“Okay,” Ocelot said from across the table. “I’m back now. You guys mind giving me the whole story?”
He, Kestrel, and Winterhawk were sitting in the living room of the large suite they had rented just outside Los Angeles. It had been about six hours since they had carefully sneaked their way around the Lone Star patrols and gotten out of the area of the Pit.
It hadn’t been as hard to do as they had feared: the combination of Gabriel’s powerful Disregard spell and the excitement of everyone around there about the fact that the Lone Star strike team had re-taken the control center and were in the process of flooding the building with stun gas had made it so no one had really been looking for them. The group had simply strolled outside and levitated over the wall. After that, a quick spell to change all their clothes into something more normal-looking and they had made it back to the car with a lack of drama that would have been almost disappointing had they not all been so tense.
The question about what to do with Tiny had been quickly settled when the troll had asked them to drop him off at a bus station a few miles away. “I know you guys got places to go,” he had said. “I just wanna get back home to Mom and my friends.” He’d looked at Ocelot and smiled. “Thanks, Ossa-lot. You got me outta there. You’re a good friend.”
Ocelot, who was dealing with his own problems at that point, had to smile. “No problem, Tiny. Just don’t let ‘em get you again, okay?”
Tiny had nodded soberly. “Sorry I slugged ya,” he said to Gabriel, who was resting in the back seat next to Ocelot. “I hope you feel better...”
Gabriel nodded without opening his eyes. “Thank you, Tiny. I will be fine. Be careful.”
With a pocketful of cash given to him by Kestrel, the young troll got out at the bus station and waved goodbye to his new friends. He looked back a little wistfully, then turned and marched inside with squared shoulders.
The next stop, after a brief telephone call, had been back at Fung Long’s, the Chinese restaurant where they had met Cheung. Since the only one of Ocelot’s friends who had the knowledge of how to remove the explosive bond from his cyberspur or deactivate the tiny locator chip at the base of his neck was Kestrel and she didn’t have the right tools at hand, they decided the best plan was to let an expert do it. When they arrived at the restaurant, Cheung had introduced them to a tiny woman he identified only as Yin; she had pulled out an impressive-looking electronics kit and, with deft and gentle hands, made short work of both annoyances. “You will need to have the chip removed at your convenience,” she told Ocelot, “but it is no longer active.” The team had said their thank-yous and left shortly thereafter, knowing that they still had much more to do before the day was over.
After that, the plan had been to go back to the hotel, but that plan had been changed when Ocelot had begun acting strangely again. Winterhawk noticed it first when he turned around to say something to Gabriel and caught the odd look in Ocelot’s eyes. “Terry? Are you all right?”
Ocelot blinked a couple of times and shook his head rapidly from side to side. “It’s—starting again,” he said as if speaking through a haze.
“What is?” Gabriel opened his eyes and was regarding Ocelot with intensity.
“It’s this...weird feeling.” Ocelot took a deep breath. “Like...buzzing. I think it might have been how it all started. There was this buzzing and then I started—having strange thoughts.”
Gabriel’s expression hardened. He looked at Kestrel and Winterhawk. “We need somewhere large, and quickly. I don’t think we have much time to start the ritual before this takes over again.”
While Kestrel had driven, ‘Hawk got on the phone to Harry and in a few minutes had secured the address of a warehouse not far from their present location. “Not the best place,” Harry had apologized, “but with this kinda notice, it’s the best I can do.”
Once at the warehouse, Gabriel had wasted no time in starting to prepare the ritual he had used on Winterhawk. “Are you sure you’re up to this?” the mage had asked him, noting that he still looked pale and tired from the hit he’d taken and all the magic he’d used getting them out.
He had nodded. “I’ll be fine,” he’d assured ‘Hawk. “I can rest when it’s over.”
Neither ‘Hawk nor Kestrel had looked convinced, but they hadn’t argued. They knew how important this was.
The actual ritual hadn’t taken as long as the one for Winterhawk, due to the fact that Ocelot was not magically active and the Horrors hadn’t had to get their tendrils as far into his mind as they had with Winterhawk. Only an hour or so after he had begun it, Gabriel lowered Ocelot down to the floor. His head was bowed with fatigue. “There,” he said, sounding satisfied. “That should take care of him for now.”
Winterhawk helped Ocelot up while Kestrel led Gabriel over to a place where he could sit down. “How are you feeling?” the mage asked.
