July 18, 2010

Billie's Journal

Seattle, day four?

I dream. It's dark. A man's voice calls out, "Don't kill them. They're wanted alive."

I try to open my eyes but they don't seem to be working properly. Images swim in and out of focus. I realise I am holding my breath and try to inhale but it hurts too much. Everything goes dark.

I hear another voice. This one is male too, but has an accent I can't place. Am I still dreaming? My head feels like it's filled with cotton wool.

The man with the strange accent says, "She's coming round."

Another male voice, maybe the one I heard earlier says, "Watch her." He then seems to be talking to someone else, perhaps on the phone, "Yes... No... As you wish..."

The man with the strange voice speaks again, "You sure you can get something out of her?"

"Watch me," replies the second voice.

Someone touches my forehead softly. I try to pull away but a strange, detached feeling washes over me. It feels as if I am a passenger in my own body. Cold sweat breaks out as old images flash through my mind of being controlled by others. Blind panic takes hold of me but I can't move.

Then the feeling subsides and the second voice comes back into focus, "Where is the mage?"

Much to my surprise, I hear myself state, "In the wagon."

He asks another question, "What sort of 'wagon' and where is it?"

"A grey Ford, two blocks away from here in an alley just off the main road," I answer. The man gives orders to fetch the mage, and then says to me, "You did well, now go to sleep"

I feel a hypodermic needle enter my left arm and darkness claims me again.


I awake shivering. I am cold and my chest hurts. I probe at the sore spot and touch bare skin, but there is no blood and my ribs feel intact. Thank god for my armor coat and bone lacing.

I swallow and my throat hurts too.

I open my eyes. The bare bulb hanging from the ceiling hurts my eyes, making my head throb like a bad hangover. I crank down the gain and try again. I stare up at a bare concrete ceiling and walls. One wall is barred and a camera in the corner tracks lazily back and forth. A cell.

With a groan, I push myself up until I am sitting. Apart from a cyber restraint system on my right wrist, I am completely naked. I cover my breasts with one arm, hissing at my bruised ribs. Father O'Reilly is lying nearby. He is also naked, but unconscious.

Finlay's deep voice makes me jump. Even he sounds rough as he asks if I am okay. A quick glance reveals he too is naked. I feel my cheeks flush and focus on the three round scars on his chest where the bullets hit. They have almost healed. I know he heals fast but I suspect our injuries have been treated, perhaps even magically.

"Zero?" I croak.

"Dunno," he shrugs but his eyes betray his worry.

We move closer together, sharing our warmth. Finlay is careful about touching me. He knows some of my past. Hell, he knows almost as much as I do. We wait in silence.


Police sirens shake us from our thoughts. Close by. No wait, something is not right. A toy car suddenly appears under the bars to our cell, blaring lights and screeching siren. I close my eyes and cover my ears trying to block it out. Finlay picks up the toy as a massive troll appears at the bars.

"Can I have my car back?" lisps the troll with a child's voice. I glance up at pleading eyes. Then I notice the scars on either side of the troll's head. I nervously run my hand through my hair, feeling the scars I too bear. I look away feeling ill.

I hear Finlay say, "Sure, laddie." and feel him shift to stand up. Just then a deep male voice shouts out. "Hey stupid. You're not supposed to be here. Get the frag out of here."

"But my car..." whines the troll sounding close to tears.

"Too bad", growls the man. "Now get outta, here or I'll kick your..."

The sentence finishes with a choking splutter. I look up to see a grey-haired human with a scarred face standing over the spluttering guard. Where the frag did he appear from. His voice is a smoky whisper, full of menace. "Don't you ever touch him."

"S-Sorry, sir." croaks the man, rubbing at his throat.

Scarface turns to the troll and with a softer but no less gravelly tone tells him to go back to his room. Finlay hands the toy car over to the troll, thankfully switched off, which seems to please the big kid.


More time passes. There is the distant sound of footsteps. Two armed guards take up position either side of the door to the cell while a third wheels in Zero, strapped into a large wheelchair. She is naked and unconscious. With a click the restraints pop open and she slumps forward. Finlay catches her and eases her to the floor.

"Your turn, tusker." growls scarface. "Get in the chair."

