The Fearful Symmetry
Warning: questionable moral/ethical choices, violence
Author: Lily Zen
Notes: Things begin to pick up pace.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Kind of.
Rue's line was busy, so Kaoru ended up driving down to Callahan Shipping on the back of her Mirage. She walked where she could and took a lot of public transport, so the bike didn't get to see the light of day too often. Most of the time Kaoru considered it too flashy since it was one of the go-gang bikes of choice. Its shiny black contours, sleek and minimalist like a slung arrow, had a tendency to draw curious gazes, wondering if she was about to show up with the rest of her gutter-trash companions and rob the Stuffer Shack she'd just walked into. However, this was an emergency, and for emergencies she didn't mind drawing a couple stares.
Kaoru weaved in and out of congested traffic, racing for the waterfront and the old docks. Callahan Shipping was in an older warehouse that was none the less in good condition. Rue believed appearances were important. She pulled up to the huge, open docking bay, and yelled to one of the workers, "Is Rue in? I need to see her!"
The middle-aged man with his graying salt-and-pepper hair and equally speckled beard waved her in. She parked inside the building over by a stack of moving pallets, kicking the stand into place, and killing off the idling engine rumbling between her legs. The man in the flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up onto his elbows stalked over, his heavy motorcycle boots making loud scuffing sounds on the poured concrete floor. Kaoru swung off of her bike to greet him, saying, "Hey, Jim. How's it going?"
"Pretty good," the older man replied, his deep bass growl a contrast to his friendly words.
"Is Rue in her office?" she wondered.
Jim nodded, his deep set eyes serious. "Be quiet though. She might be on a call."
Kaoru made a gesture of acknowledgement with her hand, and followed it up by saying, "Noted. Thanks, Jim. Watch my bike?"
He grinned. "One of these days you gotta let me take it for a spin."
Laughing, she wondered, "Now why would a HOG man like you want to ride my little crotch-rocket?"
Bushy eyebrows shot up, and the leer on his face was unmistakable even with his bushy beard attempting to obscure it. "You really need to ask?"
At that, Kaoru let out a sharp crack of laughter, and shook her head. "You're a tease, Jim, but so not worth it. Your wife would come after me, and I'd lay money on her gutting the slitch that dared to try and poach you." She turned away still chuckling, and headed for the walkway that would lead to the back of the building and Rue's cushy, insulated office. Over her shoulder she heard Jim call back jokingly, "Aw, now you know all I want is one ride. I'm not talking lifetime commitment here." Her laughter floated back to him as she disappeared between stacked merchandise, some legal, some not, and hunted down the door to Rue's arena.
It was a simple door, solid wood—real wood—with a simple plaque on it that read 'R. Callahan,' and underneath in smaller print, 'Manager.' Kaoru quietly tried the knob, and upon finding it unlocked, she stepped into the room. Immediately she was assaulted with the sound of Rue's voice, that light, musical tone now saturated with annoyance. Under the influence of strong emotion, her voice began to drop its studied Midwestern blandness and slide into the honeyed Southern tones of her childhood. "Sir, ah cannot give you somethin' that is not in mah power to provide. All of mah employees are currently occupied. Ah can give you the name of someone else who may fulfill your order, but ah cannot snap my fingers and magically provide more employees here. Now, if you were willing to wait a few days I could—" Rue plucked her earpiece off of her ear and held it away from her, glaring at the little device like she was wishing fervently it would just melt away.
Whoever was on the line was yelling so loudly that Kaoru heard him from across the room. She shared a sympathetic look with Rue an instant before the woman held her earpiece marginally closer to her and shouted, "Now, sir, that is quite enough! If you ever want to do business with Callahan Shipping and its sub-contractors again, ah suggest you curb your language! Ah do not know how your mama raised you, but ah sincerely doubt she tolerated such a spiked-tongue, and ah certainly will not! When you are ready to talk like adults, you may call me back." At that, Rue hit the tiny button that disconnected the call, and tossed the earpiece onto her desktop. "Fucker."
She rubbed her exquisitely manicured hands over her face, avoiding her artful eye make-up, and then turned seaglass colored eyes onto Kaoru, who was quietly leaning up against the door. "Well, sit down," Rue snapped, flicking her wrist at the chairs clustered in front of her big, antique mahogany desk.
