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Being Nosferatu Pt. 2: First Run (Long)

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Dal Thrax

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« on: (15:50:35/06-02-15) »
My friends are all crazy.  My friends are a bunch of ghouls, people infected with strain III of the Human, Metahuman Vampiric Virus.  This disease gets into your head and messes with you.  Actually, it literally gets into your head.  All the strains increase their victims mental abilities.  Some of the infected can ace any math test, others the increase shows up in intuitive thinking, willpower or social skills.  I'll put it two you like this, those with Strain 1a – what I have see everything as an interconnected web. HMHVV's effects  clinical effects on the mind matter to my friends all being nuts.  A ghoul would already know that my friends are nuts and wonder why I haven't gotten to the point by now.

Ghouls have issues with self.  Ever heard about ghouls swarming a machine gun nest?  They know what they want to do to the guys inside the nest, but in the heat of the moment forget what bullets can do for them.  My friend Jim, he use to be an officer in the reserves before he got infected, spends a lot of time teaching new ghouls how not to end up dead. 

Things are different for those with Vampiric strains of HMHVV.  Besides drinking blood we have to drain someone of at least some of their life essence every so often.  It doesn't come back, and can cause psychological damage to the victim – if they survive.  For Vampires, I've heard that the disease is like having a hole in your soul that can only be filled with the stolen essence of others.  For Banshees well if you think I'm emo you've never met a Banshee.  That “elf vampire” on Jackpoint  is clearly a Banshee, regardless of what he says.  So what about Nosferatu – those of us with the Ia strain?  We might be similar to vampires but if effects us differently.  It . . . sorry on second thought I really don't want to talk about it.     

The numbers of infected are basically a pyramid.  Strain III creates ghouls.  It's transmitted through breaks in the skin and is highly infectious.  If a ghouls scratches you, you will be joining the undead horde shortly.  There are tens of millions of infected with Strain III, worldwide.  Strain I, creates Vampires.  It's the second most common type in the world.  The only way to become infected with strain I or Ia, is for somebody that already has it to completely drain your life force, then not destroy the corpse.  Infected with strain I (including Ia) don't age.  The fact that the world isn't swarming with vampires gives you some idea of the mortality rate among us.  Sunlight is really bad, think potential spontaneous metahuman combustion, and just touching wooden objects can blister. Strain I creates some other variations on infected besides Vampires, like Banshees, but most of the time you get a vampire.  Never heard of a troll vampire?  Vampires with metatypes other than human are not exactly in a hurry to advertise their existence.

Strain II is the least common of the main variants.  For humans its like awakened rabies.  They become Loup-Garou, wolfman like killing machines that go berserk every so often.  Going berserk leads to a short life expectancy.  Humans, being the dominant meta-type of the planet, are the main vector by which HMHVV spreads.  A disease that quickly kills off its human hosts isn't going to spread very fast.  The fact that Strain II can turn humans into Loup-Garou scares them, or I guess I should say us, drekless.  If the local authorities are going to mount a hunt, it's probably for infected with strain II.

The rarest strain is, by far, Ia.  As the name suggests, it's a variant on Strain I.  It creates Nosferatu and Mutaqua.  Strain Ia means having to feed less often and awakening as a magic user.  All Nosferatu are magicians or mystic adepts.  All Mutaqua are either adepts or mystic adepts.  The Nosferatu strain makes a human smarter and more magically powerful.  If you want to start an argument between an European and North American Nosferatu, point out that Bram Stoker created the word Nosferatu.  It's close to the Romanian for “the insufferable one,” but didn't exist Dracula. If we had to name ourselves after a literary invention, Lich would be more accurate.  The Europeans hate the idea. 

As for Mutaqua, your average Mutaqua can challenge a main battle tank to hand to hand combat and have a good chance of winning.  Every one I've ever met, which I admit is only two, was a real jerk.  If you're not infected, run away.  The Mutaqua will probably try to eat you.  Actually, that second Mutaqua wanted to turn me into brunch, but my friend Kelly dissuaded him.

