by Jamie Jeans, David Kuijt, and Michael Surbrook

"Yo, Crusher," Duke said at the tail end of a Friday night shift, "take a look at this." He handed Crusher a printout. "Decker friend of mine spotted it and passed it on; thought you might be interested."

<<on line on line (09:17:38/10-02-31)>>



You looking for some work?

Good work?

Leave a message at my drop. I've got a line on Neo York's Finest Taxi Service that could net us all a ton of nuyen.

Serious offers only.


>>PRINT? (Y/N)
>>QUIT? (Y/N)
<<off line (09:37:08/10-02-31>>

It only took a day or two, using Duke as a go-between, to arrange a face-to-face meeting with a contact.

The contact was a man by the name of Hendrix, a well-groomed lawyer who spoke in precise clipped sentences. He had heard of Crusher by reputation, and inquired if he was the same Crusher as the missing Maim TV star. It was the first time Crusher had found that reputation to be any use, as Hendrix seemed mildly pleased with the affirmative.

The briefing was simple enough. Hendrix said he worked for an Employer who wished to obtain a shipment of industrial diamonds coming into NY via New York's Finest Taxi Service. NYFTS was the street label for a group of cops who used their cruisers to ferry people into downtown NY for a fee. Slightly expensive for smuggling, but very reliable, for obvious reasons.

"My Employer wants you to hit this next shipment. Less than one day from now. You get the diamonds and we pay you the aforementioned sum."

Crusher thought for a moment, then nodded. "Sure. I'll do it."

Hendrix nodded primly. "Very well. We have arranged transportation. A vehicle from here to a dock on the Hudson. From thence a boat to the Jersey shore."

The vehicle turned out to be a big battered truck.

"You are somewhat distinctive," Hendrix said. "We have arranged for a certain degree of concealment. In addition we have hired two freelancers to drive you to Jersey and act as backup for you on the snatch. We have also hired a slightly more ... reliable ... freelancer as driver for your getaway vehicle. You will meet her when you reach Jersey."

As Crusher followed Hendrix toward the truck he heard two vaguely familiar voices talking on the other side of the cab.

"... an inconsiderable obstacle! Proper metacarpal pressure will activate the safety interlock, and you cannot contest the alluring enhancement of the chrome finish!"

"Ever the hedonist, Mr. Muttley! Cosmetic allure is ephemeral. Kinetic impact, muzzle velocity, and penetration are the true benchmarks of a handgun of renown! The chrome finish, however attractive to the afficianado, is unlikely to overawe a gargantuan replicant such as the hideous monster we encountered last month. Hypothesize with me for a moment. Just suppose we were to meet such a specimen again, and..."

At that point Hendrix and Crusher came around the truck. Before them stood Randall Muttley and Jeffrey Spratt. The two mismatched men gaped in shock to see the very replicant they were talking about. Spratt was holding a chromed 1911 model Marine .45; when he saw Crusher he glanced down at the weapon, looked up at Crusher again, and quickly hid it behind his back.

Crusher balled his fists and snarled, causing Muttley and Spratt to almost pee their pants, but Hendrix intervened.

"Wait! Do not be hasty, Mr. Crusher! It is clear you know each other. Do not let it affect your work, or the job is off! We do not have time to put another team together. Time is of the essence."

Crusher's snarl turned into a frown, and he nodded grudgingly. Muttley and Spratt relaxed slightly, but their faint attempts at ingratiating smiles wilted under his glare.

"Don't fuck this up," Crusher growled. "If you two screw this up I'll be VERY ANGRY."

"We will endeavour to give complete satisfaction, ..." Muttley started, while Spratt blurted, "We assure you most assiduously of our lack of inimical intent..."

Crusher's curt gesture cut off their speeches and he climbed into the back of the truck. The whole truck creaked and rocked as he adjusted his position and partially covered himself with a tarp.

"Not a very loquacious fellow," Muttley whispered loudly as the two climbed into the cab and started it up.

"Nonetheless, Mr. Muttley," Spratt hissed in reply, "I consider it in our best interest to avoid any exigency by which he might become irate."

"You are perspicacious as ever, Mr. Spratt..."

