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Bishoujo Senshi
Part One

A Sailor Moon/ Shadowrun crossover story
by Aaron Bergman

Author's notes: Fair warning-- This is far more Shadowrun than Sailor Moon. You won't see the Evil Queen (insert strange mineral, vegetable, or insect related name here) ruling a Big Bad Megacorp opposed by the virtuous and mighty Senshi, nor will there be Moon Healing Escalation or any other command phrases, and while the whole thing is about transformation, it isn't in the traditional magical girl style…

Urgh, I can't believe I just wrote that. Imagine, reading deeper meanings into YOUR OWN writing… takes all the joy out of it.

All right, there is one schoolgirl outfit, but it's essential to the plot and… fraggit, I'm gonna let Broken do the rest of the talking.

Disclaimer: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Shadowrun belongs to FASA Corporation.

It was the hot new place to be seen and obscene at, according to those who dictated such weighty matters, and so the nightlife of Seattle swarmed to the Flashback Bar, Grill, & Dancefloor. Most of the newcomers tried to pin down the subtle appeal of the place, but almost all of them simply shrugged their shoulders and gave up after only a few hours. Maybe it was the quaint decor, bits and pieces snatched from almost every era of the last century and a half; perhaps it was the admittedly charming owner, though his tendency to smirk as if in he was the only one in on a very amusing joke was a bit disconcerting; or quite possibly it was the exceedingly good bands that the owner managed to scrape from out of nowhere.

Whatever the reasons may have been, the place was crowded almost every night now, which made the owner's usual… side businesses a bit hard to run. In fact, he had some suspicions that an old acquaintance or two might be intentionally trying to distract him from said side businesses for a while. But why? A twisted plot indeed.

Twisted plots were sometimes a danger in his avocation, however, so all he could do was shrug philosophically and keep his ear to the ground, just in case. Besides, he knew the odds were going to catch up to him one of these days. Who wants to live forever… right?

It was with this attitude that The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (better known to his friends as Cat) unlocked the door to his bar at the obscenely early hour of Sometime Before Noon, swinging it open to view the new day. He winced at the bright sunlight and said sourly. "Figures the one day I would prefer cloudy gloom that sucks at your soul and drags you screaming into the pits of despair, Madame Seattle has a change of heart."

He shrugged and shut the door again. Sometime Before Noon was an almost sacrilegious time to be awake anyway, in Cat's way of thinking, an affront against the very reasons he'd become a shadowrunner.

Unless you were being paid, of course.

Or fleeing for your life, quite naturally.

Fortunately, the circumstances that had led to this early-morning meet fitted firmly into the former category, as some of his regular customers earnestly desired to meet with him to discuss employment opportunities and the purchase of ergonomic job-related equipment.

Cat motioned to his bouncers, who were getting paid extra to provide some muscle in the background, just in case. They probably weren't needed, but Cat hadn't lived this long by just taking every 'probably' that came along…

It was a job that they were used to, and both Jakrin Trollslayer (the dwarf bouncer) and Bob 'da Crunch' Fitzgerald (the troll bouncer) had worked with Cat for years before he'd opened the bar. "They should be here in about in about half an hour."

Bob gave Jakrin's orange Mohawk a firm noogie. "Naw problem, boss. An' if dey don't like de terms…"

Jakrin swung a casual backhand towards Bob's jewels, who smoothly moved his own hand to block. The dwarf finished his partner's sentence. "We gets ta grin all menacin'-like, right?" He straightened the spikes in his hair that the troll had mussed. "Right, that's it mate, no mercy now! I'm gonna bash yer head inna game of…"

The troll pulled a small box from the surface of a nearby table. "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots?"

Jakrin looked about to say something full of vitriol for one moment, then visibly deflated. "Eh, whatever."

Cat chuckled, then moved on to the bar. Brigid didn't look up at him from the glass she was polishing. "Why are you here so early, anyway? It isn't as if I need you backing me up."

Brigid set the glass down and set her towel onto the polished wood of the bar. "Sallarin'shaineth asked me to keep an eye on you, and I'll be damned before I'd go back on my word to her."

"Even on a trip to freakin' Atlanta for MagiCon or something like that, she still manages to keep her hooks into me." Brigid didn't respond to this, and Cat restrained the urge to roll his eyes.

A knock came at the door, and Bob hopped up to open it after receiving a nod from Cat. Behind it were, of course, the runners that had wanted to meet him.

Tim the Enchanter waved a casual 'hullo', then scuttled to the bar. Oni no Kyoso, a street samurai of some small repute locally, walked in close behind the mage and bowed gracefully. "Ohayo gozaimasu, Nekosan!"

Cat winced, but returned her bow and the sentiment. After her came the leader of the group, a young elf who went by the name of Wraith. Cat motioned to a table near the bar. "You want to get started right away, or do you want some lunch first?"

Negotiations went briskly, for which Cat was thankful, and soon the runners had agreed to take care of a little problem that a friend of a friend had been having in his climb up the corporate ladder. After that, they quickly moved into discussing the perils of shipping specialty ammunition and purchasing same. The moment Wraith pulled the ancient leather-bound copy of Alice in Wonderland out of his pocket and offered it in payment, the negotiations were over and both parties were equally happy with their takes.

Cat even mentally noted them down for a bit of credit in the future -- no doubt these people had no idea how much that little book was worth, especially in the condition that it was still in.

Cat sat down at the bar and started reading even as Jakrin took Wraith downstairs to choose what he wanted from the ample supplies. Just as Alice was falling down the rabbit hole…

The door swung open with a bang. Bob, who'd been dueling against Oni no Kyoso in the robot ring, knocked his chair back and leveled his gun at the door almost before it had cleared the jam. He gave a grin as he recognized the woman at the door and holstered his pistol. "Heey, long time no see!"

The woman brushed her blonde hair behind a pointed ear and smiled. "Yeah, no kiddin'."

