Slyde woke up in a cold sweat.

He sat bolt upright in bed, his breath coming fast and hard, his heart thudding in his chest.

The nightmares were back again.

He raised his hands to his face, scrubbing at it as if that would make the horrific images go away. His entire body was bathed in sweat, his long hair hanging down in clumps. Beneath him, the formerly crisp sheets were also limp and damp. Apparently he had been sweating for awhile before the images from the nightmare had finally awakened him.

This had been the third time in less than two days. He was dog-tired, but every time he lay down and tried to get some sleep, the images returned. He couldn't pin them down and had no idea where they had come from—when he awakened, they skated away from him like tiny fish in a pond.

Sighing, he ran his hand through his matted hair and looked around the room. From the look of the ebbing daylight coming in through the window, it was early evening; a glance at the chrono on the nightstand confirmed this. The room was just as he had left it, including the pile of his clothes on the floor by the side of the bed. Clad only in a pair of soggy shorts, he got up and padded across the big room to the bar, where he poured himself a large shot of scotch and threw it back in one motion. The scotch was good—some of the best he'd ever had, in fact—but he didn't even notice. He wasn't drinking it for the taste.

He had arrived in Hawai'i very early the previous morning, after having had a very busy night liquidating his gear, collecting the funds for it, and procuring himself transportation. He hadn't gotten anything like what he'd wanted for the Yellowjacket or the Firelance, but beggars could not be choosers. Especially when the beggars were trying to sell the goods in less than an hour or two. He had finally ended up selling both the 'copter and the laser to a friend of his mechanic's, for less than half of what they were worth. Still though, half the street value of a rigged, missile-equipped (well, missile-launcher-equipped, anyway) helicopter and a mounted vehicle laser was nothing to sneeze at. Coupled with the 500K he'd gotten from the elf, he had enough nuyen to keep him in high style for quite some time, until he figured out what the hell he wanted to do.

What he did not want to do was do any more work for a long time, especially if it meant going back to Seattle. He had already decided that he was permanently out of the Seattle scene; if he did decide to find another group (in a year or so at least, he assured himself) and start looking for jobs again, it would be far from Seattle. Maybe it would even be far from the West Coast as a whole. The farther the better.

He'd hated to lose the Yellowjacket. He'd had it for awhile and had finally gotten it set up the way he liked it. He knew, though, that he couldn't hang on to anything connected with that job. Too much chance of being traced. He had briefly, once he had gotten several kilometers away from the scene, considered going back to ask the elf for the rest of his payment, but once again common sense had won out over greed. There was something—well, weird—about that elf. Slyde didn't know what it was, and he didn't want to. The nuyen he had would be enough to let him disappear for awhile and get his head together. If he never saw the elf again, it would be too soon for him.

In addition to taking his gear off his hands, the mechanic's friend had also put him in touch with another rigger who happened to be heading to Hawai'i and didn't mind taking a passenger for the right price. The trip over had been quiet; Slyde had tried to sleep, but given up when the nightmares started. That had been the first time of the three, and the most frightening: as he tried to sort out what his brain had been trying to tell him, he had come to the realization that he had blacked out most of the end of the confrontation with the dragon. Try as he might, he could not remember what had happened after he'd hit the dragon with the laser. He was quite certain that the beast was dead; enough remained of his memory to be sure that was true. Beyond that, though, it was a maddening collection of half-formed pictures and half-forgotten thoughts, all of which amounted to nothing that made any sense. Eventually he had decided, for sanity's sake, to just let it go; if his mind was trying to block something out, there was probably a reason for it. Right now, his only real concern was getting out of Seattle and finding a nice peaceful place to let his thoughts stop racing around in his head.

He'd been lucky: he'd found exactly the sort of place he had been looking for, and quickly too. It was a small secluded bungalow in the middle of a large tract of verdant land near the beach—the sort of place designed to allow people who had a lot of money to get away from it all in the midst of tropical splendor. His fake SIN, combined with a substantial amount of nuyen over and above the cost of renting the place for a month, had assured him both privacy and the services of the resort's staff, the latter of which were available at his call to provide all the amenities of life. He decided that he could get to like this.

