The First Winterhawk Story
(c) 1992, Rat
Author's Note: This story was written in early 1992, shortly after I started playing my second Shadowrun campaign. It was about this time I realized that this sarcastic British guy I'd been pushing around was more than just numbers on paper or a playing piece in a game--I discovered I kinda liked him and wanted to keep him around awhile. As usual when I discover things like this, I started writing about him. You know the rest. I have not changed anything about this story from the time it was written, so you'll see some different NPCs, some weird canon, and some personality traits that never quite panned out, but I thought it would be fun to let people see the old boy's beginnings. Hope you like it. --Rat
This was definitely not the kind of place Winterhawk was used to frequenting. The sleazy bar, with the incongruous name of Club Riche, smelled of sweat and too much perfume and the stale odor of leather worn too long without a cleaning. The furnishings were rotting, and the clientele wasn't far behind.
Winterhawk carefully threaded his way through the crowd, trying not to touch anyone. He was well aware that he didn't belong here, and the motley collection of dockside denizens that grudgingly made way for him knew it.
A message had said to meet his contact in the back room. What it had neglected to tell him was which back room: the place had at least three doors he could see that didn't seem to lead to an exit. The last thing he wanted to do was go barging through the wrong door into the midst of a crowd of Trolls engaging in a heated debate. One didn't want to become the subject of a Troll debate if one had any aspirations of living long.
Winterhawk stopped, checking out the area around him once more. On the far side of the room, an aging trideo screen belted out the latest rocker star's latest hit at far higher volume than was really necessary. All young, all blonde, all interchangeable; Winterhawk had trouble telling these trideo princesses apart anymore, a fact that did not disturb him in the least. On the near side, eyeing him with suspicion, was the Dwarven bartender, a stumpy little man who looked as if he would cheerfully gut you right there on the bar if you got out of line. And charge admission, most likely. Looking around again, Winterhawk was convinced that the crowd would just has cheerfully pay it. Case in point: the three Orks sitting at a table near him, speculating in loud voices about the sexual capabilities of the trideo princess. When he turned to glance at them, all three of them gave him an almost perfectly synchronized "What you lookin' at, mac?" kind of glare. Normally, he would have glared back, but tonight he felt uneasy enough in this slimepit without provoking a free-for-all.
He was about to approach the bartender to surreptitiously inquire as to the location of his contact when suddenly someone was behind him, as if from nowhere. Winterhawk turned, found himself staring directly into the chest of one of the tallest Humans he'd ever seen. "You're late, chummer," the man said in a low voice, with just a hint of accusation in his tone. "The lady doesn't like to be kept waiting." The man's eyes were chromed, and he made no attempt to hide the heavy-pistol-sized bulge in his artfully-torn, perfectly-tailored jacket.
Winterhawk took a deep breath and favored the big man with a lopsided smile. "Yes, well," he said, also keeping his voice low. While his British accent was quite useful for getting dates, he didn't care to have it arousing any curiosity among this collection of lost souls. "T'would be nice if one was to be a bit more specific as to the location, now wouldn't it?" He squared his shoulders. "Come on, then. Let's not keep the lady waiting." Making an 'after you' gesture, he waited for the man to lead the way.
Once behind the door (it turned out to be the middle one), Winterhawk felt much more at ease. The room was dim and dingy, but at least it was quiet. The large man led him over to a booth. "Here he is," the man said to someone unseen, then faded back into the shadows, his presence unobtrusive but watchful. Winterhawk noticed that there was another man, almost as tall as the first, standing silently behind the table.
"Sit down, please," came a feminine voice from the side of the booth facing away from the door. Winterhawk moved around the other side to face the voice's owner, but did not sit down yet.
The woman was somewhere indeterminately between thirty-five and fifty; it was hard to tell in the low light. She looked more out of place in Club Riche than did Winterhawk himself, but she covered it well. She definitely had the appearance of a woman used to command: her clear blue eyes followed Winterhawk's tall, thin form as he lounged against the edge of the booth, taking in his long coat, his sharp features, stopping a moment on his hair, worn Elven-style and dyed alternately jet black and stark white, in stripes. A flicker of disapproval crossed her face, but disappeared when she saw his eyes, as cold as her own and bright with curiosity. "Please," she said, "Sit down. We have much to discuss."