Lips twitching as she tried not to grin, Kaoru pushed off the door and glided across the plush Aubusson rug, its woven curlicues and intricate bunches of flowers a subtle reminder of just how good Rue was at her job. Like most Fixers, Rue dabbled in other areas. Her shipping business was an actual imports and exports business, using legal trade to cover up her not so legal smuggling. Back in her wilder youth, Rue had also been a shadowrunner, and was particularly successful at playing the role of Face. She had a natural charisma that she'd enhanced with pheromones, and a way of instinctively blending into different social situations. Once she'd figured out that she could use her natural gifts with people in more lucrative and less risky venues, Rue retired from running herself and entered into the world where she truly shined: negotiations. It had proven profitable for her. Already, at a mere thirty years, Rue was practically living in the lap of luxury.
Kaoru settled down into a soft, cream colored chair whose cushions sighed in welcome as they sank beneath her weight. It was a clever tactic on Rue's part, getting her clients to relax back in those comfortable chairs so that their eyes were half-mast as Rue subtly robbed them of every penny she could. That was why she liked working with the woman; Rue was every bit as ruthless in business as Kaoru was on a run. There was something infinitely reassuring in knowing that her jobs were coming from someone who was just as much a shark in the water as she. After all, the more money Kaoru made, the more money Rue made.
Rue took a few deep breaths, closing her eyes to concentrate on reeling back her emotions. She rolled across the floor in her office chair to the minibar she kept stocked, reaching inside the tiny freezer for a tray of ice cubes. A few cubes were dropped into two lowball glasses, and from a crystal decanter she poured two fingers of some kind of clear liquid. Then upon second thought, she added another finger to one of the glasses.
The Fixer rolled back to her desk with a glass in either hand, and slid the one with less liquid in it over to Kaoru.
The Japanese woman arched an eyebrow as she wondered, "What is it?"
"Vodka," Rue replied, and swirled the ice in her glass.
Kaoru took a cautious sniff. It had been awhile since she'd indulged in anything apart from cheap beer, and she asked, "Real vodka?"
With a grin, Rue told her, "Goes down smooth and with enough after-burn to kick you in the teeth."
Shrugging mentally, Kaoru raised her glass, murmuring, "Kanpai."
"Kanpai," Rue chorused after her, and clinked her glass against the shadowrunner's. They drank the bitter alcohol all at once, and Rue set down her heavy glass with a bang.
Kaoru followed her example with less fanfare, and laced her fingers together across her lap.
"So what can I do for you?" Rue queried, tilting her head slightly. The iridescent extensions in her hair threw off little rainbows on the wall; Kaoru suppressed a smile. Rue's accent had vanished with the receding tides of anger, leaving her voice utterly bland. Still, there was a softness, a musicality to it that most Midwesterners lacked; it was that thread of otherness that made her such a pleasure to listen to. Coupled with her strange fairytale hair, strands of iridescence lost amidst a sea of maraschino cherry red, all looped up on her head in some modern take on ancient opulence, she looked a little like the fairies inscribed on t-shirts at the goth kid store in the mall.
Redirecting her thoughts to focus on the immediate quandary, Kaoru stated baldly, "I need your help."
Rue quirked her eyebrow, the one with the little white scar bisecting it, and countered with, "It must be dire if you're actually using the word 'help' in a sentence."
Sighing, Kaoru admitted, "It's pretty bad. The Shiawase job is going down tonight, and my street sammy got picked up by Doc Wagon last night for brawling. He's still in intensive care. I'm down a man, which is not good. I skimmed on the crew as it was. You know I hate working with a team."
"So now you're up a creek without a paddle," Rue finished. She sighed and drilled her nails on the blotter. "Look, I don't know how much of that phone conversation you caught, but the deal is this: I don't have anybody I can recommend to you. All my runners are on jobs, in the morgue, or doing time. There's nobody else."
"Come on, Rue," Kaoru wheedled, "There's got to be somebody. It's not rocket science. I just need someone who can scoop up a kid." When Rue shot her a long-suffering look and began to open her mouth, the adept put in, "You owe me one. Remember that time I swam through marshmallow fluff?"
With another gusty exhalation, the redhead exclaimed, "What do you want me to do, Kaoru? Come out of retirement? I'm the only runner I know who's not already engaged."
Glancing up at the ceiling, Kaoru thought about that for a second. If she just tweaked this, and that…then…yes, that would work. That would work rather nicely. A slow smile began to spread on her face.
"Oh no," Rue began adamantly, "I am done with that craziness. Done. You hear me?"
