Date: 20th November 2177
Weather: Rainy

Mood: Elated! I met the two famous Russian solos, The 55 – Lazarev and Valentine, who’s a famous sniper. Well I didn’t really meet Valentine, just gave him a happy wave from far away, but I did meet Lazarev and I nearly killed him and I got his autograph! What a day!! I didn’t get much time to fight though because everyone was already dead but I guess we beat The 55, because Lazarev surrendered to us! And then we saved his life! I tried to put the autographed empty magazine cartridge on the mantelpiece in the main room of our hideout, next to the battered FBR helmet and the photos of Pops’s family, but Pops got all grumpy and said I couldn’t, I don’t know why but he seems to really not like Lazarev talking to me …

Outfit: It was combat armour all day again but now I’m wearing my Russian Lolita dress in honour of The 55, who would have died in there if Ghost hadn’t decoded that treacherous little thermonuclear detonator. My Russian Lolita dress makes me look like a big babushka doll, and it takes about 9 layers to get out of, so I’m feeling really Russian. I was thinking to download some study chips to improve the little bit of Russian I remember from my childhood, but then I remembered study is boring so I didn’t.

News: The war has heated up some more, and some stupid corporation tried to get in Arasaka’s way but now they’re all gone, and Arasaka has a whole bunch of heavy militech bearing down on our rainy little home. The Arasaka district of New Horizon is completely shut off and anyone who didn’t make it into that district from their own apartment has either killed themselves or gone on a suicidal killing spree in their neighbourhood. There’s good money to be made there mopping up Arasaka sleeper cells, but of course we’re stuck on another one of our stupid low-rent Extreme Investigations. Am I the only girl in New Horizon who knows how to profit from a war??

So now we have some real intel about where the ghost chalk was being sold from, which is our only connection to the girl Samantha that our body-hopping LGBTIQ patron Alt wants us to find. We’ve visited enough medical facilities and research facilities now to know that there is a strong link between ghost chalk and whatever transubstantiation mumbo jumbo was going on back when Alt, Lima and Samantha were playing happy families in Peru (eeewww), and we figure that going into this Super Top Secret Ghost chalk Factory is going to give us some more leads on finding Samantha. So we spoke to Alt and of course she was all super-excited and happy for us to go get shot looking for her sister while she floats around in her latest body, so she set up some really flimsy mercenary contract and IDs that would get us half way into the facility, but not all the way because Alt never gives us everything we want, she’s like an Oracle in some old movie that’s being directed by a really sadistic guy who likes to watch his heroes suffer, but I didn’t tell her that because sometimes I think maybe she is as close to a god as humans can get and I don’t believe in much but I think it’s better not to cross people who might be gods, even if they’re sparkly transgender gods with bad taste in neon and some kind of incestuous obssession with their little sister. Anyway, halfway is good enough as the boys used to say back in my hometown, so we hopped in our whaler and headed off to the facility and that’s when Alt revealed that the pictures on our IDs weren’t our pictures because facial recognition software is really good so we have to inject ourselves with this weird temporary facial distortion nano drug that hurts like hell but blurs our faces so we won’t be recognized.

She better have a really good reward in mind when we finally find her stupid little sister.

The Facility was buried in the pit, inside some kind of weird old cluster of buildings that were all drawn together and clumped up like a huge wall around a fortress, and except for this one big canyon between them there was no way in. So we were going to have to slide in through this narrow gap in this wall made of old buildings, but it had a real forbidding look. There was a big spidery mobile gun platform clinging to one side of that canyon, lots of beady electronic sensor ports looking in every direction and a wicked cluster of guns and missile launchers pointing right at us. It was obviously there for a reason – the outer walls were scattered with burn marks and pocked with craters, like there had recently been an attack on the facility. So that spider turret was on extra alert, spying out for gangs of shifty kids in battered old vehicles looking to fight there way in. Good thing we had IDs! We beamed our data to the turret, and stabbed those needles of face distorting painbots into our necks.

