It started, as this stuff usually did, with the phone ringing.
"What?" I muttered to myself, even though I knew that the person
on the other end couldn't possibly hear me if I didn't answer the
damn thing. Grabbing my hopelessly tangled bedcovers, I yanked them
over my head and closed my eyes. Too much beer and commercial affection
last night had left me in no mood to be awakened by anybody at this hour of the
The ringing persisted, insinuating itself through the blanket and
into my aching head. I cursed myself for not setting it to answer before
I fell into bed last night, but thinking I'd been in any shape to do
so would have been pretty deluded. Gonna have to answer the thing to
shut it up, though--
I snaked my hand from under the covers and snatched my wristphone
from the floor next to the bed. "Yeah?" I said again, my voice sounding
gravelly and muddled to my ears. I didn't turn on the video pickup.
"Good afternoon," said a cheerful, British-accented voice. "Did I wake you?"
I gritted my teeth. The cheer was, of course, affected. He always
did this to me. "Go away."
"Can't do that," the voice said. "We've got a job. Harry called."
I slowly poked my head out from beneath the covers and checked the
chrono on the wall. 13:24. "Harry ain't even awake yet," I growled,
shoving my long, knotted hair back off my forehead.
"You sound terrible, my friend." The voice now took a solicitous
tone, overlaid with a thin veneer of mocking. "What did I tell you about
late nights and cheap beer?"
"Didn't I tell you to go away?" My head felt like the entire front line
of the Seahawks was slam-dancing on it. "When's the meet?"
"1700. Some place called the Oasis Motel. I'll give you the rest when
I see you. That should leave you ample time to work off your overindulgence." He
hung up before I could hang up on him first.
I sighed, letting my head fall back on the pillow while putting both
hands on it to steady it. Winterhawk had a way of knowing when I was least
in the mood to talk to anybody, then picking that moment to call. It was
a talent. I think he did it on purpose.
Well, I wasn't going to get any more sleep, that was for sure. I hauled
my protesting body out of bed and dragged it into the shower, wondering
what kind of job Harry had lined up for us this time. Trying to guess
wouldn't have done me any good. Harry's jobs ranged from the ridiculous
to the highly lucrative to the insanely dangerous. Sometimes they were all
three at once. The only way to find out what this one was was to show up
at the meet. Grudgingly, I set about making myself presentable, cursing
Winterhawk and Harry alternately for not waiting one more day to send this
job my way.
By the time I pulled up in front of the Oasis Motel at 1645, my aching
head was a memory. As it always did, the adrenalin of anticipation had
long since made any vestiges of my hangover a thing of the past. As I rolled
up in front of the place on my Rapier, my awareness was on edge, my reflexes
ready to respond to any threat. The run didn't always start with the meet.
That was one that every runner learned early.
I recognized 'Hawk's car in the parking lot: he'd brought the old nondescript
Americar instead of his little Nissan sports job. When he saw me pull in,
he got out of the car to wait for me.
I still occasionally wondered why Harry had chosen to make 'Hawk and me
teammates. We're about as opposite as they get: I'm an ex-ganger who grew up
on the streets of Seattle, he's a college-educated Brit who comes from money. I didn't
know that last part for a fact, but it was a pretty easy guess. The surprising fact
was, though, that we worked well together. With my wired reflexes, combat
skills, and talent for sneaking around in the dark, I carried the mundane
end of the partnership. 'Hawk was the magical firepower, as well as our
spokesman most of the time. That was, when he wasn't being annoying as hell.
We'd been running together for about a year now and we hadn't killed each
other yet, so that had to count for something.
He smiled as I approached, leaning against his car and shoving his hands
into the pockets of his coat. "Well. You're looking a bit more
chipper," he said brightly. He was tall and thin, with medium-length black
hair striped stark white on both sides. In contrast to my preference for
snug-fitting clothes that were easy to move in and short leather jackets,
he rarely was seen in anything but a fashionably loose-fitting suit and an
overcoat, the latter usually sporting a few weird-looking items that I was
sure were magical on the lapels. I'd seen this guy go to the Barrens in a
suit. Sometimes I didn't think he got it. But everybody knew that mages
were a little nuts, so I put up with it.
"You were gonna tell me the rest," I reminded him, locking up the bike
in the space next to his car.
"Oh, yes. Charming place, isn't it?" he asked, looking around at our
surroundings. The Oasis Motel had obviously had its best days, such as they
were, in the previous century. It sprawled in tacky tropical style across
the better part of a large city block, looking incongruous in the midst of its
newer, more utilitarian neighbors. The decor was faux-Caribbean, with a
heavy emphasis on pink flamingoes, palm trees, neon, and garish island prints.
By the mid 2050s it was definitely showing its age, and the caustics in the
rain hadn't been kind to its pale tan exterior. The fact that it had remained
in business for as long as it had said something about its staying power.
I figured from the look of it that most of that had to do with renting rooms
by the hour and not asking too many questions about what happened within such
"Yeah," I said. "Beautiful. Now what's the deal?"
Winterhawk pushed himself off the car and stood up straight. He was the
same height as me but looked taller because he was so thin (at least when
compared with my vat-grown muscles). Shrugging, he started
toward the inner part of the motel's courtyard. "Not much to tell, really.
Room 485. Harry didn't say much else, except that our Mr. Johnson has lost
someone and wants him or her back."
