by David Kuijt

Crusher finished his shift at 3am. He spent a few moments cajoling Angie into trying to repair his white shirt, then went into the staff room in the back.

"Signing off, Duke," he said into the mike hidden in his shirt lapel.

-- Gotcha, Crusher. See you tomorrow,-- he heard the response in his earjack. He took the earjack off carefully and put it in his locker.

Humming to himself Crusher took off the wreck of his shirt, folded it, and put it in front of Angie's locker. He pulled on his street clothes and two holsters, checking his handguns before he put them on. The waist gun was a Ruger GP-125, a heavy stainless steel revolver. Only six shots, but .44 Magnum. The shoulder holster held a Colt MkVI 10mm, NYPDInc police issue. Nearly as good at knocking people over, and a 16-round magazine. Both holsters clearly had had their straps crudely modified to make them long enough for Crusher's waist and chest.

Crusher slipped on his armorcloth duster and pulled his last weapon from the locker. It was a Remington 880P 12guage, also NYPDInc police issue. A sturdy, reliable pump-action shotgun with a respectable 7-shot magazine. Crusher checked it too. One shell low. Well, with the money Tetsutenshi gave me, I can buy some more ammo, he thought. Crusher frowned at the bag. I'm thinkin' I'm gonna regret takin' that job, though. He picked the bag up and left through the back door.

Crusher hadn't gone two blocks when his easy mood was spoiled. A man stepped out into the street, flanked by a whole bunch more. All holding guns, except the one man, the suit who had questioned him earlier. There were nearly a dozen guys with him, all oriental. Not a go-gang—these guys were way too clean, and overdressed for a gang. Crusher's eyes flicked down the line. A whole lot of bad attitudes, slick hair, and a bunch of serious firepower. Automatic weapons, rifles, heavy SMGs, combat shotguns, all being waved in his general direction. Yakuza soldiers, Crusher guessed.

"I'm beginning to regret takin' that job," Crusher muttered to himself.

"Excuse me," the suit asked, as polite as he had been in the bar. "That bag you are holding properly belongs to me. Would you please return it?"

"Buzz off," Crusher said.

The suit shook his head apologetically. "That is a shame." He yammered something short in Japanese, and the mooks opened fire.

Crusher had started to dive for a side alleyway as soon as the guns started lifting. An amazing amount of lead flew through the air. The Yak soldiers seemed to be intending to expend all their ammunition at once, and for thirty seconds it looked like they were restaging D-Day with this street in the Zone being Normandy beach.

The mooks seemed to be long on firing and short on aiming; with the distance and the darkness Crusher made it to the alleymouth.

"Feets, don't fail me now," Crusher panted, running down the side alley at full tilt. Dermal plating and armorcloth wouldn't be enough to stop penetration from the lightest of those weapons, and mixed into the cacophony of automatic fire had been the throaty roar of a couple of borgbusters; something big enough to punch through a K-12 landmate. None of the big shells had hit him, but he could tell he had taken a couple of hits. Seemed like someone had been firing from above, too; they had all the bases covered.

Even this alley, it turned out. A Yak blocked his way, holding a sword over his head. He moved quickly towards Crusher, screaming and yelling. Crusher smiled. In various Broadcast Wars he'd seen and fought just about every hand weapon, some time or other. A dozen Yaks with guns was one thing, but just one with a katana was more his game.

The Yak was fast, very fast. He was good, too. Slippery as an eel, he dodged under Crusher's strikes, sword flicking out, tagging the bigger man again and again. Blood spattered, but quick slashes weren't going to cut deeply through Crusher's dermal plating, much less the additional protection of his armorcloth duster. Crusher sucked the Yak into overconfidence with a few wide grabs and blows, then dropped like lightning under a bigger swing. His legsweep smashed the Yak into the ground, stunning him. There was a sickening snap as Crusher turned the Yak's head backward on his neck, then Crusher grabbed up the bag and ran on.

The firing had stopped during his fight. Probably reloading, he thought. He skidded to a stop at the next street, tallying his options. He glanced up. Four-story brownstones made up this part of the entertainment district. He could get up there, and probably they couldn't, but they must have spotters of some sort. The firing from the rooftops earlier spoke of preparation. This wasn't one of the uninhabited areas of the Zone, either—likely some people were in any of those buildings.

