“Now what?” Winterhawk asked.
Gabriel didn’t answer; he was busy guiding the car back the way they had come. When they got far enough away that the traffic began to thin out again he pulled off and parked.
“We have to get him out of there before somebody kills him,” Kestrel said.
“How are we going to do that? Prison breaks aren’t exactly my speciality,” ‘Hawk said. As he was prone to do, he was hiding stress under a layer of flippancy. It wasn’t fooling anyone.
Gabriel leaned over and turned the radio back on, scanning through the channels until he found one devoted to news. The three of them listened grimly to the report: there had been an attempted breakout at the Pit last night. No prisoners had escaped, but as was procedure, the facility was in lockdown. Nobody was getting in or out. The break had affected only one of the prison’s five buildings; however the affected area housed some of the most dangerous of the Pit’s inmates. They were still attempting to determine how many guards were in there. So far there had been no demands. There was also no word on who had been involved in the attempted breakout. There were confirmed fatalities on both sides, but no one knew how many.
“I wonder if Ocelot was in on the break.” Kestrel sighed, slumping back in her seat.
“I wouldn’t put it past him, knowing how much he hates being confined,” Winterhawk said.
Kestrel nodded and turned to Gabriel. “Do you think there’s any way we can get in there?”
Gabriel didn’t answer right away. “It won’t be easy,” he said at last. “I don’t think we will be able to do it without magic.”
“Is that—safe?” Winterhawk asked.
“I think so, although it won’t be safe to do any sort of astral reconnaissance.”
“They’ll have wards and spirits on patrol anyway,” Kestrel pointed out. “You can’t expect a place like that not to have major magical defenses.”
Gabriel nodded. “It would be easier if we knew the layout of the place.”
‘Hawk smiled mirthlessly and pulled out his portable phone. He was already punching in a number.
“Who—?” Kestrel asked, but ‘Hawk waved her away as the party on the other end answered.
“Harry. Can you get a secure line and call me back at this number?” He nodded. “Right.” He clicked off; after a few moments the phone buzzed again. He tapped the speaker button so everyone in the car could hear the conversation.
“This has something to do with the break last night at the Pit, doesn’t it?” Harry asked without preamble.
“How did you know about that?” ‘Hawk was astonished. “We just found out ourselves.”
“After you left, I flagged my sources to pull up anything about L.A. and specifically about that area. Didn’t get in till just now, or I’d’ve called you sooner.”
‘Hawk nodded. “We need a map of the Pit, Harry. Can you come up with such a thing on short notice?”
On the tiny viewscreen, Harry’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not tellin’ me you’re thinking of going in there, are you? That’s just plain suicidal.”
“You forget who we’ve got on our side,” Kestrel said, leaning over the seat.
“No I don’t. It’s still suicidal. Tryin’ to break outta there is insane. Tryin’ to break in, and then get back out again, while the place is under a lockdown is—”
“Can you get us the map?” ‘Hawk interrupted.
Harry sighed. “Yeah, yeah. It’ll take me a little time—half an hour or so at least. I can get you the layout, and the basic security setup, but I can’t promise anything beyond that. A situation like this changes all the rules. That’s why it’s so dangerous.” He looked away for a moment, examining something offscreen. “Send me a number where I can shoot this to you, and I’ll do the best I can. But I’m tellin’ you—you might be better off waitin’ until the lockdown’s lifted and takin’ your chances then.”
“We can’t,” Kestrel said. “You know Ocelot as well as we do. If something’s up, chances are he’s in the middle of it. Which means he’s either going to get out or get killed. I think we all know which one of those is the most likely.”
The fixer didn’t answer; he didn’t have to. “Okay. I’ll do the best I can. Sit tight until I get back to you.”
Winterhawk gave Harry the number of a secure mail drop Kestrel passed along to him. Before he could disconnect, Kestrel motioned for the phone. He gave it to her.
“Do you know anybody down here that we can pick up some stuff from?” she asked Harry.
“Like what stuff?”
“Armor, guns, ammo—something nonlethal. Narcoject, maybe, or a Squirt? Gabriel and Winterhawk might be able to sling the spells, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable with a little artillery backing me up.”
Harry nodded. “Yeah. Hang on a second.” Again he consulted something offscreen and then a number appeared on the phone’s display. “Call this and tell ‘em I sent you. They’ll set you up.”
“Thanks.” Kestrel handed it back to ‘Hawk, who broke the connection and stashed the phone back in his jacket.
Sighing, the mage leaned back and ran a hand through his hair. “Might as well make that call now. There isn’t anything else we can do until Harry gets back to us.”
The phone number Harry gave them turned out to be a Chinese restaurant a couple of miles away. The man who answered told Kestrel it was a little early to be picking up take-out orders, but when she mentioned Harry he told her to come on down and he would set her up with the special. Twenty minutes later the three of them were in one of the back rooms of a restaurant called Fung Long’s, being outfitted with everything they might need by an amiable young man who had introduced himself simply as Cheung while an older man with a strong familial resemblance to Cheung watched silently from the shadows.
Kestrel looked much more comfortable now, dressed in an armored longcoat with an Ares Squirt, a Narcoject pistol, sufficient ammunition for both, and an unremarkable but serviceable katana stowed in various places around her person. Winterhawk had taken another of the armored coats and, after some prodding from Kestrel, a Narcoject pistol to be used as a last resort if he took too much drain from casting spells. Gabriel had at first declined to take anything, but Kestrel convinced him to at least wear the armored coat. Winterhawk watched some subtle and silent communication pass between them and wondered what she’d said, but whatever it was it seemed to be enough to convince the young man she was right. Finally, she picked out three tiny radio transceivers with throat mikes and a hand-held scanner that would allow them to monitor police communications. “I don’t know if these’ll work in there,” she said, indicating the transceivers, “but they’ll be worth having if we get separated.”
