Yegor nodded his head to the techno beat of The Psyons as he waited at the red light. Arclight Plasteel had the replacement gas tank that he needed for Jonesy’s bike, but they were way the fuck on the other side of the sprawl, and in a nicer area than Yegor was used to. He was already getting the occasional dirty look from some of the humans walking the streets, which he was more than happy to give right back. Fuck ‘em, he thought. He had dealt with far worse in his life.
He stretched his arms out as far as the cramped confines of his Cooper would allow. He hated the car, but it was all he had. He had priced out some better rides, but had ultimately decided that if he was going to run the shadows, he would need to put his money in other places first. Besides, he had always wanted to build his own ride. Maybe shadowrunning would give him the funds he needed to do that.
His eyes wandered as he waited. He was used to always having to keep half an eye on the people around him. Never knew when some Humanis Policlub lunatic was gonna try to separate you from your brains. That’s why he noticed the guy.
Crossing the street was a human man in his mid-forties, with his wife and kids. Yegor had seen the guy’s face before. Holy shit – that’s the guy from Evo! The guy working on the genome mapping… the guy trying to help with goblinization! How about that!
The guy noticed his stare, and gave him a friendly smile and nod as they crossed the street. That was definitely NOT something that Yegor was used to. Most humans would look away or quicken their step if a troll in a black leather-and-plasteel jacket was staring at them, even if the troll was comically wedged into a subcompact. This guy was alright.
And a moment later, he was staggering and collapsing in pool of his own blood.
* * * * *
The raven-haired elf walked around to the side of the Spiral 115Ti and bent down low, looking at the nano-tech neon striping that Yegor had just installed along the undercarriage. Yegor just stared. Her hip-hugging denim shorts showcased her fit, round ass and perfectly toned legs as she examined his work. “Hmph. It’s alright, I guess.”
Yegor gritted his teeth. “You’re such a sweetheart, Melisandre.” No, she wasn’t. She was gorgeous, but she was a fucking cunt. At least, she was to him. Nothing new there.
She stood and walked around to the trunk, looking closely at the new, raked out bodywork and spoiler. This time as she bent, she gave him a perfect view straight down the neck of her cut-off t-shirt. Her perky tits stretched the shirt just snugly enough to keep Yegor from seeing the best parts.
He knew the work was perfect – he had spent an extra hour making sure of it – but she was looking for something to bitch about. When she couldn’t find anything, she just made a decidedly un-ladylike grunt.
“Whatever,” she said, with a toss of her wavy black hair. The gesture revealed a tattoo along her neck. It was one of the new ones, subtly animated, a vine with thorns and roses running down the length of her cream-skinned neck and over the front of her left shoulder, and probably beyond. Yegor would kill to see more of it, and knew that he never would. That was exactly why she was showing every possible angle of herself to the troll, and he knew it. See this? You’re never gonna get this.
She pulled a credstick from the pocket of her shorts, tossed it to him from a deliberate distance, and climbed into the car. Without another word, she started it up and rolled out of the garage.
Fuck! Why do I put up with that shit? He knew exactly why, though. Two reasons. The Pittsburgh sprawl wasn’t exactly teeming with choice ass. Melisandre was hotter than the tenth level of hell, and she knew it. And her father was connected, big time, and everyone else knew that. Which was why she was driving a Spiral while the rest of the sprawl was riding bikes and beaters, and why she could flaunt herself wherever she pleased without any fear of getting fucked with.
<Your work was impeccable, Yegor.> Aria materialized along the left-hand side of his field of vision.
Yegor looked over at her. Her appearance was different somehow. He couldn’t put his finger on it at first, but after a moment, he realized that rather than just her face appearing, her entire simulated form had appeared. She hadn’t appeared like that since he first loaded the OS. A heartbeat after that realization, he realized that her hairstyle had subtly changed. It was slightly wavier and slightly longer than it had been – more similar to Melisandre’s. She looked even hotter than she had before.
<Yeah, I know,> he answered, still disgruntled.
