Chapter 4, part 3
“Everybody ready?” Ocelot asked.
It was 2200. Outside, a light mist fell, fogging the windows of the van and making it difficult to see out. The only lights visible were the mercury-vapor streetlights that lined the nearly-deserted street where they were now parked, and the small perimeter lights at the top of the wall surrounding Garst Corporation a block down.
Inside the van, the four runners were preparing for their night’s activity. Refreshed by an uninterrupted afternoon’s sleep and dinner at a half-decent restaurant, they had waited until well after dark and then set off for their destination.
Ocelot was in the back, carefully checking his equipment: combat shotgun slung over his shoulder on a leather strap, monowhip in the pocket, Malaysian pike-sword in its sheath at his hip, twin grapple-guns attached to special loops inside his armored coat, and a pocketful of various grenades. He wore his ultra-vision sunglasses even though it was full dark out. Glancing up at the shotgun seat, he saw that Winterhawk was securing his HK227; the long scabbard of his mageblade was visible peeking out from beneath the bottom of his black duster. The mage wore a fine gray suit and silk tie, but the suave effect was marred just a bit by the small red button pinned to his lapel. Even though he couldn’t read it in the van’s dimness, Ocelot remembered it from their old days together; it read “668: Neighbour of the Beast.” Seeing it, he was reminded of something. Stepping carefully around Striker, who was festooning himself with various guns and ammunition, he withdrew a lion’s-head amulet on a leather thong and a silver chain from his inner coat pocket. “‘Hawk?”
Winterhawk looked up, raising a questioning eyebrow.
“You mind turning these on for me?” Ocelot held out the amulet and the chain so the mage could see them.
“You got a new one,” he said appraisingly, touching each in turn and doing seemingly nothing else.
Ocelot knew better. Satisfied that his two spell locks were now active, he nodded. “Yeah. For making me stronger.” He knew the mage remembered the first one, which added to his body’s toughness: he’d gotten that one back in the old days.
Fang, sitting in the driver’s seat, watched them with interest. She had been ready to go long ago, since the only weapon she carried was her Predator, and she didn’t expect to have to use it. “What’s our plan?” she asked.
Ocelot pointed at the wall. “First, we get over the wall. After that, we’ll have to get across that open area, which probably won’t be easy. My bet is they’ve got either automated defenses or some kind of guard animals. Or both.”
“How we gonna get over the wall?” Striker asked.
“I’ll get us over,” Winterhawk said unconcernedly. “Though a bit of help would make things faster,” he added, his gaze coming up to meet Fang’s.
She looked at him blankly. “I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have a levitation spell,” the Brit said. It wasn’t a question. Immediately his attention was off her and on Ocelot. “All right, then-I think I can do the lot of us at once, but we can’t go far. Multiple people, one a troll...maybe twenty meters, top.”
“That should be plenty,” Ocelot assured him. “Just over the wall. We can go from there. Make sure you get us high enough, though: might be wire on the fence.”
Striker peered out the van’s back window at the wall. “I can see little poles sticking up at the top,” he announced. “But it’s way too far to see wire from here.”
Fang was feeling a bit put out by Winterhawk’s sudden loss of interest in her help. “Then what?” she asked Ocelot.
“Then we see what’s over there,” he said.
“What if we checked things out astrally before we go?” she asked.
Winterhawk shook his head. “No good. Remember what Johnson said about magical defenses? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not be discovered by their astral patrols before we even get over the wall.”
Fang nodded, forcing herself to accept his clipped assessment of her suggestion without letting her thoughts reach her face. Settling back in her seat and feeling superfluous, she said nothing.
“They’ll probably have some kind of automated defenses around the perimeter,” Ocelot was saying. We’ll need to stay low and get across there as fast as possible.” He punctuated this by pointing at the fifty-meter no-man’s-land on the map. “Once we get inside, we’ll have to wing it. So-everybody ready?”
“Yeah,” said Striker. He almost sounded enthusiastic about the whole thing.
Winterhawk picked up his helmet from the floor in front of him, opened the van’s passenger door, and stepped out into the night. The mist swirled around him like some kind of weird creature, eerily backlit by the mercury-vapors. Ocelot and Striker followed out the back door, and after a moment, Fang did likewise.