“How much do we owe you for all of this?” Gabriel asked Cheung after they had finished with their outfitting and had stowed everything away for transport.
Cheung shook his head. “Harry took care of it already. He said to give you whatever you needed. That it’s—how did he put it?—’his contribution to this mess’.”
“What a surprise,” ‘Hawk said, and he truly did appear to be surprised. “Getting Harry to part with a nuyen? This is indeed a rare and momentous occasion.”
They were on their way back in the direction of the Pit when Harry called back. “I got what you wanted,” he told them. “Plans of the place—not the official ones, either, so they show some things that aren’t on the ones on file with the city. Got some security info too, but like I said, that’s not gonna to be much help in this situation.”
Gabriel was already pulling over next to a public dataterminal. Kestrel got out of the car and plugged her pocket secretary into it, running a little routine that bypassed the public terminal’s normal identification procedures and allowed her to connect to her anonymous mail drop. Winterhawk kept talking to Harry while Kestrel finished the download; two minutes later she was back in the car. “Thank you, Harry,” ‘Hawk said. “We owe you for this.”
“We’ll settle up later,” Harry said gruffly. “When all four of you guys are back here in one piece. I don’t hafta tell ya to be careful in there, but—be careful in there.”
“I’ll second that,” the mage agreed.
Kestrel studied the plans as they drove the rest of the way over. Gabriel parked the car as close as he could get to the Pit without arousing suspicion and turned off the engine. “We’ll need to get closer,” Kestrel said, handing the pocket secretary over to Winterhawk for a look. “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of the layout now, but that isn’t going to help us if we can’t get in.”
“Do you think anyone’s going to go in?” Winterhawk asked. “Doesn’t ‘lockdown’ mean they don’t let anyone in or out?”
“Usually.” Kestrel was busy fastening up the front of her armored jacket. “But this place isn’t your typical prison. If somebody’s overridden the security—and it sure looks like they have, or this wouldn’t have happened in the first place—then they might just decide to do something drastic. From the sound of things there aren’t any VIP hostages in there—you know, like the head of the place or some Lone Star higher-up—so they might make the decision to sacrifice the guards that are still alive and go in with lethal force to take the place back.”
Gabriel sighed but didn’t comment.
“It might be our only chance to get in,” Kestrel pointed out gently. “But we’ll have to get a lot closer than this if we’re going to do it.”
“I can get us closer,” Gabriel said, his voice soft, his eyes showing sadness.
Kestrel nodded. She didn’t look much happier about it than he did. “Okay. Then we’d better get started.”
The three of them got out of the car after first making sure that all of their various weapons were out of sight. “We’re lucky in one thing,” Kestrel said as they headed in the direction of the prison. “I noticed in that file Harry gave us that they don’t hold any magically active prisoners in the Pit—it’s too dangerous, so they ship them elsewhere. That means they won’t be looking for magic on the inside. They do have some paranormals—hellhounds—guarding the outer yard, though.”
“That should not be a problem,” Gabriel said. He made a brief gesture toward the two of them. “There. We should not be noticed by anyone now. Keep that in mind, though, because the spell does not discriminate. Don’t, for instance, walk out in front of any vehicles expecting that they will stop.”
Winterhawk nodded. He was familiar with the spell. He felt much more comfortable now under cover of such a spell cast with a dragon’s power.
As they approached, they could see at least a dozen Lone Star vehicles ranging from patrol cars up to armored personnel vehicles arrayed around the prison’s main entrance. The air crackled with the sounds of radio chatter and shouts back and forth between the various individuals and small groups gathered outside. More guards in full security armor and carrying machine guns patrolled the top of the high gray wall.
Kestrel, Gabriel, and Winterhawk stayed about half a block away, watching from around the corner of a large abandoned building. No one paid any attention to them, which wasn’t surprising given the magic that cloaked them; Kestrel suspected, though, that as long as they stayed on the right side of the roadblocks and didn’t do anything to attract notice, they would have been simply part of the scenery like the rest of the area’s denizens who were observing from the shadows. Kestrel pulled out the police scanner and fiddled with it, listening intently to the communications coming through the tiny earbud receiver. Gabriel and Winterhawk continued to watch grimly, neither wanting to use any more magic until it was necessary for fear of being noticed—either by Lone Star or by...something else.
The minutes dragged on for what seemed like forever while Kestrel listened. It became clear that Lone Star was preparing to do something, but it was difficult to tell what that plan was from this far away.
Kestrel fiddled with the scanner again and listened for about five more minutes. Her eyes widened. “That’s it,” she said, pulling the earbud out and returning her attention to her companions. “That’s how we can get in. But it won’t be easy.”
“What?” Winterhawk glanced back toward the cops and then again at Kestrel.
Kestrel held up the scanner. “Good thing we had this—and good thing it’s a little better than the ones you can pick up down at the local electronics shop. I was able to listen in on one of their coded channels for a couple of minutes before they changed the code again. It sounds like they’re planning to send in a small squad of heavily armed special-forces types—they’ll be here any minute now. They’re trained to deal with this kind of thing. The plan is to put them in one of the Citymasters and run them up to one of the back doors, then unlock just that one door. They figure the one thing they’ve got in their favor is that the inmates can’t use the guards’ guns—yet. But there are some guys in there who might be capable of overriding the signature feature on the guns, given enough time to do it. They want to do something before that happens.”
“I don’t understand,” Winterhawk said. “If they’ve got the place locked up and the inmates don’t have guns, why can’t they—I don’t know—flood the place with stun gas or something?”
Kestrel shook her head. “It’s a different system, and somebody inside has overridden their ability to get to it from the outside. From what little reports they’ve been able to get from the guards, the gas didn’t work right. It’s standard procedure to do that at the first sign of a riot.”
