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« on: <06-18-12/1521:04> »
(Author's Note: Sometimes, when people go around tossing out terms like 'special snowflake' as though they were beads at Mardi Gras, I get the urge to take up a challenge and see just how special a special snowflake can be.)


It was cold in Shackleton. It was always cold here. Even if one could afford to keep the place heated to levels that weren’t freezing cold, you couldn’t, or risk the ice tunnels connecting all the buildings collapsing from the melt. But they got it up from ‘freeze your nethers off’ to ‘uncomfortable’. Of course, that was only uncomfortable for the new residents. Everyone who’d been here more than a season or two got used to the constant chill.

One building stood out amongst this gathering of shacks, shanties, warehouses and other places catering to the prospecting (and shadowrunning) crowd. Chez Rick’s American Café stood near the center of town, proud in the designation of being the largest bar for over a hundred miles. Rick, the owner, was, in addition to being an old flat-screen movie buff, happened to be one of the top fixers in the shadow community that had formed to service the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Sure, in a big sprawl, he’d be a small fish, but here in this little frozen puddle, he was one of the whales.

The lights dimmed in the café, and on the makeshift stage a spotlight lit up the only person in the room not wearing a heavy coat as the music began to play. The woman’s hair glittered like strands of silver in the bright light, and the second skin she was wearing was programmed to display an icy mist that always kept moving, and teased, but never revealed more than she wanted to, a tease only enhanced by the two Japanese paper fans she held in her hands, accentuating her dance. And as she circled the pole and began her dance, she knew she had everyone’s eyes on her.

It was always the same. Five nights a week, she’d spend a few hours upon the stage. Sometimes she gave private shows, either here, or at the other islands of habitation in this frozen land. It was during one of her first nights dancing here at Rick’s that she got the name Snowflake from some drunk runner who happened to be celebrating a job well done (or at least survived). The name stuck, as such things tended to do. She’d come to accept it, even own it. Of course, no one outside the runner scene knew she was a runner.

Snowflake cast her purple and blue eyes out over the crowd, making eye contact with her regulars as she danced, stepping off the stage and onto one of the near tables. Bending low, she arced her back in front of one of the men, offering the commlink strapped to her thigh as she did so. He responded, pulling out the cable from his own commlink to plug it in, and transfer a tip her way. As she confirmed the transfer, she saw a job offer come in from Rick. She smiled, even as she playfully batted the man’s hand away from where it was gripping her ass.


Four hours later, when her time was up, and she’d made a sizeable bit of nuyen, she retreated to the small warehouse where she had a steady berth for her van, one of the new Renraku Polar Bears. Originally a step-van for the arctic, this van little resembled the manufacturer’s specs any more. It was more than the fact that the van had been converted to serve as the dancer’s home in this frigid land. The van was also heavily armored, and if any nosy official asked about it, she simply said that it was hard for a girl to get about to all the different stations she was sometimes asked to perform at, what with spirits and other nasties in the wild. Not that many people asked any more. Fame had some benefits, even if it made other aspects of her job harder. Stripping out of the second skin she wore to perform, she contemplated the job offer.

It had only taken a bit of negotiation in the virtual meet to get the Johnson to agree to her normal rates. It was a fairly straight forward job. A certain scientist at one of the research facilities suspected one of the other members of his team of working to sabotage his work. Sounded like the ravings of a scientist who couldn’t take the months long winter night, but that wasn’t her concern. She always got these kinds of requests this time of year. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end did funny things to people. But she was getting her twenty thousand, so she didn’t mind. Sure, it may have been a bit much, if she was in a decent sprawl, but there were benefits to playing in a small pond.

Slipping into the chameleon suit she favored when working, Snowflake got behind the wheel of the van, and headed out into the darkness and the cold, thankful for GPS and a satellite link. The information said that the target was going to be out on the ice, conducting dives to observe some of the Antarctic undersea life. Of course, the science team was guarded as well as could be on the surface from mundane and magical threats. The rigors of diving the frigid water meant that he would be most vulnerable under the water. The frigid cold didn’t worry her. The magic sustained her, despite the deepest cold. But the thought of what might be living under the ice gave her pause. Meistersingers were one thing. A megaladon or (spirits forbid) a kraken was another thing entirely. In this land, there were dangers everywhere. As she left the city on the ice, she flicked a switch, and her van’s chameleon coating shimmered into activity, and she became one with the night.


She made good time across the open tundra, crossing the distance between Shackleton and the point she picked for a base camp in only twelve hours. She’d told Rick she was going to miss tonight’s show, told him to give the normal excuse. A ‘private show’, with a wink and a lecherous grin was usually enough to keep people from wondering where she went those nights. She’d slept most of the way, so she would be primed and ready when it came time to hike to the scientist’s camp.

If this was a sprawl, she’d have spent the time getting building schematics, and planning a course of attack. That was perfectly useless here, of course. Temporary shelters on the ice weren’t exactly complex, and the terrain could change between one satellite pass and the next. Of course, that didn’t mean she left everything to the Johnson’s information. Rick had come through for her with an info docket on her target, and the likely protection he was going to have. The target worked for Aztechnology. Not a mage, according to the file. Probably why he was stuck all the way down here. She couldn’t make heads or tails of the scientist’s work, except to see that it involved marine biology.

Looking at the gauges as the van came to a stop, she sighed. Even with the extra fuel tank she’d had installed in this beast, it was still almost at the furthest edge of her range. Even so, she’d still have been sunk without backup fuel she always kept in the Air Supply drone in the launcher. Perhaps with this payday, she’d pick up that Nightwing she’d been thinking about. Having her own aircraft would simplify her life a great deal, and Shackleton did have its own air strip…

But that would have to wait. She had to get paid the rest of her money before she got to spend it. And getting paid meant a hike of a couple hours through the Antarctic night. She slung the sniper rifle and shotgun that had become her calling cards on this frozen continent, and stuck the gyrojet pistol to the small of her back, just in case she had to get wet. There was no better way to get yourself killed than to go out on the ice unprepared.

