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My Milk Run Went Wrong as I Expected

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There's a common adage that gets tossed around by shadowrunners. "There's no such thing as a milk run."

That, along with, "Never cut a deal with a dragon," are the two rules that all runners live by. But if you're smarter than the average drekhead, you've got more. Rules like "Geek the mage first," or "Don't piss off your Christmas Cake fixer," are on my own, specially constructed list of 108 runner rules. As long as I follow the guidelines set in place by the mistakes of a younger, dumber Hachiman I'd be sure to live a long and uneventful life.

That's right. Older, smarter Hachiman. You must follow the lessons learned from today's mistakes.

I appended rule 3c: "Don't take milk runs from a pissed off Christmas Cake fixer," as I sprinted behind cover. Huh, would this work as an addendum to rule 1? Sure, why not. The repetition of a rule emphasizes its seriousness.

A peek over the top of this convenient car... yep, those are still bullets. I'm sure there's some corporate slave out there crying about the bullets in his car, but I'll happily accept his sacrifice in the name of keeping me alive.

Milk run, pissed off, and Christmas cake fixer are three words that should never be used together in a sentence. I'm sure we're only a couple more words away from summoning some kind of terrifying bug spirit that could destroy Japan in an instant.

I chucked a smoke grenade in the middle of some cars. As soon as it burst the smoke was peppered with bullets. Ha, idiots. As they shot the scary cloud of harmless smoke, I activated my Ruthenium Polymer Coated Cloak of Invisibility and dashed away. While Stealth Hikki is effective in social situations, this baby actually camouflages me with my surroundings, rendering me (mostly) invisible. Sadly, some of the shooters had a better pair of eyeballs than most and started to shoot my way. Happily, their aim was also poorer than most.

Now if I were a maniacal individual with plans to summon a monster spirit, I'd use a pentagram. If I put each phrase at each corner, it'd mean I needed to find two more before I could herald Japan's demise.

The alleyway was cramped and dirty. It had barely enough room for the dumpster within it, there was a mess of fire escapes above, and I'm sure that was a dead or passed out body lying in the corner. Beautiful, I could feel the tears begin to well up. I climbed up on top of the dumpster. The fire escape would still be out of reach if I just tried jumping from the dumpster, but I've had to go to the arcades once or twice for strict business purposes. I made my best attempt at the running wall jump, just barely managing to grab on the bottom rung of the fire escape. Naturally the damn universe made my life harder. The ladder loosened and was brought down to a reasonably reachable distance from the floor. I climbed up quick, attempted to pull the ladder up so that it wasn't laughably easy to follow me, and made my way up to the rooftops.

So how about dragon as a keyword? No, the real meaning behind rule 2 is that you never cut deals with any scary person. Dragons just happen to be the scariest people in the world. So if take that, we'd have the fourth component to the bug pentagram. String them up together and it'd be, "Don't cut a deal with a pissed off Christmas Cake fixer for a milk run."

In the periphery of my vision I saw a message notification. Hoping this might be critical to my survival, I read it. Good, it actually was relevant information from my team. Shame that I couldn't feel proud of them considering it was the same useless rookie team that got me in this damn mess to begin with.

Oh. Silly me, I just figured out the fifth point of the pentagram.

"Don't cut a deal with a pissed off Christmas Cake fixer to take a team for a milk run."

...

Eh. It could still use some work...

 


 

 

The acrid smell of the cigarette played only a small part in my growing irritation and apprehension. The obnoxiously loud patrons of the club. The unbearably humid atmosphere, caused by said aforementioned patrons. And in particular, the infuriating woman sitting across from me.

She has her eyes closed, a cigarette held loosely in between her fingers. If I didn't know any better I would have thought that she was deep in thought. Instead she is just simply attempting to look impressive amid the clamor of the bar.

Regardless, she is still the only woman that can help me take my first steps into becoming a shadowrunner - Hiratsuka Shizuka. A passable literature teacher employed at a Renraku High School. And also a well connected fixer in good relation with my family. Eventually she opens her eyes to look at me.

"So. You're sure you want to do this?"

A silly question. I've had many opportunities to back down, yet still I persist. I keep my aggravation out of my voice as I answer, "Of course. "

She continues to stare at me as she takes a drag out of her cigarette. Blowing it out, she nods before turning her gaze over to the one sitting next to me.

"And you. You're ready for this as well?"

I take a glance at her. As opposed to me, her fear is apparent. Shivering furiously, the untidy hair knot on the side of her head seemed almost ready to come undone. Her doe-like eyes were wide, her breath hitched. I pressed my lips tightly together to prevent myself from speaking for her. While all signs pointed to her unreadiness, I knew her well.

Yuigahama Yui. A girl who could bring anybody to ease. A capable Shinto Shaman.

My partner, and my friend.

Our eyes met and I saw her fear make way for determination. She slammed her fist into the open palm of the other and gave a bright and determined smile.

"I'm ready too!"

A moment passed as our determination was measured. Finally, after an admittedly uncomfortable minute, she put out her cigarette on the table in front of us.

"Alright then. I've got a simple job lined up. But you two are going to need to work with somebody that I choose."

"We accept those conditions. When can we begin?" It was an understandable condition, one that I had expected. While Yuigahama-san and I were capable, there were still gaps that needed to be filled.

"One step at a time alright? You didn't even ask about who your contact is or what your mission would be." She smiled as she picked up her compad.

I let out a slight huff before I was able to stop myself. "Well as you presented those questions, will you answer them?"

"Sure, I can answer my own questions. Your mission should be a simple retrieval mission." She gave a sly smile. "With who you're with I'd almost be tempted to call it a milk run for you."

"But there's no such thing as a milk run, right?" Yuigahama-san-san chimed in.

"Exactly. Your fellow runner has been doing this for a long time now. When things go wrong, listen to him. He's got a good head on his shoulders."

I nod my head.

"He's also an irredeemable loner. I'd consider it a personal favor if you could fix that annoying jackass for me."

