Seattle, 21 Jan 2051
So having saved the world again, or at least some of the grubbier parts of Seattle, it's back to tracking down Zero's psycho Russian ex-boyfriend. I head up North with Henry to meet the shaman. I'm still betting it's the one who was dancing around in his loin cloth on Council Island.
Concrete and skyscrapers slowly give way to grass and trees. We're still officially in UCAS territory, but it sure feels like Salish lands. The meet is scheduled at some real-food restaurant. The owner's an elf that doesn't look much older than me but acts like my mother. Or at least how I would expect my mother to act. Too bad I don't remember what she was like when I was a kid.
I order a soykaf and she rattles off a list of blends of real coffee. My blank stare says it all and she tells me she'll just get me a cup of the weekly special. It's good, damn good! Most of the stuff I drink comes out of a vending machine and tastes like crap. Makes me wonder what actually goes into making it.
The food smells and looks good and my stomach is rumbling by the time the shaman turns up. He's well wrapped up against the cold and I can't honestly tell if it's the same guy I saw on Council Island. It's maybe a cliche, but all these old injun dudes do kinda look the same.
Graham, as he introduces himself, then proceeds to barrage us with questions about why we want to find Maxim. I try to tell him as much as I can about how this psycho set up Zero to get raped by the CFO of Mitsuhama America and that's just the latest in a line of nastiness without giving away too too much about Zero or ourselves. But I gotta admit that it's not easy. It cuts too close to my plastic-reinforced bones. I can feel old Billie boiling up, so leave the final details to Henry.
Unfortunately, my bad memories leave me without much of an appetite and I pick at the home-cooked meal. Henry and Graham are kind enough to volunteer to finish it off for me, the greedy fraggers! We settle up and leave, handing Maxim's favourite rifle and the equivalent of five thousand nuyen in Sioux dollars to the old man. We agree to meet back at the restaurant in a week, but I give him my number just in case he finds something sooner.
Seattle, 22 Jan 2051
Next morning I'm up early. I want to catch Danny Kincaid at his favorite coffee shop. I am disguised as a corporate secretary in pencil skirt and jacket, neither of which are armored. The blouse is a power cut that buttons up to the neck and the ensemble is finished off with stockings and a pair of comfortable, low-heeled slip-on shoes. I feel like I am wearing too much makeup, although Zero insists it's not enough. I can hardly move in the skirt, needing to take fast baby steps to get anywhere quickly.
I still manage to get there in plenty of time. More like giving everyone plenty of time to see through my disguise, that is. I buy a large soykaf and find a table in the corner, pretending I'm checking my mail on my phone. I'm on my second cup and starting to wonder if he's going to show when he finally turns up. Well let's just say I stand out enough in this getup to catch his attention. Luckily, he recovers quickly and joins me at the table once he has his coffee.
We don't go in for much small talk. I check if he's heard anything about the yakuza and fill him in on the Red Mask and our current situation. He warns me off going up against a triple-A corp or even their Russian subsidiary. He also makes it clear that even if we have significant evidence against the CFO, they'll just ship him off somewhere until things quiet down. And he warns me to not even think about taking him out, unless we all have a deathwish. He does compliment me on my choice of outfit, although I suspect it is mostly because it helps me blend in, not because it actually suits me.
I return to Seaside's and more comfortable clothes and sprawl in the sofa in front of his trid. There's nothing on. I check my mail, not something I do regularly, and find a strange message there. At first glance it looks like spam, but those should be filtered out automatically. I get Zero to look at it. She does whatever it is she does and then the next thing I know she's on the phone to Dances asking what he did with her eyes. Then she is in Seaside's freezer getting out the liquid nitrogen 'sample' container. Next thing I know she's running a retinal scanner over some frozen eyeball and then cursing because the message it decoded is for Finlay. Huh?
