Three By Shadow

Act III: Gevurah - Scene VII

The Next Step

Gamemaster:

Assembled once again after that morning’s botched run, the trio of mercenaries wends their way South by Southwest, back toward Crusher’s hideout in Cook County. Boxcar sings to them along the way, gentle beeps and hums issuing forth from the dashboard every now and then. Each of them is absorbed with the thoughts of their day, how narrowly they escaped death and how many men they had sent to their graves. Moonclaw in particular is absorbed in thought; now that they have returned to the quest at hand, she muses at the origins of the powers of the black-clad swordsman, and tries to keep the thought of zombies’ grasping arms at bay.

Crusher’s wound has scabbed and crusted over, but it still hurts him powerfully, and he knows it will take weeks to completely heal. With luck, they can keep their heads down long enough for that to happen; in the meantime he should get some rest or see a doctor. He fingers the spoon on one of his new incendiary grenades, beige pineapples marked with bright orange tips, and tries not to think about it. The last rays of setting sun peek through his armored passenger window, around the corners of his sunglasses, and he pulls down the brim of his hat to keep them out. Nighttime will fall shortly.

Ling Fei glides her much-loved Boxcar slowly down an exit ramp and onto the Tri-State Tollway. Her beauty has taken quite a beating; there are 9mm bullet marks everywhere on the armor and chips at the glass, and the finger-sized hole from the street samurai’s APDS round still hovers in the middle of the windshield. Funny, she thinks, it seems as if years have passed since that first run with her new partners. She knows she has grown into her role in the team, and reflects proudly on her daring escape from the tunnel system. The life of a shadowrunner… she didn’t think it would suit her at first, but she is becoming more comfortable with the thought.

The hideout crawls slowly towards them on its corner of the neighborhood, and they can see that the other teams have not showed yet. That’s to be expected; the meeting was set for midnight, so they park Boxcar as close to the building as possible, jimmy open the heavy steel door to Crusher’s hideout, and wait for the first arrivals.

They aren’t waiting long; a gentle knock sounds a few hours after sundown, and Moonclaw opens the door a crack, pistol in hand. A sharp goatee and a pair of rounded, black lenses stare back at her, and she steps aside to admit Aleister Crowley and Grendel. The magician discards his armored black trenchcoat on a chair and goes to the sink in the corner to drink a glass of water. Grendel stoops under the door frame and thunders down on the hard floor, easing his massive weight around a set of fresh white bandages running up the vertical slash wound on his left side. He grunts through his tusks and his primitive yellow eyes take in the room as if for the first time.

Aleister wipes beads of water out of his moustache hairs and looks around at all of them. “Well, everyone, we’ve found Mr. Johnson. But we don’t like where he is.”

He sits on his coat and tells the tale of their day: after leaving the safehouse that morning, he and Grendel journeyed to Cook county hospital, to have the troll’s wounds examined. As they were arriving in the emergency room, the remnants of their morning’s handiwork came pouring in: black-clad Wuxing hired guns were being shipped en masse from the site of the ambush, and they stopped for a moment to listen in to their comm-chatter and conversation. As it happened, they learned very little until managing to isolate one man in a stairwell, where he quickly was compelled to speak the truth.

He told them that Wuxing corporation has been identifying any and everyone who has had contact with a project codenamed ‘Culexus’, Aleister explains. This led Wuxing to their mutual employer, Mr. Johnson, and from there to he and Grendel. The Wuxing soldier also said that the plan was always to leak knowledge of the project, in an attempt to bait groups of mercenaries eager to steal it. Why the company would want to do that, the man didn’t know; furthermore, he had only offhand knowledge of the adept in black. They had only been briefed on the target that morning, but they were told it was of the utmost importance to bring him in alive, and that he was dangerous.

After disposing of the man in the stairs, they got Grendel stitched and bandaged, and then discretely followed the last of the Wuxing corporate cars through the city, to the corporate headquarters in what was once the Old Republic Building on N. Michigan avenue. He and Grendel staked out a bar nearby, and Aleister projected his astral form into the Wuxing HQ, which turned out to be surprisingly lightly defended against astral intrusion. Other than the ground floor and the C-level exec’s floors near the top of the building, the building was devoid of astral barriers and warding, so he simply floated throughout the rooms, investigating each floor systematically. He had almost given up hope of finding anything of use when he simply stumbled upon Mr. Johnson, in a locked holding room high above street level, but below the warded executive offices. He was alone, but there were cameras watching, so Aleister manifested himself, instructing his boss not to move or speak, lest the electric eyes suspect something amiss. He told him that they would try to rescue him or negotiate his release, and told him of Crusher’s team’s involvement, too. He seemed pleased at that, and that is how Aleister left him.

The torturer finishes recounting his tale and sips again at his water. “Well, companions, what say you? Will you help us free Mr. Johnson? It may be that there is valuable information stored inside that place, information which may lead us to the origin of the Culexus power, or to the assassin the corporation hunts.”
____________________________________________________________________________________

The world spins, and the three runners LEVEL UP!