Cat, who'd looked up from his book at the first noise, frowned as he saw Broken for the first time in nearly three months. She looked somehow… different, and Cat couldn't place quite why for the life of him.

"Oi, Broken. Haven't seen you in a while." Cat marked his page carefully and set the book on the counter. "So, where have you been?"

"Visiting. Freeloading off of friends and family until they got so sick of me they finally… well, kicked me out!" Broken's voice was bright and cheerful, just as it always was, but there was a hard edge to it today.

"Hmm. That so?" Cat turned to Brigid, who was studying a book of mixed drink recipes. "Brigid, give my friend here a quintuple. You know the kind." Brigid acted as though she hadn't heard anything (as usual), but quickly enough a mug came sliding down the counter.

It was a foul, noxious-smelling liquid, grayish-green in shade, and it exuded a slow, seeping mist that matched the liquid's shade. Only trolls, samurai and the dramatically suicidal drink Brew, Cat thought to himself, smiling slightly, but maybe she needs a slug of something that'll help her forget her species.

Broken shrugged and hefted the mug in one hand when it reached her. Cat watched in fascination as Broken scooped it up and swallowed… and swallowed… and swallowed some more. He shuddered in sympathy for her internal organs. My God! How can she do that and survive?! She must be… be… He groped for an appropriate metaphor, and failed miserably.

Broken set the mug back on the bar, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "That wasn't quite what I needed, but it'll do for now."

Cat eyed her dubiously. Running one hand across the wooden surface of the bar, he asked, "So, what do you need?"

She rested her chin into left hand, and traced unseen designs on the bar with the other. "Absolution." The word was whispered so low that Cat would never have caught it without hearing amps.

"Well, why not confess to me? I'm not a priest, well, not legally at least, but I'm willing to bet that you're not Catholic."

"Only bet money that you're prepared to lose. So my sensei taught me long ago." Broken glanced at Cat, and he grinned sardonically. She smiled back, if only for a moment, then her brow crinkled as if a sudden thought had occurred to her, the sort of thought that takes the nice, secure world that you've known for years and twists it around into a funhouse mirror's reflection.

The thought seemed to hit her harder than the 180 proof had. Broken burst into tears and clutched at Cat's shirt, burying her face in it.

He was stunned for a second, then Cat put one arm around her back, and stroked her golden hair with the other. He pointedly ignored the sound of his shirt ripping -- after all, he had plenty of silk shirts, and Broken couldn't help her artificially augmented strength.

Cat waited until her sobs died down, then said, "Can you tell me your troubles, or is being the 'woman of mystery' too deeply bred into elf genes?" His tone was intentionally light.

Broken hitched one breath in, then chuckled. Not the cute giggle she usually affected, but a burst of actual emotion from deep in her diaphragm. For some reason it affected Cat on a visceral level, and he was suddenly glad that Sallah wasn't here to see this. "We elves haven't been around long enough to breed in any traits. Being an elven woman of mystery starts somewhere around menarche." Then, as though she'd said something that had prodded a raw wound, she burst into a fresh spate of tears.

"Hey, don't stain the silk!" Cat's jocularity sounded forced, even to himself. Broken pulled back a bit and examined his ruined shirt with something approaching horror.

"I've done a lot more than just stain it. I'm so sorry, Cat, I'll replace…"

Cat touched Broken's lips with one finger, silencing her. "De nada, chica. I'll spot a weeping woman a lot more than one cheap silk shirt." He grabbed her chin and forced her to look him in the eyes. His tone grew solemn. "Now, please tell me what happened to you last week. As much as I hate to make an understatement, you aren't your usual chipper sort today."

She pulled slightly away from his hands and shook her head. "No, you're wrong about that. The chipper person is the unusual one. She's the real freak. She hasn't really existed for six years, ever since I got these." Broken placed one forefinger against her left eye and pushed. The cybereye gave a slight spung and she removed the finger. Then Broken sniffled again, and her eyes started tearing up.

Cat enfolded her in her arms again. "We've got a good start here. Don't go spoiling it by turning on the water purification systems." She didn't laugh at this admittedly weak sally, but at least she didn't start crying again. That, he thought, is a minor victory.

"Do you want to tell me what's hurting you?"

"Are you sure that you want to hear my life's story?" The look on Broken's face was purely pathetic, and Cat couldn't restrain a smile. Two years I've been her fixer, and only seen one emotion from her. In ten minutes, I've seen her display some half-dozen.

Then, Cat chuckled. "Of course I do. If I hadn't, would I have volunteered my ears and my precious time? Contrary to appearances," his arm sweep took in the entire nightclub, "this place doesn't run itself."

"Or so," Brigid put in, "he'd like to have you believe." A general chuckle went up from the few people there, who had clustered around the twosome. Bob was resting his hand in a half-joking way on Oni no Kyoso's head, Tim the Enchanter had scooted to a much closer stool, Jakrin and Wraith had come up from the basements, and even Infiniti was looking on, her… distinctive persona hovering as the image on the bar trid. Cat directed a harsh glare at all of them.

"I'm trying to help my good friend here. If you're going to stir up trouble, then leave." After waiting several seconds for any protests, Cat "hmphed" in a satisfied manner and turned his attention back to Broken.

Only to find her clear-eyed and looking at him solemnly. Something in her steady gaze made him nervous, and he coughed to cover it. "Unless, of course, you'd prefer them to leave, Broken."

She visibly thought about it a second, then shook her head. "No, it makes no real difference, I suppose. Telling the story to many will hurt no more than telling it to one." She sighed and visibly gathered herself. "I suppose we should start someplace simple, like the beginning. Don't worry, I won't spend any more time on it than I have to. I was born…"

I was born with the first name of… well, actually, I don't think that my former name is anyone's business. I left it behind a long time ago, and it isn't as if anyone else who knows it is still alive.