Finlay settles himself into the chair and the restraints snap close. They take him away. I check Zero as best I can. She seems basically unhurt, although her breathing is fast and shallow and her heart is beating too quickly. I cradle her in my arms and settle down to wait.

I must have drifted off for a bit but Zero's screams wake me. "Get off me you bastard. Let me go."

She writhes and scratches but I hold her tight. "It's me, Billie. You're safe now."

She stares up at me and for the first time I see her without her visor. Her eyes are milky white. I knew she had some sort of vision problem. I remember how freaked out she was in Germany when she fell and lost it, but didn't realise she was completely blind. I guide her hand to my face and then down to along my cyberarm.

"See. It's really me." I soothe, but it is only when I tell her why I got picked to speak to Duncan the octopus in that bar in Edinburgh, that she finally believes me.

"I did not tell them zat." she sniggers. We clutch tightly onto each other for warmth and support while Father O'Reilly mumbles in his drug-induced sleep.

After a while they bring Finlay back. He too is unconscious. I ease him to the floor and when I look up, the guard points at me and says, "Your turn."

I guide Zero to Finlay's side and tell her they are taking me next. She gives me a quick hug then curls up next to Finlay. I manage a sneer as I take my place in the chair, although I break out into a cold sweat as soon as the restraints click into place. Being bound and naked brings back too many bad memories.

The guard wheels me along bare corridors and into a room. An incongruous pair await me; an effete elf in an expensive suit who stares down his nose at me and a kindly looking dwarf with large blue eyes and a white beard. The dwarf is wearing a doctor's overall and the room smells like a hospital, but the equipment in the corner is somehow wrong. The wheelchair clicks neatly into place amongst the tangle of cables and probes and is then angled back like a dentist's chair so I can only see the ceiling and top half of the walls.

The dwarf prattles on like a real doctor, trying to put me at my ease. It has exactly the opposite effect and I writhe in the chair, straining against the restraints. The dwarf almost sounds upset, telling me to relax and that everything will be fine.

I hurl insults at him and the elf, who just sneers more and makes a comment about me being a 'gutter-elf whore'. I tug more angrily at the restraints, growling at the elf. The dwarf, frustrated, turns to the elf and says, "Can you please hold her still while I give her this injection."

The elf makes a few gestures and mutters something and suddenly I can't move. Not a muscle. I feel a needle slide into my arm, then a warm feeling suffuses my body and I slump loosely back into the chair.

The dwarf tsks ominously. "This will make her less susceptible to the treatment."

They start firing questions at me. They start with simple stuff like my name and where I was born. I refuse to answer at first and squeal in agony as the dwarf does something with the equipment at my side. I try lying but that only brings more pain.

Even when I tell them my real name, they still shock me. I hear the elf saying, "That was the truth. Didn't take long for this weak-willed whore to break. All that rutting with breeders and tuskers, I suppose."

Then they start asking about runs. Ones we have done and ones we didn't do. I try not to give anything away, but the bastard dwarf is really cranking up the juice now and I twist and squeal as wave after wave of pain crashes through me. Eventually, I can't take it anymore, and blackness engulfs me.

I awake with a start in Zero's arms. Everything hurts. Zero strokes my matted hair as I cry into her shoulder. Slowly, I pull myself together, putting Billie back into place. I ease my grip on Zero and sit up, wiping away tears. I must look a mess. Lucky that she's blind.

I don't want to think about what they did to me, so with a voice raw from screaming, I ask Zero about the cyber-restraint on my arm. She runs her fingers over it as I explain what it looks like. I had to wear one before when we went to a meet at Club Penumbra. Depending on the security rating, these things can range from simple alarms to biofeedback loops or even shaped charges that could take off my hand. Unfortunately, she can't tell which type this one is.

Scarface pays a visit. "Best try and get some sleep," he whispers menacingly. "You're going to need it."

Sleep doesn't come easily. The concrete floor is cold and hard, and my body aches. Exhaustion eventually wins out, although the nightmares mean I don't sleep well.

We are woken by a stun baton being run along the bars. As we struggle to our feet, the guard points at me and sneers, "You first, elf."

Zero gasps, "Non!" and grasps at Finlay's arm. Finlay tells her they are pointing at me, not her. Her shoulders relax, but her head drops in despair.