An hour later they transferred from the battered truck to a really battered tug. A rusty sign declared that the tug was once part of the Hudson River Harbor Authority, although that allegiance seemed to have been transferred to odd jobs smuggling from Jersey to the Zone.

Tugging her jacket a bit tighter, Karin leaned up against the pier and kept a keen eye out for her transport. The job whose offer she had received by e-mail seemed simple enough, and it would be a nice break from simply killing people for money.

Of course, the most difficult thing about it was that she had no idea who she was working with, and after the incident with the bounty hunter group nearly capturing her while she was out on a job, she had to be extra careful no matter what job she took.

The last job brought a shudder to her. "A hundred thousand nuyen on my head... a hundred FRIGGING thousand! Cripes! I can't believe he went and did that!"

She growled and reached inside her jacket for the comforting weight of her newly aquired Desert Eagle. The feel of the large gun brought a grim smile to her face as well as a fond memory. Crusher had been a pretty good replicant to help her out like he had, AND give her the body of the embezzeler when he could have brought the body in himself and kept the reward.

The night of drinking and getting pissed drunk had been hell to pay for the next morning, but she hadn't felt so good in a long time. It was almost like he was a friend who had invited her out for a night on the town.

Which, in a way, it was.

The thought of friends brought out the piece of paper with Raven's number scribbled on it. Karin looked at it, the smile leaving her face. With the reward on her head, the desire to become well known had been put to an end and becoming scarce a necessity. It wasn't hard hiding in the zone, but as Karin continued to look at the piece of paper, she thought that hiding would be a hell of a lot better if she could have some company.

A large engine rumbling sounded in the air, cutting into her thoughts. Carefully putting the paper away, Karin watched as a battered old tug pulled up to the pier where she stood by her truck.

"Guess this is it," she thought. "Time to get down to business."

Walking forward, she waved at the two men in the bow as they climbed awkwardly onto the pier to greet her.

"Hey, I take it you two are the backup for-" she stopped when she saw the pair, both men, one thin and one fat.

"YOU TWO!!!" she shouted, snatching her Desert Eagle from out of her jacket and aiming it at them. "You bastards tried to kill me!" Her Duen slid smoothly into her right palm and she immediately had the duo covered. "Just what the hell are you two doin-"

A large form climbed out of the back, rocking the whole tug as he shifted his weight to the pier.

Karin stared for a moment, and then laughed. "Crusher? That you?"

"Hey Karin!" Crusher's homely face broke into a huge grin as he saw the young blue-haired woman. "You on this job too?

His smile got even broader as he saw she had guns pointed at Muttley and Spratt. "I see ya met our backup already." He shook his head regretfully. "We ain't supposed to shoot them."

"You sure about that, Crusher? Last time I meet them, they damned well tried to shoot me..." She paused and smirked. "Could I at least wound them? I promise, nothing serious gets hit."

Crusher smiled. "Ah, what the hell. Sure, shoot them."

"Wait!" spurted Muttley, "our employer manifestly asserted that insufficient time existed to extantiate replacements for us!"

"And even minor wounds are likely to inhibit our future working relationship," blurted Spratt, "which will almost certainly prevent further fiduciary participation in this enterprise by our employer!"

Crusher frowned and looked at Karin. "Now I really want you to shoot them. What the hell did they say?"

"I think it was something along the lines of 'if you kill us, you have to find others to help you out.'" Karin pulled back the hammers on her guns. "Course, that's simple enough to do..."

"Ah, bugger," Crusher muttered. "Naw, they're right. Hendrix said there ain't time to get more backup, so it's them or the job's off." He glared at Muttley and Spratt. "Well, I need the money, so don't shoot them."

Karin glared at the two for a few moments more before putting her guns away. "It'll probably be a waste of ammo anyhow..."

After a bit of waiting Hendrix appeared again and the plan was fully disclosed. Karin watched and listened closely. This was, after all, her first time on a snatch operation and she didn't want to miss out on any of the details.

"In a situation like this, guns are too noisy, and a esper would wreck the neighborhood. Not to mention attracting the attention of other espers."

Crusher grunted. "Ya, and they're expensive. And I ain't."

