The ruins of Soldier Field rise, Coliseum-like, out of the harbor skyline, blotting out half the horizon of the Lakes and casting a jagged afternoon shadow over the boats and docks. Rebuilt in 2003, the stadium was destroyed during a game in the 40’s by a supernatural conflict between two magical entities. The outer walls are split in areas, cleft in twain from skybox to bleachers by some great force, cutting straight through the reinforced concrete. Now, the broken gray teeth of the stadium rise overhead, empty but for the seagulls and other creatures which make the place their home.
Boxcar rebellion mounts the curb to the long-disused facility, and the tires crunch over broken glass as the vehicle moves forward. The team parks a ways away from the ruin itself, gazing out over the weed-pocked parking lot at the meeting site, trying to discern shapes and movement from the complicated outlines of the structure. Nothing reveals itself from the outside; whatever is waiting for them is inside the ballpark itself.
Gulls crow and holler at each other, chasing trash as it is blown inland across the lots, harvesting the synthetic crop to feed to their progeny. The blowing wind and the Lakes lapping at the wharves are the only other sounds.
The three runners dismount and advance on the ruins cautiously, three abreast, hands hovering anxiously near their weapons. “Shit,” Ling Fei says as they trudge through the vast parking lot. “This how all shadowruns start?”
Crusher snorts at the question, keeping his eyes down range, scanning the vast building for signs of movement, the hearing amplifiers in his ears straining to catch anything out of the ordinary through the sound of the gulls. “Yea, more or less. Here, you come up front,” he guides Ling Fei to the center of the procession, his eyes never leaving the stadium, right hand gripping the assault rifle hanging from his shoulder. “They called you, guess that means they want to talk to you.”
As her counterparts converse, Moonclaw shifts her perception to the astral plane, taking in what there is to be seen and felt there in the empty parking lot before turning her gaze to the horizion and the ruined arena. This Corp had the technology to bind toxic spirits to data chips, and now they had shown interest in her team. Who knows what sort of things they could bestow upon an agent within their favor? Her heartbeat quickend in anticipation at the thought of it.
The wind dies down for a moment and the seagulls hush themselves expectantly, an animal instinct for silence sweeping through the flock like a rumor. A small white body of the birds breaks off from the stadium’s upper ramparts, and the runners train their senses there. Crusher hears the shuffle of god-knows-what amongst the rubble, cyberears picking out skittering rocks and the brush of something heavy against textured concrete. Moonclaw’s astral sight is obscured by the aura of the floating birds, each one’s essence commingling with that of the next, until the flock becomes one large mass of glowing life force, as sometimes happens with herds, colonies… or mobs. Surveying the rest of the parking lot yields no human life force, so she gives up; the building has too much life in it for the astral sight to pick out a lone human body, particularly if there are cybered forms hiding amongst the broken columns, or in the stadium seating.
The team reaches the large front entrance, a gated, columned affair, with a wide concrete bridge spanning the distance from the parking lot. Under the bridge, a subterranean network of service entrances and delivery bays extends out and underneath the building, and it can be seen that the parking lot is actually the top level of a giant parking structure, mostly hidden underground.
They traverse this bridge, alert, and approach the ticket kiosks, brick rectangles fronted in plated glass, 15 abreast, which guard the little gated turnstiles. Crusher plants a boot on one of the small exit gates and pushes hard; the rusted hinges groan and protest, and then the door creaks inward, granting free admission.
Looking into the depths of the stadium, Crusher can see the field through a small opening, beneath their current level. The far outfield is cloaked in shadow, as the sun dips below the tall Western wall. They enter the building slowly, Moonclaw picking her way gingerly around trash and refuse to examine a large map of the complex on display. There is an outer ring which goes around the whole stadium, containing food and beer vendors, long abandoned and locked up. They are at the intersection of this ring and an inward path heading towards the seats and field; looking to either side, they can see that the inner ring is blocked to their left by one of the giant magical clefts, leaving a hole in the walkway 20 feet across, extending up the outer wall and breaking into the sky. It would be a long jump, and an even longer fall, into the labyrinthine service corridors below. The path to their right seems mostly open, with trash and rubble but no large obstacles.
Directly ahead of them is the path heading toward the field. They are on the homeplate side, looking out onto the outfield opposite them. A large flight of stairs leads down towards the bases and dugouts, past hundreds of rows of seats.
