Slyde stopped short when he saw the man. "Who the fuck are you?" he demanded, glaring. "And how did you get in here?"
The man remained calmly seated, watching Slyde. He smiled, just a bit, but there was something dangerous behind the smile. "I've come to—discuss something with you."
Slyde stared at him. Very young, too handsome, dressed in a fine suit, he looked completely at ease here, showing no fear at the fact that he had just been confronted by the room's rightful occupant. "I asked you a question," Slyde growled. "Who are you, and how'd you get in here?"
The smile disappeared. "My name is Gabriel," he said softly. "How I got in is irrelevant, since I am here now."
Slyde sneered. "Well, how you're gonna get outta here is relevant, asshole," he said. "I'll give you one chance to get up and get your ass out the door, or you're gonna be real sorry." He did not glance at the nightstand next to the bed; he knew there was a Predator there, and he was reasonably sure he could get to it before this guy, whoever he was, caught on.
The man did not move. "I'm not going anywhere," he said with just a hint of a chill in his voice. "Nor are you. You will answer my questions."
Slyde was already tiring of the game. He was frazzled enough without having some kid break into his room and try (ineffectively, so far) to intimidate him. "Okay," he said through his teeth. "Don't say I didn't give you a chance. I ain't in the mood for this crap." Moving quickly, he lunged toward the nightstand, which was only a couple of meters from where he had been standing.
—and stopped in mid-movement, frozen by some unseen force. "Wha' the fuck—?" he yelled. He glared at Gabriel, who still hadn't moved, while trying desperately to get control of his arms or his legs. His entire body below the neck was paralyzed.
Gabriel rose and crossed the room to the nightstand. Opening the drawer, he withdrew the Predator. "You weren't thinking of using this on me, were you, Slyde?" he asked almost conversationally. "That would have been unwise." He returned to his chair, taking the gun with him. Idly he popped the clip, removed the bullets, and put them in his pocket, then tossed the gun aside.
Slyde was nearly hysterical in his sudden desire to move. "What the hell did you do to me?" he screamed. "How did you know my name? I ain't never seen you before in my life!"
Gabriel shrugged. "Simple, really. It could have been much worse. Now—if I let you go, will you sit down and answer my questions? Next time I could make it more unpleasant, if that's what you prefer."
Slyde continued to glare at him, but there was an overlay of panic to it now. Who was this guy? What did he want? Was he the evil that was coming for him? He met Gabriel's violet gaze, but did not catch the significance of it. If he had been Kestrel, he would have been very frightened by what he saw there. "Awright," he muttered, still fighting the paralysis. "Lemme go, and I'll talk to ya. I don't know what the hell you want with me, though. Like I said, I ain't never even seen you before."
Suddenly the hold on him dropped away. Surprised, he lost his balance and fell to the floor, landing hard on his butt. Still Gabriel had not moved; he merely sat watching Slyde as he frantically gathered his towel around him and leaped back to his feet. For a moment the rigger looked like he might rush Gabriel, but he decided against it and dropped down on the bed. "Okay," he said sullenly. "Talk."
Gabriel nodded once as if satisfied, but the dangerous look had not yet left his eyes. "Tell me about the night before last, Slyde," he said, deceptively gentle.
Oh, shit...he does know. Who the hell is this guy? "I don't know what you're talkin' about, kid," he lied smoothly, while inside his stomach was doing flip-flops.
"I think you do," Gabriel said in the same soft tone. "It would be best for you, I think, if your memory returned to you of your own volition. If I have to help it—" He trailed off, leaving the rest ambiguous.
"Look, whoever the hell you are," Slyde said, his voice getting louder as he took the offensive, "I'm tellin' ya—I don't know nothin' about whatever you're talkin' about. I was here the whole time. Right here. Now you better get your ass outta here before I call security and have 'em come get ya." That was a bluff, of course—Slyde liked to have as little to do with any sort of security as possible—but he hoped that the young intruder wouldn't know it.
Gabriel's gaze stepped up its intensity a notch. When he spoke again it was still in the same tone, but now there was something else beneath it. "A very dear friend of mine died that night," he said.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit... Slyde tried and barely succeeded not to squirm on the bed. Okay—this guy might know about the dragon, but he's just one guy, and he ain't that big. I think I can take him if I catch him by surprise. "So?" he demanded. "What's that got to do with me?"
