The runners stared at each other as the door swung shut behind Gabriel. "What the hell was that?" Ocelot demanded to nobody in particular.

For a long moment, nobody answered. Then Winterhawk turned to Kestrel. "Have you any idea what might be wrong with him?"

"Maybe dragons get sick from too much popcorn and beer," Joe suggested.

Kestrel hadn't taken her eyes off the closed door. "Something's not right," she said. "He didn't tell me much, but—he's very upset about something."

"Obvious," 'Wraith said. "But what?"

"I don't know," Kestrel said with a sigh, shaking her head.

"Stefan?" Ocelot said quickly. The four team members exchanged worried glances.

Kestrel shook her head. "No. I don't think so. What I got from him was that he was—sad. Upset. Not afraid or angry."

"You don't just keel over like that from being sad," Joe said. "Especially not when you're as tough as he is. There must be more to it than that."

"Attacked?" 'Wraith asked. The runners looked around as if they expected to see something hovering around inside the box. Down below the game went on without interruption, but all five of them ignored it.

Winterhawk dropped back into the nearest chair. "I doubt it will do any good, but let me take a look at the astral and see if anything's amiss." Without waiting for a reply, he slumped, his chin dropping forward onto his chest.

Ocelot moved over next to Kestrel. "Is there anything he's been—upset about lately? Has he mentioned anything to you?"

"No. Nothing." She shook her head, looking lost and confused. "He's been the same as he always is. Didn't say a word about anything that's been bothering him."

"Would he tell you?" Joe asked. "I mean, if he had a problem?"

Kestrel shrugged. "If he told anyone, he'd probably tell me. But he doesn't tell me everything, of course."

Ocelot paused before speaking, pacing around the box. "Well," he finally said, "I guess if he doesn't want to tell us, we're not gonna find out. As long as he's okay and Stefan isn't coming after us, I guess it's none of our business."

"True," 'Wraith said somewhat reluctantly, nodding.

Winterhawk's head raised and his eyes opened. He didn't speak right away; he had an odd look on his face.

Ocelot grabbed his shoulder. "Find anything?"

"Not—sure," 'Hawk said uncertainly. "There was—something there, but it was fading so quickly that it was difficult to get a good look at it."

Kestrel immediately came around in front of the mage. "What kind of something?"

Winterhawk shook his head. "Again, I'm not certain. Some sort of—energy. I think it might have been quite strong at one point, but it was barely there now."

"Energy?" 'Wraith raised an eyebrow.

"That isn't quite the right term." The mage appeared to be struggling for the way to put it into words. "A—disturbance in the astral plane. The sort of thing that might be caused by strong negative emotions, or great suffering of some sort."

"You sure Gabriel didn't cause that himself?" Joe asked. "He could put out a pretty strong astral disturbance if he's upset, couldn't he?"

Winterhawk looked up at him. "Hadn't thought of that. It's possible, certainly. But from the look of things, I'd be more inclined to believe that he got hit fairly hard by something first. P'raps some sort of psychic feedback brought on by the disturbance."

"So why didn't it happen to us too?" Ocelot demanded. "Or at least to you? I didn't feel anything at all. Did any of the rest of you?"

All four of the others shook their heads. Winterhawk sighed. "The only thing I can surmise is that it was either aimed directly at him, or he's just so much more sensitive to it than any of us that it was able to affect him while the rest of us were simply oblivious to it." He paused. "As I said, it had already faded almost to nothing by the time I got a look at it. I'll wager that if I go back again now, there won't be any trace of it."

"So..." Kestrel said slowly, "If it is some sort of...disturbance...that hit him, will he be all right? Could it be something dangerous?"

"My guess—mind you, this is only a guess—would be no, it's not dangerous," Winterhawk told her. "Long-term exposure to strong negative astral energy like that could eventually prove harmful for magically-active individuals, but a brief flash like that—" he shook his head. "I doubt it. Of course, I'm speaking from a human and metahuman standpoint. I've no idea how things like that would affect—someone like Gabriel. But in general, I think it would be rather like what happens to deckers or riggers when they're involuntarily disconnected from their machines."

"Dump shock," 'Wraith supplied.

Kestrel nodded. Having worked with many deckers, she was quite familiar with the term. "Okay." She paused. "I hope you're right." Looking around, she took in the runners and the game, then sighed. "Guys, I hope you don't mind, but I'm really not in the mood to watch a football game right now. I don't think I could concentrate on it anymore. Why don't you go ahead and stay—we shouldn't all miss it. I think I'm going to go try to find Gabriel and see if he'll tell me any more about happened to him."

"You sure you don't want us to go with you?" Ocelot asked.

She shook her head. "No—I think it would be best if I talked to him alone. That's assuming I can find him, of course." She smiled faintly at Ocelot. "If I can't find him, I might call you later, okay?"

Ocelot nodded. "Yeah."

After she left, the runners looked at each other, at the game, and then back at each other. It was clear from their expressions that each of them couldn't shake the feeling that Gabriel's episode somehow boded ill for all of them, even though they had no tangible evidence to support such an idea. Suddenly the football game didn't look as exciting anymore.

Wordlessly, the runners gathered their gear and left the box.

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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.