Dateline: day after last session, 0100 local time.
The team have been down in Candyman‘s armory and on the basement range at his base of operations all evening, although Candyman stepped out to take an urgent phone call about an hour ago. When he came back, he told the rest that the Emir was sending over someone who owed him, to help out some. The guy should be due round about now. They have all gathered in the Desiderium Cartel’s first floor parking level as a big grey van ghosts silently up the ramp.
Pitbull lights a cigarette, “Oh hey, I found a smoke in my back pocket.”
Candyman speaks to the others, “I hear this guy is good, bit of a drone wizard. It’ll be interesting to see,” he glances over to Hugh, “if you can keep up. Humm also, how are the Reapers treating you guys – they are pretty new so I’ve yet to test them out personally. The kids don’t need toys of that caliber so you guys are the first. Opinions?” Getting three very enthusiastic responses from Garrion, Pitbull and Able, he continues, “We should be about ready after we brief the new guy. I’ve got the Sharks circling – just waiting on the ‘witch’ to fly her broomstick over. Most of the kids are down there with the Capa’s boys, should be pretty safe when we cruise in. I’ve got an armored truck we use to move merchandise, should keep us safe till we get in position.”
The van parks and out of it climbs an average looking Filipino American man in his mid-twenties, in a suit and tie. Garrion’s reaction is immediate, “Man he’s going to stick out in that attire, I hope he brought something a little less dressy.” Candy man steps forward and extends his hand. “Welcome to Cabrini-Grean, I’m Candyman, or Candy to my friends. You must be Pacoy. A pleasure – the Emir speaks highly of your skill set.”
The newcomer replies, “You must be the Candyman, then – Emir says you might be able to use my services?” "Yes, Candy nods, “your timing is most fortuitous. We’re about to move in on a gang known as the Black Toenails, a puppet organization it seems, who are working with Dream Corp. I’ll uplink the specifics to your HUD.” Candy waits for clearance and begins streaming his report over from his computer implant, “let me know if you have any questions, and glad to have you on the team.” Pacoy shrugs. Like he has a choice – Friedlander Bey can be very persuasive when you have a gambling habit and have just dropped six large on his tables. “Got it. Seems straight forward. Looks like a good plan, solid crew, glad to be a part of it!” He continues, with a nod at his van, “I have a few light recon drones ready, nothing heavy assault worthy, but they make really big booms if they have to.” Pacoy mimes an explosion with his hands.
Able lets the Reaper drop from his hands and hang by its strap as he nods. “So you’re a rigger. I hope you’re ready for some action; I don’t expect the Toenails to come peacefully.” The team introduce themselves as Garrion jokingly notes that Pitbull especially should get along with the new guy just fine. The big ex-soldier slowly and mock-seriously stubs out his cigarette on his boot and throws the butt to the side before suddenly grinning back. “blowing stuff up doesn’t sound bad at all, we should get along quite well.”
A young woman comes out of the stairwell leading to the upper floor and rushes on slippered feet across the floor to Hugh. She speaks quietly but urgently to him, hands him a datapad then rushes away. Hugh turns to his boss. “Um, Mr. Cypress, we may have a wrinkle. Someone’s been down in the docklands asking questions about your friend here.” He gestures at Garrion. “Someone with cash to spread around.”
Garrion turns with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He’s sure he knows the answer but asks anyway: “Any word on who they are or what they look like? I have an idea who these goons are, but I want to be sure. I had thought that I had lost them but they must have picked up my trail faster than I expected.” “Yes sir,” Hugh replies and holds up the datapad. “We got some vid feed in a crowd and my people put together this composite.” Candyman claps Garrion on the shoulder and assures him that the Desiderium family has his back.
Able studies the face on the datapad as he asks Garrion, “Who do you think this ‘goon’ work for?” Garrion sighs and replies, “Let’s just say that me and Umbra Corp have a serious disagreement on their corporate policies. It seems I’m going to have to share a little history with you guys.” He takes a deep breath. “I used to head their security and I discovered they were dealing in some foul practices. They tried to kill me off to keep things silent but their efforts failed. I’m standing here now but according to them and the media I blew up in that warehouse.” He spreads his hands, “Look I understand if you guys want nothing to do with this. Lets just get this mission done and I’ll take care of these things myself. No need to put you in danger.”
