cyberpunk


On the fat of the land I been living
Now it’s only a matter of time
Sooner or later, you open your eyes
And return to the scene of the crime
Dig deep at the top of the heap
Now you’ve bitten off the hand that feeds you
You got nothin’ but your soul to sell
You got nothin’
When the river runs dry
You will return to the scene of the crime
When the river runs dry
Salvation will rain on you one last time

 

Things fester in New Horizon. Out in the zones, away from the Claws, where the poor strive and toil and graft their way through life, jumping from paycheck to scam to paycheck to grift and back again, life is a hard scrabble, and you’re always just a step away from failure. When you fail – or when the system pushes you over the edge, into the shadows – you have to look for help among other people with the same hard luck and hard stares as you, and it doesn’t always end well. But sometimes you find a community, people who have something in common with you beyond being a ragged survivor of a hard world, and then you have a chance, at dignity if not at wealth and security.

Being non-human marks you out, and all across the sprawling ruins of the edge of New Horizon there are groups of metahumans who make it together, because they have something they can recognize each other by. Sometimes those bands don’t work out so well – sometimes they bring the shadows with them, and looking inward as they do, cloak themselves in darkness.

In a world of augmentation and magic – things can get very nasty down there in the shadows.

That’s why Anansie contacted the characters with an urgent job – a missing person’s case. An elven girl had gone missing, and after they exhausted all their own options her family called on shadowrunners to try and find her. Anansie did not know the details but he said there would be some money in it, maybe contacts, and it probably wasn’t such a tough job. So they headed off to the south end of Havensport, where the hard scrabble folks live.

For this job Anansie had hooked them up with new members, because their technomancer and their mage were on other work. Their new team members were:

  • Zenith, an Orc rigger, the driver who took them to the Troll gig on their last little outing
  • Jo, an ex-corporate human hacker

Anansie did not know if they would need a hacker for this job – “there is always a phone, is there not John?”, he had asked rhetorically when he introduced them – but he assured Jayden and John that Jo could handle herself in a fight, and if they were going to be cruising the badlands looking for detritus they would need a driver, so Zenith was their man. The two were waiting at the bar where they always met Anansie, Jo looking trim in armoured suit and Zenith casual in jeans, a t-shirt and big brown boots – classic rigger work wear. They hopped into his big, tint-windowed van and cruised South to the badlands.

Their target was a run down stretch of slums and shacks in the very far southern tip of Havensport, nestled in the shadows of a complex of disturbing looking chemical plants. They drove carefully through the sinister smell of unregulated industry and past sprawling slums into a slapped-together township of temporary shacks, stacked container apartments and crumbling converted warehouses to their meeting point – a dusty park from back in the era of state-run schools. The park had long since been converted into a market place, stalls scattered around a central open area scattered with outdoor tables, and it was here that they were due to meet their contact. When they parked their car, however, they realized they were in metahuman turf – not a human to be seen, and the boundaries of the market park patrolled by a nasty looking bunch of troll and orc irregulars. Of course John and Zenith were unbothered by the sight of a few metahumans, and Jayden was so used to being out of place in New Horizon that being confronted by non-humans did not bother him at all, but Jo looked distinctly uncomfortable as they strolled up to a pair of huge troll guards and asked to see their contact, Charcul. They were allowed through with a few grunts and into a largely troll-dominated arena of families and small groups, eating and drinking and relaxing in an unseasonally dry New Horizon afternoon. The entire park stank of stinky tofu, a delicacy from south China and Taiwan that held an almost narcotic appeal for trolls of all races, and which was ubiquitous at all their events throughout Asia. Jayden grabbed a few plates of the stuff as they walked through the park, so when they got close to Charcul and the next round of even bigger, even scarier troll guards approached he was ready with this opening gift. Zenith gave them the code phrase Anansie had told them and, thankfully relieved of their disgusting-smelling cargo, they were able to pass through to a small gaggle of metahumans standing around a tall, proud old troll.

Charcul told them the story quickly enough, in that deep and engaging bass rumble that only old trolls can mange. A young elven woman from the local community called Lin Fei had disappeared about two weeks ago, and they had very recently discovered that she was being held captive by an anti-metahuman gang called the Purifiers. This gang, entirely human, had set itself up above a bar called Akanebana in a nearby area that because of bad blood between gangs and some old agreements, Charcul’s community could not easily enter. He had reached out to Anansie in hopes of finding a team of shadowrunners with at least some human members that he might be able to cut a deal with. The purifiers had a history of torturing metahuman captives – tearing out tusks, rounding off ears, that sort of thing – and the longer they waited the worse it would be for Lin Fei. They assumed she was still alive because the Purifiers usually returned the bodies of their captives once they were finished, so they thought there was still a chance they could get her out. Word in the neighbouring metahuman areas was that she was not the first victim of this gang, and even if the shadowrunners could not liberate Lin Fei alive, Charcul hoped that their going to get her out would send a warning that she should be the last victim they took from this area.

The matter of payment came up. Charcul and his people were obviously not wealthy, and did not have much to give, but they offered 1500 nuyen each and the free takings of anything the PCs found in the Purifier’s gang base if they could liberate Lin Fei or return her body. They looked at each other, nodded, and offered to do the job for free.

Nobody likes Nazis.

Jayden made the offer, and suggested that the only payment they would ever ask was that one day they might need somewhere to lie low. This part of Havensport was a great place to hide, being almost off the grid and well out of the reach or interest of most corporate security teams. People in this part of town did not talk to strangers, and many of the communities down here had ferocious internal loyalties that stopped them talking loosely with their neighbours. For at least a little while a team of shadowrunners could get lost in here, and bonds of community would hold faster than any deal nuyen could buy – if they were owed a favour here, the trolls hiding them would take the secret of their location to the grave with them. Charcul thought the offer way too good, and in truth it was, but they all saw that one day it could be a life saver for the PCs too. They agreed, and the PCs set off to investigate this bar, Akanebana.

Trivial checks by Jo revealed it was a yakuza bar, owned by a small local yakuza family, the Kurosasori, that worked the edges of the sprawlzone. The Purifers must have set up on one of the levels above, and from the plans Jo downloaded it was pretty clear that the only way to the higher floors was to brazen their way through the yakuza bar itself. But this bar was in a human zone, and the yakuza who owned it were notoriously metaphobic, and a more detailed search suggested that although they did not own the building they were on more than friendly terms with whoever did – so getting in to beat up a bunch of tenants was going to be a challenge. They needed a way in that would get them past the bar without a fight.

They put in a call to Mr. Niwa, consigliere for the Yamada family, whose daughter they had previously escorted to a Troll metal gig. Mr. Niwa was a grateful man, and in exchange for the many extra services they had provided him on that mission he was able to arrange them an invitation to the bar, to talk to a Mr. Uesugi about the details of their evening. They made clear their visit was not going to be pretty, and he reminded them that his reputation was on the line. Everyone understood the stakes, so they went in.

The maps they had downloaded showed that the bar took the entire ground floor of the building, which had a large elevator hall near the entryway, but when they entered the building they found a very different setup. Most of the elevators had been blocked off and turned into cloak rooms or staff offices, and the elevator hall had become the entryway for the club itself, where security guards in smart suits greeted them in subdued Japanese style and divested them of their weapons. They were led into a relatively quiet public area, pumping music and a pair of scantily clad human women gyrating in some kind of raised platform at the end of a long, heavily burnished bar. The windows opened onto sedate zen gardens, and a brusque human waitress took their order. They stood there at the bar waiting for the maitre’d to bring them to their assigned seats but before they began their meeting they noticed a single human woman, blonde and muscular, leaning on the bar and looking around with a kind of urgent, uncertain and tense manner. Jayden approached her and discovered quickly that she was looking for her brother, who had disappeared in the area a few months ago – she suspected having joined the Purifiers. Her name was Gillian Payne, her little brother was Max, and plan was to go in and find him. Thinking she might know something about how to get in, they invited her to join them, and went to their meeting with Mr. Uesugi.

The conversation with Mr. Uesugi proved surprisingly easy. They told him directly they were going to go upstairs and get their target out of the Purifiers, and they hoped to come to some kind of arrangement. He told them directly that he wanted all of the Purifiers dead – they had become an embarassment to his gang, and now their rent was due – and he would much prefer someone else did it, so he would happily allow them into the building, clear the bar so there were no witnesses, and turn a blind eye to the slaughter. But he added two conditions: every single Purifier had to die, and the PCs could only take as much loot as they could carry. In particular the Purifiers were believed to be sitting on a large collection of crates whose contents the PCs were not to take or even to look at. They balked at the “every single purifier” condition, but managed to cut a bargain with Mr. Uesugi, that Max Payne could live if Gillian worked for the yakuza for a year. Mr. Uesugi made very clear that he really did not care for Max Payne to live, and he would make the one exception only if Gillian agreed to repay him with work. She agreed, and the deal was done.

The bar experienced a sudden freak blackout, and all the customers were asked to leave and move to a different bar nearby. Zenith slipped out to his car and came back with a drone – a tank the size of a large dog, bristling with guns. They were led down into the basement to a separate service lift by one of Mr. Uesugi’s goons, a massive thug called Takuya – “Takuya’su! Uss!” – and told that it would deposit them on the 2nd floor. They went up.