He could get to like it if the nightmares would quit, that was. He hadn't succeeded in sleeping for longer than an hour at a time since he'd taken off from the mainland, and it was beginning to catch up with him. His plan had been to get settled in, sleep for awhile, and then go into town in his rented car and try to pick up some action—with his money, he had no doubt that he could convince two or three young girls to come back to his place with him for a night of drunken fun. Things hadn't worked out that way, though: right now he wasn't interested in sex in the slightest. He wasn't even interested in company, although part of him thought that maybe if somebody else was around to talk to, he could banish the demons from his mind long enough to get some rest.

The images were getting worse, too—that was the other thing. The first nightmare had been the scariest because of its novelty, but the other two had been building in his mind the increasingly hard-to-ignore belief that he was not long for this world. The formless pictures in his brain seemed to hint at something dark and indescribably ancient...something that was now interested in him. His rational mind tried its best to convince him that he was merely the victim of an overactive imagination, but it wasn't succeeding. Something was wrong, the images told him, and it was only a matter of time before it caught up with him. He could run away—maybe he could even hide for awhile—but eventually it would catch him. That day would not be a pleasant one.

Letting out a long breath, Slyde poured himself another Scotch and drained it. Grabbing a towel, he pulled off his sweaty shorts and padded naked into the bathroom. Maybe a shower would help his outlook. Maybe after he got cleaned up a bit, he might summon up the enthusiasm to try to find some action. A girl or two in his bed might be just the thing to take his mind off all the unpleasantness.

As he stood in the luxurious tiled shower, reveling as the warm water ran over his body and carried away the stale sweat, his mind inevitably returned to yesterday's events. He thought about the others in the team: Cutter, PK, Trent, Marko, and Kresge. All dead now. He was a little surprised that he felt absolutely no grief or even sadness at the loss. He hadn't been close to any of them, and had, in fact, always been halfway convinced that they all somehow knew about his past and would, under the right circumstances, turn him in to the authorities. Again, his rational mind knew that was bullshit: merc teams didn't turn each other in—once you agreed to work with somebody, what they did in their off hours wasn't any of your business as long as they did their job. It was the trust that you built up with your team that allowed you to work together. But nonetheless he had never managed to develop any friendships with the others in the team, so he didn't miss them when they were gone. As far as he was concerned, they died because they weren't careful enough. It happened. It was nature's way of sorting out the guys who should keep getting jobs from the guys who shouldn't. He, Slyde, fell into the former category, and the rest of the team apparently fell into the latter. Nightmares notwithstanding, he was full of pride at the fact that he had participated in an operation that had brought down what was without doubt a member of the most powerful and fearsome species on earth, and he had survived it. They hadn't, but he had. He grinned. In a year or so, when he decided to get back into the biz again, he would command a significantly higher price than before. That was just the way these things worked. Slyde the Dragon-Slayer. Yeah—that had a nice ring to it.

He shut off the water and stepped out of the shower, wrapping his towel around his waist. Grabbing another one, he used it to scrub at his hair as he looked in the mirror. The image he saw there was not what most people would think of when given the term "dragon-slayer": skinny, pale, pockmarked with the scars of old acne, with long stringy hair, crooked teeth, and small brown eyes, Slyde was surely not anyone's idea of a heroic figure; he didn't see it that way, though. In the manner of most individuals whose egos outstripped their common sense, Slyde was quite impressed with what he saw in the mirror. Yeah, the chicks would dig him when he got into town—money was, after all, the world's greatest aphrodisiac. Again he grinned. The hell with the nightmares! He was going to get dressed and head out looking for some action. That was why he was here, after all, wasn't it? To lose himself and forget about that whole run?

He swiped the towel through his hair one last time, then tossed it on the toilet seat and left the bathroom.

He was so intent on his fantasies about what he would do with the girls he brought back to the room that he almost didn't see the man seated in the chair by the window.

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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.