Little Things

by The Grift
WVMC107@hotmail.com



Thursday

When Max jandered down the crowded streets of the Ork Underground, smaller goblins parting in his wake, he projected an arrogance he did not feel. Even as an ork, he had never felt fully comfortable, as if he belonged. Despite the trio of fellow gangers walking beside him, Max was constantly looking over his shoulder.

The dank underground coupled with the poor lighting produced illumination that was more shadow than light. Even for the mostly orks and troll inhabitants, it was a dark place. Both races could see much better in the dark than humans, but there were still plenty of spots where one could stand very still and not be seen. Max loved those spots because they allowed him to sink away from life for just a few seconds.

Running one beefy hand over ratty dreadlocks, Max brought his group to a stop by holding out his other arm. Without a word, Max adjusted the collar of his street leathers, which were adorned with the logo of his gang; the Concrete Jackyls. They were a small thriller gang, with no real set territory, but they were well known and liked in the Underground. Max leaned against a wall next to a thick unmarked door and lit a cigarette. His three fellow gang members took up similar positions, waiting as about fifteen more similarly clad orks arrived.

"Try not to bust more drek den you gotta if it's not da Serrators." Scars was the leader of the gang and he acted like it. He radiated the confidence that Max needed so desperately.

The bar that the Concrete Jackyls were about to enter had been experiencing a rash of vandalism and theft lately, as well as an epidemic of brawls and other disorderly conduct that went beyond even the Underground's extremely liberal standards for such things. The Serrators had been causing most of the trouble, and more than a few people had mentioned that they were also the ones stealing cases of liquor and soy beer from the storerooms. It was chill to steal from the smoothies' businesses topside, but a certain level of respect was expected of orks by orks. And so the Concrete Jackals had been called in.

Spilling into the tavern, the ork gangers wasted no time. There were perhaps a dozen of the Serrators in the bar and they were caught by surprise. Max found himself heading to the right with two of his chummers as soon as they entered the smoky bar. A wicked knife appeared in his hand as he approached a pair of the rival gangers.

The two Serrators hurriedly sprung up from the table, one of them going for a weapon under his jacket. Max was there instantly, his blade slipping easily into the ork's shoulder and arresting the attempt. The dreadlocked Jackyl wasted no time bouncing a meaty fist off the Serrator's face, driving him back over his hastily abandoned chair and to the floor. Max kicked the chair out of the way before he began pummelling the unfortunate ork with kicks from his heavy construction boots.

A gunshot rang out, and Max instinctively ducked. He waited only long enough to figure out he hadn't been hit before he continued his assault on the grounded ork.

It was all over in less than a minute. Most of the Serrators were dragged out into the street, kicked a few more times, and then left. Those two who weren't dragged out into the street and beaten escaped that fate only because they were dead.

As soon as he could, Max walked away. Scars was saying something menacing to the remaining Serrators, but Max didn't bother deciphering it in his head.


"You want arrest records on who?"

The Lone Star officer behind the desk had been decidedly unhelpful for the last five minutes. Richard Coleman suppressed a sigh and began again, tapping the holopic he had set on the counter, which itself had seen better days. "This ork. I want to see if he has been arrested around here. Maybe under one of these names."

Richard Coleman was obviously corporate, and he knew it. He also knew that the Lone Star officer knew it and that's why he wasn't playing it straight. No one trusted corp. As the officer eyed him suspiciously, Coleman ran a hand through neatly groomed brown hair and adjusted the collar of his stylish Armant» suit. The cut was a bit more fashionable and daring than standard corp fare, but not by much, even with the open collared shirt under it. Richard Coleman was tall and handsome with a slender muscular build typical of image-conscience corpmen who could afford the gym time and the surgery. In his mid-twenties, however, Coleman was still young enough to rely mostly on the former and almost not at all on the latter.

"I'm really not supposed to give you that kind of information," the officer shook his head.

The credstick appeared as if by magick. "To offset retrieval costs," Coleman smiled, "Nothing more."

"I'll see what I can do."

It should have disturbed Coleman that an officer of the law was so easily bribed, but the young man was relieved. Every lead in this damn city had come up short. Seattle seemed to be where one went if they wanted to disappear. Coleman wasn't about to let his mark do that.

