Missouri, 1 Jan 2051
The flight to Missouri is quiet and I sleep most of the way. I'm still hurting from where them injuns shot me. While I can shut out the pain, it takes an effort and without any Jack to help numb the world, I can't maintain my concentration. Guess at least I'm not a mean drunk anymore, just plain mean.
We switch planes at the airport, climbing into a small twin engined propellor plane for the next leg of our journey. Guess I missed that part of the mission brief, I thought the mark was in Jefferson City. Seems we get to see the more scenic parts of the state. Yee haw!
Landing at our destination, I trail after Zero to pick up the rental. It's some unidentifiable people carrier, Shiawase maybe or more likely Ford down here in hicksville. The overly friendly clerk directs us to a Fedex box in the trunk then hangs around until Zero tips her a few yen to be on her way. I snap out my wrist blade and after a quick check for any suspicious wires or ticking, open it up. There's a sealed container, containing the fragging flower we just spent three weeks in the fragging Amazon stealing.
The note with it, which is in real flowery handwriting, instructs us to leave the flower at the mark's appartment. I am starting to take a dislike to our current employer. I feel like he has us running around on pointless errands that make not a jot of sense. I could be back in Seattle hunting down yaks to rescue the missing women, rather than running around kidnapping them. This whole deal is starting to leave a sour taste in my mouth and it ain't from drinking too much whiskey.
We pile into the car and head to one of the town's two motels. It's a dump and don't look to have too many guests although the fella running the place still fakes checking the register to see if he has any rooms available. We take a couple of rooms next to each other, me an Zero in one, Finlay and Henry Leon in the other. While Zero checks the matrix link via the trid player, I unpack and put on some more clothes. I had picked up some winter gear in the duty free at the airport, but the car kept pointing out in friendly if slighty chinese accented english that it was minus 15 outside. It sure felt like it and I ain't exactly carrying a lot of extra padding to keep out the cold.
I've just about warmed up when the boys come by and suggest we go get some food and make plans. I guess I am hungry too. The place we end up at is as simple as the food, and it's all soy or krill. I don't particularly care and the soysteak tastes close enough to beef that I ain't complaining. After eating, we decide to take a swing by the mark's appartment to scope it out.
The building is nothing special and Finlay fakes his way in using the tried and tested method of hitting all the buzzers until some fool lets him in. I stay in the car with Henry, who is supposed to be scouting in the astral although he sounds more like he's sleeping on the job.
Zero goes in with Finlay. A few minutes later Finlay's on the comm telling us that it looks like someone beat us to the mark. They found the maglock on the door fried, blood on the carpet and a hidden message scrawled on the bathroom mirror saying to contact some group called the Pretenders for help. I scan around the building but don't see anyone lurking around so we head back to the motel to do some checking.
Zero decks in and Henry tries to track our target on the astral using a silver lighter Finlay found at her house. A few hours later Henry has struck out but Zero strikes gold. Seems the Pretenders are some local wizzer biker gang that hangs out at some place called the BK Lounge. But before we head out there we are going to need some ordnance. Helm's bossy underling gave us the details of some local dealer and Zero sets up a meet.
His place is about twenty minutes out of town, but it takes us a good thirty in the snow even though the roads have been partly cleared. Some old dude answers the door at the farmstead and when he hears Zero's accents immediately starts babbling at her in French. Seems our gunrunner is a fragging schoolteacher.
He does have a pretty sweet little setup concealed under his barn though, with a fair selection of armaments that you wont find at the local hunting store. I pick up an old Manhunter with an external smartlink and silencer, a light .38 special in a concealed holster, a Defiance taser and a Colt Cobra SMG just in case things get out of hand. We then swing back into town past the local outdoors store where I pick up a nice tan duster that even has frills on the back. I am tempted to try on a stetson, seen a few people around town wearing them, but Zero gives me the look and I put it back down. Sorry Billie, you have to stay dead girl. Instead Zero picks up some makeup, hair dye and a light grey shirt, saying I need to look good to go dancing. Right, me dance. I dont think so.
We go back to the motel, picking up some food on the way and then start getting ready. Zero helps me dye my hair black again covering up the blonde roots that were coming through, then dyes her own hair white. She looks pretty hot, but then she always does. I wear my skinny black jeans with the new grey shirt and Zero surprises me with a similar outfit. Usually she has a lot more flesh on display than me, so whatever happened to her has left more marks than those on her neck.
