The runners arrive early, punctual to the last. The dawn is just waking up the city, and the hustle and bustle of traffic has not yet reached its midday fever pitch.
Pulling up across the street from the Embassy, the rest of the escort teams make themselves readily apparent. Far from being a lone team, this corp has gone to extraordinary lengths: three other teams of shadowrunners lounge about near their own vehicles, leaning against the building, scoping out the black gloss of the armored limousine, and generally being unprofessional.
The first, a team of five, is mixed-race: a beautiful elven rigger idles her open-topped, military style truck, reclining in the seat with a cigarette between crimson lips. Her team is collected in the truck bed: a troll wearing dull gunmetal body armor with large shoulderpads tends to a .50 cal machinegun mounted to the roll cage, facing front. Two humans are also in the rear of the truck: a hermetic mage sits cross-legged in the back, his eyes closed and back erect; next to him, a pale decker grips his deck close to his chest, looking around nervously over wire-frame glasses which keep sliding off his nose. A woman, tall and lithe in shiny black leather, leans against the rear of the truck, closely examining her fingernails through mirrored lenses which are fused into her skull, enclosing her eyes like permanent sunglasses.
A pair of dwarves, a man and a woman, sit in crash harnesses in an expensive-looking black sports car parked in front of the limo. Obviously both riggers, they each are surrounded by a small cloud of aerial drones, mostly spybots and snoopers. Their eyes are rolled back and they don’t seem to be aware of the world around them. Behind the car, on the sidewalk and deactivated for now, is a large, humanoid drone: the body is a sleek wasp-shape, standing 7 feet tall, with compound sensor-eyes that complete the insectlike visage. It boasts two large pincer arms, steel vice attachments designed for construction. Guns on custom firmpoints adorn these upper limbs: a minigun on one, a large-bore autocannon on the other. Flexible ribbon feeds protrude from each weapon and follow the contour of the arms, disappearing into the back of the drone. The body tapers down at the waist into a swiveling universal joint, and from there to two legs, twin-jointed and recumbent, like a bird’s. The legs are heavy duty, incorporating anchor spikes for lifting or pulling, and retractable wheels set like inline skates, deep-gripped and steel-belted.
The last team is without their own transport, and is clearly the most rambunctious of the group; they wait by the front doors of the hotel, harassing the doormen and passers by. This team is three hard, mean-looking orks, decked out in resplendent, expensive cyberware: the two males look to be twins, and the third, a female, may have been their sister, so strong is the resemblance between them. They all wear a matching costume of dark gray and bright red, a spider’s web pattern etched into the armored leather. Obvious cyberlimbs are decorated and painted in a similar fashion, and body tattoos of spiders and webs complete the look where skin meets metal. Each boasts at least one metal arm and leg, and they carry wicked, curved longswords at their waists. Heavy boots and other pieces of body armor have had spikes and railties welded onto them at outward angles, creating improvised weapons. Such is the samurais’ mass, the submachine guns slung in underarm holsters on each of them appear as pistols on a smaller being.
The runners spy two more mercenaries, just hidden behind the green military truck… Recognizing them, these two others break away from the group and approach Ling Fei’s van—they see that it is Aleister Crowley and his troll counterpart. The hermetic magician greets the team with a sharp salute, and introduces his partner for the first time, “Greetings, elf. Allow me to introduce Grendel, our mutual contact’s foremost employee.”
The troll’s faded yellow eyes look down at the runners from their high perch. He grumbles a low hello, a faint sound from such a large body. Standing this close, the team gets a new appreciation for the size of this creature. He easily dwarfs Crusher in height, girth and weight, and looks like he could pull the arms right off of the other runner troll, though that one is also quite large. The driver’s side window affords a waist-height view of the massive, tree trunk legs and torn jeans. His weapon of choice hangs idly over his shoulders, like a farmer might carry a shovel. The weight of the axehead and rocket boosters bends the thick rebar; it is a formidable weapon, indeed. The jangling of four submachineguns, racked like tools across his barrel chest, is the music of windchimes to a mercenary’s ear. Cheap but sturdy cyberarms the size of I-beams protrude bulkily from his black armored vest.
Something is bothering Aleister, and it shows in the magician’s agitated demeanor and the way he shifts his weight from one foot to the other. His distress thus noticed, he leans in conspiratorially towards the van, and whispers. “Moonclaw, this item has gotten us into deeper water than we think. They are holding Mr. Johnson hostage as a penalty for attempting to fence the knowsoft, which is back in the corp’s hands. We are to serve them until further notice, or they will execute him. Normally, enterprising individuals such as ourselves would simply leave the man for the suits, but they know who we are, where we live, and what we do. They threatened my colleagues in the O.T.O., and I won’t have my faults punish them.”
Looking up at the troll nervously, he glances back and forth down the street and continues, “And there’s something else. That building we encountered the gangers in? It’s totally gone. Stripped and wrecked right down to the foundation. The rest of the ECM is nowhere to be found, either. And now, we five are here, guarding some ‘executive’ on a suicide watch from an unknown assassin. I don’t think it’s coincidence that brings us together again. Luckily, my friend here,” and he pats the troll on the forearm, “is notoriously hard to kill.”
“We will see what they have planned. But I believe that this is a set-up; the corp wants us to die here, and have it look like an accident or KIA. My advice is to be on your toes.”
The three stand on the curb with their backs to the idling Roadmaster, forming a loose circle with Aleister and the troll. Ling Fei addresses the mage. “Set-up? What beef would this corp have with four unrelated sets of Shadowrunners?”
A look of fearful apprehension crosses Moonclaw’s face. “No, not a grudge… If they’re going to cross us, it will be to keep their secrets safe.”
The elf furrows her brow, not understanding. “How so?”
“Our previous Johnson, Aleister and Grendel, the ECM gang, the three of us; what we share in common is our access to this corp’s secrets. It would be in their best interests to keep their secrets secret, and having us all killed may be the best way for them to do it.”
Crusher is leaning against the side of the van, arms crossed over his wide chest. He nods slowly, a look of serious concern on his face. “It’s a good thought. But then why the elaborate set-up? If they really know where we live, why not just geek us in our beds?”
Moonclaw shifts her weight to her hip, arms resting on her belt. “That, I cannot say.”
“Well, we can at least try to talk to these other teams,” Ling Fei suggests. “If they’re here for the same reason we are, we’ll have good evidence this is all an elaborate trap. And if it is, it might not be a bad idea to get on their good sides.” She surveys the three teams, gesturing first to the pair of dwarves. “They don’t look very… responsive. I think I’ll try those guys over there.” She indicates the larger, mixed-race group.
Crusher steps away from the van, adjusting his hat and sunglasses as he sizes up the trio of orks. “Right. I’ll try these street sam over here.”
He strides purposefully towards the orks, head angled low. The twin barrels of his assault rifle protrude menacingly from beneath his open longcoat, which matches the sandy color of his wide-brimmed hat. The blue-black of his armored vest and the dark wooden grip of his heavy
pistol complete his threatening appearance. As he comes within earshot of the group, the street-wise old ork racks his brain for the name of this gang and any details which might help him curry favor with them.
[Crusher has the knowledge skill gang identification: 2.]
As he reaches the closest ork, he extends a gloved hand and gives a casual greeting, seeing how they will react to his approach. “’Sup, chummers?”
[Crusher has etiquette(street): 2(4) and Charisma 3.]
Ling Fei walks confidently in the direction of the five-man team’s truck. Her hair is an almost unnaturally brilliant blond, permed into slight waves and falling a little past her shoulders, tucked back on one side to reveal an elven ear. Two small golden rings pierce the elongated tip of her ear, and a larger jade hoop hangs from her earlobe. Stylish, silver, goggle-like sunglasses conceal her eyes. Her matte black armored jacket tapers stylishly in at her slim waist, matching the black leather pants which hug her tall elven legs. Although she is not stunningly beautiful, she cuts an attractive figure nonetheless. The rigger flashes a winning smile as she reaches the three runners gathered around the back of the truck. “How’s it going guys? Anyone got a minute to chat?” [Ling Fei has etiquette 4 and Charisma 4.]
Crusher’s street knowledge of this particular gang is not very comprehensive: from what he can remember, they are called the Spiders, and are fiercely territorial over their claim of land, a strip of ork ghetto running along the southwestern city fringe. Known for violence, they also apply a loose sense of street morals to their dealings, rarely initiating attacks against other gangs, but always defending themselves savagely.
The red-and-black dressed female street samurai looks at Crusher with disdain, just barely having to cock back her head to get a look under the ork’s hat. Her brothers have stopped their idle chatter and slid back a half step, centering their weight. Hands move to scabbards, and Crusher notices three thumbs quietly nudge the steel katana loose from their sheaths.
Three pairs of eyes drop to his outstretched hand, and to the ribbon of metal that shows between his glove and jacket cuff. The two male orks relax, apparently taking him in as one of their own. The woman isn’t too easily swayed, though, and retorts, “Whaddaya want, gunner?” The words practically ooze, spit-like, from her mouth.
The twins take her guard down, “Relax, Charlie. He’s one of us.”
“Yea, a walkin’ tin can is one o’ the fam.” Shaking Crusher’s offered hand solidly, “What’s deep, merc? You here to keep this fuck alive too?”
The Taiwanese-born rigger sidles up to the black-clad beauty with silvered eyes and slicked-back, short dark hair. This woman looks up —the motion only made apparent by a movement of her head —and looks Ling Fei up and down, taking in her blue motorcycle jacket, the large sunglasses and jade jewelry. The long, slender fingers of one hand extend towards her, almost as if in greeting… Then, with a snap, the Asian elf finds herself staring at the back of the hand and an extended middle finger. The nail at the end of the finger grows slowly upwards as a razor blade slides out of a slot in the nail bed. The street samurai turns sharply and walks towards the driver’s side door, glistening leather ass swaying. She strikes up a hushed conversation with the rigger in the driver’s seat, not looking back.
The decker crouched in the back of the van sidles over nervously, obviously very overcome by Ling Fei’s natural good looks. “Don’t mind Molly.. she doesn’t like girls that much.” Realizing that their rigger is also a girl, he stammers, “uh, that is.. about her… well, you see the driver… Jets, she’s… ah, uhm, she’s into girls, so she doesn’t count.”