"Wish me luck," I manage through cracked lips and a dry throat.

Scarface pushes me to the room. At the door, he whispers 'Good luck' so quietly that I ain't really sure I heard him say it at all.

The dwarf and the elf await me. The elf wears a different suit today. It looks just as expensive as the one he wore yesterday and is paired with a brightly coloured silk shirt that can only be the real thing.

I greet them with the best insults I can manage, mixed with a few choice salish and crow phrases. The elf just calls me a foul-mouthed whore and then paralyzes me so the dwarf can inject me again.

This time the questions are more pointed. Who was the Johnson? What did you do with the Libram? Who did you give the elf ears to?

Despite the relaxant, I scream and howl as pain courses through me again and again. I make up answers but the elf knows when I am lying and the pain becomes even worse. I beg for them to stop, but they just shock me again and again.

After a particularly nasty charge, while I am still twitching and moaning in the chair, the elf leans over me. "You pathetic little whore. I bet you like it rough."

Images of me whipping a girl crash though the pain. No not me whipping her, but someone whipping me. An elf. He says 'I bet you like it rough.'

I feel like I am going to be sick. Anger, shame, hatred twist in my guts, boiling up through my body. My blood burns like liquid fire, my body arching taut against the restraints at this new pain. Unlike Edinburgh, this time I don't fight it. Not that I could if I wanted to. I let it surge through me, overwhelming my senses and driving away the pain. My moan becomes a scream and then a roar of anger.

The elf's eyes go wide as I thrash against the restraints. Metal squeals and bends as I push the servos in my cyberarm to their limits and beyond. I give an exultant cry as my arm rips free. The elf tries to move back but only exposes his throat more. My handblade snaps out, sending electricity tingling down my arm. I see sparks around my wrist as I drive the blade deep into the elf's neck, ripping out his throat. Blood fountains over me as he staggers back gurgling, blood streaming down his fancy shirt and suit.

From the corner of eye I see the dwarf's arm come up. He is tugging at his sleeve and I see something, maybe a tazer, strapped to his arm. Teeth clenched in a grimace, I reach across and grab his arm. Servos whine as I squeeze as hard as I can, digging ceramic fingers deep into his skin and pushing his arm away from me. He cries out in pain. Then I hear the ratchet of a shotgun being loaded.

Time slows as I twist my head towards the guard in the corner. He is ever so slowly bringing the shotgun up to bear on me. Still strapped in the chair, I am an easy target. I roar as I twist the dwarf's arm, pulling it across me.

There is a soft zing and a metal dart snakes lazily toward the guard as the underbarrel laser on his shotgun comes to rest between my breasts. The dart hits home and he convulses. There are no sparks, but his face flushes red. Boom goes the shotgun and I feel something wet on the side of my face. I spare a glance to my left. Most of the dwarf's head is gone, blood and brains splattered all over me and the equipment around us.

I wrench at his arm again and a second dart hits the guard as he slowly ratchets another round into the chamber, this time with some apparent difficulty. Blood bubbles at his mouth and red tears run from bloodshot eyes. Then he simply collapses to the ground.

I twist the blade into my restraints, careless of cutting myself and stumble out of the chair and fall to my knees. The elf is still gurgling and I crawl through his pooling blood to finish him off, driving the blade angrily into his chest three, four or maybe even more times.

My anger spent, I slump on top of the elf's body panting. I can barely lift myself up. My right arm hurts meaning it's damaged, possibly badly. I move it slowly testing it's limits. My handblade won't retract and I think the smartlink is burned out. But apart from feeling a little sluggish it still works, for now at least.

I crawl over to the guard's body and strip him, pulling on his combat pants and shirt and then his armor jacket. I strap his gunbelt around my waist and sling the shotgun over my shoulder after pumping a couple of rounds into the torture equipment. I take a moment to wash off the worst of the blood. Next to the sink, I find a couple of medkits. I take a stimpatch from one of them and press it to my left arm. I sigh as my pain eases and my head clears.

Now to find the others.


I move quietly to the door. This room must be soundproofed, as we never heard anyone screaming from our cell, so hopefully noone heard the gunfire. As I move to open the door, it swing suddenly open and there is Finlay, pointing a Predator in my face.

