A Moon over Bourbon Street

By: Jason Cline

Lille, France

His breath burned in his lungs and the bullet wound in his side had gone from an angry hot poker to a throbbing pain in sync with his heartbeat that promised to last for eternity. He pulled up short in a shadowed doorway and tried to catch his breath. He poked his head around the corner to see if he had shaken his pursuer.

The loud pop of a suppressed handgun and a shower of plaster as the bullet pulverized the brick façade of the building just a few short centimeters above his head was all the answer he needed. Wincing in pain he launched himself off the step and towards the bridge. If he could just get across the Deule and into the United Netherlands he might make it.

As he ran he activated his adrenalin pump.

It was a risky move. While the pump was active he would be stronger and faster and he could ignore some of the pain from his wound, but as soon as his reserves of adrenalin were spent he would crash and crash hard.

But if he didn't outrun the Manus Dei cleaner on his tail he was dead anyway. As the reserve adrenalin mixed with his system and sped up his already enhanced muscles and nervous system the man shot forward in a burst of speed no unmodified human could ever hope to match.

Too bad the man hunting him had received the same modifications.

The first bullet took him in the left hip, breaking his stride and causing him to stumble so he took the second through his right kidney and out lower abdomen. The force of the second round combined with his own forward momentum brought the runner to the pavement. He tried to get up but it was too late, his adrenalin reserves were spent and the damage he had suffered that night had finally caught up with him. The runner managed to roll onto his back, at the very least he would meet his death face to face.

A tall lean figure stepped from an alleyway and walked purposefully toward the bridge. Dressed in lose fitting dark clothing the Manus Dei operative moved smoothly and confidently toward the fallen man, eyes scanning the darkened streets of Lille for any threat. He stopped a few meters from his victim, the light of a streetlamp illuminating the crucifix around his neck. The Church's assassin spoke in an even tone with an obvious Parisian lilt to his French, "Where is the girl?"

"Gone." The bloodied man responded; his French marked with a Provincial accent.

The Manus Dei operative shook his head sadly, "She was your target."

The fallen man grit his teeth through the pain and sat up slightly, supporting himself on his elbows, "She's just a child."

The operative pulled his pistol and leveled it at the fallen man, "She is an enemy of the Church, or have you forgotten? You know the punishment for betraying our vows." The Manus Dei operative took aim at his fallen brother's head when the bridge was rocked by a string of explosions.

Pandemonium erupted as the shattered remnants of the ferrocrete bridge plunged into the Deule. The two men were thrown into the air by the force of the explosions and dropped into the brown waters below.

When the operative broke the surface of the Deule he was greeted by the sounds of sirens and alarms. Terrorist acts were not uncommon this close to the border and the local constabulary would make a good show of arriving on the scene as quickly as possible to contain the threat lest they lose their contract with the city.

The assassin scanned the area looking for his prey but it was a vain attempt, no doubt the wounded man sunk to the bottom of the Deule and would soon be swept along with the current. Satisfied that his work was done the Manus Dei operative swam to shore and disappeared into the night.

Not long after the operative disappeared, two men in SCUBA suits pulled a third man from the river. Bloodied and broken but still alive the former Manus Dei operative was hauled up on shore and loaded into a nearby ambulance.

Twenty minutes later the ambulance was speeding along the highway safely beyond the United Netherlands border. A vidscreen lit up in the ambulance showing a darkened silhouette, and a highly distorted voice commanded in German, "Wake him."

A medic administered a stimulant and the former Manus Dei operative stirred on the gurney. As the battered man slowly opened his eyes the voice on the screen began to speak.

"Good morning Brother. I wasn't sure you would make it."

The wounded man attempted to rise but found his arms and legs securely fastened to the gurney.

"The restraints are merely a precaution I assure you, meant to insure you do not further injure yourself."

"What do you want?" the battered man replied in German.

"To save you." The mystery man replied. "You must have known that turning against the Manus Dei was a death sentence."

The man said nothing but nodded slightly.

"I can offer you a new life; in exchange you will work for me."

The former Brother pulled lightly against his bindings, "Doesn't look like I have much of a choice."

"Of course you have a choice," the distorted voice continued. "Say the word and my men will drop you off at the nearest clinic and disappear without another word. But how long do you think you would last? The Manus Dei might assume that you died in the explosion, but it would only be a matter of time until they found you again. And we all know what happens then."