We can see the twin searchlight on the roof of the BK Lounge long before we arrive at the parking lot. It's busy even for a week night. Guess folks round here are still celebrating the New Year. There's even a line waiting to get in and by the time we do, my teeth are chattering and I swear there's frost on my cyberarm.
Gun control at the door is non-existant and plenty of the patrons seem to be packing. The music is a mix or rock, blues and country and everyone seems to be having a good time. I nurse a non-alcoholic beer while the others try to blend in by joining the locals in line dancing. It's strangely disturbing to see a skinny black fella and a big Scottish ork dancing with underdressed cowgirls, but Henry and Finlay seem to be having a good time. Zero drags me up for one dance but even though I know the moves, I just can't get into it. I retire to our booth and brush off some local who tries to get me back on the dance floor with a girl's best defence: bad time of the month.
At the back of the saloon, people are keeping a respectable distance from a group of Pretenders. Finlay and Henry approach them and I can see plenty of people keeping an eye on developments, but can't tell if they're just interested locals or other 'interested parties'. Whatever line Finlay and Henry try doesn't seem to go down well with the Pretenders. They return to our booth and tell us that the Pretenders told them they have the girl but weren't willing to say any more than that she was safe.
While they were chatting, Zero had hacked into the local phone tower and she manages to intercept and trace a message from one of the Pretenders to an address in town. As we move to leave, Finlay notices a couple paying us just a bit too much attention and snaps a photo of them with his phone. Back in the car he shows us the picture, and as he reverses out of the parking bay I spot them coming out and heading round the side of the building.
Finlay does a slow pass as I screw the silencer onto the old Manhunter. If I can take out their tires, they won't be able to follow us. However, just as I am taking aim, I catch a glint of steel from the driver's window. We've been made. I take a shot at the driver but he's fast and draws his hand back inside.
I yell at Finlay to go, go, go and he floors it. But the ground is still slippy so he can't go too fast without losing control. Plus, there's plenty of yahoos in the car park that he trying to avoid hitting. Mr Fast doesn't seem to care and reverses out of his bay wheels spinning. He's driving and trying to shoot us at the same time. A couple of bursts of SMG fire force me to duck for cover and take out the rear window of our hire car. I return fire, but with the two cars sliding about on the snow and Mr Fast's clearly enhanced reflexes, my shots miss their mark. Zero places a couple of better aimed shots at his headlights, then Finlay fakes him out with the old fog lamp trick while Henry hits him with a spell that leaves them at a dead stop and lets us get away clean.
But plenty of people seen and heard the shooting. It's only a matter of time before it gets back to the Pretenders. Finlay pushes it as fast as he can back into town, only slowing to let a couple of police cruisers pass on their way to the bar.
The location Zero traced down turns out to be a woman's refuge, which just about makes me want to pack in this whole clusterfrag and go home. But a job is a job. I tuck away the Manhunter and draw the taser. I have no desire to shoot any 'wayward women' or even any of the Pretenders. Sure, they blew off Finlay and Henry, but they were just protecting a friend.
Zero and Henry head round back while I jimmy the lock on the front. The fingers on my left hand are going numb by the time it clicks open. Fortunately, my right hand don't suffer from the cold. We creep down the corridor. There's a trid playing in the sitting room and a couple of women sitting in there. As we get to the door, we hear footsteps coming our way and a woman's voice saying something about feeling a draft. As she rounds the corner, Finlay grabs her and I move in past him. There's a couple of ladies looking at me wide-eyed from the settee, but my main target is the Pretender half asleep in a chair across the room from me.
The heavy darts from the taser hit him square in the chest and he twitches and stops trying to wake up. A second Pretender in the back of the room shakes a woman awake and tells her to run then grunts as Henry hits him with his mojo. The woman runs out the back, where Zero and Henry are hiding, so I put another dart into the staggering Pretender and back out after Finlay.
We circle the block and find Henry and Zero with a dejected looking mark. She didn't put up a fight when she realised they had grabbed her and she don't look like she's gonna try now. We get her into the car and drive off into the night.
We swing past her apartment and drop off the flower, then spend a couple of hours circling the town while waiting for our extraction to arrive. Back at the airport, Helm's bossy assistant is there and takes us to a waiting Learjet. And we're off. Not exactly the smoothest of runs but we did make it in and out in less than twenty four hours and none of us got shot. Hell we even made it out with the gear we bought. So why do I feel so bad?
When we land in Seattle, there's a couple of suits waiting for the girl. I ask one of them if she's going to be okay. He shrugs with that none of my business attitude and tells me he's just a delivery boy. It's times like this I regret giving up the booze.