CyberNight

CyberNight
by David Graves
copyright 1996

Slicky kept his head down and tried to keep his body as low as possible as he ran. Bullets shattered the wall just inches behind him, showering him with chips of concrete. Leaning into a turn, he fought to keep upright, and failed. As he went down, he saw that he had slipped on blood. He landed with a bone jarring thud, and slid about three meters. As he scrambled to his feet he saw the source of the blood. Pounce was laying a meter down the hall, nearly cut in half by machine gun fire. Her normally immaculate blond hair lay soaking up her blood.
The run had started commonly enough. Another faceless corp lackey named "Johnson" under paying them to help him give an edge to his corp by stealing something, or someone, from the competition. Biz as usual. But something had gone wrong. They had been compromised. Security had waited until they were inside, then tightened up like a noose. Now Pounce was dead, and Slicky's only hope for survival was to link with Talon.
Scrambling to his feet, Slicky ignored the carnage about him, and continued running. He could hear the steady staccato beat of Talon's Ingram submachine gun among the roar of the corp security assault rifles.
As Slicky turned the next corner, he could see Talon. He was standing behind a corner of the wall, firing his Ingram around the edge. Slicky shouted at Talon to let him know he was on his way.
Talon turned to look at Slicky, and shouted, "Incoming!" Then he dove to the floor around the corner of the hall.
Slicky never knew why he turned to look. In slow motion he saw the grenade hurling at him. Missing him by about a meter, it hit the wall and exploded. Slicky felt steel and concrete shrapnel hit his body through his body armor. The shock wave picked him up and threw him about ten meters. The air rushed out of his lungs as he hit the ground. Then everything went black.

When Slicky came to, he smelled antiseptic. That and the hum of cool air circulating about him told him he was in a hospital. He heard voices, and identified one of them as Talon. Not a hospital, but a street doc. Even better. That means that they got out. How, was still a mystery, but they were out. He heard a door open and footsteps approach.
A voice said flatly, "He's awake, I think." Slicky tried to open his eyes to see who was talking. He couldn't open them. He tried again, but they still wouldn't open. He reached up to feel what was wrong, when a strong hand stopped him.
"Don't," said Talon's voice. Doc says that the wounds from operation haven't healed yet."
Slicky opened his mouth to speak, but found his voice weak and raspy. "What operation?" he finally croaked.
The flat voice said, "You have suffered extensive trauma to the eyes and optic nerve. I operated to repair the damage, but it was too extensive. The optic nerve was completely destroyed." Slicky's head sank back. ' Blind? Well, Chippy, what did you expect! You looked at a fraggin' grenade! ' He chided himself silently. "What about cybereyes?" He asked what he had to assume was the doctor.
Talon responded "No luck chummer. Already tried that. No nerve left to patch 'em into."
Slicky felt panic rising. Permanent! It couldn't be! Nothing in this day and age was. Often even death wasn't permanent! He tried to get up. Again strong hands restrained him.
"Lay back Slicky," Talon's voice said. "You're not ready to get up yet. Soon, but not yet." Slicky tried to fight, but he was no match for the strong street fighter. Slicky felt a pin prick, and again sank down into oblivion.

When Slicky regained awareness again, he again heard voices. Talon's, the flat doctor's, and a female voice. They were discussing something in rather heated terms.
"Frag your rules!" Talon was saying. "If the goons find out he is here, they'll toast him, you, and all the rest of your patients. He's gotta move. Now!"
"He's not ready," the female voice said. "His wounds could fester, especially if you take him to some rat infested, hidey hole!"
"Slich, you watch too much trid. My bolt hole is better than the Governs mansion. Now either you let him go, or I take him. Any way I have to. Remember, I dragged him out of that mess, without missing a shot. I think I can drag him out of here, null perspiration!" Talon spat with malice in his voice.
"Let the fool take him," the flat voice said. "He'll probably get himself killed anyway, so what does it matter."
