Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. -Matthew, 7:7
“Looks like a Knight Errant interceptor,” Val said over her shoulder to Hammer. “They’re fast and they’re armed with enough to knock this bird down just like they said. I could try and outrun them, maybe lose them, but it won’t be easy.” “Let me talk to them,” Lanier said. Hammer turned toward him and raised a bushy eyebrow. “I can get you past them,” Lanier told him. “I don’t want to get shot down any more than any of you. This is saving my hoop along with yours.” The ork mercenary was clearly thinking over his options and quickly decided the other ones the team had didn’t amount to much. He drew the bulky hand-cannon from the shoulder-holster beneath his left arm and leveled it casually at Lanier. With a wave of the gun, he motioned him toward the cockpit. “All right,” he said, “but no tricks. Remember, you’re not the target of this operation, so we don’t need you for anything. You breathe one wrong word to the Knights, and you’ll be a smear on the pavement.” Lanier pushed himself out of his seat and covered the space to the cockpit in a couple of strides. He pushed past the ork into the co-pilot’s position near the dark-haired rigger. Picking up the spare radio headset, he quickly slipped it on and settled the throat-mike in place as the radio crackled again. “Unidentified craft, this is your last warning. Give your identification code and flight path information or we will be forced to take action. You have ten seconds to respond.” “Knight Errant patrol beta-four-one,” Lanier said crisply into the mike, “this is a AAA alpha-priority flight, clearance code gamma-iota-four-seven-seven-two-blue. Disregard and continue on your normal patrol route. Repeat, this is a triple-A alpha-priority. Do you copy?” A long moment of silence filled the cabin of the helicopter as everyone on board held their breath, waiting for the hiss of an approaching anti-aircraft missile or the roar of the Knight Errant helicopter’s chin-mounted chain gun to send them plummeting from the sky. But no attack came. The sleek Knight Errant craft banked off above the corporate park and turned back toward the downtown area of the metroplex, winking its running lights at them. A voice crackled over the radio. “Your code is confirmed. Keep out of trouble. Out.” The transmission ended and the patrol chopper headed off into the distance. Hammer turned to Lanier, clearly impressed. “How did you pull that off?” he asked. Lanier merely shrugged as he removed the radio headset. “The Corporate Court has a series of priority codes for sanctioned intercorporate activities and emergencies to make sure everyone isn’t tripping all over everyone else. All the top-tier megacorps have an understanding that lets the Court use the codes to get things done when it needs to. Ares Macrotechnology is one of those megacorporations, and Knight Errant is an Ares subsidiary, so I just gave the KE boys a Fuchi code and told them this was out of their jurisdiction. As long as you don’t cause any more noise, they won’t come looking for you. At least, not until they figure out what really happened.” “How come you still have Fuchi codes? I heard the corp changed all the locks when you left Fuchi…”
Lanier just shrugged again. “You have your secrets, chum-mer. I have mine.” He stood up from the cockpit and quietly made his way back to his seat. Hammer’s eyes followed him the whole way, but Lanier gave no sign of what he felt or thought. Hammer turned his attention to the target of the operation, the young man who sat quietly between Lanier and the Hispanic woman, studying the shadowrunners with his strange, purple eyes. “What about you, kid?” the ork asked. “Why are you so valuable somebody wants you grabbed?” Geist spoke up first. “His aura is unlike anything I’ve seen before,” he said, almost as if thinking aloud. “There are… changes to it that are unknown to me.” “You spellworms,” Babel said with a sad shake of his head, “you think everything can be explained by your auras and your divinations. You’re so arrogant, so sure of your power.” “Magic is the true power of the Sixth World,” Geist said in a dangerous tone. “If you doubt that, you can ask the guards my spirit downed at the facility. Had you been protected by a magician of any ability, we might never have been able to get to you.” Hammer didn’t think he’d ever heard Geist angry about anything, but the mage seemed bent out of shape about this strange young man. “Your power is old, outdated,” Babel said. “There are powers in the modern world that magic cannot begin to comprehend or control.” “And you do?” Hammer said. He wanted to head this off before Geist got truly riled. He would talk to the mage later about his attitude. The young man only looked up at Hammer with his strange-colored eyes like he was looking into Hammer’s soul. Hammer had seen mages do the trick lots of times and wondered for a moment if the kid was a magicker himself. Geist hadn’t said anything about it. Though it might be possible for something like that to escape Geist’s notice, it didn’t seem likely.