I blink. That… that was less so.

"He's a loner, yet he's still willing to help us?" Yuigahama-san voiced the same concern that was running through my own head.

In response, Hiratsuka-san only smiled as she answered her ringing commlink.

"Hello? Who are the fine women in front of me? They'll be the ones who have your back in your next run of course... If you try to leave, you'll face something worse than a punch to the gut next time I see you... As if you know any other fixer willing to give an idiot like you a job…"

I felt a pain growing on the side of my head as I continued listening to the farce in front of me. We were to be paired with an experienced runner who would lead the team. However said runner was also a loner who didn't work with a team. Moreover, it seemed as if he was averse to working with us considering the conversation being held in front of us.

"If he's been doing this kinda thing for so long solo, it means he's really good right?" Yuigahama-san's voice sounded confident, yet her forced smile betrayed her uncertainty.

"While I don't doubt his ability to take care of himself, I fear that he wouldn't be able to manage a team."

Before Yuigahama-san could continue, Hiratsuka-san's voice caught my attention.

"Listen, give these two a fair test. If they don't pass it, you can leave and I'll let you kill yourself running solo." Hiratsuka-san went silent, as did the faint voice at the other end of her commlink. Her brow was knit slightly, frown faintly present.

A test? I was sure that any test would stretch what could be considered as fair. Regardless, now would be the time to prepare. I felt my head become abuzz with activity as my augmentations flared up.

I scanned the room, looking for the man speaking with Hiratsuka-san. A hint, something that would help clue me into what kind of test would be presented to us. He was forbidden from leaving, thus he was still present in the club. I looked at the fixer's eyes. No. They were pointed at a spot on the table, not at an incredibly irritating loner. A scan around the club wasn't helpful either, rather than finding one solitary and suspicious looking man I found far too many.

A second passed.

Physical hints were not presenting themselves. The man wanted to leave, any test that he'd give us would be given with a short time limit. He'd wish to deal with this quickly. Hiratsuka-san would shut down tests that didn't involve our capabilities as runners. There are five basic stages to a run. Meeting your Johnson, gathering information, creating a plan, executing the plan, and the fallout after. Step one was out of the question, I doubted a conversation could be considered an appropriate test. Step two was possible, he could test our ability to gather as much information as we could under a time limit. Step three was also a possibility, presenting a hypothetical situation and grading us upon what we plan. Steps four and five would take too long unless the task given was incredibly simplistic, in which case that would be to our benefit.

Another second passed.

In any case, the only action I could take at this point would be to preemptively begin gathering information. The hand holding the commlink blurred as I focused on its presence in the Matrix, it's AR overlays growing brighter in its stead. The icons of various devices flared up, demanding my attention. I made a small gesture underneath the table. Next to the commlink, the image of a snow-white paw print with ink black paw pads appeared.

And the third second passed.

"Alright, I'm putting you on speaker phone." She placed the commlink onto the table, no picture available for the contact. Out of it came out a distinctly bored male voice.

"I'm somewhere in this club. You have five minutes to find me."

I couldn't prevent the small smile forming upon my face.

"We can do it within three."

He let out a scoff and a brief, "Whatever works for you. Time starts now," before hanging up. However before the connection was terminated, I had already branded his own commlink with my icon. I immediately traced his location. Three minutes was a far more generous time limit than was necessary. I stood up quickly and strode over to his location. He was fairly tall, apparent even while he sat slouched over the table.

"It was pitifully simple, finding you. Was that truly your best attempt at testing... us?"

As I approached, I felt a growing suspicion that I underestimated the mysterious runner. In front of the slouching man was a spilled drink. His gaze unfocused. At my words he slowly turned his body in my direction, nearly rolling the glass onto the floor.

"Oooh. He-heeeeeeey there. Wash a pret-pretty woman lysh you doin' here alone?"

"...Apologies. I had mistaken you for somebody else. Excuse me." I turned to leave, yet the drunk placed his hand upon my shoulder. Before he could continue his rambling I had already gripped, removed, and twisted his wrist off of me. Yuigahama came to my aid and distracted the felled drunk as I continued to walk away.

The first mistake I made was assuming that the commlink was on him the entire time. If properly prepared, it's possible to continue a call while away from a commlink with a pair of wireless headphones and mic. The most reasonable estimate for when he planted it near that drunk was after he was told to give us a test. That occurred forty eight seconds ago. I placed a mark on the security cams, trivial to find even when they were running silent. I returned to my seat as I reviewed the footage.

Two minutes.

There were three individuals who walked past, none of them making noticeable movements to plant the commlink. While their faces were apparent, it wouldn't be possible to discern who placed the commlink from this alone. While I had access to different cameras, none of them provided a better angle. Confronting each three suspect wouldn't be feasible with the time limit I imposed on us. I had a minute and twenty-seven seconds left. A single confrontation took nearly fifty seconds.

I quickly exhaled. I can't let myself become stressed about my lack of time.

Time... he most likely called the fixer shortly after he entered the building. I rewinded back and viewed the camera facing the entrance. A heavy door that was flanked on both sides by a large bouncer. I sped through the footage. The footage within that timeframe… showed nobody coming in? Impossible! I expanded the search, yet still that damned door remained closed. The only possibility was that he entered from another entra-

One minute.

Damn! I felt my knees start to shake. Looking down, I realized I had stood up without realizing. My knuckles were white with how tightly my hands were clenched. If I had accepted the initial test I would have had enough time for this. No, focus!

Fifty seconds.

How could I locate these other entrances? Would that be a time effective method? Can I be sure that only he would have entered? Out of the corner of my eye I saw Yuigahama return, her brow furrowed. No, irrelevant. I had to focus on gathering more information.

Forty seconds.

I tasted iron. Irrelevant.

A look through recent orders? Useless.

Pressure on my shoulder. Irrelevant.

