January 16, 2017

Billie's Journal - New York, new look

New York, 2 May 2052
It's been a while since I updated this journal. You would think I would have had plenty of time to post updates while in the chic clinic. But somehow I never got around to it. At first probably because I was pretty doped up, then just beat from all the rehab.

I remember Zero visiting me one time when I was recovering from surgery. Except she looked different. And now so do I. I gave the doctors a picture showing how I looked as a teenager. A still from just before I was kidnapped. I asked them to make a best guess at what that innocent young girl would look like as an adult.

I look less Asian now, rounder eyes, less distinct cheekbones. The eyes themselves are new too, beta grade with a few extra options like thermo as standard and a much better resolution. And the low-light doesn't overload like my old ones did either. But these are minor cosmetic changes compared to the other work.

A new arm for starters. Real flesh and blood. Of course, it's still smartlinked and the bones are laced with densiplast like the rest of me. And they replaced my old dermal plating with the latest bioware orthoskin. It's supposed to be more compatible with my system, an important consideration seeing as I am an adept. If you didn't already know from the trids, cyber and magic don't mix.

And somewhere along the way I seem to have developed a chest. One of the docs explains something about a gene treatment that was keeping me from developing. I don't get all the details and don't really want to know what the yaks did to me, just that it's fixed and I need a bigger bra. Zero was certainly pleased to hear that I needed to go clothes shopping.

While I was healing up the others started scouting out the local area. Manhattan is out of bounds - too corpsec for runners like us. However, they did make some contacts in Brooklyn. Among them is a fixer by the name of Proposition Joe who can supply us with gear. Of course, he needs a favor first. Seems some gear he was expecting went astray and he thinks one of the gangs in the area got to his middleman.

We snoop around the area but only attract the attention of the local cops. Zero discovers why. A couple of cameras in the area link directly back to the local cop shop so they were keeping tabs on us while we checked out the crime scene. Zero also manages to snag some footage of a vehicle leaving around the time of the meet and gets an address on it. Seems Joe was right. It's his main rival.

We drop by hoping to recover the goods on the quiet. Things start out well enough. We slip past their cameras and get into the ground floor of the apartment block the gangers use as a base. We even find the car with the missing goods still in the trunk. Well most of the missing goods. Seems the gangers have helped themselves to some of the ordnance and our man needs it all back.

Well things kinda go to hell from there and we are forced to shoot them all. The new arm works just fine but I ain't used to the kick from the big Kimber, so have to double tap most of my targets to take them down. Luckily, Finlay grandstands into the middle of them. So Zero and I can pick them off while they try to shoot him.

Dances deals with a couple of others with his shotgun, while Henry provides magical support. We haul ass outta there before more gangers or the cops show up. We are just a little too slow and a couple of bikers give chase.

Finlay rolls out the passenger door as I take a left. His little P90 eats up one of them but the other is still on our tail. I pull a handbrake turn forcing the second bike to brake and weave, giving me plenty of time to draw and fire on the rider.

Unfortunately that little stunt gets the attention of some local kids and one of the little punks is recording the whole deal on his phone. Fortunately, Zero talks him out of his phone with some spiel about us being undercover cops. Our friendly fixer is happy to get his merchandise back, if slightly used, and promises to set us up with new SINs and gear. A good start, I guess.

June 24, 2014

Billie's Journal - Extraction

Salish Sidhe 08 Feb 2052
Albrecht got back to Finlay with a job offer that will take us out of UCAS and out of circulation for a while. Hopefully it will be long enough for the Vory to forget about us. Nah, I don't believe that either.

Old dude takes us on horseback to the nearest truck stop and leaves us there drinking weak soycaf. After a couple of hours a non-descript van turns up. It's our ride out of here. The driver takes us to a local airport and puts us on a Learjet to god knows where.

On arrival we are stripped of our all our equipment and even our clothes with promises that we will get it all back on completion of the mission. We are given new clothes which are military in style and then processed through a set of physical and medical checks by a bunch of efficient, brusque corpers in doctor's outfits. There are a couple of WTF moments when one of the tries to inject Dances with something. At first they wont tell us what's in the syringe but after consulting with their boss, explain that it is just a broad spectrum anti-viral.

Once we are processed through, we are introduced to 'Smitty'. From his accent and stiff upper lip attitude, 'Smitty' is clearly British and equally clearly (ex-)military. Dances and Finlay try to guess what rank he held/holds but he is tight-lipped about anything that is not 'need to know'.

He explains that the mission is an extraction from a remote facility in an arctic zone and that he will be working with us for the next week or so to make sure we are fully capable of performing the mission even in sub-zero weather conditions.

Somewhere cold 18 Feb 2052
It's been about ten days since I last posted, I think. Smitty has been working us hard on winter survival techniques, teaching us how to find our way in a whiteout, how to avoid crevasses and frostbite. Dances thinks we are somewhere in Greenland or Scandinavia, but without the chips for his headware orientation system I get the feeling he is just guessing.

When we aren't outside freezing our asses off, we are practicing shooting, blowing things up (me) or hacking into systems (Zero). But we still don't know where we are going or what we are expected to do. Finally, after another session in the gun range, Smitty announces that we will receive our briefing at 1900 hours today.

Okay, so now we know why they were so hot to have us train in the freezing cold. They want us to extract some scientist from a lab in fragging Siberia. Seems that Zeta Imp has converted some old soviet mine into a secret lab, which from the description is more like an underground prison for scientists that are considered a flight/extraction risk.

Our target is a materials scientist by the name of Chandra Pakur. Smitty provides some grainy visuals and a description so we know we have the right lady. Plus a bunch of medical data. Zeta Imp are a bit paranoid about losing their scientists, so she is on a tailored diet that keeps some very dodgy chemicals in her system from killing her. So among the gear we will be taking with us, will be an antidote for the poison.

While checking the files Dances notices something weird in her implants. This lady must be something special. Not only is she being kept in a remote prison lab and filled with poison, turns out she also has explosive implants in her neck. Take her out of the building and they will blow out her carotid arteries. Dances and Zero need to figure out how to remove or disable them . And while they do that, the rest of us need to figure out how to get in and out in one piece.