Hendrix nodded. "Relatively speaking, yes. You are very strong. Strong enough, my Employer hopes, that you can assault their vehicle."

"Sure," Crusher shrugged. "Half up front, half after Blue and I deliver the goods," he said, looking at Karin to make sure she was OK with that.

Karin nodded.

"Acceptable," Hendrix stated.

"I'll want a Chromium/Molybdenium wrecking bar," Crusher counted off a list on his fingers, "somebody covering my back, a good escape plan, and a sure-fire way to stop their vehicle. Is it wheels, or ductfan?"

"Wheels. We have anticipated your request. We have acquired a tire-shredding strip. NYPD Inc. surplus equipment. It rolls out nearly flat; activate it and it will shred the tires of the first vehicle that goes over it."

Crusher nodded, pleased. "Keen. Then the plan is simple. Lay the strip, blow the tires, rip the doors off, deal with anyone inside, grab the stuff, and escape.

Crusher glanced at Mutt and Jeff. "I don't want these clowns driving my escape vehicle."

"Noted," Hendrix responded. "Messers Muttley and Spratt will be acting as cover."

Crusher made a face, but nodded reluctantly. "Karin, you OK with driving the getaway?"

Karin nodded. "Fine with me. I've had combat driving training."

"And note this," Crusher pointed a large index finger at Hendrix, "the diamonds go with Karin and me until we're back in the Zone. If you screw up the escape and NYPD Inc. catches us, we'll need them to bribe our way out."

"Understood Mr. Crusher. Besides, there will be no time from the heist until you reach the Neo York Zero Zone for us to exchange the diamonds."

"Don't worry... no one's gonna catch us while I'm driving," Karin said, her eyes deadly serious as she looked at Crusher. The look lightened up and she smirked. "Besides, any bastard gets too close and they're eating grenade."

"Hah!" Crusher chortled. "'long as you don't sneeze!" He clapped her on the shoulder in a friendly way, nearly knocking her over.

Despite the pain in her shoulder, Karin laughed and tried clapping him on the shoulder as well. When she couldn't reach, she just nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. It was like hitting a brick wall.

Crusher and Karin had dropped off Mutt and Jeff to pick up the hardware. They had an hour or so to kill, so they went on to a sidewalk stand to get a bite to eat.

Crusher ate his last soyburger in two huge bites and wiped his hand on his pants. Karin had lost count; that was something like 10 soyburgers he had put away in about five minutes; the same time it had taken her to eat one. The burgers and soda she had picked up at a local restaurant, and the two were leaning up against the truck in a park. They had an hour or so before they had to rendezvous at the job site.

Wiping her mouth clean on a napkin and taking a deep drink of her soda (beer was the last thing she wanted to drink before going out on a job), Karin set the can down and looked at Crusher curiously.

"Say Crusher, I've been wondering... aside from getting shot up by those bounty hunters, why did you help me out back there?"

Crusher shrugged. "Ain't gettin' shot up enough reason?" He leaned back in the sunlight, quite at ease, but his eyes were surprisingly perceptive. "Or do ya mean with Mr. Boo, later?"

Karin shook her head, and cracked a grin at the reference. "Nah... not that. I meant keeping those jerks off me. You're not stupid, I can see that, but you never took me in for the bounty on my head that those guys were after." She sipped her soda dry and gave him a waiting look.

Crusher shrugged again. "They started it, shooting me up with no warning. That pissed me off. I'd'a smacked them regardless after that, even if they were your friends." He looked away for a moment, then back. "As for your bounty, no big deal. I need a drinking buddy more than I need the money. And I don't much like bounty-hunters, either. You ain't the only one with a price on your head."

"Hey, something in common... just what every couple needs." Karin smirked and chuckled lightly. "But seriously... thanks... this whole damned bounty is a personal thing..."

Crusher shrugged, but not unsympathetically. "Yours, maybe. Mine couldn't get more impersonal. They don't even call it a bounty, on me."

"Oh..." Karin tossed the soda can at a garbage bin and gave him a thoughtful look, as though contemplating something. Behind her, the can entered the bin smoothly. "Hey... wanna trade stories? I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours, that kinda thing."