His commlink? No, from how easily I placed a mark on it it had to be a burner commlink. His real one could be with him now, but it'd be running silent. It was also likely that there are many commlinks running silent here already. If he made an order using the fake SIN being broadcast by his burner. No, that assumed he made an order. I can't waste my time with assump-

I blinked. Suddenly, curiously, I found myself looking at the wall. After the quarter second it took for me to register the appearance of the wall, I felt a sharp pain on my cheek. A quarter second after that I realized that Yuigahama had slapped me. I turned my head back to her as I began to hear her yelling at me.

"-eey! Helloooooooo?! Liste- oh good you're responding again. Breath alright!? You're overthinking things again."

Thirty seconds.

Analysis paralysis. The mistake of over-analysing to the point of inaction.

I let out the breath I'd been holding and smiled at her. I wouldn't be able to definitively identify the man, but I could narrow down the number of possibilities.

There were three facts:

1. Nobody was seen going through the front door.

2. The call between him and Hiratsuka-san occurred four minutes and thirteen seconds ago.

3. He is in the club.

Two assumptions I've made are:

1. He called shortly after he entered the building.

2. He is one of the three who brushed past the drunk.

If I could identify at least one of those individuals were present before the call occurred, then that would eliminate them as a possibility. I turned back the footage to a time before the call occurred. Earlier I was able to get a decent look at each of the three who brushed past the drunk. I only had time to find one, but that would be sufficient to increase my chances from 33% to 50%.

Fifteen seconds.

As the footage faded away, I looked towards Yuigahama-san. "Come with me, we have somebody to meet face-to-face." This was it, sink or swim. My opportunity determined by a coin flip.

With each step I took, I felt both heavy and light. My mind felt thick in fog and yet also startlingly clear. Oxymorons upon oxymorons. I was the daughter of a Renraku sponsored Diet member, an elite of society. I was an aspiring shadowrunner, an outsider apart from society.

I shook my head, now wasn't the time to wax poetic about who I was. We approached a man who was slightly taller than I. Nursing a drink in his hand, he barely turned his head to look at me with impassive eyes.

He was young, perhaps the same age as Yuigahama-san and I. His black hair was long and unruly, a lock twisting its way up into the air from the center. The ends of his hair turned slightly upwards as well, fighting against gravity. His clothes were unassuming, a black coat layered atop a white buttoned up shirt. His pants were a matching black, well kept yet well worn. Like his hair, his clothes were slightly disheveled. They framed a lean body, muscled yet not egregiously so. He would have blended into any crowd in Japan, passed beneath the notice of any casual watcher. Yet if one were to look closer, look into those narrowed eyes…

I felt a chill crawl up my spine. Every small detail of me was being picked apart by that gaze, past my projected image. I was sure of it. This was him.

With one final step, I stood in front of him.

Chapter Text

Yuigahama

Yukinon and the guy we were looking for were staring each other down, neither of them saying a thing.



They’re still just staring at each other. Like, they were totally having a moment. Should I say something?



Ok, this is getting uncomfortable! I cleared my throat, breaking their staring match. The guy turned his head towards me as if just realizing I was also here. Uwah. That look he was sending me is really giving me the creeps. I can’t let myself get into my own staring match!

“So, uh. Seems like we passed your test huh!” I puffed out my chest and sent my best smile at him. He didn’t seem impressed though, he just raised his eyebrow and took a sip out of his drink.

“Hmm? What are you talking about?”

“The test you gave us. We had to find you in three minutes and we passed it.”

“You’ve got the wrong person, so scram.”

Eh? That was a horrible lie. I looked at Yukinon. The way she was looking at him… yep definitely unimpressed.

“You know we can tell that you have the same voice right?”

He let out a harsh tch before downing the rest of his drink. “Fine, congratulations. You passed.” He stood up, towering over me. “Let’s just get this over with already.” He strode past us without even giving us a second look.

We walked back to a grinning Hiratsuka-sensei. At least she looked happy with this, Mr. Creepy Eyes (who will be called that until he gives us his name already!) angrily huffed before taking his own seat at the end of the table, glaring at the rest of us.

Hiratsuka-sensei was the first to speak. “Now then, let’s celebrate!”

“Oi. How about you tell me who these brats are and why I have to babysit them.” Hiratsuka-sensei sent him the same look she used to give unruly students, the one that made even the bravest student sweat in fear. To his credit, Mr. Creepy Eyes only paled a bit at it, but I wished he’d be a bit more scared for his rude tone.

Hiratsuka-sensei looked at Yukinon and I. “Tch, fine. Alright girls, this creepy punk...” she jabbed her thumb at him, “...is called Eight. Short for Eight Legs. He’s a spider on the wall, he hides in the corner of a room and he’s creepy as shit to look at. He’ll be your team’s infiltrator and leader.”

Eight Legs rolled his eyes. “Yo. Pleasure to meet you.”

“Yuigahama Yui. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Stand up, hands on thighs, bow at a 30° angle.

“...”

Hmm? Did I do something wr- “Eh! I mean- no wait just- ah! Please pretend you didn’t hear that!” I flayed my hands wildly in front of him to distract him, but it was too late. Damn you school and your etiquette lessons! I’ll never give a polite introduction myself again! Ahhh, those looks of disdain from Eight Legs, Hiratsuka-sensei, and Yukinon really hurt… wait Yukinon too!? Covering my face wasn’t enough to block the damage from those looks.

Oooohh. If only those etiquette lessons taught me a spell to make people forget my dumb mistakes.

“Do you have a street name?” Eight Leg drawled out his words slowly and painfully. They burned so much that my face practically caught fire. I shook my head. I mean, Yukinon and I kinda talked about it, but like, it’s weird choosing your own name like that! And also, I hear that normally you get your street name based on something you’ve done and I haven’t really done anything either so it’s like, double weird! And, not that I ever told Yukinon, I thought the one she picked for me wasn’t that g-

“Then it’ll be Peach.”

Huh!? Why Peach!?

“Your hair color.”

I could figure that you jerk!

