Sean paced the room while Jay hooked up Crank’s hitcher jack to his deck. “So you say I’ll be able to talk and move around, but not touch anything?”
“Yeah, right.” Jay sounded distracted, fiddling with some setting that only he could see. “They’ve really improved hitchers in the last few years. Used to be it was like you were just piggybacking along with the decker, pretty much along for the ride. You’ll still have to stay in my sight, but at least this way you’re not stuck to me like glue and not able to say anything.”
Sean nodded. He was still getting the stiffness out of his muscles from the nap he’d taken on the hard smelly floor of Crank’s apartment. He hadn’t wanted to take one but Jay had insisted, saying that a tired decker was a dangerous decker. Now, at a little after midnight, he was awake and refreshed. Sean was just awake. “Have you ever done this before?”
“Only once, but don’t worry. We’re not going anywhere dangerous. This is just a meet.”
“I’m not worried,” Sean protested. “It sounds kinda cool, actually. I’m just wondering, that’s all.”
Jay nodded, still distracted. Then he patted the deck and looked up. “Okay, ready. Come over here and let’s get this thing on you.”
Sean sat down in the chair opposite Jay’s and leaned down so the dwarf could settle the ‘trode rig on his head. The little contact points felt cold against his forehead and hummed very slightly. Jay made a couple of adjustments and then handed Sean a pair of goggles. Sean put them on, settling them into place. It was dark inside, but after a moment the goggles switched on. Standing in front of him was a smiling cartoon tiger with a big nose, bouncing around on his tail. “Can you see me?” the tiger asked. The voice didn’t sound like Jay’s.
“Yeah.” Sean had always been amused that his cynical friend had chosen the old Winnie-the-Pooh character “Tigger” as his Matrix icon. Of course, this Tigger was colored in shades of blue and purple instead of orange and black and his eyes glowed bright green, but the thought was there.
“Okay, good. Try reaching out and see if you can see your hand.”
Sean did as he was told and a silvery human hand extended into his line of vision. “Check.”
“Great.” Jay ran him through a couple of other tests to make sure he could move around all right and then patted his shoulder. “We’re good to go. This thing is pretty damn wiz. I’m gonna have to get me one.”
“Yeah, I know. Let’s go. And remember—when we’re in the Matrix, don’t call me Jay. Call me Tigger or Tigg. What do you want me to call you?”
Sean thought about that for a moment. At Watanabe’s Sensei sometimes called him Hebi—Snake—because of the speed of his strikes. “Hebi will do.”
There was a pause, and then the tiger nodded. “Okay. Let’s go. Take my hand and hang on. You can’t get lost but if I lose sight of you you’ll get dumped and I’ll have to set things up again.”
Sean moved forward, feeling awkward in the silvery body. It didn’t move the same way he did and he kept feeling like he was about to trip. He grasped the tiger’s cartoon paw tightly. It felt warm and furry.
“Hold on. Here we go.”
Immediately the scene changed. The nondescript room where they had started gave way to a rush of scenery flying past them at a high rate of speed. Sean was looking everywhere at once, taking in glowing towers, figures flitting by on their errands, the constant hum of datastreams. He had seen pictures of the Matrix on the trids and visited many times in his classes via simrigs, but had never experienced the real thing in such detail before this. He could even feel the “air” rushing past him as they flew. The feeling was both exhilarating and very, very weird. He wondered if this was what Jay did every time he jacked in or if he was just showing off a bit for his friend’s benefit.
Before he got the chance to think about much more, they were dropping down. “Here we are,” Jay’s Tigger-voice said in his ear.
“So soon?” He was almost disappointed, but then he remembered why they were here. He looked down at the place they were approaching and his eyes widened.
