Moonclaw nods grimly. “The origin can’t be far; let us search the room.” She casts out with her senses, moving systematically through the thick fog in an effort to search the third floor for the origin of the polluted aura.
Crusher throws the passenger door open and leaps from the vehicle, bringing his assault rifle up to his shoulder in the firing position and leveling it at the nearest gang member. His wired reflexes are on full conduction, and he can feel the thrumming hypertension building in his chest, his heart racing. The man’s image swims with the greens and reds of heat and low-light imaging, and a small crosshair dances steadily across his torso. Crusher stands tall and barks authoritatively, “FREEZE MOTHERFUCKER! STOP OR I’LL BLAST YOU!” [Crusher is using his Intimidation 3 skill.]
The chassis of the Ares Guardian is shaped like a miniature attack helicopter, with an array of sensors on the front and a snub-nosed assault rifle in a chin turret beneath it. The rear of the vehicle mounts a turbine on each side, which let out a high pitched whine and a bright blue cones of flame, pivoting back and forth to keep the drone steady in the air. Its carapace has a rounded, slightly futuristic look to it, with a dull white paintjob; across one side its call sign is sprayed in white block letters: “Sparrow-1”. On the ground, the Doberman rolls to a halt, its body vibrating slightly from the thrum of its engine. It’s chassis is a dull green, shaped like a miniature tank with small tracks and a turret with a light machine gun mounted on its right side; “Lockjaw-1” is painted on the flat nose of the crawler.
4 screens are laid out like large window panes in front of Ling Fei’s vision, each surrounded with data that shifts and fades as she interacts with the interface. The 4 screens show the views of each drone operating from her VCR: the spider, the aircraft, the land vehicle, and the van itself. Ling Fei pulls their two panes forward, and they expand to fill her field of vision. She highlights Crusher’s signature in their view screens and call out to them, “Sparrow one, Lockjaw one, follow this mark within 10 meters and engage his targets and all other hostiles.” [The Ares Guardian has pilot 3, the Doberman has pilot 2, Ling Fei has computer (programming) 0 (2).]
Moonclaw and Aleister cast around the third floor in the astral plane until they find the pitted metal door, Ling-Fei’s spider drone sitting above it, grayed out in the physical plane. Upon trying to enter the room behind it, they find that the entire room is encased in a solidly fortified astral barrier. This hazy barrier does not extend past the boundaries of the building walls, which is why it was invisible from the outside; it is also massive, completely covering the makeshift room, which takes up the right-most half (from the point of view of S. Harvard ave) of the third floor. They can see the black smoke streaming from the crack where the physical-realm door opens. It exits with considerable pressure, like steam building up underneath a kettle lid.Aleister moves away, concerned. “This is very peculiar. No immaterial presence that I know of could generate a phenomena like this. Perhaps it is true, what Mr. Johnson said, that this corporation did manage to engineer a technology which bestows Awakening.” He pronounces the word ‘technology’ with disgust. Moving closer to the barrier, he places his hands on it, and concentrates. “It is a strong warding on this place; as strong as any Awakened could create. It will take both our efforts to destroy. If you are willing to attempt it, I will join you in the task.”
At the sound of Crusher’s commanding voice, the gangers both freeze, apparently not sure what to do. The armed man drops his pistol, which clatters to the pavement; his colleague proceeds to soil himself noisily. The hobos and homeless around the lot immediately start to shy away to the far end of the street; at least there won’t be any heroes tonight. As Crusher decides what to do, advancing away from the cover of the van, the Ares Guardian covers him closely from it’s hovering point over the roof. Ling-Fei notices, with some annoyance, that the larger Doberman drone didn’t pick up the commands correctly, and has defaulted to an idle behavior pattern in the meantime. Sometimes the GM-Nissan pilot programs remind her more of poorly trained dogs than computers.
Crusher takes his left hand from the stock of the gun and holds it out, palm forward in a pacifying gesture. “I hear you’ve been having trouble with your boss. Bring me to him, and we can all walk away tonight. Your move.” [Crusher is using his etiquette street 2(4) skill.]
Ling Fei grasps Sparrow-1’s pane and pulls her body through, shivering in the cold night as the ASSIST data from the drone washes over her tactile senses. She raises the drone higher and yaws right, then accelerates to 4 meters per second, angling the drone directly towards the building’s third floor. She then zooms in on the right side of the third floor, scanning for windows which see through to the top floor. [observe in detail with intelligence 5.]
Moonclaw nods again. “It must be done.” She turns on the door and digs her fingers into the crack of the opening, attempting to pull it open. As she strains, large, ghostly black cat paws overlay themselves across her astral form’s hands, their claws digging into the astral barrier. [Moonclaw attacks the barrier with charisma 4, and adds 2 astral combat dice.]
Gamemaster:The drone angles its burners and accelerates towards the dark corners of the building. It starts a right slide, tilting its hull and gliding on the horizontal axis. The electronic eyes and weeping radio waves cannot find any cracked open windows on the third floor. They all appear to have been boarded up with fiberboard or, in some cases, sheet metal.
The two men, both humans, stand quaking in their boots, facing away from Crusher. At the mention of their boss, both of them freeze. The one on the right says, nervously, “How did you know about him..? Are you from that corporation? Look, we don’t know ANYTHING about that! He only took the soldiers on that raid, we’re just working the corners tonight, you know. We’re just pushers, man! Please don’t kill us!” His friend, the soiled one, has a brown stain working its way down the right leg of his jeans.
When his friend hears this admittance, and the mention of the ‘corporation’, he stands silent for a moment. Then, without a word, he takes off running down the street as fast as he can, heading for the building. Trying to duck and stay low, he is screaming at the top of his lungs, “NO CORP FUCKERS ARE GOING TO GET ME! HEY! WE GOT EM OUT FRONT! HELP! THE CORP IS HERE!”At this, the hobos and other bystanders scatter, leaving their refuse piles and trash bins, scampering for safety. The runners’ cover will be blown if the man reaches his friends, but he has not yet made it to the safe harbor of the building; he is almost at the T-intersection where S. Harvard ends, still yelling.