“Deckers inside?” the mage asked. “Almost sounds like something we’d do, doesn’t it?”
She grinned mirthlessly. “Yeah, come to think of it, it does.”
Gabriel had been watching the Lone Star activities as the other two were talking. He looked back at Kestrel. “All right—we know their plans now. What do you suggest we do?”
Kestrel eyed him up and down. “Do you think you could get us into that Citymaster?”
He looked at it and then back at her. He was about to say something and then he smiled. “In would be difficult,” he admitted. “Would you settle for on?”
“What do you mean, on?” Winterhawk tilted his head questioningly.
Kestrel was smiling now too. “Okay, I get it now. You can conceal us and we can ride in on top of the thing?”
Gabriel nodded. “Then once they open the doors, we can slip in unnoticed behind them.”
“Can you hide us from their scanners too? I’m sure everybody and their dog will be watching that thing when it goes in.”
Again the young man nodded. “We’ll have to be a bit careful until we get inside, but after we’ve gained entry we can simply wait for them to move on and then search at our leisure.”
“Sounds easy enough,” Winterhawk said a trifle dubiously. “I keep forgetting we’ve got a dragon on our side, so I guess it should be easy. But I don’t mind saying I’ll be much more pleased when this whole thing is over.” He turned to Kestrel. “When you looked at the layout of the place, did you get any idea where he might be?”
She shook her head. “It sounds like the riot started during the dinner hour. That’s the only time when most of the inmates are out of their cells. He could be anywhere by now. Anywhere but out,” she added ruefully.
Gabriel pointed toward the gate. “It appears that our strike team has arrived.”
The other two looked over. A black van was pulling up near the largest knot of Lone Star cars. Before it even came to a full stop the back doors opened, disgorging seven figures. Each was dressed in matte-black armor complete with helmets—lighter than full security armor, allowing for more maneuverability, but still heavy enough to stop a bullet. All seven carried rifles over their shoulders, stun batons and pistols at their belts, and small riot shields. One of the seven had a case of some sort slung over his other shoulder. Kestrel nodded. “Combat decker,” she told the others. “Looks like they’re going to try to get in there and get control back. That means we’re going to have to hurry, ‘cause we don’t want to get caught inside when they get the gas going again. If I were them at that point I’d just gas the whole place and then sort it out before anything else happened.”
“Lovely,” ‘Hawk muttered.
Inside the walls of the Pit it was anything but lovely. Ocelot crouched in the shadows, resting for a few moments before moving on. Tiny was with him, as was Michael. Ocelot wore the armor that had been worn the previous night by Kraft, who didn’t need it anymore.
It had been only a couple of hours since the lockdown when it had happened—the four of them were making their way carefully down red-tinged metal corridors, trying to reach the Pit’s control center. Michael and Kraft had determined that the Star might not in fact have gotten Louie, since the gas hadn’t come on and the interior doors hadn’t closed. They had surmised that someone had taken control of the outer perimeter, including the walls and the doors leading to the outside world, but that it was quite possible that their decker was still active inside. That decided, the two subjects of the escape attempt had figured their best course of action was to try to reach the place where Louie was and see what they could do about communicating with their other teammates on the outside. Aside from that they admitted to being fresh out of options.
Ocelot and Tiny didn’t have any options either, so they had set off with Michael and Kraft. At least those two appeared to have some idea where they were going; right now that was probably the most valuable thing in here, except perhaps for a way out.
They had been ambushed coming around a corner into an area that they had thought to be deserted. No sooner had they stepped into the room that a gang of three trolls and an ork and come up from behind some overturned furniture (it had been ripped out of the floor, probably by the trolls) and set upon them, wielding makeshift clubs.
The attacking gang had been defeated, but not without heavy loss. All three of the escapees heard the sickening crunch as one of the trolls got hold of Kraft’s neck and twisted it sideways, then flung the man aside like an unwanted toy. Kraft hadn’t even had time to scream.
That had spurred the remaining three runners to enraged action: Tiny, roaring, took out the troll who had killed Kraft and another one besides, and between them Ocelot and Michael killed the other ork and the troll rather messily, clubbing them to death with their comrades’ own weapons. When it was over, silence hung in the air for a long moment as no one moved. Then Michael dropped down to his knees next to Kraft’s body, his unyielding features overlaid with grief. Ocelot came up next to him, the faint stirrings of something in the back of his mind warring with the buzzings and the paranoia. “How long you two been teammates?” he asked gruffly, in the tone some men use to hide emotion.
Michael bowed his head. “Five years.” His gaze came up, his eyes blazing with rage and despair. “Damn this place. We are going to get out of here. I am not going to die in this hellhole!” Reaching down, he pulled Kraft’s helmet off and passed his hand over his friend’s face, closing his eyes. “Come on. Let’s get his armor off—you can use it, and it’ll mean we won’t have to risk taking down another guard just for that.”
Ocelot nodded. He helped Michael carefully remove the armor and then donned it while Tiny stood guard. They gathered up all the guns and the clubs the trolls had been using, handing the latter to Tiny who held one in each hand, his face grim. Both he and Michael took one last look back at Kraft before they moved on.
After that it had been an uneasy but uneventful night—at least as uneventful as it was possible to be under the circumstances. They came upon fewer and fewer guards as the night went on, and managed to avoid the ones they did encounter. Michael had determined with Kraft earlier when they had obtained the first sets of armor that the guards did not carry anything that might be useful to their quest, such as keys or ID cards that allowed them access to the various area of the prison; apparently it was all done with codes and retina scans, neither of which were operational at the moment. Thus, it didn’t make sense to mess with the guards, since they still had functioning firearms. It became obvious early on that the guards were as busy trying to avoid the inmates as the opposite; they moved in little groups of two or three, covering each other, the fear invisible on their faces beneath the helmets but quite apparent in their bearing as they moved. Despite their firearms, they were hunted animals. Their ammo could only last so long, and they knew it.