Though, I guess I accidentally shouted that out loud. Calm down. Breath in, count to ten, smile… wait, hold on I can’t let a name like that stick! “Can I veto that!? I can veto that right!?” I looked at Hiratsuka-sensei, but she was too busy smoking to care. Boo, jerk. I looked towards Yukinon instead.

“Is there a problem, Peach-san?”

“Not you too!” I watched in horror as she daintily sipped her drink. Yukinon how could you do this to me.. And when did you get a drink anyways?

“Alright. And who are you then, princess?”

Yukinon’s eyes narrowed slightly at Eight Legs for his last comment. She gently set her cup down and answered, “White Cat. I’ll be handling anything pertaining to the Matrix.” Uwaah. White Cat. If I’m honest, I think that it’s also a really bad name, but it was honestly the best we could come up with. We chose it because it sounds sorta kinda close to a White Hat hacker. Yukinon’s love for cats also definitely played a part in her choosing it. Still, I was sure Eight Legs wou-

“Good. Now that that’s out of th-”

“You’re fine with it!?” Oops, another outburst. Heh, I really should stop doing that.

“-e way, what was the job that you used as bait to bring me here, Hiratsuka-san?” Eight Legs finished what he was saying without missing a beat. If I had to guess, he just wanted to get out of here quickly. I’m definitely sure he was laughing inside at our names.

“You can find your first Johnson at The Secret Slice of Life. It’s a piece of crap restaurant. Tell them you’re getting an order of sun-kissed soy salmon with no sides.”


White Cat


The moon’s light cast its light on the tops of the building, clawing its way into the dense urban jungle. The streets were dark, barely illuminated by the occasional light post. The windows of most buildings were boarded with planks of wood, the few that weren’t were shattered, Shards of glass littered the floor, reflecting the flickering light of fires of garbage fires. The sound of it crunching underfoot echoed loudly, drawing the wandering eyes of the few who drifted by us.

Eight-san had informed us that we would rendezvous at The Secret Slice of Life, stating that he had to, “do a couple things first.” Yuigahama-san, or rather Peach-san, took that time to prepare our equipment.

The first piece was most important, our System Identification Number. SIN for short. As Peach-san and I were raised in a corporate environment, we were both issued a corporate SIN at birth. If we were to broadcast it from our commlinks, every movement and action we take would be recorded and put into our life’s record. Before we left for Club Service, we left behind a pair of commlinks broadcasting our real SINs at my home. The SINs we were currently broadcasting were well-made fakes.

Second were disguises. Smart Wigs allowed us to change the style and color of our hair as well as a pair of colored contacts. Peach-san changed her hair into an unassuming bob colored brown (perhaps her way to spite Eight-san?) and insisted that I use a design with long blonde hair with twin drills at the front.

For our clothes, I wore a simple dark grey sweater, sleeves rolled up, with a black vest worn over top. Underneath it all was an armored vest. On my right wrist rested the tool of my trade, a cyberdeck. While I possessed better, the midline Microtrónica Azteca 300 would suffice. The better models would only cause an uncomfortable level of attention. Peach-san wore a baggy armored jacket over a dark grey shirt. She had a hooded scarf wrapped around her head with a tomoe crest pinned to its front. Her magical regents were stored in a billowing roll of cloth she insisted were pants held up by a large belt.

As we arrived, I allowed myself to let out a low hum of distaste at the dreary building in front us. Its paint was chipped, revealing the underlying, yellow-stained white walling. A flickering neon sign showed that the business was open., letting out a buzz reminiscent to that of a hovering fly. No AR popouts hovered around its entrance either.

“About time.”

I suppressed my surprise while Peach-san let out a shriek yelp. Turning around we found Eight-san against a wall shrouded in shadow, the lights of his eyes seemed to pierce through the darkness.

“Your name is well-deserved, Eight-san. You perfectly emulate a disgusting spider hiding in the dark.” I brushed my hair behind my ear. “As for our delay, it could have been avoided if you had given us some means of contacting you.”

GIving me a noncommittal shrug, he once again abandoned us and walked into the building alone. Would it be poor form to forcibly retrieve his commlink information? But if he attempts to leave without giving it to us again- no. That’ll be unnecessary. Shaking my head, I walked into the store.

Rather, I attempted to. The back of Eight-san was preventing our entry. I cleared my throat, prompting him to step inside. As he did, the soft light of the diner washed over us. The small interior of the diner was lit with warm red and yellow tones. Wooden tables were polished to a sparkling shean, plump seats inviting one to relax and breath in the familiar scent of tea. On the walls were beautiful renditions of historical events. At one end was the emergence of the Great Dragon Ryumyo from Mount Fuji, the moment that heralded the start of the Sixth World more than fifty years ago. At the other end was a painting of Emperor Yasuhito’s enthronement, whose reign has brought broad changes to Japan.

“Welcome to the Secret Slice of Life. Please, have a seat.” The gravelly voice of the diner’s proprietor greeted us. He stood near the back of the room wearing a black vest over a plain white dress shirt. His weathered face held a pleasant smile, offsetting the severe scar that ran across the top of his forehead, across his left eye, to the bottom of his cheek.

Eight-san recovered from his shock,“Oh, uh. Thanks. We’ll be having some sun-kissed soy salmon with no sides please.”

At his words, the man’s smile widened. “Very well sir, I’ll have your order out soon. Please, have a seat wherever you wish.” He gave us a polite bow before exiting out the back door.

The moment he left, Peach-san whispered. “Wow, I didn’t expect a place like this to be… well to be in a place like this.” She bounced around the room, examining the various paintings. Eight-san opted to sit in a table by the corner of the room, his eyes roaming about. With nothing further to do, I sat next to him.

His eyes shot straight to me as if I had slighted him somehow, though he remained silent. Still, the accusing look in his eye was quite bothersome. “Do you have something you wish to say, or are you so asocial that you’ve never had somebody sit next to you, Eight-san?”

“Tch. Drop the -san already princess. If you want to keep up your overly formal thing, call me Eight Legs instead”

I suppressed the twitch in my eye.