I was shot by one of these in Tunguska, too

I was shot by one of these in Tunguska, too

The data worked, for now at least, and we were through, screaming and yelling as the bots crawled all over our faces and behind our eyes, like going into a cheap beauty parlour for a skin peel but the girl who works there can’t read and she uses hair bleach instead of whatever gentle acid is meant to cure pimples but never does (I tried like five times when I was a teenager and it never worked but I didn’t have enough money for cyberskin until I started killing people for a living and now my complexion is always perfect and stops bullets). I don’t think Coyote noticed though, probably because he’s had a million industrial-acid skin peels to try and treat his facial problem but they didn’t work so now he’s been stripped down to the nerves like 10 times and a face full of torture bots is just another day at the beautician for him. I guess that’s why he can’t get a job as a used car salesman for even the lowest corp, because that wrecked skin really turns off the customers, and then he has that unfocused stare of a guy who’s had his face rearranged too many times and knows too much too intimately about pain, so no one wants to go near him. Doesn’t bother me though, I’ve worked with Russian mercenaries. Coyote’s just a guy with a skin problem compared to them.

Though come to think of it, Coyote was working for a corp and had a car and benefits and everything until we met him, the car got trashed and we had to go kill people to make enough money to pay off the credit card company. I guess he just has bad luck.

We drifted past the spider turret and into the fortress, but from here things were a bit more complicated. The canyon was like a kind of tunnel, and when we were near the far side we got a message from this control room – along with a missile lock – telling us they needed to inspect our vehicle and check our papers. They didn’t sound pretty but Coyote just said sure, fine, whatever and down we went to meet them on this little platform down in the canyon. There were five or six of them, heavily armed, one was a full body replacement (FBR), they wanted us to get out of the whaler while they checked it. We went down onto the platform and stood there while they inspected our papers and our whaler, but that FBR was real scary and Ghost was getting the prickles and they all noticed he was about to have an accident in his body armour, started making jokes and trying to panic him until Coyote stepped in and made some calming jokes about our hacker being a bit of a wimp. We were all getting ready to go full auto on the FBR, but we didn’t have to; they let us back in the whaler and told us we had two hours to go do our mercenary contract. We took their two hours happily and headed into the facility.

Inside the fortress walls was this kind of empty space in the pit, a huge dark space with no husk, no lights and no people. It was so big that you could fly down into it and skirt around it without ever seeing the other side – there’s hidden spaces in New Horizon’s bowels that are bigger than old cities, and no maps or guides or even history of these spaces. We scooted around a bit before we finally found what we were looking for – this big open space with a few small clusters of buildings hiding it from the main pit, and in the middle of it a low, solid-looking building with lights on that was obviously a functioning building, the only one down here in this pit.

Only it wasn’t really functioning because somehow someone had got here before us, and they had come here with bloody murder in mind. As our whaler drifted in slow and careful over the wasteland surrounding the facility we could see movement around the building. There was smoke, dead bodies, and as we came in closer we saw someone standing in front of four kneeling figures, shooting them in the back of the head one at a time. As the last of those white-coated figures flopped to the ground the executioner looked up and saw us, and disappeared inside the building. It looked as if someone was executing scientists, and there must have been some kind of raid on the building. Up at a higher level of the building some kind of armoured personnel vehicle had been rammed into the roof, and there were thin tendrils of smoke drifting out of it. Looking at that, we saw then that there was another, much smaller spider turret clinging to the roof a little distance from that personnel carrier, and as we approached it took a shot at us, some kind of shrapnel round that blew up near us and peppered the whaler with chunks of metal. Luckily none of them hit us inside, but that one round put paid to any more dreams Ghost had about goldfish hunting with his pals. I guess even hackers have to make sacrifices as part of a mercenary career!

Now we were in a bit of trouble, so we skidded in low and fast, trying to get out of sight of the turret. We put the damaged hulk of the personnel carrier between us and the turret and came to a screaming halt down at the base of the facility but as we hit the ground we took fire from a squad on the ground, must have been the guys who were killing scientists a moment before. I don’t think there’s even a gel nail of distance between me and those boys when it comes to appreciating the obvious joys of murdering the types of men and women who would work in a place like this, but I can’t see eye to eye with anyone who’s trying to kill me, so I broke out my assault rifle and we went to work. As the whaler touched down Coyote opened the rear doors, but we were still unstrapping and weren’t fast enough, and before we could move to safer ground a grenade landed right in the middle of the open cargo area. The blast hurt us all, but it hurt me pretty bad, and we hadn’t even fired a shot! It also did a bit of damage to the inside of our whaler, knocking things around and setting off some kind of foam fire retardant, which was maybe the cover we needed as we ran out of the whaler and opened fire on those boys with the grenades. We cleaned them up pretty fast but before we had a chance to see what was going on a sniper opened fire on us, hitting Pops hard but fortunately only in his cyberleg. We all dropped down for cover, and I worked out where the sniper was but the position was way too far away to deal with – we were just going to have to do our jobs with that sniper there. We ran inside the building out of the line of fire and tried to work out what to do next. There was a pair of elevators going up but it looked pretty likely that whoever was in there knew we were coming, and going up in the elevators would be a death sentence.

