by Raymond Van Gasse

Antwerp, Belgium, Europe,

2041 AD,

Ed was a young boy, he was small for his age. He had lived here in the Harbor barrens ever since he could remember. He didn’t know who his parents were, nore did he care. The only people that looked out for him where his friends. And he looked out for them. Their only concern in life was trying to survive, and that seemed to get harder every day. Most people around the neigborhood knew them. Gerard, the leader of their gang, tried to promote their ‘public relations’ and the gang’s services in return for food, clothes, and wathever else they could use. Ed’s smarts helped him to survive and throughout the years he even developped a special talent, magic! K-9, a local dog shamaan, promised to help him hone his skills as a down payment on the gang’s services, he required some time ago. It wasn’t until later that year that the corporate guys came along. Apparently their promises were more alluring, because later that day, Ed was corporate property. So much for friends.

2058 AD,

Ed snapped out of his thoughts as the cab parked near the old city’s center. He slotted a credstick in the reader. The computer checked his fake system identification number and deducted 3 nuyen for the ride and an additional 5 for danger-tax. The pilot grinned as Ed stepped out.

23.00 hours. 3 Hours past curfew. Ed didn’t mind. It wasn’t really important anyway. The curfew was enstated 2 years ago to keep everybody inside as a means of control. Nowadays it is merely convenient to make an arrest when they do not have any real evidence. Not that any law enforcement agency would come here during the night, but still they liked to have that option.

It was just beginning to rain a bit. He listened for a few moments but walked on as the acid detection sirens didn’t squeel. Relieved, he lit up a smoke. They were hard to get by these days, but it was sure worth the trouble once he took a drag. -Nothing like it- he said to himself. They didn’t like it back at the corp. It was an addiction that affected his physical prestation. But Ed had always had a mind of his own.

He turned left around the corner, heading for the red light district.

Closing his long coat to protect him from the humidity, he glanced up into the blueish-black sky, as he passed the grand cathedral. The Eurowars had left the building ruined. Yet it still looked majestic, even with half of it’s structure turned to ruble.

In these threads he looked like gutertrash. Some of his assignments required him to blend in with the crowd, so he learned to adapt to his surroundings. No one would be able to pick him out of the endless groups of hungry bums, exotic joyboys and addicted BTL-slotters, who were all roaming this part of town. Of course nobody noticed the formfitting body armor underneath his worn-out ensemble.

Another advantage this clothing provided him with, was that the locals left him be. Nobody bothered him -except the occasional joygirl or -boy- and he liked that just fine.

Finally. The harbor district, the destination for his mission.

The empty, humid streets were half-lit by some burning dumpsters which the homeless used to keep themselves warm, and to a lesser degree as a social gathering place for other people of their standing. Most of them were looking for shelter for the rain. Ed couldn’t care less about the rain and slowly he continued his walk, heading for the harbor barrens. Ed hated going there because it reminded him of his past, but when a corporate exec tells you to do something, you don’t let personal feelings get the upper hand. Especially not when they pay for your cyberware.

As the old sewage-system was trying to handle to vast amounts of polluted water, a bad smell came out of the man holes. It was something between soy-milk gone sour and trog-drek. To Ed it seemed that everytime he came here, the place got more and more grim. Maybe he was getting used to the company’s high lifestyle. Walking past some broken store windows his thoughts wandered. For the past 16 years, he had been doing the company’s dirty work. Things that needed to be done but couldn’t be afforded to be on the 6 o’ clock news. He had done it all. Shang hai, wet work, data-theft, arson, the works,…. Whenever somebody messed up, he had to smooth things out. A trouble shooter, they called him. Like it was an official post. It’s a living he thought to himself as he glanced at his right arm. Ed had been out of the beta clinic in Brussels for over a week now but he was still not accustomed to his new cyberarm. He had a love-hate relationship with the ware, he loved to hate it. Still it made him better than human but at the same time it graduately took away his gift.

-No mage should ever abuse his body like that- his old mentor used to tell him. But that was way back, when Ed was still living in the sprawl as a kid. Now he was under corp contract. His new mentors told him that a good combat mage should enhance his body anyway possible. All of this left him feeling empty inside.

A sudden movement snapped him back in to reality. Ed looked around him. He was sure he saw something move to his right-hand side. He looked again, nothing. "Must be my nerves": he said out loud while sliding his hand underneath his worn-out long coat. He felt the reassuring cold steel of his customised colt manhunter. The moment his palm touched the weapon, a green dot reflected on his iris, only visible to him. Where ever he should aim, he would see the dot. Smartlink II, another ‘gift’ of the corporation. The gun packed special rounds. He got those from his street contacts. ‘Blammo-Ammo’ they called it. Nasty fraggers, they were magnesium-tipped, HEAP-rounds.

Ed turned around and shifted his perception. The world lit up around him as different colours came to life. He could see it clearly now, a woman was following him, cloacked from the naked eye by magical means. She was wearing a kevlar, urban-cammo suit, and had a katana hanging over her shoulder. Ed could see that the medallion, around her neck lit up as well.-Must be some kind of focus-

Ed acted as if he saw nothing and turned back. As his magic accelerated his body, he rotated 360°, again facing his opponent. The green dot between her eyes. "Make like ice!": he yelled. She didn’t!

Sus was leaning against the side of his blue Saab. He looked at his silver wrist-secretary, 23.11. He sighed and looked around. The water of the river ‘Schelde’ was calm. The dark sky seemed brighter now it had stopped raining. Earlier this week he had contacted the corp to let them know he had been there when they dumped their chemical by-products in the Schelde. He thought it would only be fair to tell them that he was willing to accept a small contribution to his account, instead of sending it all to the press. They had accepted his terms and would send one representative to pay him for the pictures. In return, as a gesture of good faith, he had to prove that all the backups he had made were destroyed. Still, Sus didn’t trust the corp so he hired Lotus. She was as deadly as she was handsome -according to her rep anyway. He had send her out to look for the contact. She had extensive knowledge of employees working for the corp. Lotus used to be one of them. She would also know who the corp would send if they wanted to kill Sus. Anyway, the meet was supposed to be at 23.10. Sus sighed again, trying to calm his nerves.