I was one of the first UGE babies born, when there was no set policy regarding them. Yes, that means that I'm over forty years old. No need to look at me like that, Cat! It isn't as if there's any way to tell how old an elf is just by looking at her. Thank God, otherwise I'd never get a date.

My father was a Japanese computer scientist, my mother a British bioengineer. This gave me something of a mixed heritage, but instead of letting it confuse me, I quickly snatched at the best parts of both bushido and knighthood. My copy of Go Rin No Sho sat next to The Sword in the Stone, and I venerated both. It was impossible for me to decide whether or not I'd rather be a samurai or a knight, so I didn't, which made my imaginary quests and battles as a child very… interesting.

I had a normal corporate upbringing… well, as normal as the only elf in a school of some six hundred can. For a long, long time I was one of the most popular people in school thanks to my natural beauty and grace (and modesty, of course!), until the day that I revealed my secret passion for musty codes of honor and pointed bits of metal to one of my closest friends.

I don't remember very clearly what happened -- it was a long time ago, after all -- but I do remember that we had an argument, and somehow she used my obsession to humiliate me in public. I was a pariah after that, but I never cared. I had the wisdom of Miyamoto Musashi and Sun Tzu to teach me how to overcome their pettiness, and T. H. White's books to show me that there were better places than a schoolyard, that with enough effort one man (or woman) could change the world.

If only I'd paid better attention to the message underlying it all: that everything you love slips between your fingertips; that no matter how hard you fight for something, it withers away; that time is the one enemy you cannot defeat. I didn't learn those lessons until… much later.

But hey, I was a kid. I didn't think that way. I was the Good Guy, and my classmates were the Bad Guys. Simple, clear-cut boundaries. God, if only life worked that way.

I didn't meet the real Bad Guys until I turned fourteen. I'd been doing small things around the schoolyard -- throwing a basketball across the court and sinking it easily, jumping twenty feet in a single bound, getting into a brawl with four other kids and coming out without a scratch -- you know, the sort of things a young physical adept gets into. Nothing you don't learn to control on your own, and I was well on my way to doing just that with the help of my admittedly strange mixture of bushido and chivalry.

Unfortunately, I was part of a corporate system, a corporate system hungry for people born and raised in the corporate environment who had the Talent.

The offers started out nice, even… friendly, in a way. The school councilor would call me into her office and inquire politely after my plans for the future, then suggest calling a certain number for more information about 'corporate-sponsored' scholarships; or a sensei of the dojo my mother had enrolled me in would bring in a 'friend' who would chat about using my Talent for the Good Of The Corporate Family; or… well, enough of that. It should suffice to say that the more I refused the offers, the less friendly they became.

It all culminated in one bloody afternoon.

"I'm home!" I called out. It had been a rough day at school, as usual; but I was looking forward to learning my mom's secret calzone recipe. When no one answered, I didn't think it was too unusual; after all, sometimes my parents had to work late.

When I stepped into the doorway of the living room, however, all thoughts of a normal afternoon vanished.

My father was sitting in his favorite chair, an expression of horror distorting his normally happy features. A man in a gray suit was standing beside his chair, with another sitting on the coffee table in front of it. The sitting man looked up and smiled at me. It was a tender, loving smile, much like a kind grandfather would give to an erring child. What made the smile so alien, so repulsive was the dead expression in his eyes. No hatred, no love, not even a mild distaste; it was as if someone had taken the part of him that feels emotion and brutally sliced it out.

The eyes may lie sometimes, but this man just didn't care enough to try. Heh. I guess I can sympathize… nowadays.

"Dear girl," the man said gently, "have a seat, please."

I folded my arms across my chest. "I'll stand, thanks."

He shook his head and motioned with one hand. "It wasn't a request."

Two men who'd been standing beside the door, just out of my sight, stepped into view and seized my arms, dragging me to another chair. They seated me roughly and took up positions behind that chair. The seated man said, softly, sympathetically, "Dear girl, I can understand your desire to remain your own person, to stay free of the 'Corporate Monster.' But honestly, it isn't as if the corps are the boogieman that popular lit paints. In fact…"

I tuned him out. My decision to not go with the offers that had come so freely over the last two years hadn't had a thing to do with popular lit. It had just been an instinct, an inner voice that screamed of things beyond the life all those around me lead; a bright, shining destiny that waited for me to reach out and snatch at it. It has never left me, not really; I still hear its voice today, faded and smothered though it may be…

At that moment long ago, the voice was baying for blood. How dare this man invade my home, frighten my father, and try to bully me into doing something I had no interest in! How dare he! I stared at my hands resting in my lap, knotting the fingers together in distracting patterns as I fought down the urge to tear this man's entrails free from his body.

The first scream, though, was more than I could bear.

I looked up and saw that the still nameless man had taken my father's hand and spread it on the wooden table, then smashed his index finger with a hammer. The finger had been flattened under the force of the blow, spreading out in an almost perfect disk across the varnished wood. With an odd sense of detachment, I recognized the hammer as one that my father had owned for many years, and always used to make little birdhouses and miniature circular tables for my toy knights.

The man waggled the bloody hammer at me. "Dear girl, you weren't paying me any attention. I don't like that. I also don't like harming your family, but if you force me to such extremes…"

He never finished his sentence.

I flipped over the chair I was seated in, faster than their eyes could follow, and snatched the katana that hung on the mantelpiece. It was one of those shoddy imitation blades that factories stamp out by the thousands for pathetic wannabes, and it had always embarrassed me that my mother had bought one for my father.

Though the blade was barely sharp enough to cut warm butter, in my hands it sliced the nearest thug nearly in half. He fell to the ground in a pool of his own guts. Before he had even fell to the ground, I had used the blade's momentum to pull me into an upward slash towards his friend, who was standing with his mouth gaping open. The katana took him through the throat, and a gout of hot blood covered the blade almost to the tsuba.

