[ Main ] [ Magespace ] [ Updates ] [ Fiction ] [ Character ] [ Campaign ] [ Commentary ]

Winterhawk and I reacted almost simultaneously, our combat-trained reflexes kicking in as the gangers opened fire. I dived to one side, my hand already on the Predator in my pocket as I came back up behind cover. 'Hawk dived to the other side, shoving Meggie roughly behind a rusting air-conditioning vent. The sound of gunfire rang out loud in the silence of the night.

There were six of them that I could see. The ones that were still fully visible were carrying pistols; hard to tell if they were heavy or light, but from the sounds, I guessed a couple of each.

My Predator came around, the crosshairs from the smartgun link locking in on the midsection of one of the gangers. I pulled the trigger, the loud report of the gun punctuating the spray of red as the bullet drove into the ganger's gut and dropped him on his butt. A second ganger took a shot at me, but it slammed ineffectually into my armored jacket. Painful, but nothing more.

Across the roof, another ganger screamed and grasped his head with both hands, his gun clattering to the ground. The telltale glow of a spell blossomed around his head, blood seeping from his nose and ears. "Bloody hell!" I heard 'Hawk yell as a gun went off, sending him ducking back behind his cover. I couldn't tell if he was hurt or not. I didn't have time to check as another bullet whizzed past my head.

This group of lowlifes was smarter than the ones that had accosted us earlier that evening. Using the confusion as cover, they'd spread out and were now shooting at us from four different places. Too bad they didn't realize that with my wired reflexes, I was three times faster than they were, and 'Hawk, with his boosted, was more than twice their speed. One of them raised up to squeeze off a shot, only to be nailed by my Predator before he could set up his aim. Even behind cover, their heat traces were still visible with my thermographic vision.

"Behind you!" I heard 'Hawk call out. I whipped around before he could finish his sentence, but the ganger was already screaming and dropping to the ground, finished off by Winterhawk's magic. I nodded thanks at the mage and turned back around.

"Anybody else?" I yelled to the world at large.

There was no answer. I could see the faint glow of the heat given off by one of the surviving group, ducked behind a heat vent. The other was nowhere to be seen. I watched him as he slunk off into the night, but didn't shoot. If he was going to do the smart thing and get out of there, I wasn't going to murder him. But if he got stupid and tried to shoot again, then he'd asked for his fate.

Winterhawk had apparently come to the same conclusion, because he was rising up from his cover-spot. Now I could see that he was favoring his right leg; blood welled from a wound in his thigh where the ganger's bullet had gotten around his armor. "Hey—you okay?" I called to him as we both headed for the downed form of Cap'n Jack.

He nodded, smiled tightly. "Never better, my friend," he said through gritted teeth. "Seriously—it's just a graze. I'll take care of it after we see what the situation is with the Captain here."

Meggie emerged from behind the vent where Winterhawk had shoved her, testing herself for broken bones. She hovered behind us as 'Hawk examined the ork, and I scanned the roof for any more uninvited guests. "Is...is he—" Meggie ventured hesitantly. For her sake, I hoped Cap'n Jack hadn't bought it: with Tommy gone, he was her only protector. He had a pretty nasty wound in his side.

"No, not today," Winterhawk said. He was on his knees next to Cap'n Jack's body, staring at nothing in that peculiar way that I knew was magical. "He's a tough old seadog, apparently. It's bad, but I can take care of it. Just give me a few minutes." Without further comment, he began his healing spell.

I turned to Meggie. "We'd better not bother him right now. Does this happen often?"

"You mean...people like that?" she asked, indicating one of the dead gangers with a head motion. At my nod, she shook her head. "No—not often. Sometimes people think Jack has something valuable, and they try to take it from him. Usually we just run away."

"Does he?"

"Does he what?"

"Have something valuable."

Meggie shook her head and looked at me in a way that made me think of an old-fashioned schoolmarm. "Of course not. If he did, do you think we'd be here, running from people like that and finding our meals in dumpsters behind restaurants? We just want to be left alone, that's all."

I nodded. I understood that all too well. Again, I felt a twinge of regret at my gang past, but there wasn't anything I could do to fix Meggie's problems. Everybody had problems, and everybody did the best they could to deal with them. That was the way of the streets. Maybe it was the way of life everywhere.