The two magicians steel themselves, and rip into the magic ward confronting them. Their astral auras reach out around their outstretched hands and meld with the doorway, attempting to disrupt its warding and weaken its hold. The assault kicks sparks off the metaphysical barrier, and it responds in kind, pulsating outward with waves of malice. For an instant, the astral space around the pair becomes thick and tense with the emotion of combat, and then both magicians are knocked back. Their attacks are ineffective against the magical barrier, and the effort leaves them both drained; just as an athlete is breathless after a particularly straining performance, so the two magic-wielders find their extraplanar abilities similarly taxed. [The magical barrier’s defenses have reduced Moonclaw’s Magic attribute temporarily by 3, and Aleister’s by 2.]
Sensing the danger of continuing down this path, Aleister breaks off of the combat, and advises that Moonclaw do the same. “Shaman, it seems we will not make progress down this path without more time. We are both too weak with the presence of the fog here to succeed at our task. In addition, I sense more pressing matters at hand.” He directs her attention to the new feeling of an aura, panicked and senseless, emanating from the direction of the street. “It would seem our friends have been found out. We may be entering this building in a more direct fashion, after all.”
“Yes, I sense it too,” Moonclaw says, “we should return.” With a deep outbreath, she releases the strain of projection, and lets her essence race through the astral plane back into her meat body.
The ganger’s insolence has awakened Crusher’s warrior spirit; the patience allotted to trying it the easy way has run out. He twists his torso and levels his rifle at the retreating man before firing two bursts at his back. [Crusher’s rifle has an integral gas vent 2, and a barrel-mounted gas vent 2. His cybereyes act as a scope, reducing his range by two ranks. He is also using an integral smartlink. He has assault rifles (AACG) 5(7).]
Ling Fei opens up the throttle, feeling the burn in her legs as the turbines scream. She angles the nose of the aircraft at the nearest window covered in fiberboard and braces for impact. [Ling Fei is making a ramming attempt on a fiberboarded window, she has vectored thrust aircraft (remote) 4 (6).]
The mercenary is now deep in his element, and he can’t help but feel good as he pivots to one knee and shoulders his weapon. With a smile on his face, he depresses the curved trigger, and the combat begins to unfold around him.
His rifle kicks back smoothly, mechanically, explosive gases superheating the night air as they exit their vent channels. The shells fly from the receiver in little trios, like so many butterflies, and his body absorbs the recoiling energy, instinctively leaning his center of gravity forward to compensate.
The first grouping bites into the man’s thigh, just above the back of the knee, and marches up his back as the recoil from the weapon nudges the muzzle upwards. The ganger stumbles, his numbed body still attempting to stride forward, and then the second burst hits, a close group just underneath the right scapula which blows a chunk of meat out of his torso. Crusher’s thermographic optics catch a glimpse of the exposed ribcage, and then the man hits the ground, already dead.
Above him, the drone drives its engines forward and strikes the last window at the corner of the building with its hull. The light aircraft is not up to the task of breaking through a barrier, however, even one as light as this. It rams the wall hard, damaging the sensor-studded nose cone, and scraping one of the vectored thrust engines out of alignment. The delicate drone veers off into the air away from the building, now damaged and harder to control. [The drone has taken M damage, and the barrier remains unaffected.]
In the body of Boxcar Rebellion, the magicians wake up from their astral voyage, bodies tensed and ready for action, and minds already cleared of the cloying affects of the smoke. Aleister stands, drawing a heavy pistol from a thigh holster and reaching into his jacket to produce a length of plain copper rod. He exits the car in long strides, and takes in the situation coolly. He raises his right arm, gripping the rod, and points it straight at the remaining ganger, who remains rooted to the spot, staring at the leaking corpse of his friend.
A blinding flash lights the night sky, illuminating the magician and the sandlot in hot, white light. A thunderous clap echoes out, and a forked branch of lightning blasts out of the copper rod in Aleister’s outstretched hand, roaring past Crusher to strike the gang member square in the chest. The bolt continues on, grounding itself into dark oblivion on the body of a nearby car, leaving a metallic taste in the air. The man gasps for a moment, still sucking wind, stunned at what has just occurred. The shattered bits of his sternum glow white hot for a second, hovering in the darkness beneath his shocked expression, and then he falls backwards, joining his fallen compatriot in the afterlife.
[It is Moonclaw’s combat turn.]
The shaman crouches inside the van and brings her right hand up in front of her, her fingers taking on a curved, claw-like shape as she channels the energies of the astral plane through her, imbuing her body with the agility of the cat. [Moonclaw is casting increased reflexes +2 on herself at force 2, 4 sorcery dice to cast; 2 sorcery dice, 6 willpower, and 3 spellpool to resist drain.]
The cat shaman feels her nerves quickening, and her senses sharpen magically as the spell takes effect. With a sharp intake of breath, she receives the magical feedback from taxing her mind on so draining a spell. [Moonclaw takes Light drain damage.]
Standing outside on the street, Crusher’s ears perk up, as he hears the clamoring and yelling of the soldiers in the back of the building coming his way. They shout profanities and shoot rounds off into the air, and their equipment jangles and clinks as their jackboots pound on the pavement in the small tunnel leading out from underneath the building.
From his vantage point, he can see that there is plenty of cover to be had between the apartment building and the runners’ current position. Boxcar Rebellion and Aleister Crowley are behind him and to his right, still in the sandlot. The magician has taken up a post behind the old tree, and is watching him and the surroundings for signs of movement. There are two cars sitting on blocks on the runner’s side of the street, and another two closer to the tunnel entrance. Buildings hem in the street, preventing flight in any lateral direction, and cutting off lines of sight at the corners of the block. Crusher makes a mental note to keep an eye on the right-hand entrance of the building, in case any of the interior guards decide to help out their allies in the street.
The old ork shifts his armor warily, and his metal fingers flex on the grip of his rifle. The first two had gone down without a problem, but, he figures, the next half-dozen are going to put up more of a fight…
[Crusher and Ling-Fei both get two full phases before the next Combat Turn begins.]
Crusher runs forwards and throws his body behind the farthest right abandoned car on the runner’s side, toggling the rifle’s grenade launcher to primary with a mental impulse as he moves. He props the rifle on the hood of the car and sets up a shot on the entrance to the tunnel, his smartlink projecting the flight path of the projectile into space. [Crusher is taking aim for two actions, then delaying his second phase until the enemy reaches the end of the tunnel.]