A gunshot filled the room with noise and an acrid scent. I whirled in the direction of the two remaining men, certain that I'd been shot at, only to find that the standing man's first target had been my father's forehead. The man who'd been sitting the whole time had yet to move, his bloody hammer still pointing at where I'd been sitting, but I saw the other slowly turn his gun from the twitching corpse of my father towards me.

I knew, somehow, that I'd never be able to make it to him in time. Hatred filled me to a degree that I'd never have believed, even a mere second ago. It rattled the bars of its cage. It pulled at the fabric of my soul. It demanded to be released. So I obliged it.

I drew in a deep breath and screamed. The scream tore its way from my throat and I felt my teeth shift slightly in my mouth from its sheer force. Every piece of glass that I was facing -- the shelves my mother's porcelain dolls rested on, the windows, the somehow intact wireframes on my father's face -- it all shattered. Even my mother's dolls shattered, and they weren't even glass. Even the standing man, the focus of my hate, still trapped in molasses as he aimed his gun, shattered.

The problem was that people aren't neat and clean on the inside, not like glass.

I closed my mouth just before something warm splattered on my face and looked at the last man, still sitting on the table. I can't imagine how I must have seemed, aside from a painting I once saw of Diana on the hunt -- feral, beautiful, terrifying, blood splashed across her spear and armor, and a bestial grin twisting her face -- but the man's expression didn't change even as I lopped the head from his body. Except for… a hint of something…

Relief, perhaps?

Uncaring of the glass hiding in the deep carpeting, I lowered my katana and strode out the door.

Now that I think about it, though, I should have grabbed the katana's saya from the mantle.

"Why?" Cat asked her incredulously. His mind buzzed with the information that Broken had just shared with them.

Broken looked at him as though he were a congenital idiot. "The sword just looks so lonely on my wall without its sheath. I sometimes think…" She shrugged one shoulder, then took a look into her mug. It was empty. "Another one!" She plopped the mug back on the bar, and leaned towards her audience. "I suppose that it's just as…"

I suppose that it's just as well that I didn't grab the sheath, because it was the bare blade that attracted Dandelion's attention.

Of course, that was what he said. It could have been the bloody footprints I was leaving on the sidewalk, or the ragged school uniform I was wearing, still covered in the blood of my enemies.

Or maybe it was my tight, young ass as it moved in that skirt. He was always a bit shy about admitting his lechery. It was one of his more… adorable attributes.

The first I was aware of his existence was when he tapped me on the shoulder. I whirled, katana at the ready, only to find it wrested away from my grasp. A tall, slender man was standing there. He ran his free hand through his black hair, then rested the point of the sword on the ground. He spoke openly, with a ready smile. "You look like you've just been through a lot. Cops lookin' for you?"

That penetrated my grief and made me think about what I'd just done. I'd just killed four men in as long as it took me to think about it. I'd just walked away from a murder scene. I'd just left my father's corpse behind, still sitting in what had been his favorite chair. I nodded mutely, then started shaking in what was my first encounter with shock.

It wasn't to be my last.

"Wha -- Hey, Sunny! Get your buns out here!"

I heard a female voice from inside a nearby brownstone. "Yeah, yeah, sugar. Just give me a second." The woman's voice was a soprano with a slightly rough tinge. In a hazy, unfocused way, I wondered if the unseen woman had a cold or something.


The man dropped my katana with a clang onto the cold concrete as I sagged into his arms bonelessly. He brushed the hair from my forehead and whispered in my ear healing words that slipped away from my mind as I fell into blissful sleep…

"When I awoke, the first thing I saw was a skinny white cat sitting on my chest and purring gently. When I stirred, he stood up and butted me in the chin, as though ordering me to give him the attention he so richly deserved for guarding my slumber!"

Broken's face turned into an expression of joy. "That was my first moment in the home of Dandelion and Sunflower, or Dandy and Sunny as they preferred to be called. They were my second set of parents, and I grew to love them very much. They both taught me a lot about… many things.

"Sunflower had been a magician even before she'd goblinized into an Ork, and Dandelion had stayed with her throughout the horrible twisting ordeal of the Change, as one of my friends later in life referred to it. Goblinization had left her sterile -- a circumstance that left the doctors who studied such things shake their heads in disbelief -- and so Sunflower had given up hope of having a child… until the day that I stepped into their lives."

Her expression twisted into a mask of hatred mixed with utter disdain. Cat thought back to Broken's comparison of herself to Diana and shivered. If that's what she looked like when she killed that man, he had some serious mental problems… Broken said, softly, but with tones reflecting her expression, "Like any child, though, I soon had a brutal fight with my newfound parents. It was over…"

It was over my mother. I wanted -- no, I needed -- to talk to her, with that burning passion only the very young and very foolish can muster.

Dandy was rational. "Girly, you know as well as I that she'll be boobytrapped in some way." He seized my shoulders and looked me deep in the eyes. "If the corp wants you so bad, they'll make sure that any attempt to contact her will fail."

Sunny was passionate. "Don't be a fool! The moment you step within fifty feet of her, they'll know it, and they'll come for you. Ain't no way I'm lettin' you go."

So I left anyway.

It wasn't the wisest choice that I've ever made; but I can't say it was the dumbest. I wish I could. It would make my memories so much easier to bear.

Although I hadn't actually learned that much from my adoptive parents yet, years of living in the supposedly 'Secure Living Garden' had taught me a few ways in and out… in theory. I didn't know if they'd still work, but I needed to try.

The fence had been burrowed under long ago by teenagers anxious to escape their mundane lives, to leave their confining parents behind, and to feel a bit of danger for once in their lives, and I must admit that the irony of using it to get back in amused me. I lifted the bush that concealed the exit from prying eyes and started into the tunnel.

