Favours take place sometime between the events of A Pocket Full of Spells and The Seduction of Honey.
While doing a favour for an information broker, Braeden Wolf runs into more trouble than he expected.
A Braeden Wolf Short Story
The problem with doing a favour for someone is that you never know what you are getting yourself in for; it never turns out as simple as at first it seems. Worse, there are often strings attached that you didn’t know about ahead of time.
I should really have asked Haphazard about what was actually involved before offering her my services; I didn’t and there isn’t much point going on about old mistakes. You can’t change them, and I didn’t have time to dwell on them.
Of course when someone like Haphazard asks you for a favour, it isn’t easy to say no.
Haphazard, well, let’s just say that she is an information broker, one of those shadowy types that linger out of sight, with eyes and ears everywhere, collecting and trading information. If you need to find out something – or someone – they can tell you; for a price. Once you have that information they don’t want to know what you do with it. The one thing they won’t sell you is information on who they have supplied it too. They have reputations to maintain.
That kind of work, while not exactly illegal, isn’t without dangers. It is why they like to keep out of sight, working through intermediaries, and have guards.
But having someone like that owe you one is generally worth the risk, or so I thought at the time. It had all seemed simple enough when she had asked me for the favour; carry an encrypted data chip to one of her contacts.
That the contact was in one of the less salubrious parts of the Western Suburbs wasn’t a fact I was worried about. I could handle myself – and it appeared Haphazard thought so as well. At least it wasn’t in the heart of Southbrook; urban combat zone is one of the nicer things said about the place.
And that had led me to my current predicament.
My trail had led me to the part of the Western Suburbs disparagingly called, though never to its residents if you wanted to keep your teeth,FairyTown. It was the Aos Sí slums. The Aos Sí, sometimes called the Sidhe, aren’t fairies, at least not in the traditional sense. There are those who find the idea of them having slums hard to imagine, but just because they are tall, normally of athletic build, beautiful – if you like that inhuman look, and I’d banged enough Aos Sí chicks to put me in that category – and magically gifted didn’t make them any less likely to fall on hard times than anyone else, human or otherwise.
No one knows just how many people live in The City. Millions, that is for sure, but many people live undocumented in the sprawling Southbrook, and there are large parts of the city, like where I was, that no census worker would dare tread, least the city population go backwards.
The Aos Sí make up the largest non-human potion of The City, upwards of ten percent some say. Just like humans, they can range the full gamut from the mega rich, to the dirt poor, and ultraviolent as well.
Along one of the streets, about a block from where I was meant to meet Haphazard’s contact, a gang of Aos Sí loitered. Rain was swirling down from the night’s sky, and streetlights flickered fitfully. The walls of buildings along the street, many abandoned, were marked with gang signs and random graffiti. The Aos Sí loitered around a couple of drums in which fires burnt. Some were sitting on the hood of a stripped down car; all carried guns.
The situation wasn’t looking all that promising.
Well, ain’t this a fine mess you have gotten yourself in.
Most people have that snarky voice in the back of their heads that is quick to remind them of their errors in judgment. In my case she is real.
Her name is Jenny, and she is my genetic familiar. The result of experiments by some mad scientist type, she was an attempt to cross homunculi and familiars, to try and remove the limitations and problems of them both. It sort of worked.
Of course he then ate his gun and no one could figure out how he had done it, nor how to remove her from me. You see, she is bound to me by a magical tattoo, the ink of which included my own blood.
Most of the time she lives inside my head; those times she gets out she takes the form of an inoffensive animal, like a cat or rat or bat, though her favourite is a raven.
Sometimes she is even of use.
Nothing to say that this will go pear shaped, I told her.
One, who I took for the leader of the Aos Sí, sauntered towards me. His pale, almost white, hair was done in dreadlocks, he had a glowing tattoo in Aos Sí lettering on his cheek, and his eyes were steel; literally. They were cybernetic implants made to look like polished steel.
Somewhat unusually this lot were done up in black leathers and chains and studs; the norm among gangs at the time was for bright colours.
“Ya, cob, you be tressing on our patch, sav? Better ghost, man, else we knock ya good.”
The last thing I wanted was to get in a rumble with an Aos Sí gang. Most of them have some form of Incanter power, and while it wouldn’t be strong enough, hopefully, to trouble me, they’d have wards that would hamper my own Incantations and reduce its effectiveness.
But they were in the way of where I needed to be, and Haphazard wouldn’t be happy if I failed to make delivery on time.
It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to get away without some form of trouble; it is just the way gangs work.
“Cob, ya got trib, we be letting ya go. If ya got the chip, be forking it and we ain’t gonna have to knock ya.”
I cursed silently to myself. They had been tipped off about the chip; it made sense why they were loitering around here then.
“Man, I ain’t got no data ’bout no chip.” Double negative there; technically I hadn’t lied but I doubt Steeleyes would pick up on it.
“We be checking ya, for cert.”
There was no getting out of this now. Steeleyes was the packing the heaviest. He had a shotgun slung over his shoulder, and a semi auto in his hand, and a large calibre one at that, like I favoured, not one of those pissy lightweight 9mm jobs. Besides him were seven others. Six, while dangerous, weren’t the major concern, armed with cheap 9mm handguns that were ubiquitous to gangs.
