Closing the Gap

He’d been on Fish’s trail for over three months, following some good leads and a lot more bad ones. Several times he had him trapped, no way out. Each time he’d lost men to find only bodies, but never the one he sought.

Again Animkwan stood outside watching a building his sources said held his quarry. This time he had to be right, he’d lost too many men. Some to death and a few more to a growing lack of confidence in him.

Quicksilver had left him last week to join another runner team. He’d been his first partner and throughout their years as a team had always been there to watch his back. The split was painful but had hurt even more that he left to join Stalker and took Bill Firehand with him.

Now he prepared again to capture Fish. This time with an unseasoned team, short on magical ability. He’d even been forced to stoop low and take on a couple of green “Wanna Be’s.” His backers had long since written him off, telling him they’d put no more capital behind a bad program. Out of pride and a determination to rebuild his reputation, he’d put all of his personal NuYen into a final run at Fish. If he failed this time, all he could hope for would be a subordinate spot on another runner’s team.

Even as he turned to walk away, Animkwan gave orders to his second in command. “Keep the perimeter tight, Peace Keeper. I don’t want even a flea getting through. Bug, you and Thrasher come with me. I’ll need monitors while I make final preparations.”

Bug and his sister, fancying themselves as real street samurai, tried to swagger as they followed Animkwan into the building across the street.

Once inside, Bug and Thrasher took up defensive positions as their boss began to take items from a bag lying in the corner.

When he was finished removing things from the bag, Animkwan unrolled a soft chamois mat covered in hand sewn, brightly colored, and precisely placed figures and icons. He searched along the boundaries of body and spirit until he managed to free his senses from their physical bonds. Immediately his center of perception began to rise and expand. His astral self quickly left his two monitors behind, and rushed across the street, passing through the walls of the building his other men were guarding.

Casting his “sight” from room to room he found the man he was seeking. The outward appearance had changed some, but his aura was unmistakable, weak in magic, showing that Fish’s meager magical abilities were still undeveloped.

Having discovered his objective, Animkwan made a quick search of the rest of the building. It appeared that this time Fish had no magic backup and only three samurais.

As he willed his point of focus back into his body, he felt a minor disorientation then opened his eyes. Calling on the assistance of DOG he picked up the scraps of rune paper and put each one in a different candle pot. Each gave off a varying color of smoke as it burned. Then with the tip of his dagger against his palm he once again called on DOG and pressed the dagger deep enough to draw blood, which he allowed to drip into the fourth pot. The candle in that pot went out. Blood magic was a last resort, and dangerous, but he was desperate.

Again he closed his eyes and began to chant. This chant included the yelps and barks of his Totem. As he chanted, the fourth pot began to smoke again. When that candle finally burst into flame the Watcher came to him.

The weak and timid spirit creature was only visible to Animkwan’s astral senses. He impressed Fish’s aura into the spirit’s mind, and gave it instructions to keep him informed of Fish’s location at all times. When he was sure the Watcher had understood those simple instructions, he sent it on its way, and put out the candles out. Taking a deep breath to clear his head, he began to put everything back in his Totem bag.

Once he had gathered all his team together he gave final instructions.

“Ok chummers, this is the format. Peace Keeper, you take Ghosthand and Eversharp in through the back. I’ll take the front with Trip Wire and the Ork. Bug, I want you to take a position where you can see both corners of the left side. Thrasher do the same on the right. Everyone got comm on? Good? Bug, if either of you see anyone move that isn’t one of us, frag it WHILE you’re hollering in the comm. Ok, check your loads and move out. We’ll all go in as soon as you hear Trip Wire’s toy take out the front door.”

They moved in as quickly as possible, but he knew if Fish’s samurais were any good at all, they’d be ready for him. As he watched Trip Wire slide a piece of nitro starch in the door lock, he hoped he had Fish’s team out matched, not just outnumbered. Trip Wire placed a needle plunger in behind the nitro starch and they all got back out of the way before he set it off.

There was a loud blast and the door swung inward as its lock mechanism turned to shrapnel. Wasting no time, his part of the team crashed through the doorway to the sound of Eversharp’s valiant taking out the back door. Everyone was firing into the smoke. As soon as they were sure the room was safe they stopped long enough to let the smoke clear. On the floor was one of Fish’s samurais. He was alive and trying to get what was left of his gun hand to pick up his Warhawk. The Ork walked over to him, prodded him with his boot and said,”

“You’re a little young for retirement aren’t you chumnmer?”