Kelly brings me to why I'm here tonight.  I live in a shelter for HMHVV infected individuals.  We actually have a brochure that says that in both text in brail – all infected see the astral plane all the time, but ghouls are blind to normal sight.  A couple of weeks ago a group of hunters broke in.  In case you missed it, the UCAS doesn't recognize the infected as citizens.  In fact the DeeCee area still issues bounties on our heads.  The hunters managed to kill a bunch of ghoul children by booby trapping an escape route.  We took one of the fraggers prisoner and Kelly wanted me to drain him to death.  It can be a hell of a painful way to go.  I'm not saying that he didn't deserve it but I just couldn't.  Draining somebody out does things to him and to you.  I guess it was the straw that broke the camel's back.  The ghouls call it darkness overload.  The point where you just want to go to your old home, lay down in your old bed, and pretend everything is normal again.  Well for me, maybe not home.  Home was pretty horrific.  Still, I need to move out of the shelter.  I need to live somewhere that couldn't be used as the set for a horror trid for awhile.   

Kelly is a shadowrun.  Basically, shadowrunners are mercenaries for hire in our fragged up corporate world.  Need to snag another corporations prototype, hire a shadowrunner.  Corporate citizen and want to jump ship?  Better get a shadowrunner to come in an waive a gun while mumbling something about an extraction to satisfy the corporate accords.  Infected shadowrunners are not exactly in great demand.  Kelly can get work.  She's a mystic adept, think of it as a combination between the athleticism of a physical adept and the spellcasting of a magician.  If I was going to move out, she offered to take me on a couple runs to raise some cash.  What can I say, I was basically broke.  Packaged metahuman blood is an expensive diet – the unpackaged option is far cheaper but . . . problematic.  Every little bit helps.

It took a bit for Kelly to find a fixer forming a team.  Kelly is a Zen master when it comes to automatic weapons.  She can write her name with a submachine gun.  Still, took her a couple of weeks to find work.  Like I said, the infected are not popular.  As Kelly ushered me into the grubby motel room I saw a dwarf and a smiling elf.  The elf's smile would have been more disarming if his aura didn't show he had a serious addiction to something.  Looked like BTLs but it could have been cocaine,.  The two are really hard to tell apart when assensing.

“So you're our new associate.  You've already met Machine Gun Kelly, I'm Raphael and the dwarf is Coldstone.  What should I call you?”

“Um, Jen.”

“Look, Jennifer, I know you're new but coms can get busted.  There's no reason to make it easy on the corps to find you.”

“Well the name is a fake anyway and if somebody wanted to check every Jennifer in the plex it'd take awhile.  Besides, if they wanted to find me couldn't they just ask around for the Nosferatu?”

“Kelly, what's a Nosferatu?”

Looked like it was the dwarf's turn to speak up.  “Super-vampire boss.  They're mean fraggers.”

“Ha.  Sorry short stuff.  Your friend tells me your a decent magician.  Just don't expect anyone to believe you're a mean anything.  Look, just pick a handle.  How about Dracula?”

“Like that isn't giving anything away.  Besides he's a chauvinist pig who treats the sisters horribly, even if they are going through a divorce.”

“Um, yeah, right.  Any ideas Cold?”

“Vampirella?”

“Wow, do you really think I look like her?”

“Not without some implants short stuff.  Can we keep this to names I can actually say in one breath?”

“Orlok.  He's the count in the old Nosferatu flatvid.”

“Never heard of him.”

**You are not a bearer of plagues.  Choose another name.**

“That's a matter of opinion.  Ok, I don't know.  I'm out of ideas.”

“Well no reason to get all offended that I don't know who you were talking about.  Any ideas Kelly?”

“Bunnicula.”

“Kelly, no.”

“Yep, definitely Bunnicula.”

“Bunnicula it is then.”

“Kelly, I hate you.”

Raph chimed in,“just be glad I didn't let Coldstone get you into a Vampirella costume.”

“It'd probably fall off.”

“I'd call that a plus.”  Hum, no shift the the dwarf's aura when he said that.  Must not like women.  Everyone else was picturing me in some stage of undress.   

“Ok, moving on.  I hope Machine Gun Kelly over there has already told you, pay is six thousand nuyen for an extraction – semi-voluntary.  The expense account is another six thou, if there's any left over at the end of the run, submit an invoice for your overhead.  We split pro-rata.  Know anything else about what's going on?”

“Um, no.”  The only thing I knew for sure was that we were being underpaid.

“Target is Xerxes Thompson.  Thirty eight.  Works in the structured derivatives division of RBS-Morgan.  They've got an office here in town.  Guy's security is tight, with one exception.  He likes to go to a Vampire club downtown.”

“Wouldn't his security be tighter if he was going out?”

“Good question, the club owner makes most of the security goons wait outside.”

“So how many does he allow in?”

“One per guest, but backup is right outside the front door.”

“So why do you need me?”