Meanwhile, Able has scanned the picture with his eyes, uploading the facial features to his implant computer’s memory augmentation software, sending it skittering through the ‘net trying to put a name and biography on this potential problem. Now he has his answer. As Garrion’s friends crowd around to assure him that Umbra are taking on them all, not just him, Able summarizes his findings for the others. “Andres Trepanier. Heavily augmented ex-detective; he primarily works person-location cases now. Luckily, he prefers to work solo jobs. I don’t think Umbra has a kill-team after you just yet. Rossum doesn’t have detailed records on what augments he has, but it’s at least equal to, and most likely superior to, the typical personal security team suite. I would recommend not engaging him directly.”
Garrion snorts, “I don’t intend to unless he bangs down my door and forces it.” Candyman pats his shoulder again, “Either way, I doubt he’ll be trolling around a Combat Zone alone, and even if he does we have close to a hundred friends in the area. It’s about time we rolled into our positions.” Candyman heads for the garage, speaking over his shoulder, “and awaited comms.”
Garrion begins to follow after as he quietly speaks, almost to himself. “I just need to dig up the proof I need that they are building backdoors into their ware. It opens up the potential for them to snoop on every user of their ware.” Hugh, who has been guiding his wheelchair after his boss, stops and whirls. “Wait a min…Umbra did what?” Able frowns, “That could be troubling; if you have any evidence that Umbra does that, I’d like to hear it sometime.”
As they all head for the transports and split into two groups – Able electing to ride with Pacoy – Garrion explains to the others that the Umbra program was in its experimental stage when he discovered it, but that it held the possibility of the corporation being able to subliminally influence anyone using its augments. "I saw the schematics and implementation plans when I recovered them. However, everything was destroyed when the double cross took place and they cleaned up “loose ends”. Able in particular is deeply worried by this news – his patron, Rossum, works closely with Umbra on many joint products, including some of his own augmentations. The team load up and move out.
It’s about 15 miles to The Shambles, but most of the way is on a raised freeway and at this time of the morning traffic is lighter even in the crowded megacity, so the team’s two vehicles exit the offramp after a short 25 minute drive and pull over in the lot of a small combined Amaisda Biofuel service station and Shopping Wall franchise. It’s just after one in the morning as they survey their surroundings. The Shambles is far enough away from anything important (i.e. rich and corporate) that there are no police checkpoints to restrict entry to it. Ahead, the road towards a chain link fence and a set of concrete ’"dragon’s teeth" barriers. Beyond that, a dark mass of ruined factories and steel structures rises, lit from within by a mix of electric, chemical and fire light.
It’s an area unfamiliar to most of the team and they vocally worry about a possible landmine belt – not unknown around combat zones closer to important areas – before Pitbull reassures them. “To those not familiar with this, imagine an arcology, with low-lifes and gangbang f*ckers as shopkeepers and business men.” He pauses, then adds, “Oh and a helluva lot more trash.”
Candyman looks at the dragon’s teeth barriers as he exits his massive truck. The night is warm, and there’s a touch of rain in the air to burn his nostrils with a weak organic acid. Other, stronger, scents come to him from the sprawling shanty complex ahead – sweat, cooking, woodsmoke, beer. “Ok it looks like we’re walking.” He climbs down out of the truck then opens a mutual comms channel. “Hugh, we have to go the rest of the way on foot – launch a aerial scout drone and keep us posted, don’t want to walk into any traps. Take a care not to spook the target and we’ll be back soon brother.” Able steps up alongside him and looks around the area for a moment, then closes his eyes, shutting himself down from the world. “Wait one. Booting up.” Ten seconds later, Able’s eyes flash open once more, now with a bit of a manic gleam to them, “Awright, now we can move this joint!”
As Pacoy opens a canister at his belt and allows a small drone, a little larger than a tennis ball, to pop out and fly away on a recon pattern, buzzing softly, Hugh deploys a bigger surveillance drone, a ducted rotor job, from his own stock. The two ascend into the night, eyes in the sky probing with senses better than human. Well, normal human. Pitbull jacks into his new Reaper assault weapon and surveys the area with his now hyperspectral vision in infra-red, ultraviolet and augmented normal vision. There are no obvious threats. He takes in the rising expanse of old rusting factory ahead and murmurs, “Just like home.”