The third floor was deserted, a big dark common area that led to a kind of dormitory at one end. Here they found sets of bunk beds, with small bags of belongings in lockers at one end of the room. Searching the belongings they soon found commlinks, and Jo was able to hack the commlinks to get their contents. They found Max Payne’s commlink, and by quickly searching through the messages he had shared with a few of his fellow Purifiers they learnt many things:

  • Max was an initiate who was not allowed to do many things, and spent much of his time in lectures and indoctrination sessions
  • The more experienced Purifiers had a private bar/hangout area in the basement, that the initiates were not allowed into
  • Max and his friend had found a secret access shaft that connected all the floors, and even went down to the basement
  • Max’s friend had used the shaft and had stashed a card for the basement security system behind a cistern in the bathrooms
  • Calli was on level 5, and there was a complex they did not visit – where the prisoners were held – on level 4
  • The initiates spent most of their time in level 3, in a training and indoctrination area, and that was where they were now
  • The entire grubby little arrangement was run by a woman called Calli, who as far as they could discern was some kind of technical wizard

They decided to go down and deal with the security guards first, so once they had found the card they got back into the lift and headed down.

The elevator doors opened into a wide open space dominated by a large set of benches with computer equipment in the middle. There were five men standing around those benches, holding drinks and chatting. When the lift doors open they all stared at the PCs in shock, perhaps thinking for a moment they were colleagues from upstairs, and the PCs, expecting some kind of elevator hall or entryway, stared back in shock.

Except Jayden. Jayden is never surprised, so he burst into the room and set to work with his knife. From there the battle was short and brutal, the room starkly illuminated with flashes of gunfire and echoing with the scream of dying men. All five men died without doing any damage to the PCs, barely able to get a shot in before they found themselves face to face with Jayden, or pinned down under a withering barrage of gunfire.

As the last of the men slid groaning to his grim end Jo set to work hacking the computers, and the rest of the party fanned out to search the area. They found a simple bar and lounge, the kind of messy, untidy and comfy place that a bunch of twenty-something men set up when they’re living together. Nasty posters adorned the walls, yelling hateful human supremacist slogans from faces of young men distorted with anger. Pumping hardcore human first music roared through the room, and messages of hate scrolled across the computer screens. A typical human supremacist den.

Jo soon hacked the computer and gained complete access to the entire computer system. She accessed maps of all the other areas, gained full control of the lift, and hacked one of the guard’s commlinks. From this she showed them a feed of events in the prisoner area of level 4. A horrible tableau unfolded before them: the elf girl, Lin Fei, and an Orc man were tied to chairs in the middle of a stark, bare chamber. Around the back walls of the chamber were several cages, in which a couple of weak, sickly and heavily mutilated elves and dwarves were held captive. One cage in the middle held a huge, badly injured troll, who was rattling on the bars and screaming at the room. His tusks had been removed violently and his body was covered in scabby cuts and sores. Both the elf girl and the orc boy were covered in blood, and someone behind the camera was laughing at them. As they watched a rough, heavy-set man entered the scene from the left and slapped the orc, making a joke about how soon the elf girl wouldn’t have a use for him as a boyfriend. Then he turned to the girl and told her it was time for her to lose her ears. Someone behind the camera laughed, and the troll screamed.

This video was being streamed from the commlink in this room to Calli’s commlink, up in her hidey hole on level 5. If the PCs attacked now she would see her guards die and know that the den had intruders; but if they did not, this pair would soon be done for. They had to act now. They ran back to the lift and punched it for level 4.

At level 4 the elevator opened into a small entryway that fed into a wider corridor. They moved quickly down this corridor towards the sound of the raging troll, and ambushed the three guards in here with maximum violence. They were dead before they knew what hit them.

As they freed Lin Fei and her boyfriend, crying and desperately thankful, the Troll raged behind them in the cage. “Free me!” he yelled, and “You treacherous bitch, I’ll destroy you!” Apparently this was aimed at Lin Fei, though they had no time to find out why. By now Calli would know they had invaded her den, and would be planning some defense. Zenith sent his drone back to guard the elevator while they discussed what to do. Finally someone suggested that they free the troll and let him use the elevator to go and get Calli, then follow him. They would have to channel him away from Lin Fei, but everyone could see that he had lost his mind, and there was no hope for him. He was rattling the cage bars and screaming, “Let me at Calli! Let me out! I’ll kill her!”

It was a risk, but they took it. Jayden walked up to the cage and did his best to convince the troll that his enemy was Calli, not Lin Fei, and that he could come back for Lin Fei. Then he opened the cage, and they watched as the troll went screaming along the hallway, smashing into walls and yelling at the ceiling, insane with berserk rage. A troll in his finest fury is a sight to behold, and they all paused for just a moment to show him the respect he deserved before they moved down the hallway after him.

By the time they reached the elevator he had already headed up. They called the elevator back down and followed him, and when it opened on the fifth floor the sense of their strategy was clear. There were three guards on the ground in the elevator hall, all with SMGs that had been pointed at the elevator doors, which were smeared in thick dark troll blood. They found the troll around the corner, dead on the ground, riddled with bullets and what looked suspiciously like dog bites. Zenith looked at the bites and told them he had been attacked by a K-nine, a type of drone with a dog form that was specially designed for attacking humanoids. They advanced past the dead troll, giving him momentary whispers of respectful remembrance, and hit the main room.

Here again battle was joined, but now their enemy was ready for them and in cover. Calli was some kind of rigger like Zenith, because she had gun turrets set up in two corners of the room and sent a K-nine drone to get them as they approached the room. With the gun turrets and Calli’s remaining guards ensconced behind cover at the far end of the room it appeared to be a death trap, but Jayden did not let this concern him – he charged in and drew all the fire in the room as he ran to the cover, giving the others a chance to get inside the room and take cover in shooting positions. Jayden’s attack was a crazy spectacle of Adept power – he leapt onto the cabinet that Calli hid behind, dodging short bursts of bullets from two turrets and pistol fire from one of the guards as he dived forward to attack Calli. At the same time the rest of the group opened fire on the turrets, and another guard, and Jo hacked the dog drone to try and make it stand down. More gunfire sprayed at Jayden, but he slipped between the cones of fire and jumped down from the barrier to kill Calli. Seeing the trouble she was in, she dropped out of the connection to her drones and fled, leaving the dog and the turrets dead at her feet. The group chased her but were ambushed by another K-nine drone, which slowed them down enough to give Calli the edge, and she leapt into the secret access shaft that linked all the floors together. As she fell Jo fired shots after her, but Jayden did not wait – he jumped in after her in a controlled fall, sliding down the walls and catching himself enough to land on her crumpled body without injury. She was alive but badly injured, so he calmly reached down and cut her throat. Calli was dead.

The others came down to the basement to get her body, and then they moved back to the final floor, level 3 where the initiates were in training. They burst into the training room to find the initiates on their knees, hands up, pleading not to die. Jo, Zenith and John calmly shot them all in the head, leaving only Max kneeling on the ground in his white Purifier robes, spattered with the blood of his friends and sniveling and crying in terror. As Gillian stepped forward to slap her brother everyone else noticed Jo raising her gun to shoot him in the head too. Nobody bothered to stop her, but at the last she lowered the gun and turned away in disgust. They looked through the room for loot as Gillian ranted and screamed at her stupid little brother and then, satisfied that there was nothing worthwhile, moved back to level 4 to free the prisoners and begin the looting.

Two of the elves they found were seriously injured and badly malnourished, in need of immediate trauma care. They had obviously been held here and tortured for some time. An hour after they entered the building the PCs emerged on level 1 to the waiting Takuya – “Takuya’su! Uss!” – accompanied by their injured and shattered charges, and loaded down with loot. Takuya escorted them to their van, made sure they were all inside, and saw them safely away from the building with another final “Takuay’su! Uss!”

They returned to Charcul and a hero’s welcome. He promised them that if ever they needed somewhere to run, if they needed somewhere to hide, they could always count on him and his people. They were thanked effusively, given lashings of intense troll beer and stinky tofu and fried noodles and heavy, fatty grouper fish meat in a delicious rich sweet dark sauce, feasted until morning, and then left, exhausted, to drag their loot back to their safe houses.

In one small part of New Horizon, they had become heroes. In another small part of New Horizon the Kurosasori yakuza gang slid quietly into the silent, bloody halls of the Purifiers, stepping with sneers of distaste over the bodies of the Purifier guards and the congealing pools of blood that ran between them, searching diligently for the crates that they had been assured no one had opened. They found them in the back of a storage room on level 4, untouched, and as the first grey light of dawn slid across New Horizon’s fractured, fractal cityscape they carried the crates silently and carefully down and out to waiting vans. They spared the dead Purifiers only the minimum attention they needed to avoid slipping in their filth. Once it was done a truck backed up to the doors, and heavy bundles wrapped in black plastic were dumped into it, to be driven off to an incinerator outside the city limits.

Nobody likes Nazis.

Save

Save

Hey, hey
So why should I care
If somebody let you down?
That’s nothing new
I know just what that can mean
Hey, hey
Well, the way that they talk
The talk is all over town
And it’s no surprise
Little girls hurt sometimes

 

When last we met our heroes they had just blown apart a drug dealing operation with extreme prejudice, pushing back a gang from their turf and doing a big favour for the yakuza gang that officially controls their area, the Golden Dragon. Their Fixer, Anansi, had made contact with that gang, and now they had a chance to make their name known to the criminal bosses who controlled the shadows of Havensport. So it was that they found themselves in a meeting with the Golden Dragon’s boss, Mr. Tsiu, who thanked them for cleaning up the dealers on his patch, and assured them that they could operate with impunity in his territory provided they obeyed his laws – which would of course change at his whim, and in retrospect. Sometime in the future, he promised them, they would receive an opportunity to profit from their newfound position of the trust, and in the meantime they were welcome to make free in his territory on their own business.

