones and central nervous system depressants that linger as an after-effect of his brain battling Jazz.

He sees the dead shade of Yohan. Young Yohan. He flashes back to the penthouse atrium where the team had tracked a wealthy Zeke. I ordered him to create a distraction while I snuck up behind for the kill. I was not fast enough Yohan was killed before I could strike down the Zeke. Achak remembers the overwhelming sensation of disapproval from Dog, the loss of a member of his pack (following Achak's orders, no less), affecting him deeply. He sobs for his lost pupil, dead at his command and his incompetence.

Stake. Elf, 87 years old and counting. A survivor who taught Achak everything he knew. Dead now. Where was I? Asleep at the time. Why didn't Stake wake me up? Did he not trust me? He taught me that there is safety in numbers. Why would he go off on his own? He must have thought he was better off without me. Achak cries for his lost mentor and whatever Achak did to undermine Stake's trust in him.

Now Holy Trinity. Shot to shreds because I was the target. I've done so much to build it up, and now it's undone. Not even a day, not even an hour. Years of work, gone. It would have been better if I hadn't ever been involved! Rewind time, take me out, put me somewhere else. His normal faith and trust in the Lord is lost in a wave of cortisol and neurotrophic effects. Achak weeps as Peter did after his denial of Jesus.

rednblack

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3225
  • TECH-NO-LOGIC-KILL
« Reply #206 on: (11:19:30/08-26-15) »
As the trio of hunters walk as able and stagger as unnecessary out of the church, rusty pulls Ikiryo to his feet, and says, "Come on, chummer.  Let's go for a walk."  The human hisses through his hanging jaw as he's pulled to his feet, but puts up no resistance as he's led away.  The ork magician struggles fruitlessly for a few moments above Tiny's body, trying to make him budge, and eventually, she sits, centers herself, and lifts his body through great strain magically.  Pastor Llewellyn shuffles to the altar, where he begins clearing away debris.

#

In the midst of Achak's despair a new thought crosses his mind.  And Elijah!  After we knew what was happening it all went so fast, and we didn't warn him.  He pulls himself together enough to pull out his link, and bleary-eyed composes a message.

When Mercer pulls into the parking lot, he finds the opposing team of runner's cars unmolested, though he feels eyes on him as he slides in.  Across the street a few gangers look on, hitting their NicSticks and casually displaying the pistols in their belts.  With Sister Rebecca passed out and Achak pre-occupied, he ponders his best options for the cars.
Speech
Thought
Matrix/Comm
Astral
Subvocal

rednblack

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3225
  • TECH-NO-LOGIC-KILL
« Reply #207 on: (12:51:21/09-07-15) »
After clearing out the Concordant of everything that Mercer was able to find, he decides that the best course of action would be to rest at Achak's safehouse, at least until the team itself is a little more viable.  Between sobs Achak is able to give Mercer directions, and the trio makes their way through the few blocks of BlackJack territory to Achak's bolt hole.  The accommodations leave a lot to be desired on the creature comfort level, but it's certainly not sub-par compared to what Mercer has been familiar with of late, and Sister Rebecca certainly doesn't know any different.  Achak is able to steel himself enough to help Mercer with the good sister's unconscious form as they get her inside and in bed, and then Achak collapses on the couch.  Without a trideo set, or much else to spend the time on, Mercer busies himself with examining the gear he was able to pinch from Iki's car.  The Lightfire and credstick don't need examination, but the spare link looks interesting.  Upon booting it up, Mercer sees that this looks like one of Iki's personal comm devices.  The history only goes back a few weeks, probably average for a runner's comm he reasons, and there are no names listed on it, only numbers.  It seems that unless Iki was using a very well thought out and intricate code, this was the number he used to keep up with drinking buddies and the like. 

The history on his matrix searches pulls up a bit more information.  Iki has a runner profile on an underground shadowrunner host, Black-Site-Prime, and a ticket confirmation for a flight out of Seattle and bound for Manhattan the following day.
Speech
Thought
Matrix/Comm
Astral
Subvocal

Malevolence

  • *
  • Ace Runner
  • ****
  • Posts: 1552
  • Matrix Addict
« Reply #208 on: (23:43:43/09-07-15) »
The accommodations beat the van, but are cramped and Mercer is more than a little concerned with leaving the van unattended. However, Achak seems to get more agitated when Mercer suggests that Achak stay with Rebecca here while Mercer sleeps in the van. Something about "that's what got Stake killed". The drones were on watch and the van was almost a fortress in its own right, so Mercer acquiesced to the big man's demands and stayed with them in the little bolt hole.


It wasn't too long before the both were awake and in a clear state of mind.  Achak was already almost over his coming down phase by the time they arrived and the med kit helped the Sister shake off her wounds and claw her way back to consciousness. They filled him on on the activities of the night before. Elijah sounded like a useful resource, and unless he lived in Manhattan, it seemed he had escaped the wrath of the hit squad. Unless they had sent a second team for him.


