Junior Executive Daniel Carter entered the club somewhat nervously. He felt conspicuously out of place in his pressed suit and tie amongst all the street-clad customers. "Strides" was one of the better clubs in the slums of Old Harlem, but it was still a gang hangout. Few people in the shadows had reason to like the Megacorps, and in this district, dislike frequently ended with a body floating down the East River.
"Relax kid," Harrison muttered quietly as he overtook Daniel, heading for the bar. "We're safe here. Believe it or not, these suits make us invisible."
Looking around, Daniel realised it was true. Not only were they not attracting attention, but most people in the club seemed to actively avoid looking at the two company men. Trying to look as confident as his superior, Daniel followed the senior executive to the bar.
As they waited for the bartender to serve them, he quietly asked his boss about the apparent aversion.
"Street etiquette," his mentor replied. "When suits come to a place like this it means a job for somebody. One that company men like us can't be seen doing." Daniel nodded. They were here to meet one of the older man's 'runner teams for just such a job. "Here in the shadows, if it doesn't involve you, it doesn't exist. To a point, anyway." Harrison raised his voice as the bartender approached, skipping several rough-looking gangers, who didn't seem upset by this. "Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred, with a twist."
"Take a seat," the bartender pointed to a curtained booth in the far corner by the stage. "Someone'll bring it over to you." He nodded to a blonde Elf-girl at the end of the bar, and turned his attention to the gangers he had skipped.
Harrison took Daniel's shoulder and led him to the booth, taking a seat facing the stage. Somewhat confused, Daniel sat next to him and looked around the club. The mood seemed to have changed somehow. Everyone seemed more relaxed.
"So how do we get in touch with this team of yours?" he asked quietly.
"I just did," replied Harrison. "One of them's on her way right now." He nodded across to the Elf crossing the floor carrying a drink on a tray. Entering the booth, she set the glass down in front of Harrison, then sat down and pulled the curtain closed.
"Hello Johnson," she addressed the senior executive, before turning to Daniel. "And that makes you Smith."
"Actually -" Daniel began before his boss interrupted him.
"That's right, Zeta. You're looking good."
"Thanks," she smiled, facing the speaker. "New boy?" Harrison nodded.
"Smith, meet Foreyzeta. Tir Tairngire citizen and Mage of the Fourth Circle."
"Fifth, actually," Zeta corrected him. "Earned a promotion last week."
"Congratulations. Up for one of those myself next month," Harrison stated. "Unfortunately the move upstairs comes with one upstate, and I don't want to deprive the company of your skills, so I'm teaching Smith what he needs to know."
"So you leave, he gets a name change?"
"That's the plan," Harrison confirmed. Zeta closed her eyes briefly before replying.
"We can live with that. So what's up? Not like you to make a social call all suited up."
"AresTech." Zeta nodded as though she'd expected his answer.
"The Gauss rifle." It wasn't a question. Harrison nodded.
"We want the prototype and blueprints, and their research wiped from the local server. Central mainframe too, if you can manage it, but that's a bonus."
"Tricky," Zeta mused. "They've got top security at their research lab."
"That's why I came to you."
The Elf smiled at the implied compliment. "Details?"
Harrison took an envelope from his jacket pocket passed it to her. "Usual fees and bonuses."
Zeta opened the envelope and gave the contents a cursory glance. "We'll talk it over and get back to you. Enjoy the show." She stood and opened the curtain.
"Always do, Zeta." Harrison raised his martini and downed it in one, setting the empty glass on the tray, which Zeta picked up and returned to the bar.
"What's the deal with the names?" Daniel asked. "I thought you said they knew who you were."
"I've no doubt that they know exactly who we both are, where we work and probably what we had for breakfast this morning," Harrison replied, "but we're here on business, so I'm called Johnson. It's Shadowtalk for a corporate employer."
"More street stuff?" Daniel asked. Harrison nodded.
"As long as we're Johnsons, we're untouchable here."
"What she said about a name change…," the young executive began.
