Three By Shadow

Act II: Culexus - Scene IV

Infiltration

Gamemaster:

Heavily armed, the team looks almost comical as they stroll nonchalantly through the apartment complex. They can see doors cracked and tiny eyes watching them as they pass; peepholes turn dark as viewers on the other side regard them with hostility. Nobody dares enter the hallway to confront them.

The two magicians become wary as they cross the threshold of the building. Just as they feared, the cloying effects of the magical smoke cross over into the physical world. Their physical bodies register the evil presence as a chill in the air which travels down the spine, like fingernails gently scratching at their backs. Eyeing each other with suspicion, they activate their magical defenses, in anticipation of the damage which such close proximity to the source might bring them.

Aleister continues, concentrating to maintain the thought control spell in the magically hostile environment. “The skillwire system itself cannot damage the ‘softs that are installed, but a jolt of electricity might destroy whatever information is stored inside.”

The Ares Guardian navigates the interior of the building with ease. The turbine guards on the vectored thrust engines almost brush against the sides of the hallway; the doorways are a tight fit, but the drone manages. The magician sends a mental command to the gang member walking ahead of them, and the man starts to explain as they enter the first stairwell and ascend to the second floor.

“Big Boss likes to wear the gang colors wherever, that’s usually how you can recognize him – everything is black and yellow on that guy. But you know somethin’, Big Boss isn’t called Big Boss because he’s a big guy-he’s just got Big Plans. Truth is, he’s probably not that much Bigger than any of us, but he’s got the know-how to take us to the top!” The ganger sounds elated at this; clearly, Big Boss’ influence is deeply entrenched in his followers. “Big Jack, now… he’s the Boss-man’s go-to guy. Everyone wishes they was Big Jack, but ain’t nobody else could fill his shoes. Story I heard is that he’s human, but I met the guy once and man, I don’t know. He’s… well, he’s big. Real big. Big’as a bus. Bigger than any man should be. Maybe they got him on somethin’. One of them new ‘roids or cyber. Maybe BB’s buildin’ him up for something. Prob’ly another big plan. That’s why he’s the boss, you know. He’s got the plans.”

This tirade takes the team down the length of the second floor hallway. As they travel, Aleister’s brow furrows, and he mutters to Moonclaw, “Shaman, the fog is having a damning effect on my sustained spell. It is as if an enemy is actively attempting to dispell it, though I can assense no one. Keep an eye on the puppet; I know not the effect our enemy will have on magicks in his immediate vicinity.”

The shadowrunners reach the bottom of the second story landing, and prepare to ascend. The ganger looks at them with a ridiculous smile, obviously very excited to get some face time with his leader. They get up to the third floor hall and he jogs ahead to open the door, the metal key sweaty in his nervous hands. The team hangs back; the drone’s electrical engines blow dust and dirt up in pinwheels across the floor.

The charmed man knocks on the door rapidly. There is a long moment of silence. Then a booming, bass voice penetrates the still air. “Who has disturbed us? We will send for anything we require. Leave now.

The ganger’s eyes go wide, and he turns around to the team. He mouths the words, ‘Big Jack’, and freezes, waiting for direction, not making a sound.

Player:

Crusher rushes down the corridor, snarling to the enchanted ganger. “Unlock it, God damnit! now!” He turns, whispering loudly to Aleister. “Crowley, make him unlock it!”

He then gestures the Guardian forward, ducking and rolling on his side to squeeze underneath it. He places his meat hand on the back of the drone and pushes it directly behind the ganger. “Ling Fei, you take giant Jack.”

The drone bobs gently in the cramped air, its laser sight playing over the heavy metal door. “Ten four sarge,” the rigger’s voice crackles.

Moonclaw rushes up behind the ork, taking cover in the shadow of his oversized frame, Smartgun poised and ready.

Crusher grips his assault rifle warily, his hands clenching unnaturally as twin dagger blades deploy from slots in the blades of his hands.

Gamemaster:

The ganger reacts to the frantic action in the hall and scrambles to fit the key in the lock. The edges of the metal teeth scrape against the opening of keyhole… The team waits for an eternity as the key fits the lock and the tumblers slide, clicking, into place.