Somewhere cold 19 Feb 2052
It's taken most of a day but we think we have a plan. The lab is mostly underground with only a hanger bay above ground. The main entrance is built into the side of a cliff and while that is out of the question there are some air vents about twenty meters up the cliff face that look like a possible way in. However, there are likely cameras covering those so we need to disable them first. Fortunately, there is a satellite uplink in a separate dome just outside the main entrance. Guess putting it on top of the cliff would have made it too easy to take out. If we can break into that, then hopefully Zero can hack their matrix and disable the security cams in the vents.

Then we climb up the cliff, sneak through the vents to the facility, make our way down past the first level (security) to the second level (management). There we need to disable the manual security overrides as the management are apparently paranoid and don't trust their own security guards, and finally get down to level three, four or five depending on where the mark is and extract her. Levels six and below we want to avoid as that is where their biolabs and main reactor are.

It's full of holes but it's the best we can come up with. If it doesn't work we'll just have to rely on APDS and C12.

Siberia 20 Feb 2052
Our pilot is Hans or Lars or something like that. He has a funny accent and claims he is Swedish, so at least he should be used to flying in arctic conditions. His plane however, looks like it shouldn't even still be flying. It's got fragging propellers and skids and looks like something out of an old WWII flatvid. Lars claims it about the only thing that is still capable of flying in the weather we will be facing but I ain't so sure.

Time to load up. We are kitted out in high-tech cold weather clothing for the journey from the plane to the base. Only problem with that is we need to haul our armor separately or we'd cook once inside the base. At least it is full-body armor with a full chem-seal so will protect us against the Neurostun gas the lab's management can use on their employees. These guys really are not nice people.

For weapons I've got a generic assault rifle and an Ares Predator IV. Both weapons are suppressed/silenced and have built-in smartlinks. I also have a bunch of plastic and thermite breaching charges. And a fragging narcojet pistol, although I think I'll be leaving that on the plane.

The flight takes several hours with nothing to do but sleep and check weapons. Zero is fussing over the Zeta Imp deck she will be using. Apparently the lab's matrix system will only allow registered decks to connect to it. Plus all our own gear is still god knows where.

We touch down in the dark and unload into a storm. Henry has a couple of air spirits in tow and sets one of them to keep the worst of the weather off the landing zone. We unload our gear onto a couple of snowmobiles and head out into the dark with the other spirit on point to keep us from falling into a crevasse. It takes about an hour to get close to the base and even then we practically trip over the satellite uplink before we see it.

Zero is able to jimmy the lock and we open it up. But when she hacks in she finds there is no link from the communications node to the security system. Frag, there goes the plan. We hussle over to where the nearest vent should be and Finlay climbs up. We all got some training, but Finlay and Dances are the better climbers. Finlay slips a tiny spider drone into the vent shaft. It's coated with ruthenium so blends into the concrete as Zero guides it to the camera further along the shaft. It takes a couple of minutes and even in the cold suit I can feel the sub-zero temperatures sucking at my body heat.

After what seems like forever, Zero finally gives an exultant cry over the comms as she splices a fibre optic patch into the camera. Then it's just a matter of time until she has the system under her control. With the camera looping footage of an empty shaft we blow the vent cover and climb inside. The temperature here is at least above freezing and we quickly change into our armor and activate the chemseals. From there we make good progress to the main shaft and make our way into the emergency stairwell to minus two without anyone spotting us. So far so good. The little spider drone comes to our rescue again, helping Zero take out the camera covering the door to the management level. A camera that according to Zero was not on the main security node.

It takes me a minute or two to pick the mechanical lock on the door. Man, these guys really are paranoid. They even have the doors to the fire escapes locked. We slip inside and begin to slowly make our way towards the management security station. Our suits, like the spider drone, are coated in ruthenium polymers so as long as we move slowly, we are almost invisible. Almost.

Zero gets a ping from the on-duty security officer. He caught a glimpse of us on one of the cameras and wants to make a deal. If we extract him, he won't raise the alarm and will even help us reach our primary target. He feeds us coords for a meet to work out the details. We decide to split up, never a good idea, but the only option we currently have. Zero and Dances will go to the meet, while the rest of us head on to the security center.

We give them a moment to head out, to keep the security guy thinking we are going ahead with his plan, then head out the other way. We make it to the security center without being spotted but it's locked up tight with a heavily armored door. I can blow it, but then everyone will know we are here. Zero could probably hack it but she is off dealing with the security guy and the longer we hang about here, the greater the chance we get spotted.

Finlay nods to go ahead and I start placing the breaching charges at the four corners of the door. We retreat a little down the corridor and I blow it. That gets the system's attention. Fire alarms start wailing and overhead sprinklers cut in. We move into the security station. There is a guy here, not sure if he is the one Zero was talking to but he's pretty dazed by the blast so we just drag him out. I empty a clip of APDS into the control console and follow it up with a few HE grenades. That should prevent management from overriding the system.

I am still grinning when I hear the whirring of minigun barrels behind me. A fragging Steel Lynx combat drone is sitting at the end of the corridor. Before it or I can act, Finlay whips out the one-shot LAW he lugged along with him and there a whoosh as he fires the rocket into the drone. The shot strikes true but the explosion cooks off the drone's ammo. We all dive for cover as stray rounds richochet down the corridor at us. Okay, now they really know we are here.

Then, over the comms, we hear more firing and Dances' vitals spike on my armor's HUD. We move. It takes us a couple of minutes to make our way to where they are as it's not where they should be. Will need to ask about that later. We run into a couple of mooks on the way, but a long burst from Finlay and two short bursts from me take them down without any trouble.

Inside the room we find a couple of dead security, Dances half out of his armor treating his wounds and Zero slumped on the floor next to the remains of Dances' grenade launcher. Turns out that the launcher misfired but that Zero is okay. She is just busy doing decker stuff. Finlay and Henry take up positions on either side of the door. I nod in the direction of the third body, a woman and Dances just grunts 'adept' at me then his head jerks up and he announces that we got drones and mooks incoming.

My mind flashes back to the Steel Lynx and the fact that Finlay only had one rocket launcher. I ask Dances if he has any grenades and he passes me a clip of HE microgrenades for the slagged launcher. I duct tape some C4 to the clip while the boys trade fire with the drones. Finlay manages to take out one of the drones with focused fire but the other one rushes into the room. Henry faces it down and just taps the front of it and it gets catapulted back out the door and into the wall opposite. The front armor is buckled and it makes a few fizzing and popping noised before falling still.

