Seattle, 17 December 2050
I am woken in the middle of the night by a frantic Finlay. He's got Zero cradled in his arms. She is moaning and twitching with blood leaking from her nose and eyes. Not a good sign.
Lucky for them I have been going easy on the booze lately or I would just have shot him and gone back to sleep. I roll out of bed, my reactions running faster than my brain. Finlay lays Zero on the bed and I check her out as best I can. I know how to set a broken bone and stop someone from bleeding to death but I'm no doctor.
I bark at Finlay, who is hovering nearby like a worried dog, to go get the fraggin medkit while I check Zero out as best I can. She is burning up, her heart is racing and her milky white eyes are twitching like crazy. It's almost like she's being hit by ice in the matrix but she's not logged in.
Finlay returns with the kit and I attach the probes. Elevated heart rate and temperature, EEG all over the place. I hate being right but I hate it more that the damn medkit is better at diagnosing her than I am. I follow it's instructions, doing my best to stabilise her without any real idea what's wrong.
I tell Finlay to check on her deck, but he comes back to say it is switched off. Then her temp spikes and she starts thrashing about. I pretty much order Finlay to carry her into the bathroom and put her in the bath. I grab up the medkit and follow him, turning on the cold tap as soon as he eases her into the tub.
The medkit's alarms start squealing as I reattach the probes. For the next few minutes things are touch and go as to whether she's going to make it, but then all of a sudden her brain activity drops back to normal then into REM sleep and her other stats begin to stabilise.
We haul her back out of the bath and put her back into bed. All the commotion has finally roused the padre. His breath stinks of booze and his eyes are red-rimmed but he summons his mojo and manages to heal Zero a little. I give her a sedative to keep her out and then go get a glass of Jack to settle my nerves.
For the rest of the night, Finlay and I take turns keeping an eye on her and as light finally dawns late in the morning, she opens her eyes and asks for a slushie. I think she'll make it.
Seattle, 19 December 2050
Zero is getting better. When I gave her the remote for the trid she just glared at it for a second then threw it at me. We gave her sugary drinks and her deck, mainly for our own sakes.
She gets a call from Martha who has been contacted by Zero's new friend Cleo. As a sort of test to see how serious Cleo was about getting out of the corp and into the shadows, Zero pulled some sort of matrix trickery to make it look like Cleo wanted to have elective surgery to get some secretary ware installed. Looks like she's taken the bait and wants a meet with a decker to find out who set her up. Of course, Martha immediately thought of Zero.
Against the medkit's and my advice, we haul Zero out of bed and help her into a suitably street outfit of knee-length black platform boots, a short denim skirt, a too-tight t-shirt of some rave band I have never heard of and a denim jacket that matches the skirt and is cut to conceal her Glock's shoulder holster. I am wearing jeans and boots, a heavy check shirt and duster. And my Cavalier is in it's quick-draw leg holster.
Figuring that Zero is not up for driving to the meet herself, we call Jamal. His fake Jamaican accent is as bad as my texan one, but he agrees to take us down to Redmond tourist town.
We arrive early and after settling Zero at a table, I take a quiet booth at the back, while Finlay sits up at the bar. The padre drew short straw and gets to cover the ouside from a damp alley across the way.
His grumbling turns to surprise as Cleo arrives with some muscle in tow, a red-leather clad street samurai. The sam' enters first. He could be the real thing but if he is, he's not top class. He completely overlooks Finlay at the bar, sitting amongst the other orks, and his gaze doesn't come anywhere near me in the back, focusing instead on the denim clad Zero. She does have that effect on men, though.
He heads back out and returns with Cleo. She hesitates a moment when she spots Zero, but recovers quickly. She moves over to speak with her and Zero just asks her directly if she is Mrs J. I can hear the padre sniggering over the comms at that.
Cleo quickly comes clean, but as Zero set up the whole thing, we already know the details. Nonetheless, she pushes her hard, initially asking for four thousand then letting Cleo negotiate it down to three and half before demanding half up front.
I can see Cleo's eyes widen at that. There is some negotiation, then Finlay steps over to the table to escort her to one of few armored ATMs still working in this part of town.
Her friend complains but she convinces him to stay and watch Zero. I settle back to wait for them to get back only to hear a deep, accented voice near me say 'Cavalier?'
I glance to my right. An older guy, with short-cropped graying hair, and an obvious cyberarm and eyes nods towards the table. I grunt a yeah and give him a quizzical look. He shrugs and points at his ears saying he could hear me working the cylinder and that if he could hear so could Harry. I ask him who Harry is and he tells me he's the bartender. Frag. I put my hand on the table and tell him that it has a mind of his own. He holds up both arms and says he knows all about that. I ask him how he got them, choice or accident. He says it was a stupid accident.
We chat guns to pass the time. He likes automatics, bigger clips. I say I can understand that and tell him I have a pair of Kimbers for when I need to be quiet. Nice guns he replies, asking where I got them. I shrug and just say that they came into my possession. He smiles at that. He tells me his name is Vlad and that he's from Lithuania. Could by Vory. I tell him he can call me Billie. He asks if it's short for something and I tell him it's just Billie.
Finlay and Cleo turn back up around then. Cleo hands over a credstick and then she and red-leather jacket head out. We give them a few then call Jamal to come pick us up.
Seattle, 20 December 2050
Next day it's back to Redmond for the follow-up meet. Zero spent the evening pulling together a nice little file pointing to Green Ronin as the decker who sent the message from Cleo's terminal.
Cleo seems disappointed, wanting to know why this guy was setting her up. Zero plays it cool and offers a number of realistic reasons. Then Cleo asks Zero to help get her out. Bingo. Finlay, the padre and I join them at the booth to discuss the 'extraction'. Cleo already has a cover story, so she just needs a place to chill and a new ID. We tell her we can help with that. Finlay seems uncertain, but I feel like I owe it to her. After all, when Shariff pulled me out of that Bunraku palace, he did the same for me.
The padre asks her what skills she can bring. We know she's a mage of some sort but not what. Her eyes flicker for a second going a bit wider as she scans us. I guess she's putting the old astral sight on us and wasn't expecting to find a mage and two adepts sitting next to her. Her nose twitches as she focuses on Zero, then she looks somewhat confused and disappointed.
Padre says nice try, but that no heathen witch can overcome the power of the Lord. Don't know what she tried but for a change the priest had his spell defence up. Hope he remembers that next time we are on a run. We spend the next ten minutes listening to him ranting about shamen being the devil's servants.
Then we try to dissuade her, saying that the shadows are not a nice place to be in, no matter what she has heard. Finlay even tries the 'have you ever killed someone' angle. She gulps but say she would if she had to. Guess we got ourselves a new team-member.