The beads of sweat show visible on his forehead and upper lip, now: the wireframes slide off the point of his greasy nose, picking up speed on the steep slope and clattering to the floor of the truck. The man’s troll counterpart looks back from the machine gun for a second, snorting in derision before returning his attention to his task. The decker clumsily scoops the spectacles up and tries to jam them back onto his face; failing at this a few times, he folds them up in one hand and introduces himself. “I’m… my name is John. John Percival Ha…Hackworth. It’s very nice to meet you. We don’t get many real girls around here, huhefuff.” A strange auditory tic punctuates his speech now and again.
He extends the hand with the glasses in greeting; realizing his mistake, he tries to shift the glasses to the other side, but his deck occupies that hand, and it almost falls to the ground as he readjusts. Sighing, he gives up the handshake and looks at the elf longingly. “Wh—what do you know about the suit we’re here for? We can’t figure out why they’d need more than one team for this… we’re barely travelling a mile!”
Ling Fei casually pulls her designer sunglasses free, shaking her hair loose before sliding the shades onto the top of her head, flowing blond locks tucked in beneath it. She looks the perspiring young man in the eyes, holding his gaze with a pleasant smile. “Hi John. It’s nice to meet you.” She slips forward, seating herself on the truckbed between the decker and the unresponsive mage. She crosses her legs toward him, leaning in close and speaking a bit quieter. “That’s actually what I came to talk to you about. We have reason to believe this run might be a set-up. Our team and at least one other group here have had access to this corp’s secrets, and we think they might have gathered us all here to silence us.” She glances over her shoulder, then leans in a little closer. “Tell me, Hackworth, what history does your team have with them?”
Crusher gives the twin a strong handshake, palms ringing metallically together. Their hands slip easily from a conventional shake into a greeting of the street, fists locked together, thumb over thumb. His voice is low and rough, coming naturally. “Didn’t know I had fam in the Spiders,” he intones over their locked hands, “but I’m glad to hear it.”
He releases the ganger’s hand, folding two thick arms over his broad chest. “Yea, we’re bodying for this corp motherfucker too. Thing is,” he tilts his head forward, voice low. “something stinks, and it ain’t the suit’s cologne, right? My crew thinks this whole run might be their way of cleaning house, keeping secrets secret, that kinda drek. Any chance you hoods picked this trick up after seeing some shit you weren’t supposed to?”
The decker goes beet-red in the face, and the perspiring increases linearly with Ling Fei’s proximity. He nervously runs a finger up and down the plastic edge of his deck, trying not to make eye contact. “We… we don’t have any history. Our Johnson gave us this assignment, said we needed to make him some money. Business has been slow, y’see, and—”
At this point, he is cut off by the big troll on the machine gun. “Hey Professor, maybe you shouldn’t be tellin’ our life stories to the enemy, natch?” The word ‘professor’ drips sarcasm.
Hackworth gulps air noisily, and then turns back to Ling Fei. “Sorry. Hulder says we shouldn’t talk any more. But… this is just another job, as far as we know. In ’n out.” He draws his knees up to his chest and tries to seem inconspicuous. The magician has not stirred the entire time.
Charlie, the female ork warrior, snorts contemptuously at her brothers’ slight and walks a short ways down the sidewalk, roughly shoving a businessman out of her way. The man’s leather briefcase falls to the sidewalk, and the street samurai stops to berate him.
Looking after their sister, the two Spiders’ countenances grown stern. “She’s nervous,” one says to the other. They nod in silent agreement.
Both run to Crusher, who is having a hard time keeping them apart in his head; it is quite hard to tell one from the other. “Don’t take her personally. Bitch’s angry over another matter. We are Bakcha and Blitz, of the Spiders.”
The other chimes in, “As for your question, merc, we don’t personally know anything about this one. Orders from the top say we gotta make sure this guy don’t get splattered. That’s it. Could be the Clan’s been involved in some other stuff, but we don’t know anything about that. We just have our orders. Anyhow, why’d they want to kill their own people? Same bill, same side. You know how it goes.”
Ling Fei’s slender form rises from the bed of the truck, casually replacing the shades, her long, pointed ears still projecting gracefully from the depths of her hair. “Okay, I can take a hint,” she turns to leave, takes a step, then glances casually over one shoulder, regarding the young man over the tops of her sunglasses. “Watch your six out there, Hackworth.”
Crusher lets out a short laugh, a low, grating, feral noise. “Yeh, well, ’won’t be on their bill if they geek us all first, right? Anyway, thanks for talkin’ straight. Guess maybe things aren’t as shady as we thought.” The old mercenary pauses for a moment, lost in thought. “Guess I better get back to my crew. ’Names Crusher,” he bumps fists with each of them, their knuckles producing the satisfying ring of hammer on anvil. “You three look way harder than any of these other outfits. Shit hits fan, I wouldn’t mind sharing a umbrella with you boys.”
Crusher turns and trudges back to Boxcar, stalking up to the circle of runners as Ling Fei returns from her foray. Moonclaw looks up from her hushed conversation with Aleister. “Well? What did they say?”
Ling Fei shrugs. “Guy I talked to didn’t make it sound like they had ever worked for this corp before. Although their troll stopped him from talking pretty quick, even called us ‘the enemy.’”
Moonclaw adjusts the quiver of arrows slung over her right shoulder. “Enemy? Is it possible they’ve all been hired to kill us?” The shaman takes a suspicious glance at the other teams loitering about.
Ling Fei shakes her head, lips pursed. “I dunno, it would be pretty hard to believe this guy was lying—meek decker type, could barely string a sentence together without sweating his glasses off. What did those, spider, uh, people, have to say, Crusher?”
“They’re from a street sam gang in the slums, actually are called the Spiders. Good people, far as I can tell. Say they haven’t run for this corp either. Probably telling the truth, took a real shining to me after they saw my chrome. I’d say it sounds like this run’s more on the straight and narrow than we thought.”
Moonclaw snarls under her breath. “We’ll see.”
Ling Fei shrugs, shifting her weight to her hip. “So, what now?”
Crusher flexes his cybernetic arm, compulsively touching his palm to the grips of his pistol and rifle to check their smartlink readouts. “Stay frosty, wait for the suit to show. Expect the unexpected.”
It is not long before the appointed time. The runners gather by their van along with Mr. Johnson’s mage and muscle, and a commotion is seen in the lobby of the hotel; heavy bodyguards bustle about purposefully and professionally, making a human line to the front door. The exit in a wave, the minister amongst them. Aleister remarks, “You know… ‘minister’ used to be used only for political suits. Before that, it was the religious ones who bore the title. How things have changed.”
The suit exits the building with long strides, moving towards the limousine, a chauffeur holding the door open for him. He might have been a genetic clone of the man from Soldier Field, wearing the same suit and air of entitlement. The Spiders immediately gather around the man, keeping a tight triangle centered on him at all times. They let the suit climb into the limo, and then get in, one-by-one, after him; the car’s shocks groan and the undercarriage dips closer to the ground under each of the warriors’ weight is added.
The machines of war roar to life; the full-throated engine of Jets’ old combustion engine belch forcefully, and Boxcar Rebellion’s own engine adds its vibrations to the morning air. The sleeping drone behind the dwarven riggers winks on, and artificial life consumes its metal form. The two wheels slam onto the pavement and lift up the entire weight of it, and the legs crouch down to bring the undercarriage closer to the ground. The gunner standing in the back of the green military truck, Hulder, barks orders to the surrounding runners, yelling over the roar of the engines, “Alright you lot! You both!”— pointing forcefully at the still forms of the dwarves in their sleek car —“You are our point! This truck will be the mainguard! That leaves you” – and he sweeps his arm around to include the five gathered around Boxcar Rebellion – “as our rearguard! Stay close and watch our ass!”
The winglike doors of the dwarves’ customized Honda-GM 3220 sweep shut, and the dwarves point the nose West, down E. Illinois, turning round the bend to continue onto N. Cityfront Plaza. The military truck and the limo, moving as one, follow.
The roundabout that this Hotel inhabits is made up of the three one-way roads that join it to Columbus Dr. Each is basically unimproved and preserved; the city of Chicago has had bigger concerns than municipal upkeep in the years following 2011. The roundabout’s gleaming centerpiece bristles with the morning rays, and pedestrians walk to and fro, inhabiting their glass cubes for the day in the surrounding office buildings.
The rear of the limo beckons as it grinds slowly down E. Illinois.
The back of Ling Fei’s neck bristles as she opens a channel with Boxcar Rebellion through her CRD. All four doors pop open, and the team embarks hastily, the engine roaring. Moonclaw kicks off the tire into the passenger seat, and Crusher steps into the rear compartment first, taking a seat on the back left, letting the Johnson’s men take their place. The Roadmaster’s turbocharged engines pull the fully loaded van into formation, two separate panels in the roof opening.
The LMG rotates forward as the rear of the van begins spewing out drones, first an Ares Guardian, blue flames firing from its turbines to equalize with the moving vehicle before releasing. A rotored drone slides into position next, double propellers cutting the air noisily in opposite circles before wobbling into the air, fixed Uzi-III rotating through its limited firing arc. Finally, a small disc slides into position, an opaque bladder quickly filling with gas. Twin tiny rotor engines redline and the blimp bobs into the air, climbing to a holding position high above the caravan.
The armored doors on both sides of the van slide partially forward, protecting Crusher and the other metatype seated on the bench while giving them a partial firing arc on either side of the transport. The rotor drone takes aerial point, while the Guardian falls in behind the Roadmaster, its turret rotating the underslung assault rifle to cover the rear.
Crusher draws his Ares Alpha Combat Gun from beneath his jacket, smiling grimly as the old rifle’s smartlink interfaces with his cybernetic arm, feeding an image into his artifical eyes. A bright dot plays over the street, and a large stack of black bullet icons appear in the bottom right of his vision, with a red 42 displayed in digital alongside it. 8 small grenade icons sit grayed out beneath this ammo counter, giving the mercenary no small amount of comfort about facing off against an enemy so reputedly deadly.
Moonclaw draws her Smartgun, feeding the smartgun lead into her goggles as she pulls them over her eyes, the window rolled down.
The convoy moves faster now, getting up a little speed as it negotiates both roundabouts and prepares to enter onto Columbus Dr, turning South. The surveillance drones from the lead rigger car float up and over the projected route, and a crackling intercom link comes across on Ling Fei’s public channel, joining her ear with the other three vehicles.
The usual radio chatter comes around: callsigns and clear calls are shot back and forth for a second, and then the dwarves signal, “Ready to move onto Columbus.” Hulder growls over his end of the comm-link, “Stick close, traffic will be our main consideration here. Do not be diverted from the convoy. Repeat, do not be diverted from the convoy.”