The former Brother was quite familiar with what would happen then; having himself hunted numerous people the Church had labeled heretics. That was what he was now in the eyes of the Church, a heretic. "So what are you offering then?"

"A new face, a new name and passage out of Europe. I have need of an asset in New Orleans, and I think a former Brother of the Manus Dei would serve my interests quite well."

"And the child?"

"We will find…"

"She comes too…" the wounded man insisted.

The voice on the monitor was silent for a moment, "You realize of course that if we were to relocate the girl to New Orleans you would still not be a part of her life. If you accept our deal your old life is dead. New face, new name, new man. That's the deal."

"She comes too." The wounded man repeated.

"As you wish." the mechanized voice replied, "You won't regret it Mr. Corneille."

. * * * * * * * * * * * * .

New Orleans, Conferate American States

As Corneille stepped out onto the stone front porch of the ridiculously appointed home of Marcus Devereaux he couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief. What was it with these Nouveau riche Americans? They wouldn't know real class if it bit them in the hoop. As he started down the stairs the doorman approached him, "Is everything all right sir?"

"Oui, just stepping out for a cigarette. A filthy habit I know, but one I cannot seem to break."

The doorman smiled and as Corneille put a cigarette to his lips the man even offered him a light. Corneille stepped down off the porch and pretended to enjoy his smoke as he scanned the building for access to the upper floor. To the side of the building was an enormous oak tree that was likely the result of artificially accelerated growth since none of the other homes on Esplanade boasted such greenery. Corneille ducked around the side of the house as the doorman was distracted by a newly arrived group of party-goers.

In a blink of an eye the elf was up the tree and climbing along an outstretched branch towards a second story window. Flipping upside down and hanging from the branch by only his legs, the gang leader quietly opened the window before lowering himself down onto the ledge. The whole affair had taken no more than a minute.

Corneille chuckled to himself; it had taken him longer to wade through the insipid party guests than it had to break into the second floor study. Tapping his earbud to activate his comm he subvocalized, "I'm in. Looks like a study." Without realizing it Corneille had returned to his native French, but that was one of the things that the gang boss liked about working with Dixie.

"Once you reach the hallway the master bedroom is to the right and there are two guest bedrooms to the left which share a bathroom. My guess is the master bedroom." The Hacker's French was older, more archaic in its pronunciation. Corneille had learned that this pronunciation was Cajun French, and it sounded like his Grandparents' or Great Grandparents' French more than the French spoken today. Corneille grunted a response and moved silently to the doorway.

Opening the door a crack the elf surveyed the hallway beyond and found it empty. Corneille exited the room and made his way slowly down the hall to the master bedroom. A small panel near the door announced the presence of a maglock on the door. The elf frowned, who puts a maglock on a door inside their home? This must be it. As the ganger pulled a small multi-tool out of his pocket and began removing the face of the card reader Dixie's voice sounded in his earbud, "What is it?"

The decker had obviously noticed that Corneille had stopped moving, he grimaced as he replied, "Maglock…shouldn't take long."

Dixie didn't respond for which Corneille was grateful. The elf was used to working on his own or perhaps with a few of his gangers in tow; having someone constantly pestering him during a job was somewhat irritating.

Irritating or not there were still advantages to working with a hacker of Dixie's talent so Corneille tried to play nice by announcing, "Lock's disengaged, entering the bedroom now."

Corneille entered the room that Dixie had identified as the Master Bedroom. Obviously Marcus Devereaux had chosen to repurpose the room. Shipping containers of all shapes and sizes filled the room, from plywood shipping crates to simple syth-board boxes.

Corneille smiled to himself…paydata!

The ganger began scanning the crates with his comm attempting to find the correct tag. After what seemed like an eternity the elf's comm chirped at him as he scanned a battered wooden crate near the doorway. Corneille pried the lid off the box and looked in.

"Oh you've got to be kidding me." The elf exclaimed. Inside the box was a specimen container used in a biology lab. Inside the clear plexiglass container was a catfish.

A normal…ordinary…run-of-the-mill…catfish!

"We've been played." The elf growled over the comm, but Dixie didn't reply.

Corneille darted through the door but was met in the hallway by a knife wielding goon in a cheap suit. The goon swung at Corneille but the elf countered, striking the knifeman in the wrist with the bridge of his left hand. The knife fell from nerveless fingers as Corneille stepped in and drove two fingers straight into the man's throat. The goon collapsed, choking on his own Adam's apple as Corneille retreated to the study.