But the future is another country, and while they waited to get there they had need of fast cash. Fortunately Anansi was in close with another crime family, a yakuza gang just beginning to spread their wings in New Horizon, in the wilds of Tolo harbour. Their patriarch, Shoji Yamada, had a pressing need of a good team of killers for a very important job: guarding his daughter at a concert by the heavy metal band Troll, a band named after the race of its members that could be characterized by two extreme properties of its performance: volume and violence. Any good girl slumming it in such an environment was going to need bodyguards, especially if her daddy had just started a gang war with a rival triad and was up to his neck in trouble with a bunch of other multinational gangs. Mr. Yamada promised them a decent payment for guarding his daughter; and in between setting the mission, he also .

Having applauded him on his principles of good governance and accepted their child minding job the PCs were on their way, to research both the yakuza daughter and the band. The daughter was as expected – a spoiled sullen brat with a penchant for slumming it in grease paint and crosses. The band was a little more complicated – a Troll heavy metal foursome with a reputation for extreme crowd violence, who run their shows exclusively in illegal spaces in dangerous areas. They would hijack an abandoned warehouse or an old market space, turn it into a killing zone, and rock it out while the crowd destroyed each other, until the police turned up or they ran out of juice. Standard sprawlzone stuff, but not the kind of place for a delicate wannabe rebel girl from a rich family – unless she was guarded by a crack team. Though in truth the PCs were less worried about the crowd than they were about the possibility one of the yakuza enemies would follow them and use the chaos as cover for a snatch-and-grab. Losing this girl in the crowd would be a one way trip to a bad place, no mistake.

Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and they had a perfect set up really – John capable of killing intruders from orbit, Jayden immune to surprise attacks, and Adam a master of crowd control. For this job their fixer had also set them up with a Technomancer, Heckerman, who could give them some forewarning of any impending assaults. An easy evening at the proms, right?

Their girl, Tegami, met them at the front door of her parents’ sprawling mansion, slouching out from behind a huge iron-studded wooden door through a moss garden to their car, remonstrating the whole way with the house butler, Mr. Niwa. Adam opened the back door of their hired car for her, and she flopped inside with a sneered remark about Koreans in suits. The butler raised an eyebrow at Adam and gave a small nod of shared sufferance before shambling away to the house. They were off.

Tegami chan was dressed in standard punk fare, carefully ripped and textured to look not too new but just stylish enough to mark her out as not from anything resembling the social class of the band she was attending. Nothing screams “slumming it” like a sullen little rich girl in faux dirty designer punk kit, wearing the most expensive make up money can buy (smeared, of course!) and staring resentfully at her bodyguards.

Still, they were professionals, so whatever, right?

They turned up at the gig fashionably on time. Last time Troll had commandeered an apparently abandoned yacht, which had only one entrance, and when the drug lords who owned it turned up to secure the supply hidden in the hull the ensuing carnage had been slightly chastening even for a band of Troll‘s infamous level of chutzpah, so this time they had scoped out their venue with an eye to avoiding suicidal escape stampedes, and set up a series of barricades around a complex of narrow streets surrounding a central square in a largely abandoned industrial park. Ragged semi-abandoned warehouses loomed over the streets on all sides, and the multi-racial, multi-species crowd moved with edgy caution between stalls selling vat-grown sausage hot dogs, Troll shirts (unofficial of course), stimulants and downers and personal defense weapons. The PCs left their hired car within easy calling distance of a larger entrance and walked Tegami chan through a distressingly security-free series of barricades. Troll bodyguards loomed menacingly around them but nobody bothered to check them at all. Normally entering a danger zone armed is sweet relief to a mercenary, but knowing the only reason you’re armed is that nobody checked the rest of the crowd offers cold comfort. They decided to get cautious, and John retired to one of the decaying warehouses, climbing up high to a point where he could get a view of the whole zone. Adam and Heckerman fell back a little, leaving Jayden and his heightened sense of danger to keep Tegami safe while they scanned the crowd physically, astrally and electronically. Jayden stood near Tegami chan, assuring her that all old men just loved the moshpit and she should really try it, thus ensuring that she didn’t go near it for fear of appearing uncool – and protecting her from the crowd of spiky, rage-pissed, insanely high troll fans currently grinding each other to mush in front of the stage.

Unfortunately the threat wasn’t in the stage. At some point a man turned up while Jayden was pushing away some random weirdo, and started talking to Tegami chan in a low voice, pointing back to the heights of a building on the far side of the square and muttering something about a private viewing area. Tegami probably couldn’t hear him over the pulse and throb of Troll‘s most famous song, The Other White Meat, but Jayden wasn’t taking any chances, and moved in to push the dude away from his girl. The man slunk away in short order, but then Heckerman told Jayden that the man had put something in Tegami’s bag.

Jayden didn’t waste any time – he knifed the guy in the back while Adam rushed forward to check the bag. Unfortunately for Jayden the room that ostensibly held a private party actually held a sniper, who hit Jayden with a tranquilizing dart that knocked him out for the rest of the night. Such a shame to miss such great music! As Jayden sank to the ground John shot the sniper in the head, and Adam and Hackerman drove the guy on the ground away. Jayden was down and done for, with no treatment in sight, so they dragged him to a quiet area of the barricades and returned to guarding Tegami chan. Tegami chan, of course, thought the entire scene was so completely uncool and couldn’t they just let her enjoy this great music? So hard to be a teenage girl …

Nonetheless Heckerman managed to check her bag and uncover a bug, which probably no one knew they knew about, and carefully left it broadcasting in the bag. They would tell Mr. Niwa about that later …

The rest of the night passed uneventfully, especially for Jayden lying paralyzed in the shadows of the barricade. Aside from some lethal side-eye from their ward the PCs experienced no other trouble, and things were just beginning to wrap up when the troll and his human buddy emerged from the crowd, clubs in hand, and marched determinedly towards Tegami, damaging intent in their eyes. With Jayden down and out, Adam and Heckerman had to take these two guys on right there in front of the whole crowd, while Tegami clapped her hands and cheered. Fortunately John was in his eyrie, unnoticed by the trolls, and managed to shoot the troll down before he could flatten Adam. In turn Adam and Heckerman managed to subdue the human with a combination of magic and good old fashioned brutality, and were able to drag Tegami chan away before anything really bad happened. They bundled the man into the car but decided that whatever awaited him at Mr. Yamada’s House of Polite Yakuza Questions would be beyond their stomach to bear, and dropped him off a few minutes later. Successfully out from the crowd, they returned Tegami chan to the house of her Honourable Father.

Mr. Niwa greeted them with a sigh of relief, Tegami chan’s rude greetings washing off him like engine lubricant off an ersatz duck’s genomic feathers. They warned him about the bug and suggested that he might want to keep it in her bag and use it to lure in whoever planted it, and showed him pictures of the troll and human who had attempted to hurt Tegami chan at the end of the night. “The Russians,” he sighed with an expression of weary expectation. “I’m sure we will Deal With It.” He thanked them, offered for them to stay in the guest room drinking tea as long as they wanted, and only barely perceptibly relaxed his manner when they declined his invitation and headed home.

Somewhere upstairs they saw Tegami chan’s pale moon face looking out of a window, watching their car pull away back into their wild unfamiliar world, her hand half raised in an unconscious gesture of farewell, make up smeared as if she had stopped cleaning up halfway through and run to the window. The lights of their car drifted off into the humid New Horizon night, leaving sullen little Tegami chan in her gilded cage, wondering at lives that could have been.

They didn’t wave back. They were already counting the money.

Gank it!

Gettin’ robbed, Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up, Broken boned
Gettin’ had, Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll

Our heroes stood in the smoking ruins of the abandoned railway platform, the two surviving gangbangers on their knees before them. As they took stock one of the two shuddered and passed out, all his remaining energy draining out of him as the combat drugs he had taken wore off. The other sat quietly on the ground, waiting his fate. Adam busied himself healing John and Jayden, and then while John kept an eye on their prisoner Jayden and Adam shuffled down the platform. At the far end they found a construction zone, separated from the platform itself with a temporary wall covered in DO NOT ENTER signs. The wall was riddled with bullet holes and the door hanging ajar, possibly broken open with a grenade. From inside they could hear heavy breathing and muttering. Assuming this must be Anansie, Adam called out a greeting and they cautiously entered the construction area.

They found Anansie behind an upturned cabinet, seriously injured and leaking from multiple bullet wounds beneath his armoured vest. Adam healed the worst of the damage and they helped him out of the room. As they passed the unconscious gang banger Anansie casually shot him in the head, but they managed to convince him not to waste the last survivor. Moving slowly under the burden of prisoners and injuries, they emerged from the underground into light evening rain, Jayden supporting Anansie and John escorting the gang banger. They all slumped against the nearest wall while Anansie put in a call to “a guy I know,” who turned up very soon after in a spacious van with tinted windows and menacing corners. Everyone piled in and they headed to Jayden’s apartment.

Jayden’s apartment was a shabby little one room carved out of a storage tank in an old water purification plant near the industrial end of Havensport. The water purification plant was no longer used for its original purpose, and its standing water towers had been converted into cheap apartment blocks. Piles of shipping crates had been stacked between them, and people lived in those too, though that lifestyle was barely better than squatting and Jayden, though dirt poor, still had the scrip to elevate himself above them. His room was one of a block of four that had been set up in the rear half of one of the water towers, walled off from each other with cheap drywall and opening onto the front third of the tower, which formed a kind of common area and laundrette. Rickety stairs wound around the tower and into this common area, which they trooped through armed and pushing their prisoner without attracting even a passing glance from the other residents. Either the residents were used to Jayden’s line of work, or they were all into the same business. Inside his room Jayden flung open the windows, revealing a view of looming chemical refraction towers, gestured for people to sit where they could, warned them away from the damp and mould on one wall, and handed around beers. The refreshing sound of cans opening set them all to relaxing, and after a moment to savour a cold beer after a hot day’s work, they all turned to look at their prisoner.