Winterhawk did sit down then, slouching down in the lumpy seat as if he hadn't a care in the world. "Yes," he agreed. "I understand you have something you need done."
She nodded. "That's right. Tell me, Mr...?"
"Winterhawk. I was told that you are discreet and reliable. What I wasn't told was exactly what it is you do. I was expecting someone a bit...um...larger."
"Larger." He chuckled slightly, but it wasn't a happy sound. "Sometimes, dear lady, larger is not necessarily better." He raised his hand and stared intently at the table next to them, where a candle was burning into nothingness inside a dirty jar. At the flick of his finger, the jar exploded into shards, the candle's fire sputtering to its demise on the greasy tablecloth. He regarded his would-be employer over steepled fingers. "Don't you agree?"
The woman seemed somewhat shaken by the display. She waved back her two bodyguards, who had moved forward with inhuman speed at the sound of the jar's explosion and who now stood flanking Winterhawk. "Uh...yes," she finally said. "I see what you mean."
"Now then," he said cheerfully, as if nothing had happened. "Do let's get on with it, unless you like this armpit of a bar any better than I do." He glanced at their surroundings with a look of contempt only the British can do properly, then turned his attention back to the woman as the two bodyguards subsided back into the darkness.
"I had to be discreet," she said. "It would not do for anyone to find out about this." From the seat next to her, she picked up a designer bag that perfectly matched her designer outfit. From it, she withdrew a holographic image and offered it across the table to Winterhawk. The image was of a pretty young girl, perhaps thirteen years old, blonde and smiling. "This is my daughter, Melissa."
Winterhawk nodded. He had already guessed as much; the resemblance was apparent.
The woman closed her eyes for a second, steeling herself for what was obviously not easy for her to say. "She's missing. I want you to find her and bring her back to me."
"Missing. As in kidnapped?"
"No. As in she ran away from home. Yesterday."
Winterhawk stood, tossing the picture back on the table. "Sorry," he said flatly. "I don't do runaway kids. Call Lone Star or something." He sighed. He was a little short on cash this month, and had hoped that this job would be something lucrative. Or if not lucrative, at least interesting. Chasing down misplaced teenage girls was not in his line of work. "It was certainly a pleasure meeting you, and I hope you find her soon." He started to head for the door.
"I'll pay you ten thousand nuyen," the woman said quietly.
Winterhawk stopped, turned back. Ten thousand nuyen for hunting up a lost kid. This was sounding better, he had to admit. He shrugged. "Well, p'raps we can arrange something, if you're that anxious. Why don't you start out by telling me what you're not telling me."
"What do you mean, what I'm not telling you?" the woman asked warily.
"I think we both know what I mean. If you want me to take the job, you've got to level with me. If a rich, high-society lady like you, the kind of person who can afford what these two gentlemen are surely charging you--" he indicated the silent bodyguards "--then surely there's got to be a reason that you're looking for runners in this end of town, instead of hiring some high-class detective type. My guess is that there's more to this story than you want to tell."
"All right," she said softly. "There is more. Melissa took something with her when she went. A datafile. You see, I own a corporation that makes highly secret electronics equipment. Melissa broke into my computer system and stole the plans to a prototype design. She said in her note that it was just to keep me from looking for her, but I'm afraid of what will happen to her if any of my rival companies find out about it and try to get it away from her."
"Not to mention how you'll feel if your competitors get hold of that datafile," Winterhawk said wryly. "That's more like it. Now that we've got the economic angle out in the open, we can talk about this." He sat down again. "All right. I'll find your daughter, and the datafile too. But the ten thousand was just for the girl. The file will cost you another five."
The woman drew herself up as if to protest, but then sighed. "All right," she said. "But you'll only get half to start with. The other half will be delivered when you bring me Melissa and the file."