Crusher nodded slowly. "You first."

"Essentially, *daddy* wants his little girl to come back home to act as his own corporate weapon. I didn't much like the idea of being used as one so I left and now the twit's got a bounty on my head." She paused a moment. "That's it in a nutshell... what's your story?"

Crusher looked away. "Same, in a way. Corp wants me back.

He looked back, and his eyes were intense. "Except it isn't called a bounty, on me. It's a repo. Repossession. Sounds like you ran because you wanted freedom, because your daddy wouldn't let you be free. I ran for freedom too. But it ain't just one Corpy higher-up who won't let me be free. Every Corp, every NYPDInc Cop, every U2C in Neo York, in the whole fraggin' country, looks at me and sees property.

He finished off his drink, then looked at Karin again. "Ya wanna know what they call it when some punk takes an axe to thirty innocent replicants, chopping off arms, legs, heads? Ya wanna know what they call that crime?


Karin cursed under her breath but didn't turn away. She had never put much thought into replicants such as Crusher and the various other models, but staring at him now, with such intense feelings in his eyes, she got the feeling that they were more then just human shaped servants.

"Hell... and I thought I had it rough. Me, they want back alive, but you're just hardware and software rolled into one to them." Karin smirked bitterly. "Sucks to be us, doesn't it?"

There was no disrespect in her voice, only a horrible honesty that they both knew.

"Hah!" Crusher pitched his empty drink container into the gutter. "Not unless they catch us." He got up and stretched, scaring an elderly couple passing by. "C'mon, Blue, let's get this show on the road."

Karin smirked. "Sure thing, Hulk. I need the money. Gonna start saving up for a killer bike."

They knew the route the cruiser would take, so it was easy to pick a quiet side-street on the route. Something with little traffic, non-residential.

Twenty minutes before the cruiser ETA Karin dropped Crusher, Muttley, and Spratt at an alley-mouth half a block from the hit site. Mutt and Jeff hooked a fire-escape ladder and started climbing, heading towards their planned position overlooking the hit site, close enough for a good view, but far enough away to be indetectable and effective overwatch.

Crusher arrived at the other end of the alley in time to see Karin pull up, then lay the strip about 50 yards behind her truck. The tire-shredding strip was designed to be difficult to see when laid on pavement. Karin unlocked the sliding rear door of her truck and slid it a couple of feet open, then moved around to the front of the truck and got in. She was pretending to read a book, but the truck was running.

Crusher had a good view of the street but was pretty well hidden in the shadow of a dumpster. He had the remote for the tire-shredding strip. Now he just had to wait.

Muttley and Spratt watched Crusher through the scopes of their assault rifles.

"It occurs to me, Mr. Muttley," the tall man said morosely, "that our erstwhile accomplices on this endeavour do not evince tremendous faith in the efficacy of our skill-set."

"You are perspicacious as ever, Mr. Spratt," Muttley agreed. "In fact, it is seems conceivable that they bear us some ill-will, perhaps as a result of some minor previous misunderstanding."

"I cannot remember attempting to shoot a blue-haired woman of her height and build any time recently, Mr. Muttley. At least, not at close enough range that our visages would be memorable. Was it perhaps last month, on the docks?"

"No, Mr. Spratt, I believe that woman had lavender hair, not blue, and if you recall, the explosives left no doubt that her various limbs would not easily reattach themselves. No, I think it was more recently, when we were interrupted in a job for Madame O'Hara."

"Ah, yes," Spratt agreed. "You a veritable fount of mnemonic ability, Mr. Muttley. That was the occasion. Do you think she holds a grudge, Mr. Muttley?"

Muttley glanced through his viewfinder at the getaway truck. From this angle Karin wasn't visible. "I hope she will overcome the exigiencies of our initial encounter, Mr. Spratt. If not, we shall be obliged to avoid her or eradicate her."

Spratt nodded. "Unprofessional, but sometimes unavoidable. From the speed with which she drew those pistols, however, I suggest that we avoid personal confrontation at close range."

"Exactly, Mr. Spratt." Muttley's scope shifted to where Crusher was waiting, partially hidden by a dumpster.

