Carl flashed his best smile at the customs official as the system interrogated the identity in his new commlink. The uniformed man stared at the former bodyguard through the AR display as the fake SIN popped up.
“Good Morning, Mr. Kawashima”, intoned the official. "What is the purpose of your trip to Osaka?"
“Business”, replied Carl, trying to look slightly, but not overly, nervous. “The guys in corporate messed up the…”
“That will be sufficient, Mr. Kawashima”, interrupted the guard. “Do you have any organic products to declare?”
The rest of the screening was routine, and the former bodyguard breathed a sigh of relief. One step closer to getting the hell out of Seattle. With Garibaldi’s body about to be officially discovered and Vashon’s goons already knowing that he was the one supplying the tempo, he had no illusions about the value of their promise that he could just walk away after bribing them. Better to put some space and serious borders between himself and the whole mess.
He’d passed through security screening without any trouble. His foci were being smuggled through other channels and he’d been careful not to bring anything that would attract attention. As far as anyone could tell, he was just a corporate wage-mage on his way to the head office in Osaka.
Finding the sub-orbital’s departure gate, Carl breathed a sigh of relief. Inside the security cordon, there was little chance that he would be bothered. There were cameras everywhere, getting weapons in was nearly impossible, and using magic in the place would bring down a massive security response within seconds.
The washroom was quiet as he stopped to relieve himself before the flight. The room was empty except for an older man but the former bodyguard still made sure that he kept alert to any risk. A janitor had come by with his cart and the old guy was washing his hands when the mage came out of the stall. Carl switched to astral perception to check him out, more from habit than any expectation of risk. The old man turned and looked at him, a smirk crossing his wrinkled face.
“Like what you see, Carl?”, he drawled.
The young mage jerked upright in surprise at the mention of his name, simultaneously feeling the sharp jab of a hypodermic in his neck. He’d been distracted by the old guy, and hadn’t taken enough notice of the janitor, who had moved quietly behind him.
Carl felt his arms and legs go numb as the syringe’s contents took effect. The janitor slowly lowered him to the floor, an unfriendly smile on his face.
“Hello Carl”, said the newcomer, as the older man moved to close the washroom door. The RFID tag in the portal announced that the room was closed for cleaning and directed airport customers to the washrooms down the concourse.
The mage collected mana to activate a spell, but releasing the stunbolt proved difficult. Something was interfering, counterspelling most likely. A quick shift to astral confirmed that the janitor was magically active, and the air spirit beside him was probably contributing to the problem.
Shit, thought the bodyguard. How the hell is he not bringing airport security down on us with that spirit?
The janitor gave him that same unfriendly smile and shook his head. “None of that, Carl. We wouldn’t want to have you miss the fun we planned by having to kill you too quickly. Besides, SeaTac security is being paid to ignore my magic, not to clean up your body.”
The drug was at full effect, and the mage was beginning to find breathing difficult. The janitor pulled out a drug patch, and fiddled with it in front of Carl’s eyes.
“Look familiar?”, he said. “I thought so. Miss Vashon wanted wanted us to make sure you knew what was coming.”
The janitor slapped the tempo patch on Carl’s back, and the young mage felt a rush of energy, adrenaline and magical power that seemed to brighten the world and bring it more into focus. He could feel the effects of the paralysis drug wearing off, although far too slowly. He knew he could take both of his assailants with little effort, airport security be damned.
As Carl reached for more magical energy, a sharp slap refocused him on the janitor, who was holding a second patch.
“Oops. I forgot. You’re an advocate for multiple doses.”
When the second patch kicked in, Carl’s vision turned white, and he could hardly concentrate on the world around him. His heart pounded and he could feel every nuance of his body, every nerve, every cell. Dozens of thoughts raced through his mind, not all of them pleasant or even sensible. When he was able to focus on the washroom, there were more people present in the room than before, most of them somewhat more or less than human.
Somewhere in the distance he could hear the janitor’s parting words.
“Have a good trip, Carl. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”