Ling’s voice buzzes in Crusher’s cybernetic ear, registering urgency and fear. “Guys, we got fast movers coming in from the east—registering bio signatures, dog sized—like twenty or more! What do we do?”
“Fuck,” Crusher curses. “Open fire! Better to wake these idiots up sooner than later.” The mercenary points to his right, making his voice rough and impatient to show the trolls he doesn’t have time for their guard duty bullshit. “Bad guys coming from the east, and fast! Get your crew to look alive!”
Ling Fei pulls out of her circling pattern, putting her nose directly in line with the oncoming swarm. She releases the safety on her weapon and squeezes off two bursts at the lead creature.
Ling-Fei’s meat hands twitch a little as she sends the ASIST signal to her drone to engage the targets. Friend or foe, she doesn’t have time to know for sure—the targeting reticle on the Guardian’s HUD highlights the front runner and turns green as the drone locks on. She double taps the FN-HAR and the pavement kicks up little spits of dust around and behind the creature. It stumbles and falls, rolling over itself and skittering to a stop.
The rest of the pack peels away from the body, but keeps running flat-out towards Cermak plaza. They are growing close, within 200m according to Sparrow-2, and Ling-Fei can pick out details now: the lifeforms are indeed dog-like, running on all fours, but their skin is shiny and hard, and where they pass under the streetlights she can see brilliant patches of purple, pink and red on the mottled carapaces. Their quick movements make other details hard to pick out at this distance.
Back at the ‘Spike, the trolls don’t know who Crusher is exactly, but they do know there were some mercs hired for additional security. They take his words and the distant machine gun fire at face value and turn to relay the message to Bakcha’s group at the palanquin.
Ling Fei starts to lose her cool as she gets her first real glimpse of the creatures. “What. . . what the hell? Crusher, they’re monsters! A whole swarm of them—we’re not prepared for this. We need to get out of here!”
The hardened mercenary growls. “No, no more running away. This time we stand and fight. There are hundreds of gangers out here, we can hold.”
Crusher fires two shots in the air from his rifle, bellowing at the top of his lungs to be heard by the assembled thugs. “Incoming from the west! Everyone look alive, god damn it!”
Without a word, Moonclaw climbs onto the Roadmaster’s hood, securing a better vantage point and putting some sort of barrier between herself and the oncoming swarm. Keeping well clear of the transport’s remote turret, the shaman shoulders her SMG and keeps her city spirit at bay with a controlling thought.
The Combat Gun’s loud report turns everyone’s heads around. Crusher spies Bakcha making his way over to him from the inner circle, “What the drek is it, chummer? This better be worth my time.” Crusher repeats his intel and Bakcha begins to look worried. “Shit, didn’t count on xeno’s showing up… Probably just a rogue group out of bug city, but I’m not taking any chances with the GS. The meet is scrapped, your orders now are to protect us while we get the Spinner’s box back on the halftrack.”
The soldierly ork turns around and begins barking orders, directing the other Spiders to action with the air of a seasoned general. The two vanguard trolls lumber off to help with the palanquin, and Crusher is left to his own devices. He takes a moment to absorb the situation around him.
The ECM and Ancients have stopped their bickering, and their attention is now focused westward, towards the gunfire from Sparrow-2. They look like spectators at a Blood Bowl match, with the same air of uneasy anticipation surrounding them. Clubs and knives are being brandished, pistols readied and furtive glances cast.
As he walks back towards Boxcar, Crusher senses the other gang leaders have gotten wind that something is amiss. The grey-blue Yak chopper above changes facing and swings around to the west, and its armored counterparts below tighten their grouping slightly. The dark-green 88’s leader looks around, a nasty look on his face from being interrupted mid-speech. His troops seem to grow angry and restless as he begins to lose his temper.
Meanwhile, Ling Fei pauses a moment to issue provisional overwatch orders to the Doberman drones by Boxcar, then continues her barrage from the eyes of Sparrow-2. The targeting reticle dances wildly around her HUD, trying to get a lock on the small bioforms. The drone takes several seconds to acquire the next target, and the reticle flashes green again. Ling-Fei pulls the trigger and her drone downs another of the running beasts. They are closer now, darting in and out amongst the parked cars. She tracks the next in the swarm and locks, blasting it apart as the lead runner makes it to the street separating them from Cermak Plaza.
She has a clearer view of them, now: evil faces glare up at her drone with beady red eyes. Thick, strong tails balance armored bodies built for speed as they move quickly on four legs; two arms are left free at the front, tipped in wicked talons. The purple and pink chitin looks positively toxic this close. She can almost appreciate their revolting beauty, but now they are bounding across the street, in distant view of the gangers by the ’Spike.
Her head rings with the sudden proximity alarms from both Sparrow-2 and Condor-1. The drones report additional targets from the west, closing behind the main group.