Soon Slicky found himself in wheel chair, then in a van. He never said a word, until they were moving. Then, "Talon, did my deck come out of it OK?"
Slicky heard Talon's deep throaty chuckle. "Just like a chiphead, worried more about his comp. than his own skin! Yea it was still in its case when I grabbed ya', and I managed to keep hold of it."
"Did the doc say if I could still use it?" Slicky asked, tentatively.
"Never thought to ask, said Talon. "Guess we'll find out the hard way."
Slicky found out that Talon exaggerated only slightly when he compared his hang out to a mansion. The place was huge, from the way it echoed, and very comfortable. While it took a few days to learn the layout, Slicky found if he shuffled slowly, and held his hands out in front of him, he rarely tripped. Partially that was because of the sparse furnishings in the big rooms. Eventually, he learned the layout well enough that he could get around quite well. His wounds healed up well enough, contrary to the nurse's belief, and within a week, he was feeling well enough to try the matrix again.
Slicky wasn't sure what to expect as he jacked in, and his heart beat heavy in his chest as he felt the jack click firmly into his temple.
His week without light left him unprepared for the brilliance of cyberspace. The neon colors burned brighter than ever before. "I can see!" he cried. He tapped out a few commands on the keyboard, and the brightness faded to a more comfortable level. He quickly ran a systems check on his deck. ALL SYSTEMS GO was the response. Slowly at first, then with increasing confidence Slicky explored the wonder of cyberspace again. He visited virtual meeting places, and saw a few old friends. They asked no questions, he gave no answers. Life in the shadows as usual, thought Slicky. When he jacked out, Slicky felt a presence nearby.
"Having a wiz time? asked Talon.
"I can see in the matrix!" was Slicky's response.
"So I heard," replied Talon. "Great, Ya ready to go back to work?"
"What do you mean? I can't run the shadows blind, chummer." Slicky said.
"Ya' ain't blind in there is ya?" Talon paused a moment then continued. "Then you still got a job. And your first job is to help find out who set us up. We gotta repay them for the little favor they did us." Talon replied with menace. "Mean time, we also got to feed ourselves. Life may be cheap, but it ain't free chummer. No free rides so ka?"
"So ka, chummer. I hear ya," was Slicky's only response.

Three years later, Slicky was no closer to finding the answer than when they started out. Either no one knew anything about the set up, or no one was talking. The result was the same. No leads.
Since, as Talon put it, they had to eat, The two of them put together a team. Blades was their main backup. A combat mage, she was hell with a hellblast. That and she was a great talker. She was stubborn and smooth enough to out negotiate the toughest fences on the street.
Occasionally they would get outside muscle, but mostly if Talon and Blades couldn't handle it, it couldn't be handled.

Slicky jacked in, and headed for the system at hand. A fiery pit with faces that seemed to scream in agony. He had always loved the imagery here in The Inferno. It reminded him of his plans of revenge.
Slicky floated up to the door. A demon with a clipboard waited for him. He had no fear. He was expected. The demon allowed him in after a quick glance to see that he had no programs loaded. From the inside the place looked like a brothel in hell. With similar delights available, all risk free. But Slicky was not here to sample the night life. He went to his assigned node, a small room furnished in early occult, with a crystal ball supported by flames, and waited for the meet to start.
When his team and their fixer were all there, he activated their table monitor, and projected his icon image, a street punk from the 1950's with greased hair.
The fixer, Eve, looked at the screen and smiled at his Icon. "Slicky, nice to see you again." She said.
Slicky replied, "It is my pleasure as always, Ms. Donavan." Such pleasantries were the way Eve preferred to do Biz.
"Got an odd one for you. Mr. J wants you to extract someone from the Raku Archology. Pass codes for Slicky, and Fake ID's for the rest of you. Once in it's all up to you to get out. Pay is obviously high. 50 K each, with a 10 k bonus if no shots are fired. You interested?" Eve asked, all business now.
"Fragin drek, you ask a lot!" answered Talon, rather taken aback.