Kaoru already heard the slight waver in her resolve, and knew it was just a matter of finding the right button to push to make Rue cave in.
Ten minutes later, the redhead capitulated with a sigh and a muttered, "Now you're gonna owe me."
"Fine," Kaoru agreed.
"What?" The Asian woman's nose wrinkled as she drew back.
"You fucking heard me. You've been dodging me for months. We're getting all dolled up, going out to a club, and you are going to help me wrangle some quality cock. You're single, I'm single; let's tear this city a new one." Rue crossed her arms over her chest and stared Kaoru down.
Kaoru had nothing to say except, "Hai?"
After they got everybody up to speed on the new plan, night had fallen. They left for Shiawase's Seattle HQ, deep in the heart of downtown surrounded by other towering buildings, its soft blue lights highlighting the glossy planes and reflecting on some of its neighbors. Kaoru, Rue, and Aiden took their bikes. Rue rode behind Aiden, and raised her eyebrows at Kaoru, mouthing, 'Nice!' Kaoru suppressed a grin. They parked a few blocks away in a public garage. Gizmo cheerfully agreed to hack into the system when they picked up their bikes later to wipe away their debt to the garage.
Comms on, they surveyed the skyline and waited for the signal that Gizmo was in place and ready to rock.
Rue tugged on her securely fastened brunette wig. Her eyes has been temporarily altered to look slanted through the use of a little tape and some make-up, to match the fake ID badge that she and Gizmo had cooked up earlier. The fashionista was dressed plainly for her in an armored pant-suit and sensible black flats for her to run in. Underneath the strategic cut of her coat was a tazer strapped to her waist. Once she met Kaoru on the inside, she'd add a light pistol, tranq gun, and a back-up knife to her arsenal. They were trying to keep this a strict retrieval mission, no lives taken unless necessary, but a good runner was always prepared for any eventuality.
Aiden and Kaoru were using the stealth approach to get into Shiawase. They had five minutes to get to the roof of the building next door while Gizmo kept their security system busy, and then jump onto the roof of Shiawase.
Sharkey's only job was to maintain vigilance and wait for his cue to raise his borrowed bird, an old Stallion, to meet them for pick-up.
Of course, that was all dependent on whether or not Gizmo got in the building. Kaoru glanced at her watch, and tugged up the collar on the oversized brown coat she wore over the armored black catsuit she preferred and backpack full of supplies. As it hit 0300, Gizmo's voice crackled to life of the comms. "Approaching entry point."
Gizmo walked up to the alley exit. The dumpsters nearby stunk like rotting corpse. He swallowed hard against the urge to gag, and tugged down his janitor's cap. He was wearing Shiawase company coveralls. They'd cost him a pretty penny in bribes, but it was easily balanced out by the amount this job would bring in. He was wheeling a large garbage can with him, which the actual night janitor had wheeled outside earlier and left for him with his building keys. Sometimes it paid off to pay up.
He swiped the janitor's keycard over the door lock, letting it snap back to the rest of the key ring. The heavy door let out a loud, low buzz, and the lock popped open. Gizmo wheeled the garbage can inside, taking it back to the closet the real janitor had told him to put it in, and pulled out the cart of cleaning supplies. When he didn't see anybody in the halls, just long stretches of white and beige, he subvocalized, "Move to position A."
Kaoru and Aiden took a long look at Rue. The Fixer winked at them and said to Kaoru, "Remember, you owe me."
Nodding, Kaoru followed Aiden to the stairs.
Gizmo left his cart down the hall and was able to crack into the server room in record time. At that time of night, the place was as quiet as a nursery except for the whirr of machines like an infant's breath.
He had forty-six minutes before security did a sweep of the area again. Setting his commlink to inform him five minutes beforehand, Gizmo settled down in front of the nexus and reached out wirelessly for Pacific Bank's signal next door. Hacking them was child's play in comparison to what he was going to have to do to Shiawase's system. Through his link he told Kaoru and Aiden, "Door's open. Go." His AR connection blinked in his eyes, showing him a rather simple OS. Clicking through them, Gizmo found the security settings and sent a message to the cameras to loop the last thirty seconds. He smiled as he saw Aiden and Kaoru enter the abandoned building and hit the up arrow on the elevator.
They got out on the top floor.