In addition to the guards the three of them also passed many more dead inmates lying in bloody heaps along the corridors. Some of them were in groups, some alone; some had been killed by guards’ bullets and others by blunt trauma—probably by their own fellow prisoners. Even Ocelot, in his short time here before everything had gone south, had seen the evidence of simmering rivalries between the prisoners: human against meta, ork against troll, gang against gang. Now, with all the doors thrown open and no guards to keep a lid on things, they were free to give vent to these rivalries. Ocelot was disgusted. Surviving was one thing—the most important thing, in fact. Living like animals, turning on each other when it would make more sense to band together until they were out of here—it was mindless, foolish, suicidal.
They had lost track of what time it was. They weren’t near any windows, so the illumination inside continued to be nothing more than the faint red of the half-power security lights. It had been an endless progression of sneaking around, hiding until other groups went by, fighting occasionally when they had to. It seemed to Ocelot as if he had never been doing anything else. At least the action and the tension kept the buzzing down. He had noticed (when he’d finally gotten around to thinking about it) that the buzzing had not been as bad since he had been brought here. He still worried about them and realized that if he did get out of here he would have to run, to be on his own again, but in here the fuzz that had wrapped around his brain on the outside did not seem as thick.
He looked at Michael and Tiny and quickly moved to catch up. He knew it was going to take teamwork to get out of here. That was more important even than them.
Outside the plan was proceeding well, albeit nerve-wrackingly. Gabriel, Kestrel, and Winterhawk, still cloaked by Gabriel’s spell, crept forward as the Citymaster was opened and the seven armored figures began taking their places inside. When the three saw the interior of the vehicle they were glad they had not tried to get inside—quarters were close with all the equipment they had in there already, and someone was bound to have noticed them. As it was, levitating upward and flattening themselves against the roof was quite perilous enough.
Fortunately for them, now that Lone Star had decided what to do, they did it quickly without a great deal of fuss and bother. No sooner had the three stowaways taken up positions on top of the Citymaster, it began to move. Two other Citymasters with mounted machine guns moved in behind them, their weapons trained on the gate that they would be opening. The rest of the Lone Star personnel, weapons also drawn, spread out to cover any holes that might be left by the larger vehicles. The heavy gate rolled open slowly; as soon as the Citymaster was through, it slammed closed again. Winterhawk and Kestrel exchanged glances. They were on their own now.
The Citymaster moved quickly across the wide expanse of yard, obviously not wanting to be caught out in the open for long. The three stowaways stayed low, resisting the urge to raise up high enough that they could get a better view of what was going on ahead. They knew where they were going, and it wasn’t worth it to take even a slight risk of detection.
It was only a few moments before the vehicle stopped again, swung around, and backed up to what looked like a heavily fortified door. The back end opened and three of the seven Lone Star operatives got out, including the one Kestrel had identified as the combat decker. While the other two covered him, the decker jacked into a small panel next to the door and in less than a minute had success. “Okay,” he called. “Get ready—I’ll open on three.”
The remaining operatives jumped out of the back of the Citymaster and spread themselves out, training their guns on the door. One of them, apparently the leader, nodded toward the decker.
“Okay. One—two—three!” The light on the panel changed from red to green and the door slid open, revealing a red-tinged hallway beyond and nothing else. There was no sign of life inside.
“Go, go!” called the leader, and the men hurried inside. The decker remained outside until everyone else was in.
Kestrel looked at Gabriel and hooked her thumb toward the door. He nodded and the three of them floated upward and inside the doorway just as the decker slipped through and it closed behind him.
The three stowaways flattened themselves against the walls and listened as the leader gave a final briefing to his men: they were headed for the central control room of this particular building. If there was a decker inside, he would have to be there. They would retake the building and then, if they could get control of the ventilation system, they would fill the entire building (with the exception of the control center) with stun gas. That would allow the Star to send in personnel to get things under control again.
Kestrel nodded knowingly as the seven Star men moved off in military formation and disappeared down the hall. The three waited five more minutes to make sure the others were gone, and then Kestrel sighed. “Okay. Now comes the hard part.”
“I’m going to drop the spell now, if no one has any objections,” Gabriel said. “As I said before, any magic involving prolonged contact with the astral plane, even something like this, increases our risk.”
“Combat spells should still be all right,” Winterhawk said. “Yes?”
Gabriel nodded. “Try to use as little magic as you can, though—it would be better if we weren’t identified.” He looked them up and down. They had all changed clothes before leaving, and were now dressed in nondescript pants and shirts under their armored jackets. Winterhawk and Kestrel had soft caps on to cover their distinctively-colored hair. He looked at Kestrel. “Lead on.”
For the next several minutes they moved noiselessly down the corridors, stopping at each decision point for Kestrel to re-check the map of the place and determine their next course of action. None of them had any idea where Ocelot might be, but they had made a few guesses about where he would not be: anywhere particularly open or the cell blocks, the former because even when he was sane he preferred places where he could hide, and the latter because Kestrel surmised (and Winterhawk agreed) that he would not risk being near a place where he could be recaptured should something happen and the guards take over the building once again. That left the administrative areas, the bathrooms, the armory, the infirmary, the control room, and the ventilation systems. Right now they were heading for the administrative area, due to the fact that it was one of the few areas in the building that had direct access to the outside world. If they knew that, perhaps Ocelot knew it too.
As they moved they could hear the far-off sounds of shouts, running feet, and the occasional gunshot. They encountered several dead bodies of both inmates and guards, each time taking a few seconds to verify that none of the bodies was Ocelot. All three of them were tense, knowing that the longer they remained in here, the greater the chance of discovery or of the Lone Star team’s managing to locate the renegade decker and get the place back online. The tension was increased by the awareness that the control center was very close to the admin section, meaning that both they and the Star team were heading in roughly the same direction. This in turn meant that if they didn’t find Ocelot before he arrived there (assuming that was where he was going at all) there would in all likelihood be a confrontation.