Blades, however, retained her composure. "Ms. Donavan, I'm sure you realize that this is not the way we like to do business. First of all, as a runner of the darker side of life, we can little trust the corporate pass codes to do as they are supposed to do. Second, we are not capable of a run of this difficulty without the help of these codes. Finally, the pay is much too low." Blades smiled knowingly, "If perhaps Mr. J. could do something about the last item, perhaps the first two could be overlooked."
Eve nodded her head gently, "I anticipated this, and received prior authorization to increase the compensation to 100K each, and a 50K bonus for no shots. That is as high as I can go. Is that enough to overlook the first two difficulties you mentioned?"
Blades smile widened, "I need to converse with my teammates on this. May we have a moment?"
Eve slid out of the booth, "Certainly. I will get us some drinks."
As soon as Eve was out of earshot, Talon muttered softly, "I don't like it chummers, but the nuyen is good, so I'll do it."
Slicky knew that was all they would hear out of Talon on the matter.
Blades put her two cents worth in, "I think we might even be able to do this without the pass codes. Slicky what about you?"
Slicky did not hesitate in the slightest. None of the others knew this but he had already been into Raku once or twice. The opportunity to do so for this much money was almost a dream. "I could try without the codes, but it would be easier with them. Either way, I'm in."
Blades caught Eve's eye and nodded. Moments later Eve sat and handed Blades and Talon a drink. Slicky whipped up an image of a drink for his icon. "We have a deal." Blades simply announced.
Eve smiled and raised her glass, "To successful business."

* * * * *
Two nights later Talon, Slicky, and Blades were in Talon's doss, making final preparations. Slicky used Talon's security cameras to look at Talon and Blades so that he would recognize them on the security cameras in Raku. Everything set to go, Talon and Blades left to make the run, while Slicky stayed put to run matrix cover.
Slicky entered the matrix and adjusted the light intensity down a bit more. The dataline glowed with an intense green hue. He could see the black pyramid of Aztechnology, and the green pagoda of Mitsuhama, their icons glowing with understated power. Slicky was awed by their commanding presence. But Slicky had a job to do. He felt his adrenaline flow as he prepared to hit the corps on their own ground.
Soon Slicky entered the Raku system. He had checked earlier, and found Mr. J's codes to be clean. He poked around and got the layout of the system. Just to be safe he ran a good cloak program to hide him, just in case he met any corp deckers. He found the security subsystem, and waited by the ID checkpoint node to "verify" Blades' and Talon's fake ID's. Slicky kept his sensors alert to any corp activity, but detected nothing unusual.
Everything ran smooth. They got the corper to go along without a problem. After all, their paperwork appeared to be in order, so the stupid sariman went like he was told, like a sheep. A few more security points, and Blades, Talon, and their little sheep walked out the door, and into the Seattle night.
Slicky breathed a sigh of relief. Biz was over, now it was time for a little personal digging. Slicky loaded up his frame, a small rat programed to search out the system looking for any info on himself, Pounce, or Talon. He had never run the frame in here, perhaps he might hit it lucky. Then Slicky started looking for a little paydata to pay the bills.
Slicky ran through three corporate datafiles, looking for all the world like libraries, before he finally found anything worth down loading. Should be worth a little something on the street. Just as he began to down load it, his frame returned. It was green. Slicky was shocked. He quickly retrieved the location from his frame, and retrieved the frame back into his storage memory, and quickly traced the path to the data that the frame had located. He ran his browse program and located the data indicated. There was only one small file. Slicky down loaded it, and then jacked out of the system, back into Talon's system access node.
Excitedly, Slicky scanned the file he had down loaded. It was an inner office memo, dated three days before the run! It read:

Fumijimi:
Security breached on
overlord. Gutterpunk
named Pounce.
Eliminate ASAP
Gunilami

When Blades and Talon got home, Slicky quickly told them of his find. They had a name to look into, to blame. Someone upon whom to focus their plots for revenge. Finally, here is the man responsible for Slicky's blindness. Now they could plan their revenge.