It wasn't that long, and soon enough I emerged into the playground where the entrance had been dug. I crawled out from underneath the freshly painted bleachers and set off towards my house through the sterile plastic jungle gyms and dura-coated aluminum slides scattered about the park.

The lights weren't on in my house, and I wasn't at all surprised to see police tape guarding the doors and garage. I stopped at the edge of the park and sat down on a slightly pitted concrete bench to think.

Where would Mother have gone? Surely, the cops would have taken her to the station for questioning, then released her when it was obvious she was innocent. Then, where?

To a friend's house, of course. And the only close friend she had in the neighborhood was… Devin Baker, of course. I hadn't seen her in a while, but…. A blue and white car came into view, disrupting my train of thought as it moved slowly down the street. Its lights were off, but I turned around and walked back into the park, freshly reminded that I wasn't safe here any longer.

Childhood leaves so slowly, so gradually, that you never really notice it slipping through your fingers until you're reminded of its loss somehow. Some of us laugh at whatever it was that brought those memories rushing to the fore, some of us resolve to recapture a bit of that magic feeling we had so long ago, and some of us just turn our noses up and walk on, like the fox looking at the grapes just out of reach and saying, "Oh, those nasty things are probably sour anyway!"

When you have your childhood ripped from you suddenly, brutally, no matter what the circumstances, that first reminder of what you've lost tastes like ashes and dung. It feels like barbed wire under your flesh, slowly ripping free of your skin.

It hurts more than anything else I could ever imagine. I still haven't found a way to describe how m-much it hurts…

And it's funny… how each fresh reminder h-hurts just as much as the very f-first time…

Sorry about that. Once I got done crying like a child… I wiped my eyes harshly and started running.

At the pace I set, it took only a few minutes to make it to Devin's home. She was a kind woman in my memory, if a little too sharp-tongued sometimes. When I was ten, I'd watched her as the lead in Taming of the Shrew, and the role had come quite naturally to her.

I didn't bother knocking on the door. Instead, I grabbed the key that Devin kept under her mat and let myself in.

That's when I made the second greatest mistake of my life.

"Mother? Mom?" I moved deeper into the house as I called, not looking around, too blinded by the hope I felt…

It's hard to get across the feelings I was having then. Hell, I still don't understand it, but… well, I guess that I'd latched onto my mother as some sort of connection to my past life, a symbol of childhood's security or something like that. Don't you just hate it when the shrinks are right?

I saw something stir in the shadows ahead of me. My vision isn't as good as most elves, and I squinted, trying to make it out. I asked, voice quavering, "Mom?"

The taser dart took me low in the left side and I convulsed, falling to the floor in a pain-racked heap. I clawed desperately at the carpet, trying to find both purchase to push myself to my hands and knees and the willpower to resist the electricity still dancing in my nervous system.

"Yes, daughter?" The shadow stirred from the doorway and resolved itself into my mother, taser in hand. My vision was narrowing fast, and I didn't see the object in her other hand.

"Wh… why? Mommy…" The only thing still keeping me aware was raw stubbornness. I had to hear… from her own lips…

She shook her head. "Miguel was a fool to approach you like that on his own initiative, but now we'll both have to pay for his mistakes." She reached down with the oblong object in her other hand, and soon I felt liquid peace spreading through my veins, soothing my pain even as it coaxed my tunnel of vision even smaller… "I didn't want to send you, but… you'll have to go to Re-Education…"

"Her words followed me down the whirlpool of unconsciousness like a shark scenting fresh blood and easy meat." She picked up her fresh mug of Brew and took another draft, throwing her head back far enough to let everyone there watch her throat work.

When she'd set it back down, she gave a snort and said, "'Re-Education'? One would think that a Megacorp which would spend trillions on advertising could've diverted a bit of budget to finding a better name than that." Then, Broken sighed and said, "Years later, when met my mother face to face again, I asked her, 'Why? Why did you forsake me!?' She only looked away and said, 'Because it was my job, dear. We all have to do our duty…'" She shook her head. "But that's a story for another day.

"I was awoken in a most rude fashion: jouncing around on the back of an extremely sweaty Ork that let Tolkien stereotypes justify his grooming habits, because he almost certainly hadn't taken a bath since the Jarman administration." She chuckled. "Because he was rescuing me at the time, I didn't complain too much.

"That's how I got introduced to Sunflower's and Dandelion's little 'side business' of giving 'on-site consultations' to various businesses. Ah, shadowrunning." Broken's smile was lopsided. "I guess shadowrunners have existed since the first city in one form or another, like rats in the wainscoting of society, and the slow rot of society these days only ups our breeding rate."

Cat chuckled himself. "Yeah, but the traps and poison they put out for us is a lot more effective these days too. You gotta be made of stainless steel to last for long."

That made everyone in the bar laugh. If there was a twinge of desperation in their laughter, a note that spoke to the truth of what Cat had said and tried to push it away, who was there to tell?

Once they were finished, Broken shrugged. "That was how I got started in the biz. At first, it was just to pay back the thirty or so thousand nuyen I owed--"

"Owed to who?" Oni no Kyoso, who had been silent up to this point, asked quietly.

"The people who'd rescued me, of course. What, you think they risked life and limb for me just because I have pretty eyes?" Broken shook a finger. "We're all business people here. How many shadowrunners do you know that would take a job out of the goodness of her heart?"

Oni no Kyoso's slight flush went unnoticed.

"But after a while, I started to love it just for the thrill I got. When I was in the middle of a run, I was… happy. It was enough to let me forget just how much I missed my old life, if only for a while. It was even almost enough to let me forget how much I hate… my Talent."

Tim the Enchanter, who'd just taken a swig of Guinness from his stein, suddenly turned a nasty color and started coughing. As he recovered, he gasped out, "Luv, how can y'say that? Magic's the best thing t' 'appin' to the world since push-up bras!"