<Then why did Melisandre exhibit such displeasure?> Aria asked.
Aria didn’t ask Yegor questions often. Maybe once a day. But they never failed to throw the troll for a loop. They were never questions for which there was an easy answer. What was he supposed to tell her? That Melisandre was a racist, and that he had dealt with that sort of shit his whole life? That he desperately wanted to grab her with both hands and fuck her raw, and she knew it? That she was a spoiled bitch daughter of a monumentally powerful crime boss? That the Sixth World was fucked, and this was just one facet of it?
He sighed. <It’s complicated,> he replied.
That was the only answer he gave her.
* * * * *
The brown-skinned man carefully removed the slender diagnostic tool from Yegor’s skull. It created a bit of a tingling feeling, but no pain. The Amerindian was good.
“Done,” Injun Joe calmly declared.
Yegor’s head felt a bit weird. He had known that it would, from his past experiences having his commlink port and datajack installed. It didn’t hurt and he felt like his brain was still working normally, and those were the only two things that he gave a fuck about. Having a control rig installed had been the real point of no return in Yegor’s mind, and that line was finally behind him.
Yegor moved his neck tentatively, looking around the simple shop. There were a few tribal totems, knick-knacks and cybernetics on the shelves, but Joe was best known in the sprawl for his skill with patching bullet holes and tweaking implants. Yegor had expected the implants to be heavy, to unbalance his head in some way, but the distribution of weight in his skull felt no different. He was impressed.
“Thanks,” he said gruffly. He wasn’t usually so friendly.
Injun Joe nodded, his expression neutral. Amerindians weren’t normally a very expressive bunch, unless they were blowing the tops off of volcanoes or summoning tornados to tear down skyscrapers. This one seemed a decent sort, for a mage. His shop was even called Injun Joe’s Mojo, so he had to have a sense of humor. It was good to know one that was using his powers for good.
Or at least not doing all that other shit.
* * * * *
Yegor stared. What the fuck just happened? The blood was slowly beginning to spread from the man’s body, but he was still moving, trying to crawl out of the road. He wasn’t dead yet. His wife was screaming. His kids looked terrified and confused.
<Aria, call Lone Star.> THAT was a command Yegor never expected to give her.
There was a pause, and Aria appeared in the corner of Yegor’s vision, a concerned expression on her face. <Yegor, local communications are being actively scrambled.> Fuck.
Time seemed to slow for a moment. A battered brown GMC Bulldog pulled away from the curb nearby and squealed into the middle of the intersection. It stopped diagonally across it, blocking the flow of traffic in all directions. The two side doors of the van slid open. Two thugs with spiked hair and worn leather jackets jumped out, each with a pistol in hand. They were heading for the fallen man. Or maybe his wife and kids, Yegor couldn’t tell. Something was going down.
I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let this guy or his family get ganked. Yegor grabbed his Mossberg from the passenger seat of the Cooper, looped the lanyard over his shoulder, threw the driver’s side door open, and clambered out. <Smartgun, activate.>
The stock of the Mossberg sprang into place, the gas-vent barrel extended, the safety switched off, and the gun’s combat diagnostics appeared on the periphery of his vision. Glowing amber numbers indicated an ammo count of 20/20 and barrel temp of 22 degrees Celsius. A small text box indicated that the safety was off and the firing mode was set to semi-automatic. Red crosshairs overlaid the two thugs in the street, identifying them as armed, then a third, still behind the wheel. Then a fourth, moving in the back of the van. Shit.
Yegor screwed his face up into the most menacing scowl that he could muster. He grabbed hold of the Mossberg’s custom foregrip, seated the shock pad against his shoulder, and brought the heavy shotgun to bear. A yellow crosshair appeared in his field of view, as if projected from the shotgun like a laser sight. He had never fired the Mossberg anywhere but at the range before, but if he was lucky, the sight of a pissed-off, eight-foot-tall troll with a big-ass, heavily-modified shotgun would scare them off.
He wasn’t that lucky.