I back into the room and he follows me in. He is wearing an armor jacket similar to the one I have on. But that's all. I keep my eyes on his face. Zero trails behind him, still naked.

He takes one look at the carnage in the room and then looks at me, "What the frag happened here."

I feel blood rushing to my cheeks, my head suddenly light. I'm not really sure. "I escaped," I offer weakly.

Zero is feeling her way around the room. She grimaces. "Is zis blood I am standing in?"

I take her arm to lead her away. "Yeah, from the elf mage. He's dead."

"Where?" she asks and I turn her towards his body. She kicks him hard. We leave bloody footprints on the floor as we return to Finlay's side.

"Where's the padre?" I ask.

"Still in the cell. Is that wheelchair still usable."

It is. Zero sits in it and I push, while Finlay leads the way. Back at the cell, we drag the unconscious guard into the cell. Finlay puts on his pants, much to my relief and Zero pulls on his sweatshirt. It reaches almost to her knees. We then put the still naked padre in the chair, with Zero perched on his lap.

"We need to try and find our gear." I state. Finlay had recovered his spear from the mage but I'd feel better with my handgun.

"Yes" cries Zero. "We must find my glasses and my deck."

We hustle along as quickly as we can while still trying to stay quiet. Finlay leads, while I push the wheelchair. The first few rooms are empty and seem like they ain't been used in a while. Then, we find a surprise.

The next room has been fitted out as a bedroom with one normal and one large bed. Sitting with his back to us, playing a car racing game on a big screen is the child troll.

Quickly holstering guns, Finlay approaches the giant. "Hey kid."

The troll spins his eyes and mouth wide. "You not supposed to be here."

Finlay says we don't want to be here either but that we need to get our gear before we can go. The kid mentions the name of some cartoon show and Zero picks up on that. She somehow convinces the kid that we are space heroes and that he is some sort of yeti sidekick who needs to help us escape.

A quick search of the room turns up another surprise. Under the kid's bed is a large armored case containing a troll-sized combat axe.

"That's mine," beams the troll proudly as Finlay pushes the case back under the bed.

We pull a troll-sized t-shirt over the padre's head. Makes him look like a hospital patient and at least it covers his privates. Finlay tells the kid not to mention that he saw us and the troll, Iggy, gives a toy to Zero. Poor kid is obviously smitten.

The next room we check can only have been the mage's quarters. It is well-furnished and the closets contain several expensive suits cut for a narrow build. Zero's deck is sitting on the bedside table running some sort of program. Finlay leads her to it and she shuts it down.

We are still searching the room when Finlay pumps his arm to signal that someone is coming. "Shh" I whisper to Zero and clamp my left hand over the padre's mouth to stop him from talking in his sleep.

Finaly eases the door open just a crack and peers down the corridor. He signals two then counts down from five on his fingers. We move out on one, leaving the padre and Zero in the room.

There are two guards at the end of the corridor just before the door to the troll's room. One of them is scarface. Something about the way he carries himself reminds me a little of Sharif. A professional.

Finlay charges up and sweeps at their legs with the spear. Dear Lord but scarface is fast. He turns at the last moment but is unable to dodge the blow. Both of them go down, but even as he falls he is drawing a pair of Predators from shoulder holsters. I point mine at the other guard's face, squeezing the trigger just enough to activate the laser sight.

Mexican stand-off. Finlay has his spear ready to strike scarface who has a gun trained on each of us, while I have the other merc dead in my sights.

"I'm impressed," he whispers. "But now you need to drop your weapons."

"No can do," mutters Finlay. There follows a brief exchange of you drop yours, no you drop yours, then Finlay calls out. "Hey, Iggy."

Scarface doesn't flinch as the door opens. The big troll gasps as he takes in the scene.

"Marty, dey is da heroes. You gotta let em go" he pleads.

"Iggy go get your axe," commands Marty with that menacing whisper.

Iggy stammers out a 'but', but Marty cuts him off with another sharp 'go'.

The troll returns clutching the axe, tears in his eyes. From behind us there is a crash and a curse in French then Zero crawls out into the corridor.

"What's 'appening? Please, don't hurt me."