Then, quick as a shot, the makeshift metal doors give way, buckling outward at the latch under an impossibly heavy blow. The noise deafens the team as it blasts down the hallway; they throw their hands up in front of their faces instinctively as they are showered but wooden splinters and fragments of the doorframe. The sharp edges of the metal bulkheads slam into the gang member’s face and he reels back, nose broken and arms pinwheeling. The palm of one hand sails underneath the vectored thrust engines of the drone, and the synthleather jacket cuff around the man’s wrist melts to his skin; he hits the ground, unconscious, his face streaming blood. One of the doors falls off of its hinges and the edge marrs the walls before it thuds to the ground.

What remains standing in the shadows of the broken barrier is gigantic. The ganger was right when he said that Big Jack was inhumanly massive, but had neglected to mention that he was inhuman in many other ways as well. Standing about six and a half feet tall, Big Jack’s shoulders are almost as wide again; from the waist up, he is a hulking mass of muscle and sinew, perched precariously atop ridiculously short, almost atrophied legs. What resembles a troll’s dermal plating is piled underneath whorled, unhealthy skin. The trapezius muscles around the base of his neck bulge artificially, and cast his head at an unnatural angle; gnurled growths around his right ocular orbit squeeze that eye shut and cause his mouth to snarl permanently. Patchy growths of hair sprout from an almost completely bald head. He wears a stretched and stained A-shirt underneath a flimsy armored vest, and steel-toed boots cover the ankles of his torn jeans; they look almost like doll’s shoes when compared to the rest of his body.

He looks around the dusty hallway at the runners taking shelter from the explosive destruction of the door. In his right hand is a piece of heavy steel rebar with a grip made of black electrical tape; in his left hand is an old semiautomatic shotgun. The wooden pistolgrip has been sawn off to allow his monstrous, crooked fingers to access the trigger. His throat emits a heavy, animal growl as he takes in the scene.

The runners cannot see around his massive girth to the room behind him, but the magicians feel the influence of the astral smoke wash over them like a wave. Their magical defenses are overwhelmed and they are suddenly drowning in a sea of toxic fuel, invading their nostrils and tugging with burning tendrils at the insides of their lungs. [Moonclaw suffers 5 boxes of Stun and Aleister suffers 4 boxes of Stun while the smoke is in effect.]

Back in Boxcar Rebellion, Ling Fei’s brain receives the input, her VCR filtering it for noise and shock spikes in the ASIST feed. The result is that the elf is the only one left unfazed by the sudden action in the hallway. Sparrow-2 hovers mere feet in front of Big Jack’s troglodytic face, its guns and sensor arrays already primed to react.

[Surprise round – It is Ling-Fei’s action.]

Player:

Ling Fei focuses her mind, shutting out the dizzying excess of sensory input in order to concentrate on the moment. Time slows to a gut-wrenching crawl, and one thing fills the rigger’s mind-She is the only thing standing between this monster and her teammates. Before she has time to form a thought, a stream of lead is pouring forth from the drone’s assault rifle, and it is only afterward that she hears the sound of her own voice, a full-throated warcry mingling with the chatter of automatic fire.

[Ling Fei fires 9 rounds- recoil is halved rounding down by the firmpoint mount, then -2 for the FN HAR’s gas vent. Target number is + 2 for recoil, -1 for laser sight, -1 for stationary target. FN HAR does 8M, staged to 17D +. Gunnery skill 5, adding 5 combat pool and 1 karma die. Opposing dodge test is at +3 for 9 rounds fired. Ling Fei devotes 6 control pool dice to damage resistance.]

Gamemaster:

The AR rounds tear out of the weapon mount, and brass casings rain down on the ganger’s body, lying between the burn areas under each engine. The long burst cannot possibly miss, so close is the area of engagement, and Ling Fei mentally leans on the virtual trigger, keeping it down long after the recoil-warnings begin to sound in her ears. She manually overrides the drone’s gyroscopic stabilization and leans the nose forward to compensate; Crusher is so close that he hears the the gyroscope’s longitudinal gimbal actuators whine and scream as the miniature plane fights to stay upright.