"Fine." Winterhawk leaned back in his seat, avoiding a protruding spring. "This should be easy, right? After all, how far can a thirteen-year-old kid go?"
"Thirteen?" The woman looked perplexed for a second, then smiled sadly. "No, Melissa's older than she looks. She's actually sixteen, just last month." She stood up, gesturing to the shorter of the two bodyguards. "Blade, take care of the details, would you please? I'd like to leave now." She nodded once to Winterhawk and, with the remaining bodyguard, left the room through a back door that had been carefully hidden by curtains.
Half an hour later found Winterhawk sitting with a drink in a much more appropriate class of bar. "The details" had consisted of his first installment of payment and a couple of datafiles containing relevant information. Blade, the bodyguard, had told him that they couldn't give him too much information because "Ms. Johnson" didn't want to take any chances of having her identity found out, so the information was a bit sketchy. Blade had intimated, however, that for fifteen thousand nuyen, Winterhawk ought to be able to find a hell of a lot more than one girl, who'd only been missing for less than a day, on a lot less information than he'd been given. Winterhawk had thenceforth made a nonchalant but appropriately hasty retreat. Now he sat at a private table, his back to the wall and his gaze periodically flicking up to take in the door and the bar area, looking over the information. It was basically useless. Nobody'd seen the girl leave, and the information didn't say where she had disappeared from. The only things of any help at all wee the hologram and a written description of Melissa. Not much to go on. And he had to hurry, before someone else found her first. Winterhawk had been a shadowrunner long enough to know most of the unpleasant things that could happen to a naive sixteen-year-old rich girl on the streets of Seattle.
First thing he'd need to do was find out some more information. He'd have to call Mark, that's all there was to it. He knew he owed the decker at least a hundred favors, but the man was good and he needed the story now. He punched in Mark's number, mentally adding the time difference, and determined that he'd be waking his old friend from a sound sleep.
"Y...yeah, hello?" The gravelly voice and half-closed eyes affirmed Winterhawk's hypothesis.
"Mark!" the mage said brightly, putting on his best 'did-I-wake-you?' look. "It's good to see you again. You're looking well."
The sigh was audible at the other end of the line, even though Mark Reston had pulled the covers over his head. "What do you want?" he asked in a tone of long-suffering.
"What makes you think I want something?" Winterhawk asked, affecting a wounded-puppy expression. "Perhaps I just called because we haven't spoken in...how long has it been now?"
"Not long enough." Another sigh, as he pulled himself out from under the covers. "What do you want? This had better be good."
"All right, all right. Enough pleasantries. Nobody remembers manners anymore. I need some information, and I need it quickly." He explained the situation about Melissa, giving his friend as much information as he could pull together. "Can you do it? Anything you can find would be more than I've got."
"It'll cost you," Mark said. "But then, you knew that."
"Yes, of course I knew that. You're as much a mercenary as the rest of us, much as you try to hide behind that wage-slave exterior. You get me the information, and we'll discuss it later. I'll make it worth your while, I promise." That was the only reason he got away with asking such outlandish favors of his old school chum: he paid well for them. Joking aside, he knew the risks that deckers took when they poked around in places they weren't welcome. He'd seen a couple of them get mind-fried, and it wasn't a pleasant sight.
"All right. I'll call you in an hour or so. Now go away." Mark broke the connection before anything else could be said.
It was almost exactly an hour when he called back. Winterhawk was nursing his fourth drink, but the last three had been of the nonalcoholic variety. A mage with a foggy brain was worse than useless, and usually dangerous. He couldn't afford to let his mind wander tonight. Still, though, he almost didn't hear the persistent beep of his wrist-phone. "Mark?"
"Yeah, it's me. Tired but satisfied." Mark didn't sound sleepy anymore, as Winterhawk knew he wouldn't. His friend liked a good challenge almost as well as he himself did.
"You found something."