“I know the Channels and the Forms,” Babel said, “and I know my destiny.” “Well, right now, kid, your destiny is wherever we frag-gin’ take you. Don’t forget that.” Hammer turned his back on his captives and looked out the windscreen of the Stallion at the lights of the sprawl spread out below them. He couldn’t wait to reach the rendezvous point and be finished with this run. He had a strange feeling about it, and it wasn’t a feeling he liked at all. They landed on the outskirts of the Rox, in an open lot left by the demolition of some old buildings to make way for new construction that never came. The Rox had been abandoned by the metro government and the corporations when they turned their attention to more important construction centered around the gleaming new East Coast Stock Exchange and its satellite buildings. Left to the cast-offs and shadowdwellers who inhabited it, the Rox was almost entirely lawless, home to tribes like the Netwalkers and an ideal place for mercenaries who technically didn’t exist to conclude their business for the evening. Val powered down the rotors of the helicopter, but kept the systems ready for a hot re-start. It might be necessary for the Hammermen to pull out in a hurry, and she wanted to be ready. Her nervous system still synched with the Stallion’s on-board computers, Val could “see” through the thermoptical and radar sensors of the bird and control the Stallion’s weapons systems with nothing more than a thought. Hopefully, it would be firepower they wouldn’t need. Hammer turned back to their three “passengers” as Sloane and Tojo hopped out of the side door of the Stallion onto the cracked and tumbled pavement of the lot, dust swirling in the backwash of the slowing rotors. “O.K., out,” he said with a wave of his Manhunter toward his captives. Lanier and Babel wasted no time in getting out of the helicopter while the shadowrunners covered them. Dr. Ferrera moved more slowly, her eyes fixed on the runners the whole time. The runners were alert for any signs of treachery, but there were none. Lanier wasn’t foolish enough to try something with all these guns trained on him and the mage present. Not in the middle of unknown territory with no sure means of escape. Better to wait and see who the runners’ employer was and what he or she wanted with Babel. Ferrera was obviously intimidated by the runners, and wouldn’t make any trouble either. As for Babel, he seemed perfectly composed and calm, almost emotionless. Lanier knew at least part of it was an act, and was impressed by the display of self-control. The shadowrunners didn’t seem to know Babel personally, but Lanier wondered if he had been expecting this extraction in some way. He certainly acted like he had no problem with being abducted yet again. One of the shadowrunners, the smaller, Asian man, nodded toward the open space between two abandoned buildings on the outskirts of the lot. Bright halogen lights flared into existence there, bathing the lot in their harsh, white glare. Hammer gestured the three of them forward with a wave of his gun. The other two runners followed close behind. The side door of the car waiting at the mouth of the clearing opened, and a dark figure emerged, obscured by the glare of the lights. He stepped forward, the headlights outlining him from behind and casting his face and features into shadow. Hammer took a step forward. “Here’s your boy,” he said with a jerk of his head toward Babel. The dark man nodded. “Yes. Good work.” His voice had a slight accent that was difficult to identify. “But I only hired you to retrieve one target, who is…” He paused as he took a more careful look at Babel’s companions. “Well, well, well,” the shadowed figure said with a tone of considerable amusement. “The infamous Mr. Miles Lanier. How very interesting.” The man raised one hand and snapped his fingers. Instantly, two other men emerged from the car. The shadowrunners tensed, but took no action. “And this must be Dr. Ferrera,” the shadowed man said with a trace of a smile in his voice. He executed a slight, formal bow. “A pleasure to meet you, doctor. Your work in neurobiology precedes you. I have had the pleasure of reading some it. Fascinating.” “Thank you,” Ferrera said in a small, confused voice. “Put the men in the car,” the shadowed man said, and the two other men moved toward Lanier and Babel, drawing slim pistols from within their suit jackets as they did so. As the two men were escorted to the car, their leader also reached into his coat to withdraw a slim plastic rod, which he held out toward Hammer. “The agreed upon payment,” he said. “With a little something extra for a job well done.” The ork took a few steps closer to reach out and take the credstick. He pulled the portable data-reader from his web-belt and slotted the stick. After checking the credit balance, Hammer’s eyes widened a bit. The bonus was obviously more than he expected. He quickly