He was remarkably forthcoming, and told them all he knew. The Red Hand gang had a job out on Anansie, they didn’t know why, but all the lowest level squads were out looking for him. Their squad had been directed to his safe house by a higher up in the gang, a woman called Fay, but when they got there they found Anansie gone and the dwarf hacker and the orc dead. So they left, but later they got word that Anansie had been seen and they tracked him to the disused subway station. They went after him and were in the middle of the battle when suddenly their leader got a call – the prisoner doesn’t know who from but guesses it was Fay – warning them that the PCs were incoming. And just when they were about to complete the hit too! And the rest, as they say, was history. He couldn’t tell them why the Red Hand had a job out on Anansie, he was too low down the food chain to learn that kind of info, but no hard feelings and could they maybe see their way to letting him go?

They did, Jayden giving him a quiet word about bygones being most certainly bygones before kicking him out the door. Anansie then filled them in on some of the details. Havensport is the turf of a rival Triad, the Golden Dragon, and the Red Hand usually restrict their activities to a different part of New Horizon, but recently they had been mounting raids into Havensport and causing trouble for the Golden Dragon. Anansie is just a fixer, but he has it in mind to start working for the Golden Dragon too, or at least operating with their license in their Havensport turf, but to get such a market position he needs to present himself to the Golden Dragon leadership and he needs to be carrying a strong letter of introduction. His plan had been to form a team of independent runners and send them in to bust up a Red Hand drug factory that had been set up in Golden Dragon turf, and present its destruction to the Golden Dragon as his letter of introduction. Unfortunately the hacker and the street samurai he had intended to be in the team had been slaughtered by some kind of maniac when they came to his safe house, and he had been forced to run when he found the mess, which was why he had not been able to make it to his meeting with the PCs. His plan had been to offer the PCs to join the team he was assembling, and although his plan had been partially derailed by the killing of the hacker and the samurai, he was still up for doing it now before word of his inquiries into the drug gang got out. Would the PCs still be willing to do the raid? They would need to act quickly, because eventually the drug makers would learn of his interest, but if they acted in the next day or two they would surely have surprise on their side.

They asked a few probing questions. The drug makers were a gang under the control of a psychotic dwarven fire mage called Hui. Anansie did not know exactly where they were, but he had narrowed it down to a block of buildings up against the old section of New Horizon superstructure that separates Havensport from the Kwun Tong industrial district. He would pay them 12,000 nuyen as a group to go in, bust up the group, kill Hui and deliver all the drugs and gear to him. They would need to spend some of that on a hacker to help find the exact location, since the hacker he had intended to hire was dead. Once the job was done he would put in a good word for them with the Golden Dragon, so it would be a job with more than just financial benefits.

They agreed. They all needed the money, and none of them seemed particularly unhappy at the idea of busting Red Hand gang bangers after their recent run-ins. With that, Anansie gave them what info he had and disappeared into the night, leaving them to set up their run. Over the next day they acted fast, assembling gear and hiring a hacker to do a more detailed scout of the area they needed to go to. They also hired a getaway driver with a decent vehicle, and got their hacker to break into a cheap van they could use to get close. This took them longer than they thought, so they were only ready to go in on the second night after they rescued Anansie.

In a stroke of good fortune, that same afternoon a storm swept in over New Horizon from the sea, and their approach was cloaked in blinding rain squalls and darkness, the streets empty of bystanders or witnesses. They had found the factory in a building that rested right up against the border wall with Kwun Tong, a huge remnant fragment of the original New Horizon super structure that loomed over the area’s four- and six-storey buildings. This wall was honeycombed with tunnels and roads and even old building structures, and relatively easy for them to move through undetected. Once they reached the building next to their target Adam levitated them down onto the rooftop and they took up positions. John used his low light and thermographic vision to scan the rooftop of the drug house, finding a single guard standing desultorily in the rain. There was only one door onto the rooftop, and their brief reconnaissance of the building itself suggested that the floor below the rooftop was abandoned, with most activity happening on the lower two floors.

Jayden leapt across the gap between the buildings onto the roof of the drug house, and crept up behind the guard while John took aim. Their plan was simple: kill the guard and go down the stairs. John fired, killing the guard with a single shot, and Jayden drifted over to his body to check for access cards and other details. He dragged off a lanyard with a swipe card, and also cut off one of the guy’s fingers just in case they needed prints to get in, and was just moving towards the door to the stairs when Adam Lee, using his magical sight, saw a magical alarm trigger, and something come rising up through the building. The guard had been rigged to give a signal if he died, and the fire wizard had conjured up a fire elemental to clear the rooftop!

It appeared moments later, roaring to steaming life as it manifested right in front of Jayden, but thanks to Adam’s warning they were ready. John shot the thing, and Jayden was able to dodge its first attack. He struck back, but instead of doing any damage found himself engulfed with fire wherever his knife sunk in. He fell back, dodging a second attack, and let John destroy the beast with a second shot from his rifle. The creature disappeared screaming into the abyss, and the rooftop went quiet. Jayden, seriously injured just from standing near the elemental, ran back to Adam’s side, where he was healed, before running over to again take cover behind the door onto the rooftop. John took aim at the doorway and they waited.

They did not have to wait long before a team of men spilled onto the rooftop. The battle was short and brutal, with John picking off fighters from the next building over as Jayden moved amongst them, stabbing and hacking. When Hui emerged, steaming and hurling fire bolts, all three of them focused their fire on him and took him down before he could harm them. Jayden made sure the unconscious mage was permanently out of combat, Adam used his levitation magic to throw a guard over the edge, and the final guard gave up and fell to his knees begging for his life. With the benefit of surprise, darkness, the storm and John’s phenomenal sniper rifle they had made short work of six goons, a fire elemental and an insane dwarven fire mage. They collected themselves, gathered what information they could from their sole surviving enemy, and prepared to head down into the drug den …

Not just a pretty face

He’s a ghost, he’s a god,
he’s a man, he’s a guru
You’re one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand

A wizard, a cyborg and a black man walk into a bar …

  • Adam Lee: A human mage, Korean background, always smartly dressed in a suit and tie, a smooth talker whose negotiation is backed up by an arsenal of arcane tricks
  • John: An elf sniper, heavily cyber-augmented, a long-range killer with limbs of steel and a heart of stone
  • Jayden Roose: Human adept, a drifter, a tribesman from the far south with nowhere to go and nowhere to be

They came to the bar looking for a man called Anansie, a Somalian living in New Horizon who had a job for them. New Horizon is full of people passing through, living unregistered in the shadows between the giant industrial sectors of the harbour, squatting in the walls of the giant canal that cut through the heart of what once, 50 years earlier, was a stunning megalopolis that sprawled over old Hong Kong, and its surrounding seas. The Awakening was said to have started here, when a great dragon of steel and concrete tore itself free from the wastelands on the edge of the city and triggered the rising of the Sixth World. The dragon is long gone, leaving a fractured city in its wake, but where there is mana there is life, and now the city has been repopulated and (mostly) healed over its old scars, though the landscape is new. Arasaka, the great Japanese company that was in a war with Militech and Goliath at the time of the Awakening, grew in power in the chaotic aftermath of the tragedy, and formed a new corporate Shogunate in Japan that rose to its apotheosis with giddying speed and frightening brutality. Where the old Shogunate spawned Feudal lords the Arasaka Shogunate gave birth to subservient companies, great mercantile beasts like Shiawase and Renraku, that owed Arasaka fealty but fought with each other for all the profits they could glean from this new order. New Horizon rebuilt, spread over the old crash zones and recolonized the deserted and shattered outer regions of New Horizon, reconstituting them as floating corporate arcologies and free industrial zones.

The flotsam of a thousand nations came ashore on New Horizon’s outlying Arcologies and trade zones, people drawn to the promise of freedom and wealth from countries newly riven by Awakening, mana storms, metahuman strife, communal violence, war and pestilence. Anansie was just such a person, a fixer and petty criminal in over his head who needed protection from someone or something. So it was that Adam, John and Jayden found themselves in the bar in Havensport, on the eastern edge of New Horizon, waiting for Anansie to arrive and offer them payment for their strength and magic.

But Anansie didn’t come. He wasn’t the unreliable kind, certainly not when business was ready to be done, and after a half hour of waiting their bar maid started to worry. This was Anansie’s business, and he was always there to meet his contacts – perhaps something had happened. The characters pushed her – had someone been looking for him? Was he in trouble? Perhaps whatever he needed protection from had got to him before he had time to secure their help. She remembered that earlier that day a dwarven hacker and an orc had come in looking for him, then left suddenly when the dwarf received a message. Had they found him? In a flush of worry she told them where Anansie usually holed up in the local area, and they left to find him. They all needed the work, and who knew – if he was already up to his neck in trouble maybe they could negotiate a better payment.

Havensport’s central feature is a massive shopping arcade, perhaps three or four kilometers long, as wide across as a shopping mall at its best parts and as narrow as an alleyway in its dingiest moments. Sprawling over multiple levels, its walls were lined with stalls and shops intermingled with squats, rundown tenements, huge advertising hoardings, car parks and recruiting offices for shipping companies and mercenaries. The locals called it Golden Gai, though no one knew why anymore – any glint of gold had long since rubbed off the shoddy facade of its workshops and tenements, and now it was just a dripping, corroding network of grubby shops connected by a single, tangled walkway and an equally complex tangle of ephemeral allegiances, networks and deals. Anyone who was anyone had a shop front on Golden Gai, and anyone who did business in Havensport – or with the trade that passed through it – had an office in one of the alleys and gantries that wove through and around the ‘Gai. The PCs took those alleys from their bar, down to the Golden Line on the Metro and two stops along to Joystone Path station, a ramshackle little nowhere stop that spilled its metro passengers out into a grubby section of markets and seafood stalls that had obviously seen better days. They took a narrow series of rickety switchbacks up through steaming noodle stores and overcrowded tenements onto the Golden Gai, which at this part of its serpentine route was a rainwashed open expanse of low-rent single story houses and brothels clustered around a series of fresh food markets that were open to the constant rains that swept in off the murky waters of the South China Sea – the roofing that covered many parts of Golden Gai had partially collapsed here, and whatever creaking architecture of interpersonal agreements, family deals and gangland extortionates covered this part of the ‘Gai had never managed to come to terms on how to replace it.