Iggy wails and the axe clatters to the ground. Marty has somehow pushed himself up into a sitting position but his aim on us is still true. He's still got the drop on Finlay and I can't take my gun off his pal without giving both of them a chance to shoot me.

Then behind us, I hear the familiar sound of a shotgun being ratcheted. Iggy screams a long 'no' and charges through us. If anything he is even faster than Marty. Finlay and I throw ourselves aside. Marty curses. In a blink he shifts one gun away from Finlay, fires a single shot and brings it back to bear. Finlay uses the distraction to make his move, twisting to the side to avoid the shot and striking at him. Marty grunts. I glance over my shoulder to see another guard flat out, a single bullet hole between his eyes. Iggy is crouched over Zero's tiny body, his back to me.

Frag. I swing my pistol towards his back the laser dot running up to his heart. "You wouldn't want anything to happen to Iggy would you partner?" I say to Marty, staring into his eyes.

That finally gets to him. He holds his pistols up, his fingers off the triggers. I relax my grip and the laser dot clicks off. Slowly, Marty lowers his guns and I do the same. Only when he holsters his do I do the same with mine.

"Sorry, partner but we're gonna need to lock you up," I drawl.

"No" he replies. "We walk."

Finlay nods. "Do you know where our gear is?"

Marty shakes his head. "Try Lancelot's room." He points to the room we were just searching. "But I wouldn't hang around if I were you. The Johnson is still upstairs."

Finlay nods again. Iggy unwarps himself from around Zero and they move into the bedroom. We watch as they pack quickly, then move out.

Finlay shakes Marty's hands as he leaves. I feel compelled to do the same. I step forward and offer mine. He hesitates a moment then takes it anyway. I lean in and whisper, "I just wanted you to know I wouldn't actually have shot the kid."

"I couldn't take that chance." he replies flatly.

"I know. I'm sorry."

Iggy waves goodbye as they leave and we return to our search. We find Zero's visor and the keys to the van in a drawer but nothing else. We leave quickly with the padre still sleeping in the wheelchair. The elevator takes us to the ground floor of a large mansion. A nearby door leads out into a large, well-maintained garden.

Finlay spots the van, parked next to some garages and we rush over to it. While Finlay and Zero squabble over who is going to drive, I load the padre into the back. As I come around the van to get in the passenger side, a flash of movement catches my eye. A pretty young woman, her dark hair and skin marking her as amerindian, regards me from a bay window. She leans forward resting her arms on the lintel.

I make to doff my hat but it's lost, along with the rest of my gear. Instead, I touch a finger to the side of my head in a short salute and jump in the van.

"Go, go, go," I urge.

July 4, 2010

Billie's Journal

Seattle, day three (cont'd)

The boys have obviously been drinking. It was their regular poker night after all. They tell us they are going to try and get into the party anyway. I point out that it's an elf-only party and in any case they don't have invites. Doesn't stop them trying though. I stop answering their calls and Zero gets all french on the padre when he asks us for the names we used to get in.

Not surprising, they don't get in. But fortunately they don't into trouble either. Sandie drops Zero and myself off close to the appartment and we walk home. I am glad I didn't wear heels. The boys arrive home later, still drunk and loud. I tell them to keep it quiet. Finlay seems to realise he is making an ass of himself and shuts up, but the padre just tries to give me a hug. I fend him off and retreat to bed, locking the door.

Seattle, day four

Zero and I are up before the boys. We need to do this run tonight and need the men along. Zero ropes me into balancing a plastic pitcher of water on their bedroom door. It works a treat but the resulting water fight leaves half the appartment and all of us dripping wet.

Zero is still pissed at the guys and giving them the silent. I need to get out of there. I change into my cowboy gear and tell Zero I am gonna do a drive by of the firehouse to see if there are any other ways in. Zero says she will check for satellite photos and brief the men when they 'come to their senses'.

As I head out the door, our new neighbour is also just leaving her appartment. She is wearing a smart business suit.

I tip my hat and mumble a howdy. She says hello and we get into the elevator together. On the way down, she tells me that the guys woke her up last night. I roll my eyes behind my shades. I offer an apology, explaining that they only play once a month and saying I'll have a word with them so it won't happen again. She politely thanks me, saying she doesn't want to have to report us to building security. I sure as hell don't want her doing that either.