Big Jack’s huge body absorbs the rifle rounds in a shower of blood and flying body tissue, and he is blown backwards through the double doors, into the room beyond. The bulletwounds smoke and char from the heat of the close-range gunfire; pieces of his clothes drift slowly to the ground, and the runners finally get a glimpse of the space behind him.

Big Boss’ room is actually the space of many rooms, with the dividing walls knocked out. There is no furniture inside, and the runners can see the boarded up windows facing the outside. Broken glass and torn pieces of drywall litter the floor. Only one thing is present in the middle of the dusty room: a metal folding chair whose occupant is leaning backwards, doubled over in an arch. His skin is pallid and slack, like a BTL burnout, and his body shows no signs of life. He wears the yellow and black uniform of East Coast Massive, and a heavy pistol lies on the ground underneath one of his limp arms.

Then, slowly, like a zombie, the body of Big Jack starts to stir. A round has passed through his jaw and lodged in his throat, and blood oozes from the wound as he rights himself, robotically. The other bullets have penetrated his muscled, armored flesh and stuck. There are no exit wounds, and each circular injury is encircled by a black ring of burning skin.

Before the runners can gather their wits to react, the gnarled, arthritic hand grasping the shotgun comes up and reflexively grips the trigger, blowing a cloud of buckshot into the hallway. The drone’s armored hull sparks and repels most of the shot, shielding Crusher from much of the attack. Moonclaw crouches behind the big ork, and his armored body shudders and ripples as the shotgun blast roars down upon them. Crusher’s magically repaired wounds reopen, and his armor degrades another notch. [Crusher takes L, totalling three boxes of damage.]

The beast’s shotgun chambers another round, and his eyes roll back in his head; he is barely standing on own feet. He leans and drifts over this center of gravity, and his massive right arm becomes another support for his great weight.

[It is Crusher’s combat turn.]

Player:

Crusher ducks beneath the drone, wheezing with pain as the combat roll puts pressure on the gunshot wounds populating his torso. He rises from the tumble in front of the drone, his heavy boots sounding once, twice on the wooden floor as he picks up momentum, and then he is sailing through the air, fists drawn back, a bloodthirsty roar filling the room.

For a moment he hangs suspended in mid-air, wired reflexes and adrenaline working in tandem to freeze time, and then he strikes, the full weight of his diving attack driving both handblades into the brute’s chest.

[Crusher has handblades skill 5, adding 7 combat pool against target number 6 (base 4 +2 for moderate wounds.) This might also be modified by Jack’s reach, if it is considered troll-like.]

Gamemaster:

Crusher’s assault rifle clatters to the floor and then he is in motion, launching himself like an olympic diver into his adversary. The great weight of the ork hurtling through the air is a massive force, even for a creature like Big Jack. Standing just under two meters tall, Crusher’s body of thick muscle and hardened metal weighs over 110 kilos, and he puts all of this inertia into the points of his snap blades, ramming them home into the soft spots over the brute’s collarbones.

Big Jack tries in vain to swipe at him, one massive arm assuming all the force of a collapsing tree, but the damage he has taken hinders even his fastest movements. Crusher’s arms find their mark and the momentum carries them both forward; the ork’s knees land on the barrel-like chest as the monstrous human topples backwards. Crusher finally comes to a halt in a crouch on top of the mutant, both six-inch-long handblades buried to the hilt in thick, calloused flesh. Ripping them free, the mercenary’s front is sprayed with arterial gore; his opponent lies, defeated, underneath his bootheels, bleeding out slowly but surely. The implanted blades on the edges of Crusher’s large hands drip dark red lifeblood, and Big Jack gives his last sigh, the weight of his own warped viscera pressing a last breath out of the twisted mouth.

