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?

November 14, 2012

Billie's Journal - Red Mask

Seattle 20 Jan 2051
Zero reminds us that respirators aint going to work against the Red Mask. We'll need either NBC suits or a full-face gas mask at a pinch as the stuff can get in through the soft tissue around your eyes. Finlay wakes up our Martha and she puts out the word for us.

I stock up with a jerrycan of unleaded just in case we need to set something on fire. Martha comes through, at least with the gas masks. She gives us the address of a restaurant in Chinatown, telling us to call ahead and then park around the back. The team make a point of telling me that these dudes are Chinese and more likely affiliated to the triads than the yakuza. I know the difference, well sort of.

We make the call on the way in the van. Zero asks if she can get some chicken noodles and I realise I'm hungry too, so add my order to the list. The guy on the phone seems unfazed by our request. We pull around the back and Finlay knocks on the door. A balding chinaman appears wearing a greasy cook's outfit and after a quick discussion, two scrawny chinese guys haul out a crate with six gas masks. Finlay hands over the cash and the cook hands him a bag with our carry out.

We eat on our way to the clinic. Dances is waiting for us. We have some pictures of the dead guy and his buddies from the clinic's cameras but no names. About all we have to go on is that the guys look more like bums than gangers. We ask about and splash a little nuyen. One of the locla gangers, hopped up on god knows what, points us towards an old parking garage to the west, where he says some squatters are living. We drive on over, taking care to put on the  masks before exiting the van.

It's quiet. Too quiet. Not a light on in any of the surrounding buildings. Not that there is power in this part of town, but people usually find some way to keep the dark at bay, whether it's a solar charged battery, an illegal power tap or just a plain old fire. There's not even any rats skittering around.

We enter the underground garage unopposed and it soon becomes pretty clear why. There aint nobody living to oppose us. There's a bunch of dead squatters spread over the two levels of the garage. About fifteen all told,  and all dead from the Red Mask. Some of them been dead quite a few days. Makes me glad of the mask as it keeps out the smell as well as the virus.

We pile up the bodies. It's nasty work and douse them with the petrol. Should get rid of any evidence of the Red Mask. While we're doing that, Zero picks up a wireless signal and traces it back to a camera stuck on the ceiling. It's burst transitting stills from the garage every couple of minutes. Not live footage but enough to follow what's going on. She loops the footage to show us wandering about like when we just came in and then follows the signal to see where it goes. Not far as it turns out. It still in the barrens, in a slightly better part and just far enough away to be out of the infection area.

Concerned that we might have been made and that we will lose them, we decide to drop by right away. At this time of night there aint too many vehicles on the road. Hell there ain't too many vehicles on the road in this part of town any time of the day. So we take a swing past the location and park a couple of blocks down the street.

There are at least a couple of cameras covering the building, an old warehouse on the corner of the block. They look similar to the one we found in the garage, some cheap wireless piece of Yamatetsu drek geckoed to the wall.

Zero jumps into the matrix and quickly gains access to their system, discovering several more cameras, a sentry gun and a couple of laser tripwires. She loops the cameras, shuts down the tripwires and takes control of the sentry gun. In the meantime, Leon takes a swing past the roof in the astral and spots some twisted spirit of man lurking about up there. While Zero stays with the van and monitors the security system the rest of us head out and up the fire escape.

Leon dismisses the spirit, or at least that's what he tells us and I go to work on the manual lock on the skylight. Only takes a minute or two but feels longer. I drop in behind Finlay and flatten myself against a rather flimsy internal wall. Finlay has already dealt with the two sleeping beauties in the room and we creep out into the hallway.

Then all hell breaks loose. A dude appears with an SMG. Dances picks him off through the skylight while Finlay moves to a covering position. I push into the next room. At first I don't see anyone but Finlay catches a glimpse of movement with his heightened senses and hoses a long burst through the wall at the guy trying to ambush me.

Checking that the room is clear, I move to the next one. I open the door to see two girls huddling behind an overturned bed. Well one is huddling. The other glares pure hatred, then throws a grenade at me. As it bounces out the door, I roll in shouting a warning to the others.

There is a loud bang and flechettes fill the hallway. The thin plasterboard walls take the sting out of them and my armor does the rest. Finlay's lead hose chews up the huddler while I double tap angry girl. Then there is a roar behind me. Another dude is now visible through the remains of the plasterboard on the other side of the building. He is staggering back as Finlay's gun cuts a swathe across his chest but he also has his finger on the trigger of an autoshotgun and Finlay rolls desperately to avoid the hail of flechettes spewing in his direction. I squeeze of a couple of rounds at the dude. The first barely clips his skull with what sounds like a metallic ding, but the second hits square between his eyes.

Then I feel a surge of magic, like someone trying to crush my skull. But it's deflected and weakened and I just give a soft groan as I fight it off. I mouth a silent 'Thank you' to Leon and Dances. I hear the soft crack of a silenced high velocity pistol as Dances targets the mage, then I spot him myself. Another double tap takes him down and silence returns.