Talon brought the most important question forward. "How can we get to this guy? What can we do to hurt him? We need more information before we decide what we can do."
Talon and Blades hit the street to check with their street contacts told them. Slicky once again decked in. They had little to go on, just a name, but that name was the important one. So who knew what about him? That was the question Slicky had to answer next.
First Slicky went to all the Shadowland "Job Boards," and posted offers for information on a Raku corper named, "Gunilami." Then he hit a few virtual bars to talk to his contacts. He left word for anyone with info to leave an LTG where he could contact them. He promised nuyen for any and all information.
By morning when Blades and Talon returned, they had little more than when they started. They knew for sure that Gunilami was a fairly high level manager in Renraku. He was in charge of Seattle computer security no less. They knew that no one knew much about him, or seemed to care. Time to change focus.
After a few hours of sleep, Slicky found himself going into Raku again. Armed with no codes, it promised to be a tricky run. The looming presence of the Raku System was intimidating, but Slicky knew what he was doing. The Ice looked like a standard corp security guard, but Slicky knew better. Using a quick bit of programming, Slicky created the image of a 1957 Chevy driving past, and while the guard was looking at it out, he slipped by and into the SAN.
The system appeared as an oriental citadel. Slicky was sure that behind the soft paper screens, lurked more Ice, of a darker more sinister kind. Slicky saw a small sleeping hound lying in one corner. Letting sleeping dogs lie, Slicky left the SAN and went into the system.
Slicky went slowly through the system, careful to leave no traces of his passing. He searched through the system, and finally found the computer security subsystem. This area appeared as a more modern office section with a lot more in it. He saw many small cameras, dotting the node corners. So Slicky reached into his storage memory, pulled out his fake ID, and entered the SAN.
Waiting inside the SAN was a samurai warrior, in red armor. He carefully inspected Slicky's ID, while cameras appeared to peer over his shoulder. Slicky knew that the cameras would see right past any distractions, and his ID was the only hope that he could get past it. So although he would leave traces, he had no choice but to use his deceptive ID. The samurai examined the ID for quite a while, then returned it. Slicky quickly went past it and into the rest of the system.
Once there, he reached into his memory again, and this time brought out another rat. This one searching for information on "Operation Overlord." He pulled his cloak tight about him to hide himself while he waited.
Shortly his rat returned to lead him to a library, this one neat and clinical looking. Slicky removed several short books that his rat pointed out and quickly put copies of them into his memory. Slicky then quickly left the system. Unseen to him was a small dog, sniffing along behind him.
Jacking out, Slicky simply said, "I got some stuff for ya to scan, chummers. I'll down load some of it so you can help me run through it." In just a few moments, Slicky had down loaded the data on to a couple of chips. Slicky heard the hum of Talon's PC starting up, and felt the chips taken from his hands.
Several hours, and numerous pots of soycaf later, they had answered one of their burning questions, "What was the information that got Pounce geeked?"
"That sick mother fragger!" ranted Talon. "I've heard of people who are into sick drek, but snuff flicks with kids? Hell, I'd like to waste him with my bare hands!"
Blades was held her usual composure, but the anger in her voice was clear. "This may be your personal revenge, but you can count me in. I want to help take this bastard out!"
"It seems to me that he was using company assets for his procurements. That may be his failing. Perhaps that is how Pounce found him out." Slicky stated flatly.
"Yea, and it would be just like her to try a little blackmail rather than just putting him out of commission." Talon added as an after thought. "You know, she always did get off on teasing anyone she had under her thumb."
"She was a Cat shaman right?" asked Blades.
"Yea" was Talon's short response.
"That is the way of Cat." Blades stated. "To toy with the mouse one might say."
"That sounds like Pounce all right."
"Well, if Pounce had this guy some how," Slick said, "Then perhaps we can get access to the information, and use it to bring him down."
