Shanna disconnected the telecom with a satisfied sigh even as the door to the apartment opened.
“Hoi,” Toby called as he flicked on the lights, “havin’ fun?”
“Got a job,” she said as she turned her chair around.
“Body guard deal for Johnson’s daughter at some prep boarding school. For three weeks minimum. That’s why I didn’t include you. Sorry, chummer.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She could hear him move through the apartment on feet that sounded like cement blocks, although they both knew that on runs or when desired, he could move nearly as quietly as a cat. It was due to Shanna’s blindness that he pretended to be so heavy-footed. “We both know I couldn’t take that much time off. So this solo?”
The elf snorted. “No fraggin’ way. Trio.”
“With?” Now he was in the kitchen, doing something with the nuker.
There was a faint rustle of Toby’s shoulder length hair against his t-shirt as he nodded. “Good wiz worm. Just wish he could learn to do more’a the offensive stuff.” They both had worked with the Chameleon shaman before, with good results. Unlike many ‘runners, the elf bounced between several teams as occasion and his need for nuyen demanded. The only complaint either had had with him was his pacifistic tendencies. “And?”
“Templer,” Shanna sighed.
“Damn. Ya got stiffed.”
‘Simon Templer’ was another freelance runner they’d worked with. Around their apartment, Shanna and Toby referred to the man as ‘that pompous asshole’ with good reason. His almost arrogant attitude and too good for trid looks infuriated Toby (along with most males of any race), while he played merry hell with Shanna’s head. Secretly, she did find herself attracted to the man’s good looks, but his attitude, along with extreme self-consciousness of her own mutilated appearance, kept that a firmly deep secret she hadn’t even told Toby. And on an even deeper, subconscious level, she found herself jealous of – even nearly hating – the man who led such an easy life until he chose to run the shadows for the adrenaline rush and still looked so damn good.
“So, when do you start?”
“Technically, eight tomorrow morning. Since the school’s about 2 hours away, we figured on starting tonight. ASAP and all that drek.”
A pause of sound. “Oh,” he said softly.
Moment of uncomfortable silence.
“You mad?” Shanna finally asked. Her hand twitched near her rigger jack, desperately wanting to plug into her drone to see what his expression was.
He stirred, lifting something – a plate? – from the table. “‘Course not,” he rumbled, sounding far too casual. “You know I never could get mad at you. Need help loading the van?”
“Yeah. Sure. Thanks.”
“Hey, what’re chummers for?”
Geeze, chuumer, you are lucky not to be here. This place is everything I hoped it wouldn’t be and more. Two slitches in charge; a blue-haired biddy whose name I can’t remember who actually, seriously faints whenever Templer is around. Then again, most – if not all – of the students do that too. It’s enough to put a devil rat off its feed the way everyone drools over him. Second slitch is Ms. Anna Ng. Yarf. Remember all those headmistress images from the trid? She makes ‘em all look understatements. Gods. If I hear her say we need proof one more time - ! Argh.
The spoiled brat we’re supposed to be protecting calls herself Kat. Favorite phrase: “You can’t do that! Do you have any idea who my father is?!” One of these times I’m gonna lose it and tell her what one of the alternatives is. As it is, she still can’t get it through her head she’s only a year younger. Corps must breed the kids to be stupid. Was I ever that... naïve?
Been spoiling the pampered little corp brat’s life since I arrived. Figured I’d move in with her, since the guys have to sleep at the security guard’s (Hahahah! Please. That twit couldn’t guard a piece of bread from an eager pigeon! Needed to tweak the security defenses in a major way. Gives me something to do while Templer flirts with – ahem. Protects – Kat) house. Caught her necking with her boyfriend. Told ‘em to keep it quiet, and she took that as an invite to leave the room. I ended up sending one of the drones after the car. Amazing what a gel round to the roof can do. Templer caught up with her at that point, so she was willing to drive back with him. Big surprise, neh?
Anyway, woke her up with a bucket of water at six (it amazes me that these people survive. She wouldn’t last a day on the streets), managed to keep from getting run over when she protested and left herself with only a few minutes anyway. Took my time to breakfast, which was waaay too corp for me. Ya know, no soy-food allowed, all the real deal, and not a nuker in sight.
Got Twitch to help me repair the break in the fence, along with the electronics to the alarms. Few promising deckers to be, but they don’t have to earn a living at it.
Ms. Ng’ll have a surprisingly sleepless night if the other students didn’t take the hint.
Ack. Have to run, the slitch is back and I have to pretend to pay attention.
Hey. More fun and games from the School of Hell. If I ever think of doing something like this again, just shoot me, please! Kat had a field hockey game today. An away game. Ugh. The team got taken by helicopter, so Templer went with Kat. Again, big surprise. Although somehow, he got ejected on the way and had to walk several miles back to the school. Poor baby ruined his suit. So we made Kat ride back with Twitch (for some reason, she doesn’t seem to like me. Maybe I should stop waking her up at six, even if it is fun), and good thing, too, cause the copter had an ‘accident’ while landing. Might be intentional, might not be. Not sure.
