monitor. I was known to be quick and nasty in a firefight. I was the chummer who'd survived the most adventures with Dr. Raven-and that was no mean feat. To gillettes like Zig and Zag that meant I must be heavily cybered. The idea that I might be someone who used magic to augment his skills hadn't occurred to them. And, because they had chosen a route that virtually barred them from using magic, the magical arts baffled and scared them.

Zig handed me a small stick of black grease paint. He'd darkened his face all over, then erased out two downward-pointing triangles with dots in the middle. 'Symbol of the Halloweeners over in the Green River District.'

'I know.' I put the face paint stick down on a crate. 'I don't paint up.'

That seemed to surprise them almost as much as my having used magic. After the Ghost Dances had worked and killed lots of folks, many people had traveled out to the reservations and swelled the population of what are now called the Native American Nations. Some later left because the lifestyle didn't suit them, but those who stayed contributed to the polyglot make-up of the tribes. Consequently it wasn't completely strange to find a white man who knew Indian magic, but it was weird to find one who didn't go the whole way and paint up before battle- though I saw going 'native' like that too showy for my tastes.

Like the folks you scrag will care what you looked like while doing it.

I broke the tension. 'I don't paint up for something I hope won't be a battle. I'll be out there getting the girl, so I'll be naked-nude anyway.' I pointed to the Kalash-nikovs they carried. 'Those AK-97s look like old friends.'

Zig patted his automatic rifle affectionately. 'Sighted at four hundred meters for close work like this. Stood me in good stead during the Triad War out on the Strip.' 'Good.' I gave both of them one of my I-have-confidence-in- you smiles. 'The drill's the same as earlier today. You get Val and Moira out. La Plante uses his grunges for muscle. If things get nasty, pop one or two of them, then see-saw your way out of there. If you burn a clip, I expect all the shots to hit a grunge, or you'd best be shooting at me. Hit and move-a war of attrition we can't win.'

Both of them gave me a thumb's-up so I turned to Val. 'Sure you don't want a gun?'

She shook her head with disgust. 'You've got me bundled up in kevlar so tight I can barely breathe. The last thing I want to do is make myself a target so they'll have cause to shoot me.'

I chuckled lightly. 'Okay. Moira is your charge. Things get nasty, you get her out of there. Zig and Zag will keep the beasts at bay.'

Val nodded. 'You got the chip?'

I patted the pocket of my jacket. 'Check.' I hefted my MP-9 and let it dangle by the strap over my right shoulder. 'Let's do this clean and all go home healthy. Places, everyone.' I filled my lungs with air and calmed my racing heart. 'It's showtime.'

I stepped from the warehouse into a dock area that had been cleared of anything approximating cover. Lit by bright halogen lights that held the night's darkness at bay, the open arena was defined, on two sides, by crates and loading machinery and on my side by the warehouse I'd just left. The fourth wall, the one I faced as I slipped between some crates, had been formed by another warehouse. The large doors stood open and La Plante's limo had been parked in it so the hood and tail of the vehicle almost appeared to be holding the doors back.

A dozen grunges sporting various styles of submachine guns stood dutifully behind the limo and pointed their weapons in my direction. I held my hands away from my body and kept them open, but I knew my magically enhanced reflexes would allow me to shoulder the gun and snap off a half-dozen rounds before they even saw me move. In three seconds I could clear the clip and draw the Viper from my waistband to finish the job…

Back off, Wolfgang. It's the Old One's meddling that's making you think that way.

The Chauffeur appeared in the middle of the line of grunges. 'Drop the gun, Kies.'

I barked out a sharp laugh. 'Dream on. You've got me covered a dozen ways to Sunday.'