Crusher stares out of this entrance, and his enhanced vision picks out something… There is someone standing on the pitcher’s mound, a white man in a dark business suit. He is standing perfectly still, facing the runner’s direction with a blank, but expectant look on his face.
The cawing of the gulls is muted here, becoming a background noise that dispels the silence. No wind blows inside the stadium, but the building itself settles and shifts around them, lending its own voice to the afternoon’s proceedings.
Crusher taps Ling Fei’s shoulder with the back of his left hand to get her attention, then points out the figure on the pitcher’s mound, his right hand still gripping his assault rifle. “There, in the field. Must be our man.” Moonclaw picks her way to their side, and they begin down the stairs to the field to meet with the man, Ling Fei leading, her palm sweaty on the grip of the small Walther pistol in the pocket of her armored jacket.
Crusher takes a moment to zoom in further on the man, his face and torso filling his field of vision as he sizes up their potential employer.
Moonclaw brings up the rear, scanning the vast expanses of the arena for signs of life.
The businessman is almost identical to Mr. Johnson, if a little older. A few gray hairs streak his identical razored hairline, but his suit and demeanor match the ‘Johnson’ look exactly. He could not have been more nondescript if he had tried, and that was probably the point: just another old white guy in a suit, pointed European nose and dark, expensive sunglasses.
The team advances cautiously down the steps, eyes locked on the man on the mound. The staircase leading down to the field is much longer than they had anticipated, and they become cautious as they advance out into the open, immediately aware that they could be being watched from virtually anywhere. The stadium seats ring the field except for the outfield, but they extend upwards many stories, and the Western skyboxes and causeways remain bathed in dark shadow. There are so many nooks and small openings which a potential shooter could use that it is hard to keep track of them all… Crusher is hard-pressed to imagine a greater tactical nightmare.
As they near the grass, moving in a tight group with Ling Fei in lead, the man holds up a hand. He calls out, in an amplified, monotone voice, “Stop there. Leave your guns on the ground. You have our reassurance that you will not be harmed, but we unfortunately cannot take the same trust in you.”
Ling Fei stops in her tracks, stunned for a moment at the volume of the
man’s voice. She considers leaving the light pistol in her jacket pocket,
but decides it would be more diplomatic to show it. She calmly draws her
hand from the jacket pocket, pistol held by the slide, and lays it on the
ground before standing again, arms at her side.
Crusher gets a certain, sick feeling in his stomach, the kind that comes
with the sudden realization that people are training guns on him. Keeping
his eyes on the Johnson, he grabs the stock of the gun with his right
hand, lifting the strap off before dropping the rifle. He then draws his
Browning from its chest holster, letting the heavy caliber pistol fall to
the grass at his feet.
Moonclaw tenses at the amplified voice, her weight shifting instinctively to the balls
of her feet. Her right hand is still on the butt of the Fichetti in its
thigh holster. She reaches across her chest with her left and draws the
Smartgun from her back, while pulling the pistol at the same time with her
right, holding them out at chest level. She drops the SMG first, letting
her left hand sink to a small pouch of cat bone powder on her waist as she
spins the pistol deftly several times in her right hand before tossing it
to her feet.
Satisfied, the man gestures brusquely to his right and left. Nothing obvious happens, and the runners look around at the still-empty stadium, scanning the giant space. The motion was obviously intended to inform the runners that they were not alone with the suit.
He gestures to Ling Fei, and motions her forward with a twitch of his outstretched hand. Nerves sharpen her senses, and she takes in his whole form: his clothing is immaculate, each crease and fold precisely tailored. The elf notices faint pinstriping running up and down the arms and legs; the buckles on the shoes shine against a patent leather background. No hidden weapons betray themselves in the swish of cloth against his body, nor does the expensive fabric have the heft of armor plating. It seems this man is either trustworthy, or secure enough in his exposed position to know that he needs no obvious protection.
Ling Fei looks over her shoulder, signaling to Crusher with a an open palm that she will meet with the man alone. She begins to speak as she approaches the suit. “You’ll forgive us for entering with arms drawn, Mr. Johnson. My party does not take lightly threats made against our lives.” She stops at the edge of the pitcher’s mound, where grass meets sand, and nods her head ever so slightly, a sign of wary respect. “Now, our guns are down and you have our ear—or did you meet us here to play ball?”