“Get the transport ready to peel out after that track. Orders are to protect the Spider boss at all costs. Don’t stop firing ’till I give the word.” Crusher takes a knee in the cover of the Roadmaster’s rear corner and throws his Ares Alpha into launcher mode, running the projected arc of the munition to its maximum distance. He holds her steady where his smartlink reads 300 meters and prepares to fire.
Ling Fei pulls her nose up and mentally retreats to a partial command-chair mode, re-arranging Boxcar and the Dobermans so that they were ready to roll out with the ganger’s lead truck. The rigger then leaps back into the Guardian, banking left to take a better look at the new bogeys lighting up her scopes.
Moonclaw holds onto the back of the van’s auto-turret as it moves, then settles back into a prone firing position on the beast’s front windshield. The shaman bows her head and mutters to her spirit of man. “Great spirit, Mitawa ki, your streets run rampant with insect vermin. Come now, to the plane of things, to cleanse our domain of the swarm! Hold here beside me, and lay waste to all those who oppose us!”
Moonclaw feels a rumbling beside her, and loose bits of concrete and debris begin to move and dance in the parking lot. Like a loose leaf, a red brick blows past her on an astral wind, skittering and fluttering as if weightless. It is joined by several others, and then a whole flock of bricks is making its way to her from all corners of the parking lot, multicolored in hues of baleful crimson, black and burgundy.
A tiny, self-motivated construction project takes place beside Boxcar; the bricks begin to stack themselves dutifully one on top of the other, forming a sphere. Their workmanship is quite impressive and the project grows rapidly in size, first one meter high, then two, until finally the top is capped and a three meter tall sphere of brick stands beside the shaman. Sharp studs of steel rebar are woven into the intersections of the bricks, giving it the appearance of an old sea mine or anemone. Moonclaw’s astral sight shows the brick spirit itself: it chooses to remain invisible to mundanes, but appears on the astral as a hulking, shadowy figure. It has the look of a steelworker tired after a day’s work, shoulders massive but slumped, resting its weight heavily on the brick sphere. It lifts massive appendages and rolls the ball forward a few feet, testing it. On the physical plane, the giant spiked ball seems to move a bit of its own will, marring the pavement with its spikes. The spirit sits back to wait, breathing laboriously despite not needing oxygen.
As the initial group of animals crosses S. Harlem, Ling-Fei’s Condor picks them up, flagging them as unidentified bioforms. Sparrow-2 banks left over the swarm, and one of the creatures below makes a leap at it, getting several meters off the ground but not quite reaching the drone. The drone’s sensors go to work and Ling-Fei is fed a report of another group of two dozen moving objects at 300 meters, slightly larger and faster than the ones beneath her.
Crusher doesn’t have direct LOS to the targets, but his cyberears can hear something approaching from the west. He grits his teeth and prepares for combat.
The parking lot is full of cars almost to the road. The animals intelligently split up and run between the parked vehicles, making it hard to draw a clean line of sight as they approach. The gangers can hear something coming closer, and start to get spooked. The sporadic gunfire from Sparrow-2 ceases as the drone gains altitude and banks away to investigate the new targets, leaving a silence filled with the skittering of chitin on concrete.
The swarm breaks cover about 50 meters from the crowd, and begins the final sprint over open terrain. Crusher hears the pop-pop of light arms fire, and sees that the ECM and Ancients have turned to open fire, brandishing weapons and yelling warcries at the tops of their lungs. Rather than break and panic, they appear to be spoiling for a fight, happy now to vent their bloodlust on something other than each other. A few of the creatures drop from the incoming light arms fire, but not enough to stop the onslaught. The close combat will be met in the next few seconds.
The 88’s and Yakuza are taking another route entirely, splitting off from the ‘Spike, the meeting abandoned. The green-clad elves start to head south en masse, looking to skirt around the combat and leave the scene via the empty expanse of parking lot to the south and west. The Yakuza look more ready for a confrontation. The holo-image of their leader disappears and the presumptive leader gives a nod to his cadre of heavily-armored soldiers, who fan out in smaller squads and face the oncoming horde. Their chopper above suddenly banks south, towards the massive building where the two lone Yak operatives are stationed. A spotlight illuminates the roof and sweeps side to side; the runners can’t immediately tell what, if anything, it is searching for.
Ling-Fei’s electric eyes and ears perk up as Sparrow-2 registers a group of new targets, following close behind the first wave. The readings are all over the place, but her expert skill with the drone enables her to sift out at least two distinct classes of target: another fast-moving group of animals similar in size to the monsters attacking the gang, and a smaller group of large targets. The readings of these bioforms are akin to that of a small car in size, and at least one of them—or something in their immediate vicinity—is giving off some kind of electromagnetic interference. She can’t pin them down and they aren’t in visual range, yet.