"Can't we just use what we've got?" Talon asked
"No joy, chummer," Slicky said. "Not firm enough proof. We need some thing that we can send to the news nets. Some thing that will get him removed from power, so that we have a chance to make the hit. What ever Pounce had, she must have had in a dead man file, so if he iced her, he would be exposed. But he made it look like it had nothing to do with him, so the file never got published."
"So we need to find whatever Pounce had. Then we can go from there." Talon said after a short pause.
"That's it chummer. I'll hit Cyberville, and you two can hit the streets."
Blades said, "Not me. I don't know any of Pounce's friends, and they probably wouldn't give me the info. So I am going to get a little shut eye. We mages need our beauty sleep, don't you know." She said, her wink being apparent in her voice.
The next four or five hours Slicky posted in various boards, and talked to everyone he knew, or thought he knew. Very few of his contacts had ever heard of Pounce and the ones who had, barely even knew of her. Slicky finally had to admit that Pounce, being a shaman, didn't work well with the Matrix, and so he would find nothing there. She must have left the info with a friend with instructions to publish it if she were assassinated. But since she just died on a run, well that often happens, so her buddy didn't post it. So Slicky jacked out.
He could here Blades' even snoring from the couch. Must be close to dawn he thought. Slicky quickly jacked into Talon's security system to see if he had returned yet. He had not , and Slicky was just about to leave, when the alarm went nova red. Distantly in his meat ears, he heard an explosion.
As he jacked out, he heard Blades shouting, "What the frag!" He could smell smoke and felt the heat of a blast left on his face and the pieces of wood imbedded in his skin. Some one had blown open the door!
Suddenly bullets filled the air, like a swarm of angry bees. Slicky dove across the room for the only solid cover he knew of, a hallway into the back of the room. He rolled up into a tiny ball and prayed that Blades could hold off whoever this was. He could hear the bullets hitting the walls, Blades chanting and cursing, and the continuous drone of assault rifles, and at least one machine gun.
Without warning, Slicky realized that his deck was sitting on the desk, out of it's armored case. If a round should catch it, he could never repair it. Slicky stood up and sprinted for the desk to save his precious deck. He was nearly there when he tripped over something on the floor, and crashed into the desk, spilling onto the floor. He grabbed his deck, on the way down, just as he heard bullets smashing into the security system computer where he would have been standing, had he not tripped. Slicky then scrambled back to his cover. He had just about made it, when a bullet hit him from behind, and sent him spilling back into the hall, his back side burning with pain.
Suddenly there was silence. After the riotous sounds of the moment before, the silence was almost deafening. Slicky strained to hear something, anything, and was rewarded by hearing the sounds of boots crunching through broken glass by the front door. They were coming inside! Slicky prayed that Blades hadn't been taken out. Suddenly a scream came from near him, and several short bursts came in from the street. That was Talon's ingram! Slicky thought. Suddenly there were bullets bouncing around the room again. All Slicky could do was cower and hope.
Soon there was silence again. Again, Slicky strained to hear something. Again Slicky heard the sounds of boots crunching through broken glass. This time though it was followed by Talon saying, "Come on out chummers. We gotta get out of here before Star shows up."
Slicky stood up slowly and uncertainly. "I've been hit, Talon." Slicky said.
Somewhere off to the left, Blades said, "Me as well."
Talon muttered to himself, and went to Blades. "Your leg is broken, chummer, I'll have to splint it."
"Null perspiration," Blades said, "I'll take care of it, you take care of Slicky."
Slicky leaned weakly against the wall as he heard Talon approach. "Where you hit?" Talon asked. Slicky pointed, and Talon burst out laughing. "Slicky, you must be the only runner in history to have been shot in the ass!"
"Come on Slicky your not bleeding too bad. Let's get out of here and we'll patch you up later." Talon said, still chuckling.
Through out the rest of the night, the three of them bounced back and forth across the sprawl, leaving false trails, and looking for tails. Blades patched up Slicky's wound while they drove. When they finally decided it was safe Talon took them to a small doss, somewhere in the Redmond Barrens.