“The club is old school about its member list.  There's a spirit guarding the door.  To get in ,it either has to know you or know the person you're with.  It also checks you out to make sure you aren't using a disguise or mind control.  Plus there's a hidden body scanner in the door frame.  Are you getting all of this?”

“Don't worry, you are not going to need to repeat yourself.”  God if I kept snarking off at this guy I was going to earn the title the insufferable one.

“The exception is the infected.  Vampires, get a free pass from the door genie.  You get me in.  I assemble this nice little gun that breaks down into into pieces that don't look like a gun.  When Thompson gets a bit away from his security I stick it into his ribs.  We then hustle out one of the emergency exits, Coldstone picks us up in the van, and we're gone.

“What about ghouls.  Oh and is it really a genie guarding the door.”

“Bound spirit of man.  Hermetic.  Club doesn't allow strain III.  Too much danger of accidental infection they say.  I'm here as backup if things go wrong, but you're going to need to get outside first.”

“Why do you need me? Turn one of the regulars and walk in.”

“Look we can't just go around making . . . oh you mean convince a regular to let us in.  Crowds' too upscale.  We can't offer a big enough bribe and most of them have security as good as Thompson's.  If we had enough time for surveillance we could find somebody.  Thompson is going to be there tomorrow night.  This has to go by the end of the week.  Just not enough time.”

Ok, not the best plan in the world.  Time to breath and channel Haley for a bit.

“Show me a map of the club.  Are any infected regulars?  They might give infected a pass at the door, but it's going to get me noticed.  Also I need an extraction plan in case I have to chat with a Wendigo in the back room.  What do you know about the owner and who bound that spirit at the door?”

The next half hour did not offer much in the way of reassurances about the teams planning.  As we were about to break, Raphael came up with one last point.

“Bunny, I don't suppose you have vampire clothes?”

“Um, jeans and a t-shirt?  What do you think vampires wear?”

“Something like this, or this.”  The surveillance vids showed club goers decked out in every drek vid portrayal of vampires from Bela Lugosi (not actually drek) to Queen of the Blooded IV.  “Don't worry, I know somebody who can help, of course it'll be in daylight so you're just going to have to leave your measurements with me.  I'll charge it to the expense account”

Yeah.  Give an addict money and time alone.  Not going to happen.  “Actually, I'll be able to go with you.  Don't ask, I'm not telling you how I do it.  As long as I'm somewhere with running water, I'm getting a bath.”

I managed to corner Kelly while the water was running.  “Bunnicula?”

“They're afraid of you, it might help.  Besides you were going to get a big head pulling apart Raphael's plan.  A little preemptive deflating couldn't hurt.”

“Have you run with these guys before?”

“First time.  Infected don't get much of a choice of teammates.  Hey why did you say not knowing who Orlok was is a matter of opinion?  I mean you know every vampire that's ever graced the silver screen, but most of the time you have mercy on us mere mortals.”

“What, somebody objected to Nosferatu being about the Black Death.”

“If you say so.  Look, I know you read aura's like nobody's business but you're answer people before they speak, again.  Those two are already freaked out enough as it is.”

“Sorry, didn't know I was doing it.  How did you find a dive with running water?”

“Jim helped, but don't let Raphael know.  He thinks it was all his idea.”

When this was all over, I'd have to thank Jim.  Finally a nice, long bath.  Even some bubble bath, no idea where it came from.  Warm water washing over me had me half asleep when I heard Coldstone talking to Kelly in the room. 

“Hey, thanks about your friend.  She really knows what she's doings.  This might work after all.”

Drek.  I didn't want Kelly thinking about that.
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Dal Thrax

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« Reply #1 on: (15:51:48/06-02-15) »
***
 
Raphael hit the buzzer again.  “Martha, please let me in.”

“I'm sorry but Madame is no longer interested in your business.  Go away.”

I looked at the bleak metal door and the stairs behind the armor glass.  The building was old.  A two story, affair from the beginning of the last century.  Retail on the bottom, though from the looks of the graffiti on the boarded up windows nobody had used the storefront in a long time, office space on top.  A small sign over the door to the stairwell proclaimed Madame De Gaul, Dress Maker – Tailoring & Alterations. 

I could feel a headache coming on.  I have a spell focus that lets me go outside in the daylight without bursting into flames.  The spell couldn't take care of everything.  Making things worse, I was holding masking spells on myself and Kelly.  Keeping multiple illusions going is difficult.  If Raphael couldn't get in, maybe I could.  It might make things worse. 

