Seattle, day 1
My dreams are haunted by the image of a freckle-faced elf girl. She looks a bit like me, but not as pretty. But then, she hasn't had the plastic surgery yet. She is in a car crash. Tattooed asian men drag her from the car. She tries to get away from them, running, running, but there are too many of them. They stick wires in her head and do terrible things to her.
I wake in a sweat, my tongue thick with the taste of whiskey. Even the booze can't keep the nightmares away any more. For a moment, I don't know where I am, then remember that we are in the garage in Tacoma. I pull the sheets over my head and try to get back to sleep.
My meeting with the journalist, Kinkaid, had been a waste of time. He had looked at me like I was a crazy woman. I think maybe I am.
With no other leads to go on, I ask Zero to see what she can find on the Green Ronin. She seems a little peeved at first, asking why I don't use my 'other decker friend'. I explain again that I only used Aurora to keep the rest of the team out of trouble. She relents but I can see she is still mad at me for not going to her first. I feel bad and it's not just the hangover. Apart from Sheriff and Aurora, these are the only people in the world I feel I can trust. I don't want to lose them.
She gets back to me later in the day. A couple of hours in the matrix and a few caffeinated sugary drinks seeem to have improved her mood, while dark clouds still circle over my head. Seems our guy is a player, likes to hang out at the flash clubs like Dante's Inferno and Penumbra. Strangely, the decker community doesn't like him. Too much attitude plus his alleged ties with the yakuza. And he like blondes, preferably well-endowed ones, so at least that means I won't be the bait this time.
We don't know his schedule, so we take turns staking out the two clubs. I try to fit in, even wearing a skirt and drinking whisky sodas instead of straight shots. But my feeble attempts to converse with the few sararimen that try to hit on me fall flat and after a couple of days people just seem to ignore the crazy lady in the corner.
The padre has more luck, striking up conversations with the bar staff at Penumbra and getting to know a couple of them well enough to crack jokes and talk politics late into the night.
Zero and Finlay play a couple. Our plan is to identify the nights when the Green Ronin comes to the clubs then for the two of them to have a fight and hopefully our man will make his move on the 'dumped' Zero. When they leave we grab him and the padre uses his magic to get some answers out of him. Then I will kill him.
Seattle, day 10
Finally some luck. After hanging about the damn clubs for over a week, Finlay finally spots our man. On subsequent nights the padre and myself also make him and we can start watching him more closely to tie down his schedule and favourite spots. The fragger seems to be with a different woman every night and even when he runs into an old flame, they are still friendly to him. He's not that good looking, but definitely seems to have a way with the ladies.
Seattle, day 12
I missed a call from Kincaid last night. He wants to meet. Maybe he's changed his mind about me being crazy. We agree to meet at the coffee shop in a couple of days.
Seattle, day 14
Zero has got in contact with an old mage buddy of hers. He has a line on some Rohypnol, one of the date-rape drugs. As well as making it's victims more susceptible to suggestion, it has the nice side effect that they remember nothing of the time they are under it's influence. Maybe I won't have to kill the Green Ronin after all, although the fragger still deserves it if he's working with these scum.
I meet with Kincaid in the afternoon, with the padre providing backup. He's sitting in the cafe typing on an old fashioned laptop computer. He doesn't notice me coming in, until I slip in across from him. I offer him some of the contents of my flask and he shakes his head. I shrug and add a shot to my coffee.
I ask him why he called me back. He tells me he's done some digging and some of the info I gave him adds up. His contacts have heard rumors of these bunraku palaces, where the girls are programmed with fake personalities to become and do whatever the customer wants.
Also, he has turned up missing person's report posted with Lone Star by a Mr McCullough shortly after the girl that looks like me went missing from the hospital. He gives me a disk with the report and information on the people that could be, that are, my parents. I stare at the disk for a long moment, only looking up at him when he asks me a question. He wants to know what my stake is in this whole affair. Am I just after the money, out for revenge, or something else.
I look up at the ceiling, thinking before I reply. What do I want? He catches the eye of a waitress and orders two more coffees. I add a shot to mine and we drink for a minute in silence before I reply.
I tell him that when I started looking into my past, I had the idea that I could just pick up my old life where I had left off. But I am not that girl, not anymore. I think I would still like to meet my family, but I wonder how they would react to me. Can I go back to being Wilhemina McCullough? I doubt it. Will they accept Billie back into their family? I don't know.
What about the yakuza he asks. I tell him straight that if a few of them end up dead, I won't lose sleep over it. But that's not what I really care about. I don't particularly care if they die or go to prison. But there are seventeen other girls out there, possibly even more and possibly including the senator's daughter, that might still alive and in one of these places. Aurora and Sheriff got me out. I can't leave them behind.