"Quite a lot, apparently," Gabriel said. "It appears that you are the only survivor of the attack that killed him."
Slyde shot to his feet. "Hey, asshole," he protested angrily. "You got a lotta balls to come in here and accuse me of killin' somebody! I said I been here. Don't you listen?"
"I listen," Gabriel said, unruffled. "But I hear more than your words." Suddenly his expression changed, grew colder. "I'm growing tired of this. The issue is not whether you killed him—I already know that. The issue is why. I want to know who hired you, and why he was killed."
"I ain't tellin' you nothin', kid." Slyde sneered. Alcohol and fear were making him more belligerent than usual.
Gabriel shrugged. "I think you're wrong about that, but I was hoping you would see reason." He made a brief gesture in the air.
Slyde gasped. Now he was not only paralyzed, but he could not get a breath. Sputtering, he tried to wrench his arms up to grip his throat, but they wouldn't move. "Ah—ah—" he stammered.
"I told you it could be more unpleasant," Gabriel said, seemingly oblivious to his struggle. "As you can see, the paralysis is selective. I can choose to immobilize only your limbs, or I can extend it to more of your body. Such as your lungs, in this case."
Slyde desperately fought for breath. Already he could feel dark tendrils around the outer fringes of his mind as he began to black out. "Okay!" he whispered explosively. "Okay! You win! Make it stop!"
Instantly the hold fell away. Slyde slumped, gasping in great lungfuls of air. "What—are—you?" he spat out between breaths.
"I told you," Gabriel said. "I was a close friend of the one you killed. I've come to seek the truth about why he was murdered."
Slyde looked at Gabriel, and his eyes narrowed. For a moment he was silent, weighing the relative advantages of lying versus telling the truth. "If I tell you," he said slyly, "will you promise not to kill me?"
Gabriel shook his head. "No."
Slyde looked startled. "No?" Was this kid really so clueless about the way these things worked that he wouldn't even lie about it to get the information he wanted? "Why not?"
"Because I cannot make that promise."
This guy was fraggin' weird. Slyde was starting to get nervous now. "Why should I tell you anything, then, if you're just gonna kill me?"
"Because," Gabriel said matter-of-factly, "I will certainly kill you if you don't tell me."
"But then you won't get your information," Slyde said, beginning to sound a bit frayed around the edges. He was dealing with a crazy man, and he wasn't sure how to proceed.
Something changed again in Gabriel's eyes, and it chilled Slyde's bones. "I will get my information," he said very quietly. "The question is simply whether you will give it to me voluntarily, or whether I will take it."
Slyde swallowed hard. He could feel the sweat breaking out on his body. Part of his mind started its argument that he could still take Gabriel if he caught him by surprise, but the part with sense reminded him of how easily the newcomer had incapacitated him with nothing more than a gesture. The guy might not look tough, but mages didn't have to look tough to be tough. He decided his best chance, however slim, of getting out of this alive would be to tell this madman what he wanted to know. "Okay," he muttered, still trying to think of a way out. "I'll answer."
Gabriel settled back in his chair, his eyes never leaving Slyde. "Who hired you to kill Telanwyr?"
"Who?" Slyde looked genuinely perplexed.
"You have committed murder without even knowing the name of your victim," Gabriel said in a tone dripping ice. "Who hired you to kill him?"
"Our boss set up the job," Slyde said. He was determined that he was going to play this just as if he was in court: answer only the question that was asked, and not volunteer any additional information.
"Who is that?"
Gabriel sighed. "Who is Cutter? Was he one of the others involved in the ambush?"
"So he is dead now."
"Yeah. That fragger killed him." So much for no additional information, Slyde thought disgustedly.
Gabriel's hands tightened on the arms of his chair. They were shaking, but his face remained completely impassive. "Understandable, given what you did to him," he said tightly. "Who contacted Cutter regarding the hit?"
"I don't know."
"You are lying," Gabriel said. He raised his hand again.
"No—wait!" Slyde said quickly, scrambling backward on the bed. "Don't hit me with that mojo again! I remember!" Puffing, he settled down again. "It was some weird-shit elf."