A slight burning sensation as the sun came out from behind a cloud made up my mind.  Quietly I toggled on my system identification number. My real SIN.

“Ms. Blackhaven are you out there?”

“Indeed, I am Martha.  How about letting me in?”  The door gave a desultory buzz and unlocked.

Everything seemed to going well unto we met Madame De Gaulle.  As the four of us were ushered into a cramped workspace she looked right at me, and through me.  “I'm sorry Ms. Blackhaven but I can't help you.  You're dead.”

“Not all the way.  And your wings match your tattoos.  Shall we drop the pretense.”  With relief I dropped the masks.  At the same time, the old and proper French matron in front of me melted away, revealing a young woman, about a foot and a half tall with dark hair, butterfly wings, and an impressive set of tattoos.  The pixie, UCAS doesn't recognize them as people either, was wearing much less than her mask, but what she had on looked blessedly fashionable.         

“Nice outfit.”

“Thanks, you're still dead.”

“Well, can you make me an outfit that looks like I'm only going half way to a funeral?”

“Maybe, what do you need it for.”

“Um, it's a bit embarrassing.  I'm going to a Vampire posser club with Ralph.  Can you make us something that isn't going to want to make me blush?”

“Cheaply,” Raphael added.

Pretending not to hear Ralph, De Gaul asked “you can blush?”

“Yeah, and um it's kind of hard to hide.”  Saying Nosferatu have white skin is an understatement.

“Any special requirements?”

“Armored.  Also one of us is also going to need an armored cloak or something that we can throw over someone quickly.  The guy we're meeting might not have armor.”

“How much is all this going to cost?” Raphael whined.

Good question.  Hum lets see, “Budget is five thousand.”

“That really isn't much for what you're asking for.”

“I'll throw in an extra five hundred.  Besides, things go a bit more quickly when you aren't using a sewing machine.”

“Ok, let me get your measurements.

* * *

I watched as Yvonne cast another fashion spell on Raph.  I had to admit, she had us looking good.  How Raph happened to find this tailor I don't know.  Leaving Raph to Yvonne's ministrations, she might be using magic but it didn't seem to hamper her ability to stick him with pins, I ducked out into the hall.  If Raph realized that Yvonne was turning him into a pincushion, but hadn't had a problem pinning my outfit, he certainly wasn't letting on.

Kelly leaned over next to me, “you look worried.”

“I'm wondering if a corporate hit squad is going to show up.”

“That was your real SIN wasn't it.”

“Maybe.”

“I'm not sure I would have done that with those two jokers around.”

“Like I said, if somebody wants to find me all they really need is to start asking around about the Nosferatu.  Kelly, what's wrong?”

“I'm sorry its just that.  I knew you came from a corp family.  It's just, well –  corp born – didn't sink in before.  You've been special and powerful all of your life.  Now, you're Nosferatu, you're going to be young and special and powerful after I'm old and dead.”

Uh, Oh.  That hit like a ton of bricks.  Speaking of old, this place was old. There had to be some exposed wood in here.  Taking my gloves off, I ran my hand across the banister and bit back a yelp of pain as it started to blister.  When I said Nosferatu are allergic to wood I wasn't kidding. 

Catching Kelly's eyes I held out my hand.  “Kelly Jones, you are my best friend.  There are more Nosferatu in this world than mystic adepts.  You're going to be powerful and special long after I'm dead.”

“Jen, I'm sorry, I . . .”

“It's fine.  Um, can you give me a minute, I need to do something about the hand.”

“Save the spell, I have some hydrocortisone cream in my medkit.”

* * *

Kelly and I gazed at the spirit we'd just summoned.  It arrived as a pulsing red blob of resentment three inches across.  Despite practicing, slightly, different traditions of magic, we'd decided to work together to summon spirits for tonight.  Kelly's ghost came without much trouble.  My air elemental not so much. 

“I don't know what happened.  They normally don't show up angry.”

Kelly took a deep look at the spirit, “it's bound right?  That thing looks small but it's intense.”

“Yeah, it's bound.  Um, let me see if I can ask it what's wrong.”

I looked into the soul of a spirit pushing the lower bounds of demigod hood and heard “Fuzzball no like Dark Lady.”

“Well I'm sorry, uh, Fuzzball but it's only for tonight.”

“Fuzzball in bored.”

“So, what would be interesting?”

Mundanes miss half of what's going on around them.  When Coldstone and Raphael got back, all they saw was that the ceiling fan was on.  No air elemental spinning around on the blades going “wheeee!”