"I cannot help but wonder, Mr. Spratt, if it would not be advisable for us to take advantage of this opportunity to perforate our enormous help-meet," Muttley said musingly. "He seems to bear us significant ill-will, and it would be trivial for able fellows like ourselves to ensure half a dozen impacts at this range."

"Perish the thought, Mr. Muttley!" Spratt stuttered. "At the moment he is only moderately ill-disposed towards us. If you shoot him, he will become truly incensed!"

Muttley turned pale.

Crusher spotted the cruiser as it turned onto the street. Right on time. A typical NYPD ground patrol car. Hope it's the right one, he thought. If not, the occupants were going to get a real surprise. Crusher's eyes narrowed as a cargo truck turned onto the road behind the patrol car. Sure hope that's a coincidence, he thought. but I bet it ain't. Oh, well. He wasn't going to scuttle the mission just because the cruiser might have help. Right about.... NOW! He pushed the button.

The cruiser passed over the strip and the tires blew out, first front, then back. The car slid screeching to a halt, raising sparks as it slid on its rims.

Crusher was already sprinting for the sliding car. The cargo truck behind the cruiser was also skidding to a halt, trying to avoid running over the tire-shredding strip. The police cruiser slid to a stop just as Crusher reached it.

NYPD Inc police cruisers were armoured enough to stop light small-arms fire. But Crusher had a four-foot long chromium-molybdenium wrecking bar, and he put all his mass and strength into thrusting it like a spear into the door mechanism. One huge heave of his powerful shoulders and the door popped open with a rending scream of tortured metal. Another heave and the hinges broke. Crusher threw the door away. It clashed and clattered on the pavement. Inside the cruiser were two chunky, donut-eating scions of NYPD Inc, in uniform, more than a little stunned at the speed and violence of the assault.

The other truck shook slightly and creaked alarmingly. A moment later a fist came through the side of the truck and started to peel an opening with a loud squeal of rent metal and a crashing noise.

"Oh... Shidh," Crusher muttered. "KAAAAARRRRINNN!!!!" He bellowed with all the power of his lungs, eyes on the truck behind them. Glancing at the terrified occupants of the cruiser, he popped the closest NYPDInc officer with a huge, meaty fist. The overweight cop slumped like a sack of molasses; his partner was frantically fumbling for the door and his gun at the same time. There was some sort of civilian in the back seat yelling and screaming, too.

A bulky humanoid climbed out of the hole in the side of the following truck and clambered down to the street. It was gunmetal grey, 8' tall, and appeared weaponless. A cyberdroid.

Crusher ignored the whimpering cop and stepped away from the crippled cruiser, into the center of the street, in combat stance. Arms and knees bent, ready to dive for cover or surge to attack. He held the wrecking bar in one hand like an odd-shaped club.

Crusher heard a second rending crash from behind the truck. He also heard the gunning of the engine behind him as Karin started to back the truck up.

The cyberdroid stepped out into the street, facing Crusher. Its jaw dropped, exposing the glowing firing port of some weapon. There was the sharp whine of a power build up, and then it fired its ion cannon. The beam flashed to Crusher's left, detonating a parked car in an big fireball.

Crusher started trotting forward, keeping his movements jerky and irregular. He had been taught this `firefight run' before his very first broadcast war; it was designed to make it as hard as possible for the enemy to keep a bead on you.

The cyberdroid fired, but missed again. This time the shot hit the NYPD cruiser. The light armour was nothing against an ion cannon; the blast shattered the trunk, rocked the cruiser forward, and blew the hatch lid high into the air.

A second cyberdroid came around the back of the truck and fired at Crusher. Its shot punched clean through the truck Karin was backing up, blowing a big hole in the cargo box all the way through, front and back.

Karin cursed aloud as she opened the door and jumped out, leaving the what was left of the truck running back down the street. Tucking into a roll, she absorbed the landing on her back and quickly got to her feet, her Desert Eagle out and aiming.

"God damned stupid no good fragging son of-" The string of curses was cut off as she fired the heavy pistol at the second Cyberdroid's head, but missed.

"Hey Crusher! I thought this was supposed to be easy!" she yelled.