By the time we found Room 485 (so many of the rooms were missing their numbers
that we began to wonder if we would ever find it) it was 1700. I pulled up my
collar against the chill of the damp November air as Winterhawk knocked on the
"Yes?" A voice answered almost immediately. It sounded like its owner was
standing right on the other side of the door. Instinctively, I moved to one
side, my hand on the Predator in my pocket.
"Mr. Johnson, I believe we have some business to discuss," Winterhawk said
smoothly. "May we come in?"
There was the sound of first a chain-lock, then a deadbolt being disengaged.
Apparently the proprietors of the Oasis hadn't upgraded to maglocks in the
last fifty years. The door swung open to reveal a human man in his mid-forties,
with thinning hair, a standard-issue corp suit, and nothing much else
distinguishable. "Who sent you?" he asked, obviously nervous.
Winterhawk smiled his most charming smile. "Harry sent us, Mr. Johnson.
Please let us come in. It's quite cold and damp out here."
"Oh. Uh--yes, of course. Come in." Johnson stepped aside and let us into
the room. It was a typical no-tell motel room: bed, small table with two chairs,
door leading to the bathroom. Unobtrusively, I moved so I could see into the
bathroom: nobody there. Good.
"Sit down," Johnson was saying. He looked more sure of himself now that
he knew who he was dealing with.
"Thank you," Winterhawk said, and did so after removing his overcoat.
"My name is Winterhawk. This is my associate Ocelot. I understand you've lost
someone." I didn't sit down, but rather leaned on the wall near the
door, content to let 'Hawk handle the pleasantries. He was better at it than
Johnson took the other seat at the table. "Yes." He leaned back in his
chair and took a deep breath. "Let me start with a little background. I work
for a small pharmaceutical firm. One of the projects we're currently working
on is a drug that, when taken regularly, has proven highly beneficial
in boosting the immune system; making a person less susceptible to common
diseases such as influenza that tend to strike those whose immune systems
are weakened. Our research isn't flashy, but when our tests are completed,
we're hoping that something such as this will be very favorably received.
He took another deep breath. "Naturally, we have tried to do as much
testing as possible with animal subjects and Matrix simulations, but at
some point the treatment must be tested on human and metahuman test subjects.
This is not strictly ethical, of course, but surely you must be aware that
it's almost a universal practice, one way or another. The way we have
chosen to test our treatment is to offer--financial inducement--to
selected individuals, then monitor their response to the treatment.
Of course we're keeping this program highly secret, since our competitors
would be quite interested in finding out how close to market we are."
"Let me guess," I said. "You're paying some poor slots in the Barrens
to be your guinea pigs."
"Yes, in a manner of speaking," Johnson said mildly. "So far the drug
has shown no harmful side effects in any of our previous testing, nor has
it shown any in our human/metahuman testing so far. But let's get back to
business. Our test subjects are instructed to check in with us once a
week to answer some questions, receive a blood test, and obtain their payment
for the week. So far, we've had very good success with the program. But
last week one of our test subjects disappeared. He didn't come in for his
checkup, which is very unlike him. He had up to this point been one of
our best subjects. We did a bit of checking, but were unable to find any
information about his whereabouts. He's disappeared into thin air,
apparently." He paused. "I want to hire you to find him for us. You must
understand that should he fall into the hands of our competitors, the
resulting publicity could be very detrimental to us, not to mention the
chance that they could obtain vital information about our progress by
"What kind of checking have you done?" I asked.
"Not a lot," Johnson admitted. "We didn't want to be too conspicuous
about searching for him. Since that's not our business, we were afraid
of someone getting suspicious. We asked some of our other test subjects in that
area if they had seen him, and to keep a lookout for him. We offered them
a bit of extra nuyen if they could find him. Also, our spies in the industry have
informed us that, as far as they know, our competitors haven't shown any
interest in kidnapping our test subjects. But nothing more than that. So
far, no success."
"What about magical means?" Winterhawk asked. "You said you had
blood--surely you could find him with a magical ritual, if it's that
Johnson shook his head. "We're a fairly small company, and we don't have
any magical people on staff. We could hire somebody, of course, but since
we took the blood sample a week ago, it's already been analyzed. I thought
it wasn't possible to do a ritual after that long anyway."
Winterhawk shrugged. "Sometimes it is. Depends on how the blood's been
"Well, we had no reason to preserve it. We've never had a problem
before. Besides, as I said, we tend to look at things in a more...um...
"Okay," I said, "Let's get this straight. You want us to find
this guy for you. Do you want us to bring him back to you?"
Johnson took a deep breath. "We want to know where he is, and if possible
why he chose not to show up at his appointment. If he seems reluctant
to honor his agreement, you may need to employ a bit of persuasion.
We would prefer not to lose any of our test subjects at this point."
"And if he's dead?" Winterhawk said.
"Then we want proof."
Winterhawk considered that a moment, then looked at me. I nodded
once. "All right, then," the mage said. "We may have an arrangement.
We'll be needing to hear your offer first, of course."
Johnson reached into his briefcase and withdrew two credsticks. "I'm authorized
to offer you five thousand nuyen each now, and an additional five thousand
apiece on the delivery of the agreed-upon information." He placed the credsticks
on the table in front of him.
Winterhawk picked one up and looked at it. The display read 5000.
Again glancing at me, he nodded. "That'll do for a start," he said
briskly. "And for a finish, assuming that things stay fairly close to the way
you've described them. If there's more to this than you're telling us, the
price will go up accordingly."
Johnson nodded. "I've given you the facts as I know them. So you accept?"
"Yeah, sounds that way," I said. I picked up the other credstick
and pocketed it. "Now give us the rest of the information."