Crusher snaps his fingers in epiphany, a dim bulb somewhere in his brain glowing brighter than usual for a second.
[Crusher remembers an old street doc with whom he dealt while getting his first pieces of cyberware. She lives in downtown Chicago, 13 miles south of their current position]
[The year is 2023, and Crusher’s wife and children have left him since he returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom goblinized and crippled. He has spent the last year living in the barrens of Chicago, scrounging to get by. After having collected a meagre some of yen robbing and mugging, he approaches a local cyberware surgeon by the name of Harriet Matthews. She is 20 years old and has just finished her apprenticeship under another street doc. Matthews is eager to make a name for herself in the burgeoning and male dominated field of bodyware, and optimistic and trusting enough to install Crusher’s arm on credit, which he duly pays off. They did business again shortly after, installing a pair of punch blades in both Crusher’s cybernetic and meat hands. In the years following, Crusher moved on to more high scale technicians to install hardware on his spine and head, but has remained in contact with Matthews ever since, performing odd jobs for her at a discounted rate, for Crusher never forgot the woman who helped him get back on his feet, and gave him back the arm Aden had seared from his body years earlier.
Today Matthews is an old woman, who keeps her hair back with a bandanna and sports ragged work clothes speckled in burn marks, and peers out at her customers through thick, oversized glasses. These days she spends more time teaching and supervising in her shop than she does work, and her relatively new role as teacher has caused her to become more focused on the art and tradition of cybernetics.]
Crusher leans forward and points out the location of the surgeon’s shop on the center console display, exclaiming, “I know an old street doc, lives nearby. Let’s try her.” The computer quickily produces the fastest route through the city streets, and Ling Fei tears around traffic, racing against the clock. As they move, Crusher retrieves the first aid kit does his best to slow the courier’s bleeding.
Crusher does his best bandaging the wound, but the courier has lost a lot of blood, and passes out shortly after their escape from the fire-fight. The old ork considers a tracheotomy, but his inexperience with the procedure makes him decide against it. Instead, he bandages the man’s neck tightly, lays him flat on the bench seat, and hopes for the best. The couriers breathing is ragged and shallow, and his pulse fades in and out.
The van rumbles on down the interstate, headed southward. Ling-Fei ignores the exit to I-90, the direction she normally would have taken to get back to the Silphid. She doesn’t lament skipping that particular journey, as the toxic Corporate dumps around South Deering and Hegewisch have polluted the land, and leaked synthetic fuels and oils into the waters under the once-beautiful Chicago Skyway. Instead, she continues south on I-94 and takes exit 61B, merging onto the Dan-Ryan Expressway. The van’s GPS directs her towards the sprawl that has become Auburn Gresham.
In the early 2020’s, goblinization forced many families in the lower south side of Chicago apart, splitting neighborhoods and sparking small racial turf-wars throughout the surrounding suburbs. Those territories which were claimed and inhabited by orks and their metavariants suffered an unusual amount of racist uprisings; the media during this time became rife with speculation about the “ability of orks to become a functioning part of society”, and anti-ork sentiment was strong. The founding of the Humanis Policlub in 2023 further incensed racial tensions, resulting in a social banishment of most orks in the South Chicago area—their businesses were boycotted, and ordinances were passed limiting metahuman freedoms and rights. As a result, most orks were forced to flee the area. Many did not possess the means to move far, so they simply left the city and repopulated the now-polluted suburbs surrounding places like Englewood and Greater Grand Crossing.
During the time Crusher had spent with Harriet Matthews, she was working in the midst of one of these new ork sprawls, operating a business with her mentor out of a reclaimed suburban house. The orkish territory back then was designed to be self-sustaining, and a pocket economy evolved in which one could find all the things necessary to live and survive. The operation of a cyberware merchant was a relatively new addition to the town, and the orkish Matthews was finding business moving more slowly than it had when she had primarily human clientele in a respectable chop-shop up town. Her goblinization had made her life very difficult; her friends, family and coworkers disowned her, and she was forced to go on the road, seeking to ply her skills as a cybertechnician. Sometimes she thinks about the life she could have had as a cybersurgeon with ambition. She likes to imagine that she would have been designing and inventing cyberware, instead of repairing and maintaining it.
Ling-Fei follows Crusher’s directions to the old house-turned-operating room, and parks the oversized armored van in front of the correct address. The house has not been maintained very well; nevertheless, it is the house that Crusher recalls from memory. The wraparound porch is now a junkyard of exposed medical waste and the remnants of what must have been painful mistakes in the OR. Slatted blue storm shutters, their paint chipped and peeling, hang crazily at angle with one another, slapping the sides of the house in the evening breeze. The white paint has faded to yellow, and the house wears a skirt of kicked-up dirt and mud. There are lights on and signs of movement visible through the greasy windows.
The courier’s breathing becomes irregular and weak. The bandages cannot fully staunch the wound; blood has pooled on the van floor underneath his head, and his shirt is crimson-red, soaked above the chest. His time is almost up.