That’s when Hartigan realized that whoever was shooting us probably came in through that wrecked personnel carrier, which meant it was probably armoured, and probably opened a hole inside the building that no one was guarding. We slipped around to a different part of the building, out of sight of the sniper, and climbed up some emergency exit ladders out there to the roof. From there, carefully hidden from the turret by the slope of the roof and the burning wreck, we could climb into the ruin of the personnel carrier and slide down into the upper levels of the building. It took a bit of time and they were probably starting to think we’d found a different way in by the time we got there, but whoever was inside didn’t think to come check their kamikaze doorway, and we were in.

Inside we found a scene of carnage that made me think I wasn’t the only person on this earth with an anti-scientific bent. The carrier had smashed into a room that had turned into a battlezone, but most of the dead were scientists, just a few security people. Those who hadn’t been killed when the carrier came through had been shot where they lay stunned from the blast, and the room was slick with the gore of dead scientists. At the end of the room there was a barricade that had been smashed through and led to another room with scientists in, this handful killed trying to defend themselves. Whoever had come through here had obviously had enough numbers to blow through a fair number of defenders, and then gone down the lift. We didn’t want to take the elevator, but after a bit of searching we found a kind of dumb waiter thing, a sort of access shaft that linked the different research rooms and that we could climb down. We went carefully down this to the next level, which was empty, and crawled out into another room full of dead scientists, who had been knocked down by some sort of stun grenade, mostly, and murdered where they lay. Whoever came in here had obviously done so only so that they could kill everyone in here. Now we found a computer room, though, and we wanted to search it for data, but Ghost found out real fast that actually the system had been flatlined, and rigged to blow up the building’s power supply if anyone tried to copy any of the corrupted data that was left on the server.

We were looking at some serious wetwork here. Much of the evidence of who had done it was covered up but we figured the killers couldn’t have time to disable every skullcam and digital recorder on every body. While Ghost and Coyote went looking for ways down to the next level, and trying to figure out what was going on in the building, I kept watch on the lift entrance and Pops went through the bodies, recovering a few cybereyes, some chipware and a few data recorders. It’s gruesome work pulling that gear out from dead scientists but Pops used to specialize in taking down cyberpsychotics, so I guess he’s used to this sort of icky investigative work – he went about it with grim purpose, sticking all the gooey bits into some kind of evidence bags he takes everywhere with him and I guess trying not to lick his fingers clean after each extraction. In amongst all this gore and post-operative mess, Pops managed to identify a couple of dead people from in amongst the attacking squad. They looked like they were pretty poorly armed and armoured, not really a professional kill team at all, and they didn’t have any insignia from any band that we knew about. Hardly surprising that we didn’t know them though, considering the kind of murky world we’ve found ourselves in since we got entangled with Alt, so we didn’t give them much more thought.

After a few minutes of mesmerizing autopsification, Ghost and Coyote came back with word of the layout of the building and another one of those sneaky little back elevators, so off we went.

This building was split in the middle by a large, spherical central chamber that took up several stories of the building and seemed to be accessed separately from each side, with no direct links between the sides on the upper levels. The next level down from us held the only entrance to the central chamber from this side of the building, and we were all thinking that this central chamber was the reason that the murder team had come here. We figured, then, that we’d meet them on the next level, so we went extra cautious down that next hidden conduit. I went down last, because I had got badly banged up by that first grenade and I wanted to shoot into that room from some kind of concealment.

The others piled into the room at the bottom and went straight into the attack – we were right that the squad was on the inside. There were four or five of them, but they weren’t expecting Pops’s grenade or the follow-up, and fell back into the chamber itself as soon as we attacked. Unfortunately for us the room we crawled into was just a kind of waiting room for that chamber, a big square room with racks of scientific gear, and the big round chamber itself had some serious armour on the walls so we couldn’t fire through. So we had to take cover in the room and hope for the best, but before we could get a good position Coyote got taken down by a second grenade. Pops was propped into one corner of the room, firing grenades and autofire into that chamber, and I was running across the front of the chamber and back again, going from cover to cover and firing bursts into the room when I did. Upstairs Ghost was hacking into the cybergear of the team, trying to disable them, and that’s when he discovered that one of them, their leader, who was all geared up in battle armour, had some kind of biopatch in his suit that was set up to trigger a thermonuclear explosion if he died.

