Windy City Shuffle

Log 3. Zarrow Miss

After the excitement in the Zone, the crew spends the next week gradually coming down from the orchestral high of the string of scores well done. Money isn't bad, but it evaporates just as quickly as they have come in. So it's with eagerness that Wey-wey picks up Kasih's ring at the week's end.

"You've got a favour to do for me." She crackles in.

Wey-wey notes the curious way she phrases it, and there's a second too long of silence. Kasih picks that up too. Ever perceptive. 

"What I mean, is that you are going to to do me a favour. But it's not really doing me a favour, so much as you recognizing that it's all good business all around. So in effect, you are doing yourself a favour, and i'm just helping you get there. Ultimately i'm doing you a favour. Capsice?"

Ever eloquent. 

Kasih has a friend who's wanting to break into the industrious world of fixers. For a breed that builds itself on reputation and reputation only, the cost of entry is steep, if not unaffordable for most. This is where the immutable leverage of connections come in. Aristotle with his stick and wod leverage moved the world, but he neglected to note how bigger of a world the wispy and entirely immaterial connections can move in the social contracts of sentient beings. 

Kasih drops the name, Syd, and the favour talk is over. 

Soon, another call comes through, and it's a gruffy sounding man with the high-tension of a man excited, eager, and almost as if he's doing his first sales call. 

"Heeey, i hear you are the one to get me vaulted over to the otherside of the shadows, is that so?"

"Sure, so i've heard. What can we do for you? Our mutual person talked about there being a favour involved."

"Of course, we can talk about that later. Why don't you all join me tonight ringside. We've got some great names on the card, lots of excitement… lots of biz. if you know what i mean." Wey-wey hears the man wink.

So it's decided that the crew will be making a road trip back into the Zone. After a small bustle, they get back on their bikes and zip through the familiar interstate. Wey-wey takes his Growler, and Seiren hitches a ride on Kord's. Balzac, is missing. Somewhere across the city, busying himself with a side-biz that came down the wire, three days ago. Wey-wey imagines it wouldn't be making more money than theirs, but ever since their first foray into the Zone, Balzac's astral signature has been fluctuating till three days ago, when he received a call and walked out with his gear, mumbling something about a potentially extended absence. Wey-wey looks up from his VR game and promises to keep his teapot boiling.

The crew rolls down the interstate like thunder in the dark. Kord drives with lights off, and it's the scariest things to growl down that road in the past 12 hours. Equally, dangerously, 

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Log 2. Riffle in the Night
Under their tarp, the cover of night, and yet something darker

The two-tonged Irish lilt still freshly tumbling in their pressurized ears, the crew rolls into the disused parking lot where Son of Andrews have directed them to. It's adjacent to a two-storey triangular building, whose paneling and paint jobs likewise are peeling off. Underneath the harsh weathering of the Zone, the squat building faintly glows that warm glow of nostalgia that usually makes up the patina of schools. 

On the southeast corner of the building, the crew finds a door, upon which emblazons the name "Janus". The door has been bullied off its hinge, and barely hangs onto the frosted threshold, open and inviting the winter in. Balzac is the first one in, astrally projecting deep into the second floor, while Wey-wey rummages through the abandoned foyer. As Balzac glides through, he finds the building is empty of life, but the signs of its departure is surprisingly recent, unmatched by how badly its rundown on its exterior. Even the second floor is no more interesting than broken equipment of what would have been a biochemical lab. People have been cleaning and busying these fully furnished office space only two weeks ago. 

Kord and Seiren ventures downward, leaving Blazac's limp body against the receptionist's desk. Throughout the building, all of its electronics are bricked but unburnt, as if hit by a gentle storm of electricity. At the foot of the staircase, they are stopped by a massive slab of black steel and a small inactive control panel. After minutes of work, Seiren rouses the controls from its sleep, and the slab hisses open to reveal an immaculately kept laboratory, its walls and floors scrubbed clean, white tiled, and—splatter of blood trailing up towards the door that they just opened.

Through the haze of limbic system kicking in, the crew sees a hand  reaching out through an open doorway, 10 meters into the lab. Coyote salivates into the ether, electrified at such blatant danger. Seeing the death, Balzac squats down against the metal slab, and astrally projects once again. Kord locks and loads while Wey-wey and Seiren steps forward, and peer into the room. 

They are struck with the iron-scented carnage emanating from three dead bodies strewn about in grotesque angles, snapped bones and necks visible sharp against the otherwise meticulous operation room. They are ringed by a kelpen glow of twelve stasis pods, each of them containing a naked body of a female, suspended in benthic stare and science. The twelfth is vacant.

Balzac's astral self enters into the lab at the same time, and is stopped short by overwhelming malice that washes over him. His perception burns with the maniacal laughter of eleven-headed hydra, that languidly claws as if underwater at the crackling air. Balzac snaps out, and shudders against the metal door before finding composure to relay the information to the team. 

The door slams.

Wey-wey and Seiren find themselves trapped in the laboratory with dead and suspended bodies. Seiren connects to the active node of the matrix, rooting through its restricted access to will the door open. As he sashays through the restricted AR, copying deeds and gaining access to the administrative controls of the building, he sees a dark shift in the corner of his eyes. Wey-wey looks up from rummaging through the bodies, now riddled with katana-sized holes, and flinches at Seiren's jolt. He quickly assenses the room, and is awash with the same terror that leapt out at Balzac moments before. A ball of flame enshrouds the many headed beast, as it snakes through the stasis pods, bodies, and malice. 

It takes a moment to recover from the horrific sight, but Seiren calls out that he has finished downloading all relevant data, and the lab door opens to the cool breeze of the corridor. There's a brief discussion of what to do with the remaining eleven pods, when it's revealed that the clones are from the Otaku subject named Samantha Carrol, whose test results revealed higher threshold than other subjects and has become the primary mould for the eleven. All are recorded under the project name "Gestalt". Wey-wey suggests that they are at their liberty to detonate the 11 cortex bombs, that Son of Andrews will never be able to tell whether they were the ones to burn up their coveted bounty. But sanity prevails, and the crew packs up to leave the Shiawasi owned building with the deed and bad taste in their mouths. Outside, they send through the fresh snow, the copy of the deed to Son of Andrews and get back on their trail to Midway. 

Soon, the two bikes shred through the I-55, blurring past desiccated carcasses of empty-wheeled vehicles and monstrous insect wings. As they near the off ramp, a lone white flash from the the traffic control tower invites the crew. At the edge of the criss-crossed airport, they stash the bikes under a tarp and proceed on foot. Balzac jumps into the astral realm once again to provide reconnaissance,  but upon his entry, he is noted by the lookout of the control tower. The mage quickly summons two spirits, and the crew jumps into the battle. Kord lets out his AK burst fire into the top of the control tower midway through his run across the airport. After the first round wildly misses and scatters across the tarmac, the second burst lands on the mark, ripping through the mage's skull in a flurry of broken glass. The two spirits are quickly taken down by Balzac, his mana blade articulating itself in the ether of the night with swift vengeance.

In the aftermath of the rather brief carnage, they approach the tower to find another survivor rushing down the staircase towards them. In clear panic, the man crumbles upon seeing Kord nonchalantly walk up the staircase, stepping over the freshly unarmed ganger. It's to Wey-wey's dismay that Kord let's the ganger escape.

After a bit of rummaging through the distended disuse that squats inside of the building, Serien locates the dying terminal and replaces it. 

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Log 1. Overhand Groves
Place where birds sing, nodes ping, and bullets kill.

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.

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