Acahya hadn’t liked the idea from the start—three different jobs, pitched to three different teams, all as one complete package? Her paycheck relying on strangers working half a city away on completely unrelated tasks? The entire idea gave her pause.

At least she could be reasonably certain their unnamed employer didn’t work for one of the big 10 corps; he reeked of “government drone” more than anything, though in too many countries the line between corporation overreach and federal sovereignty was more blur than hard edge. Still though, government work usually meant bad news for corporate interests, and she was always game for that kind of action.

She casually watched the other runners invited to the too-elegant high-rise meeting as they assembled in the lobby. She had worked with several before, but most she didn’t know from anyone else off the streets of Los Angeles. There were the obvious toughs—flexing muscles augmented with metal sheathes or cultured protein—scanning the area for threats, the tech-heads—eyes shifting around the room, thin cables running from ports behind their ears to their overpowered commlinks, as they watched the world’s data trails unfurl before their eyes—and one or two other awakened specialists like herself—magic was their particular and unique area of expertise, the ebb and flow of mana and spirits which pervaded the world. A lot of force gathered in one place.

As much as she hated to admit it however, even to herself, she needed a cushy payday; her last bolt-hole in La Paz had been raided by the kinds of people who didn’t leave witnesses, and she was quickly wearing out her welcome with friends-of-distant-friends in Southern California. She knew how she came off to most people but gave it little thought—it’s only “arrogance” if you can’t back it up. Without an influx of cash she would be out in the street in a filthy and uncaring city, no matter her social or magical acumen.

The flashy suit with the fancy booze and plenty of bodyguards who had arranged the meeting was offering enough to let her start over. Start over and maybe then some, she figured. Enough to consider the kind of work he offered. Three jobs, all to be performed with careful timing and military precision.

As she took the too-crowded elevator back down to street level, she ran over the tasks in her mind. The information had been vague, but the promised pay—real nuyen, none of that corp-exclusive scrip that always rubbed her the wrong way—more than covered for the unknowns. A package was arriving at the port some time within the next seventy-two hours, and task one was to steal said package and crack its electronic contents. Task two was to take some program or paydata or file or something—she rarely paid attention when people talked tech—and smuggle it into a secure vault a lab or facility, or government office or some such. Then, within moments of uploading the data, the residents “and any guests” of a specific house in an upscale neighborhood had to be eliminated.

Steal things that the big corporations don’t want stolen? Acahya would be happy to help. Provide cover while some techies do whatever it was they needed to do with the data so they could help hurt the megas? Right up her alley. Cold-blooded murder? Unless the family were spending their weekends dumping toxic ooze in the local reservoir it didn’t normally fit into her preferred employment terms.

She wasn’t an assassin and tended not to work with contract killers. The natural world had rules—hunt for survival and not for pleasure, give respect to the cycle of life and don’t overindulge—and for most who took up that line of work, the only rule they followed was their bank balance. As she had looked across the too-perfect meeting room, she saw a lot of greed in the eyes of her would-be companions. A lot of greed, and not a lot of morals.

She would be the first to admit that she’s killed people—in fact some of the best rumors about her exploits involve death, either out of necessity or to send a message—but she’s always known the reason why, and had weighed the reasons why not, before doing so. Well, except for Bolivar, that was an exception—really he was asking for it from moment one though, and would the world really miss another polluting corporate fat cat? In any case, she didn’t like the idea of an indiscriminate job of “kill everyone.” It didn’t sit right with her.

From everyone’s brief introductions as the expansive running team decided on a mutual place to sit down and strategize, she figured there were just enough people to cover all the important bases for each job—physical security, magical security, and tech work. There were even a few wheelmen; always valuable to have if—or when—things turned pear-shaped and a hasty departure became a priority.

She didn’t see any other intellectual or social powerhouses among the group—some people were quick to flex their egos during the initial meet with the boss man, but she could easily see through the act—which meant she’d have little difficulty placing herself in whatever team she preferred: either the group stealing the package or the one sneaking its contents into the secure facility. The third job sounded like it was going to get messy, and she didn’t want to be anywhere near a rosy, high-security neighborhood when guns started going off.

As much as she hated it, her mind kept going back to the pay. It would be enough to re-establish herself south of the border, or at least lay low for long enough that the government and corporate hit teams—as if there were much of a difference—would lose her trail and find easier prey to chase.

Someone trying to get her attention snapped her back into the present. “Hey—ah—I wanted to go scout out the transit yard, where the package is coming in. Do you want to come with me?”

The kid looked young, but in a world where money could buy just about anything, their real age was anyone’s guess. They could have had expensive work done before they found themselves in the acid rain-scoured streets, or maybe they really were that green. Still though, they had that aura of “naïve, but in a cute way” about them. Either way, Acahya doubled they’d been running the shadows for long.

“Sure thing, so long as you drive. Me, I have other talents.”

She summoned a small wisp of flame to dance between her fingers, smirking to herself as the fledgling runner’s eyes widened at the display. She rested her hand on their shoulder, extinguishing the fire in her palm. He looked at her in wonder.

Her laugh was rich, tinged with a predatory edge. “I think you and I are going to have a great time.”