It was back on the astral plane now, where it belonged. And to its reckoning, this had been not a moment too soon.

How tedious it had been, how stifling, to have had to clothe itself in one of those fragile bodies in which the small ones spent the entirety of their short and pathetic lives! How could they possibly bear to be locked inside such feeble little flesh shells, their thoughts (such as they were) limited to the numbing confines of the bony husks that contained their brains?

It had spent only a few hours in the form, and the experience had been sufficiently distasteful that it had determined it would never again do so. It shouldn't need to, now. It had performed the job for which it had chosen the form, and now things were moving along nicely.

Surprisingly, it had been easier than expected. It had never dealt directly with those of his race, but it had always been of the thought that they would not be so easy to mislead. True this one was quite young by the standards of his kind, but the other one—the one it had deemed incorruptible—was younger still, and it was certain that it would not have been able to fool that one with anything like the same level of facility.

It smiled its noisome smile, knowing the reason all too well: hatred was a strong emotion, and a strong motivator. Shame was another. When the two were combined, with rage and envy thrown into the mix for good measure, even the most adept of manipulators could be in turn manipulated by those who could comprehend and exploit their weaknesses.

The plan had been set into motion. The snare had been set and it had fulfilled its purpose; now began the next stage. It would have to make haste—its hold on the foolish one was strong now, but without reinforcement, it would slowly fade. It could not have risked more contact than it had made, for fear that that one, or another close to him, would discover what had taken place. The link was weak and tenuous, but it would spend a significant amount of its time strengthening it. It wouldn't have to hold for long, at any rate: once the other had been destroyed, it would no longer be necessary to keep a hold on the foolish one.

His purpose, then, would be something entirely different.

The Master would be pleased, it knew. Even though it could not currently touch the Master's mind, it still knew. They had long planned for this eventuality, just in case at some point one or more of the smaller ones like itself were able to make it across the chasm. It had been instructed in what it was to do, and it was following those orders to the best of its ability.

The circumstances had been fortuitous, it knew. It knew what it sought, but it did not know if such an individual existed. It had been prepared to wait for a very long time to discover one, but that had not been necessary. Its patience had been rewarded quickly—a sure sign in its twisted mind that fortune favored the Master's endeavor.

Still, though, seducing the foolish one had been the easy part. Compared to the effort it would take to prepare for the destruction of the powerful one, this had been no more than the simplest child's play. The foolish one had been as a boulder precariously balanced at the top of a steeply-pointed mountain: it had taken nothing but the smallest of efforts to push him in the direction it had desired. The powerful one would be another matter. Although he might not be suspicious, he would still be wary, and one misstep could mean not only the failure to bring about his destruction, but also the destruction of itself.

That would not be permitted to occur. It was, as far as it knew, the only servant of the Master that had managed to make it across the chasm when they had at last completed the tenuous bridge. Most of the others that had made it had been the mindless ones, the ravening beasts who thought of nothing but destruction and considered nothing beyond the current moment. Those that did not fit this description were servants of other masters, with other goals. It knew that if there had been others like itself, they would have made contact by now, for all of them had been well instructed by the Master in exactly what they would do if they found themselves in just such a position. All of them had the same goal, and all of them were devoted to nothing else but achieving this goal.

But it was alone, and therefore charged with carrying out the Master's plan alone. At the beginning it would be more difficult—certainly the destruction of the powerful one would have been more easily accomplished if there had been others. But after, should it succeed—think of the glory that it would enjoy in the Master's eyes when they were at last reunited! A servant who was able to bring about such a thing would surely be favored, and elevated to the position of highest among the Master's minions.

A delicious thought, but one with which it could not indulge itself yet. This operation demanded a delicate touch and a keen concentration. The way must be prepared, the proper components gathered, and the details of the subterfuge finalized. It would leave the details of luring the powerful one to the appointed place to the foolish one, for he knew better than it did what it would take to be successful. But it must not leave anything else to chance. Everything must be in readiness, and every eventuality planned for. The powerful one would not allow any mistakes.

It sighed to itself, bowing to the inevitable: it would have to return to the flesh shell for awhile to procure some of the necessary components. It by itself was not strong enough to destroy the strong one; even if it were, it would not be wise to reveal such power where others might catch wind of it. There were others, even more powerful than the strong one, who would undoubtedly make trouble for the Master if they were to discover the nature of the plan. No, it was possible for the small ones, if properly prepared and equipped, to prevail even against the great ones. It was simply a matter of finding the right group of small ones and telling them only what they must know to accomplish the purpose.

It didn't really matter, of course, what it told them, because it did not expect that they would survive the operation. Those that the strong one did not destroy in his death throes, it would seek out and eliminate.

Or even better, it thought, smiling to itself with glee as another thought came into its mind, I will not destroy them. Destruction is so wasteful, and any that survive could provide me with much amusement, if I use them carefully.

After all, it may be a servant, but even servants had the freedom to play with lesser beings. The Master would not mind. And until the goal had been accomplished, the Master would not even know. At the point that it did know, it would be so pleased by its servant's resourcefulness and cleverness that it would no longer care. At that point, the Master would take over and the servant would once again have the direction and purpose for which it had been created.

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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.