The sudden roar of bike engines made up his mind. Up wasn't an option; in the streets they'd catch him. That left down.

Thirty seconds later a half-dozen bikes pulled to a stop around an open manhole.

<He went down there,> one Yak said in Japanese.

The men looked at the hole, then at each other. They'd passed the body of Sajima in the alley.

Crusher was far away down the sewers by the time they threw grenades down the hatch and followed them in.

Crusher slept late. By the afternoon hunger woke him, and he had to leave his place in the sewers beyond Darkside. After some thought he decided that it would be more dangerous to carry this thing around with him than to hide it—if the Yak were that interested in it, he'd probably need both hands. He took it through miles of sewers, well away from his sleeping place, before hiding it.

Crusher had barely finished eating his tenth soyburger at one of the foodstands in Darkside when he heard his name yelled.

"Hey omae! You Crusher?!"

He turned. He'd seen the speaker around before. A guy named Payne. Ugly, with a face battered by numerous fights. Hair dyed bright green, hanging to his shoulders in a tangled mass. Strongly built, lots of scars. He wore some funky kit-bashed armour; a heavy leather jacket with metal plates riveted at the shoulders and some sort of crude bent metal sheets protecting his thighs and knees. He was carrying a baseball bat.

"Yup," Crusher said. He glanced around. Payne didn't have any backup he could see.

Payne sneered. "We have biznezz," he said, and started swaggering over, swinging his bat freely.

"'Zat so," Crusher said. He chomped the last half of his soyburger and stood up.

Payne slowed, then stopped, about ten feet away. He blinked, then looked Crusher up and down. His sneer fell off his face. "Aahh," he started to say, then stopped. "Ah, sorry man. Thought you wuz someone else." He turned and started to walk away, his swagger gone.

Crusher sneered. "Lookin' for some other guy my height named Crusher? Maybe I got biznezz with YOU." He started to follow, making no effort to hide it.

Payne tried to play it cool for about five seconds, then ran. Crusher thundered after him; people on the street bailed out of the way of the two men. Crusher's long legs told; Payne was no more than half a block down the street when Crusher hit him in a flying tackle that mowed him down like being hit by a truck.

By the time Payne shook off the stun of the impact he found himself pinned face-first to the pavement, left arm twisted painfully behind his back, and his right wrist locked into an agonizing submission hold. Payne screamed like a girl.

"Okay, omae," Crusher rumbled in a cold voice, "here's the way it works. I got no time to listen to any crap, and I ain't nice. I ask questions; you answer fast and clear. Gimme any crap or hold back, I break your wrist. You've got more bones than I've got time, and I've pulled the spine out of tougher men than you."

Payne started yammering in fear before Crusher had even finished talking, his words tripping over themselves in their hurry. Crusher managed to make some sense of it; Payne had been given some stuff to take a bag from "some slag named Crusher".

"Who hired you?"

"Dis guy, y'know?" Payne's voice ran into a shriek as Crusher tightened the wrist hold, "I don' know him! I don' know his name!"

Crusher frowned. This was the Zone; Payne probably didn't know the name, and even if he did the man would probably be a front for someone else.

"When and where you supposed take the bag, Payne?"

"Agggh!" Payne gasped, "This place over on 24th Street, by Darkside!"

"What place, Payne?"

"A garage! Some of the gogangs use it to get vehicles worked on; they brew up ethanol, too."

"What block?"

"Hollister! Hollister and 24th."

Crusher nodded. He leaned over and put his mouth close to Payne's ear. "Okay, Payne," he said quietly, "Why should I let you live?"

"Uhhmm..." Payne sweated for a moment before stammering, "It's biz, y'know? I mean, nuthin' personal!"

Crusher snarled. "Biz?" He increased the pressure on Payne's wrist, eliciting a whine of agony. "If you ever have biz with me again, Payne, It'll be personal. I'll count your bones, Payne. One at a time."

Payne screamed as Crusher shattered his wrist.

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