Ling Fei pulls her attention out of the damaged Guardian and moves directly to inhabit the idiling Doberman, thanking the heavens she didn’t pick up any ASIST damage from that risky manoeuvre. She rolls the drone forwards until it reaches the edge of the fence, lining up a shot on the tunnel entrance. She then turns her attention to the slowly corkscrewing Guardian and attempts to order it home: “Sparrow one, return to Boxcar and dock.” [The Guardian has pilot 3, Ling Fei adds 2 programming dice, and the test is at +2 for issuing a command while not in captain’s chair mode.]
The drone successfully picks up the command and pilots itself back towards Boxcar’s waiting drone rack, and slides back into place as it’s wheeled counterpart maneuvers itself behind the relative cover of a nearby chainlink fence. Moonclaw’s blood quickens in her veins, and she prepares to act.
[Crusher has delayed one action into his first Initiative Pass, and is still waiting for the gangers to emerge. Ling-Fei, then Moonclaw, take combat phases before this occurs.]
Ling Fei sits in place, doing her best to calm her nerves before the storm. [Ling Fei will delay her action until after Crusher has acted.]
Moonclaw steps from the van and slides the door closed behind her. Seeing the team’s front well covered, she begins to run around the right side of the long brick building, hoping to take cover behind the old tree closest to west 71st on the building’s eastern face. As she runs, she draws her Ingram Smartgun from its holster on her lower back and deploys the folding stock before plugging it into her smartgoggles, feeling the submachine gun vibrate lightly in her grip as it automatically chambers the first round. [Moonclaw has quickness 4 and X3 running multiplier.]
Crusher’s eyes narrow, and he grits his teeth in anticipation as the gang soldiers grow nearer. The fire light plays on the back wall of the tunnel, tricking his mind into seeing an enemy that isn’t there. The neon parabola superimposed over his vision arcs out over the parked cars, marked at regular intervals with the flight path range in meters, and ends with a red X just at the tunnel mouth. Suddenly, the first man rounds the corner, and Crusher’s finger slides past the guard and tugs back on the multi-trigger. This is his first time using weapons of indiscriminate destruction on civilians and, he has to admit, it doesn’t feel bad.
The satisfying ‘chunk’ of the underbarrel grenade launcher sounds out, and the mini-grenade flies out along the red arch, landing right amidst the group of armed men.
The initial detonation surprises Ling-Fei, who is used to explosions on the ‘trid being firey and colorful, and people flying everywhere, tossed by the explosive shockwaves. In real life, ordinance is much less dramatic, and ten times as brutal. The sound of the explosive is like a punch in the gut, drowning even the ear-busting power of gunfire: loud, powerful, and brief.
The first man out of the tunnel is torn apart; he is nearly at the exact impact site of the grenade, and his limbs separate from his body in a pink cloud and spray of clothes and gore. The two men immediately following him are briefly hidden from view by the flash and spray of shrapnel; their hands fly up, then they drop to the ground like sandbags, and are still. The bodies of these two absorb most of the blast travelling down the tunnel, but the fourth man in the group is shredded by the heat and concussive blast, and is knocked to the ground. The three remaining gang members are stunned, but they are hardened criminals, and, though they pause at this sudden onslaught, they have their orders, and they continue rushing down the corridor, weapons at the ready.
[It is Ling Fei’s delayed action.]
Ling Fei grips the light machine gun with her tactile senses and the turret responds to her input, swiveling to draw a bead on the first man as the bolt slides back to accept the first shell in the belt. She squeezes off a four round blast at the lead man, then marches the stream of fire into the adjacent man, hitting him with three rounds. [8 shots total, gunnery 5, hardpoint and lmg cancel each others recoil mods, ingram has vent 2, add 1 combat pool to each test.]
The drone’s turret swivels around, making some slight adjustments to height and angle, and then the bass report of the light machinegun sounds out, rattling windows in their sills and shaking dust off the ground around the Doberman. Ling-Fei pumps round after round in the direction of the tunnel, almost haphazardly; the destructive burst lasts almost a full two seconds.
The figures running out of the opening are obscured by the rounds chewing up the concrete around them, kicking up dust and powdering cement, chipping holes out of the brickwork. The first man is running out of the tunnel towards the nearest car when he is hit in the left torso. The bullets puncture his flimsy body armor; designed for small arms fire, it is certainly not equal to the task of stopping the heavy rounds. He trips and falls, and his momentum carries him forward over the curb and he slams heavily into the door of a car. He struggles to get to his feet, but the bullet wounds on his side are too severe, and he stumbles to the ground, clutching his chest but still conscious.
Aleister leans out around the tree he is taking cover behind and levels his long-barreled pistol at the gang members, firing a pair of shots. They fail to find their mark, ricocheting off the cars at the far end of the street. Peering out over his cover, Crusher can see the man in the tunnel standing up, his clothes scorched and burnt. He stumbles to the alcove near the entrance and crouches down, racking the manual slide on his AK-98 to chamber a round, raising the weapon to his shoulder painfully and looking out for targets.
The two gangers left standing sprint out of the opening to the tunnel, jumping over the curb and onto the street. They slide across the broken pavement to take cover behind an old Mitsuhama Torsion, and fire their weapons haphazardly out at the runners.
The man on the left leans out over trunk of the car, holding his submachine gun sideways and spraying wildly in Crusher’s direction. The noise from the lead impacting the side of the car is deafening, and Crusher flinches instinctively. A few rounds fly out just over the hood of Crusher’s cover and find their mark, biting into the meat of his left shoulder. His heavy armored jacket and dermal plating deflects much of their power, preventing a penetrating hit, but the dissipating kinetic energy tears at his muscles and bruises the bone underneath. [Crusher takes a Light wound]
The other man leans over the hood of the car and levels a shotgun at the GM-Nissan Doberman, firing a three round burst of buckshot. The flying metal ballbearings blast out from their thick muzzle flashes, rattling the chainlink fence and making a sound like rain on the thick armor of the wheeled vehicle. Ling Fei’s senses go on full-alarm, as her ASIST inputs try to register the incoming data. The bright show of sparks showering off the drone’s hull is misleading, though, and the combat armor deflects all damage from the anti-personnel munitions. Ling Fei breathes a sigh of relief, and looks out from the many camera-eyes at her adversaries.