"I lied!" he yelled back.

Crusher rushed the closer cyberdroid while its ion cannon was recharging. The two were nearly the same size, and they collided like titans. In one spinning, sweeping move, Crusher grabbed an arm and spun the cyberdroid around into a half-nelson and armlock, keeping the cyberdroid's torso between his body and the second cyberdroid.

Crusher's enormous muscles bulged as he forced the cyberdroid's head down towards it's chest and pulled its arm upwards towards the back of its neck. The cyberdroid's shoulder joint distorted and warped, giving off creaking, groaning metal-fatigue sounds.

The cyberdroid struggled, but Crusher's grip was far too tight. Its companion's ion cannon whined and fired, blasting at Crusher. But Crusher kept the first cyberdroid in the way, and the ion cannon hit it square in the torso causing serious damage.

The pinned cyberdroid thrashed its limbs, still trying vainly to get free of Crusher's grip. He managed to hook a foot behind Crusher's, and the big replicant lost his balance. They both fell to the ground, but Crusher kept his grip.

The second cyberdroid sprang into the air, landing next to Crusher, swinging a huge fist like a giant mace. Crusher couldn't interpose the body of his pinned subject in time, and the blow slammed into his shoulder.

Karin took careful aim at the standing cyberdroid's chest. "What a day to forget my fragging grenade launcher..." BOOM! the heavy pistol fired, but the bullet spanged off the metal torso of the standing cyberdroid as if it had been a peashooter. The cyberdroid didn't even seem to notice. Karin let out a stream of profanity.

Wrestling on the ground, Crusher's left arm snaked around the first cyberdroid's shoulder to join his right in a full-nelson. With a convulsive heave and a long slow yell of tremendous effort, Crusher put all his strength into bending the cyberdroid. The robot's torso buckled, weakened by the blast damage from its companion's ion cannon, and with a scream of tortured metal and the pop of destroyed electronics Crusher folded the helpless cyberdroid in half.

Quickly abandoning the shattered cyberdroid, Crusher rolled to his feet, scissoring his legs as he did so and flipping the second cyberdroid's feet from under him. The cyberdroid hit hard, clearly taking some internal damage. Without trying to stand again it pivotted its head and fired the ion cannon up at Crusher, blasting his arm.

Crusher cursed, but the blast had been a glancing shot, and his arm was fairly well protected by his dermal plating.

Karin ran full-tilt towards the damaged cruiser and the melee, wondering what the hell she was going to do when she got there. Meanwhile the second cop managed to struggle out of his smashed-up cruiser, pulling out his sidearm. Spotting Karin he took a shot at her but missed. Karin slid to a stop, bracing her pistol and taking careful aim. The recoil was a surprise, as it always was when she made a good shot. The cop's head exploded and he went down in a very messy heap.

"Damn, I'm good," Karin muttered to herself as she started sprinting for the cruiser again.

Before the ion cannon could fire again Crusher leaped on it, flipping it onto its face. He locked it in a leg and arm hold, twisting the limbs and seeking leverage advantage. "Got you now, you bucket-o-bolts," Crusher muttered. But the cyberdroid heaved, breaking Crusher's grip. "Oooo, Shidh!!!" The cyberdroid started to rise to its hands and knees, with Crusher on top as if he was riding a horse.

Crusher's hand flicked out to the huge wrecking bar. With a titanic thrust he spiked it right through the cyberdroid's torso. Armour buckled like tinfoil. The cyberdroid gave a last convulsive heave and went inert.

Crusher stared at the cyberdroid below him, but it was scrap metal. He looked around. The truck that the droids had been in gunned it's engine as it started to back up.

Karin skidded to a stop again, pistol up and ready. BOOM!! Another blast from the Desert Eagle, punching a shot through the windscreen. There was a scream and the truck slewed to the side, smashing into several parked cars. Karin ran up to the truck and opened the cab door. Inside was a woman in a jumpsuit holding her arm, blood leaking through her fingers.

"You get the truck, Karin," Crusher yelled as he stood up and trotted for the blasted cruiser. "I'll get the loot." Karin jumped up and slugged the woman in the jaw, knocking her out. She pushed the woman over and ripped off the woman's uniformed sleeve, quick hands making it into a combined tourniquet and bandage.

