Janie: Old Wounds And Buried Memories

"So, y'want to hear how I wound up in th'shadows? Fine, but you're buying the drinks. Mac, have another bourbon ready, please. Put it on his tab…"

"Better. So, where do you want me t'start?"

"Unhappy childhood? Not hardly. Maybe life in th'Renraku Enclave wasn't what you'd call buzzing and thrillin', but I can't honestly say it was all that bad. Besides, we got told about how priveleged we were to live in such a wonderful place where we could grow up to have wonderful lives as blessed faceless little cogs in service of the kind, compassionate, enlightened Renraku Corporation every day at school…"

"… Right, y'get the point. Smilin' happy brainwashed kids all singing th'corporate anthem every morning, and I was right with them all the way… Until one day there was a shootout between corpsec goons and a couple of shadowrunners or something, and m'dad got caught in th'crossfire. Oh, sorry, that's 'unavoidable civilian collateral damage…' Bastards."

"I dunno what happened, I was at th'Renraku Cub Scout Club meeting that evening, but th'next bloody day some faceless suit comes bargin' into our home - Renraku corpsec has override keys for every home in th'enclave, lovely thought innit? - and tells her we're bein' kicked out o'the Enclave because they think Dad was in league with th'runners. No appeal, no chance t'dispute. We're out by th'end of the week or we get forcibly evicted…"

"I suppose we shoulda felt grateful they only froze dad's account, but mom's cred balance wasn't all that good - and it was in Renraku corp scrip so what little we had was worth even less…"

"We found a place to live - not a great place, but there wasn't any vermin and the water was mostly clean, and it was all we could afford… In fact, lookin' back I'm not sure we could afford it. I remember mom's eyes going dull when th'landlord came to discuss the month's rent. She'd order me outside for th'day, and I think I didn't want t'ask why…"

"She found a part-time job, waitressin'… Or so she'd say when we asked. She never told us where she worked, though. Still, money was comin' back in. Not much of it, but enough to keep our heads above water… For a while.

"Jim - that'd be m'brother, James - had come up with th'idea of using the family finances as a way t'teach himself and me bookkeeping and arithmetic and the rest. It kept us sharp with numbers, at least, an' it gave us the idea we were doing something to help, y'know? It made us feel less helpless…

"… o'course, at first we thought the gap between what we calculated how much we actually had in th'bank was just us still sucking as accountants. So we ran th'numbers again and double-checked every entry in th'ledger. And then we ran th'numbers a third time. An' then we went lookin' around th'house for anythin' that'd explain a 200-nuyen gap in a 1500-nuyen monthly budget…

"Turned out mom wasn't dealing with th'loss as well as we'd thought - and BTL chips didn't come cheap. The discussion that evening wasn't what anyone'd call pleasant…"

"Jim walked out th'door the next day. Didn't seem him again until three months later wearing a Knight Errant uniform with a couple other thugs sent to break up th' gang fight… But I'm getting ahead o'myself."

"With the secret out, mom didn't bother trying to hide her habit anymore, and watchin' her fry her braincells one fantasy at a time got unbearable fast. I stopped trying to talk her out of it after the third or fourth screaming fight, and started looking f'r excuses not to come home at night…

"Found 'em, too - a small-time street gang called th' Cherry Creek Pirates. Not the most fearsome or badass bunch ever, but nobody powerful enough to squash 'em was interested in the turf they claimed…"

"We didn't exactly hit it off on the right foot, but that's a story f'r some other time. Suffice it to say I was too angry to be intimidated by their bully, but their leader was amused at a sixteen-year-old brat mouthing off against a bulky trog half again her age and size and at least twice her weight…"

"Yeah, so there I was, hanging with the street scum. I wasn't quite the youngest of the bunch either, even though I was close. Can't say I'm all that proud of the stuff we did, either - harassing people too weak to fight back, vandalizing a small store whose owner couldn't pay the protection money, couple of small turf fights, the works - but I tried not t'think about that too much. Besides, at least with them I felt like I had a family again… And I think I needed that more than anything else
at th'time."