"When you're hiring Shadowrunners you become Mr Johnson." Harrison confirmed. "Doesn't matter what your real name is. You don't even have to be a mister."
Daniel looked back across to the bar where the Elf had slipped away out of sight. "Zeta works here?"
"She lives here," Harrison replied. "She and her team own the place. They know everything that goes on here."
"Lucky she was at the bar when you ordered that drink."
"The hell it was," Harrison snorted. "Whenever a suit comes here one of them gets called down before we've even walked in the room."
"So why didn't she meet us at the door? Why the thing with the drink?"
"Not every Johnson who comes here has business with the owners. The place is a regular hangout for many of the local 'runners."
The conversation paused as a woman approached the table and set down two glasses before the executives. Harrison took a drink of his Glenmorangie whiskey, as Daniel picked up the other glass and sipped it cautiously.
"Pernod!" His favourite drink. "How did they know - ?"
"Lise is showing off, as usual," Harrison answered with a wry smile.
"One of Zeta's team?" Daniel ventured. Harrison nodded.
"Alise Cottles. Probably the best decker on the east coast."
"I know that name," mused the younger executive. "Wasn't she the one who –?"
"Don't go there, kid," Harrison interrupted sharply. "She left that life behind when she Changed." The capitalisation was evident. "She may be scrawny for her Breed, but that just means it'll take her an extra second to snap your neck like a twig if you piss her off. And reminding her of her past does exactly that."
"I'll bear that in mind," Daniel noted, sipping his drink.
Harrison held his glass close as he scanned the bar almost instinctively. He was about to take another drink when he froze, turning to look at the entrance.
"Problem?" Daniel asked his superior. Harrison nodded across to the bar.
"Suit just walked in. I know him." He downed his whiskey and leaned forward. "He's from Ares."
"Is he here because of us?"
"Probably just here to hire a team," Harrison replied quietly, adjusting his cyberears to tune out most of the background music and conversation. "Unfortunately there are only two weapon breakthroughs lately that I'm aware of, and one of them is theirs."
"The Gauss rifle we're after," Daniel stated. After a moment's thought, he continued. "The other one is our phased plasma gun."
"Exactly," Harrison confirmed. He sat back, having heard what he hadn't wanted to. "He wants to hire Zeta's team."
The AresTech executive turned toward the stage, momentarily pausing as he saw Harrison, before heading to a booth across the stage from the two Wesson-Ruger employees. Moments later he was joined by the short, red-haired Ork whose appearance at the bar had alerted Harrison of the rival executive.
"Would they really 'run against us?" Daniel asked.
"Sure, if the payoff's big enough."
"Think they'll tell that guy what we want?"
"They don't need to," Harrison stated. "He's an old hand at this. He'll know why we're here."
"What's to stop Zeta's people from double-crossing us?"
"Professional reputation. They betray an employer, they don't get any new ones. That makes them just another 'corp unit, which is what most 'runners left to work the shadows in the first place."
"If we're setting jobs against each other, won't that be a little awkward for them?" Daniel asked.
"Not necessarily. They haven't actually accepted our run yet. If the Ares offer is good enough, they may simply refuse us. Then we'll have to turn to the secondary team, although they're not as good as Zeta's."
Both men watched in silence as the Ork left the booth, holding an envelope similar to the one Harrison had given Zeta. Rather than heading toward the bar, she hurried to a door beside the stage. The lights in the club, already low, dimmed further, and the background music - and conversation - faded into silence.
"Mr Ares will have to wait for his answer," Harrison muttered with a smile. "Serves him right for cutting it so close."
"Cutting what close?"
"Quiet kid," replied the older executive, gesturing at the five figures taking positions on the stage. "Show's about to start."
Daniel looked across as spotlights illuminated the group. He recognised Zeta in the centre and the Ork at the far end, but the other woman and the two men were unknown to him. The dark-haired man stepped forward between Zeta and the Ork as the music started up.
"It's time to begin, now count it in. 5, 6, 7, 8.…"