Garrion steps up beside the big Texan. “So do we need to tuck our stuff away or just strut around with it out?” Pitbull answers by raising his voice to give advice to the whole team. “Strut, gentlemen. We won’t get shit from shits while we’re packin’ this much heat.” He takes point, naturally, doing the walk by instinct after so many years in the insurgent-packed shanties of Mexico City. “Pitbull!” Candy yells across the parking lot as he walks over, “you know what kind of landmines might be in here? Pressure plates or what?” He replies, “Nothing big. Mostly shotgun shells armed by nails and pennies or washers. Don’t kick any cans, and we’ll be fine.” Pitbull scopes the area with the Reaper again and growls, “Mexico.” The rest draw their weapons and fall into formation behind him, Able and Garrion copying his steady sweeps with their Reaper’s sights.
As they approach the first set of buildings past the concrete barriers, their feet crunching on gravel and finely-ground glass, a figure steps out into the path from scrubby brush, zipping up his pants. “Sheet, the heat!” he cries, and runs off towards the entrance to the first building, from which now comes the sound of loud chrome-rock music and merriment. Pitbull keeps his Reaper firmly trained on the man, until he is firmly out of view. “Yep. That was the only thing missing to make it Mexico all over again.” he spits into the dust. “Stay sharp guys. Not everyone’s ‘fraid of a group of guys with big guns and we won’t miss a sniper if we’re really paying attention.” Pitbull grates that last out as if remembering and punctuates his point with some added sweeps to the building tops. Able looks after the running man, sourly. “The Toes are about to know we’re here; they’ll send us a welcoming reception soon enough.” Garrion nods and murmurs, “I still think we should be a little more discreet about our approach. Who knows what eyes they may have out here…any word on the ‘Witch’ yet?”
“Shadow 1,”Candy broadcasts on the team channel, “this is Papa, any intel on the witch yet? What’s the status up there?” Hugh’s voice comes back on the same channel so everyone can hear. “Nothing yet, boss. We’ll hear from Wormwood when she moves. No obvious hostile intent ahead of you so far, no groups moving towards your position, but I see a lot of people with weapons on the FLIR.”
The first building the team reach, the one with the loud music, looks like it was once a warehouse or transport shed. Now it’s a rusted hulk, boarded up with sheets of metal, plastic and graphite and probably being held up by the thick spayed-on sound insulation all over the inside walls. It has a garish neon sign above the entry “Gumby’s” and two hulking muscle-grafted bouncer types with stun wands outside. Inside the Zoner bar, there must be a couple of score bodies heaving around in the “mosh pit”. The noise this close is deafening. One of the bouncers sees you in the darkness at last and walks forward with his arms out to his sides, carefully. “Hey, uptown, we don’t want no trouble here. This is a peaceful resting hole, y’know?” he grins, showing crooked teeth stained red from chewing Betel Nut. Pitbull, on point, replies, “The trouble we got ain’t here. This is just for the trouble later, y’know?” He gestures towards his gun:" Later this evening, y’know?" he pauses. “Not here,” He adds, figuring he wasn’t clear enough.
The bouncer’s eyes widen as he really takes in the team’s equipment. “Shee-it, that’s serious hardware, hombre. You guys corps?” Pitbull speaks for the team again, at last in a situation where he feels comfortable, “Nah man. We’re ’Runners.” Candy steps forward and Pitbull glowers at him for an instant before he glimpses his companion palm a credit chip to the man. The Zoner laughs, a deep boom into the night. "I hear that! Runners is cool. You’ll be wanting the market, maybe? They got some good shit there. Head past the club on your right, down between those two big old cooling towers, then take a left into the zinc works. " He pockets the chip and heads back to his station by the club door. “Have a high time, guys!”
Able turns from the club, looking down in the direction the bouncer pointed out as Hugh comes on comms: “Looks like he’s given you a genuine steer, boss. I have a tangle of metal containers that’re playing merry hell with my telemetry, but I can see what appears to be a souk or bazaar in that building through gaps in the roof. I’m going to try sending my bird in there, but I won’t be surprised if it loses signal and goes automatic.” Pacoy, hearing Hugh, recalls his own tiny drone for now rather than lose it in the signal-clutter.
The team begin to head in the direction the bouncer indicated but, as soon as they are out of the Zoner’s earshot, Pitbull rounds on Candy. “Try not to speak, unless absolutely necessary. I could see it in his eyes he probably thought you were just a bit too rich to be down here. That could have been a bit too much trouble for us.” This is so much unlike Pitbull’s usual easy-going way that the usually egotistical Candyman stops and considers his words carefully, then nods sharply. “Roger, I’ll try to wear gang boss on my sleeve for the remainder of our stay.”