Below him the elf could hear the sounds of a ruckus and he wanted to be gone before things got any more out of hand. As he reached the door, Corneille felt as though a massive weight had dropped on his shoulders. His movements became sluggish and he found it more and more difficult to keep his eyes open. Corneille took two more staggering steps towards the door and collapsed to the floor, Corneille heard a low chanting coming from behind him and then nothing.

. * * * * * * * * * * * * .

Corneille regained consciousness just in time to collide with a faux-oak sythwood wall. The elf groaned slightly and sat up, leaning his back against the wall. From the look of things he was back on the first floor…and the run had gone completely sideways.

Dixie sat on a comfortable looking loveseat across the room from him looking frightened as a classically handsome man in a bespoke tuxedo paced in front of her. For his part the man in the tux had a look of wry amusement on his face and just a hint of a bruise starting to form on his left jawline.

Seated next to Dixie was a battered man in a blood spattered cheap grey suit that looked to be unconscious. The handsome man looked over as Corneille pulled himself up and smiled, "Well…now that we have collected your friend how about you tell me why you're really here Ms. LeReaux." The two bruisers who had carried Corneille in took up positions on either side of the only door and reinforced the elf's earlier assessment of pooch screwedyness.

Dixie put on a big smile and began, "Mr. Devereaux this has all been a big misunderstanding…" But Devereaux held up his hand.

"First, I asked you to call me Marcus and second you should know that my magic will inform me every time you tell a lie…so tread carefully. I ask again, why are you really here?"

A thousand schemes flashed across Dixie's face in an instant before she said, "We're here for the package you stole from the Revenants."

The Hacker's entire bearing had changed, she sat up straighter in the chair and her voice took on a tone of bland professionalism as though she were seated at a negotiating table and not in-fact under guard in the home of the very man she had attempted to steal from earlier that night.

Devereaux exploded into laughter, "Runners Jonathan…you hired Runners to come after me?"

Devereaux kicked the battered man's foot, "Come on stop pretending to be unconscious…I've watched you channeling mana into your healing spells for the last few minutes. Word of advice though…try anything more and you will regret it."

The man seated next to Dixie lifted his head; the wounds that Corneille noted when he first saw him had faded to deep bruises. The man identified as Jonathan winced as he talked through a recently broken jaw, "I've never seen these people before in my life Devereaux…I'm just here for my research."

Devereaux chucked again in a way that was beginning to get on Corneille's nerves, "So…wrong place at the wrong time eh Jonathan? Sorry to say that your research has become valuable to the Zebop so we will be keeping it. As for you two…you broke into my home and attempted to take something that is mine. This sort of thing cannot go unpunished. The Zebop has a reputation to uphold after all."

Devereaux turned to the two bruisers, "Take the three of them out through the kitchen. Beat this one," he indicated Jonathan "until he passes out and throw him in the street. Take these two to the Hounfor and I will join you after I see to my guests."

Devereaux left the room as the two goons produced silenced pistols and ushered Corneille, Dixie and Jonathan out into the hallway. With the guards at their backs the trio was led through the back of the house and into the kitchen. Corneille briefly considered grabbing a knife but felt the slight pressure of a silencer pushed into his back.

The trio was herded through the door and out to a back alley. A large white van with an Antione's logo filled up most of the alleyway. A large figure stepped out from behind the van and said, "Hey…ya'll ain't supposed to be back here." One of the goons intercepted the overly zealous caterer as he was making his way towards Corneille and his crew…and was rewarded with a right cross from Bleu's cybered arm.

Corneille spun on the other guard.

Before Bleu's arm had even made contact with the Goon number one Corneille activated his adrenalin pump and felt the warm rush as adrenalin flooded his system. The elf surged forward, rocking Goon number two with three body blows before the Zebop flunky could even react. Corneille threw in a quick uppercut with his right arm for good measure, twisting with the blow so that the elf was already walking away as his opponent slumped to the ground.

"Show off…" Bleu muttered.

Bleu opened the door to the truck, "Quick…let's get the frag outta here."

Corneille crossed the distance to the passenger side of the truck in a flash and was already inside when Dixie asked, "What about him?"

The Hacker pointed at Jonathan who was leaning up against the wall of the building holding his ribs with his head bowed; chin almost resting on his chest.

Corneille poked his head back out of the van with a puzzled frown, "What about him?"

Dixie shot the elf an annoyed look, "We can't just leave him here."

