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Runner, part 4

Posted: Wed Jul 20, 2011 8:01 pm
by Sihaya
Europort was a city teeming with life, overrun by ARO’s of all shapes and sizes if you hadn’t bothered to turn your comm off: roadsigns, ads, information panels, weather and news reports, chat invites from every other person you passed... Nothing like the virtual Europort Edgar had shown him the night before.

For Noah it was enough to get a headache. He’d slept badly and too little, and his hands were shaking with nerves. He’d stuffed them into the pockets of his coat and had cast just a teensy tiny spell to get rid of annoying passersby - unfortunately the AR objects remained unfazed.

They’d left Zurich Orbital in Ameer’s private jet a few hours ago to land just outside of Europort - no questions asked. Kouros had then driven them to within two blocks of the address Edgar had provided Noah with.

“This is going to be very easy,” Teddy had commented when they’d checked the place out and saw that it was a coffin hotel.

“He doesn’t need it,” Kouros had said, on the defensive. “He’s much more than flesh and blood.”

“It’s pathetic,” Teddy had said. “He’s thrown away everything that he really is.”

“That is a matter of opinion,” Venus had said, and the ice in her voice had put an end to the topic. Noah felt she was probably more on Kouros’ side of the argument.

He didn’t know where he stood, himself. He wondered what he would find when he opened Edgar’s coffin. The only thing he knew for sure was that the technomancer was still alive. He’d logged off after they’d linked, really logged off, which meant there was a body to go back to. But what state would he be in?

Once they’d found a hacker who hadn’t logged off in weeks, his muscles atrophied, bedsores all over his arms, legs and back. He’d had the sense to hook himself up to a liquid food supply but hadn’t taken anything else into account. He’d died within hours of returning to his body.

Please be smarter than that, Edgar...

He rounded the last corner and came up on the hotel. Edgar had given him the number and so he marched right in. The teenager behind the counter didn’t even glance up when he passed.

The hotel started to rearrange itself immediately after he punched in the number of Edgar’s coffin on the control panel, and his heart raced. What would he find? A sleek white coffin thumped to the ground in front of his feet, and he knelt down, undoing the clasps with unsteady hands. How could Edgar even get out of here on his own?

It opened and he reached in to check for a pulse, breathing, anything that might indicate the body was damaged. But Edgar’s heart beat steadily, and he was lying in liquid, not on a hard surface, and his body was covered with tiny needles connected to a device designed to keep the muscles active so they wouldn’t die. Sure, Edgar was skinny and very pale, and he probably had lousy stamina, but he was alive, and healthy, and aside from the funky colouring he looked exactly like his persona.

The moment Noah touched him he knew Venus had been wrong. She’d checked his physical, astral and digital self from head to toe and found no evidence of any mystical link he’d made with the technomancer. But touching Edgar’s skin jolted him in the same way as it had to touch him in the Matrix, but stronger, deeper. He’d forced his magic into the Matrix to make a connection with the technomancer that would last, so he’d always know him - something that shouldn’t have been possible but he’d managed anyway. He’d done this to them. There was no denying it. But I guess the Mr’s Khan don’t need to know about that.

“Log off, Frog,” Noah said. “I’m here, and you’re safe.”

Outside, in the van, Venus saw Edgar sweep the hotel with his sprites, checking it - and Noah - for anything unexpected.

“Just like we predicted,” she muttered. “Teddy, get the headjammer. Abel, make sure you’re ready to erase any astral trail the Gecko has left behind in that hotel. Kouros, are you ready to get us out of here?”

“Ready and waiting,” came the reply.

“Cherokee, are all the electronic countermeasures on the jet online? If he manages to crash us, it’s all over.”

“I’ve gone over them twice. We should be perfectly safe.”

“Good. Now we can only wait until Noah brings him outside.”

Edgar opened his eyes and saw Noah’s face before him, exactly the way he knew it.

“You came,” he croacked, voice broken from underuse.

“Of course I did,” Noah smiled. “Who could stay away from you?”

Edgar tried to say everything he wanted to at the same time and ended up coughing so hard he thought he might hack up a lung. Noah laughed, pulled him upright and held him tight.