Anansie’s block was recessed into the seaward side of the ‘Gai, entrances to individual apartments suspended in the air above the ‘Gai and connected to the ground through a complex hanging garden of stairs and ladders. Anansie’s apartment was on the street level, the door nestled in amongst the scaffolding and stepways of the other apartments. But now it stood open, and a crowd had gathered. As they approached they could see the telltale red and blue flashing lights of a local security company’s warning poles, and a uniformed guard lounging idly in front of his open door, clear signs of trouble. They pulled back into the shadow of a pistol vending machine and Adam signalled for them to guard him. His eyes turned a neon blue and he sagged against the vending machine as his clairvoyance spell took hold.

Adam’s vision drifted through the doorway and into Anansie’s house, where he found a scene of brutal murder. The dwarf hacker and the orc lay dead inside the first main room of the house, both of them brutally stabbed in the back by what looked like claws or maybe cyber rippers. Their blood pooled on the floor around them but was also splattered over the walls and ceiling of that room. Someone had ambushed them as they entered the room, and they had had no chance. The room itself and Anansie’s bedroom and study had been ransacked, turned over by people looking for something. Whatever they sought had not been large, because the raiders had slashed open cushions and the mattress of the bed looking for it. Drugs? Data? Guns? In his brief disembodied search of the house Adam could not tell, but he did catch sight of a data disk with “CON data” written on it, that had been missed by the intruders and lay discarded on the ground behind a desk. Perhaps whoever searched the house knew they had little time, or their search had been interrupted by the dwarf and the orc. Or perhaps the dwarf and the orc had been the ones searching, and had been interrupted halfway through by a savage killer emerging behind them…

Adam returned to his body with a start and told the others. Then he sauntered over to the door of the apartment to speak to the cop. He spun him a story that his girlfriend had been at the house earlier hint hint, and he needed to find out if she was safe – could he have a quick look round just to see? A tall story delivered smoothly with a small bribe and he was in, though only for the briefest of circuits through the house – enough time to palm the data disc and get out. While he was inside John retreated to a gantry overlooking the whole area, so that he could maintain a clear shot on anyone causing trouble, and Jayden scanned the area for possible belligerents. He soon noticed an Asian woman in combat ready gear who stood in the crowd looking too carefully at the building, and checking her commlink regularly. Fragments of a tattoo sticking out over the neckline of her shirt suggested a red hand tattoo on her back – a gangbanger? When Adam emerged from the apartment he and Jayden sidled over to her for a chat.

They soon found out this woman, Fay, was no disinterested observer. She claimed that she was one of Anansie’s many jilted lovers, a girl he had never called back, and she had come to the scene of the betrayal this evening to confront him and maybe slap him for his rudeness, but had instead found the bodies of the dwarf and orc and made a quick call to the local security franchise. Now she was standing around to see if he came back, so she could administer that slapping. When she found out that the PCs had intended to work with Anansie she told them that she thought she might have seen some other people who had been with the orc and the dwarf, and maybe knew where they went. If they promised to let her have her turn at slapping Anansie when they found him she would take them to the people she had seen leaving the scene. Adam was sure she was not telling the whole story but they had nothing else to go on so they decided to trust her and see where her story took them. They set off along the ‘Gai.

They soon found a man who Fay told them was one of those who had been at the apartment. He was lounging on the edge of a busy vegetable market a few hundred metres down the ‘Gai, looking like he was minding his own business but probably keeping an eye on the road for pursuers. They tried to sidle up to him but he caught sight of them and tried to run. Jayden chased him and caught him, but he leapt over a barricade on one side of the ‘Gai and down to a lower level. Jayden followed, making a huge leap that took him past the place where his target fell, landing with a roll and coming quickly and smoothly to his feet facing the landing spot. The man had fallen into a ramshackle market stall, collapsing its plastic and tarpaulin roof and scattering its wares. The Aunty who ran the stall was stood back yelling at a pile of tarp and plastic in rage. Jayden marched in and hauled back the tarp, to find the man struggling bloodied to his feet, a pistol in his right hand. The man fired on Jayden, who dodged the shot and cut him down with one hard blow from his knife. As the Aunty staggered back from her bloodied stall and Adam and John popped their heads over the barrier up above, Jayden quickly and expertly searched the body. He found nothing but a gun and some body armour, but then he noticed that Aunty was putting in a comms call to someone, probably local enforcers. He decided to strip the body and began piling loot onto the stall’s counter – a gun, a 100 nuyen cred stick, some body armour. Seeing what he was doing, Aunty canceled her call and came over to him, yelling that he would pay for this and he better have enough money. He kept looting the body until he had assembled about 1200 nuyen of resalable booty, at which point she patted him on the shoulder and told him what a good young man he was.

It was then that Jayden saw the body had a red hand tattoo on its back. The same tattoo as Fay, who had somehow managed to make herself scarce during the fight. Was this a trap? He asked Aunty about the tattoo and she told him this man was a member of a gang that had been causing a bit of trouble recently, and they had got in a fight with a black man a short while ago. Two black men in one day! She was going to steer clear of their like from now on, it’s bad enough that you see one black man getting in a gunfight, let alone having another fall out of the sky into your shop. No offense, of course.

That barghest took my baby!

None taken. They dumped the body and headed in the direction of the fight, now keeping a wary eye out for Fay. Their path led them through an alleyway where they were attacked by a Barghest, but they managed to scare it off without anyone getting hurt, and continued on their way to the location of the gunfight. This turned out to be the entrance of a disused railway station, Trimanifest Field, on the old Awakening Line that had been closed before its maiden run because of intense mana disruptions at some parts of the line. Not the best place to go unprepared, but what can you do? In any case they would not be fully unprepared – Adam could reconnoitre without showing himself at all. He sat down in the shadow of an old advertising hoarding and slid off into Astral space.

When he returned he had all the information they needed. There was an escalator down to the platform, which was lined with transparent plastiglass walls to stop people falling on the tracks, and on that platform were five mundane people, four of whom might perhaps be attempting to kill the fifth. If they got down there quickly they might find that fifth man was Anansie – and what better time to negotiate an improved protection deal than when your potential employer most needs you? They sneaked down the stairs.

The sneaking did not go so well, and by the time Jayden reached the platform they knew he and John were there, though they missed Adam. While Adam and John hung back on the disused escalator Jayden stepped forward to try and negotiate. There were four men visible on the first half of the platform – three humans and a big, nasty looking orc. As they emerged Jayden noticed the orc finish snorting something from a capsule and drop it on the ground – combat drugs. All of them had a wild, twitchy look, the kind of look gangbangers get when they’ve been going hard on the cram. Not the most reasonable people to negotiate with, but still. Adam tried asking them what they were doing and if they had his employer bailed up at the far end of the platform but they refused to talk, telling him instead that he had better go. Things just got worse from there, and before they really had time to make a plan Adam was hurling a manaball down the platform, and the orc was throwing a grenade back at them.

The manaball wreaked havoc on three of the men, and Jayden was able to scoop up the grenade and boot it back down the platform in a smooth footy move before entering melee with a stunned ganger. The orc had to clear out of the blast zone and scuttled straight into battle with Jayden, while the remaining two guards tried to shoot down John and Adam. One hit Adam, who ducked out of sight to heal himself, but the battle didn’t go so well for the others after that. Jayden cut the orc down and John blew away one of the other gangers, and nearly killed a third before they finally surrendered. They dragged them down the platform away from the body of the orc and started asking pointed questions. What was the red hand? Why were they after Anansie? Where was Anansie? The gangers spluttered and blabbered, and told their story …

Save

Awoken!

 

Standing at the limit of an endless ocean
Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea
City on a rainy day down in the harbour
Watching as the grey clouds shadow the bay
Looking everywhere ’cause I had to find you
This is not the way that I remember it here
Anyone will tell you its a prisoner island
Hidden in the summer for a million years

Things have not gone well for Australia’s Aborigines in the 70 years since the apology. Not because the government did or didn’t do what they had to do but because in the years that followed Australia became a banana republic. The world moved on from the oil age, and by 2077 Australia was a relic of a bygone era, a nation of miners and farmers in a world of virtual business and infinite energy. Successive governments, held in thrall to the big resource companies, rich farmers and an agrarian socialist rump, consistently missed the chance to seize on the enormous wealth of the Lucky Country: they missed the solar boom that made energy virtually free for everyone; they missed the asteroid mining industry that jump started a new decade of economic expansion but left terrestrial resource economies staggering in their own dust; they missed the chance to profit from the growth of offshore arcologies and the new Green Revolution. By 2077 the nation had been reduced to a corrupt kleptocracy, a rump of hard scrabble miners and farmers in the interior scraping by where and how they could in the wreckage of the resource economy, while on the coasts a cheap service industry bloomed around elite corporate arcologies and gated holiday homes while the advanced industry of the early millenium moved offshore and disappeared. Cities crumbled, migration slowed, the smartest young people left, and Australia floundered, a land of 1950s ideas squatting in the shadow of 2050s neon.