* * *

The bouncer looked at us with incredulity as we bypassed the line and walked to the door.  “Sorry, you'll have to go to the back of the line, and have an invite.”

“I thought I had a standing invite.”

“Look. . .”

“No, I think you need to take a look.”  Hum lets see if this guy could take a hint.  A flicker in his aura told me he'd switched to perceiving the astral.  I saw him – low powered physical adept, though by the looks of his aura he was trying to take it in another direction now that his high school football days were over – and he saw me.

“Um, aren't you a bit young.”

A quick flash of my fangs.  “What are you worried about, underage drinking?”

“The boss is going to want to talk to you.”

“I'm sure he'll be able to find me.”  Ok, clock ticking.  Hopefully the boss meant the Vampire who owned the club.  If the boss meant something that didn't like talking, I could end up needing that extraction plan

When you need to do something fast, everything takes forever.  I found a table off the dance floor with Raph and discretely removed some jewelry, actually disguised components of the gun.  As Ralph slipped off to the men's room to put the thing together, I caught site of our target on the dance floor with a group of younger women.  Two security goons outside so, that would make the woman over there with the worried aura his bodyguard inside the club.  Well no reason to waste time.  I hit the dance floor and started working my way toward Mr. Thompson.  Then my comlink bleeped.

<You don't want to be around the old guy.>

<Why not?  Seems to have money.>

<He takes vamp-girls home with him, then slips things into their drinks.>

<I won't be drinking . . . alcohol tonight.>

<Look, that's a nice costume and all but that guy's dangerous.>

<. . . that's not a costume is it?>

<I don't normally wear leather.>

<You're a vampire.>

<Nosferatu and you're a technomancer.>

<What makes you say that?>

<Your aura just urked.>

Great, more complications.  Where was Raphael?  My com unit bleeped again and I saw I'd got a pic from our target.  I quickly set the filters on my comlink to trash any further pictures of Mr. Thompson's, um, augmentation.  Damn, need to get that out of my head.  Fortunately, the outfit – straight out of Days of Darkness II – included a gold circlet with a trode net.  Let's see, that fund Thompson ran, pull up prospectus.  Yep, a lot of over leveraged drek.  Makes the manager look brilliant right up until the moment his luck runs out and it implodes.  Well, at least if I had to talk to him, I might be able to find a subject other than his um yeah.

Luck just wasn't with me.  By the time Raphael showed up Thompson was combining drunken dancing with groping me.  I'd also been told not to worry my “pretty little head” about what he did for work.  If there was a bright side, it was that I'd managed to maneuver him near one of the fire exits while his security looked on from across the floor.  Raph hit him at just the right moment and we were through the door.  Then everything exploded.

Throwing ourselves into the ally way I saw a human dressed in dark clothing and carrying a swordcane.  I needed only the briefest look for his aura to tell me he was a vampire.

“My Lady.  I'm afraid I can't let you have that man.”

“Would it help if I said this was an extraction, not lunch?”

“Alas, I'm afraid not.  My establishment has certain agreements to maintain security for its guests.”

Ok, so much for that, let's see what he said to the trump card.  “Would it make any difference if I told you my rigger friend had a rotodrone with a sniper rifle on it pointed at your head.”

Maybe it was the threat, or maybe it was the three other runners that barreled through the door behind me but the club owner suddenly transformed into a white mist.  There are times I really wish I could do that.  The other runners included my technomancer friend, an ork with a bunch of chrome and a magician, all ready to play.

The screech of tires at the end of the ally announced that arrival of my ride.  I looked up to see Kelly, very deliberately, eject a clip from her gun marked with red tape and insert a new one marked with blue.  For a second the world seemed to stand still as the other team followed suit switching clips. A quick mental call to my spirit – Fuzzball I need you.  Nothing lethal please, unless I tell you otherwise – and we were ready to go.  Then Thompson's security pulled up at the other end of the ally.

Standing between three armed groups I did the only thing I could think of.  Tried to buy some time.  “Ladies and Gentlemen before we all start shooting at each other there is one thing I would like to say:  Catch us if you can!”  With that signal I dropped a little packet of chemicals onto the ground.  A flash, a loud bang, and a puff of smoke followed.  Not as good as an actual smoke grenade, but sometimes the old tricks are the best. 