Ocelot accepted the hand up, then rubbed his head. “Fuckin’ weird,” he admitted. “Tired...but...like something heavy’s been lifted off the top of my brain.”
“Well, that’s good, I think,” ‘Hawk had told him. He hoped he was right. They hadn’t stayed long after that.
Now, in the hotel, they sat across the table and regarded each other with varying degrees of weariness and resignation. When they had arrived, Ocelot had gone off to take a long shower. By the time he’d emerged half an hour later, Gabriel had headed to his room to rest. “He was wiped out,” Kestrel told him. “He said to give him a couple of hours and then we can go back to Seattle.”
Ocelot nodded. He too was tired but feeling far too wound up to sleep right now. The first thing he had looked for was the room’s bar; upon locating it and discovering it was well stocked, he’d poured himself a stiff one and held up the bottle to Kestrel and Winterhawk. When they declined, he brought both the glass and the bottle back over and dropped into a chair. That was when he finally asked about the whole story, which no one had told him yet.
“The whole story,” Winterhawk repeated with a sigh. “I’m not sure any of us—even Gabriel—knows that yet. But we can tell you what we know.”
He and Kestrel took turns giving Ocelot the rundown of what had happened over the past few weeks. He listened with growing amazement and mounting fear. “You mean,” he said at last, “that the Horrors are after us again and they’re tryin’ to take over all our minds?” His voice dropped down to a near-whisper as if he was afraid the Horrors in question might hear him.
Winterhawk nodded, looking grim. “I don’t remember much about what happened to me—I think that’s a blessing, all things considered—but what little I do remember was not at all pleasant. The feeling of losing control and not being able to stop it—” He shuddered slightly.
“Yeah,” Ocelot agreed in much the same tone. He shook his head, blowing air through his teeth. “I do remember what happened, and I wish I didn’t. But the weird thing was—it all seemed so normal. Looking back it was crazy of me to get freaked out by the sound of a phone ringing or to think everybody was out to get me, but at the time—” He trailed off, taking a long drink from his glass. Then he looked up again, first at Kestrel and then at Winterhawk. “So—has anybody figured out what they want yet? Why they’re doin’ this? I sure as hell don’t want some Horror fucking around with my brain anymore.”
Winterhawk shook his head. “We don’t know. I don’t think Gabriel does either—at least if he is, he’s not telling.”
“I don’t think he knows,” Kestrel put in. “If he did, I think he would have told me after he—” She didn’t finish the sentence, but the two men knew what she meant. She had told them about Gabriel’s episode, although not about what had happened in its aftermath. She doubted that she would ever tell anyone else about that.
Winterhawk nodded. “It certainly appears that he’s casting about in the dark almost as much as we are—a thought that doesn’t give me a great deal of comfort.”
Ocelot took another drink. “You don’t think that...thing... that Stefan ended up fighting managed to survive, do you? If it did, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pretty pissed at us for fucking up its plans.”
“I don’t see how,” ‘Hawk said speculatively. “We all saw it fall with Stefan. We all heard it scream. If anything can survive in the bottom of that chasm—” He shook his head.
Kestrel sighed. “Well, whatever it is, it’s real and it’s after us. Talk about thoughts that aren’t very comforting.”
“And you’re sayin’ it even managed to get hold of Gabriel?” Ocelot’s ice-blue cat-eyes glanced first toward the room where the young man was asleep, then locked on her face. “What makes us think it won’t do it again? If he’s all that’s standing between us and the Horrors—”
Kestrel shook her head, looking down at the pocket secretary with which she was idly fiddling. “I think hurting me snapped him out of it pretty good,” she said at last. “I trust him. I think now that he knows what we’re up against, they won’t get him again as easily. Besides,” she added, her gaze rising to meet Ocelot’s, “who else can we trust?”
She had a point, and both Ocelot and Winterhawk knew it. “Listen,” ‘Hawk said, trying to change the subject, “it’s been a long night. I suspect we’re all tired. As long as we’re not going back for awhile, this might be a good time to get a bit of sleep.”
Ocelot nodded reluctantly. “We gotta get back to Seattle.” He was uncomfortably aware that, although he and Winterhawk were now at least momentarily free of the Horrors’ influences, their remaining two teammates might not be so lucky. After the experience he had suffered, he didn’t wish for them to be subject to such influences any longer than necessary.
“And we will,” Winterhawk assured him. “We will. But we aren’t going anywhere without our young friend, so we might as well take advantage of the downtime.”