While the drones are dealt with, there are still some mooks out there so I lob the makeshift bomb down the corridor and duck back inside as it goes off. Zero's eyes snap open and a stream of French cussing fills the comms. Seems like she had to crash the main system to shake off one of the corp deckers. However it does at least mean that no-one will be trying to take it over for a good while.

Dances buckles himself back into his armor. His vitals are all over the place but at least he's up and moving. We move out past the foot of some poor schmuck who wasn't quick enough to get out of the way of my IED. There's a couple more hanging back but Dances flushes them out by throwing one of his microgrenades around the corner. He blasts one with his shotgun and I take out the second one with two tight bursts. And then we are at the lift.

Fortunately Zero had managed to lock the place down before crashing the matrix. Well, everything except for the doors leading to our target. We make good time getting there and take up positions covering the corridor while Finlay and Zero convince her to come with us and Dances disables her neck bombs. She doesn't take much convincing which is good because there is something strange going on below us. I can hear shouts, cries and sporadic gunfire coming up the central shaft of the complex. Henry takes a look and returns pale and saying we need to get out right away. I want to ask why but the sound of metal tearing changes my mind. I sure as hell don't want to meet whatever that is.

We go out the way we came in, moving as fast as we can while trying to be quiet. But the noises behind us are getting closer. Back inside the main vent, we can really hear the tearing of metal. We change quickly out of the armor and into the cold weather clothing. The combination of injuries and drugs is taking it's toll on Dances and his movements are becoming erratic as he struggles to change. I take a clip of AP grenades from his abandoned gear and make a makeshift trap while he finishes changing.

Then we rappel the hell out of there. My feet are barely on the ground when I hear the explosion and see Finlay leaping from the shaft, flames and shrapnel following behind him. Hopefully, that will have killed whatever was coming after us or at least made it think twice about following us. Abandoning anything we can't fit on the snowmobiles, we head back to the plane. Despite the weather messing with our comms, Zero is able to reach the pilot to let him know we are coming and Henry's spirit's speed our return journey. Dances vitals are deteriorating rapidly and about halfway back to the plane, his heart rate spikes then falters before settling back to a steady, weak pulse. Guess whatever he took to keep on his feet wore off.

As soon as we are onboard, Lars takes off. I check on Dances but there is little I can do for him on the plane. He does finally come around about an hour into the flight. He claims he's okay but his biomonitor disagrees and he winces at every bump from turbulence.

Somewhere cold 21 Feb 2052
We make it back in one piece. A trio of suits surround our target and whisk her away. Another group of medics swarm around us, then give most of us the all clear while hauling a complaining Dances off for treatment. I note that while he does a lot of complaining, he doesn't do a lot of resisting.

We are debriefed by some shaved head ex-military grunt. About halfway through the session, he gets a call on his headset. He does that half conversation thing where he is clearly answering to a superior while trying not to give away anything he is discussing. When he finishes up, he returns his attention to us and asks if we would be interested in going back in.

He offers a piddling amount of cash for a recon mission and a much more serious amount to recover the base's datacores. I'm partly tempted, not by the money, but by the thought of all the people we left trapped in their quarters with those things on the prowl. But I keep quiet about that for now. Dances is okay to go back but doesnt want to hand the datacores over to another corp. He says that whatever Zeta Imp were doing should stay down in that pit. Zero seems keen to go back, but Finlay doesn't like the risk/reward ratio especially if we are not going to extract the cores. And whatever he saw obviously worried Henry more than he cares to admit. So we tell shaved head thanks but no thanks. He just shrugs and leaves to make arrangements for our departure.

Maine 21 Feb 2052
The fraggers dropped us off in this arse end of nowhere airport with little more than the clothes on our backs and a fresh out of the box ebony credstick pre-loaded with 150k nuyen. Fortunately, Finlay has some cash on hand, so we don't have to flash the sticks to hire a cab to the nearest garage. There we pick up an old but well-maintained people carrier, which we then drive to the storage depot to pick up our gear. I feel a little more comfortable with my guns and armor back in my possession, but then realise that I am in a strange state with no contacts and no ID. Plus we still have the Russians / Yaks looking for us / me.

The car at least gets us to New York without any trouble and we find a crappy motel in a crappy part of town. We will need some new IDs before we can even think about going to Manhattan. Tomorrow we will swing by the private clinic to see about getting new faces and maybe some new 'ware. But that's for tomorrow. Sleep, first.

October 2, 2013

Billie's Journal - Crossing Maxim

Seattle 06 Feb 2052
We need a safe location for the meet to hand over the head. Mainly because we are pretty sure that fake Maxim will try something if he discovers the frozen head isn't the real Jack Barnard. Chinatown is out because although it's the yaks that are after me, I get a bit twitchy around any Asians. And Tacoma is out as it's pretty much totally under control of the Russians. So Little Italy seems like the best place for a meet.

A quick matrix search turns up a likely place, a pizza joint with a large glass front facing onto a parking lot. Most places have mirrored glass these days, but this is in a crummy part of town and street view cameras show blurred images of patrons in the window.

Zero contacts fake Maxim and tells him we have the item. He pushes for a location in Vory territory, but Zero get uppity on him and tells him if he wants the head, he better be at the pizza place. He finally agrees but pushes the timeframe down.

Henry and I will play overwatch again, so we need to be in place sharpish. We take the Yamaha, Henry hanging onto the sniper rifle case strapped to my back. We get into position just in time to see a couple of vehicles unload a crew dressed as cooks and waiters but all of whom look like they're carrying. Looks like Maxim's planning on replacing the entire restaurant staff with his own people. Frag! I let the others know, but we don't have much option but to go ahead with the meet.

The rest of the team arrive in the van. Finlay and Dances are in the back ready to give Zero support. She emerges from the van like a catwalk model, wearing her figure hugging dress, high heels and a whole lotta attitude. And a box with the head of the fake Jack Barnard. Perfect for the fake Maxim if you ask me.