She moved lightly over the snow, her chameleon suit hiding her from sight, and dampening her heat signature, allowing her to blend in with the tundra around her. She made no tracks or traces where she walked, rising above the snow like an elf in an old fantasy trid. The goggles and mask she wore over her face kept the wind from striking her exposed skin, which was a mercy. It was still dreadfully cold, but when hypothermia wasn’t an issue, you could learn to bear the cold and wind.

There were no landmarks in the darkness. Just the GPS coordinates she was following. She knew she was getting close when she saw the heat blooms of the temporary shelter appeared in the distance. From what she could make out, it was a simple mobile lab/shelter. Nothing terribly advanced, but better than polar tents for keeping soft scientists safe while sleeping on the ice. She knew there were at least a couple trucks out there, but they were turned off, cold, invisible to her thermographic, and too far away for her to distinguish with the ultrasound.

As she drew closer, she began to get a better view of things. The scientist’s guards had placed a few low-powered lights up at certain points. Thermographic was good for many things, but when checking one’s equipment before diving into the frigid water, normal vision was still the best. Which meant portable work lights at certain points. Like the ones around the dive site. Looking over the area, Snowflake began planning her next move.

She could set up a sniper’s post here, and wait for the doctor to come into one of the pools of light.  Problem was that even with the silencer dampening the flash, in the darkness it would not be that hard to get a bead on her. And it was a long walk back to her van.

Or she could find someplace to go under the water, and hunt him there. She wasn’t a fan of that idea, though, since she was a better shot with the rifle. Not to mention the fact that running into a kraken with nothing more than a little gyrojet pistol was NOT her idea of a ‘good time’. And the more noise you made underwater, the more likely something was going to come and take a look. And it just might think you’re dinner.

She could abandon the rifle, just go in with the shotgun, but she would have to kill them all to get away clean, and she wasn’t sure she could do that without catching some lead of her own. And blood would DEFINITELY call predators to her.

But there was another possibility. Not far from here, the ice sheet began breaking up into large flat pieces (at least on the top) as they began their slow journey into the Atlantic. If she set her perch up on one of those ice floes, then even if the guards saw the shot, she could slip under the water, and come up somewhere suitably far away. She still ran the risk of encountering angry wildlife, but when given a choice of possible encounters with angry paracritters and getting in a firefight with Azzie troops in the middle of nowhere, hoping to get to her van before backup arrived, and probably still attracting a bunch of paracritter attention all the same…

Settled on a course of action, she set about finding a way into the water. It took some walking, but soon her crevasse detector spotted a weak point in the ice, only an inch thick. Snowflake took a breath, and then jumped, landing on the weak spot. The ice cracked beneath her, and she fell into the freezing water, in nothing but her chameleon suit. Any normal metahuman would be dead in minutes if they tried this. Fortunately, the changeling wasn’t a normal metahuman.

Breathing through her gills came as easily to her as breathing air. Sure, she tired more quickly in the water than she might on land, but she didn’t have to worry about things like coming up for air, or getting the bends. She began swimming, her eyes seeing just fine under the water, allowing her to avoid the crushing ice floes as she made her way towards the area she needed to be at to take the shot. She saw nothing with normal vision or thermographic, and kept her ultrasound to passive for the moment. Too many creatures used sonar in the sea, and strange frequencies attracted them.

Finally, she breathed a sigh of relief as she found a break in the ice, letting her get up to the surface. Carefully, she climbed up the side of the bobbing ice cube, and collapsed onto the icy surface, steadying her breathing after the exertion of swimming for a mile. She set up the Shiawase-made police sniper rifle, and sighted in on the target. She smiled as she saw him gearing up for the next dive, two guards with what looked like high powered assault rifles getting ready to follow him. They were almost certainly modded to fire underwater. Silently she thanked her decision not to try and hunt the target in the deep.

She took a breath, held it, released it slowly, lined up her shot. The target was just getting to the hole the Azzies had cut in the ice. First guard was already in the water. Now he was stepping up to the side. His knees bent, and he made to take the short hop into the water. He sprang.


The shot was quiet for a rifle, but in the stillness, there was no disguising the sound. A fine red mist sprayed the second guard on dive duty, as the back of the scientist’s head disintegrated, his body falling into the water. And in that stillness, she heard the sound of engines heating up. Drones. They had a rigger with them? That wasn’t in any of the intel! Cursing, she slung the sniper rifle behind her, scooped up the brass and left in its place a single RFID tag. Nothing was on it, except the calling card she left: a glyph rotating in AR for anyone to see, a perfect snowflake, snow white. That done, she dove beneath the ice, hoping that it would conceal her from the drones before they could get to the area.

Beneath the frozen waves, she felt safer than in the open with drones flying towards her. But she knew she wasn’t safe, not yet. There was a blood in the water, afterall. And this time, as she saw shapes moving in the deep. Sharks. Little ones, most likely mundane. But even a normal shark could kill her if it got its jaws on her. She swam faster, risking the ultrasound, to try and find a break in the ice she could climb out of.

She didn’t breathe easily again until she was back on solid ice. She could hear the sound of the drones searching, but they weren’t near her. Funny how far sound carried in the frozen plains. She shook, once, to get some of the water off, before it froze, and began the long walk back to her van. When she got back to town, she planned to take a nice, hot shower.
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