Gizmo checked the system as his teammates pounded up the stairs to the roof. The Bank's firewall had been easy to break through, and it didn't appear that his entrance had disturbed any IC's. That was why he banked in the Caymans, thank you very much. Those Islanders knew what they were doing. Gizmo popped the lock on the roof entrance as Kaoru and Aiden hit the last stair at a jog, and let it lock up again behind them. After a quick scan to verify there wasn't any roof security, he let the cameras downstairs resume their normal routine. They wouldn't be leaving the same way they'd came. He sent a quick IM to everybody: "Disengaged from P. Moving to S."
Kaoru heard the door lock behind them again at the same time she received Gizmo's IM. She dropped her coat on the roof, and tugged up the black mesh covering that hid the lower half of her face from view. Due to a slight case of claustrophobia, she had never adjusted to wearing full stealth gear. Her armored catsuit was a custom creation, the mask portion connected to the rest through artful seams and held on the bridge of her nose by small pieces of wire boning almost like a miniature corset. Black hair had been brushed severely beforehand, removing all the loose strands, and pulled back in a tight braid that was then waxed into place.
She flexed her gloved hands and stood still as Aiden unzipped her backpack, pulling out the heavy duty crossbow and the stabilizing bolt that would dig its way through six inches of concrete, giving them a steady connection for the rope they were going to use to cross.
Aiden loaded the bolt, and then asked her, "You want to take the shot?"
Shrugging, she replied shortly, "You're a good enough shot. Just don't fuck it up."
The elven mage shot her a droll glance and deadpanned, "Gee, thanks. No pressure or anything." With a deep breath in and then out, where he held it, the mage took aim at the building next door, slightly shorter than the one they were currently standing on, and pulled the trigger. The bolt released with a powerful fwap and sliced through the air, embedding itself deep in the concrete wall just next to the roof entrance, the black rope sailing through the air behind it like a comet's tail. The remaining coils of rope lay beneath Kaoru's foot where she'd casually stepped on it to prevent the remaining yards from accidentally flying away with their bolt. Without comment, she picked it up and walked to the flag pole, winding the rope around it a few times and tying it in a secure knot a few feet up from the ground. It would give them a nice angle for a fast ride down.
While he preferred a wireless interface, Gizmo recognized that the connection would be stronger through a hard line, and therefore faster. Time was of utmost importance. "You should be honored," he told the computer, "I don't hook up with just anyone." Then he jacked into the nexus, switching from AR to the Matrix, and picked the lock on the mainframe.
He heard Aiden report in as though from very far away: "Ready to move to position B. Holding until confirmation."
The firewall was about as complicated as Gizmo expected, meaning by the time he finally heard the tumblers click there was sweat beading at his hairline in RL. His persona, however, remained cool and unshaken, his strange, bare, three-fingered hands completely adept with the lock picks. His over-large bat-like ears wiggled with joy as the lock sprang, and he walked into Shiawase's nexus. When no alarms went off, Gizmo sent out the mental command to go to security. The Matrix shuffled around him, the hallway suddenly blurring as the doors moved like the pictures on a slot machine. The security office slammed into focus in front of him, the heavy steel door and its multiple locks indicating a firewall of its own.
He knew time in the Matrix was different from real time, but Gizmo still felt the pressure as he went to work on the system. It didn't seem to matter how experienced he was, how good he got, he never became immune to the pressure to succeed. Luckily, he was good under pressure. He uploaded one of his own programs, a decryption key that would sneak into the firewall and ferret out the password in record time using the echoes of past data entry. In the VR world basically that meant he was looking at the worn keys on the keypad and deciphering the possible combos. The program quickly filled in the blanks, telling him that six and three were the first and second numbers respectively. After that it was a matter of eliminating all the combinations that didn't have those two numbers. The second code succeeded, and he stepped into the security room, data and programs represented as old fashioned monitors and keyboards, complete with the security pilot as a fat man in a rent-a-cop uniform munching on a donut. Before he even realized there was an intruder, Gizmo administered a tranq and temporary paralytic to the pilot before it could alert the ICs.
The room clear, his furry persona hopped up into the pilot's vacated chair. He wiggled his fingers and toes, flexing the six digits on either end, and then started inputting commands into the security system like a maestro conducting an orchestra. First things first, turn off the alarm on the dorm's roof doorway, and then open the locks.
Another IM went off to Aiden and Kaoru: "Ready. Go."
He didn't stop to see if they'd respond, just moved on to the next task, inputting Rue's false ID into the personnel records.