Crusher: +31 (12/19), +2 Karma Pool
64 (26/38) Cumulative

Bitter Enmity – 5 Black
Gained a Nemesis.

Botched the Job – 1 Black
Didn’t save the decoy prime minister.

More Than a Stat Sheet – 3 White
Made a successful Knowledge Skill test.

Etiquette Apprentice – 1 White
Made a successful Etiquette(4) test

Now See Here, Mr. Oswald- 4 Black
For engaging an assassin in close combat

Ghostride The Whip – 4 Black
Stop a vehicle by shooting the driver.

Lead Role – 3 White
Awarded to the character the GM thought had the largest role in the story.

The Long Haul – 5 White, 5 Black
Characters had their second birthdays – 8/24/2011
This karmic achievment causes your Karma pool to refresh. You may also immediately spend karma to raise one attribute by one point, without undergoing training.

Ling Fei: +30 (19/11), +1 Karma Pool
52 (41/11) Cumulative

Bitter Enmity – 5 Black
Gained a Nemesis.

Botched the Job – 1 Black
Didn’t save the decoy prime minister.

When In Doubt, Know Your Way Out – 5 White
For escaping from the ambush at East Randolph.

Charisma is More Than a Pretty Face – 2 White
Made a successful negotiations(5) test.

Doctor’s In – 5 White
Successfully used biotech(first aid) specialization to stabilize a person suffering a Deadly wound.

Networking – 2 White
Gained a new contact.

The Long Haul – 5 White, 5 Black
Characters had their second birthdays – 8/24/2011
This karmic achievment causes your Karma pool to refresh. You may also immediately spend karma to raise one attribute by one point, without undergoing training.

Moonclaw: +40 (15/25), +3 Karma Pool
70 (23/47) Cumulative

Bitter Enmity – 5 Black
Gained a Nemesis.

Botched the Job – 1 Black
Didn’t save the decoy prime minister.

Glass Walker – 4 White
Made contact with the Glass Walker spirit cabal. Astral quests can now be undertaken to gain their favor.
This karmic achievement gives +1 to conjuring urban domain spirits while near large quantities of glass.

With Friends Like These – 7 Black
Stole valuables from a contact.

Paying Off St. Paul – 4 White
Paid for a friend’s convalescence.

Astral Activist – 2 White
For releasing a fettered spirit from bondage.

Keep Your Contacts Close – 2 White
Visited two contacts.

Turn Undead – 3 White
Send the dead back to their graves.

Daddy’s Girl – 2 White
Awarded to the character the GM liked the most.

The Long Haul – 5 White, 5 Black
Characters had their second birthdays – 8/24/2011
This karmic achievment causes your Karma pool to refresh. You may also immediately spend karma to raise one attribute by one point, without undergoing training.

Player:

Crusher settles into a folding chair by the table, its hinges squealing in protest. Despite the dull pain in his chest, he was feeling better, fit, hard, as if he had somehow regained the indestructible quality of his youth. Maybe it was his nap in the car and the dream of his days on the gridiron which had reminded him of the man he was. Or perhaps it was the eldritch touch of the dragon’s breath which drove his body onward in the face of death.

The mercenary rubs at a tusk while Aleister speaks. His eyes narrow as the mage finishes, the deep creases in his ebony skin juxtaposed by the inert blankness of his cybereyes. “Listen Al, no hard feelings, but we don’t exactly have close ties with your Johnson. Sure, us here have been through shit—we spilled blood together, had each other’s backs, an’ for that I see you as brothers. But this guy, he’s just another suit—dude wouldn’t rescue us if we was being held hostage by a megacorp, so why should we risk our lives to help him?” The ork sweeps his hand in front of him to emphasize his last point, inadvertently batting a dirty mug from the table.

Ling Fei’s hand darts out to catch the cup before it hits the floor. She looks at it, surprised with herself. She had been feeling as though all this time spent jacked in was conditioning her to react with newfound deftness, to understand the world in smaller and smaller slices of time. Maybe it was all in her head, but she felt sharper, more focused.

As usual, she found herself to be the voice of compassion, always urging her partners to do the right thing. “But think about it Crusher, what other way forward do we have? Rescuing the Johnson would put him in our debt, and we could use more friends these days. All of the information we dug up ourselves points to Wuxing, and now we have a reason to go after them. This is our chance to take the offensive, instead of just waiting around for some new disaster to fall on us.”

Moonclaw leans against the far wall, her arms neatly crossed over her chest. She had learned so much in the past weeks, made new discoveries about the world which had for so long been hidden. Yet this small sampling of knowledge had only whetted her appetite for new secrets. She wanted, needed, to learn everything there was to know about this new power. Although the Johnson was of little interest to her, convincing these people to rescue him would make it easier for her to gain access to the Culexus chip. “For once I agree with the elf. Saving this man might just be the key to survival against our enemy’s advances.”