The four vehicles stop on E. North Water street, lined up single file, the limousine in third position, Boxcar in last. The morning traffic headed south on Columbus heads to their right, across a drawbridge spanning a waterway, and then disappears under a suspended portion of cross streets. The darkness created by this covered road system extends the length of the riverway like a strip of black ribbon. The effect is that of crossing a bridge into the sheer face of a mountain, and disappearing into the shadows within; taillights from retreating traffic beckon and menace like the eyes of hungry predators.
In the back of Boxcar Rebellion, Aleister shuffles around his large troll counterpart, giving up his position on the bench so that the troll might more comfortably sit on the two adjacent seats. The mage crouches on the floor by the right-hand sliding door and reaches into his jacket, retrieving his copper rod with one hand, and heavy pistol with the other.
The dwarves send some of their electronic spotters over the water, and send the rest across the bridge and into the tunnel system. The convoys wait for this initial recon to complete.
Grendel shrugs his shoulders uncomfortably, and rolls his head around so that it is slanted the other direction to fit, even as he crouches under the low roof of the van. Ling Fei surveys the feeds from her eyes in the sky: the guardian covering the rear has no threat warnings, as most of the civilian traffic and pedestrians have cleared out, avoiding the armed and armored vehicles. The MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone on her point also has a clear view, over the convoy vehicles and across Columbus. She can see normal pedestrian traffic; domestic sedans and full-size electric imports, drawing their power from the grid noiselessly and cleanly. Above all of them, the Condor returns similar safe reports: looking over the other side of the river reveals all clear, with normal traffic patterns moving perpendicularly across Columbus Drive. Some pedestrians cross the street in the sunlight on top of the raised street. It all looks normal.
The signal is given for the dwarves to move; their humanoid drone wheels itself out into traffic and screeches to a halt facing left, blocking the oncoming lanes. The guns on the arms level their barrels up the street, warning other cars to halt. The Dwarves’ lead car immediately pulls out into the empty space, and the heavily laden military truck follows, rocking back and forth on its suspension. Hulder sways back and forth at his machine gun, and the troll surveys the black expanse across the bridge ahead of them, grumbling into the comms, “I don’t like the looks of this…”
The limousine follows the truck in front of it closely.
Boxcar Rebellion fall in behind the limo, the aerial drones adjusting to stay in position as the van turns right. Four large screens fill Ling Fei’s vision, each one displaying the visual feeds from each of the four vehicles in her remote control network, with various data and weapon interfaces floating around their periphery. She reaches out to the space to the right of the Condor’s screen with a virtual hand, a small joypad and throttle appearing beneath her fingertips, feeling hard to the touch. She yaws the surveillance drone to the right, out and over the water, sweeping its camera system over the river and beneath the bridge, scanning for any suspicious looking water craft.
Her voice crackles over the vehicle’s internal speakers. “You guys can pick up the convoy’s chatter on your radios—might as well use them.” Crusher draws the headset from his coat pocket, removing his hat to adjust the small earbud and pen-sized microphone arm over his left ear. The flexible band lies comfortably across his bare head, just behind the bases of his horns. He replaces his brimmed hat, horns just barely fitting into the body of the ork-sized accessory, and the hum of radio activity begins to fill his ear as he calibrates with Ling Fei’s bandwidth. He can sense his cybernetic ears adjusting their pickups to compensate for the proximity of the earpiece, and the sensation jogs his spatial orientation, causing him to grimace as vertigo sweeps momentarily over him before returning to normal.
Moonclaw reaches up, touching the small black earbud in her left ear to bring it to life. She adjusts the small, bead-like subvocal microphone clinging to her neck, positioning it squarely on top of her throat. The atmosphere inside the van is tense and quiet, the runners lost in their various methods of coping with the calm before a fight. Crusher’s voice cuts through the radio static as he yells out defiantly across the bridge at the approaching darkness. “Alright motherfucker, show us what you’ve got!” Ling Fei feels her anxiety tempered to some degree by the mercenary’s boisterousness, a glimmer of courage showing beneath the fear.
The four vehicles proceed cautiously over the drawbridge, filling the gap in traffic created by the gun drone, which holds position until Boxcar has made its turn, then falls in line behind and starts to move back up the line, gently ‘skating’ forward on its huge, wheeled legs until it draws level with the sports car in lead.
The Condor slides to the right and lowers itself down below the bridge level. There aren’t any boats on the water right now, and all the drawbridges Ling Fei can see from here are lowered. No boats approach from the harbor, either. Drifting under the bridge, the drone’s cameras rotate around to get a glimpse of the underside, peering through it’s own transparent balloon; nothing unusual can be found here either.
Committed to their course, the convoy begins crossing the bridge. Such is the length of the bridge that Boxcar Rebellion enters as the lead car is just reaching the tunnel mouth. Strung out in this way, the teams of runners make their way under the threshold of darkness. The magician in the back of the truck stirs for the first time, snapping out of his astral trance and looking around nervously. He and his decker friend draw light pistols and overwatch the limousine behind them intently; Hulder squats down behind the sights of the machinegun, zeroing them on the hood of the dwarves’ black sports car. The dwarves’ drone ahead of them swivels its pincer-arms up to firing positions.
As the shadow from the overpass slowly creeps down the length of Ling Fei’s Roadmaster, the team’s eyes adjust to the darkness, and they take stock of their new situation. A road crosses here, immediately perpendicular to them, running parallel to the riverway. The darkness under the overpass is illuminated by orange roadlights mounted at even intervals on the walls, lending the tunnel a nocturnal feeling, even in the morning sun. The length of tunnel they must travel is actually quite long; light can be seen on the other end, about a quarter mile away. The projected route has the convoy travelling the entire length of this tunnel, then turning right where the next perpendicular street crosses Columbus, and up a ramp to emerge onto E. Randolph, which passes by Aon Center.
Traffic in the tunnel is sparse. There are no cars on the road running opposite them, separated by a small median, and the traffic that is travelling with them does not pull up alongside. The civilians keep their distance; the left-hand lane of the road is left open. Radio chatter on the comms says all clear, although Ling Fei feels that the dwarves are moving forward too quickly to be gathering accurate intel.
As Boxcar Rebellion moves into the mouth of the tunnel system and clears the perpendicular crossroads, the runners hear a loud screech and a metal groan behind them. Panning the gun camera of her Guardian, Ling Fei can see that the drawbridge is starting to raise itself, slowly but surely separating in the middle along a jagged groove rimmed with steel rivets. Traffic on the other end screeches to a halt at the bridge periphery.
Thinking quickly, a chill overcomes the rigger; she checks the Condor, still hovering near the dropoff to the waterway. The drone’s eyes rotate in their steel sockets. There are no boats in either direction.
Ling Fei directs the lighter-than-air drone straight upward, ducking around the rising bridge and coming level with the bridge’s control tower, seeing if there is anything out of the ordinary inside the small structure. She pipes her radio into a private channel with her teammates’ headsets. “Crusher, the bridge is rising!”
The ork is leaning out of the door, watching the scene behind them. He holds the earbud down with his left ear, his voice crackling back over the comm. “Yeah, I drekkin’ see it!”
He swivels back into his chair, activating his thermographic vision to get a better contrast in the dark spaces of the tunnel system. “Let’s go thermal, ladies.”
Moonclaw closes her eyes, breathing in deeply and letting her eyes open again onto the astral plane. She takes a look around, then sends her senses outward, testing the familiar city domain for out of place traces or unusual background counts.
ling Fei sends out a quick series of commands, the imaging of Boxcar and the two combat drones tinging with the blood red of the thermal spectrum. Her simulated voice is anxious and quiet. “No boats on the river, and all the other bridges are down. Think somethings up, cap.”
The mercenary taps the earpiece twice, switching back to the convoy frequency. His voice cuts through the static. “Be advised, the drawbridge is closing, and none of the other ones are moving. No boats either. Could be a trap, suggest possible route change.” The old ork switches back to the private channel, gripping his rifle as he watches the terrain crawl past. “Good lookin’ out Ling. Let’s stay sharp.”
The mage and decker in the back of the military truck crane their necks to see the bridge as Crusher reports it over the radio. Hulder glances back over his shoulder, checking the situation briefly before turning back to his gunsights and grunting into his mic, “Jets, Molly, our retreat is blocked. Be sure to keep lines of egress open to the front. Options, people.”
Moonclaw mentally withdraws, assensing the background count of the busy city. It does not take long to become accustomed to the noise that cities tend to generate in the count, but being able to pick out a single eddy in the stream of emotional information takes a honed mind. It also tends to come more easily to an Awakened in her home city, the place where she spent her childhood. Luckily, Moonclaw is both of these things, and her spirit revels in Chicago’s essence like it were newborn. She dips a mental finger into the waters of the area’s emotional memories, and assenses many things: the fallout of a lover’s quarrel, long nights at bars, the shades of unlawful arrests and riots, even whispers of the Fire, yet 200 years past. As usual, the crueler memories leave a stronger impression.
She blocks out the individual feelings, and focuses on the feel of the place, trying to get a sense in her mind of the weight of it, that she might balance it and find its imperfections, its inconsistencies. Yet try as she does, she can find none. The city feels completely normal, devoid of the killing aura of the presence of a trained assassin. One knowledgeable in the arts of the Awakened would know how to mask such things, though, and it would take a longer time for their hatred to resonate on the astral. [Moonclaw assenses a background count of 1]
Ling Fei’s lighter-than-air drone drifts up to street-level and casts about for a control booth for the bridge. Modern bridges, however, are not controlled by a manual process, but are remotely accessed from the city’s municipal headquarters over the Matrix. A comm message snaps Ling Fei’s attention back to the here and now. On the other end are the dwarves’ husky voices: “Point car here. We’re getting some strange activity above, some of our drones are shorting out… No gunfire, but they’re going down from something. We’ll try and pinpoint the problem, but for now we got no eyes overhead.”
Hulder responds, “Boys and girls, this thing stinks to hell. Let’s pick it up! It’s too dangerous under here without aerial surveillance.” The engines in the cars rev, and the convoy picks up speed, covering the quarter mile under the tunnel in less than a minute, uneventful. The crossed I-beams above their heads whizz past in uniform rank and file, and then they are at the far end of the tunnel.
Another street crosses Columbus perpendicularly here, pair of one-way lanes divided by a short concrete curb. This street continues in darkness to their left, and slopes upward to become E. Randolph to their right. Just ahead is where Columbus Drive exits back into the outside air, a brilliant patch of sunlight, washing out the darkness around it.