"We might just be able to help you, Mister Coleman," the officer said after a couple of minutes at the terminal.

"Excellent."


Reese had had a long day.

Lately it seemed as if his days and nights were just getting longer and more draining. It wasn't as if he had work to make them seem that way. In fact, it was probably the lack of work, and subsequent lack of nuyen, that made his days so trying.

Today had been particularly arduous. One year ago, his life had ended. He had lost his partner, his love, his nerve, and his career as a shadowrunner. He had been a promising young samurai, not a lot tech, but a lot of heart and talent. He had known it was a bad idea from the start to get involved with a business partner, but you couldn't always control who you fell in love with. It was one thing to lose a comrade or a lover, but both in the same instant was debilitating. So he had been doing his best to fog the memory with large quantities of alcohol.

The gillette was ending this particularly lengthy day at Expendables, a shadowrunner bar that was teetering on the brink of being happening and being washed-up. The bar was valiantly resisting the inevitable takeover by wannabes as the real runners moved to newer spots, but Reese knew that the place couldn't hold out forever. Even if the clientele remained composed of the same people, those people would change. Reese didn't even know where he fell on the spectrum of shadowrunning legitimacy anymore. It had been a long time since he had actually had a run.

"Your shot Reese."

The young man nodded in response to the ork, ran a hand through tousled blond hair and over a beard that was more scruff than anything else, and turned his attention to the pool table. If nothing else his lack of work had given him a chance to improve his billiards game.

After banking a shot off the far wall that resulted in a pair of his balls rolling into the corner pocket, Reese stood and asked his playing partner, "Hey Sharpe, you got a smoke?"

The ork nodded and tossed over a half empty pack. Sharpe was also on the cusp of being a runner and being a wannabe, but unlike Reese, he was heading up towards legitimacy and not away from it. He was building up a decent resume and rep and seemed to be getting more chrome all of the time.

"You got anything lined up?" Reese asked as he lined up his next shot, the unlit cancer stick dangling from his lips. His voice had a bit of an east coast accent, though it was muddled. At times it seemed like it was South Boston, other times Brooklyn or the Bronx.

"Well, depending on how you hit that seven, I'm thinking about that trio in front of the side pocket."

Reese frowned as he puzzled that statement and promptly missed his shot.

"I might be running muscle for some guys next week. Small op. You want me to keep my ears open for work for you?" Sharpe answered the original question as he chalked up his cue.

"Yeah, I'm kind of in between teams and fixers," Reese nodded as he lit his smoke. In truth he didn't even know if he wanted to run anymore.

"I'll let you know."


Friday

Max was in his cramped doss, rebinding a fairly deep cut he had received the night before. After the business at the bar, the Concrete Jackyls had gone topside and intercepted a truckload of stuffers bound for a Stuffer Shack on Broadway. The action hadn't been serious and a few cuts and bruises were the most life-threatening wounds. Max was just finishing when a friend and fellow Jackyl burst into his doss.

"We got serious work for tomorrow, omae," Guns announced happily, habitually flexing the massive steroid and chop-shop built biceps that were his namesake.

"What is it?" Max asked as he finished tying off the bandage.

"An easy warehouse break and snatch. We just gonna steal some drek."

"Who owns the warehouse?"

"I dunno, ask Scars."

Max nodded and tugged on a dreadlock that hung down in front of his face. He probably wouldn't ask Scars. He would just go along, as he always did. He would play his part and he would have a little food, a little money, and some comrades who would call him chummer and act happy to see him when he came around. That was enough.


The most obvious next step for Coleman was to put his ear to the streets and try and gather some intelligence. Knowing that he would get nowhere while the sun still tried to burn through the layer of smog and clouds that Seattle denizens called the sky, the corpman had spent his afternoon in the matrix, searching for information on Max Black. Since the ork was SINless, most of his leads dead-ended. So he waited until the sun gave up its struggle and sank behind the horizon, changing the sky from dingy gray to the blood red of too many artificial lights.