[It is Crusher’s combat turn]
Crusher winces at the pain in his shoulder, snarling as he pops back up above the hood to return fire at the ganger wielding the submachine gun. He toggles his rifle back to burst fire as he lines up his shot, squeezing off two bursts at the man’s position. [Crusher fires two bursts, the first volley with two combat pool dice added to hit. He allocates 3 dice to damage resistance.]
The shots ring out in the night air, mingling with the sounds of the other gunfire to create the ubiquitous popcorn sound of warfare.Crusher fires once, and his sights hop up toward the sky. He fires again, but his aim is thrown off by recoil and the shot flies wide. The first trio of bullets catches the man in the arm, and a warm puff of blood jets into the cold January air; he is pushed back off the trunk of the car, grimacing in pain. He maintains his balance, but stumbles back a few paces, away from his cover.
Suddenly, the shotgun-wielding hallway guard and another dwarven ganger armed with a pistol kick the side entrance of the apartment complex open, sprinting out of the building to their right, moving to take cover behind a car.
This action imposes rightward-shift on the area of engagement; the runners’ cover is narrowed down by this new angle, and they find it difficult to take cover from both threats at once.
[It is Moonclaw’s combat turn. She is unable to engage the new targets to the drone’s right.]
Her confidence bolstered by her first kill and the apparent immunity of the combat drone, Ling Fei tracks the machine gun over the man with the shotgun and lets loose a short, 4 round burst. _[Ling Fei has gunnery 5, adds 5 combat pool dice, the valiant has gas vent 2, hardpoint and LMG modifier negate each other, 7S base damage.]
The heavy rounds rotate down the rifled barrel and spin out across the open space toward the car. The first bullet hits the hood of the car and shatters, showering hot liquid metal and shrapnel from the hood onto the flesh of exposed arms. The remaining three rounds rip through the man’s flak jacket, blowing shards of the trauma plates into his body cavity. The gang member cries out, stumbling back, doubled over in pain.
The guard and his pistol-armed friend rush to their right, down the sidewalk, cutting across the team’s line of sight from right to left. They crouch down as they run, taking cover behind the handrails, and then slide off of the short curb and onto the street. Crouching behind the right-most car on the apartment’s side of the street, they are completely hidden behind their cover.
[It is now Ling Fei’s combat turn]
Ling Fei pans the turret left, scrambling to deal with the men engaging them before the new arrivals overwhelm them. She lines up a shot on the uzi man and fires off a short 3-round burst. [gunnery 5, 3 combat pool, gas vent 2, 7S base]
The rounds scream out of the hot barrel and punch through the windshield and pillars of the car, aimed at the man hunkered over the trunk. The fast-thinking gangster ignores the pain from Crusher’s bullets in his shoulder, covering his face from the flying glass and kneeling down low, almost kissing the pavement. The hot lead from the Doberman’s LMG pass through the air over his head, just missing the target. The drone completes its assigned fire order, reporting rounds complete.
[It is now Crusher’s combat turn]
Crusher is getting concerned—he needs to get this firefight under control before the gangers gain the initiative. He hussles to his left, crouching behind the back corner of the car to hedge his cover on both sides. He toggles the rifle back to grenade launcher, pausing for a moment to adjust his aim before firing a round at the two men behind the car to his left. [Crusher takes aim for one action before firing at the middle point between the uzi man and the shotgun man. grenade launchers 4, adding 2 combat pool.]
The fat underbarrel launcher’s muzzle spews smoke and fires its deadly payload across the street. The round flies straight and true across the Smartlink’s projected trajectory, and skims just over the far end of the car roof, to land on the curb between the parked car and the sidewalk.
The grenade impact lifts the car off of its left suspension briefly, scarring and scorching the metal doors and blowing chips of paint and frame into the vehicle’s interior. The four men clustered around this area are ripped apart, showered with deadly shrapnel and crippling blast heat. The rearward man with the UZI III loses his left leg in the resultant blast and is blown out of cover, where he lies unconscious and bleeding on the street. His companion with the Mossberg CMDT loses most of the clothing and flesh on his right side, and, now unconscious, slumps over the hood of the car. His lifeless hands release his shotgun, which clatters across the bumper and drops to the ground.
The man still down on the ground behind this car is pressed into the ground, knocked out by the concussion and sustaining major damage to his legs. The fourth man, crouching in the alcove by the tunnel entrance, is blasted back by the shockwave. His head snaps back and his arms are blown out wide; the back of his skull impacts the brickwork heavily, and his gun falls to his knees. He peels off of the building like a wet cloth, and slumps against the sidewalk.
[It is now Moonclaw’s combat turn]
Moonclaw kneels on one knee, leaning her body against the old tree and peering around its right side, shouldering her SMG and surveying the hectic firefight through the low-light imaging of her smartgoggles. Seeing no enemies among the smoldering vehicles, she sights down her firearm and waits for a target to present itself. [Moonclaw delays until the first enemy shows himself.]
Aleister looks out at the smoking, bullet-pocked cars. He leans around the tree just enough to get a good view, and then darts out toward Crusher’s position, sliding into cover behind the old ork.
“If you’ve got comms with your team, tell them to leave one of these ones alive. I can use him to get us inside the locked room upstairs.”
He glances up, rising slowly and taking an overwatch position with his Ares Predator trained on the right-most car.
Moonclaw shifts to get a more comfortable grip on her weapon, never taking her eyes off of the enemy position. She sees the pistol-wielding ganger begin to lean out around the edge of the car closest to her, trying to draw a bead on her allies. He seems oblivious to her position; she braces her weapon against her shoulder more firmly.
[It is Moonclaw’s delayed combat turn]
Crusher shrugs distractedly, keeping his eyes on the enemies as he responds to Aleister. “Nope, don’t have comms—we’ll have to let them know visually.”
Moonclaw braces herself for the recoil of the submachine gun, excited to finally score some blood. She squeezes the trigger and pours a stream of fire into the dwarf’s form. [6 shots full auto, vent 2 and stock 1, smartgoggles, ingram smartgun 4, adding 4 combat pool, 7M base.]
The snub-nosed SMG barks and jumps in her arms; the report of the rounds combine into one long noise, losing the sound of the individual shells. The punched-metal foldout stock presses into the toned muscles in Moonclaw’s upper arm, and she involuntarily closes her eyes at the sudden heat and noise.
