Chapter 4, part 1

“They’re children,” Winterhawk said. He was sitting in one of the room’s threadbare armchairs, his feet up on the other one, watching Ocelot checking over his weapons. HIs jacket was slung over the near bed, his tie undone. He sighed, running a hand back through his hair. “This whole thing is looking stranger and stranger. If those two are experienced shadowrunners, I’m King George. If they’re prime talent, I’m Queen Elizabeth.”

Ocelot finished stripping and checking his combat shotgun, laid it carefully on the other bed, and picked up the assault rifle next to it. “I hear you. I talked to them awhile while you were asleep. They seem smart enough, and they’ve got the right equipment, but I don’t see the experience. They’re too young, for one thing.”

“So why did Johnson represent them to us as top runners?” Winterhawk picked up a trid channel guide from the table and idly flipped through it. It was a good thing that he didn’t care about the contents, since the room had no trid unit.

“I haven’t figured that out yet. Got lots of possible explanations, but I haven’t settled on one yet.”

“So let’s hear them.”

Ocelot nodded, sitting down on the bed and quickly breaking down the assault rifle in preparation for a good cleaning. “Okay. One: they’re plants, and Johnson’s going to screw us. Two: Johnson was afraid we wouldn’t take the job if we knew they were kids. Three: Harry’s in this somewhere, and he’s screwing us. Four: we’re crazy, and they really are hot stuff, even though they’re so young.”

“Harry wouldn’t screw us,” Winterhawk said quietly.

“No, that one’s pretty farfetched. But what about the others?”

The mage shrugged, tossing the trid guide back on the table. “Would you have taken the job if you’d known you’d be working with backup almost young enough to be your own kids?”

“Hell, no.”

“Nor would I. I never would have even left London in the first place. Maybe they knew that.”

“So the question is, why? Why would they drag our carcasses out of retirement to babysit a couple of kids? And pay us all a fortune to boot?”

Again, Winterhawk shrugged. “I haven’t a clue.”

“Do you trust ‘em?” Ocelot asked, watching him carefully over his cleaning cloth.

For a long moment, Winterhawk didn’t answer. He leaned back in his chair, staring at the window, which was covered by stained curtains. “I don’t know,” he said at last, slowly. “I don’t think they mean us any harm, if that’s what you mean.”

“But-?” Ocelot prompted, abandoning the pretense of cleaning the assault rifle.

“But, they’re green. They’re hiding it well, but remember what we were like when we first started this?” After a pause, he murmured, “Were we ever that young?” Then he sat up straight and swung his feet to the floor. “I think we should keep an eye on them, but I’m not going to worry too much. Yet,” he added. “What I am going to do is get some more sleep. That little bit on the plane didn’t do the job. Mind if I summon something to keep an eye on the place just in case you drop off?”

Ocelot smiled a little to himself. So ‘Hawk was worried, at least some. “Yeah, sure. Go ahead. I’m gonna finish this up and sleep a few hours myself.”

Winterhawk nodded and made the familiar gestures. When the watcher spirit shimmered into being, he told it to observe the room from astral space and to wake him if anyone else came in. The spirit saluted and disappeared, and the mage eyed the two beds. “So, which one do you want-the one with the questionable stain, or the one with the disintegrating mattress?” Without waiting for an answer, he kicked off his shoes and lay down gingerly on the one nearest him.

Ocelot smiled, resuming his gun cleaning. It was going to be a long day.

In the other room, Marika and Paul were not sleeping. Not yet, anyway. They were both far too excited from the events of the day so far to think about sleep, though they knew they would need to settle in before too long if they were going to be fresh for the job tonight.

“I’m worried, ‘Rika,” Paul said, sitting on the bed because the chairs were too small for him. “I think they’re on to us.”

She nodded. “I do too, but we have to keep quiet. We can’t admit to anything. We promised.”

“I didn’t like those questions they were askin’ us,” the troll growled. “What’s it to them how old we are, anyway?”

“Well, we aren’t exactly what we claimed to be,” she pointed out. “They’re the best in the business-that’s why they got picked for this job. I don’t know how anybody thought we’d fool them for very long.”

“Well, it isn’t much longer now,” Paul said. “We’ll just go out there, get it done, and we’ll all be back in Seattle by tomorrow. Nothin’ to it.” Then his face clouded over. “So far we’ve heard ‘em talk, but we ain’t seen ‘em in action.”

“We will, Paul. Don’t worry.” She moved over and sat next to him on the bed. Her slight weight barely moved the mattress, though his troll bulk had dropped it several inches on its inadequate springs. Smiling at him, she patted his back encouragingly. “Come on, little bro. This is what we wanted. We’re finally here.”

“Yeah. Finally.” He turned his head to look down at her. “Wish we were gettin’ paid like that. Can you imagine, almost three hundred grand for a run? You think we’ll ever be that good?”

She nodded, eyes wide. “Could you believe that? I thought I was going to faint when he made the first offer, but that wasn’t enough for them. Did you hear how Winterhawk laughed at it like it was nothing?”

“Yeah, well he looks loaded,” Paul said. “Bet that Ocelot guy ain’t hurtin’, either. Uppin’ it from fifty grand to a quarter mil without battin’ an eye. You think we’ll ever get money like that, ‘Rika? And be bored about it?”

“I don’t know, Paul,” she said with a sigh, smiling at her little brother fondly. “But that’s why we’re here. And that thirty thousand each Mr. D gave us isn’t anything to laugh at, either.”

“You think everything’ll go okay?”

“Sure it will. What could go wrong?”

Paul looked glum. “I dunno. Maybe nothing. But I’m not sure I trust those guys yet. How do we know if things go bad they won’t screw us over and run?”

She considered. “Do you think they will?”

“No...But you know they’re gonna watch their own butts first.”

“Yes, but I don’t think they’d just run off and leave us. Besides, you know there won’t be any trouble to speak of. This should be easy for them.”

He nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “You look tired, sis. You sleep some, and I’ll stay awake and be the lookout.”

She laughed at his earnestness. “Paul, we’re in a motel room. What’s going to break in on us? You need to sleep too. Why don’t we both get some rest, okay?”

Again, he nodded uncertainly. Marika lay down on her bed, feeling warmed by her brother’s love and protectiveness. She was quite capable of looking after herself, and did so quite nicely, but Paul’s presence made her feel safe nonetheless. For the first time in over a day, she felt relaxed enough to go to sleep. Things were going to work out all right despite Paul’s misgivings. She was sure of it.

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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.