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 2052It'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
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.