I'm still getting to grips with the fact that one of Zero's eyeballs is in Seaside's fridge, when Finlay scoops up my phone and smashes it on the floor with the butt of his spear. He repeats the process with his own phone and Zero's. Has he gone mad, too. I'm supposed to be the crazy one. His swathe of desctruction apparently complete, he points to the burnt-out APC sitting in the garage. Only when we're all huddled inside does he explain that the message was from Albrecht and hinted that someone had hacked our phones.
I point out that he just smashed the only way Graham the wolf shaman had of contacting me and that unless Zero can recover my phone list from the remains, it also means I have no way to reach any of my other contacts. Not that I have a lot of contacts, but I don't have their numbers written down in some fragging little black book like mister fragging ork professor does.
Finlay apologises and we take a drive down to the nearest stuffer shack to pick up a couple of cheap disposable phones while Zero checks our comms. By the time we get back she's already found a couple of bugs. She has also managed to recover my phone list. I spend a few minutes transferring it to the new phone but will have to wait to send out messages to my contacts until I am in a bug free zone.
Seattle, 23 Jan 2051
I take a drive with Zero to a crummy cybercafe on the edge of the Barrens for a meet with Aurora. By meet, I mean a virtual one, so Aurora and Zero do the talking while I just handle the intros from a terminal and then watch over Zero's body while she's in the matrix. We want her to do some quiet digging into Mitsuhama, RusCyber, Mitsuhama's CFO rapist, Maxim and his family. She's up for it but wants a big bag of cash up front. As we're still flush from the flower job, Zero makes the transfer and I add another few grand for further reseach into my list of missing girls.
It's dark when we get back, although at this time of year it barely gets light with the cloud cover from all the acid rain. Finlay takes me aside when we get in asking if I would take him out for a ride in the Mustang. I'm not sure what he's up to and am still kind of pissed at him for smashing my phone, but I assume its something to do with our spies, so go along with it.
We drive a few klicks along the coast. The roads here are quiet and while you still need to watch out for the odd pothole or piece of crap on the road, I can open her up without having to worry about Lone Star or KE. Except of course Finlay isn't really interested in taking a drive. He spotted some lights from one of the abandoned buildings further down the coast and wants to take a look. I don't like leaving the car here but it's quiet enough, so it should be okay as long as we aint gone too long.
We sneak back along the road about half a click and then into an old boatyard. There's a couple of empty drydocks and a few dark buildings. The thermal imaging in my glasses picks up a slight temperature difference from one of them and we creep closer for a look. Just then, Henry's astral form materialises next to Finlay and warns us that there is a fire elemental patrolling around the building. We duck back into cover, me giving Finlay the stink-eye for not telling me Henry was on astral overwatch.
Unfortunately, Henry is still recovering from some mana backlash from our previous adventures, so he is not up to tackling the elemental. We back off and head downtown to discuss plans, only stopping back at Seaside's to switch to the van. The Mustang kind of stands out. Plus I don't have any papers for her. Hell, I don't even have a driving licence on this fake SIN.
After some discussion on what to do, we decide to act normal while at Seaside's. That will be quite a challenge for this crew. At the same time, we will keep a watch on them to see if we can find out who they are. Dances hasn't been at Seaside's much so he volunteers to play scout. He also claims he has some relevant experience from his time in the military. We'll see.
Seattle, 26 Jan 2051
Turns out Dances wasnt just talking out his ass. He spends three days hunkered down in the cab of a rusted out crane in the middle of winter keeping an eye on our watchers. To avoid compromising our comms, he sends the data to the clinic and drops a message to Zero to pick it up there.
The dudes look eastern european. You know the type, bodybuilder physiques with short-cropped blond hair and broken noses. Just hope they are Russians and not Albanian. Russians will kill you if you cross them, but the Albanians will also kill your family, your friends and your fragging dog. They make me look like a saint.
Seattle, 28 Jan 2051
Having heard nothing from Graham, we return to the restaurant. The coffee is still as good but the old injun's news isn't. He tells us that whoever owned the gun we gave him is dead and buried in a cemetary in Russia. Zero isnt going to take that news well. What's more worrying is that if Maxim is dead, why does she think it was him that set her up?