The sports car rounds the corner to the right, heading up the exit ramp and disappearing from the runners’ sight for a moment. The robotic drone stays behind in the intersection, impeding traffic and keeping its guns trained on the nearby tunnel mouth and aimed down the underground street. The military truck follows the car, wide tires barely staying within the thin traffic lanes.
The limousine is next, mounting the angle of the ramp up to E. Randolph gently. Time stretches in the tense radio silence, and the convoy emerges into the morning sunlight slowly, the shadow’s grasping edge dismounting each vehicle in turn. It crawls over Hulder’s metal-spiked shoulderpads, down his gear and kit and then to his companions, decker and magician crouched behind the metal lip of the truck.
It sweeps over the wide hood of the black limo, down the contoured roof and expensive metal exterior.
Boxcar Rebellion’s tires grip the ramp, and the vehicle starts pulling herself towards the sun’s waiting embrace.
Ling Fei and Moonclaw adjust themselves in the front seats, and each man and woman in the vehicle knows the sudden taste of danger in the air.
A dark shape drops from the bridge overhead, falling in amongst the runners packed into the back of the military truck. There is no sound or weight to the quick movement, having only the noteworthiness of a black garment casually tossed aside. The shape lands, catlike, and there is not so much as a stir in the suspension of the vehicle, or a shift or bump to alert anyone to the additional passenger.
At first, Ling and Moonclaw crane their heads forward, unsure of what they are seeing. The trio in the back of the truck at first do not notice the shape amongst them, small and discreet as it is. Hackworth turns slowly, panning his gun across the rim of the surrounding streets. He notices the new presence in his peripheral vision, and starts, sweeping the barrel of his pistol around at the thing.
Suddenly, an arm rockets out of the shape and snaps around to grip a handle protruding from the armored vest enclosing the body. The man draws himself to a half-crouch in the blink of an eye, squares his shoulders with Hackworth’s, and rips the handle out of its armored sheath.
A straight sword, pure silver and razor-edged, sings through the morning air and into John Percival Hackworth’s jaw. The force of the blow is gargantuan; the metal cleanly separates the Professor’s head from the rest of him, leaving the neck as an open wound. The body reels and crashes into the bench running along the edge of the truck, making a noise. Both the magician and Hulder flinch, their heads starting to sweep around to the center of the truck bed.
The sword describes a complete circle in the black-clad man’s hand, passing through the decker’s head, sweeping counterclockwise and around, missing the magician by inches. The blade keeps travelling, passing over the assassin’s head, conserving inertia elegantly before blasting like a rocket ship through the mage’s torso, splitting him from collarbone to crotch. The deaths of these men do not take but a second.
Hulder, big though he is, turns around and reacts with his own impressive speed, not distracted by the deaths of his companions, but solely focused on the business of killing the man in front of him. His metal hands fly down to his waist, the right drawing a heavy revolver from a thigh holster, the left unsheathing a K-BAR monoedged combat knife.
The two combatants regard each other in that first still moment in their reflex-wired worlds. Hulder’s mouth opens to bellow, “CONTACT!”, and then the assassin is on him, leaping across the space with his unnatural speed. The sword flies in a sweeping arc to Hulder’s left side. The knife comes up to block, and Hulder leans the weight of his cyberarm into it, taking the sword blow full on. The sword, sharp though it is and strong be its owner, rings against harmlessly on this metal barricade, and the assassin is caught in a rare moment of stillness.
From their vantage point, the runners can see a man dressed in a black ki, reminiscent of old nin-ja movies on the ‘trid, feet bound in heavy leather-strapped shoes and chest protected by a black armored vest. The back of the vest is featureless save an opening at the top for the man’s sword. The head and face are concealed behind a balaclava, leaving only the eyes exposed.
Ling Fei can hear the comms coming alive now, all of the other runners yelling at each other to do something. The elf steels herself, and prepares for combat.
[It is Ling Fei’s combat turn]
Ling Fei feels the pace of the world slowing as her adrenaline kicks in, the sensation amplified by the enhanced neural connections of her rigging implants. Afraid of hitting Hulder, Ling Fei opts to prepare for the assassin’s assault should he prove too much for the troll. She highlights the dark form and sends out a mental command, “Boxcar, Sparrow one, Scarab one, lock on to this target!”
[Each drone first makes a comprehension test to understand the command with their pilot rating, plus up to two dice from Ling Fei’s computer programming:2 skill. They then make a sensor test using their sensor ratings against the signature of the target (signature 6 for human sized biological targets). Modifiers for the sensor test are on page 136 SR3. Boxcar has pilot 1 (2 for comp skill) and sensor 4. Scarab 1 (the roto-drone) has pilot 1 (+1) and sensor 1.]
Ling Fei’s orders reverberate into the radio waves and her drones receive the message, calculating its meaning with advanced algorithms and heuristics modeled on human brain behavior. They acknowledge that her orders are clear and set about executing them: Sparrow-1 and Scarab-1 drift upwards over Boxcar Rebellion to gain a clear line of sight; the van itself swivels its turret around, and the periscope-like manual controls in the cab maneuver likewise, with a life of their own. The twisted forms of the assassin and troll locked in close combat are too much for the sensor systems of the machines to disentangle, though, and all three drone systems err on the side of safety. They send a message to Ling Fei one at a time, ‘Unable to complete target lock’, as the efforts of each are frustrated by the fast movements of the enemy.
The side doors of the limousine open, and two red and black Spider samurai exit, the woman and one of the brothers. Barely have their feet touched pavement and the twin swords are drawn, shining katanas singing through the air, drawn from their scabbards by strong metal hands. The male turns, “Blitz! Stay in the car and guard the meat! We’ll take this!”
Without hesitation, both orks charge furiously towards the back of the truck and let loose a battlecry, the first real noise of this encounter. Bystanders on the streets above hear this, stop, and look down; seeing the bodies and blood in the back of the truck, some gesture and scream, others simply flee. In this instant, the orks leap forth, the momentum of their charge and the strength of their legs carrying them ten feet into the air, over the lip of the still-moving flatbed and into combat. Charlie lands on the right-hand bench, her brother Bakcha on the floor. The truck’s chassis bends toward the ground with the added weight of the massive metal figures.
The assassin is caught with his back to them, engaged with Hulder’s knife and gun style; the troll has kept up with the bladework of the man in black admirably, but the combat is not going his way, and he knows it. Even in these close quarters, where a knife should have the advantage, the unknown assailant’s defense with the sword is nearly flawless, the blade working around his body in tight circles, parrying and riposting. He grimaces with effort, and presses his attack closer, trying to give the street samurai an opening to exploit.
Charlie and Bakcha synchronize their assault perfectly, each equally aware of the others’ movements. Charlie raises her curved band of silver skyward and cuts straight down, the classic kirioroshi killing blow, squatting towards the ground to gain power. Perfect form. Bakcha’s sword is cocked at the right shoulder, ready to cleave its enemy in twain; the big ork unwinds his torso like a pitcher and puts his entire mass behind the blow.
Suddenly, and seemingly without looking, the assassin ducks low and to his left, dodging Charlie’s downward cut completely. The straightsword in his right hand flies over his left shoulder and crosses his back diagonally, creating a ribbon of slippery metal which deflects Bakcha’s strike.
Continuing the downward movement, the assassin gathers inertia in an impossible fashion, spinning counterclockwise to shrug off the katana, which passes over his ducked head. As he spins around to face the ork, still in a low crouch, he lashes out with his right leg, sweeping him off of his feet, heavy metal soles slippery on the blood-slicked slats.
The samurai loses his balance, surprised at the strength of the blow, and goes down, meeting the ground heavily. The assassin, now completing his full turn to face Hulder once again, plants his hands on the ground and delivers a devastating mule-kick, his left heel smashing into Bakcha’s face. The samurai’s nose explodes in blood, and he is thrust into the back of the truck, colliding with the eviscerated bodies of the decker and magician.
Panic strikes the rigger in the front of the truck; her companions are fighting for their lives, and she can’t do anything to aid their escape. She is not yet aware of the deaths of Hackworth and the magician, and decides to put as much distance between the corp Minister and her as possible. The great diesel engine of the truck flexes it’s muscle, and Jets downshifts the transmission, gunning the truck around the dwarves’ car, passing on the left, picking up speed as she mounts the end of the ramp, entering E. Randolph at a speed of about 33 mph [47 m/CT].
The convoy continues to move, although the limousine has stopped. Still in the rear, Boxcar Rebellion passes the limo, following the truck and sports car, with the dwarves’ drone close beside. There is a limited line of sight due to the edge of the ramp, but the figures in the back of the truck can just be seen as Jets pulls forward and drifts left in front of them.
[It is Crusher’s combat turn.]
Crusher loops the strap of his Combat Gun over his head and slides the assault rifle across the floor of the van, watching it come to rest safely in the space between the front seats. He tosses his hat aside as well, leaning his bare head out of the side of the van to keep his eyes on the retreating military truck.
He presses a meat finger to his earbud and a moment later his voice crackles over the public channel. “Ling, get us along side them!” He coolly draws his Browning Max-Power from its chest holster as he speaks, glancing over the sidearm for a moment, lost in its details.
The pistol is old yet reliable, purchased on the streets at the beginning of his life in the shadows some 25 years ago. The heavy pistol looks big even in his oversized hands, the body of the weapon almost brick-like in dimension. The lower half of the casing is rounded, housing the smartlink systems, terminating in a small lens which sits below the slide pin and over-sized barrel on the business end of the weapon. The sides of the gun are completely smooth, a heavily scuffed gunmetal black, with only a thin line in the middle to demarcate body from slide. The top of the gun is completely smooth, meeting the vertical sides at 90 degree angles, the unnecessary hardsights long since removed to give the weapon that custom edge. The trigger and guard are recessed into the body of the gun, the dark red mahogany grip curiously unblemished by the oils of the owner’s hand.
The small node protruding from the pistol’s grip finds the recess in Crusher’s cybernetic palm, and he bares his tusks in anticipation of the fight to come, the ork in him hungry to spill the assassin’s blood. 10 red bullet icons appear in the corner of his vision and the slide automatically racks back, chambering the first of the EX-explosive rounds. “If we can’t get a clear shot on him, we’ll have to overwhelm him in close quarters!”
Boxcar Rebellion and the dwarves’ sports car surge forward, mounting the ramp ahead of the limo and spurring their engines on in pursuit of the truck. From his vantage point on the left side door, Crusher sees the hornet-like gun drone peel off from the main chase, making a wide left U-turn, pivoting on its inline wheels and heading back in the direction of the limo. Looking back, he can see the lone Spider remaining in the limo step out and draw his SMG, looking towards his companions with a mixture of anxiety and jealousy.