A crash sounded up ahead, followed by a loud yell of triumph. Kestrel froze and held up a hand; behind her, the others stopped as well. Seconds later three figures rounded the corner and stopped as they spotted the newcomers. All three were orks, huge and ugly and dressed in prison blues with the sleeves torn off. The one in the lead grinned as his eyes fell on Kestrel. “Hey, guys!” he yelled, leering. “Looka he—”
He didn’t get to finish the sentence because there was a tiny thwip from Kestrel’s Narcoject pistol, followed by a thud as the ork hit the ground. The other two did not get a chance to do more than stare wide-eyed before being dropped by a second shot from Kestrel and another from ‘Hawk. Kestrel paused to replace the two spent Narcoject rounds and then slowly moved around the corner.
A guard lay there in a crumpled heap, his neck broken, blood pooling beneath his head. Gabriel looked back with disgust toward the corner where they had left the orks, but followed and said nothing.
Winterhawk looked around nervously as they continued through the corridors. “Shouldn’t we be—seeing more people?” he asked softly. Looking at another dead prisoner against one of the walls, he added, “Live ones, I mean?”
“A lot of them are probably hiding,” Kestrel said under her breath. “Even in places like this, most people would rather hide than fight and risk getting killed. If this has been going on since last night I’d guess that the gangs and whoever else had some kind of rivalry going used this opportunity to take it out on each other, but I’m figuring a lot of the inmates are lying low. They shouldn’t be a problem for us.”
“From the look of things, neither should most of the aggressors.” ‘Hawk eyed an ork who had been stabbed in the heart with what looked like a knife fashioned from a piece of sheet metal and moved gingerly by. This particular ork had one leg of his pants rolled up to the knee, revealing intricate tattoos on his calf. ‘Hawk, clueless as he was about gang culture, had spent enough time with Ocelot to recognize that both the tattooing and the ripped sleeves of the previous orks marked gang membership.
Kestrel sighed. “We’re getting close,” she whispered. “Keep low—we’re probably going to run into more activity, especially if the people who planned this shindig are still in the building.” She held up her pocket secretary and pointed out the heavy steel door, now open, and the location of the administrative offices around the corner. As they passed the door, Winterhawk noted that it was several inches thick and solid steel. It would certainly have been sufficient to keep out anything short of an army, had it functioned correctly. He passed under it quickly, half afraid it would slam down on him as he went.
At the end of the corridor was a normal door, or at least normal for the sort of place this was: it was heavy steel with a small Armorlite window inset and slid back into the wall. Stenciled on the door in no-nonsense black lettering was “Administration—Authorized Personnel Only.” There was a retina scanner next to it, but it was not necessary: the door had been slid half-open, slight scorch marks on the wall into which it had been shoved back indicating that whatever electrical system controlled it has been violently tampered with. Further, the door was propped open by the armored body of a very dead guard.
“Looks like a good spot for an ambush,” Winterhawk muttered under his breath, eyeing the space the guard was occupying. It was barely wide enough for them to slip through one at a time.
Kestrel nodded. “I was thinking the same thing.” She flattened herself against the wall and looked at Gabriel. “Is it safe to just do a quick check? I don’t want to go through there without knowing what’s on the other side.”
Gabriel nodded, looking rather grim. He closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating, then opened them again. Holding his hand out for Kestrel’s pocket secretary, he pointed at a spot the door. The hallway extended out for about three meters and ended in a T intersection. The location he indicated was around the corner. “There are two individuals there,” he said softly. “One on each side. Both human, both armed with guns they appear to be using as clubs.”
Kestrel smiled rather nastily. “Two humans with clubs we can handle.” She readied her Narcoject pistol and moved over toward the opening.
“Shit!” Michael snapped in a whisper, drawing back from the corner he had been about to round.
“What?” Ocelot moved up, careful not to allow any part of his body to be seen by whatever had angered the shadowrunner.
“Star.” Michael hurried back the way they had come, motioning for Ocelot and Tiny to follow him. When they had put enough distance behind themselves and the Lone Star team, he stopped. “We’re not getting into the control room. They’re already there. They’ve got a decker tryin’ to get in.” He blew air through his teeth and seemed to slump against the wall.
Ocelot sighed in frustration. “They makin’ any progress?”
“Doesn’t look like it yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Louie’s good, but he won’t be able to hang on forever.” He looked at Ocelot and then at Tiny. “Looks like we’re on our own.”
“What does that mean?” Tiny asked. “Can’t we get out?” He looked worried. He had put his trust in these three—two now—men who appeared to know what they were doing. They were going to help him get out of here, get back to his mother and his friends. And now it looked like they were as stuck as he was.
Michael’s gaze darted back and forth down the hall. “There’s another way out, but it’ll be risky. As long as Louie’s got the control room we should be able to get out through the admin wing. We’ll have to get through one door that’ll be locked, then we’re out. But the problem is there isn’t any support once we get out. If they’ve got the walls—” He spread his hands, not needing to voice the rest of it.
“I want the hell outta here,” Ocelot said. “I’m willing to take my chances outside.”
Tiny nodded. “Me too.”
Michael thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go. Follow me—it’s not far from here.”
New plan in place, the three fugitives hurried back the way they had come.
Kestrel put her finger to her lips and crept forward. Winterhawk and Gabriel were right behind her, making no sound. Pistol drawn, she paused a moment and then quickly slipped sideways through the opening. “Come on,” she whispered, moving back against the wall and waiting as her two friends came through. So far there had been no movement at the intersection. They probably think we don’t know they’re there, Kestrel thought. They’re waiting until we come to them. She smiled at the thought. The would-be ambushers were going to get more than they’d bargained for.