Zero and fake Maxim trade pleasantries while the fake restaurant staff prepare their meals. All we can do is wait. And while we do another trio of vans pull up and park strategically around the parking lot. Jeez, how many guys is Maxim bringing?  A limo pulls in near one of the vans and a couple of corp heavies get out. What the hell, looks like another meet is going down in the parking lot?

After toying with their meals, fake Maxim seems to be losing his patience. Zero passes over the box and he takes a look inside, seemingly uncaring about any attention from the other folks in the restaurant. Maxim takes out his phone and makes a call. Over our comms I hear fake Maxim talking in Russian, then a new voice, tinny and accented answers. I'm guessing it's Yuri, Maxim's brother.

I don't understand what says, but I spot one of the fake waiters reach for something behind the counter and switch my aim from Maxim to draw a bead on him. Then I hear Yuri say in English 'kill her' or 'kill them', not sure which as it's drowned out by the heavy report of Zero's customized pistol. I hear a cry of pain from Maxim as I take a breath, hold it and squeeze the trigger. The head of the guy who was reaching for something explodes and I switch my aim to Maxim rather than double tap the goon. But fake Maxim's reflexes are as good as his original's supposedly were and he moves too quickly for me to get a clean shot.

Finlay and Dances pop the van's rear doors to support Zero, only to be pinned down by a pair of snipers. Golf ball sized holes appear in the van and I can hear the guys cursing as they dodge the incoming fire. Dances pops a smoke grenade to cover their sprint from the van to the restaurant but it also blocks my line of sight. I hear a mix of pistol fire, automatic fire and the boom of Dance's shotgun, but can't see any targets.

From out of the corner of my eye I see someone running out of nearby building waving his hands over his head and shouting 'cut'. Are they shooting a fragging movie?

Next to me I hear Henry chanting, calling on a beast spirit to seek out the snipers. I shift onto one knee and scan the roofs. I spot one and again breath, hold and fire. The sniper's body jerks and falls still. I swing the rifle towards the roof where the other sniper must be but the big rifle is unwieldy and the other sniper is already drawing a bead on me. I roll, hugging the gun tight to my chest to protect it. I feel the first shot pass as I duck behind an airco unit. I keep rolling and the second shot tears a hole through the airco unit right where I was just a moment before.

Then I hear a scream from the sniper. As I roll back up to my knees I see that there is a fragging lion chewing on his shoulder. From the restaurant I hear an exultant cry from Zero, something about this time staying dead. I draw a bead on the squealing sniper. The first shot goes wide as the lion shakes his body back and forth but the second strikes true and he falls limp and quiet.

Returning my attention to the restaurant, I see the team making a hasty exit. They take one look at the holes in the van and take off down a side street away from the approaching sirens. Frag, Lone Star sure do  move fast in this part of town. Hopefully, they'll be more interested in the film crew than pursuing us.

As soon as they are clear, Henry and I make our way off the roof via the fire escape and take a wiggly route out of town. Halfway back to Seaside's, Finlay calls to say they are clear. He recommends that we don't go back to Seaside's but I aint keen on leaving my gear to the Russian mob, at least not the Mustang. I tell Finlay we will get in and out with what we can and rendezvous with them somewhere nearby. He gives a short list of stuff to pick up including his backup weapons and ceremonial sword, plus Harlequin's rapier and a few other bits and pieces.

I kill the lights about a mile out and cruise in via the back roads, abandoning the bike about a block away from the lot. We make our way in on foot, slipping around the side and through a hole in the fence. There is a moment when something sneaks up on us, but it's only one of Seaside's dogs. Luckily it recognises me and a quick scratch behind the ears is enough to send it on its way. Fortunately, no-one seems to be around and we quickly load up the back seats of the Mustang with whatever we can fit including my expensive cocktail dress, my Winchester carbine and my old Cavalier Deputy revolver.

Henry asks why we don't use the trunk. I make a soft 'boom' sound and gesture. He looks at me and the Mustang with some concern. I creep the car out in low gear with the lights off until we are a ways down the highway before stepping on the gas. On the way to the rendezvous I make a call to Sharif. He's the only person I can still trust, who can also handle the rigged car. After all, he taught me pretty much everything I know about explosives. He picks up after two rings and while he sounds a little reserved about hiding the Mustang, he agrees to come pick it up. We meet up with the rest of the team under the highway near Puyallup and wait for him.

Both Dances and Zero are sporting small bandages on their heads. Not from the shootout, but from removing their headware ID chips. Seems the russkis had that information and Zero adds that as they also have most of the fake ID market in Seattle tied up, that our new fake IDs are also likely blown. As I toss my IDs out the window I comment that that was poor 30 grand investment.

Sharif turns up in a non-descript Ford and we switch cars. I show him how to deactivate the Mustang safely, pulling the Chinese remote detonator from the explosives in the trunk. It's still a rolling bomb but should now only go off if some fool starts it wrong or tries to open the trunk. We switch our gear to the Ford. It's a squeeze but at least no-one is looking for this car.

Finlay puts in a call to Osprey saying we need to get out of town in a hurry. While our relationship with the rigger has had its rough moments, it has been better of late and he is a total professional. At least we hope he is. He gives us directions to a small airfield near the Salish border and to be there in an hour.

Fortunately, he's picked a place with no real security as we make quite the crew. I had changed out of the camo gear into my current goth girl look, but Finlay, Dances and Henry are all kitted up like they are going off to war. In stark contrast to the rest of the team, Zero is shivering in her little black dress and heels.

We load into the back of the Osprey and are soon over the border in Salish territory. It's a relatively short flight, just an hour or so, but when we land I can see snow kicking up around the plane. And it's cold. Outside an old injun is waiting with horses. I vaguely remember riding a horse as a little girl but I can see the others regarding them worriedly, especially Zero who is now bundled up in Finlay's armor jacket.

I catch a snatch of the conversation between Osprey and the old dude but my Salish isn't that great. Still, it don't sound like he's selling us out, so we go along with him. It takes another couple of hours to reach the old man's ranch. There's a big bunkhouse that's at least warm inside and by now we're all running on empty so we crash hard.

Henry and Dances take turns on watch but mainly watching over Zero. And a good thing too because at some point in the night someone tries to off her over the astral. Henry blocks it out and even traces it back to somewhere in Russia. But even he's not crazy enough to go after a ritual circle's worth of mages on his lonesome so leaves them well alone. We just have to hope that they think their spell worked or that they don't have any more tissue or blood samples they can use to make a ritual link.

