.....helplessly pausing...........ahhhhh-CHOOO! ah-choo! ah-choo!
DREK! The troll thought as he reached for something to wipe the snot off his face, How da frag am I supposed ta run my drones wit dis lousy fraggin cold? The question, although rhetorical in nature, waited for the coughing fit to pass before it could be addressed. When the rigger finished clearing the phlegm out of his sore throat, he rubbed the back of his warty hand across his equally warty brow in a vain attempt to measure his own temperature. Failing to determine anything of value the rigger shrugged, closed his eyes and linked consciousness with the microskimmer he had been controlling seconds before.
Before being overtaken by the sneeze, NIN (the name of the ailing Troll rigger) had been following the target, by way of microskimmer, through a maze of back alleys. Now, reconnecting with his spying Frisbee, he found himself examining, quite closely, a small section of decaying brick wall. Although he willed his mechanical alter ego to pull away from the crumbling brick facade he found that he could not.
Unbeknownst to its erstwhile operator, the microskimmer had interpreted the burst of unfocused electrical activity occasioned by its master's sneezes as commands. It had, therefore, blasted away at maximum speed at a right angle to its original course, ripping through several full wash lines in the upper levels of the alley. It had then spun in place several times while its left side dipped and its right side faced the open sky, only to plunge toward the street while flipping end over end. A few solid caroms off the alley walls, radical changes is in yaw, pitch and direction as well as several dizzying twirls later, the aerial ballet ended, leaving the skimmer tightly wedged between a dumpster and a corner of two tenements.
After several seconds of curses and mental strain, NIN mentally threw up his hands. The internal battle between fulfilling his duties by tracing his target and the need to retrieve his drone were both overwhelmed by the desire to climb back into his sickbed. He activated the drone's security system and groaned as he unplugged his jack. Finally he activated his com link.
"This <cough, cough> is NIN. I lost the mark. Repeat: I don't <cough, cough, cough> have him."
"DREK! I thought you had him locked! What happened?"
"My cold fragged the connection, boss. <AH-CHOO!> Sorry."
"I told you a trog rigger was worthless" cut in a third voice, "but NO, you had to stick to 'old friends I can trust'...."
"Shut up, Dee-dee. I don't have time for your drek right now. Does anybody have a visual?"
The ensuing fourteen seconds of silence revealed the answer as clearly as any spoken word might have.
"FRAG!!!" The boss exclaimed. "Okay. NIN, you're done. You owe me. I'll talk to you later. Dee-Dee, you start looking between 14th and 17th. Everything from Thomas to K......"
NIN turned off the com link and shuffled across the room. I must be sick, he thought, I don't give a damn about my rep or Towey being pissed or even where my Frisbee is. I just wanna sleep......
"........I FIND YOU I'M GONNA WHIP YER SKINNY HOOP, BOY!"
Victor Montana roared through his open back door into the seemingly vacant alley. Although the sun was still several hours from setting, and therefore surprisingly early, the announcement notified the neighbors that the abusive father had scrapped together enough credits to buy a bottle and was now ready to demonstrate his dissatisfaction with life by beating the crap out of his son. Even those who had little reason to love the trouble-making young ork shook their heads in sympathy for what they knew was coming. When Tony had been a little younger there had even been an abortive attempt or two to intercede on the boy's behalf, but sadly, Victor's propensity for undifferentiated violence, the boy's own knack for getting into trouble and the fact that the young ork seemed to have a growing ability to absorb damage, combined to argue against "mixing in".
"TONY! TONY!!!! GET THE FRAG IN HERE YOU MOUTHERFRAGGIN PIG!" boomed the alcoholic Aztlaner. "Don't Make ME Come FIND You!"
Hunkering down in the hiding spot he had spent the morning constructing, the ten- year-old's emotions ran the gamut from rage to terror. He raged at the injustice of being his father's means of venting his anger with the world. It wasn't Tony's fault that his father's romance with an ork woman had garnered derision and taunting from the other men at the loading dock. Tony hadn't been born yet, so how could his father blame him for the fact that in a fit of wounded machismo, Victor had broken the nose of a dispatcher. Was it his fault that the ensuing unemployability had driven his father into a bottle? That his mother's depression had caused her to take her own life? NO! It's not my fault! the cowering boy thought, I didn't do anything......
"PENDEJHO! I'M TAKING OFF MY BELT!"
All thoughts of anger were overwhelmed by fear. The boy curled into a tighter and tighter fetal ball as his enraged father thundered across the stoop above the boy's head and began tearing through the alley flotsam. Please, God, don't let him find me the boy prayed as tears filled his eyes. Don't let him look under here, please God! Protect me, protect me protect me.....
"DAMN YOU, You little Roach! When I get my hands on you........"
Oh God, please let him give up and drink himself unconscious. If only.....