Ocelot sighed and rose, draining the rest of his glass with one smooth motion. He wiped his mouth on the back of his wrist and ran his hand with disgust back through his involuntarily-shortened hair. It was going to take at least a year for it to grow back to a decent length. He silently cursed the prison personnel, realizing even as he did it that they were not the enemy. No, he had far worse enemies than an overzealous guard with a pair of scissors. At least his spur was working properly and that thing they’d put in his neck had been neutralized. He’d been a bit concerned about that, even though he had found out from the other prisoners that the thing was nothing more than a short-range locator that allowed them to keep track of the inmates within the prison. Even so, he still didn’t like it. He looked at his friends and sighed again. “I’m gonna get some sleep,” he said, and stalked out of the room without a word.
Winterhawk and Kestrel exchanged glances, then moved off in opposite directions to do the same.
They didn’t get back to Seattle again until close to midnight, which meant it was a perfect time to call Harry—midnight was right in the middle of his workday.
None of the four of them had gotten as much sleep as they would have liked, but the couple of hours they managed to fit in had at least taken the edge off their fatigue. Of the four Ocelot was still looking the worst—his weeks on the street and few days in the Pit hadn’t let him get a decent night’s sleep in a long time. Gabriel hadn’t quite sprung back to his usual boundless energy but at least he didn’t look like he was about to faint anymore. Kestrel and ‘Hawk, for their part, were feeling fairly well, though the mage had still been plagued by vague discomfiting nightmares that weren’t bad enough to wake him up but were bad enough to disturb his sleep.
Harry met them in the back room of a little coffee shop called Spano’s, which his visitors suspected was owned by yet another of his endless series of friends. As they appeared in the doorway he shooed out three prissy-looking men wearing corp-boring suits and carrying briefcases and motioned for the newcomers to sit down. “Accountants,” he snorted. “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.” When he saw Ocelot, he smiled, appearing for a moment to be genuinely pleased to see him. Then his expression rearranged itself once more into its usual mien of gruff cynicism. “Hey, kid,” he said. “Nice haircut.”
“Bite me, Harry,” Ocelot replied, but there was a certain relief to his tone.
The fixer motioned for them to sit down; they arranged themselves around the table. “Have you found out anything else?” Winterhawk asked. He was usually the one to exchange pleasantries prior to getting down to business, but tonight he wasn’t in the mood. None of them were. “About the others, I mean.”
Harry sighed and shook his head. “Still workin’ on it. All I know for sure at this point is that ‘Wraith took off for New York City—I’m not even sure he got there. I’ve got some guys checking into it, but if he’s tryin’ to hide—” He spread his hands. “You know as well as I do that if he goes underground he’s probably the best of the four of you at keepin’ from gettin’ found.”
“But—you can find him, right?” Kestrel asked, fixing her green eyes on Harry’s brown ones.
Harry nodded. “Yeah. I can find anybody, given enough time. Haven’t missed yet. I’m just tellin’ you that it might take some time.” He didn’t think it wise to mention that not all of the people he had found had been alive when they had been found. It probably wouldn’t have been a welcome bit of information at this point in time.
“Would putting more people on the search help?” Gabriel asked softly. “As I’m sure you know, money is not an issue. I will pay whatever it takes.”
For once Harry’s eyes did not light up at the concept of money being no object. He sighed and shook his head. “I’ve already got a lot of folks on this, and I’ve let it be known that whoever finds him is in line for a hefty reward. If I get too many people on it they’re just gonna be tripping over each other, not to mention maybe alerting the wrong people that we’re after him.”
Gabriel nodded, dropping his gaze for a moment, then met Harry’s eyes. “I’ll make a few calls and put some of my own people on it as well—although I don’t know how much help it will be. I have even less influence in that part of the country than you do, and with magic unavailable as a means of searching—”
“We’ll find him,” Harry said reassuringly. “If he’s out there, we’ll find him. I’ve even got some guys tryin’ to trace the route he took, in case he never made it to New York.”
“Yeah,” Ocelot nodded. “If what happened to him was anything like what happened to me, he could be anywhere. Especially seein’ as how ‘Wraith is about the only guy I know who’s more paranoid than I am.” He looked at Harry. “If it is the same thing that happened to me, I’d bet ‘Wraith would go somewhere far away from anywhere we’d expect him to go.” He shuddered a bit, remembering how he had felt when he was on the run. “All I wanted to do was get away—I was sure you guys were all workin’ for them and if I got in touch with any of you, you’d—” He shrugged. “I dunno what I was afraid of. That you’d kill me? That you’d turn me over to them, whoever they are? I didn’t know. That was the worst part: not knowing who was on your side and who was out to get you.”