It was a toy store, a little freestanding building with brightly lit plate-glass windows. Painted on the windows in glowing block letters was “TEDDY’S TOY SHOPPE.” As Jay and Sean came to rest in front of the store they could see movement inside: dozens, maybe hundreds, of small toys doing their various things: electric trains, walking dolls, jack-in-the-boxes, toy dogs and cats and robots. Looking closer, though, they could see that all of the toys were just a little off what one might expect: some of the dolls had slightly maniacal expressions, the trains disappeared into tunnels and came out looking different, the jack-in-the-box wore mirrorshades. “Weird...” Sean whispered.
Jay didn’t argue.
They moved up to the door. Jay tried the handle but it was locked tight. At the sound, several of the toys looked toward them with interest. After a moment a little mechanical man tottered over and stood on the other side of the door, peering up at them with shiny black eyes. “We’re closed,” it announced in a squeaky clanky voice.
“We’ve come to visit Teddy,” Jay said, following the instructions Crank had given them before returning to his paying job and tuning them out.
“Teddy’s busy.” The little man made as if to turn around and walk away.
“We have a new toy for Teddy,” Jay said quickly.
The mechanical man stopped and turned back. “A new toy? Well, why didn’t you say so? Put it through the slot in the door.”
“There isn’t any—” Sean started, but then was surprised to see that there was a slot in the door. It hadn’t been there before—he would have staked a lot on that.
Jay reached into the pocket of his tiger-suit—which was odd because Tigger didn’t have any pockets—and withdrew a little puppet that looked like it had been made out of old socks and buttons. Crank hadn’t told them what the puppet represented, but he assured them that Teddy would be interested and that it would serve as an introduction. He pushed it through the slot.
The mechanical man caught it and spent a moment examining it, his clucks of pleasure sounding like gears meshing. “Come in,” he said at last. “I think Teddy will see you, even though we’re closed.”
The door swung open and Jay and Sean quickly entered the store before this strange creature could change its mind. It closed behind them and locked with a click.
“Just a moment,” the little man said, and disappeared.
Sean and Jay didn’t get much time to look around because almost immediately out from behind the counter came a black teddy bear, its button eyes twinkling blue, its mouth shaped into an impish smile. “I don’t get many new toys here,” the bear said, tilting its head at Tigger. The voice had a vague feminine lilt to it, but it was difficult to tell for sure.
“We’re looking for Teddy,” Sean said, stepping forward. “Is that you? Can you help us?”
“Oh, I’d say I can.” The bear seemed amused. “I’ve heard about you two—looking for old data.”
Sean nodded. “That’s us.”
“So—what’s the deal? What have you got?”
Jay reached into his pocket and held up his paw. The images of Terry Symonz and Juliana Harvath appeared, floating in the air. “We’re looking for information on these people. From about eighteen years ago.”
The bear moved a little closer, pulling a pair of old-fashioned pince-nez glasses from its own nonexistent pocket and settling them over its ample nose. “Hmmm...” it said noncommittally. Around it, the other toys in the shop continued to chug, rumble, and whirr about their business. “What do you already know about them?”
“Just their names,” Sean said. “Terry Symonz and Juliana Harvath. And that they were supposed to have been in Seattle during the time we’re looking for.”
“Mmm hmm...” the bear said again. Its twinkly blue-eyed gaze became a little more businesslike as it fell on Sean. “And why are you looking for them?”
“I’d—rather not say right now,” Sean said uncomfortably. He was afraid it would want to know—from his past experience with Jay, deckers wanted to know everything.
“Hmm...” the bear said, nodding. It took off its glasses, stowed them back in its pocket, and crossed its furry arms over its middle. “You want me to track down ancient-history information about people but you don’t want to tell me why. I understand. But you have to understand that these kinds of things don’t come cheap.” It raised one arm to lean its chin on it. A little mechanical bird flew down from high in the shop’s rafters, settled on Teddy’s head for a moment, then flew away. “My standard rate for this kind of search is five thousand nuyen.”
Sean’s eyes widened as he exchanged glances with Jay. Five thousand nuyen! He had that kind of money—he had a lot more than that, in fact—but he didn’t expect he was going to have to spend his college fund on information gathering. “Five thousand? Just to find some information?”