Ed pulled the trigger as the woman lunged toward him. His first shot hitting the wall where she had stood a moment ago. While his eyes were trying to follow her, he felt a sudden impact in his left side. -Frag, she’s fast- He could hear his ribs break where her bare fist had hit his body. It left Ed lying on the wet ‘crete. Before he could react, the attacker had already drawn her katana. Ed tried to cast an offensive spell. Due to his wound he couldn’t concentrate enough to channel the spell and he felt a slight headache. As the astral energies impacted on her chest, she staggered back, obviously wounded. -Damn, not good enough- he thought, as he tried to get back up, still holding on to his gun . The woman was still standing and reacted immediately, Ed could hear her sword swooping down. Instictive he tried to deflect the attack with his arm. The clinging noise of metal on metal rang through the cold air. Ed felt no pain as the woman’s katana was stuck halfway in his metal arm. For a brief moment they looked eachother in the eyes, both showing an impression of amazement. Ed pulled the trigger a second time. The assassin’s chest bursted open, spraying Ed’s front with blood and he knew that the fight was over.

Still nothing. This would be the first time Sus made a deal with the corp where their agent is late. -Their loss-he thought and went back to his car. Then he heard something. It was a sweet, blisfull sound. Something that made him forget all his worries and all of his fears. Then his vision went blank. Sweet oblivion. He wanted to be here forever

Ed new he was late. The woman who tried to had stalked him was no local. He had seen her face before but he couldn’t quite place it. She must have been tipped of because this meet was supposed to be top secret. She was a pro, but he was better. He thanked his lucky stars for having betaware. Any lesser degree of cyberware would not have stopped the dikoted blade. Ed pulled the sword out of the metal arm and threw it on the roof of a nearby hangar. -By the time someone finds it, it will be useless for any ritual magic-

Ed tried to focus as the pain ripped through the left side of his torso. Ed had always hated physads. He considered them to be ‘impure’. This encounter made him think twice about his point of view.

He concentrated and healed himself with a spell, then he reloaded the gun. Also his headache was almost over and the bloodstains on his dirty clothes were nearly washed out by the rain and so could easily be mistaken for grease stains. -Perfect!- he thought as he neared the meetingplace.

Because he was late, there was no time to scan the place astrally in advance. He went straight in. There were two hangars to each side. Ed saw a blue Saab with the door open, the interior on the driver’s side soacking wet. -Nothing here-. He had to perceive astrally now. This was a too dangerous situation. A quick astral scan told him that it wasn’t an ambush. The car seemed empty but there where puddles of water near the car that were reddish. Ed gave them a quick glance. It was blood. -Frag-

He looked around and found a trail of blood leading between some stored crates. Ed’s perception shifted as his astral body came back in complete sync with his meat body. He drew his manhunter and casted a spell which allowed him to enhance his physical quickness. As he came closer to the crates, Ed could hear a sound as if someone, or something, was gnawling a chickenbone. Carefully, he tried to look between the crates. With a menacing growl, a big, black-furred beast leaped at him. Aided by the spell’s effect, Ed calmly side-stepped it and opened fire. After firing the second round, he recognised the wounded beast. A kludde, big canine with wings -Bad news, these fraggers don’t even blink when you toss a spell at them. But lead ain’t no exclusive alchemist’s trick anymore -

Just before Ed could fire a third round, everything went black. -Another trick of the critter- He shifted his perception once more and saw the badly injured beast, flying off. Ed aimed carefully, knowing he had only one clear shot. BLAM, a hit! As his vision restored to normal, Ed saw the kludde falling from the sky and with a dull thud, it crashed onto the dirty ‘crete slabs.

As Ed suspected, he found what was left of Sus between the crates, who was barely alive. -No signs of struggle, the beast must have used it’s hypnotic powers on him before attacking- Ed looked around, holstered his weapon and dragged the body out into the open. He prepared to cast a spell. As the power surged through his hands, he healed Sus. It took him a while however because the wounds where deep. But in less than 10 minutes Sus was able to walk again. He looked at Ed while he got up.

"Thanks, man": Sus said, rubbing his newly, regenerated flesh in disbelief. "I owe you.".

"True," Ed replied, "you can start by giving me the film.". Sus stopped smiling and carefully took out one of his teeth. He opened it and slowly took out a microchip, wich he gave to Ed, "Here you go chummer.". The mage looked up but didn’t bother to reply.

Sus looked around:"Have you seen my associate, Lotus. She’s supposed to be around here somewhere?". Ed raised his arm and pointed at the dead paranimal: "Couldn’t save her.". He put the chip in his reader and was pleased. Sus squeezed his eyes:"How about my cred?".

The mage looked at him: "All in due time. Where’s the assurance that you destroyed all the backup?".

Sus smiled:"Hey chummer, I let the corp deckers check my system and with the money I’m gonna make now, I’m going to retire. No more Shadow deals for me. Anyway, you’re a mage, scan me. Besides, would I lie to a chum’ who just saved my life?".

"So ka, I believe you."Ed pulled his gun and put two bullets in Sus’ chest. He stepped over the corpse and put another round in the head. He looked dissatisfied at the headless corpse:" By the way, I am not your chummer, omae!"

With that the mage turned around and disappeared into the shadows.

Ed had always had a mind of his own, but he always did what the corp asked him to.

©1998, Raymond Van Gasse - used with permission