The runners are level with the truck now, though still behind it, and Aleister works his way forward from his right-hand vantage point, picking his way past Grendel’s massive boots and over Crusher’s combat gun to reach the driver’s compartment. Squatting in the space between the two front seats, he peers through the windshield at the retreating truck, focusing intently.
The runners hear the faint sound of gunfire from up ahead; the black-clad woman is leaning out the passenger’s side door, one arm on the roll rails, and firing a Ceska automatic pistol into the melee, her aim swerving back and forth with the vehicle’s twisting motion. She fires haphazardly into the combat, surely hitting enemy and friends alike with the volume of her fire, but she appears not to care, simply keeping the trigger depressed, her face placid. The entire scene is too far away for the team to make out any clear details.
From his vantage point between them, Aleister suddenly releases an intense sigh, and Moonclaw realizes that he was trying to cast a spell against the man in black. He looks at her worriedly. “Shaman, I tried to overwhelm his willpower, to control his thoughts, but I was repulsed. It felt like something was pushing back, like I was being barred or dispelled—I can’t place my finger on it, but to my knowledge, adepts have never had the capacity of active spell defense. There is something strange about this one.”
[It is Moonclaw’s combat turn.]
Moonclaw grips the armrest of her seat, mind racing to comprehend the situation. “Active spell defense? But that technology…” She feels a torrent of emotion begin to overtake her—anger at being manipulated, envy of the adept’s powers, his secrets… curiosity toward his true capabilities. She needed his sword, the chip in his brain, but she couldn’t take him alone. There had to be another way, alternative paths. With a breath she clears the emotional turmoil welling up within her, focusing upon the task at hand.
She addresses Aleister as she turns in her seat. “Even if we can’t cast on him directly, we may still be able to use magic against him.” She calls out to her teammate in the back, yelling to be heard above the rushing wind. “Crusher! I’m going to cast an invisibility spell on you—try to take him by surprise!”
The old ork looks taken aback for a moment, but his expression quickly becomes serious again. “Okay, do it!” The shaman takes her right hand from the grip of her SMG and raises it in front of her face, pointer and index finger directed upward, her other fingers forming a closed ring. She inhales deeply, gathering the raw mana within her, then exhaling it out through the circle described by her hand, letting the concealing magic coalesce about the mercenary’s body.
[Moonclaw is casting improved invisibility on Crusher at force 4. Rolling 6 sorcery, 2 totem dice, 1 spell pool to cast against TN 4. Anyone attempting to resist the spell rolls INT dice against TN 4 (the force), needing to exceed Moonclaw’s successes in order to see through the illusion. Moonclaw resists 5M drain with 6 willpower and 4 spell pool dice. Note that it is improved invisibility, meanings it physically modifies the visual spectrum around Crusher, able to affect sensors, cameras, cybereyes, etc as well as normal vision. Attempting to attack an invisible target incurs the +8 blind fire modifier.]
Moonclaw feels the magic literally flowing from her mind, through her outstretched hand and around her companion, cloaking him in the powerful illusion spell. The ork and all of his equipment turn a shade of dim-white, then translucent, then fades from view completely.
The combatants in the truck fight on, the floor pitching and rolling beneath them as the truck swerves between lanes. Flechettes from Molly’s Ceska Black Scorpion litter the ground and protrude in places from the assassin’s body armor and Hulder’s back. The troll shrugs them off; it’s not the first time the maniacal woman has shot him with the things, and he doesn’t take it personally any more.
Hulder cuts downward with the knife in his left hand, spreading his stance to get a wider base under his center of gravity. The blow is dodged neatly by the slim black form, which lashes back with its sword, a lethal blow aimed for his vulnerable, uncybered neck. He just manages to bat the blade away with the barrel of his revolver, and takes a big step forward on the left, getting his back away from the truck’s cabin and trying to crowd the man out with his mass.
The maneuver works, and the assassin takes a hop back, sword leveled. Hulder takes advantage of the distance and swipes at him with his pistol and cyberarm, trying to bludgeon the man into the ground.
The hop backwards was just a ploy, and now that the troll overextends his reach, the swordsman somersaults forward, away from the heavy cyberarm, which crashes into the bed behind him. Coming up close to his opponent’s chest, the assassin snap-kicks the inside of Hulder’s left knee, dropping the troll to a kneeling position. In the same movement, the straight sword slashes across the broad torso, hard, leaving behind a ribbon of blood as it cuts through the merc’s armor.
Hulder grimaces, but stays upright. The assassin, however, takes this moment to slip backwards, silently jumping up and back, vaulting over Bakcha and Charlie, and landing on the street, rolling as the inertia from the truck’s movement carries him forward. He stands and starts sprinting in the opposite direction, back towards the sports car and Boxcar Rebellion.
Ling Fei is suddenly confronted by the man running directly at her; he moves incredibly fast, each bound taking him an extra meter further than it should, his strides impossibly long but very quick. Already, he is drawing level with the dwarves’ car, and continues his headlong run past it, making a beeline straight towards them.
His hands describe a quick circle near his chest, and a small object flies up and directly towards her. Boxcar’s proximity warning goes off, it bounces off the windshield, landing on the ground and rolls beneath… it is a grenade.
A moment of panic grips the elf, and then the thing is under her chassis. As it comes up in her rearview, she sees a cloud of smoke gushing from the ground, gradually but surely filling the street, reducing vision and making it impossible to see.
[It is Ling Fei’s combat turn.]
Ling Fei throws herself into Boxcar’s interface, switching from her remote deck to the vehicle control rig. The ASIST input mingles with her bodily senses, her legs tensing, back arched, hands tightly gripping the large wheel. For a moment, her body feels as if it is being plunged into ice water, and then the raw input from the sensor nodes studding the length of the Roadmaster’s armored form fill her 5 senses.
She throws her weight backward, slowing the vehicle, then slams the thick sliding doors closed with a mental impulse. Her eyes twitch as she toggles the van’s thermographic and proximity sensors on, doing her best to locate the assassin lurking in the dense smoke cover.
[Ling Fei allocates all 9 control pool die to her dodge pool.]
The brakes slam on, but the tires skid on the pavement, stuttering forward as the mass of loaded vehicle pushes them to their limit. The drones following float out and past, but stay within a protective radius, the smoke billowing up around them, stirred by their jets and rotary wing engines. [speed decreases to 20 m/Ct]
Ling Fei’s focus is now completely on the input from the van’s sensors; she checks the various readouts: nothing abnormal, so she switches viewing modes, lighting up the thermographic optics and close-motion sensors. Her eyes are instantly awash in a gray-red haze, billowing up around her vehicle, obscuring her sight. The environmental analysis comes back with the cause: it is infrared smoke; themoptics will do no good. Her proximity lasers and short-wave radar are unimpeded, though, and they generate a positive target lock on the man, showing him as a red blip on her radar’s vertical cross-section. He is 20 meters away from the dwarves’ car now, still running toward her, gaining speed frighteningly quickly. [1 success on passive sensors test.]
The elf’s mental commands fly around the vehicle’s internal circuits, putting up safeguards, venting the smoke as it comes in the passenger compartments, closing and sealing the drone hatches. She reaches back with her virtual hands to the door controls, pulling them forward, but finds that the right side is blocked open by something. With an effort of will, she turns her meat head around to see, and focuses with her real eyes instead of the van’s cameras.
Nobody else in the van had noticed it, but ever since the samurai’s initial warcry, an uneasy nervousness had taken over the massive body of Grendel the troll. Packed in as he was, crouched on the too-small bench seat, back pressed up against the drone cages, his simple eyes rolled in their sockets wildly, body trying to sit still, but also experiencing a creeping sense of claustrophobia. He had contented himself with watching the scenery out of the slotted windows, but now the hot IR smoke blocked his view, and made the air smell of phosphor, burning his nostrils…
His humongous metal arm grips the edge of the open door, preventing the squealing servos in the slide rails from performing their duty. He lurches himself off of the bench, bent over double, and stumbles out into the smoke, coughing and hitting the ground at a jog to keep up with the moving ground beneath him. The heavy anvil-head of his polearm trails behind him, dragged lazily out of the vehicle and swinging up to combat readiness. Boxcar’s door closes behind him, he flaps a giant hand in the air to clear the still-collecting smoke, and takes a look around.
The scene is quite chaotic. The entire convoy is in the process of slowing their pursuit, adjusting their angles of attack to counter the running assassin. A trail of blood leads down E. Randolph, leaking from the twin piles of gore in the back of Jets’ truck. The smoke now completely obscures Boxcar Rebellion, even from the troll’s close vantage point. The grenade continues to spew forth the IR fog a little ways behind the vehicle.
The comically small head on top of the mountainous body directs its attention to the approaching attacker, and roars its own battlecry, a booming, vibrant ululation, metallic in sound. He runs, breakneck, straight for the man, gripping his ‘Rokkit Hammar’ tightly in both hands.
The two orks watch the assassin fly past their heads, land on the pavement and run. Charlie is in the air a split second after him, landing and rolling in the same fashion, careful not to impale herself on her own sword. After coming to a halt, she sprints after him on her own cyberlegs, drawing the submachine gun in her off hand as she does so, grimacing with the effort of keeping up with man. It is no use, though: he moves as if on wings, and her legs cannot keep up as he draws away from her slowly but surely.
Jets slams on the brakes in a dangerously sudden emergency stop, lurching her passengers forwards. Bakcha curses, grimacing through his broken nose, still pouring crimson, and stumbles to his feet. He draws his own SMG and leaps off the truck bed, landing in a run to keep up with his blood-sister.
Jets gets out of the cab, scrambling up and over the rails on the side of the truck to the flatbed. She stares, wide-eyed, at the bodies of Hackworth and the magician, and then turns to Hulder, tears welling in her blue eyes as she examines the troll’s blade wound, a deep slash across his abdomen. The worry in her face touches the troll, but he shrugs off her caring touch, signalling that he is fine. He spins a finger in the air, telling her that they have to get turned around, bring the .50 cal to bear and save their remaining teammates. The petite elven rigger shakes her straight blond hair, forcing her mind to the business at hand, and nods. She begins to climb back over the railing as Molly climbs back into the passenger’s seat, shutting the door she had been leaning out of. The truck’s engine revs powerfully as the wheels turn and Jets begins to turn it around.