"It's not much, especially when you compare it to where we just came from," Talon said. "But it is well hidden, secure, and has matrix connections."
"So what's the plan?" asked Blades.
"We need to stop this guy. He won't rest until he's either dead, or safe." Talon replied. "Slicky, get some sleep. Then I want you too look at some chips I got while I was out. I'll take first watch. Remember chummers that no hide out is safe for long. We have to move fast from here on out."
Slicky Slept fitfully for about an hour. Then he got up. He knew he would never sleep well until he knew what was on those chips. He told Talon, who was still on watch, what he was doing, then headed for his deck.
Before he inserted them, he examined the chips. They were Renraku made. Well, that was appropriate. Then he scanned them in a data reader. They were encrypted, of course. So Slicky slotted them in his cyberdeck, and jacked in.
The chips listed as Renraku computer logs. Slicky decided to check them out and see if they were authentic. Slicky tried every code he knew, and couldn't crack through the codes. They were real, and originals. Someone actually walked out of the Raku Archology with these. Then Slicky decided to see what they contained.
Slicky had to work slowly and carefully. He had to view through the encryption, but not break it. The encryption was part of what verified the authenticity of the chips. Eventually he coaxed out the info, bit by bit, and saved it unencrypted on separate disks. The information looked like it would help, but he wanted Talon to look over it.
When Slicky jacked out, he heard someone breathing nearby. "Jackpot." Slicky said softly.
Slicky heard a quick, deep breath. "Damn chipheads, you startled me!" Blades said. "So quiet, I forgot you were there. Whatcha got?".
"I think I may have the proof we need. It's for real, that's for sure. Straight out of the archology. You want to take a look?" Slicky said.
"Let's take a look." She said eagerly.
About two hours later Talon came in and said, "Well Slicky, you must have looked at the chips. What's the cut?"
"They're on the up and up, and I think they will get that fragger slammed, and hard. Hard evidence, and no doubt that they are authentic. Even the corporate court would accept these as proof. So now the question is, what should we do with them, turn them over to Star?"
Talon said, "you're not scanning, Slicky. Who pays the Star? The city, right? Wrong. The corps, that's who. You give this to the Star, and you'll never hear about it again. We need to get this info to the top of Renraku, and tell them that if they don't handle this, and take care of the problem, we'll give these to the pirate news net. That should get them to take notice."
"Ok," Blades said. "So what is the next step?"
"Slicky needs to get in to see Gunalami's boss, and let him know that we can't be bought, or silenced. Then we move again. And keep moving till we see that he's been taken care of. Then we give them the chips." Talon said, his voice hard.
"Right, chummer. I'm just gonna walk in Raku and say, 'Hi I'd like to talk to the head of the archology.' and smile real pretty for the cameras. Not likely."
"Not physically, stupid! Cyberneticly. Go in and access his computer. Give him our message and split. Leave copies of these files for him to browse through. Then we move. Then go in again, and let him know he has a deadline. If Gunilami isn't out from corp protection, then we give these to some screamer sheet. Then we move, and wait. Word will get to us when it's safe to resurface. Then we give these to Raku, and they leave us alone. See?"
Slicky thought about it for a moment. "Ok so I gotta run Raku two, maybe three times? Ok, but have our next crash set up already. When I come out of the matrix, I'll probably have the dogs hot on my trail. The ice that high up will be megacold!"

Slicky grabbed a few more hours sleep, while Talon and Blades set up their next doss, and new wheels, in case these had gotten hot already. When he woke up Slicky was ready for anything. He felt alive and rested. He knew that there was a good chance he might never unplug himself from his deck again, but his thirst for vengeance was greater than his instinct for preservation.
Talon and Blades were ready for him. He gently sat down and made himself comfortable. Then he took his deck and settled it into his lap.
Blades said "I have some spells that may help if you get fried, but I have never tried them on a decker who has gotten slagged, so let's not find out, ok?"