"What did this elf look like?"
Slyde tried to picture the elf, but his features kept blurring in his mind. "I—don't know." He glanced up fearfully. "That's the truth! I can't remember what he looked like!"
"Did you see him?"
Slyde thought about that for a moment. "Yeah—I saw him. But I can't—I can't get a picture of what he looks like. I don't know his name or nothin'. All I can remember is that he was an elf."
Gabriel regarded him coldly for several seconds, then nodded. "All right. Do you know why he hired you? Why did he want Telanwyr dead?"
"He didn't say," Slyde said, shaking his head. "He told us what to do and we did it. That was what he was payin' us for."
"How much did he pay you?"
Slyde paused. "Five hundred K up front. He was gonna pay us another 500K after the job was over."
"Was?" Gabriel leaned forward. "Why did he not pay you? You did complete the job, did you not?"
Again Slyde racked his brain for the answer, but it would not come. "I—can't remember. I left before I got the rest of the payment."
"But you don't remember why?" Gabriel appeared very interested in Slyde's answer. "You left five hundred thousand nuyen behind, but you can't even remember why?"
"Yeah," Slyde said miserably. "Five hundred fuckin' K. Right down the drain."
"Where is the payment you did get?"
"I spent it already." Slyde got a bit of his old defiance back as his gaze came up to meet Gabriel's.
"You're lying again, Slyde," Gabriel said, obvious warning in his tone.
Was this guy reading his mind or something? How could he be so sure—and so correct? "What do you care?" Slyde demanded. "You ain't here to talk about my money."
"Indirectly I am. Please get it. I know that you have it in this room somewhere. I strongly suggest that you don't try to retrieve any more weapons in the process." Gabriel leaned back in his chair and continued to watch Slyde.
Slowly, the rigger rose from the bed, pausing to re-fasten his towel around his waist. In the back of his mind, a voice was telling him, Give him the money. Maybe that's all he wants. Maybe he'll take the money and leave. And besides, he doesn't know about the money from the Yellowjacket and the laser. You can live good for a long time on that, even without the five hundred. He had to admit that the voice was making sense.
Careful to make no sudden motions that might startle his insane visitor, Slyde crossed the room to the closet, where his armored coat was hung up. Acutely conscious of the young man's gaze, he reached into the pocket and pulled out the credstick containing the 500K. "Here it is," he said, turning back around. He tried not to think about just how much money he was giving up. If it saved his life, it was worth it. He could always get more money.
An invisible force plucked the credstick from Slyde's grasp; it floated across the room and into Gabriel's raised hand. He looked at it contemplatively for a moment. "They think this is the price of Telanwyr's life..." he murmured to himself, shaking his head in disgust. Then he raised the credstick again. As Slyde watched in horror, a puff of flame rose up around it, consuming it. In less than five seconds, nothing remained in Gabriel's hand.
"What the hell are you doin', you idiot?" Slyde screamed, lunging forward. "You just blew up five hundred thousand fuckin' nuyen!"
In a split-second Gabriel was on his feet, his handsome features darkening with rage. With a negligent wave of his hand, he threw Slyde back across the bed. "Do not raise your voice to me again," he said coldly. "You continue to live only at my favor—don't forget that." He began pacing around the room like a caged cat. "You sicken me—all of you do. You kill in cold blood without even realizing the ramifications of what you have done." He rounded on Slyde, his violet eyes ablaze with hatred. "Do you know anything about the being you have murdered? Do you know how ancient he was—how much of his vast knowledge has been lost to the world because of what you have done? He was not your enemy. I doubt that he had any knowledge of you or those like you. But yet, for this insignificant price—this bit of worthless currency—you have chosen to end his life. Your greed has led you to destroy someone with whom you are not fit to share this world." His eyes burned into Slyde's, challenging him to reply.
Slyde scrabbled back to a sitting position on the bed, watching the pacing man with wide, frightened eyes. The guy was losing it, big-time. "Look," he said, his voice breaking with fear, "it was just a job. We didn't set it up. We just did what we were paid to do. If you want the guy behind this, you're gonna have to find that elf." He paused, the alcohol taking over his brain again. "What's the big deal to you anyway? What are you, some kind of dragon-lover or something?"