Back in Boxcar Rebellion, Crusher’s invisible hands grip his pistol reflexively, and the old ork’s combat blood begins to boil in his veins, pounding in his ears, sharpening his senses and slowing the world.
[It is Crusher’s combat turn.]
Crusher hesitates for a moment, his enhanced reflexes giving him time to take in the rapidly shifting battlefield, working out a hasty risk assessment to the slow beat of his own heart. The opportunity is shoddy at best, he knows this, but it may be the last one he gets before the enemy reaches his intended target.
The ork hauls himself to his feet, crossing the van’s compartment and throwing the door open in one ducking motion, following in the wake of the massive troll. His boots thunder heavily on the pavement, his steps hesitating at first as he adjusts to the sudden change of inertia. His balance regained, the mercenary pounds forward, following closely behind the bellowing giant as he charges into the closing smoke. Crusher knows he will only get one shot at the distracted swordsman before he is on to him, the activity in his mind quieting with a fighter’s concentration as hand blades deploy invisibly beneath clenched fists.
Up the street, the black sports car squeals into a wide U-turn, a small cloud of drones racing to keep pace with the high-speed maneuver. The engine revs, and the car accelerates out of the turn, conserving speed while running back towards the limousine in the opposite lane of traffic.
In the silence following, all eyes are trained on the assassin as he runs towards the billowing, growing cloud of hot smoke. The large gun drone retracts its wheels and squats down to shift its center of gravity, and the barrels of the minigun on its left arm whine, spinning to life. Molly Millions leans out the truck’s passenger side window, racking the slide of her machine pistol as she slaps in an extended clip of 9mm armor-piercing rounds. Blitz opens the door to the limo, using it as cover, and aims his SMG at the oncoming cloud. His vision of the combat is already completely obscured, as the smokescreen grows to the width of the street, rising above to street level and expanding from there.
Crusher stays close behind Grendel, the troll giant stomping his way through the smoke, stirring it about, staying just at the head of the cloud, the assassin closing fast.
He gets a good look at his enemy for the first time: a skinny, lithe form is concealed behind the black gi and body armor. The body is elvish in feature, but impossible to tell for sure with the head covered. Eyes of shining blue stare out, unblinking, from the balaclava’s opening. They are calm, taking in the combat one situation at a time, full of confidence. The man’s arms are wrapped in black, but the left one is bulkier somehow, ridged and knobbly in a way that the right is not. On the front of his armored vest, tucked in beneath cargo pouches and buckles, are four small throwing knives, tightly secured in holsters. What is contained in the rest of the pockets is unknown, although none is larger than a fist. Other than the contents of the vest and his sword, the man carries no other equipment; his pants, a blur of motion, are plain black cloth, and tucked into short boots of scuffed, black leather, with rubber soles for stealth.
The time for action is here, and Crusher grits his teeth as he and Grendel enter the space of engagement.
Seeing the assassin start to jink left, he slips out to the right, not disturbing the smoke, lest it give him away. His left hand grips the pistol and his brain ‘thumbs’ the smart safety idly, a combat tic he picked up in the service.
With a mighty roar, Grendel brings his mighty hammer up and around in both hands, counterclockwise over his head, sweeping it from 2 to 8 o’clock in a slight downward blow. He lets the haft slide out to full extension in his left hand as the right releases, and Crusher ducks as the axehead blasts over him like a meteor.
The small man keeps running, quick-stepping to their left to get away from the blow… The strike is on target; Crusher holds his breath for the impact.
The weapon hits nothing but air, skips on the pavement, striking sparks off a manhole cover. Surprised, Crusher looks again— hadn’t the man gone left? He was sure he did— but the assassin is now on their right, legs pumping one way but body sliding another, his great speed confuses their eyes, casting shadows of actions.
Grendel continues the sweeping motion—the hammer loads for a downward strike, and the left arm brings it up, over, and down.
The assassin continues to slip right, picking up speed, his feet sliding over the pavement, dodging the second blow; the weapon, anvil-like, lands like a bomb, cracking the pavement underneath it. The swordsman dives inward towards them and rolls, moving unnaturally, with too much momentum, like a figure skater on ice.
Seizing his moment, the old iron-clad ork rushes forward invisibly. He takes two quiet steps, and his cyberarm reaches out with its mechanical swiftness… grasping for his unsuspecting victim. The wires make the seconds crawl.
The eyes track him, predict the dark warrior’s tumble brings him across and close, rolling, low..
Suddenly, the black armor is up, fast, and violent, airborne already, skimming over the ground; impossibly quick. Unbelievable, were not Crusher’s unblinking eyes watching every move.
The enemy is already within his armspan, the merc’s blood pounds with adrenaline, and his instincts, his nerves scream at his mechanical arm to move, to roar forward and crush this small man against the wall of his orkish chest.
Crusher’s eyes widen—the assassin’s movements retain their confounding nature up close. The sword arm is a blur at this range, and the man’s flesh-and-blood limbs react and fly with an energy not their own.
Crusher’s left hand brings the barrel of the gun up and right, firing too soon and blowing an apple-sized chunk out of the street. His right forearm moves slowly at this granularity of reality, just brushing the man’s stomach away, as the sword thrusts forward.
The swordsman’s center of gravity is pushed off ever so slightly, and the sword flicks back and forth ever so slightly, before biting through kevlar, t-shirt, skin, and dermal plate.
Crusher’s insides scream a symphony of pain, and he tastes copper. The sword hand flicks sideways
- agony- and tears a lateral hole through Crusher’s torso, a trough of carnage 4 inches deep.
The blow and Crusher’s own momentum twist him around; a knee hits the pavement. He coughs— blood spatters, and he feels it start to pour from his side, leeching into his clothing and armor. The ork’s vision starts to moire, but he keeps a clear head and grunts it back. He’s been wounded worse than this before —not much worse, but once or twice all the same.
The assassin continues his flight, reaching the smoke cover as Grendel is just turning his head to follow.
Ling Fei brings Boxcar Rebellion to a full stop, half concealed by the smoke, but unable to see beyond it. She can’t see Crusher’s fight with the warrior, but she heard it on the comm, and is now worried. Her brainstem twitches, and Boxcar’s CPU silently reports that all contact with the subject has been lost—visual, radar, laser. It’s as if he stepped into the smoke and vanished.
She looks out her window. All is quiet out on the street. Even the civilians are gone.
The air burns with phosphor.
[It is Ling-Fei’s combat turn]
Ling Fei cries out, Boxcar’s speakers echoing her meat voice, which is tinged with panic and fear. “Crusher!” She wheels to the right, her voice still reverberating through the van’s sound system. “Moonclaw, help him!”
The cat shaman meets her eye, snarling an aggravated retort. “The ork will live, but the assassin—”
Before Moonclaw can finish, the tendons in Ling Fei’s slender neck tighten, her body arching uncontrollably, and then she slumps lifelessly back into her seat, Sparrow-1’s ASIST data filling her five senses. Her voice emanates ghost-like over Boxcar’s systems. “Yea, I’m going after ’im!”
Throwing off the momentary jack-in shock, she brings the Guardian’s nose about, estimating 180 degrees on the drone’s virtual compass before opening the UAV’s throttle, accelerating out of the dense IR smoke in pursuit of the assailant.
Sparrow-1’s controls feel ‘light’ in her hands, the powerful vectored thrust engines whine and tilt the nose forward, plunging the drone deep into the smoke cover. Visual and thermal sensors are useless in this kind of environment, so Ling Fei relies on her lasers and millimeter-wave radar to guide her through.
She sees the massive signatures of Grendel and Crusher, lost in the fog. Her proximity warning touches off as Charlie and Bakcha, still bleeding, charge into the smoke as well, weapons at the ready as they cast about for their lost target.
She picks her way around her allies, constantly sweeping her sensors in all directions, with no luck. She comes out on the other side of the smoke cloud into bright light, in full view of the dwarves’ drone, the limousine, and Blitz, but with no sign of the assassin anywhere. She doubles back quickly, checking the immediate area where the man disappeared, but her sensors register… nothing. Simply, nothing. She re-emerges on the limousine side of the cloud.
Then, a thin, silver object shoots out of the smoke and towards the limo. Her sensors aren’t fast enough to pick it up in flight, but it arcs upwards slightly as it sings through the air, flying toward Blitz.
The Spider ganger’s voice is suddenly squawking over the comms, “OW! Sunnavabitch threw a fraggin’ knife at me!” The weapon protrudes from his left shoulder, just above his collarbone, near the unarmored portion of his neck. He reaches up and grips it, pain shooting through his features. The blood is flowing freely; must have hit a large vein. He thinks better of ripping it out, and instead snarls the pain down, fingers flexing on the grip of his submachinegun.
The dwarves’ combat drone flinches, trying to get a target lock through the smoke, its sensor package swerving to and fro on its servo motors. It stays stock still otherwise, a metal statue with a spinning arm, ready to serve death. The dwarf riggers get on the comms, “Contact lost, clear the area! We need to deal with the threat before it closes range with the limo—use explosives to flush him out when all’s clear!”
[It is Ling Fei’s combat turn. All dice pools refreshed.]
Ling Fei lets the drone drift idly on the periphery of the smoke cloud, mulling over the dwarf’s plan. It seems dangerous, yet regardless more effective than waiting around for the enemy to make his move. She is baffled by the assassin’s ability to evade her advanced sensors, even with the IR smoke, and begins to suspect something beyond the mundane is at work on the battlefield.
She pushes these lingering thoughts from her mind, concern for Crusher’s safety ever-present in the back of her mind. She leaves the UAV on standby in the air, jumping directly back into Boxcar’s interface, letting the van’s familiar artificial sensory input wash over her. She guns the engine, wheeling the transport over to the ork’s kneeling form. Her voice intones quietly from the interior of the vehicle as the door slides open. “Crusher, get yourself in here. It’s time to go.”
As she waits anxiously for the mercenary to get mobile, she turns her full attention to Boxcar’s advanced sensor suite, letting the readouts from the short-wave radar and laser detectors fill her eyes and ears, pouring over every detail, listening intently for the missing assailant.
The right armored door slides open and Boxcar relaxes its suspension on that side, to give Crusher easier access to the cabin. The smoke starts to seep into the compartment again, giving the air a warm, metal taste. Ling Fei doesn’t notice, absorbed as she is in the flood of data coming in through the van’s eyes and ears. She actively scans the cloud and street, back and forth, focusing on the ‘empty’ areas, manually filtering out noise from her teammates, vehicles, and the surrounding city.
Still, nothing. The sensors are completely dark, just as if the man had disappeared.