"You bet. I don't know if I got it all or not...I'll keep looking if you want. But this should get you started. The lady's name is Hilary Ellis. She owns a corp called Electrotech. Rich lady. I don't know how you get yourself hooked up with some of these people, honestly. But anyway," he continued, "she's got a sixteen-year-old daughter named Melissa...but you knew that, right? Nothing on her being missing, but it can't be anybody different. This is the one. This Electrotech...there's a lot of rumors going around that they're on the verge of coming out with some kind of wild new weapons technology...satellites or something. All very hush-hush. I couldn't find much of anything on it--"
"That's all very interesting," Winterhawk cut in, "but it's not helping me find the girl. What else did you find out about her? You can tell me about this weapon later, if I need to know."
"Okay, the girl. Like I said, I didn't get much on her. But I did get her address and the place she goes to school. I guess that isn't much help, since it's so late--"
"No, tell me." Winterhawk jotted the information down as Mark gave it to him. "Is that everything?"
"What do you want for an hour's work? Like I said, I can probably get more, but it will take time. And it'll cost more."
"Do it. And call me when you've more. I've got to get going. I owe you one, Mark."
"You owe me about forty. One of these days I'm going to come out there and collect, and then you're going to be sleeping in the street and doing magic tricks for nutrisoy."
"You're charming when you should be sleeping. Good night." This time, Winterhawk broke the connection, feeling much better about the whole thing. Now that he knew what he was dealing with, this shouldn't take long at all. He wished he had paid more attention in class when they were teaching him spells of detection and finding things; that would have made this a lot easier. But even though he was more the firepower sort, he hoped he wouldn't have to use any of those particular skills in this job.
Melissa Ellis' school was in one of the richest parts of Seattle. Winterhawk had been to that part of town a few times; it was a bit out of his league, both socially and financially, but he'd occasionally managed to charm a rich young lady with his accent and his unconventional, safely-dangerous appearance, and he couldn't very well take her out to dinner in the Barrens, could he? He knew of a club near the school that catered mainly to rich teenagers--his hope was that he could track down a couple of her school friends and get some information from them.
If Winterhawk felt out of place at Club Riche, he felt even more out of place at Chez Mongo. At least they dressed better here, he thought as he made his way through knots of giggling teenage girls, all dressed in the latest trideo- and simsense-spawned fashions, and groups of posturing boys trying to look tough in their real leather jackets. Some of the youths even had minor cosmetic cyberware, a sure sign that their parents had too much money and not enough to spend it on. The center of the club was occupied by a dance floor upon which lights and teenagers pulsed rhythmically with the music. Surrounding the floor was a three-tiered group of tables joined by catwalks and small elevator platforms, all done in some sort of transparent material that made the people at the tables almost look as if they were sitting in the air, unsupported by anything so prosaic as chairs. Trid screens were everywhere: the larger-than-life faces of Cyberpope, the featured band, glared sneeringly down at the club's patrons.
After questioning various groups of teenagers (all Humans, he noted--not an Elf, Dwarf, or heaven forbid an Ork or Troll to be found), and feeling older than he had in years, Winterhawk finally was directed by a young samurai-wannabe to a table on the second level, occupied by three girls of about sixteen or seventeen. "Excuse me," he said, just loudly enough to be heard over the din of the music.
The girls looked up at him, grinning. "Hi, handsome," one of them teased. "We've never seen you around here before."
"That's...not surprising," Winterhawk admitted. "I'm trying to find some information about Melissa Ellis. Someone told me you might know her."
The three girls looked at each other. Winterhawk caught fleeting worry on their faces before they turned back to face him. "What about Mel?" the one who had first spoken to him said warily.
"May I sit down first?" the mage asked, indicating a seat across from the three.
It was obvious that the girls were regretting having spoken to him, but there was nothing that could be done about it now. "Uh...okay. But only for a minute. We've...got to go soon." The other two, so far silent, nodded their assent a bit too quickly.
Winterhawk sat down, leaning across the table so he could be heard without shouting. "You know about her, don't you?"