The NYPD Inc. cruiser held two inert humans. The cop Crusher had slugged earlier still wasn't moving. In the back was a civilian, also unconscious. The rear of the vehicle had provided some protection from the errant cyberdroid ion cannon blast, but he didn't look good. There was a sizable silver case on the seat beside him that fitted the description they'd been given at the briefing. Crusher grabbed it.

Big engine rumbling, the truck pulled up beside him with Karin at the wheel, and Crusher swung up into the passenger side.

"What, you liked this truck better than ours?" he smiled. Their new truck was rather banged up, with a bullet hole in the front windscreen and a really big tear in the side where the cyberdriod ripped its way out.

Karin shifted gears as the drove past their old truck. Still in reverse gear, it had backed into a fire hydrant after Karin jumped out while it was still moving, and water was gushing everywhere. The old truck didn't look much better, as the ion cannon had blown a meter-wide hole straight through the back of the truck and out the front.

"At least the damn thing still runs, Crusher... and our other truck is trashed," Karin pointed out.

Then Crusher noticed the unconscious woman and frowned. "What's with her?"

Karin shrugged. "Hey, she didn't have a gun and I'm not a cold blooded murderer... besides, she might have a clue as to who the hell set us up."

Crusher shrugged. "Looked like a SNAFU, not a setup. If it had been an ambush there would be air cover and a couple of squads of K-12s on us right now." He pulled out the silver suitcase and braced it on his knees. "Let's see what we got, neh?"

The case was locked tight. It seemed to have some sort of coded lock, the sort of thing that required a maglock or DNI link to open.

"Hmm... I wouldn't bother trying to get it open, Crusher. We're only supposed to get the stuff, not find out what it is." Karin nodded behind her. "We'd better make tracks before the authorities get here."

Crusher grunted. "Looks like I'd have to use my prybar to get the damn thing open anyway."

He checked the magazine of his combat shotgun, then looked up as Karin shifted gears. "Let's dump the cop chick as soon as we get a block or two away; I ain't a hostage-taking kind of guy."

"Neither am I..." Karin smirked at Crusher. She gunned the engine a bit and looked at the cop as she murmured a bit in her sleep. "Hell, Crusher, this whole thing stinks to high heaven."

She threw a glance around her as they turned the corner. Everything looked normal enough so far. "I've got one HELL of a bad feeling about this."

Crusher shrugged, although his eyes tracked from side to side like gunsights in the battered pillbox of his face. "Mebbe. If it was an ambush it was a piss-poor one. But you're right, two combat cyberdroids is a bigger escort than I'd'a thought."

As they put the scene some distance behind them Crusher started to relax. The streets of Neo York were crowded. As always, the north-south streets ran moderately smoothly, but the cross-town streets were jammed and slow. One of the strange things about Neo York was that it was faster to drive 20 blocks north or south than two blocks east or west. Crusher noticed that their truck was drawing a few stares on the crowded streets. Large oversize ripped-out holes in the side and rear panels of a panel truck was a little odd even for Neo York. Most of the passerbys didn't notice, but a few did.

"Let's ditch the truck, Karin. Might be a tracker on it, and the holes're drawing attention. With big holes in it, it ain't gonna hide me at the bridge. The clowns we hit are Nyp-dink; they might report the license stolen by the time we get to the border crossing. Nyp-dink mans the crossing. They're pretty slack on outgoing, but if they scan the license there we've screwed the pooch."

"True enough, but after we drop sleeping beauty off at a hospital. Leaving her with the truck could probably get her killed."

"Hospital?!?" Crusher gave Karin an exasperated look. "Ya gotta be kidding. Why'd ya put the slug in her in the first place?"

Karin gave him an annoyed look. "Hey, I was trying to take her out, not wing her... and besides, I'm not one to kick a dog when it's down."

Crusher hefted her body up over his knees and checked the wound. "Look, you got a good tourniquet on her, and she ain't pale, cold, or in shock. She's gonna be fine. Just a hole in her arm and some road rash."

"What road rash?" she asked.