“I have you,” he muttered. “I’m getting you out of this dreadful place.”

He removed the electrodes and lifted him out of the coffin and carried him away, soothing Edgar’s overstimulated senses by whispering sweet nonsense into his ear, about where they would go and what they’d do once Edgar was fit enough, and that they’d be together for as long as Edgar wanted...

Teddy loomed up behind him once they rounded the corner. Only 200 more meters and they would have done it. Only 100... Just a little more... The van came in sight. Teddy reached around Noah’s shoulder. Edgar lifted his head to look him in the eye, like a dear caught in the headlights.

Unfazed, Teddy pressed the headjammer against his temple. It dug itself in immediately.

Edgar screamed and wriggled and trashed until Noah was forced to let him go. He staggered backwards and tried to feel what they’d just done to him.

“A headjammer?” he spat, voice failing every two syllables, “You think a headjammer is going to stop me?”

Noah nor Teddy replied, they just looked on.

Edgar tried to log on, to call his sprites to attack their commlinks and overload them with biofeedback, tried to call the panther to kill them for this, but no one answered.

Noah hadn’t though it would hurt this much to see the light go out in the technomancer’s eyes when he realised he’d been utterly cut off from his natural environment, his home, his family and everything he knew. Their link pulled at him. His responsibility to his team pulled harder.

“Load him up,” he ordered softly.

“No, please...” Edgar begged, staggering backwards as fast as he could. “I trusted you...”

“You never know what’s what when an adept is involved,” Teddy tried to tell him, but Edgar couldn’t hear him and didn’t understand his signals. The enforcer hoisted him up and carried him to the van, and Edgar cried and screamed and trashed, but even Venus would have been able to restrain him in his current state.

Teddy dumped him on the stretcher in the back of the van and then locked the door, leaving their mark to Venus’ more tender care.

“You’ll be alright,” she told him, wiping the sweat of his brow with a soft cloth, “you’re in good hands, I promise. You’ll be well taken care of...”

“In exchange for what?” he managed. “Who do you work for?”

She bit her lip. “Zurich Orbital,” she finally said. “The Corporations Council.”

Edgar’s face showed no emotion. He was silent for long minutes. The van took off, and they’d nearly reached the jet when Edgar finally spoke again. Venus had to strain to hear him.

“I’d rather never touch the Matrix again.”

He turned his head to look her in the eye. “Please don’t do this,” he begged, tears in his eyes.

Venus thought about her brother and her family and shook her head.

“It’s no use,” she said. “We’re shadowrunners. Sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we shoot people in the face for money. It’s the way of the world, of this era. We might feel sorry for you, but we’re not going to let that stop us. It’s not very professional.”

Edgar was slightly speechless at that.

In the front of the van the conversation had taken a similar turn.

“Noah,” Abel said. “Are you sure you want to... I mean, your aura has the exact same...”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Noah said firmly. “We took this contract and we’re going to deliver. You know as well as I do that if we don’t, Theo might mysteriously have a heart attack. Something might just go wrong with life support in your apartment while Ayubu is at home. That’s the kind of life we lead. He’s a runner just like us. He was bound to know a day like this would come.”

“I bet he didn’t think it’d be quite like this...” Abel said.

“We can’t afford to go soft on this one,” Teddy said. “The pay is too good and the risks are too high. Nothing to be done about it. Think of all the lives he’s damaged, all the information he’s wrecked. He’s taken people’s lives just like we have, only a little more indirectly. You said it yourself: he’s a runner. He’s not a good guy, like we’re not the good guys. Right now it’s him or us. Next week he might be part of our team. That’s the way it goes.”

“You’re right, of course,” Abel sighed. “It’s because I’ve been away from home for so long...”

Noah and Teddy both rolled their eyes and groaned. Sure enough Abel activated his commlink.

“Baby? I miss you terribly. We’re on the way back right now. I love you, too...”

“One of these days, I’m going to break that thing. Or barf. Whichever,” Teddy said.

“I can see the jet, thank Gaia,” Noah sighed.

Teddy and Abel ran ahead to help Kouros and Cherokee with the pre-flight checks. Venus and Noah rolled Edgar’s stretcher over.