"Stayed with 'em for about a year or so… Yeah, I know, and there's a reason it wasn't longer. I'm getting to that. Mac, 'nother bourbon please…"

"Ahh. Where was I? Oh, right. Anyways, the gang had one of their regular pissing contests - you know, where everyone struts their stuff and pecking orders are established an' challenged, the works. I wasn't all that interested, being near the bottom of the pecking order already and not terribly interested in getting higher, but it was mandatory showing or you're pond scum, so I went.

"Actually, it wasn't all that bad. Sure, the posturing got tedious, but between the contests there was a lot of camaraderie as well… For the most part, at least.

"As it turned out, the pistol shooting contest had been dominated by one of the other girls for two years running. A slitch by the handle of 'Shootin' Sarah'. No, I'm not joking. Not-so-secret secret of her success was the smartgun link she had - and speculation how she'd paid for it was off limits anywhere within her earshot. She loved these little get-togethers because they let her show off how much better than us peons she was, and she got miffed when people decided they didn't feel the need to get humiliated by her this time around… So she started bullyin' people into taking her on in a contest just so she could gloat over her victories."

"… I'm still not sure why I took her up on a challenge. Sure, I'd fired a pistol before - and I still don't like thinking of the circumstances, but that's another story - but I wasn't all that good at them. Maybe I felt what was coming. Maybe it was fate or some such drek. Or maybe I was just fed up with her bullying and wanted to show her that she might be able to beat me, but not intimidate me.

I'll probably never know, and it didn't really matter. All that mattered was that I'd just challenged
Shootin' Susan to a pistol contest in front of most of the gang.

"Needless to say, she and her little clique of toadies got a few good laughs out of my challenge before she ever so graciously accepted the invitation to rub my face in the dirt…"

"… I didn't know why at the time, but I suddenly felt calmer than I'd had in ages. I realized I'd already won, in a way, just by issuing the challenge. The gang respected her skills, but they didn't actually like the gloating slitch all that much. And they did respect the guts it took for me to challenge her…"

"Susan made a big show out of it, making sure everyone saw her smartlink as she pulled her gun, took careful aim, and blew away twelve bottles with fifteen bullets at thirty meters. Her toadies applauded politely as she reloaded, and then she tossed the gun at me, challenging me to do better…"

"The throw was just short, forcing me to scramble to catch it - her idea of a good joke - and when I grabbed for it I somehow managed to catch it by just right, and when my fingers curled around th'grip…

"… Usin' magic's always a rush, but th'first time ever… It's hard to explain. Have y'ever had a perfect moment? When for just one instant th'world stops moving and you know you're precisely where you're meant t'be and everything just fits perfectly? Like sitting somewhere high enough that you can see th'horizon without buildings in the way and watching a sunset, or having your first sip of real coffee if you've only ever had soycaf before, or…"

"… Sorry, got carried away. Anyway, it was something like that. At th'time it felt like I stood there for ages just wondering at how the grip just fit perfectly in my hand as if it'd been made for it, but the gang told me later it was less than a second. At th'time, though, it was like everythin' else had gotten put on hold or just unimportant. Susan, th'Pirates, mom, dad, everything that'd happened… Everythin' just faded and all there was was me, th'gun, and those bottles I'd decided to shoot… And roughly fifteen seconds later, th'bottles were gone. All of 'em — I'd emptied th'clip without missing a single shot or even taking time t'aim between shots…

"I was th'talk of the meet for the rest of the evening, of course. Not that I realized it at first; I was too busy coming down from an euphoric high to wonder how I'd done that, let alone pay attention to what was goin' on around me. Maybe if I'd done that, I'd have noticed th'look of pure venom Susan was aiming my way. Might've spared me a lot of trouble, in th'long run…"

"Anyways, things started getting good, all of a sudden. Maybe I hadn't wanted to get higher, but I wasn't about to complain when I did. Once I proved that it hadn't been a fluke, I started gettin' a whole lot more respect - not to mention a new moniker. They'd already shortened 'Janine'
to 'Janie', and one of th'guys had this whole collection of really old music by some band called Aerosmith. Personally, I thought they sucked, but by then th'moniker stuck, and I was Janie Guns. Could've been worse, I suppose…