The smaller pistol bullets slam into the man’s chest and arms in rapid succession. The sheer number of the small caliber rounds knocks him off his feet, and he keels backwards, striking his head against the rear-view mirror on the driver’s side door. His thermographic signature shows an orange-red pool spread out on the ground, and his body temperature begins to cool.
The other man scrambles on all fours, trying to get out from under Moonclaw’s angle of attack. He reaches the rear-left tire on the car, and then holds his shotgun up over his head in a two-handed insurgent’s grip. He blindfires twice at Crusher and Aleister’s position, and the magician just manages to duck his head back behind the car before the buckshot from the high-choke barrel rings around their heads. The mercenaries stop for a moment to appreciate just how much destruction a few loads of indiscriminate buckshot can do to a neighborhood street. Aleister turns to Crusher and shouts over the combat, “If I can’t see him, I can’t cast a spell against him! We might have to do without his help getting into the building!”
[Start of Initiative Pass 2. It is Ling Fei’s combat turn.]
Ling Fei is scanning the rightmost vehicle for activity when she spots Crusher waving at her frantically and drawing his finger over his throat in exaggerated motions. Only guessing at what the ork has planned, she goes into overwatch and awaits his next move.
“We still got this,” Crusher assures the mage, peering out over the roof of the battered car. “Just cover me and try to keep his head low.” He then begins to sneak directly towards the man, staying low and keeping his rifle trained on the enemy position.
Crusher’s movements are quickened due to his wired reflexes, and he crosses the space quickly, in a low squat. Moonclaw watches her teammate with trepidation as he runs across the open ground. He is about at the halfway mark between his car and the enemy’s, with maybe 15 to 20 meters left to travel.
[It is Moonclaw’s combat turn]
Moonclaw frowns, unsure of what the mundane is up to. She adjusts her grip and keeps her eyes down-range, alert for the enemy.
As Crusher nears the man’s cover, he carefully lowers his rifle and lets it hang from its strap across his shoulder. Breaking into a half-run as he comes around the corner of the car, he lets out a low snarl and grabs for the man’s shotgun with both hands, twisting to his right and throwing his left elbow into the ganger’s chest to separate him from his firearm in one violent wrenching motion. [Handblades skill 5, add 5 combat pool dice.]
The man is startled to see Crusher come around his cover so fast; the ork’s wired movements catch him by surprise. The gang member starts to swing his shotgun around, bringing it to bear point-blank, but Crusher’s cyberarm comes up, stopping the barrel’s motion.
His metal wrist rotates and he grips the top portion of the barrel, then steps in with his left foot and grabs the rear of the gun with his meat hand. The gang member appears to move in slow motion to the ork’s senses, and he smiles to himself as he executes a textbook disarming movement, pivoting around his own torso, away from his elbow’s contact point with the man’s chest.
Crusher’s movement would have been completed successfully, but the man’s hands are still firmly on his weapon, and he quickly jerks the weapon down and away from Crusher’s grip. The ork’s fingers slip, and he is left grasping air; instinctively, he slaps down at the barrel of the gun again, knocking it away. The man’s forward hand is knocked loose of the weapon, but it does not fall away; Crusher looks closer and spies a tactical harness around the man’s chest, with the clip on the butt of the shotgun attached firmly.
He confronts the situation cooly; the man is armed and has the upper hand. If he chose to fire his weapon, Crusher would have a hard time avoiding the attack at this range.
[It is Moonclaw’s combat turn]
The sounds of the tussle reach Moonclaw’s ears over the night air, and she rises to her feet, cursing under her breath, and starts off at a dead sprint across the open street, racing to join the melee before it’s too late. [Moonclaw is making an athletics 1 test to increase her running speed.]
Ling Fei can see Crusher wrestling with the crouching man, but is unsure of how to act. She revs the drone’s engine and turns right, wheeling it into the center of the intersection to cover Crusher and Moonclaw as they deal with the ganger.
Moonclaw sprints out from under the tree and breaks into the open road near the intersection. To her left, Ling Fei’s Doberman drone pulls out of its cover and takes up overwatch of the buildings to their forward facing.Her magically boosted reflexes propel her quickly across the open space, and she reaches the front end of the car in a matter of seconds, drawing level with the sidewalk. She turns to see Crusher struggling with the man… then flinches at the sudden report of a gunshot.
Crusher’s wired perceptions are still on full-blast, and he sees each small movement the man makes with painstaking clarity. He is still off balance from his last movement, caught in the action of restoring his weight above his base and bringing his arms up in defense.
The ganger still has his right hand on the grip of the Mossberg CMDT, and he uses the strength in this arm to single-handedly bring the fat-barreled muzzle of the shotgun up, level with Crusher’s torso.
The round goes off, and the ork’s chest explodes in pain. The armored coat and underlying vest stop much of the buckshot from penetrating, but some makes it to his dermal armor and wounds. The impact sends him reeling, but the solid ork retains his footing.
Crusher is an old hand at this, though. He’s been shot before, and he keeps his wits about him. He watches the shotgun’s action, sees a shell automatically eject from the smoky chamber, and knows that another round is coming. The man’s left hand comes back up to the grip of the weapon, and his facial muscles and arms brace for the second shot.
Squinting through the pain of the shotgun wound to his chest, he sweeps his cyberarm across the space in front of him, from right to left. His fingers just manage to strike the tip of the barrel, knocking it up and out of the killing angle.
The shotgun sounds again, and the flock of shot passes just to the left of Crusher’s torso, missing his meat arm by mere inches. The ork mercenary weezes, feeling the warmth of his own blood saturate the internal surface of his armored vest, spreading outward and downward.
He readies to attack again, but notices that the ganger has suddenly stopped, frozen in place. He looks into the man’s eyes, which quiver and dart back and forth, and his mouth, which trembles and clatters. He looks like he is waging an internal mental war, and losing. His hand releases the grip on his shotgun, and the weapon hangs slack from its tactical harness.
Aleister runs out from cover, gesturing at Crusher and Moonclaw. “Stop! Don’t kill this man! I have him under my control. We can use him to gain access to the building now.” To demonstrate his point, the man stands up straight, at the ready.
The magician moves closer to the gang member, and gets close, looking deep into his eyes. He explains, “I have gained control of his actions. The spell won’t allow us to gain access to his knowledge, however, but it did—I think—save your life.” He eyes Crusher’s bleeding chest wound. “To gain control of his mind, ahh. A more subtle method is required.”
