Seattle, 1 November 20xx, 05:32
They made their refueling stop quickly and with little ceremony; the four runners didn’t even get off the plane. When they were airborne again, Ocelot went forward to talk to the pilot and arrange to have some trusted ground transport available when they landed. Two hours later, they arrived in Seattle without incident.
Ocelot took care of paying the pilot and thanking her for all her help. “Sure, no sweat,” she said cheerfully. “You guys are no trouble. Give me a call next time you need a lift.” He assured her that he would (neglecting to mention the pizza boxes and bloodstains in the passenger compartment-he had paid her more than enough to cover the damages) and then joined the others who were standing in a little knot in the chill breeze next to their equipment. Fang was drawn up in the huge crook of her brother’s arm, shivering a bit at the cold. Winterhawk had his armored jacket pulled tightly around him; he’d given getting cleaned up his best shot on the plane, but hadn’t been too successful. At least he was no longer covered from head to waist with blood.
“Now what?” Striker asked.
Ocelot took a deep breath. “Maybe we should go to my place. We’ll never get into ‘Hawk’s hotel looking like this, and I for one need a shower.”
“Dibs,” Winterhawk said quickly.
“Okay, you first,” Ocelot agreed. “But let’s get going. I need to pick up a few things, too.” He pointed. “I think this is our ride.”
The others looked where he was pointing: a van was nearing them across the tarmac. It pulled up next to them, the rigger behind the wheel waving them in. All four of the runners looked the rigger up and down suspiciously, but finally decided they couldn’t mistrust everybody or they’d never get anywhere. Tossing their gear in the back, they climbed into the van. Ocelot gave the rigger the address, and in half an hour they pulled up in front of the little cottage. After being assured that the rigger would wait for them, the runners hurried inside.
The tiny place had only one room and a bath, so it was a bit small for the four of them. Winterhawk immediately disappeared into the bathroom with his garment bag, and less than five minutes later the sound of the shower could be heard.
Ocelot grinned in spite of the situation. “‘Hawk always did have his priorities straight.”
Fang laughed, but quickly quieted and looked serious as her worry took over once again. “What do we do?” she asked. “After we go find our friend, I mean. How can we fight these things? You and Paul can’t even get to the astral plane, and I don’t think Winterhawk and I can handle them on our own.”
Ocelot nodded. “I know. I think we’re gonna have to play this one by ear. Maybe we’ll have to get some help. I wish I had some better ideas, but I don’t.” The truth was, he was frustrated by the thought of having an enemy he couldn’t fight. Even the bugs, fearsome as they were, could be hit and hurt in the material world. Anything he couldn’t hurt made Ocelot more nervous than he’d admit. He looked over at Fang. “You know, it’s not too late to bail out of this. They’re not after you, you know. I’m not gonna hold it against you if you cut and run now, and I don’t think ‘Hawk will either.”
She shook her head. “No. That’s not the way we do things. We’ll see it through at least until we find out about our friend. Right, Paul?”
Striker, bored, had flipped on the room’s small trideo unit and found a channel running sports highlights. “What? Oh-yeah. Don’t worry, chummer. We won’t desert you.”
Ocelot sighed. He was impressed by the loyalty of this young pair, but he had grown fond enough of them that he didn’t want to see them get killed. He was pretty sure that he and Winterhawk could figure out a way to deal with the creatures, especially if only two of them had managed to get across the bridge. But these kids, as eager and talented as they were, were green. He didn’t know how to tell them that one mistake could mean their deaths without sounding like an old fart. Sinking back into one of the room’s two ratty chairs, he fell silent.
About five minutes later the shower shut off, and ten minutes after that Winterhawk emerged from the bathroom, buttoning up another crisply-pressed white shirt and looking much more chipper than he had in some time. He wore perfectly-creased gray slacks, an electric-blue tie hung undone around his neck, and his hair was wet and slicked back. “There,” he said with a smile. “That’s much better. I feel human again. Yours, old boy,” he continued to Ocelot, indicating the open door. Ocelot wasted no time in heading in.