“Then you should refer to me as White Cat, Eight.”

“I’m surprised they don’t call you Ice Queen, White Cat.”

“It’s amazing how well your name suits you Eight. The speed at which you scurried to the corner of the room is almost alarming. Did the association begin with that or with your disgusting glare?” He grumbled quietly after that, much to my satisfaction.

“Hey, Cat! Look here! Look here!” Peach waved me over. “What’s this painting?”

Goodness. One day I’ll need to teach her to listen to her lessons.

,...

After six minutes, I finished giving my impromptu history lesson. After seven, the owner returned.

With a quiet, “Excuse me,” he caught our attention. “Your order.” With that, he gave us a bow and partially stepped into the back door. After giving a small nod, he returned to his initial position.

From behind the door stepped out a mountain of a man. Measuring at a towering height of nine feet he had to duck his entire body under the door, his broad shoulders stressing the frame of the doorway. On his head were a pair of thick horns protruding from the top his skull. He was a troll. While Japan’s policy on metahumans had changed with the ascension of the new Emperor, this was still my first meeting with one in person.

The ground quaked with each step of his black combat boots. His dark green cargo pants jangled noisily, its pockets bulging out as it strained to contain its bulky contents. A trenchcoat with spiked shoulders was worn over a tight white shirt that strained against his size. A mane of wild white hair covered the top of his head while a small pair of sunglasses hid his eyes.

Eh? At my side, Eight groaned and doubled over holding his head. He didn’t seem to be in pain when we came here. Before I was able to step on his toes to stop his pathetic display, the troll interrupted.

“Could it be you Eight!? My loyal companion, my right hand man! I should have known that you would come to me when I needed your aid the most!”

Eight slowly placed his hands on the table. The corners of his lips raised up in a horrifying facsimile of a smile, yet the tic of his eyebrow betrayed his growing irritation. He breathed out a ragged, “Y-yo…”

“Ehh? You and Eight Legs know each other, Mr. Johnson?” Peach politely asked, tilting her head to the side.

“Indeed it is so! He and I have braved numerous battles together! Through sordid tales of drama and intrigue! Were we without the other, I am sure the world would be without us!” Ah. So this is the kind of company Eight keeps. I slid my gaze back over to prompt him to begin negotiations. His eye twitched even more violently when we met gazes.

“So Mr. Johnson, wha-”

“Eight! It wounds me for you to refer to me so coldly! Please call m-”

“So Mr. Johnson,” the troll squirmed slightly at Eight’s tone, “What job do you need to get done? The faster we finish the faster we can get it done.”

“Er, yes of course! Well you see, my comrade, I re-”

“Oi. Just give us the damn details and skip the garbage already.” The polite voice he’d been using vanished in an instant, revealing the true nature of Eight as a crass and cruel individual.

“O-okay…” The infuriating, booming voice he’d been using vanished in an instant, revealing the true nature of Mr. Johnson as an easily cowed individual.

Good grief. I suppose I should be grateful for Eight’s coarse words.



Eight


History is a record of civilization’s mistakes. Those who study it think they can prevent their nation’s fall by avoiding the mistakes of the past. Based on what we know about countries like ancient Rome and the United States, we can safely say they’re wrong. No matter how many mistakes you avoid, how many patterns you recognize, every group will eventually break apart in the end by infighting, blindness, and stupidity. No matter how powerful you are, your group will fall apart. Even Great Dragons succumb to the destiny of the group. Lung and Ryumyo, if legend is to be trusted, were once mentor and mentee. Now they (and if you’re listening please don’t eat me for this) squabble over the Pacific like petty children.

If you don’t want your can of soykaf to be knocked over by your cat, simply don’t have a cat. Every knocked over can isn’t the cat’s fault, it is the cat’s nature to ruin carpets. No matter how far you put that can away from the edge, the cat will always send it to the floor. Instead, the fault lies entirely on you, the one who decided to get the cat in the first place. Now that the cat has been taken in, I’ll be stuck cleaning up after it for the rest of its life.

So basically just don’t get involved with groups in the first place, alright? Associate with them as little as possible and when you’re forced to, just do whatever needs to be done quickly and get out. Zaimokuza, if you’re understanding this lesson given to you via glare then could you please hurry the hell up!? We got a testy princess type and an airheaded airhead type! This group spells out BAD NEWS in garishly neon pink font!

“Uh. So you see, just the other day I… err when I say just the other day I mean yesterday. It was around this time actually. I think. It was pretty dark and I don’t have a watch…”

TAP TAP TAP

“Anyways, yesterday I was carrying a small little package. I don’t know what was in it either, but it was really small. But guess for you it’d be only kinda small...?”

TAP TAP TAP

“Then these gangers wearing red surrounded me. There must have been at least thirty of them! So it’s not my fault or anything, I could have handled twenty. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it was like that…”

TAP TAP TAP

“I was able to get away. Since you know, I’m here I guess. I think you probably figured that alre-”

“So you were mugged and need us to get back a hand-sized package from a bunch of red gangers?” I interrupted the rambling moron. The princess was probably going to break her finger from all that tapping.

“Erk! Um. Yeah. That’s why you’re here...” Dammit stop looking down! And stop twiddling your fingers together like you’re a shy schoolgirl! You’re a negative on the cuteness scale of 0 to Komachi, you don’t get a pass for being this annoying! Look at how annoyed the princess is. Those eyebrows are raised up like a snake about to strike, do you have a deathwish?

I let out a sigh. I was getting way too worked up about his impending death by the hands of this fake blonde.

“Alright. Do you have anything more to go on than that they wore red clothes?”

“N-no…”

“Do you remember where it happened?”

“Um… it was near?”

“Do you remember anything, anything, at all.”

“They used bats and pipes as weapons?”

This useless bastard.

Sensing his imminent doom, Zaimokuza cleared his throat loudly. “So payment! I am prepared to give you 5000 nuyen as pa-”

“Double it.”

