Apparently satisfied that she was alone, he enered. He was big and filled the frame as he passed Ifhrough. His entry stirred the stagnant air of the room, I swirling dust aloft and carrying a putrid scent to her trils. The owner of the first face scurried in behind

She could see others gathered on the landing. The two ghouls moved toward her cautiously, as if expected her to attack. She had intimidated a lot people in the last year. She shifted and raised a id. It was all she could do and she almost blacked at from the effort. Unaware of how helpless she was, flinched back. It was a small victory, but all she likely to get. She had no strength to resist them. |The ache in her limbs had kindled to fire and she wilted fin the rising blaze.

When they saw that she made no further motion,

|diey resumed their approach. Just short of her out! stretched leg, the big one halted. The smaller one sidled carefully up to the other, sheltering behind his broad back. The big one crouched. With a start, the other followed suit to avoid being exposed. A soft hissing came from the others gathered in the hall.

The big one reached out a tentative finger to poke her. When she didn't respond, he ran his hand down her calf in a caress as he spoke to his companion. Most of his words sounded like gutter Chinese, but some were Japanese and English. His accent and the speed with which he spoke left her uncomprehending. The small one straightened and took a step back. Watching her with wary eyes, he backed away.

They remained like that for a time. She lay still, her only action an occasional convulsion or shiver. The big ghoul stood silently by the door, watching her and waiting. Maybe they had to gather the rest of the pack before they feasted. Now that they had cornered her, she found it hard to care. If they killed her, the pain would stop. Once she was dead, what they did to her body wouldn't matter to her. Having surrendered to her despair, she found it easy to contemplate surrendering to the insistent call of oblivion. A commotion roused her from her drifting semicon – _

Robert N. Charrette scious state. Though still racked with pain, she found herself able to shift her head slightly. It was nighta151or night again. She had no way of knowing. The big ghoul was still in the room, but he had changed his position. The small one was returning, leading a figure much bigger than himself. She wasn't really sure who or what the newcomer was. She couldn't seem to focus clearly on him. One moment he seemed huge and menacing, a lumbering furry hulk; the next, he was a slim, strongly-built man attired in street leathers.

He entered the room, moving confidently and showing none of the fearful reticence of the ghouls. Kneeling beside her, he placed a hand on her wrist. To her surprise, he showed no reluctance to touch her. Hugh hadn't been reluctant, either. The stranger felt her pulse while he visually examined her. She noted that his eyes stopped at the band on her left wrist. Completing his survey, he looked her in the eyes and smiled.

'Don't be afraid,' he said in Japanese. 'They won't hurt you.'

'Why'd you pick Japanese?' she asked. She wasn't ready to trust him yet. Anyone who ran with ghouls was an outlaw. But then, she was an outlaw herself now.

He briefly shifted his glance to the band before speaking. 'I've been to Yomi, too.'

Nothing else was said for a minute. What needed to be said? Anyone who knew Yomi understood pain and fear. She felt suddenly reassured. Not all outlaws were criminals by choice. Maybe he was a shadowrunner, one of those renegades from the corporate world who fought injustice. Or he might be a murderer. How could she know?

'What is your name?' he asked.


'No family name?'

'No family.'

'I see. I am called Shiroi, Janice. I am most pleased to make your acquaintance.'

His politeness seemed all out of place in the crumbling ruin, but still she felt embarrassed by her churlishly terse responses. Nevertheless, doubts and suspicion ruled her tongue. 'Why is that?'

'There is no need for you to be so defensive. I would be the last one to take you back to Yomi.'

'I didn't think that you were jigoku-shi. '

'I am no master of hell. I assure you that I have no connection with those abhorrent racists.'

No, he wasn't. He was too handsome to be jigokushi. But no man walks the face of the earth alone. 'Who do you work for?'


So ka. If he wasn't lying, he'd want to be recom-' pensed for his trouble. In the last year she had learned about paying her own way. 'I haven't got any credit to pay you.'

'I am not asking for payment, Janice. In my own small way, I am a philanthropist. I take joy in helping people adjust to their new lives. I look forward to helping you find your way.''

Could she believe him? 'All I want to find is a way to escape this pain and a way to get out of this dump.''

'That I can arrange.'

He began to sing softly. Succumbing to his song, she passed away from her pain and suspicions, falling into a healing sleep.

The passengers were nervous with good reason. Sam Verner was nervous himself, and he didn't have any guns pointed at him. To the terrified corporates huddling in their seats, the shadowrunners would seem much like rabid beasts, ready to savage them for no reason. Such an evaluation might in fact not be too far from the truth. It was certainly Sam's own assessment of the unstable muscleboy in front of him.

Jason Stone was short, but he didn't need the heavybarreled Sandier TMP submachine gun in his hands to give him a dangerous presence. The Indian's rebuilt muscles and quick, nervous motions told their own tale. He was what was known in the alleys as a street samurai, muscle for hire, chromed with cyberware to set him beyond the frailty of the flesh. Like many of his kind, the trade of meat for machine meant that some of his spirit had been tossed out with the undesired body parts. The cold chrome eye shields shuttered the windows to what was left of his soul, but his leering smile exposed what was left of his emotions, leaving no doubt that he would be happy to use his weapon.

At the other end of the cabin, Fishface George and Grey Otter were menacing the crew in similar fashion. They were samurai too, though less extreme examples of the breed, and neither walked as close to the edge of sanity as their leader. That was just as well. Sam needed the muscle for cover, but he didn't think he could deal with more than one samurai of Jason's hellbent aggressiveness.

Sam slid past Jason. He knew that he was blocking some of the samurai's field of fire, but he was confident that the others would cover the gap. They always had before. They might not like Sam, but they knew he was their meal ticket. They'd keep him safe until they were paid off.

'Two minutes, Sir Twist,' buzzed the receiver in Sam's ear. Sam nodded unconsciously to the speaker, but Dodger couldn't see the acknowledgment. He was on a remote broadcast, the only way to link the elf's position in the Matrix with Sam's ground team aboard the shuttle craft. Dodger could have left the mundane time count to a subroutine, but his personal attention indicated his concern. They were all expecting the run to be easy, but Dodger was playing cautious. If anything blew up, a subroutine would be outclassed and purged by intrusion countermeasures before Sam could know about it. An on-line decker was Matrix security that every shadowrunner wanted.

In two minutes, the craft's preplanned ground time would be up and, by then, the Aztechnology shuttle was supposed to be airborne, on its way to the SeaTac international airport. If the runners delayed it, the metroplex air traffic control would be alerted. The plan called for the shuttle to lift on schedule, giving the runners time to get away with their prize before pursuit could be called in. They had managed to board just as the craft was leaving the gate, successfully slipping past the ground crew. So far, only the passengers in the main cabin knew of their presence. Dodger's black box had frozen communications with the pilot's compartment as soon as Sam had affixed it to the wall. They should have been gone already, slipping away into the night, but their man hadn't responded to the code phrase when they had announced their presence to the passengers. Time was trickling away. Where was Raoul Sanchez?

The Indian was pushing, testing Sam as he had ever since the split with Ghost. Jason liked to claim he was as good as Ghost, but Sam had never seen even a remote resemblance. Ghost Who Walks Inside was a real warrior, cast in the mold of his people's ancient heroes. Ghost was worthy of being called a samurai, unlike this cybered

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