Twitch says there’s some major bad mojo going down by some of the girls, but Ms. Ng keeps saying how that’s a serious charge and do we have proof. If I waited for proof half the time I’m working, I’d be dead years ago.
Anyway, I took yer advice and took Kat down to the shooting range and showed her how to use the Pred. She’s pretty good. At most athletics, too, but apparently Daddy took her to shoot some skeet or something. She can handle a rifle like nobody’s business, and now I’m fairly sure I trust – sorta – her to cover my back if –
Um. That pizza’s coming back on me. I’ll get back to you when my stomach calms down and I don’t feel like I’m gonna yarf.
Kat stopped her ranting about Simon when Shanna abruptly removed the datajack from her temple, a silly smile crossing her mutilated face.
“Hey Kat?” she murmured, “Any idea where Simon is now?”
The teenager paused. Shanna never talked about Simon like that. Hell, she always called him Templer. And that smile... the elf never smiled, not like that. “Uh...”
A sudden pounding on the doors to the building reverberated throughout the rooms. Automated security kicked in and shut down the entire place. “What the frag?” Kat screeched.
Shanna jacked in, and the smile widened. “He’s here!” she chirped. She did something, and the alarms shut off, shots sounded from below, and Simon kicked in the door with the most frightening expression of pure adoration she’d ever seen – and it was directed at Shanna, who was looking at him the exact same way.
She wasn’t sure how it happened, but somehow Simon hit Shanna with a narcojet, then turned it on himself. With two unconscious bodies in her room, who had been acting really weird when they were awake, she dragged Simon into the closet and barricaded it with furniture, then wheeled Shanna into the bathroom. She decided that freaking out would be a good idea except now wasn’t a convenient time, so she grabbed the narcojet and the phone. The number she’d memorized took only a moment to punch in and was answered on the first ring.
“What?” Twitch snapped.
“Twitch!” She knew she was this side of hysterical, and nearly shrieking, but oh well. “Simon just came in here and after Shanna and they were acting really weird and this is really starting to freak me out!”
She must have managed to get the story out coherently, because Twitch told her to stay put while he got the source. While the elf didn’t have visual on his phone, she could clearly hear the shattering of wood and the shaman’s declaration of “Oh drek.”
The phone went dead.
“Oh GOD!” Shanna’s disgusted shriek of outrage echoed weirdly when she woke up. She shivered as she realized what she’d felt – thought – nearly happily done – with Simon Templer.
“Shanna?” Kat’s voice was a sliver from full-blown hysteria, weak though what the elf guessed was the closed door of the bathroom. “Are you okay? You and Simon were acting really weird.”
“I’ll... be okay.” Gah! As soon as my mind gets a ten year shower! “Where’s Templer?” She fumbled with the doorknob.
“Why?” Kat sounded suspicious.
“’Cause that is NOT normal behavior and I don’t want him jumping me.” Uh! Bad image! Get out of my head!
“He woke up and left. He’s... um, fighting.”
Huh? Shanna wheeled over to her deck and jacked into her drones. Mechanical input translated into the closest she’d ever get to sight and she relaxed.
With a thought, the drone lifted on jets of air and soared out the window, gaining altitude to get the picture. Not that she needed it. She tried her best to stare at the bizarre scene below: Twitch and Templer fighting two – girls? – who looked like they were poster children for vat grown muscle. One was ready to toss a fireball at Twitch, while the other held an oversized hypodermic needle that glowed an evil green.
Suddenly her ‘vision’ dissolved into static. The only thing showing up clearly was a single word scrolling across the screen in red; “power.”
That’s not normal! “Frag off, not interested!” she snarled in reply. It snapped back to normal. The fireball chick was slumped over Twitch, not as muscle-bound but enough to keep the slight elf pinned beneath her unconscious body. Templer had taken down the one with the needle, but suddenly paused as Twitch began to whimper and jerk like he’d touched a live wire.
What the-? Okaaay. She covered the psycho witches while Templer checked Twitch. To her surprise, he grabbed the narcojet and shot the elf. Unfortunately, that set off some reaction that left the samurai in the same condition of curled into a quivering ball. Damn. This is NOT good. Her screen fuzzed again, but quickly cleared. Again, not normal.... this is bad.
“Kat, if you see anything weird – Drek!” Movement at the edge of the drone’s screen quickly caught her attention, revealing the teenager racing towards the fallen sammie. Dammit, can’t one thing go right? Please? She disconnected from her drone, almost forgetting to set it on hover, then jacked into her chair and raced outside as fast as possible.
Even at top speeds, her wheelchair wasn’t very fast. She was too late getting to the team. The teenager had already collapsed to the ground.
Even as Kat twitched and whimpered, Shanna fumbled the narcojet from the ground to her hand. I hope I’m doing the right thing. She carefully sighted and shot the dart into the girl, who stiffened, then sighed into unconsciousness.
Drek. This is really not good, she thought as her airborne drone began to whine and spin, spewing bits and pieces at random. She quickly jacked in and set it down onto the ground, then jacked out.
