“Well, at least I can say I know what it feels like to be hit by a ton of bricks,” Tala thought to herself sourly. She finally felt as though she had put enough distance between herself and Lonestar and decided to take a moment to try compose her thoughts.
She carefully looked over the road rash she received from jumping out of the back of the Doc Wagon. It was red and angry, and now that the adrenaline was running out, painful. Tala carefully pulled out some of the larger pieces of gravel and debris that were embedded in her arm. Each one she pulled out was more painful than the previous, and on top of the dump headache she was having, she was close to passing out.
“I need to get somewhere safe,” she spoke aloud, to no one in particular, “but where the hell can I go?” Worry flashed through her mind, did the Lonestar register her SIN? “Drek, drek, drek, drek, drek!” Tala had never been a part of a job gone south, and had no reason to ever worry about her SIN getting turned into a Criminal SIN. Until now, that is. She quickly shut off her broadcast, and decided to try and hoof it to one of her contact’s safe rooms. Quickly pulling up a map, she saw that she was only about a few blocks away from one owned by a former teammate and a former flame. “Drek,” she cursed under her breath, "hopefully noone’s home.
Tala pulled her long brown hair in to a messy bun on top of her head, and ripped up one of her shirts to fashion a makeshift bandage for her arm. She gently wrapped her arm and hoped that it looked enough like it was supposed to be there so not to draw too much attention to herself. She peaked around the corner of the alley she had stopped in and figured she could blend easily in. Once she got to the safe room, she could figure out her next set of moves.
After what seemed like an eternity, she found herself in front of the building that contained her contact’s safe room. They hadn’t exactly parted on good terms. – Gin wanted a girl he could dress up and flaunt, and she wasn’t exactly ready to settle down – so she hoped that no one was there. As she keyed in the pass code she had memorized, she was surprised that it still worked. The familiar little tune he had programmed for her chirped happily, and the door unlocked for her. Tala quickly slid in, and made sure to lock and cipher the door behind her. The flat looked just as she had remembered, almost as if she had only left a few days ago. She quickly moved to the kitchen. Hopefully a drink would help her get rid of the dumpshock she was still experiencing.
As she plopped onto the couch, the vidscreen lit up. “Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in. Looks like little Talatun finally decided to come home.” Without missing a beat or looking at the screen Tala saluted the screen with her middle finger. “Now, is that the proper way to treat the person who’s safe house you’re current using?”
“Not now Gin.”
The voice on the vidscreen laughed warmly and deeply, still able to send a quick shiver down Tala’s back after all these years. “What’s wrong Tala? Afraid to admit you’ve still got feelings for me?”
“You wish Breeder.”
“Ouch,” Gin responded sarcastically. “You wound me with your words.”
“Yeah, well if you were here, I’d wound you in other ways too.”
“Well then Tala, doesn’t look like you’ve come home to play.” Gin paused and his face got larger on the screen. Concern creeped into his voice. “And your arm isn’t looking too good either.”
Tala took a quick look at her arm, blood was seeping through. “Drek,” she muttered, as she quickly placed her beer on the table and rushed back to the restroom.
“Tala? What’s going on? You show up after three years, and you look like you’ve been dragged through hell. Come here and talk to me.” The laughter had left his voice and genuine concern replaced it. “It’s not that Grunge is it? Did he finally betray you?”
Peaking back through the door to look at the vidscreen, she responded, “No Gin, Volke did not betray me. You know, as well as I know, that he isn’t capable of that.” She moved back to the sink and poured some alcohol on her cuts. “Drek!” Tala cried out and flinched from the pain, “that fraggin’ hurts.” She gritted her teeth and took to wrapping her arm with an actual bandage. She then looked through the medicine cabinet for anything that could stop her head from pounding. Satisfied with what she found, she walked back to the living room and popped the pills before taking a swig of her beer. “Gin, someone played us. I don’t even know if Volke made it out alive.”
“Tala, listen to yourself. Someone played you? You guys are so covert, most people have never even heard of you. Why would someone come after you?” Gin took a few moments to collect his thoughts after realizing she wasn’t kidding.. “What happened Talatun?”
“I don’t know Gin. It seemed simple enough. Renraku hired us to extract some Mr. Johnson. Last minute job, triple the going rate. I knew something was off, cause I had to go in hot to disable the security, but…”
“You had to go in hot?” He bellowed, interrupting her. Gin was pissed and not going to let her hear the end of it. “Tala, why didn’t you trust your gut? You know better than that. If you have to go in hot to disable security, then something’s off. Not even Volke would have let you do that! Did you actually speak up?” Her silence was the answer. “Of course not. Following that stupid, fraggin’ Grunge blindly as always. You and your stupid daddy complex.”
Tala pressed the cold bottle to her forehead. She spoke quietly. “First off, I didn’t come here to get a lecture Gin. I just needed to rest, get over this dumpshock, and I’d be out of here. Didn’t think you had it wired to trigger to let you know if I show up. Second, don’t get started on my issues, when you have just as many. Third. Uh. There was a third, but my head feels like it’s about to explode, and I don’t remember it. So please, take it down a notch?”