Crusher looks at the two women, surprise showing on his face. “Both of you actually agree on this, huh? I guess I can see that, could be a good to have a man with connections on our team, and we might learn a thing or two about what Wuxing and this pajama motherfucker are up to. Let’s wait to see if any of the other ‘runner teams show tonight. Could be one of them found some dirt, or maybe we can convince them to pull Mr. Johnson’s ass out of the fire with us.”

[Crusher’s BOD increases to 9, Ling Fei’s QUI to 6, and Moonclaw’s INT to 6 as a result of the Long Haul achievement.]

Gamemaster:

The group exchanges old stories until midnight, of runs and wars, old comrades and new; even Grendel chuckles at times, the first signs that he really is aware of what is going on around him. When questioned, Aleister is loathe to admit much more information than necessary about Mr. Johnson, only that he’s been in the business a long time. “It’s not for me to decide what you must know about him,” the middle-aged man says.

Around the appointed hour, there is another rap at the entryway, this one a heavy gong of cybersteel on the metal door. This time, Aleister draws his snub-nosed Colt Manhunter, thumbs the safety, and peeks around the crack of the door. He swings the heavy frame open to admit five new guests: Hulder, Jets and Molly, the remaining members of the Sundowners, and Charlie and Bakcha from the Spiders. The door bangs shut and Crowley slams the bolt into place, then turns to greet the newcomers.

Hulder sits down heavily on the flattened mattress in one corner of the room, resting his great cyberarms on his meat legs and cradling his own sword wound, a lateral gash across his stomach which would have disemboweled a lesser metahuman. The wound is plugged by a flesh-colored antibacterial foam, but it still looks painful as hell. The others are unharmed, except for Bakcha’s nose, broken when the assassin mule-kicked him in the face. The hardened ork hardly seems to notice, though it does make his speech sound a little nasal.

The Spiders take up spots on either side of the door, leaning against the wall, arms crossed across their chests. Molly sits in one of the cheap chairs backwards, slumped over the backrest but never truly relaxed; her nerves are wired, and she seems tensed to leap up at any moment. Her handrazors flick in and out reflexively.

Jets curls her cute body up next to Hulder and looks over him worriedly. The troll starts his tale of the day.

“Good to see everybody is still alive. Crusher ‘n crew, we picked up the Spiders here off some street corner on the way here. Says Blitz wishes he could attend our little ronday-vooz, but he’s busy leakin’ body juice so they left him with the rest of their gang.”

Charlie cuts in. “Don’t get it twisted, chummer. We wouldn’t be here either, except the boss wanted retributions for what they did to our blood brother. The Spiders’re gonna pay that assassin sonofabitch back in kind. Find his kin, and fuck ’em to hell and back.”

Hulder continues, “Right, well, you may get yer chance yet. Remember how I was telling ya about that job I ran out in the Tir? After I got patched up, we holed out in a safehouse and I made some calls to some of the guys who ran that job with me. One thing leads to another’n we manage to get hold of some of the suits that were actually there that day the assassin came at ’em. Lucky thing we had Jets here—” he gooses the little elf’s shoulder affectionately, “—her Sperethiel isn’t great but it’s a sight better’n mine or Molly’s, so she gets to talking. Askin’ about where someone might go to learn what that assassin learned. Of course, none of them knew, but they gave us all kinds of contacts over in Elf-land for private security goons. Apparently there’s been a slew of assassinations recently by little assault-guys packin’ swords and masks, leaving their mark on a bunch of high-ups in foreign interests inside the Tir. Don’t target the elves directly, mind you, but it’s gotten so bad that it’s affecting business. And one thing a corp motherfucker don’t like is his business being affected.”

He shifts a bit on the mattress, “We truck the security contacts over to Hackworth’s brother. We gave him his bro’s deck and told ‘im the story. He was real sad, but one part of him must’ve said goodbye a long time ago, ‘cuz he took it in stride pretty well. No hard feelings there, so I ask him a favor, and he starts to dig up all kinds of spook-level shit on these security companies. Like he was readin’ the damn paper over coffee, this guy was blowing through IC like I never saw. Sure put his brother to shame.”

“Eventually, he reaches a freakin’ Otaku out in Tir Tairngire been following these companies as well. A real, live Otaku, and this guy is sitting there chatting like it’s the most natural thing in the world—I thought they were just a legend. Turns out this one is obsessed with old Asian mythology, and he’d done some digging of his own after hearing that real ninja were coming back. Traced their activity to an elven Shinto temple in the mountains near Serentaneyo, deep in the Tir. Said the place had a higher than usual birth-rate of elves, and Awakenings like you wouldn’t believe. But what really got this guy talking was rumors that they were training physical adepts there. Yep, religious, Bushido-ass physical adepts. Sound familiar?”

The troll lowers his hands, his tale done. Charlie looks at him and snorts incredulously. He shrugs his shoulders, “Look, I know it’s a long shot. Like, snowball’s chance in hell long. But I got a feeling about this tip, a good feeling. Enough of one that I want to fly out to the Tir and see this place for myself.”