The windy city is starting to live up to its name, however; the smoke is whipped back and forth by the morning gusts, shivering down the street between the skyscrapers like a phantom. Although not yet fully depleted, the smoke screen should be thin enough to see through in a short time.
The radio crackles with the voices of the spider samurai in the smoke. Charlie and Bakcha rush about in the darkness, swinging their sword arms in wide arcs. A tense moment finds them both in the center of the thinning cloud. A Chicago gust clears a room in the smoke around them, gray walls stretching upwards, breaking through to daylight. Swords stilled, they taste the air, hungry for their prey.
The assassin swoops down on them, appearing suddenly within the walls of smoke above. A grazing flash kick from the swift legs is deflected by orkish armor, and then he is gone again, a harassing attack. The pair retreat back-to-back into the center of the widening clearing, swearing and whispering into their throat microphones news of the contact.
Blitz hears his comrades’ report and the dwarves’ orders over the comm, and tugs an HE grenade off his body armor with his free hand. He loops the pin around a tusk and pulls, cupping the spoon in his cyberhand and preparing to throw, waiting for the word.
Jets brings her truck around, passing the smoke cloud in the far lane of traffic and swerving to join the dwarves’ car. Hulder levels the heavy barrel of his MG on the space between the smokescreen and the limousine, in overwatch.
All wait for the smoke to clear and reveal their target.
[It is Crusher’s combat turn.]
With a groan, Crusher hauls himself to his feet, stumbling the few steps into the van before collapsing to his knee once more inside the vehicle. He slips his pistol into its chest holster, then hefts his assault rifle from the floor in front of him.
“Ugh. Fucking chest wounds ruin my day.” He grumbles to himself as he pulls the door halfway closed to take shelter behind it. He loosely shoulders the Ares Alpha and gazes out into the smoke on unmodified vision, the smartlink reticle a dull blue bobbing in a sea of gray.
Molly Millions grins. Her kind of people, these dwarves; getting right to the point. Tapping on the rear glass gets Hulder’s attention. She pantomimes pulling a pin with her teeth, then turns to the glove compartment.
Rummaging around through Jets’ stuff always makes Molly uneasy—the girl isn’t a slob, she just keeps personal items everywhere. The price of finding anything of use in the truck is taking a short trip through her recent life of barhopping and synthetic drug abuse.
She opens the compartment, brushes aside a pink steroid inhaler and comes up with two frag grenades. Handing the pineapple to Hulder through the window, Molly keeps the M-67 for herself. She admires the round metal frag shell, then leans her hand out the window and pulls the pin roughly.
Waiting. The best part of combat.
[It is Moonclaw’s combat turn]
Moonclaw scans the slowly dissipating smoke from her perch in the passenger’s seat, the reticle of her Smartgun a targetless gray in the restricted letterbox of her goggles. She considers, for the briefest moment, healing the mercenary’s grievous wound, making his body whole again. But his essence was already a tattered rag, his spirit clinging on by the barest of threads. Besides, there were things more important to her. The assassin. His secrets. His death.
The shaman purposefully draws a handful of powdered concrete from a belt pocket, then three small rods of rebar from another. Resting her SMG on her lap, she describes a circle on Boxcar’s dash with the dust, letting it pour slowly from her clenched fist. She arranges the bars in a rough triangle shape, holding them in place with both hands, then turns her perceptions inward and begins an incantation.
“Hear me now, Old Ones, denizens of trestle and gutter, echoes of Man—come now to my plane. There is a man to kill. I offer my body and soul as conduit for your crossing, his life force your reward.”
[Moonclaw is attempting to conjure a force 6 city spirit. 6 conjuring skill dice to summon against TN 6 (spirit’s force), with each success granting a service. 2 totem dice, 4 charisma dice to resist 6S stun drain.]
Moonclaw stretches out her mind, again entranced in the ritual bridging between planes. She calls out with a strong, willful voice, and her summon echoes across whole worlds, bouncing between stars and the dark parts of the universe, amongst no-things and every-things.
At first, silence; the spirits reflect upon her, judging her and weighing her import, or sampling her soul: she is never sure which. Then comes their response. The blistering feedback she is prepared for, and it scalds her gray lobes like steam.
She feels their attention flicker over her like a tongue, and then a great weight presses into her shoulders, feeling as the fingers of a strong grip. There it remains, and the air suddenly tastes of white and cold air and sharpness and fluid, all at once. She acknowledges the powerful spirit, or rather, the spirit’s presence, and it gazes fully upon her, burrowing deep into her mind. The mere act of the gaze causes her temples to pound, and her left nostril gives a slight pop. Blood runs down to her chin.
The strong old spirit continues to bore down on her, and she pushes back with her ego, forcing the spirit out in a contest of wills. She strains, and blood rushes to her burnished skin as her heart clenches systolically. Putting her arms ‘up’ against the spirit is like grinding them against razor gravel, and she instinctively grips them to her side, breath held, waiting for the immense magical power to subside and relieve her…
At last, the spirit decides her worthiness, and relents. Panting and bloody, Moonclaw looks up to gaze upon it, and sees…. nothing. No urban denizen of the astral plane has come to her aid, after all.
Frustrated, she turns her attention back to the combat, already tuning her senses back to the mundane and getting her combat wits back about her. The smoke is about to break, she notices, and soon it will only obscure the streets, but provide no hiding spots. The assassin is still nowhere to be seen; he must be hiding out in whatever scraps of shadow remain.
Wait—there is a shimmer of movement in her peripheral vision. Whipping her head around to the left, she gazes up through Boxcar’s windshield at the upper part of the bridge. Nothing. She swears she could have seen something there.
And then, it happens again, right in front of her eyes: the glass walls of the skyscraper above the bridge shift and bend themselves into a new configuration. It happens calmly and naturally, like the building were swaying around anyway and its parts, like clothes, merely billowed in the breeze.
She blinks, and the illusion disappears.
The crackle of the dwarves’ voice on the intercom snaps her attention away, “FIRE IN THE HOLE”. Even though Ling Fei was in a rigged-coma, Moonclaw knew that if it were a danger they’d be hauling ass outta there. The blond elf has confidence in Boxcar’s armor, and so should she.
She sees Aleister crouch down in the space between the cabin and driver’s compartment, examining Crusher’s wound. Motioning the ork to still himself, the mage focuses intently on Crusher’s battered body, and his Treat spell instills the pitiful, carved essence with power and life. The raw concentration that it takes put beads of perspiration on the magician’s neck, eyes closed behind his circular sunglasses as he focuses on the spell.
With a gasp of released air, Aleister’s shoulders slump and he leans back in the left bucket, drained. Crusher’s wound looks to be about the same severity as before, but much of the bleeding has subsided, and the torn flesh just under the armor seems to be scabbing over. [Crusher recovers 1 box of damage; 5 total]
Suddenly, Moonclaw remembers a story told to her once, an urban legend handed down amongst the child-servants of the secretive Chicago Garou sects. It tells of a powerful group of spirits called Glass Walkers, revered by the shamans of the cities for their power and wisdom. These spirits had become so ancient and infused with power from the buildings and constructions of man that they became one with them. Unable to exist outside of the material bounds of these buildings, the spirits manifest themselves astrally as changes in the buildings they inhabit, and visible as reflections in the glass windows.
A glance out her window confirms this: a shadowy shape seems to swim just beneath the surface of the glass windows opposite her. It beckons and sends her thoughts of agreement and accomplice.
[The spirit agrees to 1 service. Moonclaw suffers M drain]
Outside, Grendel thrashes at the smoke blindly, and his great pinwheeling arms stir about the air, scattering the IR particles in their twin wake. He releases a great bellow of frustration at the emptiness around him.
At that moment, the smoke clears into an opaque mist, and the last bush-sized cloud blows away, revealing the dark form underneath.
Grendel roars, and charges the assassin headlong, ignoring the radio’s order to deploy explosives. His great axe comes up and across at waist height as the troll swings it single-handedly, wildly transferring grips to keep up his momentum. Back and forth, he works the halberd-like weapon around his enormous body with the speed and precision of a professional.
The swordsman moves with the troll, dipping and dodging the swinging polearm as he closes the distance. He rolls under a rearward spin, getting within the swing of the axehead, and the great weapon describes fast vertical circles around Grendel’s massive body as the troll tries to bludgeon him with the steel haft.
The weapon swings in two tight upward circles, and then the assassin is on top of Grendel, literally, having grasped his arms and spun up them, climbing the mountainous body like a jungle gym. He directs the troll’s offense like a conductor standing atop a podium, turning the attacking energy aside with deft twirls.
He grips the sword close to his body and spins once more, and one of his legs finds an opening in the giant’s defense. He slams a heel into Grendel’s cheekbone, shattering the uncybered ocular orbit and underlying skull. The troll’s glassy eyes hardly flinch at the blow, to his credit, but it is too late. The vicious sword whips backwards and then stabs forth as the assassin spins down toward the ground. It finds its mark high up on the troll’s chest, puncturing through armor, skin and bone. The strong arms rip it downward as the fall continues, the full weight of the man pulling the blade down like a sailor on a sheet.
His sword pops out on a piece of the troll’s chest armor, and the man lands neatly. Grendel coughs blood and staggers back and over a bit, blood spilling from his chest. The assassin stays low, where the smoke is still thickest, and darts away, making a beeline in the direction of the limousine.
It is at this point that the shadowrunners throw their grenades, and, as Blitz’ arm moves up and out, the assassin’s eyes track him, and the swordsman’s left arm tenses. The pineapple sails through the air and he rises for a second, trusting the free weight of his powers to carry him up, up, to let him catch the grenade in mid-flight; landing without a tremor in the rhythm of the run.
He cups the grenade and throws it straight back, wishing he had the fine-tuning of his knives. His pitch is still good; flying straight and hard, the grenade smashes into Blitz’s armored chest and bounces off, landing on the ground at his feet.
Running another few strides through the fog, he notices the armored drone pivoting its torso, tracking him with its arms… The echo of the Ares Vigorous assault cannon going off is overtaken a moment later by the sound of the explosive shell impacting the ground in front of him. The assassin is sprayed with gravel and shrapnel, and he stays low, sweeping back and forth now but moving inexorably towards the limo.
The barrels of the minigun on the drone’s other arm have been warm and spinning for minutes, and the machine barks out the staccato percussion of a six-round burst. The hot, light rounds pockmark the street, drawing a line of fire across the enemy’s path of travel. The rounds miss their mark by a slim margin, the man dodging aside, and the gun blows several holes in the sloping pavement of the offramp.