Seattle 07 Feb 2052
When I get up I talk to the old dude. He doesn't let on that he understands English but becomes a little more friendly when I switch to Salish. I tell him we need some supplies: winter clothes, survival gear and the like and he grunts something about taking us to the nearest store tomorrow.

Seattle 08 Feb 2052
Old dude is true to his word. We are now all fitted out with decent winter clothing and gear but what to do next. Finlay mentions that Albrecht was after us for a job and that the fixer works on an international scale so might have something outside of Seattle or the UCAS. Seems like our best option, so he gives him a call.

June 19, 2013

Billie's Journal - Meeting Jack Barnard

Seattle, 04 Feb 2052
Henry's leg was pretty chewed up by the ghoul, so he needs to rest up for a bit and Dances is keeping a close watch on him to make sure he's not been infected with HMHVV. In the meantime we continue to work on a way to get into the Jack Barnard's island fortress retreat. 

None of the plans we come up with work until someone suggests that we just walk on in. It's ballsy and has a good chance of going very wrong for the volunteers. But Zero says she is willing to give it a go and that means Finlay is going in with her. I'll take up a sniper overwatch, Henry will handle magical support and Dances will be ready to provide close cover and healing. It's not a good plan, but its the only one we've got that might work.   

Seattle, 05 Feb 2052
My side is healing up slowly and Dance's care has at least gotten Henry back on his feet, although he's still limping and favouring his left leg. We suit up in the forest camo armor we picked up at Crime Alley. It's got built in thermal dampeners to reduce our heat signatures and non-conductivity protection against tazers.

Seaside sails us over to the island, arriving before dawn and well out of sight of the corporate retreat. We then head overland, through dense woodland, until we reach the edge of the property. We split up, Dances, Henry and I going to ground in the woods, while Zero and Finlay strip off their camo armor to reveal the corp outfits underneath. 

I can't get a good position that allows me to cover both the main entrance to the house and the copter pad simultaneously so I pick a spot that lets me cover the house but where I can quickly shift my field of fire to the helicopter pad. As I said its not a great plan.

Finlay and Zero step out of cover and make it about 10 meters towards the house before they are intercepted by a flying drone. It warns them they are on private property and tells them to leave. They hold their ground. Finlay announces to the drone that they are there to see Jack Barnard. Hopefully that will be enough to get their attention as it is not public knowledge that he was going to be here.

The drones mechanical voice is replaced by a equally unfriendly human one, but at least it allows them to proceed towards the house. As they approach, two sentry turrets emerge from the ground. I switch my attention to one of them but even with the explosive ammo loaded into the rifle, I doubt I could do much damage to the heavily armored turrets before they turned Finlay and Zero into a red mist.

They stop to drop their weapons, then are allowed inside. And then we wait. All the windows are mirrored and the entire building is protected from electronic intrusion. There are even tremblers on the windows to prevent snooping with a laser mic. The only positive is that the thermal dampeners keep my body warmth trapped in the suit, so I am nice and warm.

We wait for about an hour, then Finlay comes out onto the balcony for a few minutes. He transmits some information to Dances, specs for headware mostly and confirms that they are okay and in negotiations with Jack, before heading back inside. None of us break radio silence.

About an hour later, Finlay and Zero emerge from the house with an ice-cooler, about big enough for a head. We withdraw from our positions once they make it safely back into the woods and move quickly back to the extraction point. Only when we are back onboard Seaside's fishing boat do Finlay and Zero fill us in. The box contains a head from (one of) Jack Barnard's clones. Seems that the head is about the only part not useful for organ replacement. I guess if the brain is dead there ain't much point in bringing you back.

The specs Finlay provided are for an induction jack and some headware memory. Dances contact at the street clinic can provide that but Dances needs to do the implant himself. He negotiates with his contact to have the facility to himself for the time he reckons he will need to do the surgery. 

Only problem is that we can't go back to Seaside's just yet. Finlay and Zero agreed a timeframe with Jack to make it look like we attacked the house at dawn tomorrow. So we are going to have to spend the time sailing around on the Sound until then. Seaside calls Russell to come pick up Dances and take him back to shore so he can work on the head. 

Seattle, 06 Feb 2052
Sometime before dawn, Russell returns with Dances and the head. It looks like the pictures of the dude and Dances has done a fine job of installing the ware without leaving any scars. We can at least now land and plan phase two, the delivery.

May 20, 2013

Billie's Journal - Ancestors

Seattle, 02 Feb 2052
Well fake Maxim is sure setting us up good. All he wants is the head of some corp honcho and we got only a short window to get it. According to the data he gave Zero, our target will be heading to some fancy vacation home on Salish Sidhe land. Land that just happens to be a nature reserve so there shouldn't even be a house on it.

We get a name and a description, white male, middle-aged but no picture. Could be fragging anyone. A search of the matrix turns up a bunch of dudes with the name but none that are obviously our target.

Checking Friends4Life is about the limit of my computer skills, so I do what I do best and go shopping for running gear with Finlay. Top of the list is some camo outfits with thermal dampening and some gas masks. Some haggling with the Crime Alley regulars nets them at slightly over cost. I think they are starting to recognise me as a regular.

Zero does some more digging on the mark, but hits a wall until one of her old contacts recognises the style of the house. That gives her the name of some architects in New York and with some prudent hacking she pulls up an owner and the name of the mark. Unfortunately, the owner is Mitsuhama and the mark is Jack Barnard, CEO of Yamatetsu USA. Just great. Worse, the little extra info that she is able to find is that Mr CEO has a personal bodyguard with a solid rep that makes most runners look like punks with streetline specials.

Things look even gloomier when Henry's astral flyby of the place reveals a warded building and at least one big spirit on patrol. From the shots we have of the building it's clear there is a good 200 meter kill zone all around the house and Henry points out where he saw several dark spots on the open lawns. Dances reckons they are pop-up mini-turrets. Hell, we don't even want to off this dude, but I don't see how we can even get to speak to him without getting ourselves killed.

Then Henry drops another bombshell. If we want him on this job, we need to go rescue his ancestors from the ghouls first. Guess we were going to have to deal with them sometime. Can't be more difficult than breaking into a corp CEO's island retreat, can it?