Winterhawk finished his healing spell and sank back with an exhausted sigh. "There," he said, satisfaction in his tone. "He'll be fine now. Just needs to rest." As if to confirm the mage's diagnosis, Cap'n Jack moaned and stirred, though he didn't awaken yet.

"I'll keep an eye out," I told Winterhawk. "You take care of that leg wound before it gets bad."

Winterhawk nodded and took a deep breath, beginning another spell. I knew healing spells were hard on him when he was hurt, but the alternative was worse. Meggie settled herself down next to Cap'n Jack, lifting his massive head into her lap like a mother comforting a sick child. I busied myself moving around the roof area, picking up weapons off the dead gangers, always careful to keep my friends in sight and my senses aware. By the time I returned to the little group, 'Hawk had finished his second spell and was lying back against a pile of trash fighting drain, and Cap'n Jack had opened his eyes and sat up. I had collected four guns: two light pistols and two heavy.

"Arr..." Jack was saying, "I'm just glad you mateys were here. I might have held off a couple of those scurvy dogs with Minnie here—" he tapped the plastic cutlass in his sash "—but I don't think even Cap'n Jack could've handled all of 'em by himself."

"I don't think we should stay up here," I said. I pointed at the dead gangers spread out around the roof area. "Might have attracted attention." I looked at 'Hawk, who didn't seem in any mood to talk right now, so I continued. "Listen, Captain Jack, we need to know about Tommy. We'd love to sit here and reminisce with you, but we're kinda in a hurry. If you could tell us, then we'll call it even." I held out the guns. "You can even have these, if you want 'em. Might make it easier to keep guys like that honest."

Jack's eyes widened at what I was offering him. Even a burned-out BTL chiphead like him could see how valuable it would be to have a little arsenal like that to protect him and Meggie. "Ye got yerself a deal, Matey," he said. "But ye gotta remember that Cap'n Jack be in yer debt. Cap'n Jack never forgets a debt." From somewhere beneath the pile of trash, he withdrew a half-full bottle of dubious synthahol. "Let's drink on it, arrr."

"Captain, please," Winterhawk said, hauling himself up to a sitting position. "The information. Where did you see Tommy last?" As was often the case when he was injured or exhausted, his cheery and charming demeanor had evaporated. Maybe it was the prospect of having to drink any of what Jack was offering.

It was Meggie who spoke up. "Jack told me he saw him at the Hurricane. Night of the big fight."

I looked at her quickly. "Fight?"

"Arr," Jack agreed. "Tommy and me was at the Hurricane, all right. There was a right proper brawl there two-three nights ago." He took a swig of his liquor. "Tommy fought like a brave mate, he did. He was holdin' 'em off all by himself, arr. I had to get back to me ship, so I left before things really got started. A cap'n's got responsibilities, ye know. That was the last I saw of poor Tommy. I hope he's not in Davy Jones' Locker."

I took a deep breath. "What was the fight about?"

Jack started to answer, but Meggie spoke first. "Just a bar fight, from what Jack said. They happen around there all the time. I just hope nobody called the cops. I hope Tommy isn't in jail."

"Arr, a fine battle it was," Jack agreed.

"Where is this Hurricane?" Winterhawk asked, trying to hide his impatience.

Again, Meggie spoke first. "It's on 85th, a few blocks from here. I think it's in the book. I don't know the address. We can take you there," she added, the reluctance apparent in her voice.

"No," I said quickly. "We'll find it." I handed the guns to Jack, except for one of the light pistols, which I gave to Meggie. "You two take care of yourselves. We need to get out of here. You should too. I don't figure the cops'll be down here, but all those gunshots are bound to attract attention. I wouldn't come back to this spot anymore."

Meggie nodded. "I'll make sure we get away," she said. I was beginning to look at her in a new light: she might look like a frail old lady, but it was getting clearer that she was the brains of this duo. "You go on. And thank you."

"Yeah." I looked down at Winterhawk. "You mobile?"

He nodded, hauling himself to his feet. To Jack and Meggie, he smiled, but it didn't look as convincing as usual. "Pleasure meeting you. I'd be a bit more careful from now on." With a nod, he headed slowly toward the ladder down.

"Come on," I said, catching up with him. "I think we have an appointment at the Hurricane."

"Charmed," he said sourly. "The joys of this night will never end, I can see."

[ [