He suggested that Achak reach out to Elijah while Mercer made a call to Duncan. By the time Monday rolled around, they'd want to collect whatever funds they could and see what Iki was planning in the Big Apple. The extra cash could also make finding someone to crack this commlink much simpler. If this Elijah was still breathing, he might be a good candidate. Otherwise, there was always Alice. She'd gotten him as far as Iki, but he'd leaned a little hard on her over the past few months. He supposed she appreciated the nuyen, but he could tell that the calls at odd hours and his insistence to follow leads an unhealthy number of hours per day might have left her willing to pass on a job or two to take a well earned vacation.


The pieces also began to come together. The vampires were using high value objects as bait. His team had had a similar big score just before they'd met their end. He hadn't been able to figure out how they'd known where the team was and where to hit them, but now it seemed obvious. He felt that this was the sort of thing to share with the folks on Grotto1, not that he trusted the site again just yet, but this new info at least made it more likely that the operators weren't in on it. He'd always assumed that the vamps had a member or two - pretty much every hunter did, and it was likely how they were seeding the trapped jobs. He tried to remember back to how he'd been turned on to the job that had done them in, knowing that that might give him another lead to follow.
Speech Thought Matrix/Text Astral

Tecumseh

  • *
  • Prime Runner
  • *****
  • Posts: 3793
« Reply #209 on: (16:00:14/09-08-15) »
Achak descends into a second round of sobbing when Mercer emerges from the Concordant with Stake's commlink. Achak cradles the commlink, blubbering about Stake and Yohan and everyone else he couldn't protect.

He chokes out the instructions to reach his safehouse. Luckily it's only a few blocks away from the church. The neighborhood is the pits: full-on Puyallup Barrens, with tenaments, narrow alleys strewn with garbage, a squatter population in a perpetual turf war with the devil rats, chip addicts soiling themselves, with only the occasional noodle vendor or small market - which deal in barter as much as they do certified cred - to break up the poverty. The building in question is a remnant from the huge population influx following the Treaty of Denver in 2018. A desperate government tossed up residential buildings as rapidly as possible; 55 years later, most of them are well past their useful lifespan. Battered by decades of acid rain and ash from the smoldering crater of Mt. Rainier, there's little to recommend the building other than the fact that it's better than being on the pavement outside.

Throwing Rebecca over his shoulders to haul her up the stairs in a fireman's carry gives Achak something physical to concentrate on. The exertion starts to flush some of the toxins from his system. Up on the third floor, he relies on the low-light vision in his contacts to guide Mercer through the maze of hallways. Stepping over drug vials, broken chip cases, and puddles of what might be rain leaking through the ceiling or fluids leaking out of residents who didn't pay their dues to the Black Jacks, he arrives at his door. The additional maglocks on the exterior are the only clue that this unit is different from the others. He presses his thumb to one while transmitting a wireless code to another. The locks unfasten; he bumps the door open with Sister Rebecca's butt then steps inside.

What a dump, he thinks. A surreal feeling reminds him that, yes, this is his, even if he hasn't been here in weeks. I should have gone to college. Wait, I did go to college! No, wait, that was a simchip. He shakes his head, trying to keep grounded in reality. I should have gone to college. I could have gotten a lacrosse scholarship, played for Simon Fraser. Gone pro in the NANLL. Nobody would have gotten killed; nobody would be dead because of me.

There are two rooms: the combined bedroom/living room/kitchen, and a bathroom that's smaller than what you'd get in a Ford-Canada Buffalo. There's one couch that probably saw its best decade back in the 2050s. The shelves are plywood suspended over cinderblocks. The mattress is on the floor with only a couple military-surplus blankets for warmth. The kitchen is little more than a sink with a hot plate. There are a few packets of soypasta, ramen noodles, and Cup-O-Soup products, most of them featuring the stepped-pyramid logo of Aztechnology on the label. The sink has a water filter to change the water from brown to less-brown, when there is water. The light, heat, and electricity are all heavily rationed; there are low-light contacts for when the power went out.

Oh, the spiders, Achak remembers as he looks at all the occupied cobwebs in the corners. I forgot about the spiders. The eight-legged friends/fiends keep some of the other pests away, but it was common to wake up in the middle of the night with one perched on your cheek. He deposits Sister Rebecca on the mattress, then collapses heavily on the couch. That leaves Mercer with one of the two options: the toilet, or the milk crate that served as a seat for the kitchen "table", an old door between two sawhorses.

Achak is starting to feel a bit better; Mercer gives him work to do while his head finishes clearing. Achak agrees to call Elijah.

<<@Elijah [Achak] Elijah, we got trouble! A group of runners bagged Stake this morning and put a bullet in him!

<<The team that took Stake came after me and Sister Rebecca! We dropped them and took a commlink off their leader! I know we haven't squared up from last night's run yet but we need your help cracking the comm! We can deliver it to you, after which you should find yourself a safehouse and lay low! We'll redeem our bounties tomorrow when the office opens and forward you your share of the painting once Duncan has a chance to move it!>>


Achak sends the message and turns to Mercer.

"Manhattan! I've never been to Manhattan! They've got the tightest corporate security in the UCAS! Don't they still use those color-coded pass-cards?!" Achak wrings his hands a bit, the final bursts of anxiety from the Jazz twisting his mind and his fingers. He casts a worried look at his armor and his equipment and wonders how much he's going to have to leave behind. He secretly hopes he won't have to go, but suspects that he will have to. The other option would be to switch careers and leave Stake unavenged, and that's even less palatable than going to Manhattan.