Finlay decides that our new armor isn't good enough for going up against ghouls. He wants some with chem protection in case one of them decides to chew on us. But Henry wants to do this like right now. So Finlay calls Mazeltof, the Jewish weapons dealer. Mazeltof has a rep for getting things quickly. But that means he ain't cheap. However, he is as good as his rep and we are off to pick up more gear less than 24 hours after our visit to Crime Alley. When we return with the ex-UCAS urban camo armor, Dances swears that his is his old army outfit.

Seaside's place is starting to look like the staging area for a military assault.

Seattle, 03 Feb 2052
We suit up and head down into the sewers. Zero is still digging up data, but Aurora delivers digital plans for the sewer grid that Dances uploads into his headware. As long as he doesn't get ganked we shouldn't get lost. Aurora also gets us past the security, not that there is much beyond a camera and maglock at the entrance to the storm drain. It even looks like its set up more to keep stuff in that keep us out.

Henry conjures a spirit to guide him and we follow it. Well he follows it and we follow him. Dances confirms that there is actually a spirit there.

I've brought the Ares X1 with me. I haven't had a chance to field test it but if we do run into ghouls, its got the firepower needed to deal with them. And there are plenty of signs that someone is living down here. Piles of trash look to have been set up to provide cover and channel attackers down certain paths. We also start to catch glimpses of movement although hard to tell if it's ghouls or just dire rats.

Dances says he thinks he hears a kid crying and then all of a sudden there is a bunch of ghouls coming at us. I fire the grenade launcher hoping to take them out but I'm not used to judging the arc of the grenades and it falls short. At least it slows them down for a moment.

From behind me I hear Finlay open up full auto. It's about all I can hear for the next ten minutes. I fire a couple of short bursts at the approaching ghouls but frag they are moving fast and the assault rifle kicks up despite the recoil compensators. Dances comes to my aid, his big shotgun filling the space between me and the ghouls with a hail of pellets. It slows them enough for us to get off another burst. The one ghoul still standing again dodges my long burst, but Dances shreds it with another burst from his shotgun.

Guess I need to take this gun out to the range and get some serious practice in. I sling it over my shoulder and draw the Kimber. The familiar feel of the heavy pistol in my hand puts me somewhat at ease. There's a long silence in which I can only hear my ears ringing. But the show of fire has got the ghouls to back off. For now, at least. We move, heading in the direction of the child's cry. If these fraggers do have some kids down here, we'll get them out.

We are moving through a narrow tunnel when there is a ting. Finlay attempts to leap backwards but the rusty bear-trap snaps shut on his leg. Bet he's glad of those new leg casings he bought because that's all that's stopping the gore covered trap from chewing into his leg.

Then, before we can get Finlay free, the ghouls open fire. Great, ghouls with guns. I take a couple of pistol rounds, one in the shoulder of my cyberarm and a second that punches through a weak spot in my armor and takes a chunk out of my side. At least they are regular 9 mm and not the EXEX I've got loaded. My adrenaline kicks up a notch, drowning out the pain.

The second ghoul shooter has a shotgun and takes a potshot at the trapped Finlay. Fortunately the big ork has more than enough armor to soak the heavy round. Two more ghouls burst out concealed tunnels on either sides of us. One of them gets a hold of Henry's legs pulling him down and half into the tunnel. Finlay lashes out with his spear taking down the second attacker before he gets a grip on any of us, and Dances fires a burst from his shotgun at the one shooting at Finlay.

I bring the Kimber up in a smooth arc, squeezing off the first round into the pistol wielding ghoul's chest and letting the recoil lift the gun to put the second between her eyes. And despite his injuries, Henry manages to keep his cool and blasts the ghoul trying to drag him off with his magic. For the second time tonight, all I can hear is the ringing of my ears. We drag Henry out of the pipe and Dances patches him up as best he can in the crappy conditions. But all he can really do is stop the bleeding and pump him full of antivirals. Then, he does the same for me and Finlay.

The space at the end of the tunnel has been converted into a grisly sitting room. Gnawed bones lie amidst tattered furniture and children's toys. I had heard that some ghouls didn't go feral, but can they still have kids? While Henry digs around to recover his ancestors remains, I leave a little present for the ghouls should they come back, a couple of charges of C4 on a one hour timer.

Once Henry seems happy he has all the bones he can recover, we get the frag out of Dodge.

March 17, 2013

Billie's Journal - We need bigger guns!

Seattle, 28 Jan 2051

Zero takes the news about as well as expected. She curses in French, throws a few things around and retreats to the back seat of one of Seaside's Hunvees with her deck. Like we all didn't see that coming!

While she is off breaking things in the matrix, an uneasy calm settles over Seaside's. I am chilling out watching some trids and cleaning my Cavalier Deputy, when I get a call from Martha. I tell her I'm in the middle of something and will call her back, then head downtown away from our watchers.

She is pretty pissed that we might have compromised her number and identity. I can't do much more than apologize but we agree that whatever she was planning to line us up with can wait while we sort out our Russian problem. I tell her we'll be in touch when we've cleaned up our mess but she is clearly worried.

Returning to Seaside's I find a team meet going on in the APC. Seems Zero channeled her anger into hacking the Russian node our mob friends have been sending their data to. Not the one downtown, currently being scoped out by Dances, who was happy not to have to hide in the crane for a couple of days, but the one in Russia.

The node turned out to be pretty ultraviolet, or military grade, as she explains to me. And it had a lot of data on us and our contacts. She wasn't able to get any of it downloaded as she was worried about getting spotted but she says it had a very detailed file on her, then me, Finlay and Dances. They didn't have too much on Henry, just a brief profile but what is most worrying is that they did have information on a lot of our contacts. She did find out that only two or three people had access to the node, and two of them were Maxim's brother and sister. I'm willing to bet that the third one is the dude pretending to be Maxim.

From what Zero knows of Maxim's siblings, they are at least as cuckoo as the man himself was and that they have a serious vengeance thing going for Zero. She also found that fake Maxim will be contacting us soon to set us up with a run that will leave us dead or worse. And by worse, she tells me that at least one scenario ends up with me back in the hands of the yaks. Did I mention I picked the wrong fragging year to give up drinking?