Puyallup Barrens

By day, the Puyallup barrens looks even worse. Rubbish and burnt out cars litter the streets. The locals here are poorest of the poor, squatting in condemned buildings and scavenging for power and food. Just being on the Harley makes me stand out as most of them are on foot or at most driving a beat up scooter.

I swing past the firehouse, driving slow but not stopping. It's closed up pretty tight. Only ways in or out are the main door at the front and what looks a fire exit at the back. All the windows are boarded over. As I drive away I catch a reflection in my mirror from the roof. Some sort of skylight up there? Maybe Zero has had better luck with the satellite images.

Back at the appartment, things have eased. Zero is talking to the guys again and they seem to be suitably abashed. I tell them about the neighbour and they promise to go and apologise. Zero has also managed to get some satellite images and good ones too. We can clearly see the building and that there is what looks like a roof access as well as the large skylight over the garden area of the club.

I take a powernap then around ten at night, we suit up. I take my new toy, a Colt Cobra SMG. I am still not totally confident with firing it, but it is fitted with a sound suppressor so if things do get out of hand, we can still keep it quiet as long as possible. We load the gear into sports bags and carry them down to the car.

Seattle, day five

We arrive at the firehouse just after midnight. We park the car in a nearby alley and the padre casts invisibility on us all. He complains that maintaining all four spells is giving him a headache, although I suspect it is just his hangover kicking in. Then, we hustle the the rest of the way on foot.

Finlay unpacks the grapple gun and quickly climbs up the wall onto the roof. Once he has secured the rope, he helps the rest of us up one by one. He then starts working on the skylight with a glass cutter while I check the door to the roof access. It's an old manual lock and although it takes a few minutes, I manage to open before Finlay has made any significant progres with the skylight.

We slip invisibly down the stairs. Father O'Reilly says he will stay on the roof as the strain of maintaining the spells is beginning to take it's toll on him. I lead with Finlay following close behind, one hand on my shoulder. I have to resist an urge to shake it off but it's the only way he knows where I am. Zero brings up the rear, holding onto Finlay's other arm.

We enter the top floor above the garden. A concrete corridor runs around the walls with two metal walkways spanning the garden. I spot the blinking lights of cameras in each corner. To our left is a wall and a doorway. We slip silenty over. A long coridor leads off, three doors on either side and one at the end. That one is the suite where we have to drop of the data package and the letter that Sandie gave to Zero last night.

I swipe our maglock passkey in the first door on the left. Nothing happens. I ask if I should try again and Zero says no. Seems I could alert security if we use it too much. I don't ask how much is too much. Finlay says we should go down, pointing out that the stairs seem to go down to a basement. If anything funny is going on here, it will likely be down there. We go down.

A blank door opens onto a long dogleg corrider. Directly across the hall is a mirrored glass wall that screams security office. Leaving it slightly ajar so Finlay can cover me, I slip through and edge down the corridor to the door. This time the passkey works. I breath out a silent sigh then slip in. A single guard is paying more attention to the urban brawl on his PDA than the monitors. I sneak up behind him and club him with the butt of the Cobra, knocking him out. I take his stun baton and the ammo clips from his belt and gun.

I give the all clear and Finlay and Zero join me. There are two other doors in this room, one heavily armoured. We try the other one. A guard is sitting on a sofa watching the same game as his colleague, while another dozes in a cot in the corner. The first one looks over to the door and calls out something about not being allowed to leave the monitoring station unattended. Then he cries out as the invisible Finlay knocks him out. This wakes the sleeping guard, but a couple of not so gentle taps from the stun baton put him back out.

The other room is a treasure chest for gun lovers with several LMGs in addition to the rack of HK-97 assault rifles, Ares SMGs and a dozen or so heavy pistols. There are also some armor jackets, including a couple sized for trolls. Zero finds one that almost fits and puts it on. If we have time, we will take some of this stuff with us when we leave.

We move out and further down the corridor. There are large double doors to the right and several normal doors further on. We decide to leave the double doors for now. The doors on the right have no locks and lead into a large conference room that can be split into two with folding walls. The maglock passkey fails to open the first door on the left, but works on the second which turns out be an office. There is a computer here so Zero gets to work. The last room on the right also turns out to be an office so we guess the first one is too.