He stands at arm’s length from his victim, taking his head in his hands, and concentrates hard. He clenches his teeth for a moment, and then releases the man.
The gang member looks up at all of them blankly, a shallow look in his eyes. He seems glossed over, like a drunk or a BTL addict. Aleister addresses him, and he seems to perk up at the magician’s words.
“Hello, friend.” A nod and a smile. “I have a favor I need to ask of you. I need to know what will open the door upstairs.”
The bespelled man replies, in a monotone voice, “The guard in the top hallway.. he has a key. An old key, metal. It will open the door.”
Aleister looks at his allies, and asks them whether they have any remote explosives or demolition charges. Seeing that they answer in the negative, he continues with the man. He looks him square in the eye, and, in a cold tone, tells him, “I need you to go upstairs to the second floor and kill your friend. Retrieve his key, and bring it to me.”
The man pauses for a second, and Moonclaw can see the contest of willpower going on between the two. She knows that a control thoughts spell can be a very difficult incantation, very draining on the caster but also very difficult to maintain, especially over very willful individuals. Each command has the chance to break the spell, and she knows that evil commands such as this are harder to bind.
The street soldier’s eyes quiver and shake for a moment, and Aleister bears down with his willpower. Eventually, the ganger straightens up, grasps his shotgun in his hands, and heads into the building silently.
Aleister suggests that Ling Fei keep an eye on the meat puppet with her spider drone, and that Crusher seek medical aid.
Moonclaw lets out a deep breath, feeling the world return to a normal pace as she releases the strain of her reflex enhancing spell. She rushes to Crusher’s side and ducks underneath his left arm, attempting to support the wounded mercenary without soiling her own clothes with his blood. “How bad is it, ork?” the shaman asks, her human form staggering under Crusher’s immense weight. “Not too bad,” the mercenary grunts, “had worse than a little buckshot to the chest. I’ll be alright.” “Like drek,” Ling Fei’s voice crackles from the Doberman as it wheels into the intersection. “Let’s get big boy back to the van so I can patch him up while Aleister’s zombie guy goes inside.” Moonclaw carefully gathers up the cloth of Crusher’s coat, folding it over several times to keep Crusher’s blood from leaching onto her own garments as they move slowly in the direction of the Roadmaster.
As the pair slowly navigate back to the vehicle, Ling Fei pulls her senses out of the Doberman, returning to overview mode. She orders the spider drone to return to the second floor, then commands the Doberman to guard the intersection and alert her of any danger. As she finishes distributing commands, the door slides open, and Crusher and Moonclaw step in out of the cold night air.
Ling Fei helps the shaman lower the old ork onto the bench seat in the rear of the vehicle, and together they undo the buckles on his armor vest, pulling it back to reveal his chest. The old wife-beater the mercenary was wearing underneath his bulletproof vest has been shredded by the buckshot, and is soaked in his blood. They can make out the dermal plating implanted underneath his dark skin, clearly marked out by raised, rigid areas with an unnatural texture. The synth-skin covering the plates around the center of the impact site has been ripped off, revealing the dark gray of the dermal plates themselves. Although the plating has caught most of the buckshot, several of the small ball-bearings have found flesh. Ling Fei drags her medkit from below the bench seat and begins sopping up the ork’s blood with gauze, examining the wounds with a penlight as she clears the blood. “Drek me captain, you’ve got alot of buckshot in you. At least 4 separate entry wounds that I can see.” “Sergeant. . . I was a sergeant,” he moans, glancing down at his chest wound before leaning his head back again. “Alright, sarge, whatever you say. Look, I’m going to try to pop the first of these suckers out. Brace yourself.” She gingerly inserts a pair of tweezers into one of the small entry holes, feeling around tentatively for the buckshot embedded in his chest. Crusher begins to moan in pain quietly, his voice rising to a painful growl as she continues to work. After nearly a minute of fruitless searching, she dejectedly withdraws the tweezers. “I’m sorry big guy, I just can’t find the fucking thing. And that’s only the first one. I’m afraid if I keep digging I’ll just work it in there further and get you infected.”
Moonclaw steps out of the shadow where she had been quietly observing and puts her hand on the elf’s shoulder. “There’s nothing more you can do, mundane. Allow the Earth Mother to lend her healing touch.” The rigger slides over to give Moonclaw access to the wound, wiping blood from her hands with more gauze. “Alright, knock yourself out.” The shaman kneels calmly, rolling the sleeves of her armored jumpsuit up to the elbows. She lifts her smartgoggles off with one hand, shaking her long, dark braids free of the strap, then pulls the wooden mask completely over her eyes, breathing deeply. She begins to move her hands slowly above the ork’s wounds, her fingers undulating with invisible waves of energy as her head rolls slowly back and forth on her shoulders in a trance-like state. All of a sudden, her back arches, her head is thrown back, and she places both hands directly onto Crusher’s chest. The space around Crusher’s wound seems to shimmer and contort, then Ling Fei can see the buckshot working its way out of ork’s chest, his wounds closing with impossible speed. The shaman continues to pass her hands over the ork’s torso for a minute longer, mumuring quietly, then picks up a length of gauze and runs it across Crusher’s chest, wiping away blood and sweeping the half-dozen balls of lead onto the floor, careful not to get her own hand dirty. The wound still look fresh and painful, but the shaman’s magic has clearly made a difference.
Moonclaw stands, lifting the mask from her eyes, satisified with her work. Ling Fei stares up at her, clearly impressed. “That was pretty slottin’ cool, Moonclaw. I still can’t really believe it.” Moonclaw smugly returns her gaze. “The Earth Mother gives many gifts, to those who are able. Although it was extremely difficult to perform such a spell on a person in his. . . state.” Ling Fei stands as well and begins to repack her medkit. “How do you mean?” “The volume of his cybernetic implants weakens the bridge between spirit and body. It is difficult to heal such a. . . being.” Crusher sits up on the bench seat, gingerly exploring his chest wound. “Well, thanks to both of you ladies for patching me up. Feels safe to know you two have my back. Now, let’s see how our little puppet is doing.” Crusher indicates to the front of the vehicle, and the three runners crowd around the forward console, watching the vid-feed coming in from the spider drone inside the building.