"Null perspiration, chummer." Slicky said, then he jacked himself into electron reality.
Slicky spent his first few minutes checking his systems, and making sure all his programs were running properly. Then he cruised around the big Renraku system icon. After scanning it for a while, and making sure it wasn't running hotter than usual, Slicky went for the front gate.
Slicky didn't bother to try to sneak past the guards, he just brushed past them flashing his fake ID. He didn't wait for them to react, but just kept going. He knew that finesse was not going to win the day, but speed and daring.
And he was right. Just past the first node, two deckers were waiting for him. They immediately jumped to the offensive, and Slicky dodged past them, dropped a smoke ball, and disappeared in the confusion of electronic static.
Just as quickly they were on his tail. The system went on red, and there were samurai warriors every where. Slicky kept just far enough ahead to keep searching for the main system, before he would have to take off again to keep them off his trail.
Finally Slicky burst out of a corridor, and onto the high arched bridge leading to a formal Japanese rock garden. Throwing caution to the wind, Slicky darted to across the garden, when a Kiren rose out of the sand and challenged him. As Slicky threw him a passcode to try and circumvent the Kiren, his code fell short and sunk into quicksand. He checked his memory, and found that all of his passcodes had been corrupted. Drek, He would have to fight passed everything now. Looking back, however, he saw that the sand was preventing his pursuers from following him. Then he saw the Dragon.
This was the blackest ice Slicky had ever seen. It towered over him with a palatable air of menace. He could smell the phosphorescence of it's breath. Slicky threw a net at the Kiren, and dodged past the dragon into the mansion that lay beyond the rock garden. The dragon was close behind, as Slicky flew through the entrance and into the mansion.
Slicky dodged back and forth, but no matter how much smoke he dropped, the dragon was only a step behind. He searched for the data store where he could drop the files into storage where the head of the archology would get them, but he couldn't find it. And all the while the dragon gained.
Finally Slicky dodged into a library, and the dragon roared by. He knew it would be back, but it gave Slicky just a moment to breath, and get his bearings. He started scanning the bookcases to see if the one he was looking for was. Just as he found it, he heard the dragon coming back. Slicky called up the file they prepared and began downloading it, just as the dragon tore into the room.
Slicky was trapped. He couldn't leave the room until the file was downloaded or it wouldn't make the transfer. But he couldn't fight off the dragon either. His only hope was to hold off the dragon long enough to download the file. He would never have another chance. He had to try.
Without warning, the dragon lunged, his huge jaws reaching out toward Slicky. Slicky dodged under the jaws and drew out a switch blade. It looked ridiculously small, but it was all he had. Slicky's status monitor read:
File 10% complete.
Slicky tried to jab at the dragon, but the tiny blade slid harmlessly off the thick hide of the beast. The beast turned suddenly, faster that any dragon in the real world of this size could, and whipped his massive tail right at Slicky's head. Slicky tried to dodge, but he was simply too slow, and the tail sent him flying and slammed him on the wall, knocking the breath from.
File 20% complete.
Slicky rolled across the floor, trying to regain his breath, and saw the dragon's massive tail raising up to smash down on him. Slicky changed the direction of his roll at the last second, and the tail crashed down next to him. The floor shook with the impact. Slicky tried to impale the huge appendage with his blade, but the little knife could not even penetrate the dragon's thick hide.
File 30% complete.
Slicky finally regained his breath and rolled to his feet. The Dragon turned and looked at him for a moment, then lashed out with claws like lightning. Slick was waiting for the dragon to make a move, and so was able to duck below the sweeping claw, however did not expect the other claw to be able to strike so quickly. It caught him along the arm, and Slicky tasted blood distantly, in his meat body.
File 40% complete.
Slicky knew he couldn't survive much longer. He could feel his reactions were slow, and he was no match for the dragon in the first place. But he had to hold on for just a few more little longer, for the sake of his chummers. He made one last desperate strike, throwing his knife at the dragons eye. With lady luck guiding his throw he scored a hit, drawing blood from the beast. It bellowed and rushed at him. Slicky dove to the right, and drew up a shield to protect him. It was a thin shield, looking like a trash can lid but it was protection.