pocketed the stick and signaled the rest of the team to get back to the Stallion. It wasn’t a good idea for them to stay on the ground for too long. “A pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Johnson,” the ork said as the rotors of the Stallion began to rev up again and the Hammermen trotted back to the chopper. The man beside the sleek, corporate limousine stood and watched the shadowrunners climb in and pull the door closed as the helicopter began to rise into the night sky. “Oh no, my friend,” he said, smiling to himself. “I assure you that the pleasure is all mine.” The inside of the limousine was lushly appointed, with wide and deep seats. Lanier and Babel settled themselves in the back seat, with the two company men sitting on either side of them by the doors. They watched the helicopter take off from the field and quickly vanish into the darkness over the Rox, then the door opened and the other man climbed into the back of the car with Dr. Ferrera. One of the company men closed the door behind him, and the man rapped on the partition separating them from the front of the limo. The car smoothly pulled out of the lot and onto the road, the rear windows darkening to opacity. Lanier and Babel found themselves looking over at the man who had paid a team of shadowrunners to abduct them. He was Japanese, dressed in a dark, finely tailored suit of a corporate cut. His tie had a geometric design, and he wore no ornamentation or jewelry. His hair was cut above his collar, short enough to show the gleam of metal from the jack discreetly placed behind his left ear. Although his face was impassive, his dark eyes showed he was very pleased with himself. “Well, Michael, it is good to see you again,” he said to Babel. Although the man spoke in Japanese, Babel was surprised to discover that he understood the man perfectly, almost as surprised as he was by the man’s use of his real name. “Do you know me?” he said to the Japanese man. He looked puzzled for a moment, his brow furrowing. “Do not worry about speaking in front of Mr. Lanier, Michael,” the man replied in Japanese. “Anything he learns at this point is of no importance.” “Mister Lanier speaks Japanese just fine,” Lanier said in the same language. “So don’t think you can shut me out that way.” Ferrera, on the other hand, looked from Lanier to the other man. She, at least, did not understand any of the exchange. Japanese was hardly required for employees of Aztechnology, and Ferrera had picked up very little of the language during her time with Renraku. “I would never dream of such a thing, Lanier-san,” the man said in English. “I most certainly want you to have the opportunity to see the completion of our operation.” “You’re…” Babel said. “Then you’re Renraku.” It was more of a statement than a question. The Japanese man turned his attention back to Babel, his eyes darkening again. “Did you send me into the Rox?” Babel demanded. “Why? What’s going on? And who the frag are you?” The man didn’t reply, but instead turned toward Lanier with a dangerous, questioning look in his eyes. Lanier merely smiled and raised his hands in an elaborate shrug. “Not my doing,” he said in response to the unasked question. “He’s been like this the whole time. I stirred up memories of him working for Renraku, but it seems they are incomplete at best, since I assume he is supposed to remember who you are.” The other man nodded and turned his eyes back to Babel. “Yes, Michael, I am Takana Saigo. I am your sensei, your teacher, and your employer. You are Michael Bishop, an employee and agent of Renraku Computer Systems. Do not be concerned. You are home now, and soon we will restore you to normal and allow you to complete the mission you have carried out so well.” “You might find that harder than you think, Saigo,” Lanier said. “Simply because you failed? We have methods you might not have employed, Lanier-san. We also have the advantage of being Michael’s true employers, not traitors attempting to compromise this operation. It is clear his loyalties remain intact.” He focused his gaze on Babel for the last comment, leaving the question unasked. “I knew I had to return to Renraku…” Babel said, almost to himself. “You see? Soon we will be able to complete this operation successfully and you, Lanier, will be turned over to Renraku Security.” “I’m on the board of directors…” Saigo dismissed Lanier’s announcement with a wave of his hand. “That will not matter once your part in this has been revealed. Your reasons for attempting to interfere with this operation are unclear, although anyone could venture a very good guess. I will take great pleasure in seeing the board of directors deal with a traitor like you.” “Don’t be so sure this operation is going to come out the way you want it to, Saigo. Your agent seems to have a lot of trouble just remembering who you are. Are you so sure he got what you sent him for?” Saigo glared