Player:

Crusher swings his powerful arms down and away, twin arcs of blood flying from his implant weapons to describe a gory X on the floor in front of him. Still kneeling over the bodyguard’s broken form, he reaches for his heavy pistol, taking care not to impale himself as draws, then pans the sidearm cautiously across the open space behind him, taking a more detailed look at the gang leader’s room, his breathing heavy, yet controlled.

Gamemaster:

The smoke pouring forth in the astral plane is bitingly trenchant at this range, and causes the pair of magicians to cough and wheeze as they draw closer to the open doors. Crusher surveys the room coolly; nothing jumps out at him as strange or dangerous, and he motions his team forward. Stepping into the presence of Big Boss, Moonclaw and Aleister both get chills up and down their spines.

Crusher looks dispassionately into the room, his low-light vision picking out the smallest detail, magnifying the ambient light. Smoke from the barrel of the Guardian drifts slowly in and out of his view.

What he can see is that the man in the chair is most certainly dead. A thick brown stain runs down the front of his yellow shirt, leading away from his mouth. The body smells awful, and as he examines it more closely, he can read a look of terror etched into the features, preserved by rigor mortis. Looking at the pistol lying by the corpse’s hand, he notices that the slide is locked back; the weapon is empty.

He sees a huddled shape in the far-left corner of the room, and adjusts his footing to get a better view, squinting into the dim space. The shape is that of a young human woman, curled in the fetal position, dead. There appears to be a large gash across her abdomen, and her clothes are the dark rust color of old blood.

Shaking off this macabre sight, Crusher’s eyes are drawn to the skillsoft ports behind Big Boss’ left ear. He can see the black round stud of a slotted ‘soft protrudingfrom the jack.

Player:

Crusher relaxes from his firing stance, lowering his pistol as he addresses the team. “Well, whatever went down in here is history now. I can see the package, let’s grab it and get out of here.” He takes a step in the direction of the corpse but feels something tugging on his overcoat. He turns to see Moonclaw holding a fistful of his sleeve, one elbow pressed against her mouth and nostrils in a futile effort to block out the otherworldly pall.
She wheezes, “Crusher, I’m not sure that’s safe, the device. . . the device still seems to be active. Aleister and I both feel it.”
“What else can we do? We’ve got our orders.” The ork waits patiently, regarding the shaman, and after a moment she reluctantly releases her grip.

As he approaches the body, Moonclaw and Ling Fei train their weapons on the innert form, tensed for the unexpected. Crusher holsters his pistol and reaches out with his right hand, grasps the stud on the back of the man’s skull with two metal fingertips and gives it a firm tug.

Gamemaster:

Careful not to cut the corpse with his hand blades, Crusher frees the knowsoft from its housing easily. The runners flinch collectively, fearing the worst, but the dead man does not stir. The head slowly lolls to the left side, a dead angle hanging uncomfortably in the neck. It makes the body look even more inhuman and distraught, and the terror-stricken eyes gaze out past the ork and his team, making them uneasy.

Crusher looks at the knowsoft more closely. From what he can tell, it is your standard knowsoft: skillsoft-incompatible and keyed to prevent insertion into a standard datajack. The business end is an incomprehensible, delicate mesh of golden contacts housed in a semiconductive plastic sheath. The end that protrudes from the port is capped with a hard rubber stud for a grip, and is absent the usual corp logo, marking this particular device as a prototype.

The smoke starts to take its toll on the Awakened. Moonclaw stumbles and almost loses her balance; Aleister is leaning heavily to one side, his eyes half-closed and listless. He struggles back to the surface for a second and takes a leap of faith. Letting his grip on the mundane slide for a second, he tries to astrally perceive the knowsoft; the smoke makes it hard to see clearly, shooting out of the small thing like it was under pressure in a gas can. For a second, though, the obscuring fog lifts, and what is revealed chills him to the bone.

There is a type of magic called anchoring, which imprints an astral signature onto a physical object; it is related to the technique which bonds a focus to its user. Anchoring normally can join a sustained live spell to a mundane thing. There is also a technique known as binding, by which an Awakened can capture a Free Spirit and forcibly join it to his will. Aleister knows these processes, and knows that there have been attempts to combine the two, but never heard of success. What confronts him is evidence of this, and, writhing against its magical chains, it is an affront to his humanity.