“So,” the mage said from in front of the mirror where he was expertly doing up his tie, “Did you decide on anything while I was gone?”
Fang shook her head. “We don’t know what to do.” She looked up at him. “Ocelot didn’t either.” Implied in her words were, please tell me you do...
Ruefully, Winterhawk sighed. “Well, then, that makes four of us. Unless you’ve any ideas,” he said to Striker.
The troll looked up from the Urban Brawl highlights. “I just know I’m scared,” he said simply. “I don’t know what we’re in the middle of, but it scares the drek out of me.”
Fang nodded in sympathy. “Me, too,” she admitted. “I don’t know how you two can be so calm about all this. Even you agreed this wasn’t everyday stuff for you guys.”
The mage finished adjusting his tie and pulled on a matching gray jacket. “No, it isn’t. And what makes you think we’re not scared?”
“You don’t act scared,” Striker pointed out.
“Well, p’raps that’s just because we’ve had a longer time to perfect our technique,” Winterhawk said with a little smile. “Me, I’m scared bloody stiff right now. But if you let that take over then you can’t deal with anything, which just makes it worse.”
Fang had to admit that made sense, but she didn’t think she could do it. “You two have been doing this a long time, haven’t you?”
“Long enough. Although I don’t do it anymore. I’m...retired.”
“What about Ocelot?”
“I think he’s more like semi-retired. We’ve been out of touch for a long time, though. Haven’t done anything like this for two years.” He smiled at her. “Don’t worry about the experience, though. It’ll come. Keep your wits about you and don’t do anything stupid if you can help it, and you’ll be fine. I’ve got twenty years on you-I know. Believe me, I’ve done plenty of stupid things in my day.”
Fang smiled back. “You don’t look forty.”
“Why thank you, my dear,” the mage said with exaggerated gallantry. “Right now, though, I feel every bit of it. Though the shower helped.”
Ocelot chose that moment to come out of the bathroom, looking as refreshed as Winterhawk had. He was clad in only a clean pair of snug-fitting pants, his long blond hair hanging loose and dripping down his back. “Okay, next,” he said, shrugging into a T-shirt he dug from his duffel on the bed. Like Winterhawk he hadn’t shaved, but now that they’d cleaned up, the two of them no longer looked like bums.
After Fang and Striker had showered and changed clothes, they all reconvened in the tiny room. “You have anything to drink in here, old boy?” Winterhawk asked. “I don’t know about you, but a good shot of something would do me right just now.”
“Just whatever’s in the fridge,” Ocelot told him, pointing toward the room’s microscopic kitchenette. Winterhawk went off in search, and Ocelot turned back to Striker. “You know there could be trouble at Johnson’s, right?”
The troll nodded reluctantly.
“What kind of ammo you got for your guns?”
“You mean do I have anything special?” At Ocelot’s nod, he shook his head. “No, just standard.”
Ocelot got up and went over to the second of his two duffel bags, rifled through it, and tossed a box of ammo to Striker. “APDS. For your assault rifle. Sorry I don’t have any for the machine gun.” He grabbed a handful of grenades and handed them to the troll. “Here, take these too. You might need ‘em.”
Striker took the offered items and stowed them carefully in the pockets of his leather jacket. “Thanks.”
Winterhawk returned with a large bottle of disreputable-looking malt liquor. “Your taste in liquor is suffering, my friend,” he said. “But right now it’s any port in a storm. Anybody else?” At nods from everyone he procured four mismatched glasses from the cabinet, poured three decent-sized shots and one large one for Striker, and handed them out. He tossed back his own, trying to ignore the bad taste; he wasn’t drinking it for the taste. The others weren’t far behind him. “Well then,” he said briskly, standing up. “I think we’ve about run out of excuses not to get on with it, so shall we?” He picked up his armored coat from the bed where he’d tossed it and headed for the door.
Ocelot pulled on his own longcoat, grabbed his duffel bag, and followed, with Fang and Striker not far behind. Each of the four, in his or her own way, had a feeling that something big was going to happen soon, but none of them could put their finger on exactly what that thing was.
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.