Zero informs us that we seem to have woken half the neighborhood. She also detected but was unable to intercept all of the 911 calls. Lone Star take their own good time coming out to these parts but they will come eventually.

We quickly check the place. In the room where the mage was, we find a bunch of medical supplies and some text tube racks containing what looks like vials of Red Mask. We haul as much as we can down to the ground floor and load it into a van done up as an ambulance. They kindly left the keys in the ignition, so when Zero gives us the heads up that Lone Star are on their way, we hightail it out of there.

Seattle 21 Jan 2051
I make a quick call to Crow before hitting the sack. She wants a meet and suggests we go fishing. After checking with Seaside and hitting the sack for a few hours, we are back on the road. Well more like on the water. We follow Crow's instructions and soon spot a fishing boat, somewhat bigger than Seaside's. Pulling alonside, it's clear that they are not really fishing at all. Most of the crew seem unfamiliar with being on a boat and while fishermen tend to be a hardy lot, these guys are just a bit too buff. Crow appears on deck in her cheap suit and a haze of smoke.

We quickly transfer over the two teenagers Finlay clocked along with the vials of Red Mask which a couple of techs, in NBC suits, carefully take off our hands.  We also hand over the desktop that was running their security system. It has all has the footage from the camera at the garage on it. There's a short standoff between Crow and Zero about handing over all copies. Zero finally agrees to delete her headware copy. Doesn't really matter though. While we don't have the original video file, her meat brain memory is like a vice, so she won't forget any useful information she saw.

To show her gratitude, Crow doesn't have us killed and even hands over a briefcase filled with corp scrip. Even after paying off Seaside, it still comes to about 10k each. Not bad for a night's work.

November 4, 2012

Billie's Journal - Zero

Seattle 16 Jan 2051
We've been keeping a low profile for a couple of weeks. We might not have made any money on that last run, but most of us are sitting pretty from the proceeds of our little trip to Amazonia. It won't last forever, but at least we ain't starving.

Bunking at Seaside's ain't exactly luxury accomodation. We've got a few cots and some space heaters set up between his collection of cars. Harlequin's or I should say my Mustang has pride of place amongst them. I think the old fella spends more time polishing it than working on getting his other cars fixed up. I've taken it out for a spin a couple of times, but it's not exactly inconspicuous and drinks gas like it's going out of fashion.

Zero suggested ripping out the engine and replacing it with a multifuel and I thought Seaside was either going to drop deap from a heart attack or shoot her on the spot. Talking of Zero, the girl's been acting mighty strange. She's always had the tendency to spend too much time on the matrix, but since we finished our last run, she's pretty much barricaded herself into one of the Hummer's and even spent a day blacking out the windows with a marker.

I know something bad went down with her while we were trekking across Amazonia and hoped she'd open up to me or Finlay about it. As she hasn't yet, I do the only thing I can think of and climb in the front of the Hummvee and plain out ask her.

Poor girl spills her guts. Seems that before we met, she had been hooked up with some Russki by the name of Maxim. Well, seems like this fella wasn't the most stable of sorts but they had something going. He was a big deal with some soviet corp. It's part of Yamatetsu now, but when Zero met Maxim he was number two son of the family business and head of security. He caught her trying to steal some of their data but rather than gank her, he took a shine to her and the pair of them absconded with some paydata and some prototype cyberware.

They were on the lam together for a while until a run against Aztechnology went bad and Maxim got himself ganked. And not in a nice way. Flayed alive and dropped in an acid vat according to Zero. She figured he was dead and moved to Seattle where she hitched up with the padre and Finlay. Well seems like he somehow came back from the dead. Zero reminds me of the time we had to drop her into a bath of ice to keep her from cooking alive. We thought it was black ice but seems like it was something more. She says it was more like the astral trip we took way back in Scotland and that she had a vision of Maxim alive and in a hospital.

She's been trying to find out more since then, but he found her first. He was the one that broke into our garage the night we hit the plantation down in Amazonia. He convinced her to go on a run for him when she should of been covering our asses. It didn't go as smoothly as planned and while she did manage to do what he asked, the mark was the fragger that left his handprints on her neck. That's not all he did to her.

I'm out of the car and halfway to the door before Finlay gets a grip on me. Even amped up, he's too strong for me and keeps me pinned down till I run out of juice and expletives. Turns out she already told him a week ago.

When I've cooled off we discuss options. We can't really go up against Maxim's family or his folk's corp. It's part of Yamatetsu and that means we'd be going up against them. But we need to take Maxim out of the picture plus any data they have on Zero. And the Yamatetsu fragger that put his hands on her. He dies. The trick is going to be how to make it look like it was Maxim and his folks that hit him. We're gonna need the rest of the guys for this.

Unfortunately, when we call Dances he tells us he's gonna be held up at the clinic for a few days. He had been looking to do some doctoring work and Finlay had put him in touch with one of his contacts. While she hadn't been impressed with his attitude, and frankly who is, she had been impressed by his skill with a scalpel and agreed to try him out on the graveyard shift.