"Know what?" one of the other girls demanded. "Hey, who are you, anyway?"
"You can call me Winterhawk. You needn't introduce yourselves if you don't want to. I don't know who you are--I only know you're friends of Melissa Ellis. She's in trouble, you know. I'm trying to help her."
The girls looked at each other again, obviously uncertain as to what they should do. "So..." said the first, "how do we fit in?"
"I want to know if you know where she is, or if you've seen her. I really am trying to help. You know as well as I do if she's out on the street, she's not going to last long." Winterhawk put on his best reassuring smile and low, soothing tone, with just a hint of danger around the edges. If they knew anything, it was calculated to scare them just enough to tell him, but not enough to induce them to call one of the numerous security/bouncer types who made frequent circuits around the dance floor. He regarded them patiently, his watchful gaze flicking between the three.
There was a long pause. Then the third girl, who had not yet spoken, blurted out: "I think she's sick."
Immediately, the mage's attention focused on her. "Sick, you say?" he asked carefully. "What makes you think so?"
The girl already looked like she wished she hadn't spoken up, but now that she had, the others nodded. The first one cut in, "We saw her the day before yesterday. She just didn't look well. You know--pale, kind of sick to her stomach. We thought she'd just had a bad lunch at the cafeteria. It was funny, though--when Danique asked her if she was okay, she got real scared. She made us promise that we wouldn't tell anybody we'd seen her. That's why we didn't tell you at first. She especially didn't want us to tell her mom."
"Strange," Winterhawk mused, half to himself. Then he looked back up again. "Do you have any idea why she wouldn't want you to tell anyone you saw her? Has she had problems with her mother before?"
Now that the story was out, the girls' relief not to have to keep their secret anymore caused them to stumble over each other telling Winterhawk what they knew. It wasn't much to go on: Melissa had always had a good relationship with her mother, as far as they knew; she'd always been a model student, popular and smart, though she worried about the fact that she looked so young. They could think of no reason why she would run away from home, especially if she hadn't been feeling well. They had kept the secret out of loyalty to their friend, but the guilt had plagued them, wondering if they somehow hadn't caused something awful to happen to her with their silence.
Winterhawk sighed, standing. It wasn't much more than he'd had before. He graciously thanked the girls for their time, assuring them that they had done the right thing, and that he would find Melissa and bring her back safely. He wished he felt as certain as he sounded.
He was almost out the door, looking forward to a little fresh air in which to clear his head, when he felt someone plucking at his sleeve. Turning, he saw the third girl, the quiet one, trying to get his attention through the din of the music. "Wait!" she yelled. "Stop, please!"
Winterhawk did stop for a second, then motioned the girl outside. She followed willingly, panting with the exertion of pushing herself through the crowds. "What is it?" the mage asked.
"I...I forgot to tell you something. I forgot about it until just now. Something that might help you find Mel."
"All right...all right. Just calm down for a second before you hyperventilate. What is it?" He gently took her shoulders and drew her off into an unoccupied section of the parking lot, next to two motorcycles and a little red sports car. "What did you forget?"
"It was Mel." The girl paused to look around the parking lot before continuing. "Right before she left, she was kind of muttering to herself. I don't think she knew I was listening, or maybe she didn't care. But she said something about Razor. She had to find Razor." She looked up at Winterhawk. "What's Razor, anyway?"
"I don't know. But I'll find out." He faced her again. "Thank you. That might be what I need to find her. You'd better go back in there now, with your friends. I'll see to it from here."
The girl nodded, quickly moving off toward the club's entrance without a backward glance, so she didn't see Winterhawk swear softly to himself.
Razor! Why did he have to get himself into these messes, anyway? He supposed it was too late to give back the money and turn down the job. Not that money would do one much good when one was dead. But he suspected that if he tried to turn down the job at this point, his chances for survival weren't so hot either.
At least with Razor, he would have a chance to explain himself...maybe. If he talked fast and fancy enough, he might live to see old age. If not...well, one didn't mess with the toughest Samurai in town, not to mention his group of runner buddies, without a damned good reason.