The grunges La Plante had hired began to hoot and twitter like the half-witted beasts they were. Ugly as sin and more stupid than even Ronnie, they were drawn from the ranks of those who didn't take their 'goblin-ization' at all well. After their hormones kick in they start thinking a lot less and make perfect little automatons for someone like La Plante to exploit. Of course, that's not to suggest they couldn't be cunning little beggars and get themselves into plenty of trouble, but it generally takes someone with an IQ in at least the low eighties to whip them into a destructive frenzy. The ork community tried to do all it could to save their less fortunate brethren from connivers like La Plante, but a helping hand isn't as attractive as a hand filled with nuyen.

I pointed to myself. 'I'm going to walk out to the middle of this area and you'll send the girl to me. I'll turn over the chip to you. Keep your fingers off the triggers and this might just go down well.'

I didn't hear what The Chauffeur said to the grunges, but their gibbering stopped. I crossed to the center of the arena, using my magically enhanced senses as best I could to see if I'd just walked into a massive trap. The halogen lights were a problem because they left the tops of the warehouses in an impenetrable darkness that did nothing to make me feel at ease. I had to assume La Plante had people up there securing the high ground, but the fact that the only grunges I saw were leaning on his ride did not reassure me. When I reached the middle I stopped. The passenger door of the limo opened and a slender woman of indeterminate age left it to stand beside the vehicle. She didn't look like the simsense I'd seen of her-yeah, everyone says that about sim shot of them-but I knew instantly that she had to be Moira Alianha. The pale dress she wore was fashionably short and revealed legs I was almost willing to die for, but she quickly cloaked herself with a dark wool blanket to ward off the chill air.

With her head up, and just the tips of her ears peeking out through the long veil of her midnight hair, she walked toward me. I gave her a smile intended to inspire hope and confidence, but she ignored me and only saw the black and red raven patch on the shoulder of my jacket. She blinked twice and then I thought she was going to faint.

I reached out and steadied her. 'Easy now, Ms. Alianha. We're almost home.'

She touched the patch with incredibly slender fingers. 'My husband sent you?'

I frowned and figured she was confused. 'I work for Richard Raven.'

Moira smiled. 'Yes, my husband to be.6'

I almost swallowed my tongue. 'Huh? Say what?'

She just looked at me with vibrant green eyes.

Suddenly everything seemed to run to chaos in my head. 'Does anyone else know who you are to Raven?'

Moira shook her head. 'No, not here, why?'

I let her question drift by unanswered. 'Don't tell anyone, period.'If anyone finds out that she's close to Raven, her life won't be worth a melted sim and she could be used against Raven when dealing with scum like La Plante. His aides, folks like me and Val, accept the dangers connected with belonging to Raven's group. Moira was lucky that La Plante had no idea of her true value, or this little exchange would be lots more rude.

6This was a shocker. I didn't even know Doc was dating. Turns out he wasn't, but that's a story for another time.

The Chauffeur shouted at me. 'Let's save the tea party and true confessions for later. We want the chip, now!'

Carefully, slowly, I reached into my jacket pocket. I withdrew from it a white piece of plastic about three centimeters square. The chip itself showed up in sharp contrast to the snowy plastic wafer to which it had been mounted. 'I'll just put it down here…'

I felt the plastic quiver and the chip explode as the bullet shot through it at Mach 4. The booming, rolling echo of the gunshot followed the bullet by a split-second, but I'd already turned and started to push Moira to safety. My right hand dropped the piece of plastic and enfolded the MP-9's pistol grip. I swept the gun around and snapped off two shots, one of which sent a headless grunge pitching back to the warehouse floor. I heard the staccato roar of Zig and Zag's AK-97s and saw three more grunges drop out of sight amid sparks lancing from the limo's armored frame.

Gunmen hidden on the rooftops slowly stood and their weapons lipped flame as I dragged and pushed Moira out of the killing zone. With so many people concentrating on just the pair of us I was sure we'd be blasted to ribbons before we'd gone a half-dozen steps, but the men on the roof started shooting at La Plante's grunges. The confused orks returned the fire, but did so ineffectively because of the wealth of targets and the babel of orders being shouted by The Chauffeur.

I'd just propelled Moira through the narrow warehouse doorway when a bullet finally caught me. It blew into

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