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Magic Man

Chapter Two


There was no way the three gunjacks could have gotten there in time even if the phone was tapped, so Redflare knew no one had told them where to wait. Either they'd just gotten lucky and blundered into them, or they knew the area and figured that if the team wasn't long gone they might have used the diner to hole up at.

Whether it was the former or the latter he wasn't sure, but he figured the next couple of minutes would tell him what he thought of their brainpower. Not that the answer really mattered.

He knew two other things about them already. One was that they were good at their work. The axeman had torn off his shirt to use as a bandage around his muscular left thigh, and the one with the short sword sported a bruise over his right eye, but that was the sum total of all the injuries the Thrill Riders had laid on them. The other thing Redflare learned was that they had guts; many of Ossale Court's inhabitants considered wounded men, even armed ones, as their natural prey.

No words were exchanged between the two sides. The hunters knew what the 'jacks were there for and the 'jacks knew they knew, so everyone decided to skip the bluster and get down to business. Isis drew her acidshot, while Dace's hands closed around the hilt of his ceramic sword as he prepared to meet the axeman's charge. The thin one had lost his sonic gun somewhere--probably the thing had slagged itself down while fighting the gangers--so he charged with his own sword, coming straight at Redflare. It was the third one who did have a gun, but even as he swept aside the longcoat to get the big military-model sonic gun out Isis's acidshot spat a globule of toxic fluid at him. He managed to spin out of the way, letting the chemicals sizzle into the building behind him, but it helped turn him away from the hand-to-hand combatants. The battle lines were drawn.

Redflare's first impulse wasn't to go for his gun but to try a technique. It nearly got him killed. He leveled his index fingers at the enemy swordsman, his mind calling upon the power around him, drawing it in and focusing it.

"Gel--"

He had to break off in mid-tech as the man made a lunging stab at his belly, knowing the danger a tech-user posed and trying to stop him. If Redflare had finished using the technique, he'd have done so with eighteen inches of steel through his gut. As it was, he spun aside from the off-balance thrust, letting the stored power dissipate harmlessly--and uselessly.

That was a waste, he though, grabbing at his gun while the swordsman got his feet back under him. Technique use drained mental energy; overuse could lend to fatigue, headaches, even unconsciousness. The energy he'd spent drawing in the power was gone, used up until he had a chance to rest.

Of course, the muscleboy with the sword would be more than happy to give Redflare all the rest he could handle--permanently.

The gunman, meanwhile, had darted into a crack in the blasted wall for cover, emerging to send sonic pulses screaming out with the trademark high-pitched whine of the weapon. Isis, in turn, had ducked behind a corner of the same wall and was returning the fire, not so much trying to hit the gunjack but keeping him from shooting Dace, Redflare, or especially Dumont.

Redflare tried to draw a bead on the swordsman, but the 'jack was quick to defend himself, cutting out with his blade. Without a way to parry the attacks, Redflare had to keep moving, dodging, and was generally unable to take any kind of aim at all. The swordsman, no idiot, kept slashing out at Redflare's gun hand.

The axeman, meanwhile, was about what one would expect from his type: big, a mass of muscle with arms and legs as thick as some people's bodies. That kind of size and build had to give up something in speed, though, and the thigh wound would make him even slower. The absent Kemet would have been the best opponent for him; the axeman was so powerful that the difference in strength between Dace and Kem wouldn't have mattered, but Kemet's speed and reflexes might have made the difference between someone getting bisected and the 'jack getting nothing but air.

Dace wasn't foolish or macho enough to try and meet the axeman strength for strength. Instead he feinted as the thug drew back the axe to strike. He flinched away as Dace had hoped, and the hunter kicked out at the side of his foe's knee, just below the bandage. His kick didn't knock the man's leg out from under him, but it did make him stagger, throwing his swing off-course. The blade crashed off the street, and Dace slashed the point of his sword across the gunjack's arm, drawing blood. Recovering, the muscleboy whipped the axe up, but Dace danced back out of the way.

The man fighting Redflare wasn't just letting him sit back and watch, though; he kept the pressure on with repeated strikes and stabs. It was becoming quite clear that if this kept up much longer there could only be one end; Redflare was no handfighting expert to take on an armed man without a weapon of his own. He needed an edge, and fast.

Misdirection, he decided, was the way to go. His left hand palmed a two-meseta coin from his pocket, and he flicked it into the swordsman's face. As he'd hoped, it made the man blink, which was just enough time to kick him as hard as he could squarely in the crotch.