The spider’s eight pseudocompound eyes perceive the third floor hallway in their washed out grays and muted colors. The insect crawls slowly along the molding of one wall, eventually reaching the stairwell, and, descending, stations itself in the corner above and to the left of the guard. The team can see the top of the guard’s head and the length of the hallway in the distorted perspective provided by the spider’s field of vision. The guard has raised himself from his seat and settled into a crouch on one knee, his shotgun trained on the opposite staircase. They waits expectantly.
The brainwashed soldier – a stocky, white human in his twenties – appears at the landing of the first staircase, walking nonchalantly and gripping his shotgun in both hands, with the stock in the crook of one arm. He looks completely normal, and even responds correctly when the guard asks him for the password. He gives the required pass, and steps off the last stairs, onto the hallway floor. The guard questions him about the noise outside, but he doesn’t reply with words.
Instead, he swings his Mossberg CMDT around and fires a three-shell burst of buckshot into the torso of his friend. Blood and meat paint the second story landing and the guard is knocked backwards, tumbling over his chair and landing at the foot of the staircase. He meekly brings his shotgun up and pulls the trigger in a panic, spraying the hallway with shot, missing his former ally and chewing up the cheap fiberboard walls. Dust and plaster hang in the air now, and the brainwashed ganger continues his advance, discharging his weapon again. The shotgun sounds out once and then clicks empty.
The guard scrambles to stand in a pool of his own innards and gore, the stump of a wrist seeking vainly for a grasp on the handrail of the staircase: the phantom fingers can find no purchase. The bespelled ganger drops his Mossberg CMDT – the underbarrel weight thudding heavily on the floor – and reaches back into the waist of his jeans, drawing a holdout pistol. He stands over his ally, kicks the shotgun out of his limp grasp, and fires his small caliber sidearm downwards. Dispassionately, he empties the rest of the clip into the corpse; the slide locks back and he tosses the gun aside.
The dead ganger’s back is polka-dotted with crimson bullet wounds, and the soldier rolls him over with slow, golem-esque movements. He pats down the man’s shredded chest, eventually reaching into a bloody pocket to retrieve a small metal house key. He stands slowly, examines the key, then turns on a heel and makes his way back the way he came, down the stairs and away from the butchered remains.
A minute passes, and Aleister walks out into the street to greet his otherworldly errand-boy. The ganger silently hands over the key, and the shadowrunners can see tears on his cheeks, although his facial expression betrays no emotion. Aleister wipes the key off on the man’s jacket, inspects it, and then turns to Crusher.
“Have we any more need of this man? I can send him off somewhere to try to forget what he has just done, but the mental scarring is generally permanent. At any rate, I don’t recommend leaving him alive. He may have friends in the area he could turn to.” He gives the ork time to think, and turns to Moonclaw. “We have what we need for entry to the third floor, but I would be hesitant to set foot in the building again. Whatever was generating the astral smoke we saw is undoubtedly alerted to our presence and waiting; I urge extreme caution. There is a reason we are the only Awakened for blocks around.”
Moonclaw nods slowly in agreement, her head bowed in thought. “Yes. . . whatever abomination waits for us inside is no doubt incredibly dangerous, especially for the two of us. But first, we should deal with this. . . weak-minded scum.” The cat shaman draws her Fichetti sidearm from its thigh holster, spinning it once about her pointer finger by its trigger guard as she brings it up to the man’s head in one fluid motion.
Ling Fei steps forward, her voice quavering. “Are you crazy? After what Aleister just put him through? This is a human being we’re talking about, what right do you have to kill him?” Moonclaw regards Ling Fei out of the corner of her eye, her teeth bared in a malicious smile. “What right, elf?” she snarls mockingly, “mine is the right of the victorious hunter. We have fought and he has lost—his life is mine to take.” The rigger takes a step closer, her arms spread pleadingly. “But he’s just doing his job! And we’re the ones who attacked him. God knows, he probably doesn’t even know what his boss has done. We’ve already killed so many of them, why in the world would you want to shed even more blood?” “You would defend this man? If he had half a chance, he would kill you where you stand as soon as look at you. This is gutter trash, a common street rat—letting him live now is a mistake that will only haunt us later. Isn’t that right, low-life?” the shaman snarls, pressing her pistol into the man’s forehead.
Crusher steps between the two women and reaches out with his cybernetic arm, gently grasping the slide of Moonclaw’s Fichetti and pushing the barrel down and away from the ganger. The shaman moves to speak, but considers for a moment and turns away. “Listen,” the old ork speaks, “We’ll decide what to do with him when the time comes. And when it does, we’ll do what’s best for the mission, not—” he turns to Ling Fei, “for what’s moral,” then to Moonclaw, “and certainly not for mere bloodshed. Both of you are letting something extra cloud your combat readiness and your tactical decisions. And that ‘something extra’ will get us all killed if you don’t get it under wraps.”
“Now, Mr. Crowley, with all due respect, I don’t think this sorry bastard’s quite worn out his usefulness. You talk about what’s in there like you know something we don’t. I’d appreciate it if you’d spill the beans on any and all useful information you’ve picked from this poor slob’s brain. Then we can talk about how we’re going to go about slaying this dragon.”
Aleister Crowley intones matter-of-factly, “Mr.. ‘Crusher’, perhaps you mistake the extent of my influence over this man. I am not able to read his thoughts, only plant suggestions in his mind, that he takes as his own. His freedom of thought is quite his own… it is simply warped at my direction. If you would like to question him further, that can be arranged easily.”
He turns to the ganger, and says in short, slick sentences: “Do you remember your old friend, Crusher? Of course you do. You were best friends when you were kids. He’s been gone a long time. You’re very excited to see him. He has some questions for you. Of course, you’ll answer them to the best of your ability.”
The man snaps out of his stranded emotional state, and looks up at Crusher with relieved, saucery eyes. “Crusher! The fuck is up chummer?! It’s been a long slottin’ time. I haven’t seen you since back home, man, that place was fucked.You have some questions buddy? Whaddaya wanna know?”
Aleister looks at Crusher with a raised eyebrow. “He’s all yours, ork.”