Crusher stared out of the vision slit for a moment, lost in the past. The memories of being cast out onto the street and losing everything mixed with the gray that came with the successive killing, the cold sharpness of a predator of survival. He snapped back to the present with cold precision. “You two grab this mother fucker” the mercernary barks, sliding the door open. He steps out onto the street and glances back over his shoulder. “I’m gonna go say hi to Ms. Matthews… No one draw a piece unless I do.” Satisified, he starts on his way towards the front door, switching off his wired reflexes and shuddering as the world hums down to a normal speed again.
Crusher walks up the beaten concrete walk to the front door of the clinic, old bloodstains crusting over and dried, crunching underneath his feet. He raps a steely knuckle on the flimsy slatboard outer door, and waits. He knows a potentially fat bonus is currently leaking it’s life out on the yard behind him, and he grows impatient.
After a minute, the door creaks open—to his surprise, a young male ork answers the door, a bloody smock tied loosely around a gray, oil-stained mechanic’s jumpsuit. The juxtaposition of bodily fluids with mechanical lubricant isn’t a new sight to anyone who has worked around cyberware, but it still reminds the mercenary that his body isn’t all “his”, and this makes him uncomfortable.
He asks for Harriet; the young ork looks him up and down, and Crusher adds, “I’m an old friend.” This, coupled with the ork’s obviously inorganic parts, seems to be enough for the assistant, and he lets the door slam in Crusher’s face as he goes back into the shop to fetch his mentor.
Harriet Matthews has grown old, indeed. She is at the upper limit of orkish longevity, and her wizened, frail frame has been propped up here and there cybernetically, like an old house leaning its tired overhangs on two by fours. Peering at him through glossy blue cybereyes, her mechanical wheelchair propels her down a short hallway towards her guest—her assistant picks up where she has left off in the OR. Numerous, spindly metal arms protrude from the back of her chair, offering up the tools and instruments of the cyber-trade at their modular ends: a bonesaw here, a pneumatic drill there.
She recognizes Crusher immediately: Aden’s magic has robbed him of the usual signs of aging, and she greets him warmly by his first name, as pre-Goblinization orks are wont to do with those they knew from those times.
“Hello Alfred. It has been.. too long. I see you’ve been expanding upon my earlier works.” A wrinkled hand gestures to his new cyberware—”What can I do for you today?”
The ork manages a toothy half-smile. “It certainly has been too long, Harriet,” he confesses, rubbing the forearm of his old cyberlimb with his meat hand, “but my first parts are still my best.” He pauses for a moment, then drops his left arm back to his side and raises his right arm at the elbow, reaching out to the old woman, the brushed alloy of his palm slightly upturned in a pleading gesture.
His face becomes serious, urgent. “Look, I need a favor. A big one. I’ve got some poor slob bleeding from his neck out in the yard, and he’s going to die in minutes. He’s no friend, but I need him to live. Will you patch him up, for old time’s sake?” [Crusher has street etiquette 4, and adds his 1 karma pool die to the test.]
The old ork surgeon nods affirmatively, giving a little grunt, “You know I’m no doctor. If I know anything about the kinds of things you get yourself into,” she raises an eyebrow at the blood on his hands, “he needs a proper hospital. I’ll take a look at him, but if I have to install anything, it’s going to cost you.”
Looking over Crusher’s should at his teammates hauling the courier’s limp form: “Hey! Get him off the grass! All that iron really is hell on the root system.” She turns her wheelchair around and, propping the door open, gestures to an empty table in a blood-spattered room to her left. “Drop him there.”
The mercenary’s shoulders drop in momentary elation, the credstick at the end of the run growing in his mind’s eye. “Thanks doc, I owe you one, big time,” he says, moving to help the two women muscle the man’s limp form onto the table. As they stand around the operating station, Crusher slips back into his role as squad leader, delegating tasks to his partners. “Ling Fei, keep Boxcar’s sensors hot; I’m worried that that ‘sam or some of his compatriots might have tailed us back here to finish the job. And while you’re on your feet, you can do your best to assist the doc in her surgey. But if she doesn’t need you, just get the drek out of the way.”
“Got it bossman,” the elf responds, then glazes over as she accesses her cranial remote control deck, commanding the van’s sensors to perform a full sweep.
The cat shaman looks around the blood-stained room with distain, licking the tips of her fingers before pulling a loose strand of hair back behind her ear. “I’m going to find somewhere… clean… to recover. I’ve still got a little drain from summoning that spirit.”
Crusher bobs his head slowly, running through a mental list to see if they’ve missed anything in the planning process. “I’m going to grab my rifle and have a seat on the porch. I have a bad feeling another car full of chromed-out motherfuckers is going to roll down that street at any moment.”