Then came the Awakening, when the ancient spirits of the world’s First Nations were ripped from their aeons of slumber and returned to the earth. The Awakening rolled over Australia’s Aboriginal people like a wave of enlightenment, affecting them more perhaps than any other indigenous community. Everyone and their Aunty knew someone who had discovered new powers, and the old tribes found themselves surrounded by powers and spirits they had not known since the Dreamtime. It was pure, too, in a way that signified some ancient difference in this ancient people: While the Awakening tore through the bodies of white people on the coasts, ripping them apart and reconstituting them as Orcs, Trolls and Elves, almost no Aboriginal person Awoke as a metahuman. Instead they just … Awoke. Shamans, mages, adepts … every tribe and family suddenly found themselves suffused with the knowledge of the Dreamtime, and the spirits of that time walked the deserts and scrublands where once stockmen and mining companies had their way.

Jayden Roose Awoke in this time, and found answers to questions that had always bothered him. Jayden was a knockabout man, a typical country bloke making his way in this new rough and ready world. He left school … sometime back then … and since then has worked where and how he can: driving cars and trucks for mining companies, helicopters on the big stations, pearl diving in the summer and sometimes working as a tourist guide or a hunter when times were lean. He worked offshore at the crumbling, rusting gas rigs, and then in the dry season moved to Darwin to work as a security guard at clubs and brothels, sometimes mixing in with gangsters or providing private security to the shadier visitors to that wild northern city. Over time he became better at these security jobs, an almost supernatural sense of danger working to protect him even in gangland ambushes or when tense negotiations went wrong. He also found a natural affinity for working with knives, and despite only peripheral involvement with criminal gangs and martial arts teachers across the Top End he found himself an expert in knife fighting, faster and deadlier than almost any non-augmented man around him, even people with many years’ more combat experience. People put it down to his natural affinity as a sporstman, but he was never sure.

In between his knockabout jobs Jayden returned to his tribal home in an inland town, and in those long months of furloughed time he would play a lot of footy. Here too he excelled compared to his peers – people wondered how he could leap so high for the marks, and why he was never seriously hurt no matter how hard the collisions or how vicious the tackle. With his almost prescient ability to judge others’ movement, his seeming immunity to damage, and his powerful leaps, he soon became a valued player in the wild scrubland melees of local pick-up footy matches, and in the local league that his team routinely topped. People said he was just a natural … but he always wondered. And then he Awoke, and discovered that he was an Adept, some kind of spirit-walker who had always had some connection to a deeper well of spiritual power, something he never felt or believed but suddenly understood fully and could use to his advantage. Suddenly he understood how his life had been blessed with the foreshadowing of this power, and he also realized that he had been guided in his travels, to some extent, by a mentor spirit. Wherever he traveled he was never too far from that symbolic Northern bird, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, and now he understood that that feeling of assured confidence he had walked with was not just his own youthful arrogance, but a greater power that had selected him to watch over. His sixth sense for danger, his ability to dodge that backstab or that unexpected kick, to duck just when that man opened fire as the drug deal turned south … it wasn’t just luck, or a steely eye – something soared above him, and in those moments he saw everything around him as if from a great height, through steely predator’s eyes. He was blessed with the mentor spirit of the wild raptors of the North, walking on ground newly sacred, bearing an ancient power in his long black limbs.

This ancient power that Awoke in the Red Centre soon began to tear Australia apart. The spirits of the Dreamtime were back and many of them were angry. Australia’s sclerotic political system, so insufficient for the task of grappling with the 21st century, was completely incapable of dealing with the Sixth World. Connections between states and cities frayed, long-standing political truces collapsed, and the distant lands of the Top End and the far west began to spin away from central control. The lands that Jayden knew from his youth reverted to a wilder, more primal state, and his people began to return – many against their will – to a way of life that some had long pined for, and just as many had forgotten. For Jayden, part of his tribe but not close to it, used to wandering the byways of both tribal and corporate culture, it was all too much. He took one more journey, and this time he ended up in New Horizon, watched over now by the city’s sea eagles, hungry for work, dislocated and looking for new things. New adventures in the shadows now not of a crumbling colony, but a collapsing megalopolis…

Jayden is an unprepossessing man. Simply dressed, with dark skin and the typical wide, cheerful facial features of an Aboriginal man, he looks like nothing special or especially imposing. He moves with a certain unaffected grace, and acts with the confidence of a man who knows he can get out of any spot no matter how tight, but years of rough work and rough sleeping have cleansed him of any belief that he is special or unique or that any great fate awaits him. He is uneducated, simple, rough and pure: what he wants to do he does, and he associates only with people he cares about. He has little care for money and few ideals, though he will not do anything especially criminal or immoral unless the target of his wrath is another, worse criminal. He wears rough jeans and simple linen or cotton collared shirts, usually under a stockman’s coat that is old, dusty and lined with kevlar. He carries a wicked knife that has carried him through many fights, and somewhere inside that coat a plain pistol with no pretensions to grandeur or any kind of Street Samurai heritage – but which has seen more than its share of blood spilled. Laconic, relaxed and simple, his manner puts those around him at ease quickly, and his relaxed, easy style and languid grace hide a deadly seriousness of purpose when the fighting starts. Why be a man of many words, when a few strokes of the knife can tell the whole story? And why waste words on strangers, when a warm smile and an easy hand can smooth over any awkwardness? With this unpretentious and uncomplicated style, Jayden will make a new life in New Horizon – or die trying.

[This is a guest post by one of the Cyberpunk players, the Quantum Dutchman, who played our hacker Ghost. It’s the story of what happened at the end when he put the dragon heart into the machine, and some background information about secret forces driving Ghost].

Ex-Alta? Yes, I understand why you’re supremely angry with me, but saying it’s all my fault is a bit much isn’t it? As I see it, you set that chain of events in motion yourself.

What? Who the fuck sacrifices themselves and expects it to make the world a better place?

Oh. Yeah… But you were a world spanning AI! I’m just a human!

Lock up the stone, protect it, launch it into space, shoot it into the sun. For fuck’s sake, even my team of mercenaries could come up with a better solution than killing ourselves to not have to deal with the problem!

Yes, I guess I still wanted to bring you back, even if you were faulty, because you were the best we’ve ever had. The whole world disintegrated without you. Humans just cannot deal with a situation where they have to control their own lives.

… Yes.

How did I get here!?

Normally Drew is posting these notes, but since I’ve run out of options… I figure there are worse things to do than send out a last signal to the world.

Date: December 3rd, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Situation: Mind stuck in dragon (egg?) Trying to get out.

Outfit: Power armor, I guess? My body has been taken by my friends, but I’m going to guess they haven’t stripped it yet, since they’re probably trying to get the hell out of here. I guess my actual current outfit is a dragon body made of torn up flesh, concrete, steel and electricity. Pity I’m just a passenger in here … for now.

Mood: Pissed off, disappointed in myself, but glad my friends got out.

Reviving Dragons

Well… That was a disaster.

I thought everything was going well, but it turns out I was being misled from the start. Ex-Alta is not coming back. Though she was back long enough to chastise me for what I’d done.

I’m not sure if you’ll be able to read this, but I’m sending you my version of the story anyway just in case it’s the last thing I do. I’m was fairly confident in my skills, but it turns out that I was being supported all along the way, so I’m not sure how much use they are any more.

Last Week

Since I haven’t really talked to anyone about this before now, let me describe my last week to you.

Obviously it started when we got that mission from Alt. As you are aware, I don’t particularly like her (I assure you it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that’s she was constantly showing off her fucking talents in front of me), but hey, we’d done jobs for her before, and she quite literally said to us:

I will give you anything you want.

So sure, let’s do that shit!

Fucking out of the way though, but we are provided with transport, so sure. Rescue the final third of the trio -Sam- from an oil rig somewhere up above New Horizon, where she for some reason is holed up with some psychopaths.

That part went pretty well. We busted in, Drew shot popped all the baddies, as she’s supposed to do. Pops cleaned up the loose ends, Coyote intimidated people and fired a few rounds. His dog fucked up some psycho. By all accounts a successful run.

So we rescued her, and as soon as we tell her we are sent by Alt, she goes full retard on us, screaming we led Alt here, and that she’s fucked now. Right at that moment, Alt starts hacking our comms.

Now, I’m no genius (as you all know), but if you tell someone that her sister asked us to save her from some lunatics, you’d expect them to be happy right…? So I figured there was more to this, and cut Alt off. Apparently that pissed her off royally (don’t fucking hack our comms then, bitch…). Sorry for passing out afterwards though, I’m sure I must’ve been heavy.

On the run

Glad you kept your comms switched off, which was great. Apparently we got away from Alt’s AV’s eventually, since they weren’t there when I woke up in that dirty building.

After a while there we got to talking, and everything Sam told us pointed in the direction of Alt being exactly the crazy psycho I suspected she was. Then she helped Coyote regain his memory, and the deal that she was the good guy was pretty much sealed to me.

So I talked with Sam a bit more, and turns out she’s the leader of the Children of Ex-Alta, who are trying to literally bring back Ex-Alta, which I might remind you was a near godlike AI that was serving all of New Horizon until she self-destructed for some reason around 10 years ago because some idiot (e.g. Coyote’s father) tried to present her with a Magic Rock.

She asks me if I’m interested in helping with that, and since I’ve been interested in the same thing from pretty much the time I was a teenager (I guess reviving a dead AI was a bit of a strange obsession for a teenager, but fuck that, I didn’t have any friends to care anyway), I of course agreed. She touches me almost right away and shared some sort of power she had that allowed me to see what was going on in the Husk without using any cyberdeck.
I’m sure you can imagine how amazing it is to me that I was suddenly able to see all signals being transferred through the net. That shit is amazing!