A Free Toxic Spirit has been anchored to the Culexus knowsoft; it appears to be a giant black slug or maggot, sickly and slime-ridden, with the black smoke pouring out of holes in its body. Burning magical bands encircle it and trap it to the knowsoft; feeder tentacles protruding from the mouth are linked and fused into the input array of the ‘soft. Its aura is filled with hatred and rage, and it strains at its bonds with all its energy. The aura fluxes for a moment, and he can feel the attentions of the creature focused on him, searing with resentment and anger.

He looks away and snaps back to the mundane, still composed, but inwardly mortified. He stumbles down the hallway away from the thing.

Player:

Moonclaw hazards an astral look at the ‘soft, and staggers backwards a step as she takes in the horrible sight. Crusher looks dumbly from the small chip in his hand to the shaman. “What’s the matter? It’s not even plugged in.” Moonclaw reels back another step, holding up a hand in a vain effort to keep the smoke at bay. “No. . . still alive. A spirit has been bound to it-an angry spirit.” She takes another stumbling step toward the door and grips the frame to maintain her balance as the spirit turns its attention on her.

Crusher gestures to the UAV, speaking as he places the knowsoft delicately on the floor. “Ling Fei, come up here and grab this chip. I’m going to help the magicians out of here.” He stands upright and wipes his handblades on the trousers of the corpse before retracting them back into his hands. The heavy pistol lying on the floor grabs his eye, and he sweeps it up, inspects it for a moment, then tucks it into his belt as he strides across the room to catch the listing shaman.

“Ten-four boss,” Ling Fei’s voice crackles from the drone, and then her senses are her own again, the GUI of the VCR filling her vision. She orders Sparrow-2, the spider drone, and the Doberman back to Boxcar, then assumes command of her own body. The rigger sits patiently in the seat, waiting for the unpleasant queaziness of the ASIST simulation to pass, then draws her Franchi Spas from the bench compartment and racks the slide as she steps out into the night air, flicking the selector from safety to semi-automatic.

Gamemaster:

The drones obey the rigger’s commands dutifully: the Doberman in the intersection performs a last perimeter check and then wheels itself up the ramp into its housing in Boxcar Rebellion. The Guardian plots a path out of the building and proceeds to navigate itself down the corridors and stairwells, eventually reaching the cold outside air. Tilting a little to maneuver through the side entrance, the vectored thrust drone hums eight feet off the ground, then slides smoothly over to the armored van in the sandlot and enters through the launch hatch in the roof, which slides closed behind.

Aleister refuses Crusher’s aid, and navigates slowly down the third floor hallway, one hand outstretched to give him balance. Crusher and Moonclaw work their way slowly away from the Culexus knowsoft; both the magicians feel more at ease with the thing out of their sights. The building is still cleared from before; if anyone had ventured out into the hallways, the smell of black powder and the bloody mess on the second floor surely convinced them that staying in was a better idea.

The second floor landing finds the Awakened amongst them back on their own feet, the smoke still harsh but their spell defense now capable of dispelling all of its effects. The team sees Ling Fei on her way up the first floor stairwell, shotgun in hand.

Player:

Moonclaw steadies herself against the wall before standing on her own again. “The darkness has faded. We should get back out into the open.”

Crusher nods to Ling Fei as they pass in the hallway. “Hey, could you grab my rifle on your way back? And you might as well search the bodies up there-they won’t be needing anything.”

Ling Fei nods uncertainly as she passes, pausing to collect the spider drone on the third floor before entering the room. She takes in the sight of the the three bodies with her meat eyes, the corpses glowing faintly in the enhanced vision of her race. She struggles with the urge to vomit for a minute before collecting Crusher’s Combat Gun and Big Jack’s shotgun, pausing to search what was left of his body for other valuables before collecting the knowsoft and gingerly checking the other two bodies in the room before heading out.