Edgar managed to grab Noah’s hand. “Why?” he asked. “I trusted you utterly from the moment we met. How is that possible? What did you do to me?”

Noah replied without looking at him. “Do you remember what happened right before you logged off in the Zurich Orbital mainframe?”

“The ghost...” Edgar whispered.

“That was me,” Noah said. “I pulled my magic into the Matrix and used it to bind us together, so that I would always know if it was you, and that you would feel that you knew me.”

“Impossible!” Edgar said.

“It nearly killed me to do it. Maybe I was just quicker than anyone else who’s ever tried. Or no one told. It’s a pretty convenient skill to have. Either way, that’s why. You were my mark and I got to you. Simple as that.”

“I don’t believe you,” Edgar whispered.

Venus looked at Noah and knew he didn’t believe it either.

They secured Edgar in the jet and Noah left for the cockpit. Venus settled in next to the technomancer.

“I hope we can be friends one day,” she confessed. “I’m so intrigued by what you can do... I’ve always wanted to know how it worked, and if...” She bit her lip, wondering if she should go on.

“If what?” Edgar asked.

“My brother... He got stuck in the ‘64 crash. I’ve always hoped that I’d find someone who might be able to help me get him back.”

Edgar looked at her, the sadness in her face, the lines belying her actual age. “It’s not going to be me,” he bit.

“Yeah, I guess,” she replied. “They’re really not so bad up there, you know. Once you... They’re very good to their own people.”

“And murder to anyone else,” Edgar replied. “All of the megacorps should be destroyed!”

“I’m not saying this world is the best it could be. But the megacorps help more people than they destroy, and as long as that’s the case, fine by me. Doing what I do keeps my brother alive and keeps my family out of poverty. That’s all that really matters. Don’t you have anyone to care about, other than this vendetta?”

“Thanks to Zurich Orbital I don’t anymore,” Edgar said. “For a moment I thought...”

Venus saw his eyes stray towards to cockpit, from where they could hear Noah and Teddy’s voices. He screwed his face up in rage and didn’t say another word. Venus just sat by him.

Titus and Ameer were already waiting for them when they docked. Cleatus and Rocko immediately flanked Edgar, grabbing his arms as if they were afraid he might fight his way to freedom.

He couldn’t have even if he’d wanted to.

Edgar just let himself be dragged away, staring blankly ahead. He wouldn’t give them what they wanted and that was that. Like a lunatic he still tried to connect to the Matrix every few seconds, hoping his power might prove to great for the headjammer to block it after all. He wasn’t supposed to be here, in the analog world, and he felt sure it would drive him insane before long. And then everything would be over.

“I knew we could count on you!” Titus said, hugging Venus for good measure. She giggled.

“The funds have been transferred into your accounts. If you’d care to check?” Ameer said, giving Titus the eye. He let go of Venus immediately and she giggled again.

“If that’s all, Herr Smith?” Abel said.

“You know I hate that,” Ameer said with a glare. “Yes, for now that’s all. Thank you for delivering so promptly. Good day.”

“Mr Khan,” Noah said, bowing with a grin.

“Tell my why we keep hiring them,” Ameer demanded of Titus.

“They’re the best, my friend,” Titus laughed, slung an arm around Ameer’s shoulders and off they were to do whatever the mightiest men in the galaxy did.

“That’s it then,” Teddy said.

“I suppose,” Venus replied.

“I didn’t get to do anything cool,” Cherokee said.

“Easy money, you git,” Kouros replied. “I’m off. See you all whenever. Preferably later rather than sooner.”

“He’s upset,” Teddy said.

“I am, too,” Venus said. “And so are you, admit it or not.”

“I’m going to go and see him. Right now.”

The enforcer ran off before Venus could tell him now might not be a great time.

“I’m going home. Don’t forget you’re all invited to dinner on Thursday,” Abel said, and jogged off.

“Ah, the wife,” said Cherokee, “maybe I should get one, too.”

“Like you ever could,” Venus snorted.

Missed the hint again! Noah thought.

“I’m off for a bath,” she said, kissed them on the cheek and went. Noah and Cherokee just raised a hand in a sloppy wave and went their separate ways.

Noah told himself he’d never think of this day again.