As expected, their plan involved the items everyone had been hunting for already. The LOLITA (which is basically a smaller, more localized instance of Ex-Alta), the MACNIC (e.g. Magic Rock, I refuse to call it that inane abbreviation), a willing sacrifice and a metric shit-ton of energy.

I realize now how insane that sounds, but at the time I didn’t think it particularly bad. I mean, we could bring back fucking Ex-Alta… That’s the closes humanity has ever been to god!

So I was ready to drop Alt like a brick, but apparently you thought otherwise (I still wish you’d have discussed that). Before I knew it you’d executed the poor guy that Sam had brought, knocked her out and thrown her over your shoulder to bring her back to Alt.

That didn’t sit well with me, but with a vote of 3 against 1, I couldn’t very well go against it.

Back to the Civilized World

So we get back to Alt’s base, get received very coldly, have her take Sam, and then she makes us wait a week.
In her horrible spaceport-bunker that’s literally crawling with transhumans. I may have those advertisements on my cyberlegs, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend a week with so many of them.

Remember how I said I was able to see all the data traffic going on in the world?
Right after we handed off Sam, I saw an immense, and I mean IMMENSE, flow of data from wherever Alt had gone with Sam, to the spaceship that stood in the hangar.

To me, that seemed like a terrible, terrible thing, since the only other situation in which I’d seen similarly sized flows of data, had been in Lima’s facility, where we found those 3 kids connected to the mind-drain machines.

So I tried to figure out a way to get into Alt’s lair. To figure out what she was doing to Sam, but I couldn’t find a way. I tried several ways, but they were just as transhuman inside as they were out. Those barrels of Ghost Chalk kept coming through too, and just confirmed that whatever was going on was bad.

Yes, I realize that I was a Ghost Chalk junkie. How can you not be, when entering the husk with it feels like an angel pissing on your tongue. But even I know that barrel sized portions can’t be good for anybody.

So the last thing I tried, was hacking one of those contact terminals she had sitting around, and while the internal network was heavily protected, the connections to the outside were surprisingly weak. So I hacked it, and send a message to both Goliath and Arasaka, informing them of an illegal spaceship sitting around.

I really hoped they’d attack the base and interrupt whatever Alt was doing to Sam.

Right at the moment I was going to disconnect, I received a small probe on that terminal from Sam. I followed it, and found what remained of Sam’s mind in a virtual chamber that was already falling apart, as if seeing it through a huge amount of static.
It’s not something you usually see in a netspace location created in someone’s mind and I’m not sure what it indicates, but it wasn’t good. She once again pressured me to make sure that Ex-Alta was revived, and gave me a lock of her virtual hair, which somehow melded into my mind.

I hoped Arasaka and Goliath would intervene at this point, but nothing happened, and a day later the data flow to the ship abruptly stopped. I hope I don’t have to tell you what that means.

Then Alt returned and gave us exactly what I expected: Nothing! Did she seriously think we’d considering going off with her in that spaceship, all the while living in a virtual world?
I realize you might’ve thought I’d take that opportunity, but come on, spend the rest of my life in a world created by Alt? No thanks! Plus that fact of informing Arasaka about the spaceship.

Then we left, and watched Alt lift off. I wasn’t sure anything would happen, but I was sure holding my breath. I’m glad we at least got to get back at her for killing Sam, and for that stunt she pulled on us!

Retrieving the Magic Rock

So we left for Haven, resupplied, and figured out what to do next, but that lock of hair that melded into my mind turned into a small version of Sam that was incessantly telling me to go to where the Magic Rock was, which it apparently knew the location of.

When I tried to find the location of the children in the GPS we found, this turned into a full blown mental assault, with the result you saw, of me being totally unable to do anything. But as soon as we decided to go to that location, it stopped. Sorry for not telling you what exactly there was at that location in the first place.

Anyway, even though that was a fucking pain, we managed to get the rock. I didn’t actually expect to feel the bliss that I felt when I was near it, but it was amazing. I’m not sure why you didn’t notice. Nobody else carried it right?
Of course, it was covered in Ghost Chalk, so that might have something to do with it.

Lolita

Of course, when I tried to find the location of the children afterwards, I didn’t even need to hack anything. That pointer in my mind practically dragged me and the rock to their hideout.

Sorry for deceiving you, but I didn’t actually hack the GPS, and I knew exactly what we would find when we arrived there, but I was seriously worried you’d have other plans for the Magic Rock, and I wasn’t going to be surprised by one of you going rogue without discussion again.

I guess that was the worst decision of my life.

You know what happened afterwards, and that was surprisingly much the same for all of us I imagine. Who’d ever thought it would be that easy? We got to the hideout, were received by the children as heroes. Got the Magic Rock to the Lolita, and everything went apeshit from there. I guess I should’ve disabled those trackers a long while ago, but I never quite got around to doing it.

We succeeded though, and I connected to the Lolita. It didn’t ‘seem’ anything was amiss, except that it asked me to take ALL the willing people in the room, instead of just one (that would’ve been myself). But why was I to deny all those people their wish. Surely reviving Ex-Alta would be worth the lives of a measly thousand.
I repeat again, the sacrifices should’ve thrown me off (what machine, AI or no, needs sacrifices?). But I was too blinded by the possibility of a better world with Ex-Alta in it to see what was going on.

So I killed them. One by one. Emptying their minds, taking all of their experiences and adding them to the Lolita’s storage. Pushing them in if they were trying to backtrack, knowing the things that made them decide on this course and subtly reminding them why they should do it.

Right at the end, there was this moment, I just know I could’ve taken one of the soldiers minds, or anyone else for that matter, and have them sacrificed to the great machine instead, but I felt that it wasn’t my place.

That’s weird right? We’ve killed so many people, with guns, with bombs, and with AV crashes due to miscommunication. I had just killed a thousand, even if they were willing, but I balked at the idea of taking just a single extra life to save myself. Maybe that made the difference, I’ve never liked to shoot people unless they were actively trying to kill me either.

Anyway, it was the wrong decision, but I took my own soul, and together with those thousand others was sucked out of the Lolita, and right up into the Magic Rock, which promptly imploded.

Ghost in the Shell

When I came to (if you can call it that, having no body), I couldn’t see, but I still had a sense of the world around. Debris flying right at me, then disappearing or being absorbed or whatever happened to it (you must’ve actually seen it).

Drew, I can’t believe you went to pick up my body. It was insane! But I’m glad you weren’t caught by what must’ve been a gravity field of some kind. I’m glad you all got away, especially wounded as you were by that fight.

Me, I’m stuck in this shell. It seems to have risen, and grown larger. My mind is in the Lolita, and the Lolita is in something… Enormous.

It’s like I’m in the husk now, and bits of it are still connected to the rest of the world, so I can send some information out. I’ve tried getting out, but it seems my window is gone. Right before being sucked in I had a chance, but I missed it.

There is one more thing I thought of, but I’m not certain it’ll work, which is why I’m sending this now, so you’ll at least know what became of your Ghost, and why he did the things he did.

You are an amazing team, and I can’t be more proud to have worked with you. It was an experience I’ll never see the likes of again.

Let’s hope Alt had the right idea. If you don’t hear from me again, please…

Remember me.

Epilogue

Have you ever had to live a thousand lifetimes? No?… I doubt you could understand how I feel then. I’m still surprised they all had their reasons. Good reasons, but just like in my case, nobody but them would understand.

Most of it is fading, which is somewhat of a relief. A thousand lifetimes should be enough for anybody.

What is this thing that I’ve decided to fall into? It feels like a kind of… dominating presence?

It’s quite unlike any vibe the Magic Rock gave off, but not wholly unpleasant.

Oh…

A fucking dragon?!

I’m IN a fucking dragon?!

Sam was right. You have to take chances if you want to get anywhere in the world.

I wasn’t taking any chances, I was always playing it safe, manipulating things from a distance. This was probably my one chance to make a difference, and a goddamn difference it was. I wonder if it will be positive?

I still wonder how she convinced me. Was it really as simple as being deceived by a cute girl? Was it really the realization that despite all my efforts, I wasn’t making a dent?

I guess all of it boils down to me being an impetuous young fuck who didn’t think about the consequences of his actions.

Getting to destroy Alt was satisfying, but in the end it was something that was mostly out of my control again. I gave some people the coordinates of a spaceship launch, and they decided that it was better to destroy than leave it. What’s the point in that?

It was satisfying, but why is it such a hollow feeling?…

In the end I led them to this conclusion. I didn’t really have to deceive my friends, but I’m not sure why they so willingly followed along with this. But I guess after what we’d been through, we all just kind of wanted to see the world burn in one way or another.

Of course Sam did something to me, I don’t know why she didn’t tell the others what she told me. It seemed so clear to me. Ex-Alta was the best thing that ever happened to the world.

She destroyed herself to save it, but I’m left wondering if that was actually the best course of action. I guess even a semi-omniscient sentient AI can encounter edge cases it just can’t deal with. If I ever find the engineer who thought it would be a smart idea to have the error handling force-kill the program, I’ll stomp his head in.

I guess I won’t get to do that any more though. He’s probably already dead anyway.

How this rock got on the earth? Fuck if I know. Maybe there are more?

Obviously we should do something about it, but it doesn’t seem particularly inclined to listen. I wonder how this will change the world?

I suddenly wonder how my brothers and sisters are doing? Isn’t that odd? I haven’t thought about them for years.

Mikhail must be 18 now, finally old enough to legally drink, though I’m not sure he’d actually do so. Ida and Lena, married maybe? I hope they’ll be alright.

I’m not so worried about Gaspar, I hate him still. It’s interesting how fierce childhood hatred can remain burning.

I keep thinking about how it got to this point.