Broken was silent for several seconds. When she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. "Yeah, maybe it is. But magic is a lie. Magic can't make anything better. Magic never did anything for me but bring me pain in the end. Having it is what killed my father, what made me want to kill my mother for more years than I care to remember, what killed--"

She visibly choked herself off. "Even if I hadn't had magic, I think I woulda chose to leave the safe world of my parents behind and run the shadows anyway. But at least I would have had a choice. That would have been more important then it seems, because life without choices… isn't really worth living sometimes. And magic isn't about HAVING CHOICES!" This last was screamed so loud the disco ball danced, throwing shimmering lights across their faces.

She returned to a more normal tone of voice, though it was still filled with bitterness.

"Magic's all about sacrificing yourself. Whether you use it to help others or to hurt them, there's no way to turn your back on it and say, 'No more. I'm getting sick and goddamned tired of being used by this… thing inside of me.'

"What made it worse is that my Talent lent itself to helping people, to being some superhero-in-tights fighting the evil megacorps for the little person!

"Well, the little person never wants help, not really. They just want to stay in some comfortable niche and make what money they can without sticking their head outside of it and seeing what the world's become. And I couldn't say 'frag off' and go have a drink. My Talent just… wouldn't let me." The mug fractured under her grip. "I guess that's one reason I turned to cyber…"

Cat had remained silent during Broken's speech because he knew that, whether it was true or not, she believed it. Humanity's ability to justify its most terrible mistakes has never failed to amaze me.

"So I pretended to take a stand against the evil megacorps, and made some money doing it. For the last few years of my stay with Dandelion and Sunflower, that's how I paid the bills. That's when I started…"

That's when I started hearing rumors of another female elf magician working the shadows down in Brooklyn. We were a small, elite community then, (at least the pro types were. I think there were maybe ninety actual shadowrunners in all of Boston) so rumors of another woman so similar to me working in my rarified business were rare. And it intrigued me a great deal.

It didn't help when the little voice inside me started demanding to see her, insisting that these vague rumors were important somehow. I could ignore it only so long; eventually, I gave in to both my curiosity and my… destiny?

A net meeting was out of the question, because there was a virus roaming around the net, crashing systems as it pleased. It didn't actually bother me that much, as the only systems it liked to munch were corporate, but it was damned inconveniencing when something like this came up. So I decided to go visiting.

It had to have been both the best -- and the worst -- decision that I'd ever made in my life. A lot of decisions are like that, I've noted.

My first stop in Brooklyn was a bar called The Downfall of Socrates, because my contact said she hung out in there whenever she didn't have work. I swung open the door and was confronted by something that startled even my corpse-cold sensibilities.

The walls were lined with bookshelves, filled with thousands of real paper books. I drifted to the nearest one, and read the titles along one shelf at eye level. Nearby there were volumes of Aristotle, Voltaire, Mark Twain, and -- this gave me a thrill -- a copy of The Book of Five Rings. I sat at a table close to the door and let the conversation wash over me.

"No, really! I have mathematical proof that girls are evil! First, we take the statement that girls equal time times money. Then, we proceed to the equation time equals money, which means that girls are money squared. Now, we already know that money is the root of all evil, so then…" About then I turned off my ears and started scanning the crowd. College students and liquor… what a perfectly amazing combination! I never knew that they took school so seriously…

My eyes passed over many people before I saw the woman I'd come looking for. She was tall, even for an elf, and had long, beautiful chestnut hair bound in a ponytail that reached the small of her back. Though she was wearing an almost drab jumpsuit, I could see her beauty shining through it. Her face was animated as she debated something with a group of college students.

I stood up and walked closer to her table. As I did, I caught a snippet from one of the people she was talking to.

"You speak very prettily on the subject at hand, Hippy" I noticed my target wince at the obvious nickname, and I smiled "but your admittedly cute idea of linking magic and the unlived portion of a human's n-dimensional self? It doesn't hold water."

"Let's be blunt and say 'fate', okay?" Her smile was lopsided. "Or 'destiny', or 'wyrd', or 'dharma', or… well, I guess dharma isn't exactly fate…" The woman brushed her bangs out of her eyes as she paused for a moment. "Look, we both know that psychometry can be used to read a person's current physical and mental state, just from the 'aura' that each and every one of us gives off, whether we like it or not."

After receiving a confirming nod from her audience, Hippy (if that was her name) continued. "A skilled psychometrist can, with difficulty, discern the past of a subject through observation. I watched an old woman named Walks-In-Light do this easily, and I learned the basics of the technique from her, though I'll freely admit that I have no idea how to integrate it properly.

"If all it takes to figure out a subject's past is a bit of perseverance and some skill, doesn't that imply that with enough skill you could conceivably read every aspect of a person's history? Expanding just a bit further" now her smile was lightly self-mocking "because, after all, this is all just theory, doesn't that imply that the record of everything a subject's ever done, ever experienced, is bound up in his aura?"

A short, chubby girl sitting next to her nodded. "And linking this to the concept of the n-dimensional self isn't such a big jump, because something with a 'tail' you can see, and a 'body' you can touch, also has a 'head' you can talk with…"

The first man spoke up. "And perhaps it would lend some validity to the 'fortune tellers' who actually can read a guy's future."

Hippy shrugged her shoulders. "Hey, I'm just a Hausfrau Arts and Interior Design student what gets crazy ideas. I'll leave it to you funky mathematicians and magicians to figure out what all it means."

Seeing a golden opportunity, I slid into a vacant seat at that table. "What should you do if you hear this 'fate' thing constantly, telling you what to do?"

"I don't know. Look over your shoulder for ghosts, maybe?" The group chuckled a bit at this, but Hippy went on with, "Seriously, I think I would go crazy. Knowing it can be done and doing it are two different things, and I wouldn't want to hear my future whispering to me, telling me what's going to happen."

The chubby girl raised her stein and shouted out, "Unless whatever happens is tall, dark, and handsome!"

