The news, though not entirely unexpected, still came as a shock. The runners gathered at Winterhawk's apartment in various states: `Wraith looked like he had not slept at all, Winterhawk wasn't much better, and Ocelot had the characteristic bleary unshaven look that suggested that he might have had more than his usual few beers the previous night. Only Joe looked relatively well rested.

"All right," Winterhawk said as `Wraith sat down. "Let's have the rest of this."

`Wraith pulled his cyberdeck from its protective bag and placed it on the table in front of him. Without a datajack, the things he could do on his own in the Matrix were limited, but his skills, tutored by T.C., had been improving to the point where he was more than up to the task of obtaining the sorts of information that were only lightly guarded. Fingers flying, he punched some instructions into the deck and then turned its screen around so his teammates could see it.

Appearing on the screen was an article pulled from the Seattle Business Daily, a datafax concerned primarily with corporate affairs. The article was timestamped less than four hours ago.

APS' Blake Dies
SEATTLE: Torval R. Blake, 53, CEO of Advanced Protection Systems, died suddenly tonight in his home in northern Bellevue. No details regarding Blake's death are available at this time. Blake is survived by his ex-wife, Whitney Gardier, and two children. Funeral services are pending.

"Shit..." Ocelot muttered.

"Died suddenly, huh?" Joe said, leaning forward to get a better look. "Suppose the same thing happened to him that happened to Mortenson?"

"Sure sounds that way," Ocelot said. "No details my ass. They don't know what's going on any more than we do."

"Or they're not telling," Winterhawk added. He lounged back on the sofa, putting his feet up on the coffee table at the opposite end from `Wraith's deck. "Either way, it would probably be worth our time to look into this a bit further."

"T. C. might be able to find out some more," Joe said.

"Or Harry," Ocelot added.

ShadoWraith was tapping into his deck again. "What are you doing now?" Winterhawk asked, craning his neck to see the screen.

"Setting retrieval," the elf said, still tapping. "Blake. APS. Mortenson. Jenner and Magnum."

It was one of the things that he, as a "turtle," could do almost as effectively as a true decker: setting his deck to go out and search the Matrix for any documents or other items that made mention of the subjects in question. As long as they weren't encrypted or otherwise protected, `Wraith's deck could find them. Slow, but reliable.

"Let's call Harry first," Ocelot said. "Maybe he's already heard, since he was just talking to us about Blake last night." He looked at Winterhawk questioningly.

`Hawk was already dialing. "He's not going to be happy to hear from us this early," he commented.

"He'll survive," Ocelot replied sourly.

Surprisingly enough, Harry appeared to be awake and without company. Previous experience had told the runners that before noon, he almost never answered his phone, and when he did, he was in a foul mood from being awakened far ahead of his normal schedule. Today, though, he picked it up on the second beep. When he saw Winterhawk's face on the vid, he said, "Kinda thought you guys might call."

"Why is that?" Winterhawk asked carefully.

"Hear about Blake?"

The mage looked around the room at the rest of the team. "We were just discussing it," he said. "We were rather hoping you might have a bit more information than `died suddenly, no details.'"

Harry grinned. "Ye of little faith. Of course I got more information. My guys have been on it for hours. Just waitin' for you to call. Didn't want to interrupt yer beauty sleep. Really should do somethin' about those circles under yer eyes, `Hawk."

"Harry, just tell us, all right? We're in no mood for games right now." From the expressions on the others' faces, Winterhawk was quite certain that they felt the same way.

"Okay, okay. Sheesh. You guys are no fun anymore. Anyway, seems that our friend Torval went up like a big flaming torch last night. From reports from a couple people who saw his house, looks like it happened in his study. Word on the street is that somebody got him with a pretty nasty ritual sending. Wasn't enough left of him to sweep up and put in a baggie."

The runners exchanged glances as it dawned on them what must have occurred. "So that's what the blood sample was for," Winterhawk said to nobody in particular. "Now everything makes a bit more sense." He looked back at Harry. "Have you got anything else? Such as who might have been responsible for the sending?"

"Still workin' on that. They were pretty professional about the whole thing, whoever they were. And they waited long enough after that sample got grabbed—I think people were gettin' lazy. I'll keep checkin', though, if ya want to know."

"Why wouldn't we want to know?" Ocelot asked from across the room.

Harry shrugged. "Doesn't seem to make any difference now, the way I see it. I'll lay odds nobody's gonna be after you now. The security guy's dead and the target's been snuffed. Bad for the bottom line to kill the messengers at this point, right? Besides, with their CEO gone, I think APS is gonna have more on their minds than cacking a runner team, don't you?"

"True," Winterhawk admitted. "But we still don't know who killed Mortenson."

"I'll let ya know if I find anything else," Harry said. "For now, though, that's all I got."

Winterhawk nodded. "Thank you, Harry. You're being most helpful."

"For a change," Ocelot piped up.

"You guys ain't seen what all this is gonna cost ya." Harry hung up before anyone could respond.

Everyone was silent for a few seconds after the connection went dead. Ocelot was the first to speak. "So—you think that's it? Is it over?"

"Unknown," `Wraith said. He'd finished with his deck and carefully packed it away in his bag.

"I certainly hope so," Winterhawk said. "It would not disturb me in the slightest if the death of the unfortunate Mr. Blake brought an end to this whole unpleasantness."

Joe was shaking his head. "I'm just not sure it's over yet. We still don't know what caused all those weird illusions."

"Maybe we never will," Ocelot said. "I don't like it, but if it means this is over, I can live with it."

Winterhawk didn't answer. He noticed that ShadoWraith didn't either.

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