Charlie starts to laugh in his face, but Bakcha silences her with a glare. “Look, chummer, we aren’t going to the fraggin’ end of the country looking for some monk-ass Jap elves. We got one right here in town! The Spiders are out in full force looking for info on this guy, and we could use all the help we can get. And for those of you with the proper gear—” he looks at Crusher, Hulder and Grendel “—might be there’s a spot in our leader’s good graces for you. Gang life don’t pay well, but they’ll keep your blade arm strong, a roof over your head and somebody’ll always have your back.”

Player:

Crusher strokes the day-old stubble on his wide jaw, considering the Spider’s offer. They were a serious bunch, this street gang, more street than any of the outfits he had ever run with before. Their red and black patterning reminded him of his blood red football helmet, the big red one of his unit. All dead or feeble with age, except him. It had been a long time since he had played on a team. The thought pleased him. “You know, I might just take you all up on that.” He cracks a smile. “I’m gonna need one of them big-ass swords first though. Wouldn’t fit in otherwise.”

Ling Fei slugs him playfully on the shoulder. “Yeah, decided you’re not gonna ‘run with us anymore, huh? How about we deal with the smokewalker first, then we can talk about what gangs you’re joining?” The elf turns to the orks by the door. “What do you uh, web-guys plan on doing to find this assassin?”

Moonclaw watches the more articulate troll as he tells his story, swept away in the scenery of her imagination. She had never been beyond the borders of Chicago, had barely known the domains of Nature other than the air spirits which came and went as they pleased.

She could feel her totem sniffing hesitantly at the thought, already in the uncontrollable throes of curiosity. “You, troll. If we ever finish this business before us, or, well, if you ever decide to travel to this Tir Tairngire, I will join you.”

Gamemaster:

Charlie mocks the naive rigger, imitating her feminine speech and mannerisms, “Oh, I don’t know, us ‘web-guys’ were just going to the mall, kick around the link clubs and get some BTL-heads to buy us booze. Get a grip, you slottin’ blond. This is street work. We’re gonna go out and start hurting folks, and see what the lowlifes in the Containment Zone have to say about killin’ people for money. Be surprised what kinds of runs get arranged in that place. But with that pretty skin o’ yours, you better be dosed to the gills with ZI* before even sniffin’ the petunias up there.”

Bakcha elaborates, “That’s the marching order for the low muscle we got, bladeless nobodys and street trash. The Grand Spinner has some real concerns about this, too; after hearing about ECM, he thinks Wuxing could threaten the black market chip-trade if it keeps up hits on major syndicates. It’s no big news the ’Massives were trading Kong-chips** and he thinks their destruction might rattle some of the bigger customers.”

He snorts painfully through his bloodied nose and hocks something deep in the back of his throat, before spitting it out on the floor. “At any rate, he can’t stand for some corp usin’ innocent gangers as bait for its fucking games. He’s getting together the Yaks, Eighty-Eights, Ancients and what’s left of ECM for a meetin’ of the heads. Gotta step wise around Vlad and Catherine, but he’s got the pull to make it happen. Me and the other swords are running security for the meetup site, could be you all could help with the recon. ‘Case you don’t know, all us Chi-gangs basically have bad blood, so getting the leads together isn’t a small deal. We gotta protect the Grand Spinner but also keep an eye on the other gangs, as well as watch for Lone Star, Terribles or Greats, or any ’runners or shitheads think they can make a name for themselves by taking out some big names.”

While listening to them, Moonclaw feels the presence of Cat in the back of her mind, nudging at her, trying to get her to remember something. The feeling fades as soon as she recognizes it.
______________________________________________________________________________
1* Zeta-Interferon, a modern antiviral shown to have some efficacy against the VITAS-1 plague.
2** A cheap form of one-shot BTL; SR3 p.317.

Player:

Crusher idly rubs his tusk with a metal thumb as the gangers weave their story. He eyes his two compatriots as Bakcha finishes. “I’m sorry girls, but I’m going with them. They’re talking about the hardest outfits in the city, and I’m not passin’ up on a chance to get good with them. They have what I need—muscle, power, connections. A second chance.” His mind leaps to Iran, to the endless expanses of burning sand. “’Sides, I never was one for the infiltration game.”

Ling Fei looks shocked. “Are you serious? You can’t split up the group—what good will one of us be without the others? Wuxing or the Tir would cut us down in days.”

“Well roll with me then, Ling.” Crusher retorts. “The hell do you owe that stinking suit anyway? I promise you, he ain’t our friend. I been through a dozen of those drek-eaters, they’re all the same.”

Ling Fei casts about for support. “What about Aleister and Grendel? He saved your life when we fought the ECM.”

Crusher slams his clenched fist onto the table, cracking the flimsy plasboard. “That fucker was good as dead, he just didn’t know it yet. No offense boys, but I don’t owe you two nothing. It’s just business, you all have been in the game long enough to know that. I’m riding with the Spiders, Ling. You two can come or go. I know I ain’t risking my life for some pink-skinned Johnson.”

Ling Fei looks cautiously to Moonclaw, suddenly unsure of herself, torn between the safety of her team and the pull of duty. She could feel the eyes of the assembled runners watching them.