It could be when I at last met the mysterious Sam, who turned out to be a pretty normal fanatically obsessed woman of dubious morality. Or as normal as those can be anyway. I guess I have experience with those. I guess I only have experience with those.

Further back, I guess we can trace it to me being rescued by my current (is that still the correct description?) team after being assaulted by some ghost in cyberspace. If I never met them and died that day, all of this would not have happened.

It’s really difficult to speculate, as the real start is probably when I got my first cyberdeck. It’s still amazing to think that I once interfaced with the world through a screen and keyboard.

Everyone has to start somewhere I guess.

*blink*

Desperate deeds in the rubble

Desperate deeds in the rubble

Hartigan’s new Rail Gun had its own voice. A gun this big needs its own voice, to match the heft of its action. This gun was so heavy that it had to be mounted on his armour with a special harness that bore the weight and enabled him to move it freely in its firing arc; it was too heavy for a normal man, even a strong man with cyber-enhancements, to carry, and the only reason he could take it into the ruins of this building and up those stairs was the power armour he had attached it to. Such a gun, with such  heft, that fired a fist-sized slug of super-heated magnetic metal at hypersonic speeds, deserved its own voice. This was the kind of gun that didn’t just back up your opinions; it had its own.

Hartigan was slightly disappointed, then, to discover that his gun’s voice was the voice of a demure Japanese lady. He had enough insane gun-girls in his life, he didn’t need one inside his helmet, but there she was.

“Great shot!”

“Please wait, I am charging!”

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting! Please fire at will!”

“Let’s enjoy recharging together!”

“Attention! Heat warning! If the power pack melts, your situation will become hazardous!”

“I think my harness is jammed! Impaired mobility can be fatal! Please release my harness!”

Fortunately he hadn’t heard the last two yet, but he still had to grit his teeth every time he fired up the rail gun and heard her welcoming him with her little Arasaka speech. She was so breathlessly excited about firing super-heated fist-sized slugs of magnetic metal, and so indomitably cheerful about the destruction her work wrought. An attitude of careless abandon he was all too used to in his other team members, and did not need every time he squeezed the trigger.

Oh, but what a gun – and what a battle it saved him in.

He was meant to be stealthy in the building, taking a cover position so he could blow the ACPA away from afar. You don’t carry a rail gun because you’re expecting trench warfare, so he and his guard dog so carefully picked their way up the stairs in that ruined building, taking their position near the front of the building with a view of the crater and the sprawling mess of this part of the Pit. The ACPA was standing there, silent in its vigil just beyond the closest wrecked building. It stood, a giant robotic steel human, maybe 3m tall, hoverpack engaged but not active, a huge heavy machine gun in one hand and a massive power sword extended from the other. Somewhere in that super-armoured shell was a human, operating the mecha frame as if it were his or her own limbs. Even with a rail gun, anything but a head shot would be a waste of time. But Hartigan was not planning to shoot the ACPA – he was trying to get a clear shot at the stone in the centre of the crater. One shot on that and the entire area would be cleared out.

Unfortunately, the ACPA heard him. And it was fast. It burst from its standing start skywards and into a firing position so fast that Hartigan didn’t have time to move. That huge gun fired as it hurtled over, blowing his cover away in a rain of concrete and hammering him back in shock. As he fell the robodog leapt forward, taking the remaining shots in Hartigan’s stead and then bouncing back into him, scuttling away into the shadows. The ACPA flew closer, shell casings scattering behind it. Hartigan didn’t have much time and his aim had been broken by the rain of concrete and twisted metal, but he had to do it; targeting systems flicked back to the stone, servos whirled, and he fired.

“Great shot!” She declared, a huge force of beaming encouragement resounding through the statement. A moment later the distant stone burst into blue light, the flashguard on Hartigan’s helmet dimmed, and when he looked again the Arasaka force had been obliterated. Two small figures hurled themselves out of cover and down towards the stone. Job done! Drew and Ghost were heading for the stone.

Then the rockets hit. The bare stone floor shuddered and rippled and moments later he was falling from the open window, projected outwards by the blast of the ACPA’s rockets and hurtling to the rubble-strewn ground five floors down. For a split second as he somersaulted uncontrolled through the air he remembered he was wearing an AV Belt, hijacked from the Children of Exalta, and started desperately trying to remember if it was one of the belts that had taken damage. Would it take? The world spun, somewhere up above fire billowed from the cover he had been hiding in, slivers of stone and broken metal careened past him, then a dizzying perspective of dark sky and bleak wreckage-strewn ground, alarmingly close and spinning madly. Then with a wrench the AV Belt surged to life, just in time to send him sprawling over a pile of broken metal. Pain roared across his back but the power armour took it, and a moment later he was lying on the rubble in silence, watching a slowly-expanding cloud of smoke and dust from the building he’d been hiding in, desperately scanning the sky for the ACPA.

As he struggled upright and backed into cover behind the rubble he heard Drew and Ghost in his earpiece.

“Ungh, ugh – ” sound of heavy gunfire, “You – ” heavy breathing, more gunfire ” – Ghost! I got the Samurai! Get the stone!”

“Coming coming!”

“Pops?!”

He crouched down behind the rubble, which looked like it must have once been a couple of cars parked around some kind of electrical charging point disguised as a statue. They were all mashed together now, a jumble of metal and stone surmounted by a car aerial with a Mercedes symbol on it, which he had flattened in his fall. The aerial was bent double over the wreckage, the Mercedes symbol twisted over so now it looked like the famous Oil Age Peace symbol that had passed away into history with nation states. Looking through it like a gunsight, Hartigan saw movement at the top of the building he had fallen from. The ACPA was moving slowly to the edge of the roof, looking for him.

He had time, the gun was charged. He aimed carefully, waiting for the machine to peek a little further over. Inevitably it did, but before he could take a shot it opened fire, and to his horror that mess of carbon fibre, steel and concrete in front of him dissolved in a hail of bullets. After what felt like a millenium the firing stopped, the dust cleared and he found himself standing in the open, several metres back from his point of cover and surrounded by fragments of statue and car.

He grunted. Somehow he thought he should be dead. His power armour was shredded in places and he stung all across his chest, but Hartigan didn’t give up just because of a couple of bruises. He planted his feet, and from somewhere deep inside him arose an implacable will to carry on. He remembered his daughter Sayuri, laughing and happy in his home, then broken and crumpled on the stairs, empty shell of all his dreams. Her empty eyes stared accusingly at him, reminding him of everything that he had failed to protect, the consequences of weakness. She was gone, but somewhere behind him there were people depending on him, a young girl like Sayuri might have become, friends who trusted him, friends who had put him here with this gun to do just this job, and do it right. This time.

Anger rushed through him, and the pain faded. He grunted again, fired. The gun roared, harness kicked, behind him a swirl of dust ballooned outwards, and moments later the ACPA’s face exploded.

“Good job!” The rail gun whirred into rest mode.

A slow release of breath as the dust cleared. The ACPA swayed for a moment on the edge of the parapet, smoke and sparks rippling across the cowl of its head. Then it leapt into the air and came hurtling towards him, its enormous rifle tumbling away into empty space as it charged. He had a brief moment, watching it spearing towards him, to think he must have hit its targeting systems, and then it smashed into him, hitting with its right knee as it came sliding in to a crashing halt amongst the remains of his cover. Its knee hit him square in the chest with the force of a steam train, jarring through all his body at once and hurling him back through the air. As he spun skyward somewhere in the back of his consciousness he felt something break, and noticed that he would probably not be able to breathe for a couple of seconds, and then only painfully; but through the fog of anger and obstinacy these feelings didn’t really register. A moment later his bruised body jerked as the AV belt kicked in, and he landed on his feet, miraculously facing the ACPA and still breathing. Now he stood about 20m distant from the thing, which was standing there in open space looking at him, breathing hard but not yet dead, somehow.

Somehow, his assault rifle had ended up in his hands. He must have grabbed it on its harness as he was careening through the air. Whatever. He grunted, and opened fire, released the entire clip straight at the stupid machine. It kicked and writhed in his grip so hard he had to grit his teeth and cling on, but after a few moments it went limp in his hands and he dropped it.

The ACPA was standing there, looking at him. He could swear it tilted its head slightly, as if it were wondering how he was still alive after that knee strike, and why he was exhausting such a pathetic weapon on it. Somewhere inside its multilayered composite armour shell an Arasaka operative was planning his imminent death. And tilting its head as if to wonder why he was still trying to fight, the arrogant little bastard.

The ACPA crouched, started to lower itself into a squat ready for another leap. One arm did something and a huge sword slid out of the casing on the arm, shivering in the dusty air as some kind of power blade activated. That thing would cut through his power armour like butter. It raised the sword and tensed its legs, sank down and prepared to leap.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting!” The gun declared in a chirpy voice. “Please fire at will!” A light blinked on inside his helmet and the rail gun slid smoothly into operative position, fixing by default on the last known target – the ACPA. Hartigan touched the fire button and the gun roared, pushed him back a metre in a cloud of dust and super-heated gases. “Good job!” The gun declared in its perkiest little-maid voice.

The ACPA came to a halt just before its leap. It stopped, swayed a little on its tensed legs, and seemed to stare at Hartigan blankly. A moment later the head exploded, and sparks and fire started coruscating across its chest. It swayed in place for a moment, sparking and smoking, and then crashed gracelessly to the side.

“Coyote here. AV inbound, prepare for evac.” Coyote’s gruff, reassuring voice came in over the radio. Hartigan turned towards the crater. “Good job!” He whispered, patting the gun, and set off in the direction of his team.

His body started to hurt. Nearly there, Sayuri, nearly there. We’ll get this done yet, I promise you.

 

 

 

 

 

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