Or a death wish.
But then, Winterhawk himself was not without his own ways to protect himself. And reputations like Razor's were often exaggerated by inaccurate reports. Or so Winterhawk told himself, as he got in his car and sped off before he lost his nerve entirely. In the company of the rest of the group he normally worked with, he knew they'd have a fair chance in a fight. But they were all off on other business. This baby was his and his alone. He hoped he'd kept his fast-talking skills sufficiently honed.
Everybody knew where Razor's group hung out; it was just one of those facts that you managed to pick up, even if you had no interest in ever going there. The was no doubt that the nightspot called Virtuality catered to real shadowrunners, not the Corp wannabe types with their shiny new guns and their shiny new leather. The vehicles in the parking lot were either polished to a high gloss that told of very conscientious riggers, or covered with the grime of countless running battles through the streets of Seattle. He eased his black sportscar through the crowded parking lot, taking one of the few unoccupied spots near the back. If he'd been paying more attention, he would have seen a van glide by and take another space nearby; but, intent on the club's entrance, he didn't see the van's two occupants until one of them had come up behind him and the other had stuck a gun in his ribs from the left side, pulling him up short.
"Where do you think you're going, Stripes?" The man with the gun had eyes that glinted silver in the dimly-lit lot. There was no one else around at the moment, and at any rate the three of them were hidden by two large vans parked next to each other.
"What's this about?" Winterhawk demanded coldly.
"Oh, you know what it's about," the other man said in a voice that was barely more than a hiss. "And if you're smart, you'll keep your mouth shut like a good boy." Together, he and his partner started to lead him around further behind the two vans.
"You're going to lead us to the girl," said the man with the chrome eyes. "The girl and the datafile. Aren't you?" He emphasized his words by digging the gun barrel further into Winterhawk's side.
"I don't know what you're talking about," the mage protested, glaring at the man with the gun. "What girl? What datafile? It's getting so a chap can't even go to a club for a drink or two without getting harrassed by--" he indicated his two captors with a contemptuous toss of his head "--undesirables."
"Nice try, mage," said the man standing behind him. "But it won't work. We followed you here from that kids' joint. We know you've been talking to the girl's friends. See, we talked to them, too. Trusting little things, they were."
"You didn't hurt them?" Winterhawk asked quickly, too late realizing it was the wrong thing to say. He mentally cursed himself, but recovered. "T'would be a waste to hurt someone who wasn't even involved, right?"
"Naw," said the man with the silver eyes. "We didn't hurt 'em. Not yet. But that could change if you don't tell us what we're after, and just get the hell out of here. Get it?" He brandished the gun again, menacingly.
Winterhawk seized his chance. As soon as the gun was away from his side, he pulled back slightly, conjuring a manabolt and sending it searing into the gunman's brain. He didn't even know what hit him: a slight scream escaped his lips as he slid to the ground, his head smoking.
Quickly, but not quickly enough, the mage swung around to face the other man, just in time to see a chromed fist heading straight for his jaw. His last conscious memory, or at least he thought so, was the unmistakable rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire coming out of nowhere, and then the world exploded and went to black.
When he awoke, he felt fine. Not at all like he'd just been punched in the jaw and pegged with a machine gun round. He looked up to find himself surrounded by a sea of faces, all of them hostile. When he moved to stand, he was grabbed roughly from behind, his arms drawn back. It would be impossible for him to cast a spell from that position. He stood still, using the opportunity to examine his captors.
The man who stood in front of him was easily six and a half feet tall, all muscle and suprisingly little visible chrome for someone who was obviously Samurai. His only outward manifestation of any alteration were the three neat holes in the back of his hands and the smartgun link in his right palm.
Flanking him were an Ork man, a black Human woman who wore what Winterhawk immediately recognized as magical fetishes (healer, he thought, considering his condition), a tall, regal-looking Elven woman with a katana strapped across her back, a scrawny Human male, and the biggest female Troll Winterhawk had ever seen. None of them looked happy to see him.