As the evening began, Coleman began scouting out bars and shadowrunner hangouts, asking about Max and asking where else he should go for information. Despite his obvious corporate affiliation, a few credsticks were more than enough to get him pointed in the right direction. Nobody he had encountered as of yet knew anything about Max Black, but they had heard of the Concrete Jackyls. Eventually his search led him to a shadowrunner bar called Expendables, which was located near several of the more well-known entrances to the Ork Underground.

When he entered Expendables it was nearly 0100 in the morning. Things probably weren't hopping yet, but there seemed to be more than enough people to suit his needs. The bar wasn't anything special; smoky and dimly lit with the standard collection of beat-up tables and booths augmented by a few pool tables. Coleman walked up to the ork bartender, ordered a beer, and sat. The bartender eyed him with barely veiled contempt and completely obvious distrust, but those eyes softened slightly when Coleman slotted him a generous tip in the well-worn credit reader. The corp man than sat back and listened, waiting and studying before he made a move.


"Who's the corp drone?"

Reese glanced over to where Skip was gesturing with his pointy-eared head and saw a handsome human dressed in street togs too stylish to be legitimate.

"I don't know," Reese replied, running a hand over his goateed chin, his green cybereyes intense. As a regular at Expendables, the gillette knew most of the others who spent their nights there and he also knew that occasionally corpmen looking for a taste of the shadowy side of life often found their way to the bar. This one looked different than your standard wage-slave, however.

"Hey, Skip. Can you..." Reese let the question hang.

"Already did," the dark haired shaman assured his drinking chummer, "A little cyber, not much. He isn't hostile, at least according to his aura, but he is determined."

A young human woman approached the corp man. Reese had never been sure if Janie was a joygirl or merely lonely, but either way she had no difficulty approaching strangers. The pair talked for a few moments, the corp man handed her something and then stood. He then proceeded to head directly for Reese's table.

"Are you Reese Smith?" the man asked as he approached.

"Possibly," Reese shrugged, keeping his gun hand under the table and on the Predator holstered at his side under the long coat. Skip stood and moved towards the bar, keeping an eye on the situation.

"My name is Coleman," the man introduced, "I was told you may know Max Black."

Reese eyed the man cooly, not giving up anything with his eyes or body language. "I might know him."

Without missing a beat, Coleman slid a credstick across the table. The amount deserved an answer. "Yeah, I used to be friends with him. We're kind of in between right now. What do you want?"

"I need to find him. I would like your help."

"I'm no rat," Reese declared simply as he stood up. He left the corpman standing and headed back towards the billiards tables.

To his credit, Coleman didn't follow. Instead, he asked around a bit more and then left.

Skip came back to the billiards table, followed by Sharpe who had just arrived.

"What did that guy want with Max?" Skip asked.

Even as Reese shrugged a reply, Sharpe asked, "That kid hasn't even been here for a while, has he?"

"No," Reese shook his head, "Not since I broke his arm."

"If you two had a falling out, why didn't you just sell him out?" Sharpe asked.

"Honor among thieves?" Reese offered by way of an answer. "I didn't like that guy. He was too cool, too confident."

"He probably would have handed over a hefty chunk of change just to tell him that the Concrete Jackyls are hitting Warehouse 39 tomorrow night," Sharpe noted, "But Black was your friend, not mine, so it's your call."

"Warehouse 39?" Reese repeated, "That place is Yak owned!"

"Is it?" Sharpe replied apathetically, "I guess the Jackyls are in for a surprise."

Reese nodded silent agreement and twirled the certified credstick in his hand. It was for two hundred nuyen, almost twice what he currently had in his account. The account that was still jointly registered to him and Cassie. In the year since she had been killed, Reese had never had the urge to remove her name. Despite the fact that neither name on the account was real, he still felt as if he would have been betraying her memory. The beautiful mage had always said that they needed to save so that they could retire when they were thirty. Those savings had long since dwindled and Reese was up to his shoulder-holster in debt. And thirty seemed an unattainable goal.

After another four beers, seven games of nine-ball, and half a pack of cigarettes, Reese left Expendables. The monorail wasn't far, and Reese felt he could use the walk through the shadowy night to clear his head. He made it to the station in one piece and just before he slotted his credstick in the entrance turnstile, his cell phone rang.