I grinned. "Amen, sister! Speak on!" I caught Hippy's eyes, then motioned with my head towards the bar. "Buy you a drink?"

It was only after we'd gotten to the bar and ordered our drinks (she got a Platitudes, and I ordered a Hemlock with a twist) that she turned to me, and said, "So, you're the Queen of Hearts. How nice to finally meet you!"

"What, she already knew you?" Cat was beyond dumfounded. At this point he was merely bemused -- not only by the fact that this elf woman in the narrative had known of Broken, but by the fact that Broken was the semi-legendary Queen of Hearts! He'd started his career hearing tales of the Queen's runs, and that had been almost twenty years ago!

"Knew of me," Broken gently corrected. "You Johnny-come-latelies still forget how small the shadow community was. Heck, sometimes you had to send out-of-town for specialists, or just do without. Not like this day and age, when all you have to do is call your fixer and…"

Cat cut in. "And you had to walk eighty miles through the snow to meet your Johnson, right?" A subdued chuckle went up from the audience.

Broken chuckled herself. "Only the once, but touché. Touché. I should know better than exaggerate around you, Cat." She settled into her barstool. "So that was how I met Hippy, or Hippolita, or Lita, as she preferred to be called. We took to each other quickly, and our meeting established how we'd recruit the next member of our group. Lita and I discovered that, while a corporate type was willing to pay through the nose for one magician, two magicians was too good of a bargain for them to pass up. So we formed a permanent partnership that was to become one of the most famous runner groups ever.

"But before we get to that, perhaps I should explain what Lita could do. She was strictly a physical adept. I could sling mojo around like it was going out of style and do some neat physad tricks, thanks to how Dandy and Sunny had taught me, but Lita could only do a really neat lightning spell. She said it had something to do with how she viewed her ki energy, as electricity that filled her and that she could shape to do whatever she wanted.

"Well, whatever works, as goes the magician's motto. We worked the shadows of the East Coast for two years before I started hearing rumors of another female elf magician working the shadows over in Seattle. No sooner had I heard the rumors, than…"

No sooner had I heard the rumors, than an elf woman approached me in The Downfall of Socrates. "You are Queen of Hearts, right?"

I looked her over. Long, black hair, with delicate features and flawless white skin that I would sacrifice my firstborn to possess. Okay, maybe my secondborn. She had almond-shaped purple eyes that spoke of an Oriental heritage and a cool, appraising look in them told me this woman was a true professional.

What kind of pro, though, I didn't know. Bounty hunter out for a nuyen, company man that had been assigned to kill me, or perhaps something even more sinister; all were possible. Maybe she was somebody to hire me for a job, and didn't (or couldn't) go through the regular channels.

All these thoughts passed through my mind in a second, and I leaned back in my stool. "I may know her. Why?" Direct and to the point, that was my negotiation style.

Suddenly, the middle of the room erupted into flames. The screams of the students burned provided a hellish counterpoint to the flame spirit's voice as it intoned, "I am here to destroy the woman known as the Queen of Hearts." I groaned internally. Not another sending

I stood up, preparing to banish the spirit to wherever it had come from, when an explosion threw me over the bar into the standard-issue mirror. I slumped to the floor, knocking over several racks of bottles. Blood trickled down into both eyes, and I felt the sharp stabbing of broken ribs from my back. The only clear thought through my daze was Well, this is it. Looks like it's time to die. I scrunched up my eyes and waited for the end.

And waited. And then waited some more. With nothing else better to do, I squeezed some waiting in while I was waiting. By that time I was feeling a little better, so I stood with difficulty, wiped the blood out of my eyes, and looked at what was left of the bar.

The woman who'd walked up to me was standing where the spirit had been, still holding a slip of paper in one hand. She looked at me and said, "That one is not a big deal. You Queen of Hearts, ne?" Without waiting for an answer this time, she continued. "My friend wants to talk to you."

"So I went to talk to her friend. After all, the woman had saved my life, right?" Broken tapped one finger against the bar. Then, she nodded and continued. "We went to Lita's apartment and collected her, then we took a plane to Denver. On the flight there, I found out that my savior's name was Rei, and she was a Japanese miko, or priestess. She was oddly close-mouthed about the person we were flying to meet, which confused me until we got there. Rei's friend met her at the airport with a flying hug and said, 'We were so worried about you! Where have you been?'"

I thought at first that the person who had greeted Rei so enthusiastically was a little girl, around thirteen or fourteen. This impression was further reinforced by the fact that she was extremely short, had a slender, boyish figure, and had long, blonde hair bound back in two massive pigtails that reached down to her shapely butt. Later on, I found out she was as old as I am, maybe older; but for the next few years nothing I saw changed my first impression of her as being a teenager, someone who still saw the world through a child's innocent eyes, and was better off that way.

Yes, I was still a bit of an optimist in those days. I've gotten much better, thank you for asking.

I turned to the woman that had brought me here and pointed one accusing finger at her. "Rei, is this little girl the one who wanted to talk to me?"

The girl pushed her aside and said calmly, almost regally, "Yes, I'm the one who wanted to talk to you."

I was put off stride a bit by her manner, but put it down to professional training of some kind, or maybe just years of experience not implied by her appearance. I could see, on second glance, how looking like a kid might get her an edge sometimes. "So, what did you want to talk about?"

If she was disturbed by my directness, she showed no sign of it as she grinned and said, "I'd prefer not to discuss business in a crowded airport with the security paying special attention to me. I know a great little ice cream parlor not far from here, if you and Miss Kino wouldn't mind waiting to drive over there." She stood there with a cute grin on her face as she waited for us to make up our minds.

Lita and I looked at each other and nodded almost at the same time. The girl held out her hand and said, "Great! My name's Serena, but if you insist on street names, mine's Rabbit. No," she added, seeing my expression, "I'm not going to tell you why."