at Lanier for a moment, but said nothing. No one else in the car dared to speak, so the little group remained silent for the rest of the trip. When the car finally came to a stop, one of the company men opened the door, allowing Saigo to step out of the car and extend a hand to assist Dr. Ferrera. The company man followed, then Lanier and Babel, along with their other corporate escort. The car sat in an underground parking garage near a bank of elevators. Lanier and Babel were led over to them while the car drove off into the depths of the garage. From the time the trip took, Lanier assumed they were still in the Boston metroplex, most likely in the downtown area. He didn’t recognize the surroundings, but it wasn’t likely they were in Renraku’s major Boston facility. Probably some secondary installation similar to the blind Villiers had arranged for Lanier to use. Saigo instructed one of the company men to see to Dr. Ferrera’s comfort while he handled “other matters.” He bowed to the doctor and made his way over to the bank of elevators where Babel and Lanier waited with their corporate guards. The elevator, instead of ascending, took the men down below the parking garage at least several levels. The doors opened with a quiet brush of metal on metal to reveal an almost featureless corridor. Saigo led them briskly through the halls of the underground complex to a room not unlike the interrogation room they had just left behind. It was a large, open room with a high ceiling. The walls were covered with banks of sophisticated computer equipment around a diagnostic chair. Two men in white lab coats attended the sensors and other devices around the chair while technicians handled the computers under the watchful eyes of grim-faced men in Renraku security uniforms. Saigo escorted Babel toward the center of the room while the company men kept Lanier on the sidelines. Lanier looked over the facility on their way in and casually scanned the room they were in now. It was clear Renraku planned to make use of whatever information they could get from Babel as quickly as possible. The facility had all the signs of being set up as a kind of urban bunker, a command center for whatever operation Renraku had in mind for the information Babel carried. It was like a war-room, a thought that did not ease Lanier’s mind about Renraku’s plans. The two men in white coats bowed to Saigo as he approached, although neither of them was Japanese. One was slight and had a pinched face while the other was broad-chested and sported a full beard and the unusual anachronism of a pair of spectacles. They marked him as a user of magic in Lanier’s eyes. Magic wielders disdained any biological modifications or implants, even corneal surgery to correct vision defects, since it could affect their ability to use magic. “Michael, this is Doctor Lambert and Doctor Westcott. They will be helping you to remember.” Babel looked at the two men and then back at Saigo. “And what am I supposed to remember?” he asked. Saigo led Babel to the chair and gestured for him to sit down. Babel did so, although he looked as if he thought the chair might bite him. “Your real name is Michael Bishop,” Saigo was saying, “and you are an employee of Renraku Computer Systems and a graduate of MIT amp;T here in Boston. You were chosen for a special mission to infiltrate the Netwalkers tribe, to learn their technoshamanic techniques and bring the information back to us at Renraku.” “You mean I was sent to betray them?” “No,” Saigo said, “you cannot betray them, because you are not one of them. You are one of us. Renraku is your home and employer and we have been for nearly all of your life. The Netwalkers have brainwashed you to try and make you one of them. But don’t worry, we will help you. Doctors?” The two men conferred briefly and proceeded to examine Babel carefully. He sat quietly without protest as the doctors scanned and examined him, talking quietly to each other about the results. They excused themselves and went over to confer with Saigo, close enough so Lanier could make out some of what the men were saying. Dr. Lambert pointed out some items on a portable datapad he handed to Saigo as he talked. “We have concluded that the Netwalkers must have used some kind of programmable ASIST biofeedback technique to alter Bishop’s memories. If so, detecting and undoing the
process using conventional technological means will require several days of painstaking work at the very least, perhaps as long as a week.” Saigo was about to interrupt when Dr. Westcott cut him off. “However,” he said, “using magic I may be able to break through the conditioning and access the subject’s memories immediately. There is, of course, some additional risk in using such powerful mind probing spells…” Westcott let the rest of the comment dangle. “Do it,” Saigo said in a low voice. “We need the information as soon as possible, whatever the risk.”