Side by side with Gabriel in the middle and Winterhawk and Kestrel on either end with their Narcojects ready, the three of them made their move.
The two humans waiting for their prey to approach were far more surprised than their intended victims when said victims passed the corner. They barely had time to raise their weapons before twin thwips sounded and tiny darts stuck to each of their bodies at chest level. First one and then the second human slumped, their guns crashing down next to them. “Which way?” Winterhawk asked as he slipped two more rounds—one for the last time and one for this time—into his gun.
Kestrel hooked a thumb over her shoulder. “That way. It’s about ten meters down this hallway and hang a left, and that should be the main admin area. From the look of things we should be able to search it fairly quick.”
‘Hawk nodded and he and Gabriel followed her in that direction. The mage was hoping hard that they would find Ocelot here and alive—all this sneaking through reddish corridors was reminding him uncomfortably of a run the team had performed many years ago in an Aztechnology research lab gone awry. At least there aren’t any mutated trolls, he told himself sourly. It wasn’t a very reassuring thought.
Ocelot was looking everywhere at once as he, Michael, and Tiny reached the corridor that led to the admin wing. Michael stopped as he noticed the guard propping open the door. “Somebody’s been here already,” he said grimly. “Be ready for a fight.”
Tiny hefted his twin clubs and Ocelot tightened his grip on the gun he carried. A fight would be preferable to sneaking and hiding like an animal. The buzzing in his head was increasing again; he didn’t know why, but he tried to ignore it as much as he could. They were everywhere, he knew—they might even be among his companions, but he couldn’t believe that right now. Once they were out, if one or the other of them tried anything, he’d take care of them. Right now, though, he sensed that they wanted out as much as he did. Even the enemy could be your friend under the right circumstances. He shook his head as if to clear it as that thought seemed familiar. He had dealt with just such a situation in his past, but he could not remember any of the details. A time when an enemy had become a friend—
“Come on,” Michael hissed, motioning toward the half-open door.
Ocelot hurried to catch up.
Tiny looked at the door. “I’ll open it the rest of the way,” he said, moving to do just that. “I’m not gonna get through there the way it is now.”
“Careful,” Michael said. “We don’t know what’s on the other side.”
Tiny had escape firmly in his sights now and was not worried about threats. Grasping the door in his huge hands, he shoved it sideways until the protesting motor trying to push it open gave up and broke, allowing him to finish what someone else had started. The guard’s body slumped slightly to the side and did not move.
“I’m not sure exactly where the door out is,” Michael said. “We’re gonna have to hurry, though. I don’t think it’ll take that Star decker long to get to Louie. I don’t like it, but we’ll need to split up.”
“Split up?” Tiny didn’t look happy about the prospect.
“Come on,” Ocelot said, realizing Michael was right. “We have to find it fast.”
“Just yell if you run into trouble,” Michael said. “I’ll do the same. Meet back here in five minutes—I hope by then one of us will have found it. Hurry.” To punctuate his words he turned and moved swiftly down, taking the right fork at the end of the long corridor.
Ocelot wasted no time in following, choosing the left fork. Tiny was more hesitant, but he didn’t want to be left alone. He hurried after Ocelot.
Ocelot’s fork branched again, left and right. He pointed left. “Tiny—check that, okay?” Without waiting for an answer he chose the right fork and continued on. Even though he had no idea where he was going, he hoped he would be the one to find the door. Then, at least, he would have time to assess his options before continuing.
Kestrel, Gabriel, and Winterhawk were having no luck finding the object of their search. Except for the two ambushers they had dispatched and a few more dead bodies, the place seemed deserted. They had separated slightly, still keeping each other in sight, to check the administration area for familiar bodies before deciding where to go next.
Gabriel sighed. “We can’t do this forever,” he said. “Perhaps I should risk a detection spell—”
“Let’s finish here,” Kestrel said, “and then maybe you’re right. I just don’t see—”
“Ocelot!” ‘Hawk broke in.
Kestrel looked up from the body she had just rolled over. “I don’t see him either. We—”
But Winterhawk wasn’t listening. He was staring at something at the other end of the corridor.
Ocelot froze, his blood chilling as if someone had just quick-frozen it from the inside out. Someone had called to him. Someone whose voice he knew. Someone who should not be here.
Someone who was one of them.
He looked down the corridor, eyes wide and unblinking, and saw what he had feared: a tall, thin man in a longcoat, his hat not quite hiding the shock of white in his dark hair. “No...” he whispered. Not now. I’m just about to get out of here. They can’t have me now.
He backed away warily.
Winterhawk could not believe his good fortune. “Ocelot!” he called again. His expression turned to one of puzzlement as his friend began moving away from him. “Ocelot? What’s the matter? Come on—we’ve come to get you out of this hellhole.”
Kestrel too was confused as Ocelot continued to back up, his gaze darting left and right as if looking for an escape route. “Ocelot. It’s us. It’s me, Kestrel. We’ve come to get you out of here.”
“No!” Ocelot called, tensing. “You won’t get me now. I won’t let you! I’m gonna get outta here, and you’re not gonna catch me!”
Ocelot whirled as another voice spoke, this one off to his left side. The voice was soft, gentle, persuasive. His eyes widened and a shiver ran down his spine as he saw the speaker: a young man, dark-haired, dressed as the others were but with eyes that were oddly intense, compelling. No... All at once he remembered.
This young man was their leader, or at least one of them. He was the one who had orchestrated this whole thing—the phone calls, the surveillance, the odd feelings of being followed—they were all his fault.
He quickly scanned the room. There was no escape. The other two, the man who had first spoken and the woman who called herself Kestrel, were in front of him, a few meters away. The young man was to his left. Behind him was a wall. To escape he would have to fight. He would have to—
The young man took a step closer. “Ocelot. Please listen to me. I know you aren’t well. I can help you, but you have to let us get you out of here first.”