Seattle, 29 Jan 2051

I don't sleep well, worrying about getting handed back to the yaks. So I do the only thing a girl can in these circumstances. I go shopping. Crime Mall may not have this year's latest fashions but it does have what I need. Guns. I find my way to a dwarf by the name of Trigger. He's got long sideburns that are clearly dyed grey to make him look older. I suspect he ain't much older than me but keep quiet on that.

He is initially suspicious of the black clad goth chick asking for guns, but I show him my main carry, one of the Kimbers, and after examining it closely he relaxes a bit when he realizes I ain't just some emo teen planning on geeking her classmates. His selection is pretty street level, mainly AKs and Predators so I ask if he's got anything a bit heavier. He nixes my requests for security armor or LMGs on smart firing platforms, but does show me an impressive selection of mil-spec ARs and SMGs on his tablet.

I pick out something that has some cred without going full battle rifle. It's an Ares XR1 assault carbine, hot off the back of a military convoy. It's capable of single shot, burst fire or full auto, has an integrated smartlink, imaging scope and an underbarrel grenade launcher. It takes 30 rd clips of 5.56 and can fire two short bursts without any recoil. It looks cool too.

I take it along with 1000 rounds of regular ammo, 150 each of EX-EX and APDS, a couple of boxes of HE minigrenades and a bag of spare magazines. I throw in a pair of Predator IIs as backups to the Kimbers as well as a few hundred rounds of nine-mil just in case, and leave with my credsticks a cool ten grand lighter.

Trigger doesn't have any explosives but he gives me the name of a kid who makes his own. I find him at a stall on the next level of the mall. He looks even younger than me and is less worried about selling explosives to me than the dwarf was. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much in stock. All I can get is a half dozen blocks of C4, just one of C12 and a handful of Chinese timers that look older than the two of us put together. Frag it, they'll do. I was planning on picking up a few kilos of nails and some 'cleaning' products at the hardware store to bulk them out anyways.

I spend a few hours rigging up my bike and the Mustang as well as planting a few surprises around Seaside's just in case anyone tries to make a move on the garage. I sleep better tonight.

Seattle, 30 Jan 2051

Just when I think things can't get worse, Zero announces that she needs me to go shopping with her. And not gun shopping either. Fake Maxim has called and has set the meet with her in the fragging Seattle Needle restaurant. You know, the one that normally has a six month waiting list. Anyway Zero says she needs a new outfit and wants me to come along with her. Frag, I'd rather face a roomful of yaks in my underwear. 

We hit like a hundred stores. At least that's what it feels like. The sales staff are snooty as hell, tutting at my lack of boobs, hips and manicured nails. However, they usually shut the frag up when they get me down to my skivvies and see the scars and the arm.

Finally, we both have new outfits. Not sure how I ended up with one too. It's a figure hugging little black dress cut asymetrically at the neck. It covers my right arm and neck, leaving my left shoulder and arm - the meat one - bare. Black mesh gloves, low shoes and a tiny purse complete the outfit. I feel overexposed but the salesgirl assures me it has enough armor to stop a light pistol round. I sure don't plan on testing that out. In fact, I doubt I'm ever going to wear this five grand of next to nothing outfit anywhere other than my bedroom.

Seattle, 01 Feb 2051

Tonight's the night. However, while Dances and Finlay play chaperone for Zero, Henry has asked me to back him up on a little visit to his parent's graves. It seems like a strange request but when we arrive at the location, I realize why he asked. His folks were interred at some downtown grave parlor that's been shut down for suspicious activity - never a good sign. 

While looking for a way in, a fire exit clicks open. Sure its suspicious, but at the same time you don't look a gift horse in the mouth, whatever that means. We sneak inside only to be confronted by some sort of ghost spirit. I resist shooting it and it leads us through the building to a cellar. To cut a long story short, it seems that the suspicious activity has something to do with the owners feeding the bodies of the recently deceased to some fragging ghouls in the sewers under the graveyard. I put a couple of rounds in one and they leg it but not before one calls out a warning about being betrayed. 

Henry is clearly upset that his folks remains have been fed to a bunch of flesh eating fraggers. But he explains its more than that. For him to become a better mage he needs to honour them and that ain't gonna be easy if they've been eaten by the ghouls. Looks like we are gonna have to come back and deal with them before  Henry can unblock his juju problem. And that's gonna take more than just the two of us.

The only good news is that while our trip may have been a bust, Zero's meeting with fake Maxim went down without any major hitches and that she is down Club Penumbra celebrating with Finlay and Dances. 

December 20, 2012

Billie's journal - Watchers

Seattle, 21 Jan 2051

So having saved the world again, or at least some of the grubbier parts of Seattle, it's back to tracking down Zero's psycho Russian ex-boyfriend. I head up North with Henry to meet the shaman. I'm still betting it's the one who was dancing around in his loin cloth on Council Island.

Concrete and skyscrapers slowly give way to grass and trees. We're still officially in UCAS territory, but it sure feels like Salish lands. The meet is scheduled at some real-food restaurant. The owner's an elf that doesn't look much older than me but acts like my mother. Or at least how I would expect my mother to act. Too bad I don't remember what she was like when I was a kid.

I order a soykaf and she rattles off a list of blends of real coffee. My blank stare says it all and she tells me she'll just get me a cup of the weekly special. It's good, damn good! Most of the stuff I drink comes out of a vending machine and tastes like crap. Makes me wonder what actually goes into making it.

The food smells and looks good and my stomach is rumbling by the time the shaman turns up. He's well wrapped up against the cold and I can't honestly tell if it's the same guy I saw on Council Island. It's maybe a cliche, but all these old injun dudes do kinda look the same.

Graham, as he introduces himself, then proceeds to barrage us with questions about why we want to find Maxim. I try to tell him as much as I can about how this psycho set up Zero to get raped by the CFO of Mitsuhama America and that's just the latest in a line of nastiness without giving away too too much about Zero or ourselves. But I gotta admit that it's not easy. It cuts too close to my plastic-reinforced bones. I can feel old Billie boiling up, so leave the final details to Henry.