"Reese here," the gilette answered as he flipped on the audio.

"Reese, this is Coleman."

Reese had to stop himself from hanging up. He didn't even bother wondering how Coleman had obtained his number.

"Listen, Reese, you're my best lead here. I'm not going to frag around. I'll give you ten thousand if you can take me to Max Black."

Reese swallowed but said nothing. Ten thousand nuyen, just to take Coleman to the Underground. Or at the very least point him towards warehouse 39.

"You don't have to answer right away. I'm uploading my LTG to your phone. Let me know. Sleep on it."

Reese croaked out a "Yeah, sure," before he broke the connection.

Ten thousand and all he had to do was tell this salaryman where someone was. Someone who was more of an enemy now than a friend. An ork ganger who he had never really liked all that much in the first place.

Reese boarded the monorail, but got off nowhere near his closet of an apartment. Instead he made his way to the mausoleum in the U-District that had once been a cemetery. As more and more corpses had piled up, the burial plots had given way to small shelving units for ash. The mausoleum was closed, of course, but the electronic lock gave way quickly enough to Reese's skilled, if rusty, hands.

The mausoleum was dark, but Reese's cybereyes ameliorated the bulk of the problem. The place was cold and sterile, with faux-marble walls, floors, and ceilings. The graves resembled bookshelves more than anything else; each shelving unit about a meter thick and two high. The squares containing the ashes were stacked five high and were only about forty centimeters across. Despite his avoidance of the place, Reese knew the route almost instinctively. In seconds he found himself standing in front of a small square of wall with the name Cassandra Shaw and a simple set of dates sunk into the faux marble.

"I need help," Reese admitted.

The young samurai didn't know what he was expecting when he came to the mausoleum. Maybe some guidance, a gentle touch of Cassie's ethereal hand, a reminder of what once was. But there was nothing. Cassie was dead and could offer no help. She may have been a mage, but her spirit had fled when her body had died. And Reese was left with the cold stark reality that he was alone. The samurai sighed as he ran a hand over his scruffy blond beard and turned away.


Saturday

Reese walked away from the semi-secret entrance to the Ork Underground, lighting a cigarette to cover his trembling hands. He had just been down to what were once familiar haunts to try and find Max, only to discover that the Jackyls were gone and weren't expected back until the next day; after the job was finished. Reese had left his cell number and then buzzed. To an impartial observer, his actions would have been equivocal, but Reese knew the truth. He was just seeing how feasible it would be to turn Max over to Coleman. Had anyone in the Underground asked, Reese was prepared to say that he wanted to warn the Jackyls about the potential trap they were walking into, but he knew that to be a lie.

At 1300, Expendables was all but empty. Still, Reese sat in the artificial dark, smoking cheap cigarettes and drinking soy-beer.

Max had been a friend, once upon a time. He had stepped over some lines, true, but Reese had taken care of those infractions. But this wasn't about Max, this was about him.

Reese was in bad shape. He was broke, in debt to more than a couple of loan sharks and they were getting anxious. He hadn't been on a run since Cassie had been killed, and truth be told he didn't know if he had in it him anymore. At twenty three he was washed up. Ten thousand nuyen could get him out of Seattle, away from loan sharks and bad memories, back to the East Coast. He didn't know what he would do there; shadowrunning was the only thing he had ever been good at it. But still, he could have a fresh start.

Trying to control his shaking hands, Reese picked up his cell and dialed Coleman's number.

"Richard Coleman here," came the corp-perfect voice.

"What do you want with Black?"

Coleman paused a moment before replying. "That's none of your concern. I don't want him dead. Will that ease your conscience?"

"I'll call you back."

Reese hung up, a thousand new thoughts vying for priority in his head. He tried to set up a filter for them, but he wasn't a cyberdeck and they only renewed their assault.

Coleman didn't want Max dead, or at least claimed he didn't. Max had always seemed wary of corps and had never been entirely comfortable anywhere, leading Reese to believe that he was running from something, a belief enforced by the fact that he had come to Seattle only a couple of years before. Maybe Max had done something to this man's corp and he had been sent to recover him. Or maybe Max had even worked for this corp and had fled. The ganger had never spoken quite like a street ork, always maintaining a bit of culture in his voice.

