Everyone settles into the Point Place hotel, a lackluster building that masks with its cheap rent and surly patrons a what could have been grand and historic building. Under the right management it would have blossomed in the debris of metropolitan urbanity like a desert flower, but now its only historic.
Since their arrival at the hotel, it’s about a week before the first job comes in through the RenChat for the rookie-runners, and in the meantime:
- Kord gets a part-time job at the local armoury
- Wey wey revisits his old contacts, announcing his grand return to the Chicago Metropolitan Area (CMA) quietly.
At the end of that week, storm picks up to cover the roads with snow and ice-filled potholes. Network fizzles in and out to the rhythm of sudden gales and sharp flurries of early winter, and through the cold static, Kasih's message pings.
"How are you all settling in."
"As I say, it’s always good to hear about…. Cash."
"…I'll let that slide. We have a Johnson who's got a job for you. Timely one this. She will be waiting at the Chicago's Own Pizzeria in 2 hours. Interested?"
"Just send us the location."
"Great. It's on its way. Don't be late."
The meet-up is at the North-end, 2 hours by car. The crew gathers their essentials for urban foray and rides their bikes into the city. The road is littered with busted up cars to make what would have been a healthy and busy highways into an obstacle course, but the crew weaves through them mobile on their bikes.
As they arrive on time, they see a couple ghouls load up a van and pull out into the night. It trails into the dark, leaving only the scent of live pork and after-image of black cases.
The pizzeria is a posh place, if not for the rundown decor then definitely for the pungent scent of real food with real live ingredients; the sweet death of organic matter fills up everyone's nostrils as they enter to a trill of doorbell.
In the far corner sits a stout women of about 50, dressed in a worn runner get-up. She's of old school, and her posture says as much so. She introduces herself as Quantum Princess. The job is simple, and as the crew munches on the deep dish peppered with meat, QP lays out the details.
There are two signal repeaters that went down in the Zone; one by the Garfield Park and another by Midway airport. There will be a repeater in a fake tree in the park, and another in the heart of Midway. Both places are disused, but the Midway gets occasional traffic by the smugglers. The job is to go in, replace the repeaters with the new ones that I will provide today. The offer on the table, for all the hazard pay, is 4000 a piece.
Wey wey ostensibly looks out the stormy window and clicks his tongue at the worsening weather. He negotiates the price to 5000 a piece, to which QP agrees, but in turn impresses upon the crew that the job needs to be taken care of ASAP. With less than 5 hours of sunlight left in the day, the crew decides to leave for the contract.
One last thing before they leave, QP takes them out the back and hands off two bulky matrix terminals from her car. They are as old-fashioned as QP, but just like her it looks well put together. There is no question that the terminals will do their job. The crew strap the terminals on to each bike, and they ride back to the hotel to prepare for the first run into the Zone.
On their way back, Wey-wey calls up Continental, a now hotshot Chicagoan infobroker whom he shares his shady past as a ganger, for information on the Midway. Share shares that a gang-related smuggling is expected to take place in two days, with arrival of shipments large enough to be noticed and talked about on the down-low, far-wide. She figures it will be typical arms-smuggling deal. But the location has been buzzing with gangers scoping the place out and preparing the airport for warmth of arrival and biz.
With that news, they first head to the Garfield Park, which is the nearest point from their entry point into the Zone, a heavily walled off and guarded portion of the CMA, shielded away by copper-plated concrete walls like a bad nightmare that the city is trying to awake from. There are armed guards at the gate, but they wave the crew through, uninterested in the quasi-suicidal entry into the irradiated dead zone.
They arrive at the park to find it mangled and untended. The park has turned into growth that is somewhere between a grove and a forest, not quite making either side of the classification with its sprawling and unwieldy growth that penetrates deep into any and all crevices that the age of time has inflicted upon what was once an safe haven for children and dog-walkers. The park is enclosed by dilapidated buildings that stand about a kilometer away. Its massive shadows intermittently fall upon the numerous trees that stand, fractalling across the web of branches.
Wey wey and Balzac start assensing for the fake tree, trying to identify the artificial from the real, but it's Seiren that gets the job done first by locating the weak hums of the matrix node in its end-life. At the base of this immaculately genuine-looking tree is a lock, and upon seeing it, Balzac gets to work at the locked cache, and soon an even older looking terminal is laid bare.
About 20 minutes into Seiren's work with the terminal, splicing and encrypting nodes for base reboot, Balzac and Kord are struck with sense of foreboding. Balzac responds by activating his chameleon suit and spellcasting invisibility. He disappears into the nearest overgrowth, blending into the disruptive nature. Kord takes cover from the unknown intent, but before anyone can be warned, Seiren is struck with massive impact of a high caliber rifle.
It takes a flurry of shots and impacts before the mystery shooter is located to be firing from the nearby apartment complex, 750 meters west of the crew. Seiren is markedly worst off, whose ribs are cracked from the several hits from the sniper. Wey wey manages to miss a shot aimed at him, and immediately kicks into gear to summoning, the half-eaten pizza cold on the ground. Kord returns fire from his cover, aiming down the wall to break off the shamble of a concrete wall the shooter was hiding behind. Wey wey summons huehuecoytl to sic him on the attacker. From the corner of his eyes, he sees Balzac's body go limp in the ripple of the green, and knows that Balzac has astrally projected. The projection travels quick and fast to locate the shooter on the seventh floor of the building, and rushes to the location. After couple shots of narrowing onto the mark and before either the Coyote or Balzac's astral self can get to the building, Kord lets out a final burst of AK fire that lands dead square on the assailant’s head. Return fire ceases, and quiet falls back onto the park.
In the aftermath, as Kord and Balzac make their way toward the building to inspect the damage, several transients come out of their homes to watch warily, only to retreat as soon as they see the heavy armaments of Kord. Seiren nursing his cracked rib returns to the job of setting up the node, with added haste. Wey wey recalls the coyote but requests the service of guardship of the park, which the coyote takes with a shrug in its shoulders and smug smile on its snout.
At the seventh floor, Kord and Balzac finds the warm body of an adept elf and his assortment of weapons, including the shot-up Ares Desert Strike with its cracked barrel and its stock mangled. A Rugger Super Warhawk also lies by the body's side, unused. Balzac spellcasts to replay the death, and through the viscera of memory, he fingers a black ball of fear, concern, and anger of the elf's last moments. With little effort both find the elf's abode in the other parts of the building, and determines that the transient elf was hiding away in the building and the perceived hostility of the strangers rutting around in the park threw him into the unwarranted fight-or-flight leading to a grisly end. Kord picks up the remnants of the guns for scraps at his armoury, and they leave the building.
After another 20 minutes of work, the matrix comes online. The crew is about to depart for the airport, when another ping comes through.
A retro-punk Class-III pops up on Wey-wey's feed to hail him with a job. The Sid Vicious look-alike changeling introduces himself as Son of Andrews, and claims that he represents the interests of Sader-Krup. The lizard requests that the crew, who finds themselves conveniently within the confines of the Zone, locate a lost laboratory of theirs to secure a copy of place’s deed. There is additional boon for any good intel they can secure from the location. Still shook from the recent firefight, Wey wey's attempt at negotiation falls through, and despite being certain that the lizard is spouting a load of bollocks about his allegiance and representation, the crew agrees to the term of 4000 a piece for the deed, and then additional 500 for good intel.
And with that side-job, the crew heads for Midway.