Moonclaw exits the building first and takes in a deep breath, thankful to be out of the smoke and back within her totem’s domain. She turns to see Crusher sagging heavily against the building wall, and moves to help him slide down. She peels aside what’s left of the kevlar plates and jacket, shaking her head in disgust. “Twice in one day, ork. Keep this up and I might run out of mana.” Crusher looks puzzled. “What? You can run out?” The shaman continues the spell without responding, adjusting her fetish mask and drawing her hands several times over the open wound, searching for the spots where flesh and essence have been lost. She places her hands on his chest once again, letting the energy of the astral plane flow through her, repairing and restoring. The spell is incredibly taxing for a wound of this size, and she becomes certain that it is due to the massive enhancment surgery done to his skin, arm, eyes, ears, and even nervous system. She supresses the thought that it feels almost like casting a healing spell on some sort of half robot, strange and astrally dead in spots. [Moonclaw casts at force 3, using 5 spell pool to cast.]

Gamemaster:

Ling Fei slings Crusher’s Ares assault rifle over her shoulder, surprised at the weight of the firearm-despite a plasteel frame, stock and receiver, the inner workings of the gun-bolt, barrel, trigger assembly-are still good, old fashioned, ferrous metal. Heavy.

She pats down the smoking form of Big Jack carefully, but finds nothing on the scraps of clothing. The mutant man seems much larger in real life than through the eyes of her drone. Searching him is easy, as he really only has one pocket left; most of his clothes were blown apart or burned in combat. She tries not to get his blood on her hands as she picks up his hacked and improvised wood-gripped shotgun. Moving further into the room, she sees the Culexus knowsoft on the ground where Crusher left it, and pockets it.

Turning to Big Boss, she grimaces. The corpse stinks, and the red stain on the front of his shirt looks-and smells-like blood-tinged vomit. The man is bent into an awful horseshoe, his back arched almost to the point of breaking and the mouth frozen in a rigor mortis scream. Whatever the Culexus spirit did to his mind must have been torturous, putting his mind through psychic agony until the bitter end.

Big Boss is wearing a yellow-striped black leather jacket, and the elf past it down gingerly. Finding nothing in the outer pockets, she thumbs open the inner breast pockets. A shape brushes her hand and she reaches in quickly, withdrawing a beaten, black and yellow-dyed credstick. Eagerly thumbing the readout stud, she smiles-the ganger was carrying around about ¥17,000; a nice bonus for small-fry that they didn’t even have to kill. She pockets the credstick and glances at the body in the corner.

Slowly, she walks toward the form. It is a human woman in her early twenties, clad in a t-shirt and lying on her side close to the wall, with her back facing the room. The elf can’t see her front; she walks closer. A wide, dark stain has spread outward on the bare floor in front of the body, pooling in the cracks and crevasses along the base of the concrete wall. Ling Fei inches forward, eyes wide and heart pounding. She sees a glistening, coiled texture within the dead arms’ embrace, gasps, and looks away. The end for this poor soul must have been painful in the extreme. Quickly and quietly, the rigger leaves the way she came in.

Outside, Moonclaw presses her magic forth into Crusher’s surgically crisscrossed aura. Gasping at the effort, the cat shaman taxes her mental abilities and watches as the skin reknits, again, although failing to heal completely. The mercenary breathes a sigh of relief, though, as some of the buckshot expels itself, ringing on the asphalt, and the flesh underneath replenishes. [Crusher recovers 2 boxes of damage]

Ling Fei walks silently out of the side entrance of the building, Crusher’s assault rifle swinging wildly on its shoulder strap and the shotgun in her hands. Aleister gestures to her to keep her distance, and both of the magicians again feel the pull and influence of the Culexus spirit.

Player:

Crusher rises to his feet, echoing Aleister’s gesture to Ling Fei to stay put by the door as he strides to catch up with the slowly retreating magicians. He adjusts the tattered remnants of his body armor as he speaks. “Thanks for the assist once again, Moonclaw. I think it’s about time we got out of here-although from what I understand about this thing, neither of you should be riding with me an’ Ling.” The shaman looks to Aleister unemotionally, her chin upturned. “Perhaps you could give me a ride, hermetic?” Crusher nods to the two of them as he turns away. “Right, I’ll let you two work things out. Ling Fei and I are going to bring the package back to the bar.”