The young samurai’s eyes narrowed as Mangler drew his boot knife.

“What’s the drek about retirement, frog, I ain’t no quitter.”

The Ork just smiled as he leaned down to neatly slash the samurai’s throat from behind the left ear to the top of the right shoulder. He had to leap back to keep the fountain of blood from splashing his boots.

It sounded like the team in back wasn’t doing as well as his, so Animkwan and his bunch began to work their way to the rear.

They found no operation until they got to the back door. They couldn’t believe what they saw.

Peace Keeper and his group were being held at bay by an elf samurai who looked like she was barely out of her teens. She might be young, but she certainly knew how to handle firearms. She was working her black scorpion in a patterned spray back and forth across the doorway at varying heights. It looked like an efficient pattern, using as few rounds as possible. Anyone trying to get through the door and past her would be stitched with lead in the worst areas. She was quick too. As soon as she heard Animkwan’s team, she paused just long enough to hurl a grenade their way. The pause was too long. Eversharp’s valiant burped once and elf brains began to rain from the ceiling.

There wasn’t much time to dodge the grenade so everyone flung themselves through the nearest doorway. That left Mangler with nowhere to go. Accepting the inevitable, he turned his back and threw himself flat, just as the grenade exploded. His armored jacket might have done the trick but a piece of shrapnel caught him at the back of his neck, finishing his chances to see the end of this run.

The only other person hurt was Ghost, who had a minor cut across his forearm. Fish’s team was down two, permanently. That made the odds a little bit better.

Animkwan stopped to focus on his Watcher. Assensing was easier than projection but it was also easier to mask against. This time he only needed a cursory check and contact with his watcher spirit. It was upstairs with Fish and the last of his samurai. Easy pickings. He’d thought that before and come out splatted. This time he was going to be there first hand.

He reloaded and instructed his team to do the same. Another quick check with the Watcher showed the quarry had not moved, then they were ready for the final assault. Most of the team fanned out to make sure all exits from the second floor were covered. The rest left Ghost to guard the back stairs then made their way slowly up the front. At the top of the stairs, Animkwan started to turn left into a room when he heard the “pop” of a grenade launcher. He dove into the room firing and heard yelling behind him.

The grenade had come from another room and angled down the stairs, but since Fish and the remaining samurai had been in this room, Animkwan couldn’t figure out who’d fired the launcher. He didn’t have time to speculate because both of them had taken cover behind furniture and raised their weapons. As he rolled toward an old sofa, Animkwan felt a hot piece of hell rip into his side just above his left hip. It was bad enough to make him wish he hadn’t let his Doc Wagon policy lapse. He knew he would never get out of the building under his own power, and screamed for his team to hurry.

He was bleeding bad as he fired a couple of rounds from his predator in the general direction of his opponents. He pulled himself to the far edge of the sofa, crying out from the pain in his useless legs.

Looking around the couch, he held his sights where he anticipated fire from the samurai. When the barrel of an AK97 poked up over an overturned table, Animkwan only had to shift his aim a few centimeters to nail the samurai between the eyes.

There was the briefest of screams and the assault rifle went flying as the body hit the wall behind the table and bounced back toward the floor.

He heard groans from the stair and knew that at least one of his fire team was still alive, for now. He only hoped they’d all live long enough to get medical attention.

He lifted up again, wincing as he changed position for a shot at Fish. This time the biodrek wouldn’t get away. A roomsweeper came flying over another overturned table. Following the thud as it hit the floor he heard Fish call out…

“I give up! I’m not the one you’re after!”

He’d seen the roomsweeper sailing over the table, then heard Fish stand up. He didn’t care. He’d been after this one too long to risk another trick. He was just setting his aim in preparation for another shot, when he saw a blurred movement at Fish’s throat. There was a medallion there that was quickly yanked away. In that same instant, Fish’s aura changed completely, and so did his features.

He felt the floor give as something that wasn’t there moved blurredly along the wall toward him. He tried to aim his weapon at the blur only to feel it kicked from his hand.

“I could kill you so easily now,” said the disembodied voice, “but I’d rather let your teammates do it for me.”

He felt the medallion being slipped around his neck and knew his aura and appearance were changing as his consciousness faded out.

The comm set crackled…..

“Hey, Kwan, Thrasher says she sees the wall rippling out here.”

A pause for response that doesn’t come….

“Kwan?”

Dionysus Vintage

Atlantasr