The padre interrupts us with a message that a couple of vans are coming our way. He only just noticed them now because they are driving without lights. Not good news. He tells us he is going to drop our invisibility spells in case he needs to do something.

Zero is now jacked in but is taking a long time. Occassional bursts of French over our comms indicate that things are not going well. She tells us that this node is a red seven, which is apparently pretty serious. What the hell are they doing here in the barrens with a system like that.

While waiting I decide to try the double doors. A corridor leads down to what looks like an office space. Just then Zero curses. She has been running an analysis routine and has just spotted that there are about six active deckers in the system with her. I report that I may have found them and suggest she gets out until I have dealt with them. She tells me to jack them out as that will disorient them. Finlay and Zero join me and we unjack and whack them all into unconsciousness. This leaves Zero a free run at the mainframe. Which is good, because the padre comes over the comms saying, "Jaysus wept I tink I just killed them all.'

I ask what the hell he means and he says he cast a powerball on the lot of them because a whole bunch of guys wearing masks had got out of the vans and had started unloading rather suspicious looking sports bags. He says he is going to check them out and get the van.

We wait in silence while Zero works on the mainframe. Even with direct access, she still seems to be struggling as I can still here her cursing over our comms. Then she gives a short cry of pain and a second later her eyes flicker open. I don't understand French so it takes a minute before she calms down and tell us what happened. She had found the files but they were encrypted. As she was trying to hack them she got jumped by some serious IC that shredded her icon. She rubs her temples as she explains, trying to soothe her feedback headache.

I wake up one of the deckers with some smelling salts in my medkit. Mages react badly to stim, so kits usually have something like this just in case. I jam the Colt's suppressor into her face and demand the passcodes, telling her I will shoot her if she doesn't cooperate. She goes pale and mumbles, 'Cuddly Bunny'.

My eyes go wide at that but Zero tries it and it works. She now has legit access to the system. She bats her eyes at me and asks, "And does she have ze decryption key for ze protected files?"

The woman pales even more when I ask that claiming that only some guy called Ehran has the codes for those files. The name rings a bell. Some elf chief I think. Zero curses about having to do it the hard way, while I put the decker back to sleep.

We let the padre know we have the codes as we head back up the stairs. He tells us he is on his way to the van and will be there asap. I am still leading and as I turn the corner onto the top floor I almost run straight into a troll coming down.

I open up almost without thinking and the burst takes him in the chest. He's a big fella but is not wearing any armor. The APDS rounds rip right through him but must have hit something vital as he tumbles down the stairs almost landing on top of me. There is another troll behind him, this one bringing up a shotgun.

"Drop it," I shriek but he ignores my demand. Enhanced reflexes kick in and the Cobra swings up, the smartlink tracking towards him. I squeeze of a burst but the recoil kicks the gun left and the rounds impact harmlessly in the concrete bannister.

There is a boom and I am lifted off my feet. My long coat and plastic bones absorb much of the impact but it still hurts like hell. The force slams me into the wall behind me and I see stars as my head hits the concrete.

Finlay and Zero open up on the troll, giving me a second to roll out of his line of fire. I gasp for breath and taste blood in my mouth as I get back to my feet.

"Cover me," commands Finlay as he bounds up the stairs, his magic spear extending to it's full length as he goes. He thrusts once, twice at the troll who tries to block with his shotgun, but the spear strikes true both times and the troll falls back.

I am thinking we might make when Finlay stumbles, swinging his spear widely around him and starts yelling gibberish. "Padre, I think they got a mage. Get here now" I cry as I feel a breeze of air past my cheek. There is a shimmer in the air around Zero and she cries out as something invisible lifts her off her feet and tumbles her upside down.

Another loud report and Finlay tumbles to the ground unmoving in a tangle of limbs.

The spirit pauses for a second, letting Zero drop unconscious from its grasp. Finlay is too heavy for me to lift but maybe I can still get her out. I grap at her arm while unloading a burst into the spirit. It has no affect but seems to get the spirit's attention. Before I can react, it is on me. I try to fight but it is squeezing the air out of my injured lungs. I scream.

As it all goes dark, my last thought is that this Ehran guy is supposed to be a powerful mage.