The Big Tomato

Chicken Run

Tashiko’s phone rang. The call was coming from Bando Taro’s office; he answered. The face on the screen was one he knows all too well: Nakajima Sakura. Sakura-san is the ugliest ork Tashiko has ever seen, and she is cuttingly vicious besides.

“Bando-sama has a job for you,” Sakura sneered.

“All right.”

“There has been an accident with a cargo vehicle. Recover the cargo and deliver it to this address.” She transmitted a street address. “Here are the coordinates of the vehicle. Each member of your team will receive 1,000 nuyen.”

Tashiko stored the information in his phone. “What kind of cargo is it?”

“Livestock.”

Tashiko blinked. “What kind of—“

“Do I look like a farmer? You’d better hurry, before the sedative wears off.” <click>

Tashiko regarded the blank screen momentarily, before calling up the rest of the team. One doesn’t turn down a dragon … at least, not more than once.

......

“Run this by me again,” Tank said from behind the wheel of a hastily rented cattle truck.

“We get 1,000 nuyen each for rounding up some farm animals,” Tashiko repeated. With Tank, he’d found, you got better cooperation when you mentioned the money first. “When we deliver them to the address I got from our Johnson.”

“You mean your Johnson.”

“Sure.”

Tank slowed as another truck came into view ahead. The bed slanted across the right lane; the cab tilted wildly into the irrigation ditch, one tire dangling above the water. The slats surrounding the bed appeared undamaged, but the gate across the back had sprung when the truck dropped off the shoulder, and now hung from one hinge. Pods filled the back of the truck and lay scattered across the asphalt. There were no skid marks behind the vehicle.

Tank stopped a cautious ten meters or so back from the disabled flat bed. The team got out; Raven and Tashiko made their way to the cab to check on the driver, while Tank, Isabella, and Rayda observed the loose pods at a wary distance.

The shamans’ inspection showed the driver to be beyond even Raven’s help, though his body was unmarked. An astral scan revealed residue of a spell, or spell-like effect, around the body. Magic had killed him, obviously, but what magic?

“Hey, Tashiko?” Tank’s voice interrupted Tashiko’s reverie.

“Yeah?”

“Can we shoot them?”

A low hissing and rattling had begun to build in the bed of the truck without Tashiko’s notice. He backed out of the cab and looked into the roadway. One of the pods had landed just over the broken yellow line, and the wire frame door, skewed out of plumb, was allowing the “livestock” egress. The long-legged, birdlike creature stepped out onto the pavement, shaking its head.

“Cockatrices!” Tashiko called.

Raven ducked behind the wreck’s open door; Rayda lept to the top of the cattle truck cab. Tank unlimbered Betsy, flipping the safety off and checking the ammo levels via his Smartlink.

Tashiko sighed and reached for his phone. “This livestock – do we have to bring it back alive?”

Sakura sniffed. “Some loss would be ‘acceptable,’ if you can’t manage to avoid it.” She hung up.

“Killing is okay!” Tashiko gave a broad thumbs up and drew his sword. At least they’d get some satisfaction out of the day’s work.

The new directive simplified things greatly; the six loose birds were easily subdued by stun grenades and lightning spells. The only casualty was Isabella, who was temporarily paralyzed by a scratch when she closed with one of the creatures at the edge of the ditch. Tashiko dispatched the stunned beasts with his blade rather than risk picking up the unconcious animals. He slid the carcasses into one of the broken pods, and tossed it into the cattle truck with the undamaged carriers.

......

“You here for a pickup?” Tashiko flagged down two idle dwarves in coveralls. An underground parking garage was a strange – not to mention conspicuous – place to transfer live animals, but sometimes you just had to follow Mr. Johnson’s plan.

One of the dwarves nodded and waved the truck forward while the other opened the back of two plain white delivery vans. They handled the live birds casually, protected by heavy gloves. When the cattle truck was emptied, the first dwarf tossed Tashiko a credstick, then climbed into a van and drove out of the garage.

Tashiko transferred a share to each team member, then got back into the truck with Tank. “Let’s return this thing and go home.”

... a week later …

Tashiko’s door chimed. The external camera showed a Pacote Reunido delivery driver with a large box.

Opening the box on the counter of his kitchenette, Tashiko discovered another, temperature-controlled package inside. He opened it cautiously …

It contained a large roasted bird.

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Eliohan

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