“D-double!? Eight, surely as com-”

“1000 nuyen up front to pay for necessary equipment as well.”

“Bu-but… But I… Alright…” Zaimokuza said in defeat. While 5000 nuyen would be adequate payment for just me, there are two more people you have to think of as well you know? Not to mention how much of a pain in the ass this job is. Look for a package that was taken by a bunch of gangers wearing red? Do you know just how many idiot gangs there are? How many things can fall under the description of “package”? Might as well raid every single ganger hideout like a kleptomaniac RPG character. Kill ‘em all and loot the entire base!

“Great. Send the money to the fixer. When we get the package, she’ll be the one you get it back from.”

With negotiations over, I stood up and made my way to the exit. The owner of this diner should buy an AC, it’s way too stuffy in here. With the thud of the door behind me, I closed my eyes and felt the refreshing Chiba smog wash over me. The crackling of garbage fires, the distant roar of motorcycles, there’s no contest. This has to be the most relaxing place on Earth.

The jingle of a door brought me out of my reverie.

“Awfully quick to hide in the shadows again, Eight.” Great, her.

“I live in it, White Cat. You and your lackey look awfully out of place in it. Where is she, anyway?”

Her eyes narrowed. “She is not my lackey. And she’s picking up the pieces of that mess of a meet. Is that how all your negotiations turn out?”

“Not your lackey? Could have fooled me, she follows you around like a lost puppy.”

“She is a perfectly qualified individual.”

“She’s as green as they come. You have to be a special kind of idiot to freely hand over your real name.”

Her perfectly composed face betrayed nothing, yet the beautiful sound of silence signalled this round’s victory went to me.

“...I’ll concede that she occasionally has a lapse in judgement. However I assert that she is a capable individual.” Her eyes narrowed once again. “And you have not yet answered my own question. What happened in there?”

“The guy is an overdramatic moron bloated with nonsense. You have to squeeze him to get the useful stuff out of him.”

“That was less of a squeeze and more of a steamroll. Do you have a personal grievance with the client or are you just lacking in social tact?”

“Alright. Listen to me you condescending little bi-”

The jingle of the bell once again interrupted me.

“Ok! I got some inf- woah hey get away from her!” Her lackey pushed her way in between us and shoved me back. She kept her hand raised and aimed at me. “The hell do you think you’re doing, Eight Legs!?” She snarled out.

Tch. Drek like this is part of the reason why I don’t work with teams anymore. The weak cling to the strong who deign to give them their acknowledgement. To lackeys, their lords become their gods. Those who don’t file in are branded as heretics, scum who deserve nothing more than scorn and ire.

“Me? Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dare touch your princess. You can quit your barking.”

“As if! You were getting right in her face! Try something like that again and I’ll-”

“Enough.” I felt a chill run through my body. The imperious voice of White Cat cut through the air, commanding us to stand down. Peach looked back, no doubt sending her a look that said Ehhhhh?! Are you sure you don’t want me to attack this creep, my lord? Peach finally decided to lower her hands before settling into the classic I’m-waiting-for-you-to-mess-up-so-I-can-hurt-you stance. “Peach, what was it that you were about to tell us?”

“Yeah. I was saying I got some more information from Mr. Johnson. He remembers “bloody eye” being said a bunch of times.”

“That seems to be something’s name. Be it the name of their boss, their gang, or perhaps a rival gang. Eight, do you recognize it?”

Bloody Eye huh? I felt some familiarity towards it, but I couldn’t quite place where I had heard about it.

As I raised my hand to my mouth, I noticed that my body was way too tense. Chiba smog, I beseech you to come help and relax my poor soul.

Bloody Eye. It’s definitely the name of a gang, but they’re not from around here.

Ah, that’s right.

“Bloody Eye is a gang from Tokyo. Either they grew large enough to expand to Chiba, or they were forced off their turf. My best guess is that they decided to mug Mr. Johnson to prove how tough they were.”

“Then our next step is to look for any information pertaining to this gang. If they’re new to this area, they’ll definitely have stirred up more trouble.” White Cat concluded her statement with a quick nod of her head. “We need to find where they’ve settled, what their capabilities are, and their current activities. We’ll reconvene later with any information we’ve gathered.”

Did she forget that I’m supposed to be the one leading the group? Whatever, less work for me. “Yep. Now then, I’ll be going.”

“Where do you think you’re going? You still need to give us your commlink information.”

“Part of the reason why I asked for upfront cash is so that I can buy a new burner. I’ll tell our fixer to give you its number.” Call me petty, but since she’s the one who forced these two on me it’s only fair that I also make her deal with all the things that I don’t want to.

As I began to walk away, Peach yelled out, “Oh! Hold on a sec!” She began to rummage around in the large sack she was wearing. “Is this yours?”

Rolling my eyes, I turned around. Was this going to be a juvenile joke? Here, omae. You can use this to go frag yourself. Or would it be something like-

A metalink?

“I found it near the drunk guy, stuck under his chair. I figured it was yours.” Peach tilted her head with a curious expression on her face. Stop looking so innocent after pissing me off earlier! If you’d given this back to me earlier I wouldn’t have wasted all that time looking under every chair in the bar.

I recollected my thoughts after a short beat. “Yes, that’s mine. It’ll be getting destroyed though. I recommend you two also get burners for every new run.” It’s not paranoia, it’s just being prepared for when you inevitably piss somebody off who wants to find you. Plus there’s the added benefit that, after this, you two won’t have a way to contact me again!

Except for Hiratsuka I suppose. And White Cat’s probably already hacked my real commlink and stolen my contact information.

Dammit.

I might need to take Komachi’s offer to protect my commlink.

Chapter Text

Yukinoshita

The low hum of the AC unit was the only noise in my otherwise silent apartment room. The moon was the only source of light that reached it, casting a soft light upon me as I stood by the window, gazing down at the city lights. The chill I felt was unrelated to the cool air of the AC. From here it was easy to fool oneself into thinking this city was beautiful. The colorful assortment of lights were dazzling, an assertion of Metahumanity’s power against what lies the darkness.