"Anyway, on with th'story. I think it was about a week later, maybe two, that the high-ups got word about some sleazeball setting up a drug house in our turf without asking permission, so they sent me and a couple of our bruisers to "discuss" th'matter…

"Moment we walked into th'place I just *knew* somethin' was wrong, but by th'time I went for my gun it was already too late. Dunno what they hit us with, but I heard a 'thump' and suddenly everything went dark…"

"Dunno how log I was out, but when I come to it's because I'm coughing from some kind of foul-smelling smoke, I'm lying on my back on something cold and hard, I'm not wearing anything above my waist, my hands and feet are shackled, and the pattern drawn on th'ceiling in red doesn't
reassure me any more than th'low-level chanting I hear going on behind me…"

"When I finally managed to crane my neck and look around, th'first thing I see is Rake, or what's left o'him, chained to an X on the wall with his head over th'bowl they used to catch the blood from his slit throat in…"

"My screaming probably clued them in that I was awake, and th'next thing I know someone wearing a feathered headdress and a horribly ugly mask that looked like it was still moving is looming over me and starts telling me, all polite conversation-like, how he's learned about my "Awakening" and how that means he can use me to summon an even bigger blood spirit than th'ones he got from Rake an' Dave, and how I should feel honored t'be part o'this…"

"… I'd like t'say I summoned what courage I had left and spit in his face or said somethin' defiant, but I wasn't that ready t'die. I started cryin' and begging him to please not kill me and let me go, how I wouldn't tell anyone… Not that it worked, of course. If anything, he liked hearin' me beg. Probably made him feel big an'tough…"

"Th'chanting picked up again, an' he started muttering in a language I didn't know with lots of small short syllables, all the while twisting that big ugly knife with th'strange carvings through the air and I could hear the chanting build up to a crescendo and I figured I was going to die then and there at the hands of some high-and-mighty murdering bastard that thought of people like me an'Rake and Dave as nothing but cattle and I finally started getting angry again…"

"I spat in his face as he leaned down, but he didn't even miss a beat as he started cutting my chest, dragging th'edge of that dagger down my breastbone, getting ready to plunge it straight through m'heart when suddenly th'door burst open an' his head all but exploded from burst of gunfire that went through it…"

"Next thing I knew a bunch o'armored figures come running past, taking shots at things I can't see from where I'm lying, and a minute later some chick with pointy ears and a bunch of necklaces was looming above me and looking me over. She told me t'relax, that I was going to be fine, then turned t'yell at one of the others about how I was still alive and they needed to get me out of here to someplace she could heal me properly…"

"Troll the size of a small car gets me off the altar by th'simple expedient of ripping the shackles out of the stone with his bare hands, then slings me over his shoulder and carries me outside and into the back of a van, and I wind up getting emergency magical first aid while they drive away."

"Turns out they're a group of shadow folk who'd somehow picked up there was a blood mage in the neighborhood and decided t'collect on that million-nuyen bounty th'Draco Foundation posted. Marcia - that's 'Mother Mercy' t'ye and most everyone else, by th'way - tracked 'em to th'ruined house they were working out and the team got to the place just in time to interrupt my sacrifice. I wasn't complaining."

"Not much to tell about th'rest. Mercy took me on as a student to teach me magic. She's a Bear shaman - but y'knew that already, seein' as how she's the one who sent you - and one of th'first things we found out was that Bear wasn't th'one calling me. She did manage t'teach me some spells,
though, although we quickly figured out I'd never be as good at it as her. Then again, she'll most likely never be able to shoot like I do, so I guess it all evens out…

"Anyways, enough 'bout me. She sent you t'meet me, which means you need something taken care of, and she and her team's got a prior engagement, but she thinks it's something I can take care of as well. Fine by me - I need th'work to build a rep. So let's hear what you've got on your mind, and we'll talk price…"

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