"I hear you're lookin' for me, mage," said the tall Human. "You found me. Now what?" He flicked three wicked blades out from the back of one of his hands, leaving no doubt in Winterhawk's mind that he had indeed found the infamous Razor.
"You might start by letting me loose," Winterhawk said coldly. "Or are all those stories about how tough you're supposed to be just stories after all?"
Razor shrugged, motioning for the mage's captor to let him go. The man, another Human, freed Winterhawk's arms, pushing him forward slightly so he had to rather ungracefully recover his balance. "Okay," the samurai said, "You're loose. Now what do you want? People don't come lookin' for us unless they're either real stupid or they want something real bad. Which is it?"
"Yeah, I want something," Winterhawk agreed quietly. He made a show of carefully straightening his coat before continuing, then fixed Razor with a probing stare. "I want the girl, Razor. I know you've got her."
"Girl?" Razor looked confused. "What girl?" He grinned at Winterhawk. "You sure those guys didn't hit you in the head out there in the parking lot?"
"You know where she is," Winterhawk continued relentlessly. "You know I'll find her eventually. But it will be easier if you just hand her over now." He pulled out the holographic image of Melissa and held it under Razor's nose. "This girl, Razor. Little blonde kid. Looks younger than she is. I've reason to believe she's with you, though I haven't any idea why."
Razor took the picture, then indicated his group. "You see anyone looks like that around here, Stripes? Only ladies in this little group don't look nothin' like that, don't you agree?"
Winterhawk couldn't help but agree. Maybe this was another dead end after all, or maybe he was holding her somewhere. "All right," he said. "Maybe you don't have her. Maybe you don't even know where she is. But she's in a lot of trouble if I don't find her. Those guys out in the parking lot--they were looking for her too. Of course, you might not care about that. Maybe you're working for them. Or maybe she didn't tell you that she's got one of the hottest little datafiles in town on her. Something people will kill her to get. Did she tell you that, Razor?" He carefully watched the samurai's face for any reaction.
Razor didn't react, but the scrawny Humand did. With a worried look, he said, "Razor--?"
"Shut up, Ferret," the samurai snapped quickly.
"Shut up," he hissed again, cuffing the little man across the jaw with his fist. Ferret staggered back into the arms of the male Ork.
"So you do know something about her," Winterhawk said triumphantly.
"Maybe I do," Razor admitted. "But even if I do, you're not going to. What do you want her for, anyway?"
Winterhawk looked around the group again. They didn't look threatening anymore, maybe because they knew they had the advantage. "Her mother wants her back. Maybe you don't understand it, but she's just a kid, run away from home. Her mother's frantic. What could you possibly want with her? Why was she looking for you?"
"Maybe she had her reasons, mage. Maybe you don't know everything. Ever think about that? Maybe you should just turn around and walk out of here, right now."
"Yeah," said the big female Troll menacingly.
"Let me handle this, Nezumi, okay?" Razor said, more gently than he had spoken to Ferret.
At this moment, Winterhawk's wrist-phone beeped. He looked up at Razor. "Do you mind if I take this? I'll get rid of them," he continued, as if it were a foregone conclusion the samurai would allow it.
Razor shrugged. "Go ahead."
Winterhawk turned away, turning the volume down low. As he expected, it was Mark Reston. "I'm...uh...a little busy now, Mark. Can you call back?"
Mark shook his head. "No, I've gotta tell you this now. And you're gonna want it, that's for sure. I found out the rest of this little story. Remember Hilary Ellis, the kid's mother?"
"Yeah...what about about her?" The mage tried to keep his voice as quiet as possible.
"Like I told you before, she's the head of Electrotech. They're coming out with some kind of killer satellite technology. Corp called Starlight Systems is working on the same thing, but they don't have it all yet. They're the ones who are after the datafile."
"Charming," Winterhawk said, remembering the two thugs in the parking lot. "Is that all?"