Catch us if you can was the signal for Fuzzball to conceal us.  A spirit as powerful as Fuzzball can make you practically invisible.  The right spell can make you actually invisible, but throwing an illusion onto three people just wasn't going to happen.  Too bad neither team of runners knew Thompson had a type II security protocol.  Type II, as in if you can't stop the extraction geek the target.  Thompson's security filled the ally with lead.  The bullet went through my neck, severing the jugular artery.  Ironic I know.  The last thing I remembered was seeing Raph hustle Thompson into the van.

***
For the second time in my life I woke up from being dead. Regeneration is one of the side effects of HMHVV.  Without using magic, I'd never had a wound heal itself while I watched before.  So it looked like I was alive again – and less human than I started, again.

The alley was full of smoke and gunfire.  Siren's wailed in the distance.  After taking a near fatal shot, the first thing that went through my mind was “oh, go away and leave me alone.”  A quick blast spell, it's designed to use concussive force to knockout everyone in its area of effect, silenced the shooting.  I dragged myself to the van and fell in.

Four very surprised faces looked back at me.  Wrong van.  Uh, oh.  The wailing of sirens emphasized my predicament.  Ok, weak hand so play to strength.  “Drive, unless you want to to explain all of this to the cops.”

“Why shouldn't we just geek you right now and collect the bounty?”  The ork said deliberately leveling a gun at me.

“I don't know, professional courtesy maybe.”

As if on cue, Fuzzball popped into the air.  “You no hurt Brighy Lady.” Thank you Fuzzball!

To ork gave Fuzzball a strange look.  I guess a five foot two girl forever frozen and sixteen and a small ball of light isn't that intimidating.  Then the magician spoke up.  “Neill, you remember I told you on a scale from one to ten, my spirits were fours and fives.  Well that thing's a seven.  It can hit with the force of an assault cannon round.  Chill, this situation is more . . . complicated than it looks.”

“Thanks.  I don't suppose you have a transfusion kit in the medbag back there.  I've lost a lot of blood.”

“Yeah, sure.  Any problems with O-negative?”

“None.”

“Tron, can you hand me the IV.”

“Keep the IV.  Those things are expensive.  Don't suppose you have a straw?”           
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Dal Thrax

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« Reply #2 on: (15:52:53/06-02-15) »
* * *

Samantha gave my half naked body a strange look.   I was wearing body armor and not much else.  “You look like something out of the cover a gun mag right now.  Do you always carry tablets with you for getting blood out of your clothes?”

“Yeah, if you don't get blood out quickly it, uh, stains.”

“If we both llive through this, can you get me some.  I didn't know anything that works.”

“Sure, but it's an alchemical byproduct and a bit expensive.” 

“Alright, enough of this, what do we do now?”  Max – that's the magician – said.  I'd have liked to strip down in privacy, or at least with only Samantha there, but neither of the four were letting me out of their sight.  I guess that entire powerful vampire magician who's wounds heal near instantly had them scared.  Too bad, I would really have liked a chance to peel off the armor and give it a wash.

If fell to Tron to state the obvious, “hostage exchange.  We swap her for Thompson.”

“Are you sure that's necessary?  Mr. Thompson's chances of living through the next forty-eight hours seem rather small.  I trust you already have the pay data.  If Thompson breathing isn't an issue then we can avoid a bunch of unpleasantness.”

It looked like Max was in charge of this team.  “Ok.  I'll give Mr. J a call.” 

I watched Max make the call and fumble around with explaining the situation to the Johnson.  If I could just move quickly enough I could get into the call before anyone could stop me.  Time to see if this would work.

“Hello.  You must be Mr. Johnson.  As Max was trying to explain I've captured your team.  Not to worry though, my principals main interest is in the man, not the data.  Perhaps we can come to a mutually beneficial accommodation?”

“Without the man, the data is of no use.”

“Oh come on.  Thompson was using over leveraged Jordin-Copenberg derivative structures.  They're  far too complex for what he's doing with them, but surely your boss can figure it out.  Make you a deal.  If you give me a section 23(s) waiver, I'll figure it out for you.”

“Uh. . .”

“You don't have a clue what I'm talking about.  Go call Parker.  On second thought never mind, I'm calling Parker.”  Muting the Johnson, I gave a very confused Tron a comcode number.

A minute later an elderly gentleman appear on Sam's comlink.  “Look, here I don't know what's going on but . . “

“Let's not waste time.  I'm sure your employee has briefed you in.  The extraction of Xerxes Thompson went off the rails.  Your team has the data but another actor has Thompson.  I'm afraid that the chances of Thompson enjoying a long and happy life appear somewhat limited.  Since, your employee has indicated that Thompson's stuff is a fragged up mess, I thought I'd offer my services.  Unfortunately, your employee has never heard of a 23(s)(9) waiver.”