There was no traffic on the road at this hour; Garst was located in a large commercial park, and even the most dedicated of wageslaves had gone home by 2225. Together, the four runners crept down the half-block to the wall; keeping to the shadows was not difficult. As they moved, they pulled on their helmets. Striker still wore his leather jacket, but Fang had changed her short fringed suede one for a longer armored version. Her dark helmet looked odd with it. She didn’t like the helmet, but she knew it wasn’t smart not to wear it; besides, as a shaman, she didn’t have any cyberware permitting her to see in the dark. She knew her brother did. Besides, even if he didn’t, he was a troll, and they could see in the dark naturally. Ocelot’s cybereyes were obvious, and she was pretty sure Winterhawk’s electric blue ones weren’t the ones he was born with. That struck her as odd, since magicians normally shunned any kind of technological alteration to their bodies. She hoped that if she continued on her present path, she would not be forced to have to install such unnatural items to aid her. She didn’t think she could do it-or that Dog would be very pleased with her if she did.
As they neared the wall, Ocelot raised his hand and motioned the rest of them in. “This is as good a spot as any,” he whispered. “Ready?”
Next to her, Fang saw Striker nod, and she did likewise, feeling the adrenaline already pumping through her. Winterhawk said nothing, but merely backed up a couple of steps, looked up at the wall as if gauging distance, and then began the necessary gestures to weave his levitation spell. Fang knew that getting all four of them at the same time would not be easy for him; she wished that she had learned the spell. The strain showed on the mage’s face as the group lifted gently off the ground and rose up toward the top of the wall. I wonder why he’s taking us so high, Fang wondered. Then she saw the tiny, spiderweb glint of the mist on the monofilament wire strung between the flimsy plastic poles and understood. One touch from that stuff would be enough to open up nasty wounds, possibly even through their armor if they hit wrong. Better safe than sorry.
They touched down on the other side with somewhat less gentleness than when they had taken off. “Sorry,” Winterhawk muttered, recovering his balance. “Miscalculated a bit.”
Ocelot was already checking out the area. The wide expanse between the wall and the building was covered with rolling, grassy terrain. “Be careful,” he whispered. “They’ve probably got some kind of automated defenses hidden behind those hills. Stay low and keep moving. Go.” With that, he vaulted forward, running toward the building in an erratic pattern with his head ducked down. Winterhawk was quick to follow.
Fang looked at Striker, and the two of them did likewise, staying close to each other but a fair distance from the other two. Far off, the sound of dogs barking could be heard.
Ahead, Ocelot continued running. He wasn’t moving at his full speed in order to give Winterhawk a chance to catch up with him. Turning to see if the mage was following, he noticed a turret rise up from behind one of the hills, its gun port training on them. Ocelot dived at Winterhawk and they both went down in a heap as gunfire chattered above them. Winterhawk, who was about to protest, elected not to do so as Ocelot was moving again, this time toward the turret. The gun, unable to move as fast as Ocelot at top speed, was unceremoniously rendered nonfunctional.
“Come on!” Striker yelled, pointing toward the far side of the building. The others looked up in time to see a pack of enormous, red-eyed dogs moving in fast, barking and baying to set off an earsplitting racket.
Winterhawk rose and shot off a quick spell in the dogs’ direction, dropping more than half of them in one shot. Fang was about to protest this treatment when she got a good look at the beasts: she wasn’t positive, but the dogs’ limbs appeared to be glinting unnaturally...metal? These dogs were fitted with cyberware? Cursing the inhuman monsters who would do such a thing to innocent dogs, Fang summoned her own nonlethal spell and loosed it at the remaining animals. By that time, Winterhawk had prepared another; between the two of them, they neutralized the dogs before they had a chance to become a threat.
Ocelot and Striker were running again as another turret rose up in front of them. “Run!” Ocelot called to Winterhawk and Fang, slowing to let them catch up. “Striker! Blow the wall!”
“What?” the troll demanded. “The wall? What about the door?”
“That’s what they’re expecting! Do it!”
Striker hesitated for a moment, but the sound of gunfire from the second turret made up his mind. He hefted the assault cannon, pointed it at the building’s wall near the door, and fired. The shell tore into the wall and exploded, blowing a hole about two meters in diameter in the plascrete. For a moment he was surprised that there was no sound, but then he realized that Winterhawk had covered the area of the explosion with a silence spell.
“Okay, in!” Ocelot ordered, waving Fang around him. Winterhawk went through first, followed by Striker, Fang, and finally, Ocelot. Behind them, the turret’s gunfire glanced harmlessly against the wall.