Against a trained fighter, this would not have been an incapacitating move. Dace, for example, would have gritted his teeth, cut Redflare in two, and then cursed a lot. The muscleboy, though, wasn't ready; he hunched over in pain, which gave Redflare the chance to scurry back about five feet, raise his poisonshot, and fire. The toxic chemicals it spat weren't as potent as those in Isis's acidshot, but they were enough.

Dace had worked the axeman over fairly well in the meantime. The big 'jack was carrying the axe one-handed, his right arm slashed bloody, and he was dragging his injured leg rather than walking on it. His chest heaved, winded from the fight and the damage Dace had inflicted. Dace meanwhile, was still fresh, not even touched, with only a light sheen of perspiration on his handsome face to show he'd been doing anything more strenuous than taking a Sunday stroll in the park.

It didn't take long after that. Dace parried an axe-stroke, turned the weapon aside to leave his foe defenseless, and chopped down in a cleaving blow that hacked into the side of the man's neck. It didn't actually decapitate the gunjack, but it might as well have; when Dace ripped the sword free it left a gory mess behind. It was a toss-up whether the thug actually died before or after he hit the ground.

The gunman decided to get inventive at that point. He broke from cover, pivoting and firing as he sprinted across the street, sonic blasts spitting from his pistol. Redflare dove at Dumont and pulled her down out of the line of fire as a shimmer in the air marking the sonic pulse's passing zipped over their heads. He rolled over onto his back, watching Isis barely hit the moving target, the acid catching the edge of the gunjack's duster. Redflare pointed his fingers, this time having no trouble using his technique.

"Rimit!"

The 'jack stiffened, his voluntary muscle control completely lost under the influence of the paralysis technique. Rimit didn't always work, not entirely unlike the silentshot gun that did basically the same thing, but it was darned effective when it did. The last of the enemies dropped.

"Nice one," Dace said. He, too, had dived prone, and as he got back to his feet Redflare saw that his carbonsuit was smeared with mud and grime, not entirely unlike his own clothes. Mindful of the fact that the paralysis would wear off in a minute or so, the team leader picked up the fallen man's gun.

The hunters all spun, weapon raised, when a vehicle rounded the corner. It was a Westalyn Brocknar, a fairly big family sedan, but this one looked to be the 1265 model, ten years old, with enough dings and dents for twenty. Apparently Westalyn's promises about the safety of their landskimmers weren't all hot air; Redflare was surprised it could take that many hits and still run. The skimmer braked to a stop, the door swung open, and Kemet hopped out.

Like his twin, Kem was slender and attractive. Although he didn't have the rugged good looks of Dace, he was actually more handsome, a masculine version of his sister. Unfortunately, sometimes he was too aware of it and it showed in his confident, even cocky demeanor. He wore black carbonsuit pants with boots and a sleeveless leather fibercoat lined with titanium plates. Copper-plated steel bracers guarded his forearms, and he wore black driving gloves whose fingers and backs were lined with armor to give his punches that little extra something.

"Man," he complained, surveying the damage, "I always miss all the fun."

He caught sight of the corp exec brushing off her skirt.

"This, I presume, is the fair Ashlyn?"

"Ashlyn Dumont," she answered smoothly.

"The pleasure," Kemet said with a little bow, "is all mine."

"Yes, it is."

"C'mon," Dace said with a grin, "let's get going."

Isis slid behind the controls; she was the team's usual driver and could handle just about anything with an engine. Kemet moved to the passenger compartment in the rear, while Redflare and Dace followed. The whine of sonic gun fire, though, caused them to spin in place. Ashlyn Dumont was standing over the prone figure of the paralyzed gunjack, a slimline Redfield Executech in her hand. The gun was widely carried for personal defense by corporate types who had to go into dangerous situations and the bloody ruin it had made of the muscleboy's skull testified to its effectiveness.

Dumont walked over to the skimmer, her heels clicking on the pavement.

"Now we don't have to worry about him identifying our transportation to whomever hired him," she said coolly, slipping the sonic gun back into her handbag.

Redflare glanced at Dace.

"Remind me again of why we're helping out this iron-hearted witch?"

Dumont paused, one hand on the doorframe.

"The same reason I'm making the jump from one corporation to another. Money."

She had a point.

Redflare was the last to get into the skimmer. As he did, he took one last look around the corpse-littered street. Every time he came back to Ossale Court, he reflected, he left with bad memories.

Now he had a few more to add to that list.

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