The dark man runs on. He is out of the cover of the smoke now and concentrated on reaching his target.
Dwarven voices crackle over the intercoms again. It is the male dwarf this time, the driver, and his report is short and professional, but grim.
“Team, be advised. Multiple vehicle contacts approaching from the South, East and West, movement is too cohesive to be a traffic pattern. Looks like they might be coming up the tunnel, as well. No IFF records on hostility or other intel at this time. Keep your eyes peeled for new contacts.”
[It is Ling Fei’s combat turn.]
The rigger’s heart leaps at the sight of the elusive assassin—he’s given her a halfway decent shot, and even has his back turned. She wheels Boxcar’s turret about, keeping the vehicle stationary to provide the best shot possible, its suspension tightening in preparation for the cannon’s recoil. Ling Fei’s hands grasp the wheel as she carefully plays the reticle well out in front of the swiftly retreating figure, then squeezes the trigger with a mental command, the Valiant LMG barking out a controlled burst of high-caliber rounds.
[Ling is firing a 4 round burst. The valiant has integral vent 2, and external vent 2, neutralizing recoil. The LMG does 7S base, staged to 11D. Gunnery 5 to hit, adding 5 combat pool. Manual gunnery modifiers are on page 153 SR3.]
The assassin has broken clear of the smoke, and a half-dozen gun barrels follow him, from the truck, the drone, and the orks in the street. There is a tense silence, and then all hell breaks loose, as the heretofore quiet battle erupts in a cacophony of powder reports.
Drone cages in the Roadmaster’s rear rattle in their mountings as the LMG goes off, shaking the roof and walls. Ling Fei watches the reticle bounce and skip ahead of the fast-moving man, but Boxcar’s sensor package is still mired in the smoke, and targeting is difficult. Her marksmanship is good, but the quick man glides to and fro on the pavement with his preternatural abilities, almost seeming to predict the path of her bullets before she does.
The sheer amount of fire directed his way is immense: the orks in the street sprint after him, UZI III’s blazing, shells bouncing off of their armored torsos. Blitz crouches behind his limo door, kicking away the live grenade at his feet and taking aim, squeezing off two bursts from his SMG. This massed small arms fire is joined by Jets, who holds a Walther PB-120 out her driver’s side window, sideways, blasting away haphazardly. The small rounds pockmark the street, and the assassin weaves in between them effortlessly, running between the deadly lines of fire as through a crowded forest, ducking just at the right times, the footfalls placed carefully, with the precision of a dancer.
Never having stopped spinning, the drone’s minigun tracks the man again, and the noise of its long burst is the loudest of all, bullets screaming as hornets out of the hot steel cylinders. At this range, a miss is near impossible, and all hands watch with bated breath as the man takes one final skittering step, a false left, and then dives right.
It is no use. The hot lead blows three holes through his black armor, entering through the chest and exiting amongst the vertebrae and clavicles; Ling Fei can see the red puffs through her gun-optics, and tracks the bullet holes, confirming hits. Orkish and dwarven voices on the comm exclaim in victory, but these shouts quickly dwindle to despair; hardly a falter in the assassin’s long stride is apparent, and he continues on relentlessly. Blood drops patter on the street behind him, but his legs pump forth as fast as ever. One change is clear, however: his movements seem to have grounded themselves in reality, not slipping and biting with their accustomed slickness, and he runs now as a simple human, supernatural no longer.
He is almost to the limo, passing the plane of the gun drone, whose torso pivots to follow.
Ling Fei looks down as Boxcar’s sensors now pick up the preliminary reports of vehicle signatures. Without a more thorough check, she can’t be sure of their exact number, but it looks to be multiple large groups converging on their position from the West, South, and North, using Randolph, N. Stetson, and off-roading across the littered and besmirched grasses of Millennium Park, skirting the concrete bowl of the Wrigley Square amphitheater. It appears the dwarves’ hunch was right, as well; a fourth group is traveling in the tunnels below Upper Randolph, approaching them from the East.
Crusher’s torso wound is bothering him less after the magician’s treatment, but it still requires attention. His blood seeps onto Boxcar’s grip-texture metal flooring, and the ork watches the assassin through the ajar door, smoke still partially obscuring his sight. Grendel’s large form yet crouches in the fog in front of the van, and Crusher’s combat intuition reminds him of the pack of live grenades that have recently been deployed in the area.
[It is Crusher’s combat turn.]
Crusher leans out of the van door to take a quick glance over the battlefield, trying to gauge the distance remaining between the assassin and the limo, as well as the proximity of the friendly grenades.
He guesses that the assassin is only ten meters from the limo, maybe forty from Boxcar—although the smoke makes exact measurements difficult. The grenades, now growing dangerously short of fuse, are somewhere in the smoke around them, about five to ten meters behind the van; the rear armor should shield the passengers from the shrapnel.
Crusher’s eyes stay locked on the assassin, his fingers firmly gripping the casing of his assault rifle as he mentally thumbs the firing mode to grenade launcher. The mercenary’s eyes narrow as his thoughts take on a familiar calm and sense of purpose. Concern for the safety of his team, and the dull throb of the katana wound in his chest, swiftly fade from the old ork’s mind, replaced only by the man in his crosshair, the feel of the weapon in his hands.
His deep voice rumbles with cold satisfaction as he takes the shot, barely audible over the chunk of the exiting munition. “Catch this, motherfucker!”
[Crusher takes aim for one action then fires. Launch weapons 4, adding 4 combat pool. Modifiers are smartlink -1, take aim -1. Crusher and Moonclaw allocate all available combat pool to damage resistance, Ling Fei allocates all control pool to Boxcar’s damage resistance. (She cannot use combat pool to resist meat damage, as she is rigging).]
The smoke, though now nearly gone, is enough to confound the Combat Gun’s Smartlinked range sensor. Crusher’s skill with the weapon is formidable, but he is shooting with bad intel, at a moving target, from a confining position, while wounded. Any soldier would have difficulty in such situations, and the defensive grenade lands just short of the assassin, though thankfully doing no damage to teammates in the process.
Three more blasts accompany that of the mini-grenade, as the hand grenades deployed by the team detonate: two immediately to the rear of Boxcar and one a little further up the street, where Blitz had kicked it. The sound of shrapnel impacting the van’s impressive armor is like rain on a tin roof, but those inside still cringe instinctively from the concussive noise. Aleister’s head snaps around particularly, as Grendel’s roar of pain and frustration accompanies the blasts. The big troll sounds wounded, but still alive.
The assassin is long since gone from the blast radii of the explosives. He skirts the hood of the limousine, blood still raining on the pavement from his chest and back. Blitz tenses, knowing he is the next target; the knife in his shoulder throbs painfully, and his left hand goes to draw the sword sheathed at his side, intending to bring it up in a backhanded grip to defend himself.
The assassin jumps high, over the height of the limousine door, and it looks for a moment as if he will collide with the orkish street samurai.
Rather, as the assassin is yet meters away, he spins and executes a flying dragon kick, that classic of martial-arts trideo. The black foot lashes out, striking at nothing but thin air, and Blitz can only watch the next event unfold, a disbelieving look on his face.
A phantom of the kick sprints the distance between the two of them, taking the form of a ripple in the air like the trail of a sniper’s bullet, and just as fast. The distance strike catches him in the chest, driving the wind out of his unprepared lungs and knocking him off his feet with brutal force. The assassin follows through, landing cat-like by the open limo door and turning to view his quarry for the first time. He darts into the limousine.
The dwarves’ aerial drones have finished their report on the approaching vehicles, and the grim news crackles out over the commlink. “Team, report multiple contacts at all points. Looks like the North, West and South groups each have two civilian-grade cars and some kind of APCs, running high flux. As yet, unidentified hostility, but it’s a safe bet they’re responding to the gunfire. Too numerous to be Lone Star. The East group under the tunnel is a little lighter, four civilian-class vehicles, no APC, indeterminate signature. If they get us surrounded here, we’re in it deep.”
Addressing Ling Fei, “Elf, we might need your armor to take point to get us out of here if the shit goes ass-up. The drones say an extended engagement would not go in our favor.”
[It is Ling Fei’s combat turn]
Ling Fei guns Boxcar’s heavy diesel engine, rolling the vehicle closer to the occupied limo, taking care to stay abeam of the target so that Crusher can have a clear shot. She keeps the van’s LMG trained on the luxury vehicle, doing her best to focus through the stinging pain which lingers across her back, an ASIST reminder that her vehicle just took the blast of three grenades.
Her simulated voice crackles a response over the comms, speaking loudly to be heard over the steady stream of colorful language emanating from the rear of her vehicle. “Solid copy on the breakout, rigger—but we’re not finished here yet. Be advised I’m looking to exit westbound so we don’t get boxed in on the coast.”
The young elf knows her team’s usual leader is in bad shape, and that the whole convoy now depends on her to lead them to safety. Her palms feel damp with sweat on Boxcar’s wheel, but her grip is firm, her posture upright and alert.
[Ling Fei is delaying her action until the assassin shows himself.]
“SHIIIT!!” The dwarven voice crackles out as the assassin dives into the car and, presumably, begins to flay his target alive. The humanoid gun drone swivels in place, the elbow jointed mech-legs move heavily one at a time, and a pincer arm punches through the doorframe, bending it backwards, armored hinges and all. The camera feed of the drone is made accessible to Ling Fei and Jets, and they look on as the drone makes a scrambling grab for the slippery warrior with the other arm. The servo is not dexterous enough to grasp him, and he moves deeper into the limousine, away from view.
A speaker on the face of the drone buzzes with the dwarven voice, commanding the prone, gasping Blitz, “Ork, get off your ass, get in there and save this fucking run! KILL THIS GUY OR ITS OUR ASS!”
[It is Crusher’s combat turn.]
“Drek it, Blitz!” Crusher barks authoritatively over the comm system, contradicting the dwarven rigger. “The suit’s finished by now, and besides, you’ll never take him one-on-one inside the car.”
He levels his Ares Alpha at the now door-less limousine, the rifle bucking lightly in his broad hands as it chambers a fresh round. “All units, fall back from the kill zone and prepare to put rounds in.”
Ling Fei deadpans her response over the radio, “Ten-four, big dog. I have weapons on it.” She glances out of the corner of her eye, using Boxcar’s sensors to ensure the two aerial drones still have clear lines of sight as the hove slowly through the smoke above the armored van. She rolls slowly to a halt, still keeping her LMG sights trained on the executive’s car.
[Crusher will also delay until after the assassin shows himself.]