The shaman tugs thoughtfully at a length of her braided hair, lost in her own thoughts. With the hermetic lay the possibility of great reward and a chance at the secrets of Wuxing’s binding chip. But to break into a megacorp’s own building and extract a man, alive? And with these two as my support? She regarded the dark orbs of the mage’s glasses and his troll’s wheezing bulk with insurmountable doubt.

Crusher and the elf were a more dependable team, that much Moonclaw knew. And the ork had a point—if at least half of the gangs she recognized were to join forces, it would mean power indeed. Her mind wandered to the abandoned trainyard she had explored that afternoon; if there had been even one more ghoul, she would most likely be dead. In the end, Moonclaw preferred having something large to put between herself and danger. “Okay, ork. I will walk the shadows with you.”

Ling Fei struggles with the decision, but for her it is all but made. “I’m sorry, really,” she apologizes to Aleister and Grendel. “I have to go with them. Please let us know if you are in danger.”

Crusher smiles and jerks his head at the gangers. “Charlie, Bakcha, time to put us to work. What can we do for the Grand Spinner?”

Gamemaster:

“Good to hear it, ork.” Charlie spits between her tusks. “But ain’t our place to give out the assignments. And sure as hell ‘as yer not gonna see the GS hisself. Only us swords get in to see him, and that’s on a need-to-know. And you sure as shit don’t need to know.”

“She’s right,” Bakcha intones. “He’s just as guarded as any Triad dragonhead or Mafia don. ‘Bout twice as secretive. They say there’s webs of the Spiders that don’t even know each other exist. Some of us bear the colors and some don’t. Ya never know with the Grand Spinner.”

He pushes off the wall with his back and the metal scabbard at his hip scrapes against the wall. “The meeting’s two nights from now. I’ll send ya the info once we got it squared and we don’t have these extra ears lyin’ about.”

Hulder seems nonplussed at Crusher’s decision not to help his team. “Suit yourselves. We won’t be leaving just yet, got to give our wounds some time to stitch up and find some replacements for the holes in our team. The Professor’s brother didn’t seem too keen to take up his position, so if you know any ‘netheads, point ’em our way. Maybe when I’m all better we can hop a Mistral over the T.T. lines together. Let me know.” He gives a pointed look at Moonclaw. Behind him, Jets shoots daggers at her through blaze-blue elven eyes.

He gets up to leave, but Molly stops him. “Wait. What about the squats that had our backs on the road out there? Nobody got their number, or we just figure they got merc’d on the way out?” The room is silent. Nobody had seen hide nor hair of the pair of dwarven riggers since earlier that morning. For shadowrunners, this usually only means one thing.

Player:

Ling Fei speaks up for the dwarves. “I wouldn’t write them off so easily—did you see some of their hardware? That anthroform had the biggest slug-thrower I’ve ever seen.”

Crusher scoffs at the suggestion. “Toy robots and UAVs are no match for a good rifle at your side. Who needs another set of neck-jackers, anyway? Uh, no offense, Ling,” he adds.

The mercenary stands to see the other runners out, clanging fists with the other orks. “Stay real, chummers. I’ll be expecting your call.”

He turns to Aleister and Grendel last. “Hope my reservations about your boss don’t affect our workin’ relationship. Let us know if shit gets too hot for you, we’ll come cool you off.”

Gamemaster:

Aleister isn’t angered or disappointed, just detached, as he always is. He simply nods, “Understood. The job will get done, one way or the other. Grendel and I lack the manpower to free him now, but perhaps there is another way. In the meantime, here is my contact ID.” He hands Crusher a small datasoft. “That is privileged information. It could be dangerous for the bearer if it ends up in the wrong hands.” He raises an eyebrow and leaves the way he came.

Grendel shifts his huge bulk with a groan and follows his handler out the door. Hulder also arises slowly, bracing his hands on his knees. “Here’s my info, too. You guys were pretty shit-hot back there on the escort, maybe we can help each other out sometime.” He looks to his two female companions, who get up and begin to leave, then he towers over Crusher to shake his hand. Their huge cyberarms smash together and the troll mercenary gives one last nod to the shadowrunners before leaving, hands resting on his giant knife and revolver.

[Aleister Crowley and Huldrekall Tusser become level 1 contacts.]

Player:

Crusher shrugs his shoulders under the weight of his heavy plate, the black chest-piece pressing painfully against his wound. He lets out a weary sigh, groaning with exhaustion. “About time I turned in. Ling Fei, can you give me a ride back to my apartment?”

The rigger gives him a worried look. “You’re going to risk staying at your home address? What if the bad guys decide it’s our turn to get a late-night visit?”

The mercenary waves her question off. “I have a feeling Wuxing and those daisy-eaters have bigger fish to fry after what went down today. We’re small change to them, just a couple local street Sams who got in the way. I mean, keep your gun nearby when you sleep and all, but really, you oughta be doing that anyway.”

The elf shakes her head. “I don’t know Crusher, this is a whole new. . thing we’re doing here. Not just running some dangerous errands for rich people; you’re talking about gangs and street war.”