The bear nodded. “That’s right. More if there’s any danger involved. A bear’s got to keep itself safe, right?” It paused and the grin got wider. “In advance, of course.”
Sean looked at Jay again. There had to be other deckers in town who’d been around that long. Maybe they could find one willing to work cheaper. “Thank you,” he said, turning back to Teddy, “but I think we’ll have to pass. I don’t have that much money.”
The bear shrugged. “Have it your way. Of course, there’s always another way to fulfill my payment.”
Sean stopped in the act of turning away. “And what’s that?”
“You can tell me why you want it.” Teddy came forward, moving gracefully on stubby footless bear legs.
“Why do you care?” Jay demanded.
“Let’s just say I like information,” the bear said, managing to look smug. “I’d think you’d understand that.”
Sean looked suspicious, or as much so as a featureless silver humanoid can look. “That’s it? I tell you why I want the information and that’s all you want for payment? No five thousand nuyen?”
“Nope. That’s all. Well, except for a one-time fee of two hundred and fifty nuyen to cover basic expenses.”
Sean thought about it for a few moments and then shrugged. “It’s not exactly a secret, after all. I don’t care if she knows.” He looked at Jay for confirmation.
“Hey, it’s your data, omae. You gotta make the choice.”
Sean nodded and turned back to Teddy. “Okay, you’ve got a deal.”
The bear looked pleased. “Wonderful. Please slot the two-fifty right there...” She pointed with a stubby arm toward a small pink piggy bank that was crossing the floor toward them. The bank had the head of a cartoon pig and the body of a real one. On the side was a glowing dollar sign. It trotted up to Jay and grunted once.
Sean nodded, knowing he didn’t have the means to perform the action here. “Go ahead, Tigg. I’ll pay you back.”
Jay pulled a credchip from his pocket (it came out looking like an old-time coin) and dropped it into the bank’s slot. The pig grunted happily, squealed, and trotted off.
“Okay,” Teddy said. “That’s part one. Now: why do you want the info?”
Sean crossed his silvery arms. “You find it first. Once you’ve got something, then I’ll tell you why I want it.”
Teddy paused a moment, then nodded. “Have it your way. You want to wait, or shall I call you?”
“We’ll wait,” Sean said.
“I warn you: it could take awhile. Eighteen years is a long time.”
“We’ll wait,” he said again.
“All right, then. Make yourself at home. You can play with the toys if you want—some of them might even want to play with you. I’ll be back.” Without waiting for an answer, Teddy turned and trundled off with her odd graceful bear-gait.
“I think I like the real world better,” Sean muttered under his breath to Jay.
It was hard for Sean to tell how long it was before Teddy came back; it seemed like it took forever but according to Jay’s chrono readout it was only about half an hour. The dwarf spent the time prowling around examining the various toys while Sean paced.
When Teddy returned she popped up out of an oversized toybox on the other side of the room, startling both her visitors. “Okay!” she said briskly. “I’ve got something. Your turn to hold up your end of the deal.”
“How much did you get?” Sean asked quickly.
The bear shook its paw. “Uh-uh. That wasn’t the deal. I’ve got something, so now you tell me why you want it. Then I’ll tell you what it is.”
Sean took a deep breath. “Okay, have it your way.” He waved toward the place where the pictures had been visible before. “I think those people are related to me. I’m trying to find them. My family lost touch with them a long time ago, right after I was born. My parents died recently, so I’m trying to track down some other relatives.” It wasn’t quite the truth, but close enough that Sean hoped she would accept it.
Teddy studied him for a moment, then nodded. “What kind of relatives?”
“Aunt and uncle,” Sean said firmly, meeting the bear’s gaze.