The ‘Johnson’, as truly all suits are known to shadowrunners, grimaces at the elf’s attitude. He spits at her feet, completing the image of the pitcher on his mound, about to deliver a verbal change-up. The cold from Lake Michigan wafts over the edges of the stadium. He addresses her in his straight-backed, deadpan tone—
“Likewise, Chi Ling Fei, we do not take lightly to corporate secrets being exposed to common thugs such as yourselves. We have need of your services, but you are not in a position to negotiate with our terms. Believe me, if I gave a single word right now, you and your companions would never be heard from again.”
A single hand rises to straighten the black tie. “This is what we require of you. You have just been recruited into our personal bodyguard corps. There has been an issue which, we find, is more economical to deal with by using outside contractors. All you need to know is that your only concern in this life —on threat of extermination —is the safeguarding of our executive branch. An assassin has been killing them, one by one, first the board of directors, and now the chief executive officers. We do not know the identity of the assassin, but we do know that he strikes quickly, in open, public spaces, and uses no guns. If you can succeed in killing him, however unlikely, you will be handsomely rewarded. Until then, we know who you are, who your families are, where you live and what you do.”
“Tomorrow, we will be escorting our minister of foreign affairs from the Embassy Suites at 302 East Illinois to our headquarters at Aon Center. It is a short rout, so familiarize yourself with the layout and potential attack points. You have been picked for your experience with street-to-street fighting. There will be others there, as well, people of your ilk, as well as some you may be familiar with. You and they share common goals; try not to kill them in your execution.”
“Our business here is concluded. The escort starts at 7 AM. I need not suggest that you should be on time.”
The Johnson folds his hand in front of him, his business concluded. It does not seem that any of his points are negotiable, and he doesn’t expect much in the way of questions or retort. He looks pointedly towards the back of the stadium, his eyes directing the runners back out the way they came.
Ling Fei’s face twitches ever so slightly, her eyes rolling into the back of her head as she interfaces with Boxcar’s advanced autonav systems over her cranial remote deck, data filling her field of vision as she plots the coordinates given by the Johnson over the Chicago grid. She examines the layout for a minute, then pushes the graphical interface out of her field of vision, the visual data from her meat eyes swimming uncomfortably back into focus.
She shakes the nausea off and gives the suit a cold smile, struggling to control her displeasure at being treated like a second-class citizen, realities of the situation aside. “Sir. My party would be remiss to reject such an—incentivized—assignment. If you would grant me three brief questions: First, will the caravan be taking the Michigan or Columbus bridge? Second, will we be moving at foot speed, or driving to the destination? And finally, my party has a policy of knowing our exact pay scale before we begin an assignment. I’m sure a practical man such as yourself can understand this.”
The Johnson snorts loudly, his version of a disgusted cough. “Perhaps you didn’t fully understand the terms of our agreement. Either you do this for us, or you die. There is no money involved, only the security that comes from knowing that the largest privately-funded black ops teams in Chicago doesn’t have orders to terminate you.”
“The minister will be riding in an armored limousine; we’ve kept the distance under one mile to ensure his safety. The route will be South over the Columbus street bridge; we have orders for the drawbridge to remain inactive during the escort. We will enter the tunnels and then be at our destination. We don’t anticipate an attack on the armored car itself, but rather as the minister is entering the building, so be on the alert. Your lives depend on it.”
He looks down idly and adjusts an already-straight cufflink. These idle motions of his are beginning to seem less like personal grooming and more like the coded body language of spies or informants. “This meeting is concluded. As I said, there will be no negotiations, and no money paid unless your team kills the assassin. If he makes his appearance, you will see why we believe this to be unlikely. Goodbye, runner scum.”
He waves them off with the same flick of his wrist that initiated the conversation, then returns to standing stock still on the mound.
Ling Fei touches her hand to her chest and inclines her torso forward in a bow, skirting the line between calculated respect and outright mockery. “Sir. The pleasure was all mine, I assure you. Your man will be safe with us.”