Stall. Stall until someone gets here. If they get distracted, maybe I can— “No. I’m not going anywhere with you. You’re not gonna—”
There was a movement behind the young man. Ocelot noted it but did not let any reaction reach his face.
“No one is going to hurt you, Ocelot,” the young man continued in his soft persuasive tones. “Winterhawk was ill too, and as you can see I’ve helped him. Everything will be all right. You just have to—”
Gabriel noted the movement behind him, but not quite soon enough to avoid the blow completely. With inhumanly quick reflexes he flung himself sideways as Tiny’s club came down, aimed for the top of his head. Because of this, instead of crushing his skull the club glanced off the side of his head and hit the top of his shoulder. For all intents and purposes the effect was the same, though: Gabriel slumped against the wall and did not move.
After that, it seemed that for the next few seconds everything happened at once. Kestrel and Winterhawk acted almost as one, firing their Narcojects at the troll who had appeared behind Gabriel. The troll swayed and dropped, crashing to the floor next to his victim, as Ocelot leaped forward. Before Kestrel and Winterhawk could react again, Ocelot had grabbed Gabriel and was holding him up in front of him, arm wrapped around the young man’s upper chest.
“Don’t move!” he yelled. “You try to shoot me and I’ll kill him.”
“Ocelot, no!” Kestrel immediately lowered the barrel of her gun. “Don’t do this. You don’t know what you’re doing. Put him down and let’s talk. Nobody’s going to shoot you.”
Ocelot’s only answer was to adjust his grip on Gabriel. “I’m gettin’ out of here, and he’s goin’ with me,” he said. The buzzing in his head was getting unbearable. “They’re everywhere. Maybe they’ll let me alone if they know I have their leader.”
Winterhawk stepped forward, his expression tight and calm. As he moved, he slid his own Narcoject pistol into the pocket of his coat and spread his hands. “No weapons, my friend,” he said quietly. “We’re not your enemy. I don’t know quite how they’ve gotten to your mind, but believe me I understand. If it’s anything like how they got into mine, I don’t envy you in the slightest right now.” He took another step toward Ocelot, careful not to get too close and frighten him. From where he was he could see the strange light of insanity in his friend’s eyes. “Listen to me, Ocelot. We are your friends. I’m Winterhawk. This is Kestrel. And the chap you’re holding there is Gabriel. Don’t you remember us at all?”
“I remember you,” Ocelot growled. “You’re all in league with them.” He shook Gabriel slightly. “‘Specially him. He’s the boss.”
‘Hawk shook his head. “No, Terry. He’s not the boss. He’s trying to help you, like he helped me. If he hadn’t come for me I’d still be stark raving mad. It isn’t us, Terry. It’s the Enemy. The Horrors. Don’t you remember the Horrors?”
Ocelot’s muscles tightened involuntarily. The buzzing inside his brain was getting so loud now that he could barely think past it. Impressions came to him—not thoughts, exactly, for there were no words, but certainties. Or were they certainties? Don’t listen to him. He is trying to mislead you. He is the enemy. All of them are. You are on your own. You must escape... “No...”
“Terry,” Winterhawk continued. “The Horrors are doing this to you. I don’t know how—none of us do yet. We’re trying to figure it out. Gabriel can help you. He can block off whatever is disturbing your mind. But we have to get out of here.”
Kestrel nodded. “There’s a Lone Star team trying to get into the control center. When they do, this whole place is going to be flooded with gas. They’ll catch us all. They’ll put you back in your cell. You don’t want that, do you?”
Ocelot’s gaze moved restlessly back and forth between the two of them. Something inside his mind was trying to fight the buzzing. There was something he needed to hear, and it wasn’t letting him hear it. Something—
“Terry. It’s the Horrors,” Winterhawk said urgently. “Fight it. I know you can do it. I know how strong your mind is. I helped train it, remember? You can fight this, but you have to want to.”
Kestrel was about to say something else when the sound of a strangled cry cut off by gunfire split the air, not far away. “Damn!” she bit out under her breath. “They’re coming. We have to do something.”
Ocelot hesitated, shifting his grip on Gabriel again. So far the young man had not moved; his head was bowed, his chin resting on Ocelot’s forearm. Ocelot glanced toward the passageway that Michael had taken. Where was Michael? Had they gotten him?
To his left, Tiny was stirring slightly, groaning. “He’s—not dead,” he said slowly.
“Narcoject,” ‘Hawk told him. “We’re trying not to kill anyone.” He leaned forward, his eyes blazing. “Terry! Listen to me. It’s the Horrors that’ve got you! Do you understand me? The Horrors are trying to take over your mind!”
Ocelot’s breath was coming more quickly. A light sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead. The Horrors... The words, like no others could, were beginning to crack their way through the buzzing. He was shaking. The Horrors...no... not...they can’t...It can’t be...
No! He’s one of them. He’s trying to deceive you—
The Horrors...the Enemy...
No—it—can’t be—it can’t—it—
The buzzing faded, all at once. It was not quite gone, but at least for the moment it no longer had a stranglehold on his thought processes. He looked around in confusion. How did I get here? What did I—? Hesitantly: “‘Hawk?”
Winterhawk slumped slightly in relief. “Ocelot. Are you back with us? Are you all right?”
Ocelot looked down and realized with shock that he was holding Gabriel, and that the young man was unconscious. “What—?”
“Come on,” Kestrel urged, dividing her attention between the hallway where the gunfire sounds had come from and the scene in the room. “We can talk later. We have to get out or there won’t be a later!”
Her urgency got through to Ocelot. “Yeah,” he said. “What’s your plan?”
At that moment Kestrel realized that a large component of their plan was currently slumped in Ocelot’s grip. She looked at Winterhawk. “Can you wake him up?”