He gives me a smile at that and his shoulders relax a bit. He tells me that as an investigative reporter, his job is to expose these sort of things but that he needs more information. He offers to talk to the senator about the reward for his daughter; he is still in touch with him. He also mentions a contact in the agency. I don't ask him which one, but I do tell him that I've done things that any agency wouldn't approve of. But if his agency contact can accept that, then he's just another Johnson to me and I'm willing to at least talk to him.
He tells me he'll talk to him and get back to me. I explain that he can contact me at any time, but that if I am 'working' I might not answer. He nods and shakes my hand. Call me 'Danny' he says. Billie I reply without thinking. After all, that's who I am.
Seattle, day 16
Tonight's the night. Zero has the drugs from her contact and is dressed to the nines. Finlay is also dressed up and the two head into Penumbra, with the padre following shortly after. I stay in the van. Zero is transmitting a live feed from her goggles to a screen in the back in case anything goes wrong.
Around midnight, Zero is dancing with a plain-looking asian sarariman. She pulls on his tie and grinds against him. I close one eye and look away from the video. Then Finlay is there. He looks angry but I can't hear him over the music. A troll separates the two of them and I watch him being led towards the exit. Zero has a few words with the man she was dancing with and head's to the bar and orders a drink, gulping it down.
Finaly comes back to the van and suits up in his armor. He also stashes his spear in his duster and attaches the sling of his new P90 SMG to the harness of his armor jacket. On the screen Zero watches as the Green Ronin approaches her with a drink. Soon the two are in conversation. Finlay reminds her to keep her mind on the job and she responds by looking the mark up and down. We both groan in unison.
The two of them get a lot friendlier over the next couple of hours, but with nothing much happening I drift off with my hat over my eyes. Finlay nudges me awake around 3:20 am and I can see from the monitor they are on the move.
They climb into a small sports car and after some kissing the car moves off. The kissing continues as the car drives itself into the night. The padre climbs into the back taking up Finlay's seat as the ork has moved up front to drive. We aim to intercept them before they get back to Green Ronin's appartment, but the little sports car is fast and we are struggling to catch up in the van.
As we head down I-90 towards Bellevue, disaster strikes. Zero has moved from the passenger seat and is sitting astride the decker unbuttoning his shirt. Astounded I relate what's going on to Finlay. We are almost on them, when out of nowhere a Lone Star cruiser pulls up behind us and flashes his lights. I can hear Finlay cursing as he pulls over to the hard shoulder.
The cop comes up to the driver side. Finlay opens the window halfway, trying to conceal the fact he is wearing armor and carrying weapons while the padre and I duck down out of sight in the back. It's a shakedown. The cop tells Finlay one of the van's side lights are out and when Finlay says they were fine when he last checked the bent cop smashes the driver's side light with his baton. I can hear the steering wheel groan under Finlay's grip as he works to stay calm. Zero will be pissed at the damage to the van.
Finaly pays off the cop with 100 yen in cash and they let us go with just a warning. Fraggers! Once they head off, Finlay drives like a maniac to catch up to the sport's car. We catch up just as they take the off-ramp to Bellevue. We're ready to take them at the next light when another cop car, KE this time, pulls out from behind a sign and flags us down. As the sport's car pulls away, Finlay quickly hands his weapons into the back.
One of the KE guys is grilling Finlay about what he is doing in Bellevue this time of night, while his buddy pokes around the van. Cop two asks what's in the back just as Finlay replies he is here to pick up a friend who went home with some guy who turned out to be a jerk and called him for a lift. As the padre and I prepare to take out the KE guys, they decide he's on the level and let us go. With big sighs of relief we move on. The cops follow us a couple of blocks then turn off. Finlay pushes the speed limit as much as he can but we arrive too late and Zero and Green Ronin are already in the lift on the way up to his appartment.
After what seems like forever, Zero finally gets her mind on the job and suggests that she invite her friend over for a threesome. The decker is a bit hesitant at first, claiming he is feeling the drink - or more likely the drugs, but after some more kissing and fondling, he finally agrees.
We feed her the van's current licence number and my new name. Even I have to think for a second. I switch places with Finlay and with the two boys invisible in the back, we pull up at the entrance some fifteen minutes later.
The guard just rolls his eyes when I tell him who I am coming to see and lets us in. We take the lift up and buzz his door. I'm surprised when Zero opens the door wearing just a sheet and a grin. Her cheeks are flushed and her hair messed up. Finlay and the padre nearly knock us down as they push past me and into the flat.
It's pretty swish place, even nicer than the one we had downtown. In the bedroom, the Ronin is lying on the bed, naked and half asleep. I lean over to check on him and he mumbles something and tries to kiss me. I react before I realise what I'm doing. The new arm responds fast, snapping back and smashing into his face. Lucky the safety limiters were on, but he still slumps back unconscious. Shit.