“Fine. I’m sorry Tala. I worry about you. That’s all. Imagine my surprise when I got the alert.”
It was Tala’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, I guess after the last conversation we had, you probably never expected to see me again.” She lifted her legs onto the couch and laid down. “Sorry about that by the way.”
“It’s water under the bridge Little Bird. Get some rest. Check back in with me when you wake up.”
Tala smiled at the term of endearment and nodded before drifting quickly to sleep.
Tala woke up with a start. She had forgotten where she was, and didn’t know how long she had been out for. Panicking, she fell off of the couch, and right onto her injured arm. “Drek!” she cried out in pain, and the past few hours came rushing back to her. She slowly gathered her bearings and stood up, nursing her arm gently. She limped back to the restroom, realizing now that must have twisted her knee jumping from the Doc Wagon. She started the shower, setting it to scalding hot before stepping in.
She let the water rush over her, as she processed the day’s events through her mind. What had gone wrong? They had set up the normal precautions. This was a normal, everyday job for the team. Nothing appeared to be different. Then it dawned on her: The Dandelion Eater. He was new to the team, and this was supposed to be his trial run. He was overly excited, and pushed Volke hard to take the job. She shut the water off, wrapped herself in a towel and ran to the vidscreen. She paged Gin who answered immediately.
“Have a good re…” Gin paused and looked her up and down, “Tala, why are you only wearing a towel?”
“Doesn’t matter. I know why the job went south. Can you put a trace on Aelaeion Talvathar? I need to find out if Volke is alive.”
“Yeah, about that job of yours? It’s all over the news. Might want to lay low for a little bit.”
“Can’t. Now can you trace him, or did you forget how after leaving the team?”
Gin rolled his eyes. “Running the trace, but you need to rest. And as much as Volke and I butted heads, I’ll give him credit, that ork is practically immortal.” Gin looked away from the screen. “Are you sure that this name is legit? Might be an alias.”
“We ran backgrounds on anyone who joined the crew. You know that. Even if it is an alias, it’s tied to him, and it’s traceable.” She shook her head. “That stupid dandelion eater set us up, and I am going to find out why.”
“Tala, are you not listening to me? This is all over the news, and you’re trying to dive head first back into it. You need to lay low and rest. You’re running around, wearing only a fraggin’ towel and mumbling about an elf who betrayed you.”
She ignored him. “Gin, the trace?”
“Fine.” Gin let out a heavy sigh, “Looks like someone using that alias hitched a ride on a corporate flight. Again, that’s only from tracing his SIN, haven’t run anything on his financials or hook ins.” Gin paused. “Tala, please sit down? You’re making me nervous.”
She did as she was asked. “I need to make him pay Gin, he screwed with the wrong team. Those are members of my family he set up for slaughter!” She looked up at the screen, tears welling up in her eyes. “Please Gin, I know I’ve got a lot of nerve asking for your help. But please. Help me.”
“Tala, you should know by now that you can ask anything of me,” Gin flashed her a smile, “that’s never changed. It’s gonna take a few to confirm what’s going on with this elf. Go get dressed before you distract me. I’ve still got some of your old clothes in the closet. Last thing you need is to go out in blood stained clothes and draw attention. I’ll keep running the trace.”
Realization hit Tala like the proverbial ton of bricks. “I don’t deserve this. Thank you Gin.” She ran back to the bedroom and found the clothes Gil had referred to. She dried off quickly and wrapped her arm in a fresh bandage before slipping them on. After tying her hair up in a quick braid, she headed back out to the vidscreen.
“Looks like the flight he’s on is a straight shot to Seattle. SIN and financials match.” Gin looked back at Tala." Smart choice for an elf. Maybe a pit stop there before heading down to Tir Tairngire?"
“Maybe, but I’m not going to let him get that far.”
“Gin, I need to do this.”
“Then don’t interrupt me when I’m talking.” Gin offered up the smile he reserved just for her. “Go grab my bug out bag. There’s a false panel in the closet that it’s hidden behind. There’s some fake SINs in there, an untraceable credit chip with a few thousand yuen, maybe a bag of tricks or two.” He winked at her. Tala just stared at him, confused. “Don’t look at me that way Tala. I learned a long time ago, that once you’re set on something, there’s no one in the world who’s going to change your mind.” He paused and smiled at her again. “I’ve uploaded a map with the fastest way to the runner’s shack. Go see if you can find Volke. I may not be able to keep you safe physically from where I am, but he can. Once you find him, go to Seattle. There’s a retired runner there, who can probably get you on the trail of the elf. He’s an old fragger, but he’s one of the best. Goes by the name Demon. I can let him know you’re coming.”
“Thank you. Really, I mean…”
“Tala, stop. Please? Just go find Volke. Go settle what you need to.”
“Good. And Tala, one more thing?”
“Promise me, don’t do anything stupid and stay safe?”
“Dammit Gin.” She kissed her fingers and placed them on the vidscreen. “Only cause you’re the one asking.”