As the dust from the explosion cleared, it became apparent to Fang that they were standing in the building’s lobby. Sofas and a small table stood off to the far side of the room; on the near side was a large desk of the type normally occupied by a receptionist by day, a security guard by night. It was empty. It was difficult to make out detail in the dim light, even with her helmet.
The others were looking around too, their gazes darting quickly around the room. “Nobody here,” Ocelot said under his breath. “Odd...”
“That’s not all that’s odd,” Winterhawk said, still looking around.
The mage looked up toward the ceiling. “They’re on emergency lighting. Too dim to be normal. Don’t think our large friend blew the power with one shot, do you?”
Ocelot shook his head. “No way.” Louder so as to be heard by Fang and Striker, who had moved some distance off to check the rest of the lobby, he added, “Come on. We haven’t got time to worry about it. They know we’re here now.” Once more directed mostly toward Winterhawk, he said, “Which way?”
The mage shrugged. “Could be anywhere. They didn’t give us much to go on.”
Fang and Striker headed back over while Ocelot swiftly thought that over. “Okay, down then,” he said decisively. “We’ll check the lower levels first if there are any, then see if we have to fight our way to the top.”
“Shouldn’t someone be coming by now?” Fang asked nervously. “Don’t they have security?”
“Maybe they don’t use normal security guards. I don’t know,” Ocelot told her. “Keep your eyes open, though.” Turning, he glanced toward the bank of elevators past the receptionist’s desk. There were three of them, their lights out; beyond the three was a door. “Stairs,” he said.
Winterhawk, Fang, and Striker followed him over there and discovered that he was right: the door was marked “STAIRS” in letters too small to have been visible from where they were standing before. “Everybody stay aware,” Ocelot said as he opened the door. It was not locked. “We’ll go down as far as we can get, then figure it out from there.”
Winterhawk stood aside to let Fang and Striker in ahead of him, then grabbed a small trash receptacle from near the elevators and used it to prop the door open. Striker looked at him strangely. “What’s that for?”
“Insurance,” the mage said. “I don’t want these doors suddenly deciding to lock automatically. Do you?”
Striker grinned as he understood. “Nope. Guess I don’t.” He held the door open for Winterhawk to pass him, then closed it gently until it rested against the trash can. It wasn’t a heavy item, but he figured it should be heavy enough to keep the door from slamming shut and locking.
Cautiously, the four moved down the stairway, their footsteps echoing on the metal steps. Ocelot was still in the lead, followed by Winterhawk, then Fang, and finally Striker, who kept casting nervous glances back over his shoulder as if expecting someone to be following them.
The reached the bottom after only two flights. The closed door was featureless except for a stenciled “B2” in the center near the top. Ocelot held up his hand, and the others gathered around. “End of the line,” he said. “Let’s check things out down here quickly if we can. If we don’t find anything, we’ll go up to the next floor and try it there.” At nods from Fang and Striker, he reached for the knob and turned it, half expecting it to be locked. It wasn’t: it turned easily under his hand. Slowly, he pulled open the door and moved into the room. Fang was right behind him, followed by Winterhawk and Striker.
The first thing they noticed was the smell: a vile, putrid odor that permeated the air. Ocelot stepped into the corridor, and Winterhawk swiftly moved in front of Fang, his gaze darting back and forth. Fang looked back at Striker, who was looking worried, wrinkling his nose in distaste. Other than the four of them, nothing moved in the corridor.
“I don’t like this,” Winterhawk muttered. “Look at the lights.”
Ocelot now realized what he’d missed before: he was so busy with the noisome odor that he had failed to notice that the light down here was red, not the dimmed normal security lights they had encountered upstairs and in the stairwell. Red lights meant bad things, at least in his experience. The last time he and Winterhawk had seen them had been in an underground laboratory where some nasty biohazards had gotten severely out of control. “I don’t like it either,” he agreed. “Come on-let’s check it out.”
Winterhawk looked dubious, but moved to follow him.
“Something’s wrong...” Fang whispered worriedly to Striker.
The troll nodded. “I know,” he whispered back. Motioning Fang forward, he started after the others.
Ocelot, in front, went cautiously down the corridor, his feet making no sound now on the concrete floor. About five meters ahead of him, the way made a left turn. He glanced back at Winterhawk, then moved up and quickly leaned around the corner.
The hallway was quiet. No strike team waiting to pick them off. No automatic lasers set to fire at the first movement around the corner. No pack of killer hellhounds. Just an empty hallway, eerily lit by weird red bulbs.
Copyright ©1996 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.