File 50% complete.
The dragon drove at Slicky now in a series of relentless attacks that drove Slicky back into the wall. The dragon reared his head back and breathed out a cone of flame at Slicky. Slicky tried to dodge under it and brought up his shield to protect him. The flame was mostly blocked, but his shield was nearly melted in half. One more hit and it would be gone completely. Slicky could smell burned skin, and hair. His arm looked like a mass of burned meat. But still he fought on.
File 60% complete.
Again the dragon started throwing attack after attack at Slicky, driving him back. Slicky back off, then rolled under the dragon, trying to confuse him with different tactics. It worked, and the dragon couldn't find him for just a moment. It gave Slicky just enough time to pull up another shield to replace his damaged one. Then the dragon was on him again.
File 70% complete.
Slicky dodged from side to side trying to throw off the dragon again, but the one cold eye remaining in the beast's head never wavered. The cold jaws reached out at Slicky and he jammed his shield it it's mouth. It ripped the shield off his arm and moved in at Slicky again. Slicky was sweating hard as the beast lunged yet again.
File 80% complete.
Slicky tried to dive out of the way again, but the dragon caught him by the leg, and threw him against the wall. He felt his breath leave him, and knew he could hardly move. He saw the dragon come at him again and rear back to breath. Slicky prepared for death.
File 90% complete.
The dragon belched out a huge cone of flame that washed over Slicky. He could feel his heart stopping and the life slowly draining out of him. So this was death? Drek, life was tougher that this. Yet he hated to have been beaten. As everything faded to black,
******* Transfer complete. **************

** * * * *
Slicky was surprised to become aware of antiseptic smell. He never believed in the afterlife, and he didn't think if there was a heaven, it would smell like a hospital. Of course it most likely isn't Heaven, thought Slicky. Then he heard Talon's voice. He's here too! Then it was all for nothing. The thought pierced Slicky to the soul. He had failed.
"Hoi, Chummer. How you feeling?" it was Blades sweet, soft voice.
"Blades," Slicky said "You too? If any of us would get to Heaven, I thought it would be you."

Slicky heard Talon's deep chuckle. "Wrong answer chummer. You did it. It fragging near killed you, but you did it."
"You mean we're not dead?" Slicky asked incredulously.
"Remember. I told you I'd be waiting with healing spells if you needed it. And you needed it. When you fell out of the chair with blood pouring out of every hole in your head, I didn't know if my spells could save you, but they did." was Blades' soft reply.
"So where are we?" asked Slicky, hardly daring to believe they had done it.
"Seattle General hospital." Said a new voice that dripped with authority.
"Doc," Talon said, "Do you think he's ready?"
"More that ready. It'll help him heal faster." replied the Doc's voice.
"Ok, do it." Talon said, his voice neutral.
Slicky was about to ask what they were talking about when the Doc told him, "Hold still." The Doc then started feeling his datajack. Suddenly light burst into Slicky's head. Slicky cried out with surprise.
Then Slicky realized he could see! "What the..., I though nothing could be done!"
The Doc chuckled. "When your friend told me you could see in the matrix I decided to try tapping into the datajack circuits. We couldn't give you cyber eyes, but a tiny camera that feeds directly into a computer that focuses the image into electronic input to the data jack will work almost as well. Every thing will look a little icon like, but you'll be able to see."

Seattle Screamer.
Renraku Archology
Hirsio Gunilami, head of Renraku Seattle computer security section was found dead in his apartment this morning, apparently of ritual suicide. Company spokesperson, June Snyder, says that they have no reason to suspect foul play, even though no reason is known for his suicide. Ms. Snyder expressed her deep regrets for this tragedy. Mr. Gunilami was survived by a daughter, Shicho, 10, who will be moving to Japan to be with relatives.

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