Jonathan began to slowly slide down the wall until he was sitting. Corneille turned his head from the crumpled man to look directly at Dixie, "Why not?"

Dixie walked over to where Jonathan was sitting and tried to pull him upright, "Because he has information about the package you idiot."

Bleu stuck his head out the driver's side window and hissed, "Look ya'll we gotta go. NOPS is on the way!"

Begrudgingly Corneille climbed out of the back seat and helped Dixie load the now unconscious man into the van. Bleu gunned the engine and the runners sped off into the night just as the first hints of blue and red strobes began to appear.

Bleu took them down Esplanade for a few blocks but turned quickly into the Marigny. After a few twists and turns Bleu pulled the van over and killed the engine.

"Now what?" the ork asked.

Dixie looked up from her AR keyboard, "I've got the transponder in the van spoofed for now. I can keep us off the grid but eventually the catering crew will be lookin for this van. Once NOPS initiates an active search then things get interesting. Spoofing a transponder is one thing, hacking a drone's camera while it's doing a fly-over is another thing entirely."

"Then we ditch the van." Corneille offered, "Scatter and meet up at the warehouse tomorrow night."

Dixie nodded but Bleu pointed at the unconscious man, "What about him?"

Corneille frowned, "You wanted him. He's your responsibility not mine."

The elf opened the passenger side door and stepped out, he had responsibilities of his own he needed to tend to and the sooner the better. As he walked off into the night he heard the catering van crank up and turned to watch Bleu and Dixie drive off in the opposite direction. Corneille watched the van for a few seconds before Bleu made a turn to the left and the tail lights disappeared. Corneille watched a few moments longer to make sure that Bleu had not doubled back and then he set out towards Esplanade.

Corneille needed to report this new development, he knew that, but he was so close. It would only take a few minutes. They would likely notice it…they always seemed too…but Corneille didn't care.

He had to see her.

Crossing Esplanade well away from all the excitement, Corneille turned left onto Bourbon Street. This end of the famous street of sin was still residential despite the ever encroaching bars and strip clubs. A half a block in Corneille stopped in front of a fenced off area between two duplexes. He keyed in a code and the door buzzed open. The door led to a narrow walkway between the two buildings that led to their respective back yards.

Despite its name, most of the architecture in the French Quarter was actually Spanish in origin. Great fires in the cities early years destroyed most of the French colonial architecture and as the colony was Spanish at the time of the fires, the Quarter was rebuilt in a more Spanish style. In an effort to prevent such fires in the future the Spanish fire codes mandated that buildings should be closer to the curb and each other to aid in fire prevention…somehow.

In lieu of wooden exterior walls the Spanish favored the more fire resistant stucco and painted them in vivid pastel hues that were fashionable at the time. To add to the grandeur they added ironwork balconies and fences to the properties, which resulted in beautiful buildings without much by way of outdoor space.

To make up for the lack of space in front of the building, the residents built elaborate courtyards behind the buildings, often shared by one or more of the buildings on the block. It was to one of these courtyards that Corneille was heading.

At this time of night she would be asleep but he could still look in on her. Climbing the iron stairwell attached to the building he made his way to the second story then, checking to make sure no one would see, climbed up onto the roof. He settled into an alcove next to a no longer functioning brick chimney and stared across the street at a curtainless window.

He couldn't see her, not really, but he knew she was there. She was almost a teenager now. She had once been a threat to the church but now she was just an innocent girl from a family of means who lived abroad with her Auntie. He was supposed to end that threat…and in a way Corneille supposed that he did. Neither of them would ever be allowed to return to France and as such the threat she posed was ended.

Corneille continued his vigil for a few moments then carefully climbed back down and headed for the street. After moving a few blocks down the street closer to the nightlife, Corneille flagged down a cab to take him to the central business district.

The CBD is a thin slice of land between the raucous debauchery of the French Quarter and the quasi-legal markets of the Warehouse District. While the city of New Orleans does not boast arcologys as such, the CBD is home to several local branches of the multinationals as well as a few local-boys-done-good, and is general considered the seat of corporate power in the city. As he crossed over Canal street into the CBD Corneille placed a call. His comm buzzed twice before it was answered.

"Is it done?"

"There were complications." Corneille responded.

The voice on the phone paused for a few moments before asking, "What sort of complications?"

Corneille stepped out of the cab and handed some bills to the driver before responding, "The sort of complications that we need to discuss in person. I am coming up." With that the elf buzzed his way into the lobby of the United Oil corporate headquarters.