She turns and leaves the stilted conversation, collecting her sidearm and teammates as they exit the strangely-shaped baseball stadium. She relates the details of the run to Moonclaw, Crusher having listened in with his amplified hearing, and by the time they reach the turnstiles Boxcar Rebellion has rolled through the parking lot to meet them. Ling Fei sets its autonav on a return route to their various homes before booting the display mounted on the center console. The armored transport is rolling out of the parking complex toward the docks as the team begins to discuss their next mission over a map of the proposed route.
The three runners study the map with silent concentration, panning and rotating it to try to get a sense of the arcitecture and road layout. Ling Fei leans back in her seat, rubbing her eyes. “How could this assassin be so powerful? If this corp really does have such a strong black ops team, why would they hire ‘runner scum’ like us to do their dirty work?”
Crusher responds from the rear compartment, his face still fixed on the map, features bathed in a slight green hue from the display. “Well, that’s easy enough to answer. Corps hire shadowrunner teams to do crap jobs all the time. They drop a few million nuyen on a crack squad, they’re not going to just throw them into combat willy-nilly. Fact that they’re hiring runners like us means they probably don’t expect to see anyone walk away from this thing alive.”
Ling Fei throws up her hands. “Well that’s great. How are we supposed to prepare for something like this?”
Crusher rubs one of his enlarged canines absent-mindedly. “Draw on experience. Educated guesses. Prepare for various eventualites and hope we come out on top.”
“So? What’s your educated guess then?”
Crusher glances up at the elf, then leans back in his seat and crosses his arms. “Makes his hits up close, in open spaces, without guns? Plenty of assholes on the streets who think they’re that good… Not too many out there that could actually pull this kind of drek off, though. Johnson made it sound like he was getting the job done, good enough to get this corp scared. I would guess this chummers’ too chromed for his own good, heavy wires, exessively large swords… typical steet sam shit. Johnson said he was going to hit at the drop-point, but I would guess he could also strike in this underpass area here,” he sticks a large metal finger into the ‘trid display, "where it’s nice and congested, give him an advantage over guns and a clean escape route."
Moonclaw breaks her silent concentration. “Street Samurai is a fair guess. But why would a man who already went through the trouble of getting so many implants then eschew firearms? Could be some sort of Bushido code, but I doubt it…”
Ling Fei watches the shaman expectantly, eyebrows raised. “What’s your guess then, Moonclaw?”
“This man has been systematically targeting the leadership of this one particular corp, attacking by himself in broad daylight. It sounds more personal than contracted, which points to a man of principles.” She shifts her gaze from Ling Fei to Crusher. “My guess would be an adept.”
Crusher gives a frown of contemplation, bobbing his head in possible agreement. “I’m sorry, a what?” Ling Fei chimes in.
“A physical adept. A partially awakened being, using magic to augment physical abilities rather than channeling it directly into spellcasting or conjuring. They commonly have the ability to perform inhuman acrobatic feats, and can kill with their bare hands. Perfect for eliminating a single target and escaping unharmed.”
“Wow, are you serious? I thought that kind of drek was only on the ’trid.”
“No, they are quite real. Further, I believe if he strikes anywhere it will be on the bridge, where the target will be unable to escape. An adept might be able to survive the drop into the water, where he could have a boat waiting for him.”
The team concludes their discussion by the time they reach their first destination, and they agree to have Ling Fei pick them up and be at the hotel by 6:40 in preparation for next day’s mission. Moonclaw stands on the curb, watching the van pull away into the darkening afternoon before turning down a side alley. She glances casually behind her to see if anyone is following, then ducks behind a dumpster, throwing an invisiblity spell over her. She climbs a nearby fire escape, then leaps a few alleyways, finally crouching beneath a water tower before drawing her comm phone from her pocket, confident she has lost any possible tails this corp might have put on her. She dials Audell, her electronics contact, and leaves him a message.
“Audell, it is Moonclaw. I have a large favor to ask of you. I need you to dig up whatever information you can on a certain corporation—names, locations, activities, research projects. Here is the information I have on them: They have an executive officer staying at the Embassy Suites on 302 East Illinois, scheduled to check out tomorrow morning. They have a base of operations in the Aon Center nearby. Their top CEOs are being systematically assassinated. And finally, they have access to technology which can bind free toxic spirits to knowsoft chips. I will pay whatever fee or service you see fit, just get me whatever the matrix has to offer. Thank you.”