The area they’ve been directed to is indeed some kind of market, with small, threadbare shops in old shipping containers, rudimentary lean-tos of sheet metal and even made from the hulks of rusted vehicles. As they walk among the shops, there aren’t many people about – maybe a couple of dozen – and many of the stalls seem closed. But there’s a place selling bits of electronics, another selling drugs in pill, inhaler, derm and crystal forms and a third which has a range of cheap Chinese weaponry laid out on a jury-rigged counter. The man behind the weapons counter is wearing a cut-down jacket, with the Black Toenail logo in garish gothic colors emblazoned on the back. In back of his weapons stall, down a short piss-smelling alleyway, there’s an entrance to what appears to be an old railway carriage, dragged here somehow and raised on bricks. A spray-painted sign on clapboard says “Slots, $10 a fuck”.
“What does that even mean?” Candy gestures to the sign, “also we got company.” Candy is right – two more Toes have come out of the carriage and now all three are regarding the team with openly hostile interest. One touches his ear and moves his jaw, subvocalizing on a phoneset. Able shakes his head sorrowfully at Candyman, “You’re clueless, berk. It’s a hooker, candy, prostitute, zone-head, magic maker and wand-raker. Whatever ya wanna call it.” The Toe at the arms counter, who is nearest and perhaps only a dozen feet away, raises his chin in an aggressive reverse nod. “Whaddafuckdyouwant, uptown? This isn’t your turf.”
Able fishes out a tenner and raises his voice, acting the part for all he’s worth, “Come on, boss-man needs to see the sights.” The Toe laughs so hard spit runs down his chin. “Corpman comes all this way for a fuck, with a whole PST draggin’ along? Now I seen everfing, Joe!” he slaps the counter hard in joy and gestures towards the carriage. “Go right ’head, but leave the hardware outside with my buds there. Oh and hey, for an extra fifty, you can mess her up, man. Snuff fiction!”
Able shrugs, then pulls out another forty. “Hey, why not?” Candy interjects, "Not really sure I understand how these things work, "he gestures to the carriage and hands his gun back to Pacoy, “think you guys could explain it?”
This from Candy causes the Toe behind the counter to choke, wheeze and sink to his knees as he gasps out “Yeah, explain it to him! Birds n bees! Bwahahahaha—cough, cough!” His friends begin to rag on Candyman in good-natured fashion, causing the Toe to laugh even harder between cries of “Go’an, get in there, money!” but eventually Candyman, acting his part as well as Able, sends an override to his Healthspy to flush his face a deep crimson, “I’ll just go back to doing it in deep VR – seeing as no one wants to show me how its done.” Candy makes to walk away from the counter and the ganger now holding his sides and whimpering, but Pitbull steps up. “So, tell us about her. Age? Height? Weight? Size?” One of the other Toe’s takes pity on his friend and saunters over, grinning widely. “What’s yer pref, big guy? Brown, black, white, young, old – either sex or both.” Pitbull laughs, “Oh, I like em blonde, 20-ish, tits that could knock a man’s teeth out. Y’know? She anythin’ like that?” The Toe answers, “We got one like that. Ish. Young too, hardly been rid. Ish.” Pitbull’s smile drops a little, “The age on her?” “Tha’ fuck should I know? this isn’t one of the Emir’s places, we don’t ask for a certificate. If that’s your kink, say she’s fourteen and have a bang.”
The rest are already edging away from the stall as Wormwood’s voice comes over their comms, “The witch is flying.” However, Pitbull won’t let go of the subject. He glowers, “Rough age guess, then?” The Toe talking to Pitbull has had enough: : “’Bout the same age as your sister was when I did her, meatboy.” Garrion eyes the Toes and picks his first target but Pitbull simply takes a breath, then answers. “I just don’t want to be fuckin’ someone the same age as when you fucked your own sister, bro,” He intones deadpan, with a hard emphasis on ‘bro’. Candy tugs on Pitbull’s elbow. The Toe simply stops and stares, speechless, as his two buddies rib him about Pitbull’s comeback and the team walk away.