Again she paused a moment, and again she nodded. “Well, all I have to say is that you’ve got some strange family members, my friend.” She made raised her hand and Terry Symonz’ picture appeared in the air between them. “Found a couple of references to the name you gave me, but it was the picture match that did it. Do you know anyone named ‘Ocelot’?”
Sean shook his head. “No.”
“Looks like an alias he went by fairly often, back then. Hasn’t been seen in Seattle for years, though.”
“Ocelot?” Sean and Jay exchanged glances. “Why would he need an alias?”
The bear chuckled. “From the look of things, your ‘uncle’ was a shadowrunner. And a pretty good one too, in his day.”
Sean stared at her, stunned. “A—shadowrunner?” He’d heard of them, of course—everybody had. They were criminals, doing illicit jobs outside the law for the massive megacorporations. “My d—my uncle was a shadowrunner?”
Teddy nodded. “Mid-50’s through about mid-’60s. He was good, or he wouldn’t have lasted that long. Dropped out of sight after that.”
Sean struggled to compose his thoughts. “Why—might he have done that?”
“One of two reasons, most likely. Either retired or somebody killed him.”
Sean took a long, deep breath and let it out slowly. He was getting used to the icon now and it felt almost natural to do that. “What about...my aunt. Juliana. Was she a—”
“A shadowrunner too? Hard to tell, but I’d bet so. She wasn’t in town for as long as he was, and she kept low because there isn’t as much info on her. This is just a guess, mind you, but her description matches a runner named Kestrel who spent some time with Ocelot.”
Sean’s mind was reeling. For several seconds the only sounds were those of the toys in the shop as he struggled with the information. “Is there...anything else?” he asked numbly.
“Oh, probably. I didn’t check in depth. If you want more, you’ll have to pay more.” Teddy cocked her head at him. “If you’re trying to save money, you might be better off asking around. Seattle’s a smaller town than you might think, and the shadow community’s smaller still. You might get lucky and find somebody who remembers them.”
Another long pause. “Can you...suggest anybody I can talk to?”
“‘Fraid not.” The bear shook its head in an exaggerated negative. “Assuming I ever had any involvement with those sorts of people, it ended years ago.”
Sean didn’t believe her and he didn’t think Jay did either, but he couldn’t exactly force her to get involved. “All right. Well—thank you for your help. I appreciate it.”
“Null sweat. I hope you find your...aunt and uncle.” She paused just long enough to let Sean know that nobody was fooling anybody. “And hey—leave me your number. If I turn up anything good I might give you a call.”
Sean sat up in his chair, stretching his body and twisting his neck back and forth to work the cricks out of it. As soon as the image faced from the goggles he pulled them off, followed by the ‘trode rig. Shivering, he tossed them on the bed next to Jay. “No, thanks,” he said. “That’s enough of that for me. I’ll do my hunting in the real world.”
Jay pulled his plug and started carefully stowing his deck and other gear away in his padded bag. “That was some setup she had,” he said appreciatively. “That kind of resolution and clarity’s gotta cost major nuyen.” His eyes glazed over a little as his mind relived what they had just experienced.
Sean tossed a roll of socks at him. “Come on, Canfield. Get decker envy later, okay? I gotta find somebody to talk to so I can find out about my parents.”
Jay nodded and whistled. “Yeah. Right. Shadowrunners.” He looked Sean up and down. “Well, you do look more like a shadowrunner than a clean-cut burb kid from ‘bridge...”
“You should talk,” Sean said sourly. “Now come on. Are you gonna help me or not?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll ask Crank. He might know where we can go to find shadowrunners. You want me to try some more searches on this Ocelot guy?”
Sean shook his head. “No, not yet. If he’s really a shadowrunner he might have ways to find out if people are checking into him. Let’s try this first and if we don’t turn up anything then you can do that.”
Jay looked disappointed, but nodded grudgingly. “Okay. Have it your way. So what’s our next move?”
Sean grinned and grabbed up his leather jacket. “Like I said—hunting in the real world.”
Copyright ©2001, 2002 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.