Winterhawk listened soberly to Ocelot’s words. “Somewhere far away,” he said, shaking his head. “That could make things problematic, especially without magic.” He tilted his head, looking at Gabriel. “But wait a minute—he doesn’t know we can’t use magic to find him. That means, as far as he’s concerned, he knows that wherever he goes, we can locate him. He certainly knows that you can locate him,” he added.
“So?” Harry asked.
“So,” ‘Hawk clarified, sounding as if he was working this through as he went along, “P’raps he didn’t go somewhere like that. If he was afraid of being found and knew we could do it, wouldn’t he concentrate on trying to go somewhere he knew? Somewhere he felt comfortable, rather than a new place where he didn’t know anyone or anything about the town?”
Harry nodded slowly. “You got a point there.” He looked at Ocelot. “You and ‘Wraith are both urban kinds of guys. You went to L.A. I can’t see ‘Wraith going off to hide in the wilds somewhere. If he goes somewhere he feels safe, it’s gonna be in a city. Probably a big one.”
“So we’re back to New York City again,” Kestrel said.
“Maybe.” Harry shuffled the papers on the table in front of him and slid them into a briefcase he picked up off the floor. “I think right now the best thing to do is just keep on doin’ what we’re doin’. I’m confident that if we do that, we’ll find him faster than if we shift gears now in the middle of things.”
Gabriel nodded. “Probably true.”
“What about Joe?” Ocelot asked. “Any luck with him?”
“Nothing more than I already told you last time.” Harry clasped up the briefcase and put it back down on the floor. “Only reports I got show him headin’ out of town up in the mountains somewhere. I figured maybe I’d wait till you got back to pursue that one any further—I figured you might know where he hangs out.”
Ocelot nodded. “We might. If it’s where I think it is, we were there a long time ago.” He looked at Winterhawk. “Remember, back during the ‘57 presidential campaign, when you had that weird malaria thing?”
The mage nodded. “Oh, I quite remember that,” he said wryly. “It’s one of those things I’d like to forget, but somehow it never seems to work out that way.”
“Where’s this?” Kestrel asked.
Harry wasn’t listening. “Right,” he said, his eyes widening. “I’d almost forgotten about that. He’s got some land up there. He bought it a few years ago. I helped him get all the paperwork straight—or snarled, actually, since he can’t legally own land without a SIN.” He looked around the room. “Let me go through my records back at the office and I’ll give you a call when I find something.”
Ocelot nodded. “Meanwhile, maybe we ought to go by his place and talk to his gang. Maybe they know something.”
“Good point,” Winterhawk said approvingly. “I’d forgotten that Joe is the only one of our number who actually has roommates.” It was a legitimate thing for him to forget: he tried to avoid visiting Joe at home whenever possible. While he’d grown rather fond of the big troll over the years, that fondness did not extend to his fellow gang members. “P’raps he might have let something slip to one of his friends there—or even come right out and told them something.”
“Let’s go,” Ocelot said, standing up. He was feeling all right as long as he wasn’t alone and was actually doing something. When things started to slow down, that was when he had time to think. Right now, thinking too hard was not something he was in any hurry to do. “I’ll feel a lot better when we get everybody back together.”
Harry picked up his briefcase and stood. As he pushed in his chair, he looked at Ocelot, then at the rest. “It’s a good thing they got you outta that place,” he said rather soberly. “I been followin’ the news. Final death count when they took the place over was fifteen guards, seven non-guard personnel, and forty-seven inmates. Oh, and the decker who’d taken over the control center. They blew the hell outta him. That didn’t get on the news, naturally.”
Ocelot nodded. He could believe those numbers. “They say anything about anybody gettin’ out?”
Harry shook his head. “Of course not. Official line is that nobody got out and the breakout attempt was headed off by Lone Star in their usual efficiency.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m unhappy about our lack of fame,” Winterhawk said, adjusting his jacket. “The less said about that whole situation, the more pleased I’ll be.”
“Amen,” Kestrel agreed. Gabriel said nothing; he hung back and waited as the others prepared to leave, then followed them out. He looked like a man who was deep in thought about things that were not altogether pleasant.
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.