I let a sigh escape my lips.

That was all a lie of course. All the lights served to do was distract. There were corners the light failed to reach, shadows where criminal activities and illicit deals were done in secret. Most already knew of this, only the most horribly naive would believe otherwise. It’s why parents warned their kids not to stay out at night, why armored articles of clothing were commonplace even in Japan where guns were illegal.

I turned and walked to my chair.

Awareness and ability. Many people know of the criminals in the shadows, and most are able to take steps to counter or prevent themselves from being inconvenienced by them. The same cannot be said about the criminals that hid within the light, the structures of society that is supposed to protect the people. The rampant corruption that is within our National Diet and their backdoor deals with corporations. How is your average worker to learn of these dealings except from rumors and hearsay, and how is your average worker to change the behavior of those that control them?

That is why I’m doing this. Those that possess both are obligated to do what they can. What they must.

I thumbed the edge of my cyberdeck.

I certainly possess the awareness, but do I possess the ability? Today I had failed in finding Eight, it was by luck that I had guessed correctly. I had done nothing during the negotiations. And I had failed to create a friendly working relationship with Eight due to my words.

No, all this is simply due to my own inexperience. Faltering now due to a day of mistakes would itself be the greatest of my mistakes so far.

I activated my cyberdeck’s VR Sim module and leaned back into my chair. The feeling of cool air on my skin faded away first, followed by the blurring of my vision. As the real world faded away, the Matrix faded in.

In terms of appearance, the VR representation of my room was largely the same. There was no need to improve the already luxurious apartment. Representations of appliances such as the microwave and fridge were found in the same location as their real world analogs.

The five steps to a run. Meeting your Johnson, gathering information, creating a plan, executing the plan, and the fallout after. Now would be the time to gather information.

I hopped down from the table I was sitting upon and silently landed on the floor. I couldn’t help the slight smile that found its way onto my face, nor could I help my upright tail. After all, how else could I feel when I’ve assumed the form of a cat? In the Matrix, Yukinoshita Yukino’s persona was simply herself. White Cat’s persona was that of a beautiful, snow-white cat.

I brought up a camera program that to examine myself. I had to ensure nothing was amiss of course, any enjoyment I derived from my handiwork was secondary.

Shining blue eyes with black patches around them in the shape of a circle and star, and pure white fur that shone like the moon. Magnificent.

Err, right. Gathering information.

Now then. How to best determine Bloody Eye’s location. It is possible to examine recent news for any mention of Bloody Eye or references to their iconography; a low risk method worth it for its simplicity. Examining police reports may contain more information though would obviously entail a higher risk. It may also pay to find the story as to how they were driven out of Tokyo.

I activated an autonomous Agent program to search for and compose a list of articles about recent gang activity in this area. As that runs I’ll determine keywords for the Bloody Eye. Their leadership, iconography, and other such details.

I placed my paws in front of me and stretched. This will most likely take some time...


 

4:17 p.m.

Two minutes over the scheduled end for the class. The professor was quickly rushing through the rest of the material to the detriment of her lecture quality. While I may not have been giving her my entire attention, it is still rather unbecoming of her. How difficult can it be to be punctual with your work? And failing that, one should at the very least do their job well. To fail at both is simply unacceptable.

Perhaps I was judging her more harshly than I should due to my impatience. The search for information about Bloody Eye went far quicker than I had expected, a short 2 hours to learn about their leadership, the events that led to their arrival here, and where they could likely be located. With that finished, all I could do was wait to be contacted by Eight by way of Hiratsuka-san.

4:18 p.m.

Perhaps I should continue investigating? I could send Fly-Spy’s to scout out their location and determine the gang’s composition.

As I finished that thought, the professor finally finished her lecture. I placed my pen and notebook into my purse and stood to leave the room. Before I took my first step however, I was stopped by one of the students who sat next to me. Turning my head towards her, I sent her an inquisitive look.

“Yukinoshita-san, do you want to study together later? Today’s lecture was so tough!”

Was it? I hadn’t really listened to it. I’ll have to review this later when I have more time.

“‘I’m sorry, but I cannot. I’m preoccupied at the moment.” I turned away from her and began to leave the room.

“Yukinoshita-san, a moment please.” Or rather, I attempted to leave the room. This time it was the professor who called out to me.

“Yes, Sensei?”

She sent me an apologetic smile. By her demeanor, I could already guess that she wanted something that related to my family’s status.

“Sorry to trouble you, but I think I have some research that might interest your family’s business.”

I held up my hand in front of me.

“If you need a grant you can submit an application. I can’t do anything else for you.” Even on a regular day I would have had to refuse her. “While I understand your research is valuable, I can’t give you any form of special preference.”

Her eyes widened, a frantic look appearing on her face. Did she not expect my response? Her request was unreasonable in the fir-

Time slowed as my augmentations whirred to life. The professor was lunging forwards to me, hands outstretched. I stepped to the side and allowed her to fall onto the floor. Her prone form layed still for a moment in shock and confusion before she finally turned and looked up towards me, the frantic look still present on her face.

I waited for five seconds to give her the chance to compose herself, but she stayed silent.

“...If that is all, good luck on your research.” Perhaps this time I can finally leave the room.

“No, please listen!”

I repressed a sigh. My gaze was kept focused on the door a short distance away.

“This research is urgent, I can’t waste time waiting for red tape! If this breakthrough slips past just because of a lack of nuy-”

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

I quickly closed the door behind me, blocking the curious looks being sent my way. Goodness, this class may prove troublesome in the future. Thinking about it was already giving me a headache.

A problem for another day. Opening my contacts list I searched for Yuigahama-san and called her.

“Yahallo, Yukinon!”

“Hello, Yuigahama-san. Would you like to come over to my home today to continue your tutoring?”

“You betcha! I’ll be there as soon as I can!”