Gabriel stopped his pacing. For a moment he said nothing; then, very slowly, he moved over next to the bed. As Slyde stared up at him, gasping, his eyes changed. Shifted. When they had finished, instead of his human-looking eyes, normal looking in every respect except for their brilliant violet coloring, the eyes that regarded Slyde were solid violet with slitted pupils. Eyes like a—
Very softly, in what was almost a whisper, Gabriel said, "Didn't you know we could take human form, Donnie?"
Slyde froze. Oh shit...it's another one! It's another dragon! And it's found me and it's after me...Oh my god oh my god oh my god... His thoughts raced through his mind like speeding trains. He felt his bladder give way; warm urine trickled down his legs and soaked into the bedcovers.
"Sit up," Gabriel said contemptuously. "At least take responsibility for what you have done."
Slyde was beyond that now. Kneeling on the bed, he buried his face in his hands and blubbered. This whole situation had just gone right over the edge. It was bad enough that some nebulous evil was after him, but now here was a dragon, right here in front of him, looking for revenge for his friend's murder. Maybe the evil and the dragon were both the same thing. But whatever it was, it didn't matter. It was enough.
The invisible hand took hold of his chin and forced it upward. Slyde tried to fight it but it was too strong. "What—?" he mumbled through his tears. "What do you want?"
"I want to know about the elf," Gabriel said.
"I don't remember! I don't remember! Please!" Slyde collapsed into another bout of sobs. "Don't eat me!"
Gabriel considered. "Give me a reason why I shouldn't."
"Please don't eat me! Please! I don't know about the elf! I don't know! Please!" Slyde was turning into a wreck right there in the middle of the bed.
Gabriel shook his head. "I'm sorely tempted, but no doubt you would give me indigestion." There was no vestige of humor in his tone. "But I will have your knowledge of the elf who set this abomination in motion. If you will not tell me of him, then I will take the knowledge from you." Without waiting for permission, he reached out a hand and clamped it around Slyde's forehead.
Slyde tried to fight the intrusion in his mind, but the force was simply too strong. The dragon's mind probe broke through his mental barriers like they were not even there; desperately, he felt his memories and his thoughts being sifted through like so many random papers in a desk drawer. He felt the dragon examine his memories of the battle, his pride at being the one to strike the final blow, his fear of—
The probe pushed harder, but still those memories eluded it, just as they had eluded Slyde. It was as if there were great black spots—holes where memories should have been. He thought he heard himself scream, but he wasn't sure if it was aloud or just inside his own head.
Searching, the dragon's mind probe continued deeper into his brain, uncovering more memories in quest of those he thought were buried. As the probe moved in deeper, the pain in Slyde's head increased. He fought harder, trying to protect his most guarded secret, the story of his last night in the military, but the probe only pressed harder, believing these to be the memories it sought. When it finally finished sifting through his mind and withdrew, Slyde collapsed backward on the bed.
"You truly do not remember..." Gabriel was saying as if to himself. He sounded somewhat surprised. "How could such a block be so strong in such a short time period?"
"I told you I didn't remember," Slyde blubbered, rolling himself up into a ball on the bed, which was now soaked with new sweat to go with the urine that was already there.
Gabriel's gaze flicked upward as he noticed the rigger again. The rage still showed in his eyes. "You have no remorse for what you have done," he said. "You were proud as you watched my oldest friend die under your laser. You fancy yourself a 'dragon-slayer.'" He shook his head. "You are no dragon-slayer. You have not the power or the courage to do such a thing alone. I can see that the key to this problem is the elf. Someone has wiped your memory of him, so I must find him. He will have the answer."
"So—" Slyde began hesitantly, "—what are you gonna do with me?"
"What am I going to do with you?" Gabriel thought about that a moment, standing over him. "You are a murderer. You are a child-rapist. You have no sense of honor. You are filled with greed and hatred and have loyalty toward no one but yourself. What do you think I should do with you?"
Slyde merely whimpered, rolling back in his little ball.
"Yes," Gabriel said, nodding. "Excellent idea." He turned away, making a small hand gesture toward Slyde as he did so. Without looking back, he left the room.
Death took Slyde quickly as the spell stopped his heart. He did not suffer, which perhaps, all things considered, was a shame.
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.