The burly ork trots back across the street to the waiting rigger. Her face is painted with disgust at the night’s events, but she forces a bleak smile as he approaches. “Didn’t find too much up there, except a credstick on the boss.” “Yea, how much?” “Seventeen K!” the rigger beams. “Seventeen? Damn, not a bad bonus for the night.” The mercenary jerks his head at the bodies scattered around the intersection. “Let’s collect these poor chummer’s guns as well, give them a once over for any more cred or ammo. I can fence the whole load through my military contact, might even be able to put down on next month’s rent with all the heat these guys were packing.”

The pair sort through the ganger corpses strewn about from the gunfight, collecting guns like they were firewood. Crusher checks the men in the vicinity of the grenade blasts while Ling Fei goes over the more intact bodies for spare cred or ammo.

Their scavenging complete, Crusher and Ling Fei load into Boxcar and head back to the Silphid, leaving Moonclaw to catch up with Crowley.

Gamemaster:

Picking through the bodies is a grim task; most of the personal effects (as well as facial features) have been blown away. None of the gangers was carrying a credstick, though some were carrying old-fashioned paper money, a ridiculous antiquity in 2060 usually used in the token economies of select black markets or drughouses. No doubt Big Boss kept them on a short spending leash. They take what they can find and load it into Boxcar Rebellion, then bid their allies farewell and head off. The heavy wheels under the armored hulk thud down off of the curb by the sandlot, and then the van is making its way toward the interstate.

As Ling Fei navigates back through Southern Chicago towards Locust street, Crusher sorts through the scavenged guns and equipment. Almost all of the gangers’ equipment was destroyed in the fight by grenade shrapnel; even the tough AK-98 has been perforated and is no longer usable. To top it off, the few grenades they had clipped to their armor jackets were similarly damaged in the blasts, and none of the gang members seemed to be carrying much in the way of ammunition. The only weapon spared destruction was a gang member’s Enfield AS-7, a clip-fed, burst-fire-capable shotgun with an underbarrel weight attachment; the clip has 6 buckshot shells left, with one in the chamber. The shoulder stock and short pistolgrip appear to be in good shape, and the charging rod attached to the action is still intact.

The only other pieces Crusher is able to salvage are from the dwarven ganger which Moonclaw killed with her SMG, and the pistol off the street from the first gang member. The dwarf was carrying an FN 5-7C, an unusual heavy pistol which fires sub-caliber rounds at high velocity, with a swept-back grip and good balance to accommodate burst fire. He was also carrying a single full clip for the pistol and two defensive HE grenades. The drug pusher was packing a Walther PB-120, a standard compact light pistol. The clip is full and a round is chambered.

The van parks in the lot of the Silphid, and the rigger kills the engine. They await their companion.

As Boxcar Rebellion pulls away from the appartment-turned-battlefield, Aleister opens a small cellular phone and presses a single button, then folds his arms and appears to wait. He doesn’t say anything to Moonclaw about what they have both just witnessed; he is deep in thought on the matter. Certain aspects of it disturb him.

Only 10 minutes pass, and then a black, unmarked car drives up, heading East on W. 71st street and passing under the ‘Metra’ bridge and stopping in front of them. The front doors open-the car is driverless-and Aleister gestures inside with a simple, “Please.”

Their ride back to the Silphid is unhurried and quiet. Moonclaw is left to her own devices as her companion sits in the driver’s side, arms still folded and sunglasses on, appearing concerned.

Player:

Moonclaw quietly unbuckles her seatbelt, then opens the door, turning to leave. She pauses to thank Aleister. “Thank you for your help tonight, hermetic. I-we would have had a much harder time with that entry if you hadn’t intervened. If you ever need a thief, astral or otherwise, you know how to contact me.”

Crusher and Ling Fei are waiting idly for the shaman in the parking lot, and she nods tersely as she pads up to them. Crusher adjusts his holster and beckons to the door. “Let’s collect our paycheck, huh?”