Unfortunately, my bad memories leave me without much of an appetite and I pick at the home-cooked meal. Henry and Graham are kind enough to volunteer to finish it off for me, the greedy fraggers! We settle up and leave, handing Maxim's favourite rifle and the equivalent of five thousand nuyen in Sioux dollars to the old man. We agree to meet back at the restaurant in a week, but I give him my number just in case he finds something sooner.

Seattle, 22 Jan 2051

Next morning I'm up early. I want to catch Danny Kincaid at his favorite coffee shop. I am disguised as a corporate secretary in pencil skirt and jacket, neither of which are armored. The blouse is a power cut that buttons up to the neck and the ensemble is finished off with stockings and a pair of comfortable, low-heeled slip-on shoes. I feel like I am wearing too much makeup, although Zero insists it's not enough. I can hardly move in the skirt, needing to take fast baby steps to get anywhere quickly.

I still manage to get there in plenty of time. More like giving everyone plenty of time to see through my disguise, that is. I buy a large soykaf and find a table in the corner, pretending I'm checking my mail on my phone. I'm on my second cup and starting to wonder if he's going to show when he finally turns up. Well let's just say I stand out enough in this getup to catch his attention. Luckily, he recovers quickly and joins me at the table once he has his coffee.

We don't go in for much small talk. I check if he's heard anything about the yakuza and fill him in on the Red Mask and our current situation. He warns me off going up against a triple-A corp or even their Russian subsidiary. He also makes it clear that even if we have significant evidence against the CFO, they'll just ship him off somewhere until things quiet down. And he warns me to not even think about taking him out, unless we all have a deathwish. He does compliment me on my choice of outfit, although I suspect it is mostly because it helps me blend in, not because it actually suits me.

I return to Seaside's and more comfortable clothes and sprawl in the sofa in front of his trid. There's nothing on. I check my mail, not something I do regularly, and find a strange message there. At first glance it looks like spam, but those should be filtered out automatically. I get Zero to look at it. She does whatever it is she does and then the next thing I know she's on the phone to Dances asking what he did with her eyes. Then she is in Seaside's freezer getting out the liquid nitrogen 'sample' container. Next thing I know she's running a retinal scanner over some frozen eyeball and then cursing because the message it decoded is for Finlay. Huh?

I'm still getting to grips with the fact that one of Zero's eyeballs is in Seaside's fridge, when Finlay scoops up my phone and smashes it on the floor with the butt of his spear. He repeats the process with his own phone and Zero's. Has he gone mad, too. I'm supposed to be the crazy one. His swathe of desctruction apparently complete, he points to the burnt-out APC sitting in the garage. Only when we're all huddled inside does he explain that the message was from Albrecht and hinted that someone had hacked our phones.

I point out that he just smashed the only way Graham the wolf shaman had of contacting me and that unless Zero can recover my phone list from the remains, it also means I have no way to reach any of my other contacts. Not that I have a lot of contacts, but I don't have their numbers written down in some fragging little black book like mister fragging ork professor does.

Finlay apologises and we take a drive down to the nearest stuffer shack to pick up a couple of cheap disposable phones while Zero checks our comms. By the time we get back she's already found a couple of bugs. She has also managed to recover my phone list. I spend a few minutes transferring it to the new phone but will have to wait to send out messages to my contacts until I am in a bug free zone.

Seattle, 23 Jan 2051

I take a drive with Zero to a crummy cybercafe on the edge of the Barrens for a meet with Aurora. By meet, I mean a virtual one, so Aurora and Zero do the talking while I just handle the intros from a terminal and then watch over Zero's body while she's in the matrix. We want her to do some quiet digging into Mitsuhama, RusCyber, Mitsuhama's CFO rapist, Maxim and his family. She's up for it but wants a big bag of cash up front. As we're still flush from the flower job, Zero makes the transfer and I add another few grand for further reseach into my list of missing girls.

It's dark when we get back, although at this time of year it barely gets light with the cloud cover from all the acid rain. Finlay takes me aside when we get in asking if I would take him out for a ride in the Mustang. I'm not sure what he's up to and am still kind of pissed at him for smashing my phone, but I assume its something to do with our spies, so go along with it.

We drive a few klicks along the coast. The roads here are quiet and while you still need to watch out for the odd pothole or piece of crap on the road, I can open her up without having to worry about Lone Star or KE. Except of course Finlay isn't really interested in taking a drive. He spotted some lights from one of the abandoned buildings further down the coast and wants to take a look. I don't like leaving the car here but it's quiet enough, so it should be okay as long as we aint gone too long.

We sneak back along the road about half a click and then into an old boatyard. There's a couple of empty drydocks and a few dark buildings. The thermal imaging in my glasses picks up a slight temperature difference from one of them and we creep closer for a look. Just then, Henry's astral form materialises next to Finlay and warns us that there is a fire elemental patrolling around the building. We duck back into cover, me giving Finlay the stink-eye for not telling me Henry was on astral overwatch.

Unfortunately, Henry is still recovering from some mana backlash from our previous adventures, so he is not up to tackling the elemental. We back off and head downtown to discuss plans, only stopping back at Seaside's to switch to the van. The Mustang kind of stands out. Plus I don't have any papers for her. Hell, I don't even have a driving licence on this fake SIN.

After some discussion on what to do, we decide to act normal while at Seaside's. That will be quite a challenge for this crew. At the same time, we will keep a watch on them to see if we can find out who they are. Dances hasn't been at Seaside's much so he volunteers to play scout. He also claims he has some relevant experience from his time in the military. We'll see.

Seattle, 26 Jan 2051

Turns out Dances wasnt just talking out his ass. He spends three days hunkered down in the cab of a rusted out crane in the middle of winter keeping an eye on our watchers. To avoid compromising our comms, he sends the data to the clinic and drops a message to Zero to pick it up there.

The dudes look eastern european. You know the type, bodybuilder physiques with short-cropped blond hair and broken noses. Just hope they are Russians and not Albanian. Russians will kill you if you cross them, but the Albanians will also kill your family, your friends and your fragging dog. They make me look like a saint.

Seattle, 28 Jan 2051

Having heard nothing from Graham, we return to the restaurant. The coffee is still as good but the old injun's news isn't. He tells us that whoever owned the gun we gave him is dead and buried in a cemetary in Russia. Zero isnt going to take that news well. What's more worrying is that if Maxim is dead, why does she think it was him that set her up?