A new dilemma suddenly presented itself. Max could very well be walking to his death that night. The Yakuza were not a group to frag around with, and the Concrete Jackyls were a third rate thriller gang at best.

If Max was dead anyway, why not make a few grand in the process?

Reese decided to give Coleman the benefit of the doubt. He didn't want Max dead, but he obviously wanted to take him away. Was whatever fate lay in store for Max better than death?

Reese shook his head. He had to keep it impersonal. This was about him not some fragging stupid tusker. The samurai had killed before, even done a little wetwork. Why was he so squeamish about this?

The answer hit him like an assault cannon round, and he felt it core his stomach in the same way. Cassie. Before Cassie had been killed, it was only the "them" who died. Corpmen, drek-poor shadowrunners, street slags, or whoever. But after Cass died, Reese had been putting a face on every death he heard about. Cassie's face. Every life had become important. There was no such thing as the greater good or utility anymore. Every single life had become priceless. It seemed as if there was nothing of greater consequence than even a seemingly useless ork ganger who hadn't contributed anything more than a few bootlegged BTL's to society. But at the same time, there was his own life to think about.

Reese snubbed out his smoke on the table and stood. Cassie was dead. There was nothing that could be done about that. It was time for him to start living.


"Thanks for meeting me," Coleman said as the pair stood atop the compass hill in Gasworks Park. The day was gray and the clouds showed no intention of breaking for the sun.

"I want fifteen thousand," Reese declared without pretense, "But I know exactly where he is."

"Why shouldn't I go to someone else who will tell me for less?"

"Max will be dead after tonight if you don't get to him first."

"Fifteen thousand, fine," Coleman agreed with barely a shrug. He pulled a bundle of certified credsticks from the pocket of his Mortimer greatcoat and handed them over. "There's ten. And that's all I have on me. You can get the rest later."

"That's fine," Reese assured him, "The Concrete Jackyls are walking into a Yak warehouse tonight; warehouse 39. Except they don't know it's Yakuza. They'll be fragging devil-rat food."

Coleman remained calm as Reese lit a cigarette. The corp man seemed to come to a decision. "You're a samurai, right? I'll give you another fifteen thousand nuyen to come get him with me. I'm trained in combat, but this looks like it will be a big job."

Reese managed to keep his cool veneer and immediately countered with "Twenty five."

"Done. I'm in no mood to negotiate. I need a weapon and some kevlar."

Reese smiled for the first time in what seemed like ages, a surprisingly handsome smile under his scruff. "For forty k, I think I can lend you something. Man, you must be desperate, but that's okay. I don't care what you want with Max, just don't do it while I'm there."

"I wouldn't worry about that."


"How's this?"

Coleman took the offered weapon and examined it competently. "HK-227 9mm, Navy trigger group, laser sight. Perfect. How are the barrel sights zeroed?"

"We're about the same size, same arm length and eye placement, they should be fine," Reese assured him, checking the action on his custom AK assault rifle, a weapon that he hadn't fired in months.

The pair were dressed in Žbusiness gear.' Both wore black pants and shirts woven of kevlar, sidearms in addition to their primary weapons, and what they hoped would be enough ammo to last them well into the seventh world.

"Let's roll."

Reese grabbed a black armored long coat while Coleman stuck with his armored synthleather jacket, also black. The pair left Coleman's hotel room and walked out to the Ford Americar that the corpman had rented, being sure to keep their weapons out of sight.

Within minutes they were on their way to the waterfront, Coleman driving to Reese's directions.

As they sat there in silence, Reese once again pictured Cassie's limp body in his arms, the blood draining out as the light in her eyes faded. He saw Max dying the same way, in some corporate interrogation room.

Before he knew it, Reese had drawn his Predator from its shoulder holster and had it pointed across his body towards Coleman.

"Checking your weapons?" Coleman asked casually, the edge barely audible in his voice.

The silence was stifling for the next four seconds.

"Yeah," Reese finally agreed, pulling back the slide just enough to see that there was a round chambered. "Want me to do yours?"