In the darkness between her connection with her drones, the blindness Shanna endured when not jacked in, impossibly, a red and black mildly humanoid blob appeared in her field of vision. It waved a hand across her eyes, and in its path the world appeared, blurry and impure, without the mechanical precision of her drones. Her teammates lay on the ground, unconscious with the narcojet darts in them.
“Power,” the blob whispered to her. The elf blinked – actually gods-be-damned blinked! – and stared down at the bodies.
Come on girl, remember the psycho-witch! She forced herself to lean back and snort. “Yeah, that’s nice. I get better resolution and 360 degree vision with my machines.”
She got the massively uncomfortable feeling that the blob stared at her, before it lunged forward, leaping into her.
The world blinked, then Shanna found herself standing outside a suburban, middle-class corp house, looking in a window. Inside, a human man was beating a small child. It didn’t take massive brainpower to notice the red-haired elf girl’s resemblance to Shanna’s restored looks.
When the man finished hitting the girl and began to remove his pants, the world blinked back to the beginning of the beating. This time, before the man had time to get in more than a blow, the blob appeared behind him, grabbed his upraised arm, and began to beat him.
“Power,” it whispered again.
Shanna savored the vision for a moment, then forced a yawn. “Yup. Very nice. You beat him to death and I missed out on all the fun. Veeery smooth.” Oh yeah, it’s sure to buy that.
It studied her for a moment. The world blinked again, and she found that she’d traded places with the blob, and she was now beating her foster father. No! She tried to force herself to stop, but her fists pounded down with relentless force.
“Power,” the blob repeated.
“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not interested. Frag off!” The world froze, and she descended back into darkness.
I shut the door with a relieved sigh. The past twenty-four hours had been bad. First the encounter with that thing, then waking up to Ms. Ng’s wonderful personality, not to mention her attitude about us tranking three of her students then going unconscious on school grounds. Slitch. Kat finally grew some sort of spine, called her dad, and transferred out. We left with her to a townhouse, and spent the night waiting for Daddy dear to get home and give us the inquisition. Twitch had some sort of trouble with the house doc, but we got our nuyen and left. I’d snuck in the back way, not really wanting to be around people, especially Toby. My luck just kept going down the drecker, though.
“Shanna!” Toby yelped, without the usual warning of heavy footsteps. In seconds I was engulfed in a bear hug.
“Hey chummer, sounds like you weren’t expecting me back. Decide to get a prettier roomie?”
He snorted. “No, you said it was a three week gig. I just didn’t expect you back this early. Now I’m gonna havfta cancel the call girls. But, seriously, you know you look like drek warmed over.”
I took a deep breath and tried to push back the memories. “It was bad. I’ve been to hell and back.”
Pressure of a gentle hand that I know could crush a skull if he wanted settled on my shoulder. “Need to talk about it?”
“No!” It came out sharper than intended. “No, I don’t. I just need some time alone, if that’s ok.”
“Sure. No problem.” The pressure disappeared and I could see in my mind his hands raised defensively. “When you’re ready to be around people again, I’ll be in my room.” He thumped off to close his door, not slamming it so much as just whacking it closed. I turned my chair to the wall, shivering and running my hands over my arms, desperately needing the contact with reality. With Kat and the guys around, I had been able to concentrate on the job, live in the moment and simply locate and evaluate the threat. Now that the job was over, the memories were coming, frighteningly clear.
Opening my eyes and seeing, not cold, precise pixels but blurry, limited sight, of standing up and walking, the simple magic of moving under my own power... gods, it had been wonderful. So frighteningly amazing. I can see in the matrix and with my drones, but it’s not real. Just pixels, camera images. That had been the real thing.
And my stepfather...
I shivered at the memory, the perverted ecstatic joy that came in feeling his flesh give way, returning the countless times he beat me, raped me...
It was something I hadn’t realized I felt, a dark side I never expected to feel.
I nearly accepted. I nearly took that... thing’s offer, almost gave in.
And it’s because it kept offering me power that I refused. Power always comes with a price. I don’t care what sort of power it is, or what strings it shows attached, but there’s always at least one hidden. While power is just freedom to do something you never expected to do, and freedom is just another prison. I choose freedom from my stepfather, and sacrificed safety and comfort for friends and a family. When Toby and I got freedom from the gang it cost their lives, along with my eyes and legs. And if I had taken freedom from my chair and blindness...
I don’t know what the cost would be, but my gut tells me Toby would be included in the price.
Nothing is worth that.
Get me out of here!!!! A.K.A. Home
I want to read more! To get back to the fic archive
Send me all complaints, questions, and (well, if there are any) compliments at Norcumi@backtick.net.
Shadowrun is a Registered Trademark of FASA Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Used without permission. Any use of FASA Corporation's copyrighted material or trademarks in this file should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks.
The characters in the story belong to me or my chummers. You can't use them without permission.
Once again, apologies to the other PCs (especially Datafage) who I picked on a lot in this. Sorry guys, but Shanna is not a nice person.