"This road rash," Crusher said, grinning. As Karin downshifted and turned right at a corner, Crusher opened his door and braced it open with a foot. Holding the cab with his left hand he leaned way out, swinging the unconscious woman's body in one hand like a doll and placing her unceremoniously at the feet of the dozen astonished pedestrians waiting for the light to change.

"Nice work," she commented. "Now if no one takes advantage of her, she should be fine."

Crusher nodded, looking through the rearview mirror a moment. "Crowd of upright, upstanding citizens like that? They'll help her or pretend they don't see her. Either way, she ain't likely to come to much harm.

He leaned over and clapped Karin lightly on the shoulder in a friendly way, causing the truck to swerve wildly as she nearly lost her grip on the wheel from the impact. "You're all right, Karin. Got a good attitude."

Karin winced and rubbed her bruising shoulder with one hand. "Heh... can't say I'm a pessimist now, can yah?" She fell silent for a few moments before she spoke next. was silent for a moment. "We could sneak you across on a better truck, maybe even a garbage truck... do garbage trucks run into the Zone?"

The driver was a balding sweaty man smoking a cigar in a dirty undershirt. He had been watching Karin. He was leaning out of the open window, starting to make some crude remark at the cute young blue-haired girl when she pulled out a Desert Eagle and pointed it at his nose. His eyes bugged wide and his cigar fell out of his gaping mouth.

"Hi there, can we bum a ride? Oh, you'll give us your truck? Why thank you!" Karin said, speaking quickly and smiling her sweetest smile.

On the other side Crusher didn't bother with a gun. He reached up, opened the door, grabbed the passenger and tossed him down into the street without any visible effort. The garbageman's yelp and half-started stream of objection and obscenity was cut off with a gulp as Crusher gave him a snarl that would have curdled milk.

By the time the light turned green the two garbagemen were standing on the streetcorner, gaping in astonishment as Karin waved brightly at them and drove off with a thunderous grinding of gears. Crusher stood on the running board holding onto the side of the truck.

"Come on, Crusher, get in the back already!" Karin yelled over the roar of the engine and the howling of the wind. "I'll buy yah a beer once we're done, assassin's promise!"

Crusher snorted a laugh and swung up into the back of the trash hauler, grumbling loud enough that Karin could hear his muttering over the diesel.

Getting across the bridge was absurdly easy. The cops at the checkpoint just waved the trash truck by, and they rumbled down the bridge into the Zone.

Crusher swung himself out of the back and onto the sideboard of the moving truck, then into the passenger seat. "Damn, that was easy," he grinned.

"Easy? Hah! That was a cakewalk!" Karin laughed.

Once in the Zone it only took twenty minutes to reach the meeting point, a backwater side street in bartertown. Mr. Hendrix was there, waiting quietly. There was no sign of Mutt and Jeff.

"I trust you had no difficulties in your requested assignment Mr. Crusher, Miss. Nys?"

Karin rolled her eyes. "Oh no.... no difficulty at all... walk in the park and even Crusher got his exercise, didn't yah?" She elbowed him in the side and smirked.

Crusher ignored the elbow. His eyes flicked up and down the street and along the roofline, but his voice was calm. "Nothing we couldn't handle."

Hendrix nodded stifly, his face as blank as ever. "If I may have the case, then."

Crusher handed him the case. Hendrix looked at it for a moment and then set it aside without opening it. He produced another case and handed it over.

"Inside you will find the stated payment. As your two other companions did not return, I have taken the liberty of including their share with yours, for you to divide as you see fit." Hendrix paused, allowing Crusher and Karin a moment to examine the contents of the case. "Gentlemen, my employer will be most pleased by this work, I do not think you will mind if my employer considers you for further assignments?"

Karin shook her head. "Naw... just give us something harder next time. Something where we can earn our money." She flashed her trademark smirk at him.

Crusher nodded at the contents of the case and closed it. He poked Karin with a huge thumb hard enough to bruise. "More work would be fine. Let us know when you've got something."

"Certainly, Mr. Crusher," Hendrix said with a nod, "I will be in touch." Stepping back from the pair, he nodded to his own companions and briskly walked away.

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