Crusher shoulders his Ares Alpha. “Gangs rule the streets, Ling. Always have, always will. And Chi-town is nothing but street.” He leans in, trying to convince her. “You can handle it, I know you can. We rolled on some gangers already; this time won’t be any different. Moonclaw, you’re ready for this, right?”

The shaman leans against the far wall, slowly toying with a white ring between two fingers. “I am not afraid. And all you have to do is hide in your little shell and mind your drones. What difference does it make to you who we fight?”

Ling Fei rests a hand on her hip. “Alright, I’m in already, damn. Not like I have any choice. Let’s get out of here.”


Crusher wakes with a groan. He stretches, trying to work out the aches in his muscles, but gives up as his chest reminds him of his wounds with a fresh tinge of pain. Light streams in through the blinds, unusually bright. He fumbles for his watch on the bedside table. It was already 10:30—he hadn’t slept this late since he was forty-something.

The old ork hauls himself to his feet, taking on the day with the begrudging attitude of a man who has forgotten the meaning of well-rested. He shaves his face and head, showers away the grime of yesterday’s combat, and polishes his horns and tusks. He stares into the bathroom mirror for a long time, studying his own features, the history of his face. He runs his fingers over the warped patterns in the skin which surrounds his chest and neck where the dragon’s breath kissed him, then examines the hexagonal imprints of the ’wares on his cheek and neck, the cold spots where his flesh had been replaced with machine. He lingers at his horns, one a thick fang, the other a stump, taking in every nick and cut the saw blade had left across its uneven surface, like the trunk of a tree felled long ago. It reminded him of the depths of his loss, the curse of his orkhood. Shannel, the love they shared, the home they built. Their child. His son. But that life was finished, he had accepted that a long time ago. The man she had loved was gone, due in no small part to the loss of that love itself. Alfred was a name he only heard in dreams.

Crusher passes through his diminutive apartment, putting on Giant Steps before fixing himself a hasty breakfast of egg mix, toast, and sub-par synth-caf. He sits for a while after eating, swaying lazily to the music, lost again in thought. Coltrane spoke volumes to him in his old age which he had never understood as a young man.

The mercenary eventually gets to work, first changing the bandage on his chest and cleaning the wound thoroughly, thankful that the street shaman’s magic had largely stopped the bleeding. She was a useful one to have around, if you could get past her shit attitude. He then turns to his cybernetics, carefully cleaning the lenses of his eyes, the inner cowlings of his ear canals, and the joints of his arm and fingers with WD-40 and q-tips. He sets up the induction chargers on his batteries before settling into the lone chair in the center of his apartment to watch the trideo and waste away the afternoon. He falls asleep watching some stupid show about two hillbilly white guys driving around a Charger with a First Secession Era dixie flag painted on top.

He wakes for the second time that day to the early darkness of winter in the north, his rifle broken down and halfway cleaned in his lap. Restless, he decides to take a walk. He throws on his armored long coat, leaving the damaged vest behind, then switches out the explosive rounds in his Browning with regular .44s, holsters it, and slips another clip into his jacket pocket.

Crusher decides to travel directly downtown, to get a better feel for the central gangs, their signs and strength of arms. He boards an 87 bus and settles into the back seat, watching the denizens of Chicago jostle and struggle for position on the teeming streets, ever watchful for the tell-tale signs of gang life—shoes hanging from matrix wires, tags on looted store fronts, the occasional glimpse of chrome and ink amongst the huddles of young men bearing colors on the corners of their territory.

[Crusher is attempting to level his knowledge skill Gang Identification from 2 to 4 for 7 karma.]

Gamemaster:

It’s a quiet evening, and the painted lights of Chicago are flickering on, casting a neon cabaret show on the tragic streets. People flow in and out of the seats around him, and his silvered eyes watch behind dark sunglasses as the big electric GM bus swings North onto Halsted street to begin its trek towards downtown. The lights from the city wash out the last fading rays of sun, and become a new dawn.

He turns to look out the window, knowing that his neighborhood lies just south of some pretty hotly contested gangland. He can recognize the signs of East Coast Massive by now, scarce though they’ve become since having their headquarters destroyed a few blocks away. As the bus passes 71st and out of their territory, he sees a lone youth standing by a street corner wearing a yellow and black construction tape belt. The colors are subtle, but they’re there all the same, and the BTL burnouts on this street are having no trouble finding him to get their fix. The numbers on the street signs start to diminish, winding down through the 60’s, and Crusher knows that they’ve entered Englewood Ancients turf.

“The Ancients” is really a catchall term for a splintered and factious group of loosely collaborative elven gangs. The original Ancients were a Seattle elf go-gang made up of political outcasts from the Tir. They were primarily interested in supporting pro-elven political causes, whether that be political protest, terrorist bombings or assorted acts of pro-elf vandalism and mischief. The gang was almost wiped out after butting heads with the Seattle branch of the Humanis Policlub, and the original members were scattered throughout the NAN, UCAS and CAS. Now, the Ancients are united only by their adoption of a common symbol: a stylized, green and black circled anarchist’s A. Crusher looks outside to the street corners and sees the Englewood branch’s personalized logo: a circled green and black Æ.

