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.