Henry Leon is available and he drops round so we can fill him in. Zero thinks that one of her contacts, a hardware supplier by the name of Wallace, might have been the one that sold her out to Maxim. She says he's been acting funny lately and when she checked out his store recently, he had upped the security from 'nothing special' to 'pretty serious'. At least that's what I get from the description she gives.

Problem is that he knows what Zero looks like and none of the rest of us really have the skills to look at his security system. We also don't want Maxim to find out that we're looking for him, so Finlay is arranging a B-team to hit Wallace's place to copy the security logs. That means we need to sit on our hands for a couple of days till Martha sets up a team to hit the place. Fair enough, because I got a bit of unfinished business of my own to sort out.

Seattle 17 Jan 2051

When we tramping through the Amazonian jungle it finally hit me what the tissue sample in the padre's container of liquid nitrogen probably was. Martha, the toxic shaman, or one of her cronies. I remember him acting a bit strange at the abandoned camp we found up in Aglonkin territory and figured he must have found something there. I place a call to a number listed only as 'Crow'.

I swear I can smell cheap cigarettes when the person on the other end of the line answers. I tell her my name and then we have one of those strange conversations where we talk about the subject at hand without saying anything about it directly. She tells me she'll call back and sure enough I get a call in less than half an hour. She tells me to take the sample to Council Island and not to worry, they're expecting me. I tell her she'll need another container as I need to keep the one we have. I don't tell her that's because the other sample in there is the few drops of Ehran's blood that Dances recovered from the rapier. She just tells me to get there ASAP.

The Rapier is fast but it just don't have the class my Harley does. Unfortunately, the cowboy package aint that common and the yaks are still likely looking for it. So it's sitting next to the Mustang at Seaside's. The roads are wet and a little slippery, but as I'm sticking to the speed limit to avoid attention from KE it's nothing I can't handle.

The injuns guarding the main access to Council Island barely look at me. In fact, they look at me like I got the plague or something and hurry me through. I can guess who's behind that. The woman at the reception obviously either didn't get the memo or is working for 'smoking woman' as she nonchalantly hands me a tourist map and points me to the path towards the totem poles.

I wander along the path. It's cold and wet and no real tourists are out in this weather. As I approach this one totem pole with a big raven or more likely a crow on top, there is a young couple waiting for me. They are dressed like tourists but carry themselves like spooks. We quickly make the exchange and then I make my back to the main entrance.

On the way I come across an old injun wearing just a loin cloth. Frag, must be a medicine man, because I'm wearing thermals under my armor and I'm still cold. Worse, the last time I ran into one of these dudes in some backwoods bar up in Salish, I clocked him for calling me a bitch. Turned out he was actually calling me 'she-wolf', apparently it's the same word in Salish. Also turns out he was actually trying to give me some medicine man juju advice about my totem or latent adept abilities. Too bad, I only found that out when he posted bail to get me out of the local jail. And then only two days after the local law had locked me up for my own protection. So needless to say I give this one a wide berth. He doesn't pay any attention to me, just carries on singing and dancing around one of the totem poles. But the big ass, ghostly wolf he summons does watch me all the way back to the exit.

Seattle 18 Jan 2051

Today is quiet, the main highlight being Finlay trying to set up Henry with the daughter of one of his contacts. He knows some old lady in the archives at city hall. She has been more than happy to give him copies of old building plans on the off-chance that the big ork would take her daughter out on a date. When Henry discovered Finlay had a contact at the archives he was mighty interested and more or less volunteered to take the girl out on a date to get access to the archives for whatever little side project he is working on.

Then, late on in the day I get a call from Crow. She suggests I might be interested in the late news. I switch from a rerun of some old space cowboy show to the news. There is an item on a fire at a biotech firm. Several employees are reported dead and there is also at least one other body belonging to the 'eco-terrorists' that started or caused the fire. Did that sample let them track down Martha and the fire was the same spell used to toast the padre? Doubt that Crow will give me the satisfaction of confirming it, but for now I guess we can close that chapter of our lives.

Seattle 19 Jan 2051

Or maybe not. Today we get a call from Dances. He's been out of the loop for a few days. Apparently some dude came into the clinic where he was working with some sort of nasty virus. He was in bad shape when his buddies dropped him off and didn't last long. Dances didn't want to take any chance of it spreading so locked down the clinic.

When he mentions the symptoms, my stomach drops. Finlay asks him if he can send us a picture of the body. Frag me if it don't look like the Red Mask. I tell the team about the news item and we put two and two together and get five. The only good news is that we know the virus burns itself out in 48 hours, so Dances and the other people at the clinic are in the clear. However Dances says that the dead dude was brought in by a couple of guys, who may well have been infected. Great, so even if that fire killed Martha, we still could have a Red Mask plague on our hands. Now, where the frag did I leave that respirator?