"No, I checked. Thank you, though." Coleman suddenly turned to face Reese, "I can't tell you everything, but you are making the right choice. Believe me."

"We'll see. I'm still in between. But your nuyen is good."

As the car drove, Reese thought about what an unlikely pair they made. Coleman, with his longish brown hair perfectly coiffed in corporate style, Reese his own hacked and bleached. Coleman's smooth-shaved face and Reese's dirty blond scruff.

At the same time, both had far more in common than either would admit. Both were doing their damndest to hide whatever emotions might have survived their passage into adulthood. Both claimed that the bottom line was all that mattered. Neither smiled or laughed much. And both had their own demons that were coming back to haunt them. In that respect, it seemed as if Max was just like them, as well.

The Ford soon arrived at warehouse 39. They parked in a monorail Park & Ride across the way and waited. The warehouse was like any of the ones surrounding it on the dock. The darkness was filled with the shapes of shipping crates, cars, and dumpsters and broken only by occasional pools of light from the bulbs above doorways or the rare street lamp.

For a long time the pair sat in silence, a small pile of cigarette butts growing below Reese's window. Eventually Coleman broke down and asked for one. A slight cough told of a smoker who had quit before he ever really started.

"Look," Reese pointed out, breaking the silence.

Coleman raised a pair of low-light binocs and saw what Reese's cybereyes had seen already. A group of bulky figures moving across the docks, taking clumsy cover behind cars and packing containers as they moved towards the warehouse.

"Let's go get your boy," Reese said, checking his Kalishnikov as he slid out of the car.

The pair made their way towards the docks much more stealthfully than the Concrete Jackyls. Even corp-boy managed to stay to the shadows and time his movements with passing traffic and other incidental noise.

"There," Coleman pointed, an almost maniacal gleam in his eyes, "Frag, I never thought I'd find him."

"Let's go." Reese picked up the pace, Coleman close behind.

When they were within a hundred meters of the fifteen unwitting Jackyls, the first ork reached one of the side doors. He spent a few seconds with the lock and entered. And was subsequently blown back out by an unmuffled shotgun blast.

"Drek!" Coleman shouted as muzzle flashes erupted from the orks and from the windows and doorways of the warehouse. Even as the pair closed the distance, a pair of yakuza soldiers exited the warehouse and spotted them. The subsequent auto-fire forced them to take cover behind a stack of discarded metal crates.

"Fragging yaks!" Reese growled, popping up from behind the crates and loosing a pair of bursts from the matte black AK. The 7.62mm APDS rounds found their marks, dropping the first soldier and throwing the second against the warehouse wall. But even as the first pair fell, more black-clad security guards spilled from the building, taking up positions behind the same kinds of crates and cars that the Jackyls did.

"What the hell is in there?" Coleman shouted as he checked his HK.

"You'll have to ask Max," Reese shouted, inadvertently glancing over at where he had last seen the dreadlocked ork. He was crouched behind a car some fifty meters away, a shotgun in hand.

"I'm moving towards those crates. Cover me," Coleman informed the samurai, gesturing at another stack of shipping containers perhaps ten meters distant.

"Oh, no problem," Reese shouted sarcastically over the sounds of the firefight. He sighted a sniper in a window and squeezed off a burst. He was rewarded with the sight of the sniper flying back into the interior of the warehouse.

Reese returned his attention to the soldiers nearest him, burning the rest of the AK's clip in an effort to give Coleman cover. He quickly reloaded and then started running as the corpman provided cover fire.

It wasn't until he reached the second set of crates that Reese realized how alive he felt. The adrenalin coursing through him filled him with a heady rush he hadn't experienced since Cassie had died. His wired reflexes were working in perfect synch with augmented muscles and his smartlink to turn him into the finely-tuned combat machine he once was.

"I'm going!"

Reese nodded and burned the remainder of another clip, covering Coleman as he ran and fired. The corpman ducked behind a long-abandoned car a mere twenty meters from Max.

The sounds of gunfire and death screams all blended in Reese's ears in the cacophony of battle as he raced towards Coleman's new position. A bullet slammed into his back, flattening on the layered armor over his left lat, and causing him to stumble, but he barely felt it through the adrenaline. He knew he would later.