“Look young woman, I'll give that you certainly look . . . fetching . . . in that attire, but only a couple people on the face of this planet can untangle Xerxes mess, and I know them all.  So where do you claim to have learned such a feat?”

“The Scholomance.”

“Who am I waiving?”

“The Tenth.”

“The Tenth . . . good lord . . . Are you recording.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, so am I.  I don't waive my protections under SEC section 23(s)(9) would like to immediately invoke them in full force.  Edward please pay these people, and arrange to send flowers to poor Xerxes funeral when the body turns up.”

Time to go one more “the full seventy five thousand.”

“Yes, the full seventy five thousand on this one Edward.  Sorry, no commission for you this time.”

“Thank you sir.  Edward, I'll have number for the wire for you within the hour.  Equal five way split, please.”  That should make Sam's team happy.  Given what Edward must have paid in advance, my cut of the seventy five was only looking to be around nine.  Can't have everything I guess.             

* * *

Samantha helped me get the last of the blood out of the body armor.

“So what happened back there.”

“Give me a copy of the data and I'll tell you.  Don't worry, Parker wasn't lying when he said only a handful of people could decipher what Thompson did.  Nobody you could sell it too is going to care that I have a copy.”

“Yeah, ok, here.”

“Hang on, I'm shooting it to a chip.  Alright.  Parker's fund is Thompson's major competitor.  Thompson is an idiot.  Eventually his securities are going to blow up.  Parker figured he could make a fast profit if he could figure out what Thompson did and short his bonds just before meltdown.”

“Unfortunately,  Thompson made such a mess of things that Parker needed him to understand the derivatives.  Parker offers Thompson a job, something that will keep him happy without letting him do any actual damage.  You extract Thompson and the data, Parker profits.”

“SEC regulation 23(s)(9) controls financial deals with sapients suspected of being able to control minds.  Basically, it says that nobody in finance can touch anything I do, and any party can demand the reversal of any transaction I'm involved in.   A firms principal can waive the protections.  No, it doesn't make sense.  Parker lost his nerve.”

I wasn't sure if Samantha believed me “and how did you know all of this?”

“Thompson was a jackass in the club.  I was pulling up his funds prospectus so I'd have something to mock other than his dick pics.  Thompson was doing some pretty obscure stuff.  Only one competing firm.  Also, the Johnson didn't mute the background quickly enough.  Parker was sitting next to him at a table.”

“And the Scholomance?”

“Was not part of the deal.  Any chance I can get a ride back to my friend?”

* * *

I walked in to hear Kelly and Coldstone arguing if I was alive.  “So glad to know you missed me.  Can we get Thompson out of here before anything else goes wrong?”

“Jen, what happened?”

“Somebody got cold feet.  The other team isn't going to be a problem.”

“Good.  Sam wasn't returning my calls, how is she?”

“I didn't know that you knew her.  Good last I saw.”

“Shadows are a small world.  Is everyone else over there OK?”

“Well I think Neill about puked when I asked him for a straw for a pint of blood, but other than that yeah.”       

* * *

With relief we stepped out of the van.  Mr. Johnson's limo – if you haven't figured it out Johnson as a generic name for anyone who hires Shadowrunners – pulled up at the opposite side of the vacant lot.  We met the Johnson in the middle and exchanged Thompson for four certified credsticks. 

We were about ten feet away from the Johnson after the handoff when the first shot rang out.  Kelly took the first round through the head I caught the second.  I dropped the invisibility spells as Kelly put a round through Coldstone's head.  At least this time the headshot didn't disrupt the spirits.  Fuzzball looked fine though Kelly's ghost was going to need some patching up when we got into the car.  New personal record, holding four spells at one.  Two invisibility spells and two masks.

Kelly gestured to Raphael, “What should I do about him?” 

Raphael spoke first.  “Kelly.  Look she's just a corp brat.  I didn't know Coldstone was going to take a shot at you.  Thought he was just after Jennifer.  I never meant any harm.”

“Let him go Kelly.  He wasn't working with them.” As Raph scurried away, I felt like a cold hearted bitch.  I let in addict in need of a fix leave with thousands of nuyen.  From the amount of damage in Raph's aura, he didn't have long to live unless he got help.. 

Well one last thing.  “Xerxes, please tell Gwain hello for me when you see him?”

Thompson turned and looked at me. “Huh?”