Rei cut in as we were walking to the front entrance, "It because on first few runs, she whine and cry and hide like little rabbit. Muscle-type gave her nickname, it stuck." I snickered at this story, and even the generous Lita had a smile on her face.

I suppose it didn't strike Serena as too funny, because she hit Rei on the arm. "You're always so mean to me, Rei!" Her tone was weepy, but I caught a glimpse of her face in profile, and she was smiling. Then she turned to Lita and I, and stage-whispered, "Hey, you want to find out why Rei's handle is Snow Maiden? Well--,"

She got no further because Rei hit her on top of the head. "I tell you not to tell that story!" Though she sounded genuinely angry, I could see Rei was grinning. It seems I've stumbled into a private joke was my tolerantly amused thought.

We were collecting our overnight bags at this point, and I was surprised to find them actually there, and not somewhere in Azatlan. I caught my partner's eye, and Lita gave me a wink as though to say, They seem like our kind of people.

Indeed they did seem like our kind of people. They bickered good-naturedly all the way out the front door, where there was a van waiting for us. Serena shouted out "Shotgun!" and jumped in the passenger door. The rest of us piled in the side door, and we were soon on our way.

Serena turned her head around. "Hello and welcome to Shadowrunner Shuttle Services. Your driver today is Doctor Ami Clear-Water, who will be driving us to the Sweet Shack Ice Cream Parlor, where all the real professionals meet to eat sweets!" She gestured to the woman driving beside her, and I saw with shock that her hands weren't even on the steering wheel!

Then, a woman's voice came over the van's sound system. "Don't panic. I'm testing a new vehicle system that uses a simple motor-impulse rigged datajack for control."

That was when I really started to worry about what I'd gotten myself into.

"My worries were unfounded." Broken smiled wistfully again, an expression that Cat thought made her more than merely beautiful, that caused her to become almost… angelic. "The next twelve years were the best of my life, and the women in that van would become my best friends.

"In that ice cream parlor, we formed one of the first truly modern shadowrunning teams. We all agreed from the start that if a team of two or three magicians could command such high prices, surely a team of five would rake money in hand over fist.

The first disagreement was almost our last, however. It was over… what we'd call ourselves. We argued for an hour and a half over names. I won't mention the names I suggested, because looking back on them, they seem pretty crappy.

"It wasn't until Rei spoke up for the first time that we all found a name we could agree upon, at least temporarily. She suggested a name in Japanese, her native language, that translated as the Pretty Girl Soldiers." Most of the people listening to Broken's story snickered at hearing this, but Cat, who had an idea what she was leading up to, remained silent.

"The exact name was Bishoujo Senshi." Broken fell silent, but only because muttering had broken out in volume among her audience. The Bishoujo Senshi had been one of the first and still foremost runner teams during the '30s and early '40s, accomplishing many jobs that were whispered of as being near legendary and impossible. They'd disappeared sometime in '42, and no one had ever found out what happened to them.

Cat exulted in knowing that he'd finally be able to find out what happened to that long-ago legend. Out of all the thrills possible in this life (drugs, simsense, sex, whatever he'd tried), Cat loved finding a new bit of knowledge more than anything else; be it discovering that the CEO of Microsense Productions had a weakness for beefbowl, or the place that the Hotwheels had buried the stash of fetishes they'd stolen from a truck heading in from Sinsearach, or that the '51 model Citymaster had a weak plate in the right side that would buckle under a grenade blast.

It had made him a very, very good runner, and after that, a very good fixer. Enjoying what you did for a living made dull work into a truly joyful experience, and besides, why wouldn't he want to live up to his namesake animal's reputation? Cat leaned back on his stool and got ready to listen most carefully.


To be continued.

Author's notes: Well, actually, that 'to be continued' thing depends upon how many people show interest in further chapters. I know what comes next, after all; why would I have any interest in writing it, unless someone else wants to know?

I suppose it's standard to explain where the motivations for a story came from. Well, for this one it's threefold.

The first was the old Battletechnology short stories 'Tales from the… (Curses, I can't remember the name of the bar. Something… Coil. Crimson Coil? Maybe)'. The basic idea was that these MechWarriors would sit around in this bar on Solaris VII, drink PPCs, and swap old stories about battles long since past. My favorite (hands down) was the one where the dead man's 'Mech comes back, animated by his 'ghost', to defend his students…

The second leg of this story was a burned-out mage I created for a friend's game at his request, whom I named 'Broken' and always seemed bubbly, a bit air-headed, and nice in a distracted way, but when the ghosts of her buried past came to the fore…

Then, I read Together Again: 2937 chapters, and more specifically the portrayal of Minako, and all this came together.

Well, to be more honest, all this took about three years to fulminate fully. Go figure. Ah well, y'know how it goes…

Anyway, now for the Outtakes!

"But after a while, I started to love it just for the thrill I got. When I was in the middle of a run, I was… happy. It was enough to let me forget just how much I missed my old life, if only for a while. It was even almost enough to let me forget how much I hate… my Talent."

Tim the Enchanter, who'd just taken a swig of Guinness from his stein, suddenly turned a nasty color and started coughing. As he recovered, he gasped out, "Luv, how can y'say that? Magic's the best thing t' 'appin' to the world since push-up bras!"

Broken was silent for several seconds. When she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. "Yeah, maybe it is. But magic is a lie. Magic can't make anything better. Magic never did anything for me but bring me pain--"

Tim interrupted with a cheery, "Are we still talkin' about push-up bras, luv? 'Cause if so…"

Broken stared for a moment, then splashed her mug of Brew on Tim's cheap suit. It steamed and started to dissolve in the wake of the acidic mixture, and Broken's laugh rang louder than the wizard's curses.

"Dammit! This suit cost me three hundred nuyen!"

"That's what you get for stepping on my lines, jerk!"

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