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I had spun around, the Predator in my hand and aimed with the speed of my wired reflexes, before 'Hawk even reacted. What I saw standing at the end of the alley made me hold my fire.

There was an ork standing there. At least I think he was an ork. He stood over two meters tall and almost as wide, his feet planted authoritatively apart. His head was wrapped in a tattered red rag, and he wore a black patch over one eye along with the usual collection of mismatched street-person garb. Around his waist, tied like a sash, he wore what looked like it had once long ago been a red evening gown. As I watched, he waved a wicked-looking curved sword in our general direction. "Put yer hands up, Mateys!" he yelled. "I won't be askin' ye agin!"

Well, I could never accuse Winterhawk of being slow on the uptake, and this time was no exception. "Cap'n Jack!" he called. "How are you, you old sea dog? Haven't seen you in years!"

The ork hesitated as I turned slightly to stare at 'Hawk. He gave me a play along look and started walking forward.

The ork brandished his sword again as Winterhawk got within a few meters of him. "Arr! I don't think I know ye, Matey," he said, but even from where I was standing I could hear the uncertainty in his voice.

"Of course you do, Captain," Winterhawk assured him. "I'm Winterhawk. You and I and Ocelot here used to be shipmates. You remember, back a few years ago?"

Cap'n Jack peered at Winterhawk through his (apparently) one good eye, then swiveled his gaze up to check me out. I got a good look at him, too: ugly as anything. I also didn't miss the characteristic glazed-over look of the habitual chip user. If I had to guess, I'd say our Cap'n Jack had slotted one too many. "Arr!" he said, his grimy face splitting into a wide, toothy grin. "Yeah! Sure, I remember, Matey! You were that Limey I shipped out with on the Jolly Roger!" He strode forward and clapped Winterhawk companionably on the back, causing the mage to stagger forward and nearly fall over.

I stepped up, and Jack waved his sword at me again. Up closer, I could see that the sword was nothing but a child's plaything, the kind of thing you'd find in a toy-store pirate kit, carefully and lovingly taped up and repaired. The way he held it, though, you'd have thought it was the finest and deadliest of cutlasses. "Arrr!" Jack yelled at me, fishing around in his jacket until he found an old broken tobacco pipe, which he stuck between his teeth. "Arr!"

"Arr." My reply had no conviction. Okay, so I wasn't an actor. That was 'Hawk's job.

And he seemed to be taking to his role with aplomb. "Ocelot doesn't talk much, old boy," he said. He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Old war wound, y'know."

Jack nodded with enthusiasm. "Oh, right, Matey!" he agreed. "Got a few o' those meself." Carefully, he stowed his cutlass in his sash. He thought for a moment, seeming to remember something. "Hey," he said suspiciously, "What were ye doin' messin' with Meggie? No scurvy dogs is gonna mess with Meggie while Cap'n Jack's around!"

'Hawk didn't miss a beat. "Oh, we weren't messing with anyone, Captain. We were looking for you. Someone told us that you lived around here, and that Meggie could help us find you."

"Arrr, is that so?" Jack demanded as I turned around to surreptitiously check the alley behind me. The woman who was apparently Meggie was emerging from her cardboard box. I guess she felt safer with Jack around. That answered my question about how such a frail old lady could last on the streets: with a protector like Jack, I'd give her better chances than some kids I knew. He might be a chiphead, but street folks don't mess with orks that big, usually.

"They said they weren't going to hurt me, Jack," the old lady said, and coughed.

"And we weren't, of course," Winterhawk added. "We're not here to hurt anybody. We're looking for one of your shipmates, Captain."

Cap'n Jack looked confused. "One o' my shipmates?"

"He went AWOL," I offered.

"My...er...matey is correct," Winterhawk said, shooting me a dirty look. "We're looking for a chap named Tommy. We heard you might know him."

Meggie shuffled over next to Jack, clutching her threadbare shawl around her against the cold of the night. "Tommy?" she asked.

"Yes, Tommy," Winterhawk said. "We need to find him. We've something very important we need to tell him."

"He's—he's not in trouble, is he?" Meggie pulled her shawl tighter as if she was trying to fade into it and disappear.

"Well, now!" Cap'n Jack boomed. "We might know this Tommy matey. Maybe we do, aye. But we don't often get a reunion of old shipmates like this, do we? Come on—let's all go have some grog and talk about the old days, and then we'll talk about old Tommy! Arrr!" He grinned, his yellowed fangs glinting in the scant light. Grabbing Winterhawk with one hand and trying his best to grab me with the other, he called, "C'mon, Meggie! We'll be havin' a fine shindig, we will!"

I ducked out of Jack's grasp (he didn't seem to notice), stashed my Predator, and faded back to talk to Meggie as we followed the ork and Winterhawk out of the alley. She definitely seemed the saner of the pair. "You do know Tommy, right?" I asked her. I didn't relish the idea of following this raggedy duo around for who knew how long, only to find out that they were delusional or something.

She nodded. "He stays here sometimes. He and Jack—they try to make sure nothing bad happens to me, you know? It's hard for someone my age on the streets."

"Yeah." I knew that all too well, and felt a twinge of shame for my gang days. A lot of the gangers used to shake people like Meggie down for what little cred they had. I never did, but that didn't mean I didn't know it was happening. "So—uh—what's with Jack? Does he really think he's a pirate, or is it just an act?" I kept my voice down so he wouldn't hear me; I didn't think I had much to worry about, because he was busy regaling Winterhawk with tales of the high seas. I could see by 'Hawk's posture that he was enjoying every minute of it. Yeah, right.

She shrugged. "I'm...not sure. I think it might have been a bad BTL. He's been like that ever since I've known him. That's been about a year now, I think. I don't really keep track anymore."

I wanted to ask her some more questions, but about that time Jack remembered our presence. "Arr, Mateys, come on up!" He had led us out of the alley and down to another alley a couple of doors down. He pointed to a rickety-looking fire escape. "Up we go, to Cap'n Jack's Bridge!"

Winterhawk looked dubiously at the aged ladder. "Are you sure that will hold us, Captain?"

"Aye, it will!" He thumped 'Hawk on the back again, more gently this time. "If it'll hold me, it'll hold a skinny fella the likes of you! Now up with ye!"

I guess 'Hawk couldn't come up with any more excuses why he shouldn't, so he took hold of the ladder and began climbing. It creaked alarmingly under his weight, but held. "Come on, come on! You next, me hearty!" Jack said to me. I followed Winterhawk, picking my steps carefully. The ladder creaked even harder with me on it than it had with Winterhawk, and when I felt the whole thing rattle and groan as Jack added his ork bulk to the mix, I hurriedly finished the trip to the top.

Surprisingly, we all reached the top without the fire escape pulling loose from the building. It was three stories up; Winterhawk was already looking the place over as I came up over the roofline. Jack followed momentarily, nearly carrying Meggie. The old lady looked winded from the climb.

In the darkness, my low-light eyes picked up the shadowy forms of chimneys, air vents, and the squat little roof-access shed on the other side of the building. Junk had been piled up into a little fort near the side we were currently occupying. Jack grinned. "Arr," he said. "Cap'n Jack's Bridge." He headed over toward the pile of junk with all the swagger of a real pirate captain in his domain.

He must have been very familiar with the area, because he saw the forms rising from behind the junk before 'Hawk or I did. "ARRRR!" he yelled. "Down, Mateys! We've been breach—" His order ended in an inarticulate yell as a bullet tore through his arm.

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