The boy's terrified importuning of the almighty was cut short as, with a feat of brute strength, the drunken parent moved an alley dumpster from its usual resting place. Tony heard- "What the Frag? EEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAHHHHHH!" followed by the thud of a body hitting the ground.
The alley was silent for the next ten minutes because Tony had been decoyed into betraying himself in the past by a similar ruse and wanted to be completely certain his tormentor was out of action before he risked giving himself away. After waiting in silence as long as he could, the boy began silently creeping out from under the stoop, poised to run for his life at any sound. Eventually Tony crept close enough to see his father's unconscious form stretched out between the dumpster and an alley wall. The next thing he noticed was the smell of ozone and that his father had some sort of garbage can lid clutched in his blackened hands. As the boy crept closer he realized that the metal disk was too thick to be a garbage can lid, but failed to understand what it was.
Instead of recognizing that some rigger had customized a flying drone with a security system and that the microskimmer had discharged its batteries when handled by an unauthorized person, Tony came up with an analysis which was both less accurate and more metaphysical. Thank you, God the boy thought as crossed himself. Half remembering his few encounters with worship at his mother's side, he knelt and thought, Thank you for protecting me, oh Lord. You shielded me from my enemy. You sent this Holy Shield He thought as he reached over to pry the microskimmer from his father's badly burned hands. I promise I will pay you back. The boy reverently held the "holy shield" and prepared to leave.
Lest a heaven sent opportunity be wasted, Tony turned back and proceeded to kick and stomp the unconscious form until he was sure most of his father's ribs were broken. He then tucked the drone under his arm and made his way out of the alley.
".........HAW HAW HAW! I'm tellin ya, it was the funniest drek ya ever saw!" the construction worker roared. "But wait. Let me tell ya the whole thing from da beginning. See, we're over at St. Michael's 'cause Fahder Anselmo wants a estimate."
"An estimate a what?"
"Aw, he got some kinda half-assed shelter he's runnin outta da church basement, right? Well, he's tryin ta get old man O'Donovan ta cough up some free plumbin work so he can put in showers. So he puts da bite on old Leo and Leo sez ta me he sez 'Tommy, you take a couple a lads over and look-see what this is gonna cost me'. So me an Dutch and Murph are all set to go when outta nowhere,da worm shows up, as freakin prissy and tight-hooped as ya please. 'As Mr. O'Donovan's accountant,' he sez, lookin like he's got 4 foot of broomstick up his ass, 'I will compose a full report'.
"Like we don't know how ta write up an estimate! Fraggin paper pusher! Da real reason da pencil necked geek wants ta tag along is ta make sure we ain't goofin off on da clock." The hard hat paused and motioning to the bartender said, "Hey, Joe! Take da air outta dis, will ya?" Handing his empty mug to da bartender, the construction worker continued, "At least dat's what we thought at da time."
"So we go over an check out da basement. Kids and cots all over da place. Anyway, we take some measurements, den we're talkin to da Padre and we notice he's got dis ork kid followin him around." The raised eyebrows and shaking heads of his audience prompted an instant defense. "Naw! Da Fahder ain't like dat. He's ok. Just sometimes dese kids get in inta dere heads dat dey got like open com lines ta heaven and dey wanna know what a holy Joe is supposed ta do. Anyway, Don't get ahead a me."
Swigging a mouthfull of beer, Tommy continued, "Well, dis ork kids got some piece a gear in his hands. Won't put it down, won't let anybody see it and when Dutch asks him what it is da kid sez 'It's da Lord's Holy Shield and I must carry it until I pay God back.'
"Now, I don't pretend ta know da almighty personally, but I gotta wonder what HE needs wit a microskimmer, which is what da kid has actually got in his hands. I know dis because MY kid has been buggin da shit outta me for da last two months ta get him 'a Chief Thunder pose-able action set with all flying drones.' I swear if I hear about that toy one more fraggin time........Sorry. Anyway, so dis ork kid's got a skimmer which he's insisting is God's Shield.
"Okay so we're lookin over da structural support for da upper floors ta see where we can punch out holes ta run some ASG piping in. We're tied up for about 20 minutes when somebody notices dat da worm ain't around. Nobody cares too much until we hear what sounds like a woman's scream followed by this crash. We go to see and dere's da worm shriekin for mercy like a bitch while dis ork kid is smashin him in da head wit da skimmer. BAM! 'EEEEKKK!' BAM! 'HELP!' BAM!
"Wormser is runnin in circles and da kid keeps clobberin him wit da drone. First we're stunned, then we're laughin so hard that Dutch falls flat on his hoop, trips da Padre (who is yellin 'Tony, STOP') and as he's fallin, pushes Murph, who goes ass over teacups trippin over one a dese cots. Now I'm laughin so hard dat I can't breathe. All of a sudden a piece of cowling goes flying off the skimmer. 'YOU BROKE DA HOLY SHIELD!' da kid roars, an he proceeds ta smash da worm even harder. I swear, I never saw anything so funny in all my life. Dis enraged ork kid is breakin dis piece a tech on da worm's pointy head, an each time another piece comes off, he gets madder and hits harder which makes da damn thing break up faster, we're sprawled all over da room laughin our hoops off and Wormser's screechin 'Mercy! Oh, the pain! Help, Help!'