“Good, please call me again when you’re about to arr-”

A sudden force impacted me on the side, nearly knocking me down.

“GUAAH!” The one who had charged into me was sent sprawling on the floor, their books scattering on the floor.

I felt my eye twitch as I once again looked down upon somebody. He was holding his hand near the back of his head, wincing in pain. His blonde hair was short and straggly, and on his face were a pair of thick-rimmed glasses knocked askew by the impact. Ill-fitting baggy clothes did little to hide his thin frame, instead seeming to emphasize it. With a cry he began to gather his scattered books.

“Yukinon! Hey Yukinon are you ok!?”

“...Yes, I’m fine. Don’t forget to inform me when you’re about to arrive, ok? Goodbye.”

“Oh. Ok! Bye bye!”

At the sound of my voice, the boy finally realized what he had done and froze in place, slowly turning his head and looking towards my feet.

“I-I’m so sorry! Please for-forgive me. You just suddenly -uh, I mean I was reading this and uh.”

Goodness. His stuttering was worse than Yuigahama-san’s when she was trying to cover up her mistake.

“I’msosorryI’msosor- grk!” His ramblings ceased when he lifted his face back up towards me. His pleading expression morphed into one of terror, eyes widening even further and his mouth falling agape.

“I’ll just… I’ll just uh…” His eyes were darting from side to side, refusing to meet my own. “I’ll get out of your way miss, have a good day.” He stumbled his way past me as he mumbled the last of his words.

I let out an exasperated sigh. Was this day more aggravating than any other, or were my nerves just getting to me? Looking around I confirmed that there was nobody watching me. I closed my eyes and kneaded the bridge of my nose and composed myself, I must have terrified the boy by glaring at him. It was either that, or the uncomfortable notion that it was my reputation or my family’s.

When I opened my eyes I happened to spot the boy’s commlink lying on the floor. On its screen appeared to be a picture of a young woman with short white hair beaming at the camera. Above the picture was a cut-off headline that read “HER MYSTERIOUS SILENCE!!”

Evidently he was distracted by a gossip piece before he ran into me. Regardless, as much as I wish to head home I can’t just let this lie here on the floor. After picking his commlink up, I started walking in the direction he left. I had walked only a short distance before I saw him again. He must have realized that he left his commlink behind since he was virtually sprinting his way back. He would have collided with me again if I didn’t step to the side as well.

I held up his commlink and spoke before he began to ramble out more nonsense. “This is yours, I presume?”

“Y-yes! I’m sor-” I interrupted his apology by handing his commlink back to him.

“Words of gratitude are more appreciated than words of apology. In the future, avoid being distracted by your devices as you walk.” After dropping the phone into his hands, I left him.

I looked up towards the sky once I exited the building. With spring came a vibrant blue sky unmarred by clouds. The sun’s light felt warm upon my skin. A gentle breeze blew through the courtyard, carrying with it the pleasant scent of flowers. I took a deep breath.

Finally, I can head home.

“Yukino-chan~! ”

Dammit. Of course I’d have to deal with her now.


 

We sat facing each other in the limousine. I attempted to relax my body to appear natural, however I couldn’t do so completely. I could only hope that any rigidity in my posture could be waived away as simple discomfort.

“So how has my cute little sister been doing?”

Yukinoshita Haruno. Eldest daughter of the Yukinoshita family. Veritable genius. Social butterfly.

“I’ve been doing well, Nee-san. What is it that you want?”

While I wouldn’t be so dramatic as to describe her as my tormenter, dealing with her meddling was always tiresome.

“Always so cold! I’m your big sis, if there’s something on your mind, you know you could always tell me right? If you want, we could keep it between us as sisters.” Despite her warm words, that mischievous smile on her face told me otherwise. Anything I’d tell her would be reported directly to Mother.

And even if she did keep it between us, her meddling would likely prove just as troublesome.

“I’m being honest with you, there really is nothing wrong.”

“Don’t lie, Yukino-chan. You’ve been more aloof than usual, you know? Mother’s been worried about you.”

I resisted the urge to scoff.

“I don’t know how I else I can convince you. I’ve simply been attending my classes as usual.”

“Is that so~?” The corners of her lips lifted even higher. “You haven’t been doing anything strange?”

“If you’re accusing me of something, get to the point.” While there was no way for her to have found out about my recent activities, I couldn’t put the impossible out of her reach. It would be to her advantage if I allowed her to continue playing coy.

What was it that she use to support her suspicions? I’ve kept up my grades, I’m still number one in the university. I had been sure to keep up appearances and avoid any incidents, excluding today’s. However there’s no reasonable way that she could have heard about that and prepared this ride in the short time in between. I made sure to make any suspicious purchases under one of my fake SINs.

The most likely thing would be that she knows about me arriving home late at night yesterday, but it’s difficult to believe that my family would monitor me so closely. Keeping track of my SIN was understandable, but tracking me by camera...?

Seven uncomfortable seconds ticked by. She and I held our stares, refusing to budge. The friendly airs she put on had vanished and been replaced by a cold and calculating expression. She leaned to the side of her seat, nestling her chin between her fingers.

Finally the silence was broken by a quiet chuckle.

“So serious! I’m so sorry Yukino-chan, I didn’t mean to make you think I was accusing you!”

I felt myself slightly relax. While I doubted her suspicions were completely abated, suspicions were all she had. More drastic measures would be needed to preserve my secrecy. At the very least I’d need to doctor footage.

“Well well, looks like we’re here! I’ll be keeping in touch, Yukino-chan. Don’t be a stranger!”

“Of course, Nee-san. Have a good day.”

I exited the limousine and watched it as it drove away into the setting sun. It would take thirteen more minutes for the sun to finally set. The sky was now dyed a dark orange, the land awash with golden light.  Once the limousine left my line of sight I walked into the building. The cold air of the hotel’s foyer rushed past me as the doors opened.

I brushed my hair behind my ear.

The first thing that needed to be dealt with was the hotel’s security system.