A thermonuclear explosion is not what you usually find attached to a solo’s armour. This trigger was linked to a fusion power plant buried under the lab, so it had to have been set up by whoever had sent this team in. Which was weird, because if you could access the nuclear powerplant remotely, why would you bother sending in a team to kill everyone instead of just nuking them all? Anyway, we were kind of busy to wargame those tactical choices in any detail, so while we were holding that team pinned down Ghost quietly disconnected the blast signal. And then he discovered an even subtler signal – a second trigger that would go off once the wearer moved a certain distance away from the facility. But that trigger was set to a distance so close to the blast that it guaranteed the wearer and his team would die.

Whoever was in there had been sent on a suicide mission, and didn’t even know it. Which gave us a bargaining point, if we could convince them to stop shooting.

Pops managed to get another grenade on target, and all of the team but the leader were out. We were pretty exhausted too, and we were in bad shape – Pops was shot up, Coyote was down and probably bleeding out, and I was hurt from before. So it was a miracle for all of us when we heard a yell of surrender from inside the chamber. First it was in Russian but then the dude switched to New Mandarin.

“Hey guys, can’t we just stand down and sort this politely?!”

Now that was a chance for all of us. Pops gestured madly to Ghost, who went running to look after Coyote, and I slid into a position with a good angle of fire on the entrance. “Sure!” Pops yelled back. “What do you want?” The shooting went silent, and all we could hear was some poor soul inside that chamber moaning as he bled out.

“Well that’s the kind of calm I’ve been waiting to hear since I got down here,” our enemy yelled back, his Russian accent bludgeoning all the accents and tones of New Mandarin flat like a hammer on origami. “Listen, I’ve got a dead man’s switch, alright, so first of all don’t be shooting anymore.”

“No problem if the restraint is mutual, friend.”

“It surely is, I don’t have any dog in this fight. I’ve done my job down here, I don’t want to fight my way out if I don’t have to.”

Now Ghost had stabilized Coyote and was looking at the corpse of one of our victims, when he noticed that these guys were not like the dead killers we saw upstairs – they were in different armour, with the insignia of a different team on it. There had been two teams in here. Pops had also noticed, while I was busy running around in there.

“Well we’re gonna have to talk about what your job was on our way out. But here’s the thing my man – you’re wired to blow this whole place once you try to leave. So you can’t leave without letting us help you.”

“Fucking dogs! I thought this mission had a one-way feel to it! Looks like we got a problem in need of mutual effort!”

This macho banter went on for a bit longer but we were all too dog tired to keep up the posture for very long, so after a short debate about who owed what to who everyone agreed to let the recent unpleasantness slide, in the interests of getting out here alive and getting to bed as soon as possible. So our Russian conversationalist came out of hiding, hands up, and that’s when I discovered he was Lazerev, the famous “L” from Team LV – The 55! Lazerev the stormer and Valentine the sniper, a famous pair of independent solos who I’ve always wanted to meet! I was so shy when I took Lazerev’s gun and put him in cover! Little me, getting to meet the mighty 55! And Pops was even luckier, he got shot by Valentine himself and didn’t die! Not many people had that experience, especially since anyone who survives the V gets to be pummelled by the L! And here we were saving their lives! I was blushing under my armour at the chance to meet two of my long-time heroes!

Pops didn’t seem too happy about my enthusiasm though, and got all growly about keeping a careful eye on Lazerev while they searched the place and tried to figure out a way out. So there we were, Mr. Lazerev and me, sitting there amongst the smoking dead with just a gun and some crossed allegiances between us, as perfect a date as you could expect to be on, really! And all alone except for Coyote’s ugly comatose wreck, while Ghost and Pops dug around for more clues about this weird lab. What a chance encounter!

And that, Dear Diary, is where I have to finish this story, because what happened next is kind of crazy and a bit special, because we found Samantha and an oil rig, and that’s a story I need to tell on a different day. Let’s finish this entry with me and Lazerev sitting there on the floor of the weird spherical chamber in that pit, giggling and swapping adventure stories while Pops and Ghost did their investigations and Coyote groaned. What a perfect ending to a fine, fine day!