“Then get out of here. They aren’t naming suspects, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any of your team’s SINs. Stay low and out of sight. I’ll set up some drop points with people I trust to get you out of the major metro. We can get you to Seattle from a flight on the skirts. Stay in contact. Please.”
The screen went blank. Tala went to the bedroom and grabbed the bug out bag… and one of Gin’s trademark leather jackets. Past be damned, Gin always knew how to get under her skin and remind her of her feelings for him. She unciphered the door and stepped out into the hallway, taking one last glance behind her, not knowing when she’d be back again.
“Dammit!” Tala kicked at some rubbish on the floor. The runner’s shack had been completely obliterated. She secretly hoped that it meant that Volke and the team had been through, but prepared herself for the worse.
She went room by room, looking for anything that could tell her what happened here. The armory had been wiped, The living quarters were completely up-heaved. Someone had wanted them dead. They knew the job didn’t kill everyone, and they were still looking for them.
With nothing left at the shack, Talatun knew of one other place that she may be able to find Volke. He had an offsite armory in the Underground that he could bunker down in if things got too hot. It was also his happy place that he would go to to get away from the other runners if he needed space.
Checking to make sure she wasn’t being followed, Tala traveled to a discreet entrance to the Underground. Orks and Trolls frowned about visitors, and the last thing she needed today was another fight. In spite of that, she made it to his armory in record time, and was glad to see as though it hadn’t been visited by the same people who made their presence known at the shack. She quickly keyed in his pass phrase, only to see that he had encrypted it. “That Mother Fragger!” Tala let out a laugh of relief as she quickly broke through.
As she stepped inside, she quickly noticed that Volke had been in a rush when leaving. The usual pristine appearance was disheveled, and Volke had left one of his favorite pistols on his cleaning table. As she walked up to the table, Tala noticed that Volke had left her a note. She read it, smiled, and grabbed the gun as she realized that Volke had figured out what had happened as well. Volke was already on his way to Seattle. “I just hope he leaves some of that Dandelion Eater for me,” she said, as she grabbed some ammo and threw it in Gin’s bug out bag.
As Gin had promised, Tala was able to get out of the Metro completely unnoticed. It was extremely uneventful, and she wondered what strings he had pulled to make it that way. As she sat down on the plane, she pulled out one of her Decks and pinged Gin.
“Keeping promises I see?” Gin’s smile greeted her. “Everything went smoothly? Did you find Volke?”
“Smoothly, yes. Volke, no. Looks like he already skipped town. Left me a lovely little note though. I figure he’s got about three days, maybe even five on me.”
Gin cocked his head to the side in confusion. “You mean the old man figured out something on his own? I guess an old dog can be taught new tricks.”
“Gin,” Tala tried to hold her laughter in. “That’s not very nice.”
“Yeah, what’s he gonna do about it? I’m getting his favorite decker to him in one piece. He can cut me some slack.”
“I’ll let you two deal with that. Did you get in touch with that Demon guy?”
Gin shook his head. “I sent him a message, but I haven’t gotten a response. Hopefully I’ll hear something before you land. You’ve got about a three and a half hour flight. Get some rest. I already know you’re going to hit the ground running once you land.”
“Ok Gin. I will. I’ll ping you once the plane has landed.”
“Sounds good Little Bird. Be Safe.”
As the screen went blank, Tala looked out the window. She was leaving everything she knew behind. She muttered to herself, “Stupid Dandelion Eater.”
As the plane landed, Tala pinged Gin again. She smiled, as it almost felt like their old days together. Maybe it was her emotions running high, but she thought that perhaps he was feeling the same way. His face came up on the screen. “I’m here Gin. Got anything for me?”
“Actually I do. Demon’s main hangout is a location in Redmond named Banshee. I’ve let him know you’re on your way. And I’ve uploaded the location to your Deck.”
“Ok. Is he briefed?”
“He knows as much as he needs to. I trust him, but you know that there’s only been one person I’ve ever really trusted.” He winked at her. “He said he might have some leads for you, and that he’ll go over them with you personally.”
“Sounds good Gin. I’ll be in touch.”
Gin flashed his grin at her. “Be safe. I’ll hear from you soon.”
Tala shut off her deck after grabbing the address and headed outside to hail a taxi. Watching the city pass her by through the window, she frowned, wondering what in store for her here. She didn’t know anyone and she was, at best, searching for two needles in a haystack. She knew that Gin would help her in anyway that he could, but he was back in Denver. She felt oddly alone.
As the taxi pulled up to Banshee, she cringed at it’s appearance. While her life in Denver was anything but glamorous, she felt like she was back at square one. Working in the drek parts of town, doing jobs that made her question her morality. She sighed, slung Gin’s bag over her shoulder and headed in.
Gin had told her to look for an older, tall human with long white hair. While he stuck out like a sore thumb, sitting at a back booth facing the door, it was the person sitting across from him that drew her attention. Having a certain ork’s back constantly means you get to know what it looks like.
“Volke?!” She squeaked out in surprise. The ork turned around, surprise at hearing his name. “Volke!” Tala ran across the bar and tackled him with a hug. At that point, she didn’t care that he wasn’t fond of affection. “You are alive! I knew it!”