Pausing for a long swallow, the raconteur set down his mug and finally concluded the tale. "When it was all over we had ta carry da worm to da clinic. Doc sez he's got a concussion an it'll be a while till he can come back ta work. Damn shame." The mock solemnity was very brief before Tommy answered the yet-to-be-asked question. "Turns out, while we wuz arguin about were da lines for da showers should go, Wormser had gone off and propositioned one a da rug rats in another corner a da basement. Offered ten creds for a little head which was probably why he came along in da first place. Kid took da coin and den told da worm ta do it himself. I dunno if da tight-fisted prick was more upset about da cred or not gettin any, but he started slappin da little girl around. I'm guessin dat Tony saw dis an figured God wanted some payback so he plays El Cabong on Mr. Everett Wormser's noggin. Kid smashed da hell outta dat drone repayin God for his protection."
"........and I understand all that, Murray, I do. I know that when components have seen this much wear and tear....."
"Wear and Tear?! Anselmo, did you, a man of the cloth, a servant of God almighty, just refer to this pile of JUNK, which, I am relying on your word, once may have been parts of something useful, if, in my humble opinion, hopelessly outdated, as 'components' with 'wear and tear'?! Please, Padre. Sell the invisible kingdom of the hereafter to the masses, but bring no mystical theories into my humble shop. Here, if it walks and talks like the ugly duckling, don't try to convince me it's an emperor swan."
"Murray, would I try to fool you? Of course not. You're much too smart a business man to be fooled on a technical issue. I'm just saying that the device that these came out of seemed to be a microskimmer and might therefore be reused or resold......"
"In a surveillance device of questionable legality? And why would you assume that I would have any interest or association with such a device. Do I look like someone who trafficks in such things?"
The priest replied by looking at the pawnbroker over the top of his glasses for several seconds, forcing Murray to continue, "And even if I did, which I am certainly not suggesting, why would I pay good credits for circuit boards and dented metal? I mean, I might be willing to take the motor......."
"Now Murray, you wouldn't pick through this stuff leaving me with only those pieces which require the most labor and are therefore least likely to get a good price, would you? I'd never believe that such fine and upstanding........."
"Look, Father, do us both a favor and save the oil for another day. Since you are obviously too serious about this to give me a moment's peace until you make a sale, I'll take the whole pile off your hands IF your price is right."
"Thank you Murray, Tony, the boy who brought the item to us originally and all of the children at the shelter thank you too. You're doing a wonderful thing. Give us whatever you think is fair."
Had this been the first time Father Anselmo had brought in some scavenged piece of junk to sell to the pawnbroker, Murray might have been put off by the Priest's blatant manipulation. As it was, however, Murray had come to expect this sort of treatment from his long time friend. He heaved several huge sighs as he again sorted through the box of dented and broken skimmer parts. Where he normally would have had to balance his charity against the day's meager receipts, he had recently had a windfall of sorts. Supplementing his income from the Pawnshop, Murray did a little "fixing" on the side and a recent job had not been successfully completed by an otherwise reliable team of shadowrunners. Although this state of affairs would normally have been extremely off-putting, the job had been successfully completed by a less expensive, if more obvious, team, leaving Murray with a both a done job and a balance surplus. He was therefore able to "pay" far more for the skimmer parts than he normally would have considered.
As good as it made the pawnbroker feel to support the orphans, Murray's true delight came in seeing the joy on Father Anselmo's face become tinged with guilt after a price was named. Murray could hear the wheels spinning as the Priest considered how much he was overpaid for the box of junk. Good! the Pawnbroker thought. If he feels guilty because he took advantage maybe he'll take longer to come back here. Let him beg someplace else for a while. For a day that started as badly as today did, this is turning out all right.
"You mean you sold it?" The boy asked incredulously. "But the Lord sent it to......."
"To protect you from your father's rage, from what you told me."
"And then you used it to protect Kim from that man in the shelter, didn't you?"
"Well, yeah, but....."
"And now because I sold it, we can use the credits to buy good food and warm blankets so the other kids at the shelter will be protected from hunger and cold."
"Is that really what God wants?" the ten-year-old asked after some silent reflection.
The priest removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. "I don't know, my son. I know that we have needs and I believe that God provides for us. He just doesn't always explain himself clearly. The challenge of daily living is to find what God has provided and do the best you can with it. You just can't expect too much clarity because the Lord works in mysterious ways."
©1999, N.Buddy99 - used with permission