"Almost. One more thing. I don't know how important it is, but I found it while I was nosing through Hilary's files. Something I don't think she wants the world to know. She's a member of the Humanis Policlub. Big donations, under assumed names. She's even made donations to Alamos 20K. We've got one flamin' bigot here, buddy."
Winterhawk paused to digest that information, his mind spinning a mile a minute. "Okay," he finally said, mindful of the eyes on his back. "I've got to go now, Mark. Thanks again."
"Right. Hope it helps." Mark hung up, leaving Winterhawk to turn back to Razor's group.
"Long call," Razor remarked. "Thought you were gonna get rid of 'em."
Winterhawk ignored that. "We were discussing the girl."
"Right. We were. But we're done now. If we've got her, we're keeping her. And if you go back and tell her mother that, we'll have to kill you. Easy as that."
The two men, the mage and the samurai, stared coldly at each other, the tension almost palpable, each intent on his own mission. So caught up were they in their battle of wills that they almost didn't hear the small voice say, "No, I don't want any more killing. I'll go back with him."
Both Winterhawk and Razor looked up, the mage confused as to where the voice had come from. No one was here but the members of Razor's group. Then the huge Troll stepped forward. "I'll go when you're ready."
Winterhawk took a deep breath, all the information coming together in his mind with searing clarity. He understood everything now. Addressing the Troll, he bowed formally and said, "Melissa Ellis, I presume?"
Razor moved up next to her as she nodded. "I'm called Nezumi now. It means 'mouse' in Japanese." Her voice sounded sad and faraway. "I don't want anyone getting hurt over me. I'll go back and try to straighten things out with Mom."
"No," said the female Elf, drawing up on Melissa's other side and watching Winterhawk coldly. "You're not going back. We'll protect you. There won't be any more killing. That includes you."
Winterhawk looked back and forth between the three, and then at the rest of the group that had closed ranks around them. "You--that's why you were sick, wasn't it? You were going through the Transformation."
Melissa nodded. "Yes. I wanted to kill myself. I tried. But I couldn't do it...didn't have the nerve. I knew I couldn't go home--"
"Because of your mother's...affiliations," Winterhawk supplied softly.
Again, she nodded. "I remembered that Razor had done some work for my mother's Corp a year or so ago, so I went through her computer and found out how to find him. I know all her passwords...I figured them out a long time ago. While I was looking, I found that information, so I took it with me too, as insurance. I didn't realize it was so important." She looked as if she were about to cry, something Winterhawk had never seen a Troll do. "I just want to be left alone."
The regal Elf spoke solemnly. "It was a very quick Transformation. When we saw she was going to be Troll, we were afraid it would drive her insane. It often does, you know. But she was one of the rare ones. Her Transformation finished yesterday. When she awakened, she wanted to kill herself again. Her mother's lessons had rubbed off on her somewhat: she had hoped to be Elf, or Dwarf.
"But we sat with her, talked to her, and convinced her that life was precious, no matter what the form," said the black Human woman, a shaman. "Her mother's teachings were poison. She loved her daughter only as long as she was pure."
Winterhawk closed his eyes for a second. Nothing could ever be simple. That was not the way things worked with him. He looked up again, but as he took breath to speak, a leather-clad figure came running in. "Razor," the man called. "Somebody's coming. They're after you. Someplace called Electrotech--" He skidded to a stop in front of the group.
Razor looked at Winterhawk. Winterhawk looked at Melissa. Silently, the new Troll held out a small object to him: the datafile. A moment passed, and then he took it. "Go," he said roughly. "I'll figure out something to tell them. Get out before they find you here."
Melissa, her life as a young heiress gone now, her life as a Troll shadowrunner just beginning, gave him a grateful look. "I won't forget this," she said, and then she was gone with the rest, through some secret passageway under the bar.
Winterhawk paused a moment, took a deep breath, and stuck the datafile in his pocket before moving toward the door to meet the agents of his employer. He'd only get paid for returning the datafile. But somehow, in the back of his mind, he knew that was all Hilary Ellis would have really wanted anyway.