Just as the samurai reached their new cover, he saw Max pop up to take a shot. Instantly Reese knew it was a mistake; the ork was exposing far too much of his body and the way he moved put him in crossfire from two different groups of Yak soldiers. Even before he could pull the trigger on his shotgun, Max was caught in a hail of bullets that threw him back down.

"No!" Coleman shouted, jumping to his feet and sprinting.

"Coleman, you fragging idiot!" Reese shouted, doing his best to lay down cover fire for the frantic corp man. As soon as he could, Reese followed and helped Coleman drag Max behind some shipping containers that provided better cover but less of a tactical angle on the fight. Reese stripped off his long coat and tossed it to Coleman for Max, leaving the samurai with only the black kevlar t-shirt and the vest for protection.

"Dammit, Max, what the hell did you do that for?" Coleman asked, wadding the long coat under the ork's head.

Reese glanced over and had to do a double take. There were tears in the normally implacable corp man's eyes!

"Rick?" Max said incredulously. Blood flecked his lips and ran freely from half a dozen wounds, but he was still breathing.

Reese tossed a handful of slap patches over to the pair, but he knew it wouldn't be enough. Turning away from the scene, Reese concentrated on picking and choosing targets who came into his field of view.

"What are you doing here?" Reese heard Max cough out.

"I came to find you, to take you home," Coleman replied, his voice uneven, "Fraggit, Max, we just wanted you to come home."

Home? Reese shook his head as he reloaded the Kalishnikov with one of his last clips.

"Not this time big brother."

"Brother!" Reese shouted, "Why the frag didn't you tell me?"

"I couldn't let Max know I was looking for him. He would have run." Coleman turned back to his brother, transferring Max's head onto his lap as he started to apply slap patches to the obviously fatal wounds. "Mom and dad are sorry. They just wanted you back. I've been looking all over the continent for you. Don't you dare fragging die on me now, you sonofaslitch. Not after all this."

Reese ducked down again to load his last clip. He thought he might just survive this. The gunshots were slowing down.

"It's not important," Max was mumbling as Coleman finished applying the patches.

"You're important, Max," Reese assured him quietly from his perch without turning. He didn't even think Max heard him. "You're very fragging important."

"I didn't belong there, Rick." Max's voice was stronger, thanks to the patches. "You, you were the golden boy; Harvard, great job, made the folks proud. I'm a disgrace. I don't belong."

"We want you there, dammit!" Coleman hurriedly snapped his own DocWagon bracelet, hoping that their response would be quick enough to save the dying ork.

"Sorry Rick."

Reese finally turned from his perch and declared, "You better fragging survive, Max, because I'm not dragging your tusker corpse out of here."

"Reese? That you too? Drek, is everything coming back to haunt me? Tell Cassie I'm sorry...too much to drink that night."

"She's dead."

"I'll tell her myself, then."

"No!" Coleman protested, "You're gonna be okay. You have to be."

"Look, Rick," Max's voice was fading again. There was just too much blood on the dock. "Tell Mom and Dad...tell them that this, that none of this...tell them it's not their fault. They did what they could when I changed. Tell them it's not their fault."

"Tell them your own goddamned self, you selfish motherfragger," Coleman countered. The tears were no longer confined to his eyes, but streaming freely down his face.

"Sorry Rick. I love you. Tell mom and dad I love them."

Reese burned the last of his ammo into the rapidly dying battle. The Concrete Jackyls were all but wiped out. When the samurai turned back, Max was dead.

"Coleman," Reese said quietly, "I'm sorry."

Coleman didn't move, his head bowed over his brother's corpse. After a few heartbeats, he looked up. "I know, Reese. We're all sorry. But it doesn't bring them back. None of them."

Reese heard the approaching sirens of a DocWagon High Threat Response Team over the rare gunshots. It seemed fitting that the paid DocWagon team had responded before Lone Star.

"Coleman," Reese began slowly, "I know I made the right choice here. You did too. Alright? We did right."

"I know. But it doesn't bring them back."

(c) 2000 The Grift. Used with permission.