Crusher shakes his head slowly, muttering to himself in disbelief. “Man, this really takes the cake, huh…” Doing his best to loosen up and play into the act, Crusher plants his meat hand on the man’s shoulder and puts on a broad, tusky smile. “Hey… man, wow, long time, huh? We really need to catch up, grab a brew sometime.” The mercenary steps in alongside the enchanted man, draping a heavily muscled arm across his shoulder. “Listen, I’m in pretty deep trouble right now, and I could really use your help. I need you to tell me what happened to your boss up there,” he points a cybered finger toward the third story of the ganger’s building, “what sort of powers he’s got, and finally, what we could do to, well, get him under control. Could you tell me that, chummer? It sure would be a big help.”
Aleister sits down on the hood of a cinderblocked car, and smiles. “You know,” he says, “theatrics notwithstanding, you could treat this man like garbage and he would still believe you were great friends.”
The ganger quickly answers Crusher’s questions in his colorful urban vernacular. “Man, me and Big Boss and some of the guys met this fraggin’ Johnson who thought he could order us around. He told the boss-man about some hot tech and then paid us to lift it and bring it back. Boss-man didn’t like his tone, so we thought we’d let ourselves in on his turf. We went round ‘back of some corp shipping facility and shot up the fuckers on guard. We jacked their armored truck and that was that, man.”
The man’s face turns dark as he recounts the next part of the story, “It was about four weeks ago we took that thing, man. Big Boss wouldn’t let anyone see what was in the back of armored truck but hisself, and his number two, Big Jack. A week after we snatched it, I was hearin’ stories about BB gettin’ some new cyber installed. Rumor’s that he paid some street doc to install him some ‘borrowed’ skillwires, then iced the doc and cased the fucker’s joint. Killed some guys on his way out, just for the hell of it.. That’s why he’s the Boss, I guess.”
“Anyway, he and Big Jack get back that night, and lock themselves in that top room, man, and order these guys they were close with to guard it. Those guards was the favorites around here, man—real good guys, real close with the Boss, so he trusted them. To the rest of us, though, we haven’t seen him since he went in there. He gets his food delivered, and kicked out all the families that lived on that hall, so nobody knows what’s going on.”
“People said that they saw some shit go down one time, that he had some civvy brought up off the street, and he got shoved into that room and nobody ever saw him again. It’s all rumors though, man, Big Boss is just playin’ his cards close to his chest. You know, that’s why he’s the Boss, I guess.”
Crusher rubs the back of his neck sheepishly and shrugs his shoulders at the magician. “Well drek me Crowley, I don’t know how these things work. If it isn’t the inside of an assault rifle, it’s probably news to me.” The ork turns to the ganger, his expression now all business. “Alright fucker, you’re going to go upstairs and knock on the door, tell whoevers inside it’s real important and they need to open up. We’re going to follow you and waste whatevers on the other side, and when the bullets start flying your going to help us fight. But absolutely no headshots on boss-man, or I won’t be your friend ever again.”
The mercenary holds his rifle vertically and ejects the clip into his waiting hand with a mental impulse, then draws a fresh magazine from his belt and locks it in. He turns to the rest of the team. “Alright, it sounds like there ain’t much we can do beyond just busting in there and housing everyone inside. Ling Fei, I want whatever drone support you can give me—no reason to get your meat bod in the mix.”
The rigger gives a quick nod, her mouth curling into a smile. “On it sarge. A Guardians small enough for indoor work—I’ll be on your six.” The elf situates herself back inside Boxcar, and moments later a second vectored-thrust drone deploys itself from the roof of the vehicle and begins a holding pattern above the intersection, waiting for the team to move inside. [Ling Fei is directly rigging the undamaged Ares Guardian.]
Crusher turns his attention to the two awakened, addressing them both as he thumbs two miniature grenades into the port on the underside of his Combat Gun. “Again, I don’t know how you two feel about going in there, what with the magic, but I sure could use all the help I could get.” Moonclaw pulls her smartgoggles down and loads a fresh clip into her SMG as she regards the old mercenary. “it takes everything I have to keep the aberration’s corruptive influence at bay, and I don’t dare attempt to cast or summon in such an environment—but there is always more than one way to kill a man.” She manually racks the slide on her Smartgun for emphasis, catching the unused round as it spins out from the ejection port without shifting her gaze. Crusher nods once, then turns to Aleister. “What’ll it be, wizard? In or out?”
The enchanted ganger blinks and struggles as Aleister applies the mental command, but eventually accedes to the magician’s will. Beads of sweat show on his forehead as his mind tries and fails to buck the influence of the magical spell.
“Mr. Johnson doesn’t pay me to be a coward. And you will need my experience: it was I who exorcised the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus in Rome, and the O.T.O. participated in the ritual banishment of the toxic spirits in Ireland’s Malahide Castle. Cleaning up after others’ forays into the magical arts seems to be a specialty of mine.”
The tall hermetic mage pockets his copper rod and ejects the clip on his sidearm, a street-standard Ares Predator II. He works the action and locks it back, pocketing the spare round. Drawing a fresh clip from a pocket attached to his shoulder holster, he says, “If you have less volatile ammunition, I suggest you use it. Taking him alive may be the only way to safeguard the knowsoft.” The sharp click of his pistol’s slide chambering a round punctuates his sentence.
“By the way, our friend here is unarmed. However, I don’t suggest giving him a weapon; though his mind is weak, I cannot guarantee that he will be kept under control, especially considering the magically disruptive nature of our adversary. He may prove to be more a liability than an asset.”
Crusher spins the ganger around roughly and prods him in the direction of the building with the business end of his rifle, ordering the man up to the third floor. As they walk, the mercenary continues his conversation with Aleister, forehead furrowed with mild worry. “Hm, don’t have any gels for my rifle, only got ‘em for my Browning—guess I’ll load them up just in case.” The ork lets his rifle hang from its shoulder strap as he goes about loading the non-lethal rounds into his heavy pistol.
Padding silently behind him, Moonclaw speaks up. “I’m well prepared for non-lethal take-downs, so I’ll try to take the shot on the leader if you can deal with the guards, although there is one thing we’ve left out of our interrogation.” She turns to Crowley as she changes out the rounds in her sub-machine gun and sidearm. “Hermetic, can you get this urchin to describe the leader to us? And do you really think killing him will damage the datachip, even if we don’t hit him in the head? I’m afraid I don’t have much experience with… implants.”