Gang activity in the center of the territory is highly centralized around one street, maybe 58th or 57th. The gangers are in out-and-out full gear here: flying colors, displaying weapons, drinking, doing drugs and fighting. Crusher also notices the racial disparity: everyone here, without exception, is two things: black and elven. Tall, thinly muscled women with what appears to be severe hip dysplasia sit sensuously on top of ’yen-colored muscle cars. The men of the gang are either working out, drinking, or playing with weapons. Most of them are thick with muscle, but in that weird elven way which makes their limbs appear slim and long, despite their strength.

The green and black of the gang’s logo are everywhere, on clothing, buildings, vehicles and what rare cyberware there is. But Crusher also sees family here: little children run and play in some areas right along with the worst of the gangmembers. This must be inherited ground for the Englewood Ancients, and like any gang, tribe or society before, they will defend it staunchly. That’s also probably why they are making an unusual show of themselves: after all, even wearing the wrong sunglasses will get you killed in places.

The bus rattles down the road, away from the Englewood Ancients’ ground. South Halsted meanders North, through quasi-inhabited areas in which people have taken up residence in abandoned storefronts. The sandlots between every other building say more about the poverty here than the buildings, though: each is home to at least one group of the homeless, miserable around their trashcan fires. Nacho Snax™ wrappers blow and scatter at their feet.

Like a scene change in a movie, the outside landscape undergoes a sudden transformation, and the bums and dirt of Englewood are replaced by red lantern lights, bright neon signs, and the hustle and bustle of an Asian street market. Crusher’s bus passes slowly through South Chinatown, nestled into the crook of the I-90/55 junction, and the bus slows to a crawl. The streets here are packed with vendors selling their cheap plastic wares out of lean-to shacks on the side of buildings, and their customers, who ebb and flow with traffic like an oriental soup.

Looming over the packed streets, hexagonal storage units have been stacked into makeshift tenement homes, which rise to meet the underside of the highway above. Dim streetlights hang from the soaring concrete roof to provide light in the dim alleys formed by the improvised structures.

These shadows are where the real black markets begin; Crusher’s metal irises widen until the eyes are almost entirely black, and he pierces the dark with ease. Many asian men move through the alleyways with practiced movements ill-befitting the chaotic surroundings. Here, one slumps against a corner nonchalantly holding a cigarette, but never inhaling. There, another idly paces up and down the same streetcorner, his eyes locked on the crowd. The yellow bastards all look the same to Crusher—whose knowledge of East Asian physiology stops short of identifying nationality by sight—but what he can see is that they’re all wearing the same black business suits, custom fitted and surely armored, and have the same look of casual seriousness about them. Searching their bodies for weapons, his practiced eye spots heavy pistols swinging loosely in shoulder holsters.

One other thing unites them, and he spies it by chance when the bus revs its engines to break through the crowd. A bystander is pushed out of the street, dropping his plastic food as he stumbles towards the smoking man. Quick as a shot, the black jacket is open and his arm seizes the falling one, blowing him back into the crowded street with a flick of his wrist. Crusher’s thermal corneas catch the heatflash of a high-grade piece of cyberware burning through the tailored suit; the heat dissipates quickly, but he notices the same burning arm in the other suits. They must be powerful, since their men are arrayed about the streets in an obvious (to Crusher) show of force. As the bus moves away, he twists in his seat to get a final look, wondering where he can go to get some solid knowledge on these Yakuza, or Triads, or whoever they might be.

The rest of the ride is fairly uneventful. The bus turns around near 16th street, its route complete. On the way back, a pair of rowdy ork youths get on near the front of the bus, wearing black and red bandannas. Crusher wonders if they are a part of the spiders’ street presence, but keeps his thoughts to himself. The rattle and creak of the pleather seat underneath him irritates his old sit-bones, and he does his best to maintain situational awareness all the way home. Of course, nothing untoward happens—who in their right mind would rough up someone of Crusher’s stature, near 6 and a half feet of metal and muscle, wearing shades and some nasty battle wounds? His visage carries him safely through the night to his front door, where he can drop the facade and collapse into bed.

[Crusher’s Gang Identification skill increases to 4.]

Player:

Crusher spends the next day preparing his kit for the next run. Anyone carrying enough weight to spook the Spiders spooked him too—the mercenary wanted to be prepared for any enemy.

The ork begins with his new incendiary grenades, determined to get at least a little more comfortable with the new munitions in the short amount of time available. He wraps a half-dozen of the grenades with duct tape, taking care to secure their pins.

The old ork hops the local headed west, riding the few short stops to Dan Ryan park with the explosives in his pockets. He spends the afternoon lobbing the hand grenades at trees from various positions and distances. By the end of the day, he can nail the body of a tree more often than not from a decent distance. Maybe.

He stops at an Ammu-Nation on the way back to get some personal ablatives and a tube of ballistic glue for his chestpiece. He does a decent enough job closing the gouge and buttressing the seam with armor plates, but the vest was falling apart all the same. He would need to buy new armor soon.