Their duties clear, the trio goes about their tasks: Ling Fei wanders off down the hall to introduce herself to the street doctor and offer her assistance while Moonclaw finds the cleanest, most comfortable chair in the foyer and curls into a ball, dozing lightly and snarling quietly in her half-sleep. Meanwhile, the old mercenary retrieves his assault rifle from the van and takes a seat in a rocking chair on the porch, the familiar presence of the rifle’s small triangular reticle and the elevation tics of the underbarrel grenade launcher’s rangefinder in his field of vision giving him a rare feeling of comfort and familiarity as he settles down to wait for the results from the operating room.
Ten minutes pass. Then fifteen. The team starts out wary, but then grows confident that they have given their pursuers the slip.
Crusher leans back, resting his arms, his rifle on safety across his lap. He puts his legs up on a discarded cybertorso and thinks back over the day’s work, his old military mind working through all the things that could have gone wrong, and ways he might have handled the ‘run better: information, planning, execution. There’s always room to improve on the performance of any mission, and he thanks his lucky stars that the freshmeat rigger and experienced-but-strange shaman didn’t get him greased.
One thing his mind keeps wandering back to is the enemy street samurai. Who was he working for? Had he been gunning for the courier intentionally?
He still can’t think of anyone who would have wanted the courier dead; without him, the case is useless except in the hands of the recipients. And why did he keep firing shots at his team? Outside of whichever corp needed the case, Crusher couldn’t think of anybody who would have reason to kill them, their short careers as shadowrunners leaving them thankfully low on enemies
The comically domestic screen door swings open on its squeaky hinges, breaking the ork of his reverie. Harriet wheels herself out onto the porch, taking a seat, as it were, beside Crusher. She shuffles around in a pocket on the side of her chair, fishing out a crumpled pack of Dark Clements: cheap, strong-smelling cigars with white plastic tips. Gripping one of the plastic mouthpieces between her yellowed tusks, she lights it with a torch from her chair.
Offering the crumpled pack to Crusher, she exhales a great gout of smoke, saying, “Your friend is going to live if he gets to a hospital soon. I’ve managed to stop the bleeding, for now, but short of a new trachea, he probably won’t last another 12 hours. I won’t charge ya, we didn’t have to put any parts in him so this one’s on the house. Just remember ol’ Harriet when me or mine come calling.”
She watches as the smoke drifts away from her house, off the porch and across the lawn, headed down the street. The few broken streetlights which still work have started to warm up, and they cast their illuminating glow on the slums of the ork slum-suburb, once Auburn Gresham, home to nice, happy white-collar humans. The smoke passes under the lights, becoming the ghosts of people long gone.
She nods peacefully, and gestures with her cigar in the direction of the smoke, “Place sure has changed, hasn’t it? I remember people used to come and go all the time; seemed like things were better, then, when nobody stayed put. But then you get people like me who just set in one place and get old—” she coughs roughly, ”—How about you, Alfred? When are you fixin to join us here, settle down and die peacefully? You’ve been living too long to be looking the way you do… Age, or death in some other shape is going to catch you eventually.”
The ork grasps the proffered cigar roughly between the curls of the pointer and index fingers of his right arm, watching dispassionately as the flame from Matthew’s cutting torch carbonizes the tips of his knuckles, leaving them blackened and sooty. He takes a draw, the tip of the cheap cigar surging into an orange disk before dying low again as he moves the cigar away from his face and exhales. “Settle down? I was settled down. Had a house, job, respect…” He shifts his weight heavily to the right, casually spitting onto the weathered slats of the porch, ”... drekkin’ wife… I was settled, Harriet. I was settled. Then the world blew up. God-damned dragon blew away my squad, blew away my arm… I loved those boys like they were my family, lost them all in five minutes… lost my arm in one… and when I got stateside, I lost everything else in just as many months.”
He takes a weary, sidelong glance at the street doc, who sits, quietly, attuned to his blues. He continues: “Fucked up thing, really, is how much worse the drek life is after you’ve been on top. Back when being down in America was about having the wrong skin color, nigger like me never knew how the grass felt on the other side. But being on top, as much as one could be, being the right meta-type at least, and then changing, changing to this…” He rubs his enlarged lower canine absent-mindedly for a beat, ”...It’s like I been emptied out. I got nothing in this world, nothing but a grudge, killer instinct… memories.”
The mercenary grinds the cigar out on a rusting cybernetic skull casing and stands, hugging the rifle to his abdomen as he rises. “Got nothing to rest with, Harriet. Not like you; only trade I’ve got is ending things. Only time I can rest is when I end the scaly chunk of awakened horseshit who brought all this darkness down on me.” Crusher grunts impatiently and jerks his neck to the side, cracking it three times. “Anyway, sorry to bore you with all this drek, Harriet. You’ve heard it before. Once again, I owe you big. Next time you need someone’s face caved in, you call me up. I’m gonna get this sorry sack of meat off my hands before this ‘run gets fragged any further.”
Crusher rounds up his team, and they get the courier loaded safely away into the van. Ling Fei thanks the street doctor profusely for her help, and inquires into the possibility of having Matthews teach her the basics of biotechnology in the future. Finally, the team is back on the road again, and Ling Fei points the vehicle in the direction of the Silphid, praying for a safe trip.