The mage shook his head. “No.”
“Damn.” She glared at Tiny, who was getting up slowly. “He a friend of yours?” she asked Ocelot.
He nodded slowly. “Yeah. He thought he was protecting me.”
“Well, he might have just screwed up our plan to get out of here,” she said, her voice snapping a bit with frustration.
“Oh, shit...” Ocelot looked down at Gabriel and realized what she meant. “He—”
“He got us in. He was gonna get us out.”
“Shit!” Ocelot said again. Moving over to the wall, he lowered Gabriel down and propped him up against it. He inspected the wound where Tiny’s club had hit; it had already stopped bleeding and didn’t look serious, but that didn’t help much. “He’s lucky he got outta the way,” he said grimly. “Tiny could’ve killed him if he’d gotten a clean shot.”
“I’m sorry,” came a voice from behind them, the contrite tones of a little boy delivered in the deep bass of a troll. “I thought he was gonna hurt you.”
Ocelot sighed, looking up at Tiny. The troll was seated now, looking a little loopy but shrugging off the effects of the Narcoject with surprising speed. “It’s okay, Tiny. You didn’t know. We—”
“Okay, everybody hold it right there!”
Everyone currently awake whirled at the sound.
Three armored guards and two Lone Star operatives stood there, guns trained on the group. One of the Star men moved forward, waving his assault rifle. “Everybody up. Slow. No sudden moves, and keep your hands in view. If you reach for a weapon you’re dead.” His voice was crisp, efficient, the kind of voice that expected to be obeyed.
Winterhawk and Kestrel looked at each other and nodded, slowly standing up. They looked at Ocelot, hoping he was back to himself enough not to try anything rash.
It appeared that he was. He too rose and kept his hands away from his body. “It’s okay, Tiny,” he said again. After a moment the troll did the same.
The Star guy who had spoken before looked them over as the other one and the three guards covered them all. His gaze fell on Kestrel and ‘Hawk. “Well, look here. Looks like we’ve found the rest of the runner team who was trying to break Kraft and Michael outta here. Too bad there’s nothing left to break out.”
“What’s that mean?” Ocelot demanded.
It was impossible to see the Star guy’s face because of his helmet shield, but the smirk came through nonetheless. “Kraft’s been dead awhile—we found him on our way in—and I’m afraid Michael’s just gone to join him in Hell.” He gestured with his chin toward the hallway where they had heard the cry and the gunfire.
Ocelot said nothing, but merely glared at their captors.
“What are you going to do with us?” Kestrel asked. She sounded amazingly confident for someone staring down the barrels of five assault rifles.
“Just shut up and you’ll find out,” the cop said. To the other cop, he ordered, “Cuff ‘em. Jarvis should be into the control room in the next few minutes and we’ll transport after we’ve taken the place back.”
The second Star cop nodded and moved forward. Before he could get far, though, he, the first cop, and the three guards clutched their heads simultaneously and dropped into armored heaps on the concrete floor.
For a moment the runners just stared at each other. Then they turned around to look behind them.
Gabriel was struggling to his feet. He still looked disoriented, but there was determination in his eyes. “Come,” he said between breaths. “We must—go now. They won’t—be out for long.”
Kestrel got an arm under him and helped him the rest of the way up. “Where’s the exit?”
“I don’t know,” Ocelot said quickly. “I thought you knew.”
“We were going out the way we came in, but we can’t do that now. We need to find a way out.”
“I found it,” Tiny said suddenly. “I found the door. That’s why I was coming back—to tell you.” His expression clouded. “Michael’s dead?”
Ocelot nodded. “Sounds that way.” There was no time for sympathy now, even though he too was having a twinge of regret about losing their companion. “Where’s the door, Tiny?”
“C’mon.” The troll hurried off back the way he’d come. The rest of the team were quick to follow him.
As they expected, the door was locked—as it led to the outside world, it was one of those under control of the forces on the outside. It was heavy steel and looked quite substantial. Ocelot smacked it with his fist. “We’re never gonna get through this—even if we do, it’ll be too late.”
Tiny, before anyone could stop him, moved back and took a run at the door. All he succeeded in doing was hurting his shoulder. He rubbed it ruefully, the hope beginning to leave his eyes. “We’re stuck here,” he mumbled. “I’m never gonna see my mama again...”
“Not...stuck.” Once again everyone had almost forgotten about Gabriel, still held up by Kestrel.
Tiny eyed him dubiously, then looked at Ocelot. “Is he gonna get the door open? He’s just a little guy.”
“Do you think you can do it?” Kestrel asked worriedly. “What about—?”
“We’ll have to take the chance,” he said quietly. He looked at Kestrel, ‘Hawk, and Ocelot in turn. “Be ready...we must do this quickly. They will be waiting outside.”
They nodded solemnly. Tiny watched with confusion but decided to continue trusting his companions—so far they hadn’t steered him wrong.
Gabriel moved away from Kestrel, swaying slightly on his feet, and approached the door. He put both hands on it, leaning forward so his forehead touched its steel surface. For a few seconds nothing happened. Then the door began to buzz and smoke began seeping out from the cracks. “There,” he said, letting his breath out. “Come on.”
The others had been covering the corridor. So far the rest of the Lone Star contingent hadn’t made an appearance, but nobody believed it would be long before they did. “Stay close,” Gabriel said. “I’ll need to shield us all again.”
Ocelot took Tiny’s arm and pulled him into the small group as Gabriel cast his spell once more. When he was finished, he nodded to Kestrel and she slid the door open.
Behind them as they moved through and slid it closed again, they could hear two sounds: the first was of booted feet ringing on the concrete floor, and the second was the hiss of gas being released from hidden vents in the ceilings.
None of them wanted to wait and see what would happen next.
Copyright ©1999, 2000 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.