Ocelot grinned, turning around in his seat to look at Winterhawk, who
had just stood up too quickly and thwacked his head on the overhanging
cabinet. Again. This had to be the fourth time since this morning.
"Watch your head," he said helpfully, trying not to snicker.
Winterhawk dropped back down in his own seat, rubbing his head while
alternating between glaring at Ocelot and casting venomous glances
up at the offending cabinetry. "If people had been intended to
travel about in something the size of a sardine tin, they'd have
been born shorter," he muttered darkly.
"They are born shorter," Ocelot said, unable to resist.
"Who asked you?" 'Hawk leaned back, looking around the tiny confines
of the RV in which he and Ocelot were currently sitting. There were
two bucket seats in the front; Ocelot had the passenger seat
swiveled around so he could look into the living area, which
consisted of a miniature dining booth across from another bench
seat, a Lilliputian sink and microwave oven, and a microscopic
bathroom in the back. Winterhawk was sitting on the bench seat;
above him--in fact, suspended all along the upper edges of the
living area-- were small cabinets meant for stowing gear. It was
these cabinets which were the objects of 'Hawk's ongoing ire. "I
don't see why we couldn't have gotten ourselves a proper van or
something, rather than this particular monstrosity."
Ocelot's grin faded. Fact was, he wasn't any happier about the
situation than Winterhawk was. For one thing, the RV wasn't
armored. For another, there weren't any secure storage areas.
The plas-wood cubbyholes might be fine for clothes and souvenirs
from Harvey's Reptile Gardens and Curio Shop (which they had
passed a couple of hours ago, but at which they had not stopped),
but they were pretty lousy for storing things like shotguns and
armored helmets. He sighed. "Johnson said it's the best way. I
hope he knows what he's talking about."
Winterhawk nodded, carefully standing up and moving toward the
front of the RV. At least he could stand up straight; now that
most vehicles were manufactured to accommodate the greater heights
of orks and elves, a tall human like himself had no trouble with
ceilings. He maneuvered himself into the driver's seat. "We'd
best get going. You know, when we get back to Seattle, I'm going
to personally teach you how to drive. We could make much better
time if we could switch off driving." He started the RV and guided
the ponderous vehicle out of the rest stop and back onto the road.
They had stopped for only a few minutes, to stretch their legs
and have a quick meal from the stores in the RV's refrigerator.
Now, back on the road, they were only an hour or so from their
destination. Ocelot leaned back in his seat and stared out the
window at the road ahead, remembering his and 'Hawk's meeting
with Mr. Johnson yesterday.
The job looked like a simple extraction. The target, one Dr.
Anthony Hildebrandt, was a brilliant ork geneticist currently
working for a corp called Hermes Biotechnology. According to
Johnson, who had met them at a nice little sports bar in Seattle
and struck them as the infinitely forgettable harried-administrator
type, Hildebrandt wasn't happy with his current situation. Hermes,
convinced that Hildebrandt was on the verge of a breakthrough in
some very promising research, had cloistered the scientist in a
small, secluded compound up in the hills above a town in the southern
California Free State. Here, Hildebrandt could continue his research
unhindered by the everyday concerns of life. Hildebrandt, however,
had had other plans. Described by Johnson as "a little...well...odd,"
the ork apparently didn't fit the profile of the nerdy corporate
scientist. The picture Johnson had given them had further reinforced
that image--it showed a rather handsome, broad-faced man of youngish
middle age, with mischievous green eyes, wild, luxuriant brown hair,
and three gold earrings. In the picture, he wore a garish
Hawaiian-style shirt under a white lab coat bearing an "Ork
Smiley Face" button. His fact sheet described him as 45 years
old (he’d goblinized as an ork at age 12, and thus did not have
the shortened lifespan of a natural-born ork), divorced, one
daughter, 13, who lived with her human mother somewhere in Northern
California, and no siblings.
According to Johnson, Hildebrandt had managed somehow to get the
word out that he was looking for a change. The details had been
handled, but Hermes wasn't about to let their star scientist go
this close to the completion of what looked to be very promising
and lucrative research. That was where Winterhawk and Ocelot came
in, and why they were driving through California in a vehicle better
suited to tourists than to shadowrunners.
Winterhawk switched the RV to autopilot and leaned back in his
seat, staring out at the boring landscape along Highway 101.
"Ever been down here?"
Ocelot shook his head. "Spent some time up in San Francisco,
but never got down this far."
"Well, I hope nobody looks too closely at our cover story,"
'Hawk said. "I've never been camping in my life."
Ocelot shook his head, grinning. "This isn't exactly camping,
'Hawk. For real camping, you have a tent and a campfire, not
beds and a microwave oven."
"Sounds barbaric," Winterhawk said, unable to keep a look of
mild distaste from his face.
"Some people like it. You know--getting back to nature and all."
"And bugs, and dirt, and dead leaves, and--"
"Okay, okay." Ocelot raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.
"I get it." It was an old joke between them--'Hawk's upper-class
British sarcasm vs. Ocelot's grim-and-gritty street smarts. Each
of them tended to play up his respective side for effect. "You
wouldn't last a day in the Barrens, you know."
"Nor would I want to." Winterhawk agreed, leaning forward to
switch on the RV's radio, He ran through its presets quickly
and dismissed each with a growing look of disgust. Finally, he
reached in his pocket, withdrew a small chip-case, and popped
one of the chips into the player. Music wafted through the cabin.
"There. That's better."
Ocelot stared. "What the hell is that? Sounds like something from
the last century."
"Very astute, old boy," 'Hawk said with satisfaction. "Don't
suppose you've ever heard of the Zombies?"
"This is another one of your weird old bands, isn't it?"
"They're not weird. They're better than most of the drivel they
expect people to listen to nowadays, that's certain."
Ocelot sighed. This was another argument he wasn't going to win.
"Maybe we ought to get our minds back on the job, huh?"
"There's a novel concept," 'Hawk agreed. His tone shifted, becoming
more serious as he turned down the music. "How much do you believe
Mr. Johnson that they won't use lethal force to try to stop us from
making off with Dr. Hildebrandt?"
"Good. Then we're in agreement. If they don't try to kill us, it'll
be a pleasant surprise."
They spent the next hour discussing tactics and plans. Johnson had
given them a map of the complex where Hildebrandt was currently
located, as well as maps of the surrounding area. The complex was
up in the mountains a few kilometers south of Santa Barbara; the
area was wooded and not easily accessible, which is what the complex's
designers had had in mind. Small, secure, with the kind of natural
beauty that would appeal to their well-paid researchers, and with
any luck make them forget about the fact that they were virtual
prisoners. 'Hawk and Ocelot had long since concluded that they were
going to have to be extremely subtle about the operation, since they
simply did not have the firepower to stand up to the complex's expected
security. They had also concluded that they needed to work quickly,
since their experience told them that if Johnson knew that Hildebrandt
wanted out, others probably did too. The longer they waited, the higher
the chance that Hermes would move Hildebrandt somewhere where they could
not easily find him. Or get him out. By the time the RV rolled into
Santa Barbara, they had the beginnings of a plan.
Over a quick dinner in a small coffee shop near the highway, they
finalized the plans; or at least they finalized them as much as
they ever did. Ocelot and Winterhawk were both firm believers in
planning only up to a certain point, and then relying on their
skill and experience to carry them through anything unexpected.
They had found over the course of many jobs that it almost always
worked that way. No matter how many variables you tried to account
for, there was always something unexpected.
This job, of course, was no exception. But they didn’t know that yet.