The seventh, now she was the worry. Her white blonde hair had streaks of pink running through it and she wore a high collared black leather coat, complete with faintly glowing blue mystical symbols. That was pure tech there, but it did its job, alerting any stupid enough to throw down that she was an Incanter.
“Look man, I’ll give you everything I’ve got. Chill?” I told Steeleyes, stalling for time. He seemed to relax; after all, any sane person would back down in a situation like that.
I’ve never been accused of sanity.
As I reached into my jacket, I kicked my wired reflexes into gear, cybernetic augments fused to my central nervous system. When up and running they give a kick to my speed and reactions. A silently whispered word triggered an incantation rattling around in my mind, waiting for the final syllable to complete its matrix. My wards sprang to life and I gripped the .44 that was in my shoulder holster beneath the jacket.
The Aos Sí were not expecting that and I was already on the move before they started to react.
Two shots snapped off at close range took Steeleyes in the chest, punching through his armoured vest, while at the same time I lobbed another incantation in the direction of the Aos Sí. Given the numbers I was trying to hit, it was only low powered, but still possessed enough kick to rattle their minds for a couple of seconds. In combat even a spare second is like life.
Pink had thrown up her wards faster than I had expected, but the others were caught out, unable to shield themselves as the incantation exploded amongst them. The wards around Pink flared and battered the effects away, but the others were struck by it, momentarily dazed.
I took advantage of it to dart behind cover as Pink launched her own incantation back towards me. The only cover to be had was an old dataterm, built back when The City had seen better days. They were very solid constructs that housed phone, vid and ‘net services for use by the general public, with thick bulletproof touchscreens. Most people use their mobiles for that now, but they still survive, and come in handy as cover.
Pink’s incantation exploded against the dataterm, but even so the force of the wash that lapped around it still hit my wards hard. She was strong and a direct hit was not going to be fun.
I span out from behind the dataterm, the .44 at the ready. The gang members were stirring back into action, but my first, and main, issue was with Pink.
The gun roared in my hand as I fired on her; she had been expecting it. Grabbing one of her dazed companions she pulled him in front of her, and he was the one that took the shot.
Return fire came in, the Aos Sí opening up. One shot took me in the chest. Even with an armoured vest under my jacket and the synthweave woven through my skin, it still knocked the wind out of me. I dropped back down behind the dataterm again, trying to catch my breath. From the sharp pains as I breathed in, I may even have broken a rib.
There were hollers from the Aos Sí; I guess they felt they had nailed me.
To dissuade them, I stuck the .44 out from behind cover and fired off blindly in their direction. Yells resulted and heavy fire was returned, striking the dataterm and the ground around me.
I still have a few tricks left, Jen.
Actually, I only had one trick left. It was a good one, if a little risky. In effect you overclock your body and wired reflexes by pouring arcane energies into them, giving them a massive, if short term, boost. Hopefully that is all you will need. If you fail to emerge victorious before it burns out then you are well and truly buggered.
I sent a surge of arcane energies through the system, and boosted the wards to full strength. The world seemed to slow around me; it hadn’t really, but my body was running so fast it felt that way.
Ejecting an empty clip, I slotted a fresh one into the .44 and surged up out of cover, unleashing the nastiest hex I had prepared, powered up with all the juice I could force through it, arrowing it right at Pink. It slammed home into her wards and they flared bright as they struggled to hold it out.
Taking advantage of the distraction it was providing, I opened. Three rounds were sent her way, tearing through her wards. She dropped. The gun swung on, towards the rest of the Aos Sí, firing twice more.
One shot took an Aos Sí in the leg, while a second was hit, span about, and pitched face forward onto the street.
The Aos Sí had been returning fire in the meantime. One shot scored across my left arm, tearing through my jacket, but not the synthweave that hardened the skin. That isn’t to say it didn’t smart; there was going to be a hell of a bruise there.
The remaining three took to their heels and ran. Normally these gangs are so zoned out on pharmaceuticals that they tend not to notice, or not care, about what is going on. I lucked out with this lot.
All the gunfire was bound to attract attention. In this part of town, the least of my concerns was going to be with the bluebirds. There were far bigger concerns; rival gangs for starters. It was best not to stick around.
Even so, I couldn’t leave without a quick go over of the bodies, taking wallets, spare ammo and anything else valuable and easy to pocket; we all have to make a living somehow.
The Aos Sí I had taken in the leg was still there, cursing fluently, but not in English. As I walked over, he fumbled for his gun to try and pick it up. I quickly reversed my .44 and brought it down on his head, knocking him insensible.
There was no need to shoot him. Sure, in combat I’ll shot a man, or vamp, zombie, demon or anything else that gets in my way, but I ain’t a murderer.
This lot were remarkably unencumbered with anything in the way of wealth, a poor score to be certain. Pocketing what little there was I quickly hurried off down the street, rain falling around me, as the overclocking dropped out and I was hit by a wall of lethargy.
The sooner I offloaded this chip, the sooner I could go somewhere dry, light up a cigar and have a stiff drink or three. I felt I had earned it.
All this was a result of doing a favour. That is the peril of favours; one doesn’t know just how deep you are going to find yourself, and in this case it had been deeper than usual.
Next time, just take a cab, Jenny told me. It’ll solve a lot of problems.
And with that I couldn’t really argue.