The ex-marine turns his attention to his firearms next, breaking down each in turn and giving their components a thorough scouring and oiling. He takes special care with his Ares Alpha, carefully re-assembling each component and double-checking the smartlink output readings.

Crusher assesses his Ingram Valiant last, fitting the old leather harness to his large frame. The gyro-mount’s arm anchors at his left hip, its ball-and-joint support mimicking the movements of his left arm. He hefts the angular 50-cal by the top handle with his thick, heavily-muscled left arm, then connects his cyberarm to the rear pistol grip, racking the slide once for good measure with the remote link.

The mercenary does an odd dance around his tiny apartment, battling various targets with the LMG to test the system’s responsiveness, the ammo feed running from the bin on his back to the side of the weapon jangling as he moves. The gyro handles well, keeping the cannon steady in the air like the head of some mechanical bird. Let’s see Smokewalker dodge this.

But the harness presses awkwardly against his injured frame, awakening the ache in his chest. He stores it away in his army duffel, alongside some spare clips, grenades, and C4. He props his rifle in the hallway and staggers to bed, laying his brick-like pistol by his side. Every expensive thing I own is a gun, he chuckles to himself before falling asleep.


Ling Fei’s first night home is spent in a fitful sleep, every shadow of her room seeming to conceal a man dressed all in black. She sits Sparrow-2 on the coffee table in her living room covering the front door, and places a Nissan Doberman on sentry in the basement. She spends the night with her shotgun in the bed next to her.

The rigger rises early the next morning, anxious to get something done. She does a quick rundown on each of her charges, emptying out the hive of automatons stored in Boxcar’s depths to fill oil reservoirs, refill ammo hoppers, and charge batteries. She checks the aerial bots which have seen combat for signs of damage, but none of the Wuxing bullets seemed to have made it past the combat drones’ armor.

Ling Fei looks over Boxcar next, checking her levels and inspecting the underside for leaks. She feeds a fresh belt into the turret gun, patting the roof of the vehicle as if it were some giant pet beast.

Ling Fei logs onto her desktop computer to buy a UAV rocket training sim from a software pirate in some shady matrix den, then flashes it over to the VCR-interface box she bought from her fixer. Fell off a truck indeed. She spends the afternoon and all of the next day studying her craft. When she’s not slumped in a chair firing VR rockets from a MQ-16 Reaper at poorly-rendered tanks, Ling Fei is scrolling Baidu and the JSTOR node for articles about the latest advances in human interface tech and remote combat.

The rigger fires neurons she hasn’t used since grad school, delving through articles on group engagements, the captain’s chair versus jumping in, and a particularly illuminating thesis on kiting and stop-micro in drone-to-metahuman warfare. When she sleeps on the second night, her dreams are filled with thoughts of engagement patterns and overlapping fields of fire.

[Ling Fei is increasing her INT to 6, and training Launch Weapons (Rockets) to 2(3).]


Moonclaw drops through the skylight of her apartment and pulls the latch closed, pausing to listen for the lock to click into place before relaxing in the safe haven of her apartment. She hangs up her equipment and changes into a traditional Sioux dress, a light fabric woven with geometric patterns and streaming with tassels from the sleeves and waist. She curls up in a large leather chair and reflects on recent events. The shaman’s chest swells with pride as she remembers her triumphs in combat—the mighty glasswalker tossing about Wuxing thugs like they were playthings, the mangled corpse of the ghoul she had struck down with spell and bullet. She could not remember the last time she had faced her opponent in open combat, let alone a creature as fearsome as the ghoul, especially with the pack of zombies closing quickly behind it. Yet she had faced them all, and emerged victorious, unscathed even. The ork and the elf had been shot at, stabbed, their mechanical bodies riddled with enemy fire, yet where Moonclaw tread there was only death without reproach.

She felt as if she had passed some threshold, crossed the line between a mere Awakened thief and something more, a force in her own right, a shaman to be feared. Something within moved her to get up from the chair and enter the meditation room, a voice telling her it was time for the next step. The cat shaman listens, and obeys.

Moonclaw places her shamanic mask on the ebony statute in the corner of the room. The wooden fetish’s emerald eyes seem to make the feline figure come to life. She kneels opposite her deity, makes offerings of meat and incense to the White Buffalo, Wophe, and Cat in turn, then takes a pull of her ceremonial pipe before offering it as well to her idols, the embers still burning brightly.

She shifts onto the astral plane and bows until her forehead brushes the floor, then begins to pray.

O’ Tunkasila Wakantanka,
Ho naho tuwa mis tate el kin, naho mis!
Wophe, comet-rider, who taught us the tongue of spirits and the way of man!
Cat, deep are you secrets, quieter your steps!
Gaia, whose voice I hear in the winds and whose breath gives life to all the world,
Hear me, naho mis!
I am small and weak—I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands supple to send the arrow true, my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every stone and leaf.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my sister, but to fight my greatest enemy—myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and eyes unclouded,
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

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Crusher

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