“The vampire who owns the club whose patrons you've been raping.  What, you think just because you didn't drug them until after they got to your place that he wouldn't take offense. His guests are not exactly SINless squatters, to say that some important people want you dead would be an understatement.  Gwain found out that you were getting extracted, and arranged for us to get there first.  Also put that Dwarf on our team.  Extraction gone bad.  Nobody will be surprised when your corpse turns up, and nobody will blame Gwain for it.”   

Something wet ran down Mr. Thompson's leg as his aura flashed terrified.  Good.  It would make it easier for Gwain to drain him.  Like I said, cold hearted bitch.

* * * 

Jim ran one hand across the synth-brail while reaching for a cup of soycafe with the other.  Genevieve set across the table, sipping from a mug.  Poor Jen.  At least ghouls could still drink soycafe.  Blood in a coffee cup just didn't have the same effect.  You didn't need to have her skill with auras to see that something was troubling her, really didn't need to read her aura at all to tell that.  A little trick with a mug wasn't going to put her at ease.     

“Jen.  Look, I know people died but I don't see how any of it was your fault.  Thompson made his choices.  Kelly is the one who put that Coldstone fellow down.  I can't really say I feel sorry for him.  His team killed a bunch of children with that  mine.  Cosmetic surgery just to take another shot at the people who took his team down.  That's nuts.”

Jed gestured at the virtual brails and AROs hanging over the table“It's not that –  well it sort of is – but it's also this.”

This was a series of financial transactions and structured securities that made anything found in a small accounting office in Peoria look like a walk in the park.  The business program at that prep school Jen attended before the change obviously did a good job.  She could follow the math in this mess.  Good program, if you wanted to be a broker on Wall Street. 

“Relax.  You'll get this stuff.  I was an accountant for twenty years.  The practical bits will come to you.  Besides, you already spotted where Thompson was embezzling once.”

Jen flashed a weak smile.  “That's once for me and six for you.  Besides it isn't that.  This stuff was Haley not Jen.”

“I thought you were Haley?”

“You wouldn't have liked Haley.  She was a bitch.  Would have made a great vampire, already had a hole in her soul before she died.”  Well that raised an eyebrow.  Maybe Jen was finally about to open up.

“You asked me once what it was like being Nosferatu.  It . . . you die then you wake up out of your mind with hunger.  Come back to yourself with your first victim dead at your feet.  Then the virus hits you.  Expands your mind.  You feel the whole weight of history bearing down on you.  Every life a story, every one precious, and they're all going to die.  Many are going to live in pain before they do.  And you're smarter, better, more powerful.  If only you can make people listen to you.  If only you can be in charge, you can make things better for everyone.  And then, if you really start to think about it you realize that you've already forgotten about the dead man at your feet.  The first acceptable loss on the way to a better world.” 

“Haley was too hurt to care about anyone when she died.  She could never have handled being Nosferatu, it would have destroyed her.  Jen, Jen would never see somebody as an acceptable loss.  Haley died and Genevieve woke up.  It's better for everyone this way.”

“Jen, what happened to you before you changed?”

“They made me into their perfect little girl.”         

* * *

<Hi, you still there?>

<You haven't rebooted your comlink?>

<Is that all I need to do?  I was going to throw it into the river.>

<Well,that's one way to handle a hacked device.>

<Are you scarred of me?>

<Fragging terrified.>

<I see, :-( Guess I'll be going then.>

<Wait.  Why did you call me?>

<I need to do something normal for a change.  Wondered if you wanted to see a movie.>

<The only thing playing is Queen of the Blooded V.>

<Would you believe me if I told you it's a comedy.>

<Maybe.  Why me?>

<Have you ever worried that a corp would kidnap you and dissect your brain?>

<For technomaners, that isn't a rhetorical question.>

<Same for Nosferatu.  See we already have something in common.>

<If you drain me, I won't be a technomaner anymore.>

<I'd never drain somebody who was awakened, or uh whatever technomancers call it.  Maybe some blood, but no essence.>

<Huh?>

<Oh boy.  Astral 101, blood and life essence are different.  Get Max to explain it to you.>

* * *

<Are you still there?>

<Yes.>

<Have you ever drained anyone that was awakened or emerged before?>

<Well, there was this insect shaman once, but he got away.>

<Still want to see a movie?>

<I don't know.  Do I have to worry about your friends trying to collect a bounty?>

<No.>

<Ok, what do you want to see?>

<How about Deep Matrix III.   Would you believe me if I told you it's a comedy?
Warning: most likely posting from a tablet.