1. Prologue

The office was large, sepulchral, appointed in an opulence that was at the same time spartan and almost sinfully luxurious. The man who entered it now had been summoned; if he had not, there was no question that he would not be standing here, trying desperately to hide his nervousness. No one came up to the boss' office without having first been summoned. It was a fact that every one of the corporation's employees, from the lowliest janitor up to the most lofty executive vice president, knew almost instinctively from the moment at which they began their employ.

The man stood for a moment in front of the door, which had just closed softly behind him (bringing on the unbidden and decidedly unwelcome fear that he wasn't ever going to get out of here again) and gathered his bearings before approaching the desk on the far side of the room. Sparing a quick glance around the office, he took in the high ceilings, the fine marble floors covered with a scattering of priceless oriental rugs, and the carefully-chosen objets d'art which complemented the room without dominating it. The heavy drapes of the dramatic window behind the desk were open, revealing a stunning panorama of black sky, shimmering stars, and the tops of some of the other buildings far away.

Squaring his shoulders, the man stepped into the room and crossed toward the desk. What the objets d'art had failed to do, the desk did nicely: a long, low affair carved from a single piece of obsidian, it stretched out before the window like a malevolent presence all its own, drawing the visitor's eye immediately to it. The desk was nearly empty, uncovered by the typical clutter of the office: dataterminal, untidy stacks of papers, pens, folders, and personal effects were conspicuously absent, leaving the black surface of the desk as still and unmarred as that of a becalmed sea at midnight.

Behind the desk was a tall leather chair, currently turned around so the occupant (if indeed there was one) could gaze out the window at the magnificent view. As the man approached, a figure rose from the chair and stood, still facing the window. "Beautiful night, is it not?" The voice was low, rich and full, and carried clearly to the man although the figure had spoken softly. The accent was very slight and almost unidentifiable, though it might have been Eastern European of some sort or another.

"Y—yes, sir," the man said, trying not to stammer. "It is."

The figure did not turn around. If the thought had occurred to him that he was committing a breach of etiquette by failing to face his underling, then it did not seem to bother him. "Yes..." he said softly, as if he were speaking to himself. "Yes...it is a beautiful night. Not so beautiful as some I've seen. But it will do for now, I think."

The man, wisely, remained silent.

The figure remained in the same position, staring out over the skyline. Tall, powerfully-built, he wore a gray suit of the finest tailoring. All at once he turned around, cat-quick, to face his visitor. "What have you got for me?"

The man could not meet his eyes, although he covered it well. The figure was still wreathed in shadow, but his eyes, cold and purposeful, burned into the man's psyche.

"Success, sir," the man said, his voice getting a bit stronger. He knew he had the information the boss wanted to hear, and this was always a good thing. The unlucky ones were those who were forced to report to the boss that they had failed in whatever task with which they had been charged. "I've located the one you seek."

"Excellent." The dark figure settled back down in his chair, regarding his underling over steepled fingers. "Details."

The man shifted a bit, nervously. "I—don't have many details, sir. I do have a location, though."

The boss waited.


One dark eyebrow crept minimally upward. "Seattle?"

"Yes, sir."

"What would he be doing there, I wonder?" Again, the man behind the desk spoke as if to himself.

The underling chose to answer the question anyway, desperate to impart whatever information he had obtained and get out of the boss' unnerving presence. "He's involved himself in the— shadow community, sir."

The eyebrow rose slightly again. "Indeed?"

"Yes, sir. I—haven't been able to find out any more detail yet, except that he has others with him. I will, of course, continue my investigation and provide you with more information as soon as I have obtained it." The man's voice once more grew more confident. The boss had summoned him before he had had time to complete his search, but there would be more, once he was allowed to return to his decks and his contacts.

The boss digested this information, his cold gaze directed now through the underling rather than at him. "Indeed..." he repeated. After a long, uncomfortable silence, during which time the underling tried with a fair degree of success to remain standing still, the boss' eyes snapped back to focus on the man's face. "Is there anything else?"

"No, sir. Not yet. But I assure you—"

"That will be all, then." With a curt nod, the boss turned his chair back around to face the window.

The man swallowed hard. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." He took a deep breath and re-crossed the room to the door as quickly as he could manage without appearing to be retreating. Outside, the door once again closed behind him, he paused to collect himself before taking another deep breath, straightening his suit, and marching purposefully toward the elevator that would take him back down to the real world. He was certain that once he was back in his element, plugged into his decks or in contact with the numerous people who provided him with information, it would not be long at all before he could dig up something that would please the boss. As uncomfortable as he got in the boss' presence, the man took great pride in the fact that this project was a private one, commissioned directly from the top and undertaken clandestinely, in addition to his regular duties. The boss must have great faith in his abilities, he was sure.

When the next decker came on shift four hours later and discovered the man's dead, brain-fried body slumped in his chair, still connected to his deck, no one thought much of it. It was a sad occasion, of course, but these things happened. Every decker who worked for any corporation knew it. Sometimes you just found out too much about the wrong things, and you paid for it with your life.

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Copyright ©1998 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation. No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.