Gamemaster:

The magician replies, “Oh, I think we will be seeing each other very soon, shaman.” He steps out of the car, the doors close pneumatically, and it drives off. “I will accompany you inside.”

The four guns-for-hire walk around the right side of the building, through the dark alleyway, open the flimsy outer door and greet the guards. The steel-riveted inner doors open smoothly and the yellow lines in the floor direct them to their usual meeting spot.

Mr. Johnson is sitting with his arms resting on the tables, again adhering to his clean-cut dress code. Aleister walks around the table to take his place at the back of the room, folding his arms in front of him; he looks minuscule standing next to his large troll partner. The team delivers the objective, placing the Culexus knowsoft on the table. Mr. Johnson swiftly sweeps it into a steel box covered with runes and snaps it closed; the smoke in the astral plane starts to dissipate, contained by the magical wards. He gives the box to the gigantic troll standing behind him and directs his attention to the runners.

“Thank you for returning this. As you can imagine, my employers were very concerned about technology like this roaming the streets in the hands of gang scum.” He leans back and runs his fingertips through a razor-precise, lightly oiled haircut. Eyeing Crusher’s chest wounds, he remarks, “I trust that this assignment wasn’t too much for a small team such as yours to handle. I try to avoid sending you people straight into the path of danger, but time did not permit that luxury this time.”

Mr. Johnson stands, buttoning the middle button of his suit jacket, concluding the meeting. He reaches into a jacket pocket and hands Crusher a single-use credstick. “Here, ¥35,000 as agreed. I will be in contact regarding future work opportunities soon. You have managed to attract the attention of some of the higher ups responsible for the development of this tech-” he gestures to the box. “Until then.” And he leaves through the back door, taking his bodyguards with him.

LEVEL UP!

Crusher – +18 (4/15), +1 Karma Pool

33 Cumulative (14/19)

Mass Murderer – 7 Black Karma

Killed the most enemies, did the most damage. Fired explosive ordnance against nonmilitary, nonprofessional personnel.

Sucking Chest Wound – 2 Black Karma

Awarded to the character who received the most damage in combat, and hit the most by enemy weapons

Stand By Me – 2 White Karma

Protected a teammate from damage by taking it himself.

Thespian – 1 White Karma

Attempted to pass a Mental Attribute based test… with Theatre!

Eyes On The Prize – 1 White Karma

The first character to get their hands on the objective.

Close Kill – 4 Black Karma

Killed a Boss in close combat, made the most CQB checks.

Bully – 2 Black Karma

Given for a successful Intimidation check against a hostile NPC

Ling Fei – +13 (14/0), +1 Karma Pool

22 Cumulative (22/0)

The Bigger They Are… – 6 White Karma

Dealt Deadly Damage to a Boss with BOD 10+

Electronic Eyes – 2 White Karma

A character qualifies for this while performing reconnaissance without putting bodies in harm’s way.

Base of Fire – 3 White Karma

Awarded for providing fire support from an unexposed position.

Creative License – 2 White Karma

Had the most creative attempt to solve a problem (ram through a window with a drone)

Daddy’s Boy – 2 White Karma

Awarded to the character the GM liked the most.

Moonclaw – +16 (3/15), +2 Karma Pool

30 Cumulative (8/22)

Judge, Jury and Executioner – 3 Black Karma

Willing to kill a hostage on the grounds that he was “weak-minded scum”

Sorcerous Soldier – 2 White Karma

Cast a magical buff in a combat situation, and engaged in astral combat.

Forward Observer – 3 White Karma

Awarded for successful infiltration and reconnaissance, without being spotted.

A Mother’s Touch – 5 White Karma

Given for successfully casting a heal or treat spell on a friendly PC.

It Might Have Been My Sixth, or Even My Seventh, Sense – 2 White Karma

This character demonstrated an unusual ability to predict upcoming danger.

Lead Role – 3 White Karma

Awarded to the character who had the largest role in the story.

Player – +3 God Karma 4 Cumulative

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