Hugh now comms: “Boss we have a flyer incoming from the Northwest, e.t.a. 3 minutes,” as the team make their way through the souk’s warren of stalls and clapboard alleyways until the see, ahead, the Toe headquarters as it rises above the souk. It’s a tower of a building, easily 60 feet high, built from a framework of rusted steel piping and rotting concrete paneled in corroded sheets of steel, plastic and graphite, and with gaping holes in the paneling through which they can see old containers and lean-tos being used as shelters and hovels, lit by a mix of electric light and small fires. After a couple of minutes a sleek long shape comes out of the night sky, running lights flashing. It reverses thrust, hovers, then slowly descends on four powerful jets – right onto the roof of the Toenail fort.
The team settle into the shadows and prepare. Pacoy re-releases his drone as Hugh sends his own eyes up high to ensure the pilot of the AV, presumably DreamCorp‘s Shaina Chacon, doesn’t manage to return to her flyer and take off again. Able pops the hood on his coat, triggering the camo function and fading into the darkness entirely as Candyman comms his own Desiderium people and the allied gang members from the Sharks he arranged to come along to be ready. Garrion moves stealthily toward the fortress, sticking to the shadows as best as possible and almost bumps into a young woman in a tight bodysuit under ragged clothes, clutching a Scorpia machine pistol and hiding in the shadow of a closed stall. She nods, and gestures across the cleared area of rust-stained concrete in front of the fortress to a tall derelict building with office-style windows about 50 yards away. She points to herself, then again at the building, then signals five fingers three times. Desiderium are in that building. Over the comms channel comes a new voice: “Sharkbite here…moving up now. Just had to take care of a few outliers at some cheapass whoreshop.” Pitbull chuckles, locks and loads.
Garrion can see three sentries at the single ground floor entrance, a gaping hole in the building which has what looks like a barrier made from ornamental spiked railings drawn across it. There’s another about halfway up, in a window-like gap. Hugh reports “two on the roof, sentries by the looks – assault carbines, maybe with smartsights.” Behind the team there’s a rustle and a dozen young men with slicked-back short hair which rises in a stiffly gelled peak on the back of their skulls move up, each cradling a PDW. The leader nods to Candy, who nods back and moves to hunker down behind a stall, using his phoneset and computer to pass tactical and targeting information to all the elements of his assault. When it begins, it should be devastating to the unprepared defenders. Pitbull calls for cover as he decides to scale the tower with the auto-grapnel he’d brought along specially and Pacoy releases a second of his tiny buzzing drones, then Wormwood’s voice comes in on their channel for the second time of the evening. “Guys, something just blew up in the Dreampark hotel lobby. Shake the lead out!”
“Fuck. Better get to that,” Pitbull breathes, then launches himself across the cleared area and to the side of the tower, selecting an area where he can ascend unobserved and readying the grapnel’s launcher. Able takes aim at the upper target on the front, his mind beginning to speed up as he feels the impact of the speedware starting to course through his neurons. After a brief moment aiming, Able fires off a quick burst of three bullets at the target, who drops – dead. The assault is on, and the roof sentries are the first of the enemy to fire – although they are trying to hit Pacoy’s buzzing drones, which are harassing them. Garrion, seeing Able drop the man in the window-gap, shifts aim to one of the door sentries, crouching down in the gaping entryway. Through the gaps in the walls, he can see in his hyperspectral sights the Toes boil out of their hovels in the big tower, grabbing weapons and doing hits from inhalers. Caught asleep or relaxing, mostly already high, they are unprepared for the well-planned hail of withering automatic gunfire that comes from the Sharks in the souk and the Desiderium in the block opposite. Several Toes fall, wounded or dead, and sheeting fragments splatter down from stray rounds.
Hugh’s voice breaks in on Comms: “Sniper missed, damn! Boss, will you buy me a new bird if I break this one?” Candy replies, “The bird we are after is worth a lot more – do what needs to be done Hugh. I trust your judgment.” In the next moment there is a scream that cuts through even the noise of the gunfire, as a dark mass hurtles over the side of the Toe’s tower. As it falls, it resolves into a figure entangled with a torso-sized drone copter. Splat! “Bird down, Hugh out.” Next comes a large explosion as Pacoy detonates the charge in one of his own drones, then smoke and debris gouts out of every opening near the top of the tower fortress. At least one body is mixed in with the debris.
Pitbull, snagging the roof with his grapnel, engages the auto-winch and begins to swiftly ascend, his reaper held one-handed as he looks around for targets. Able runs forward, cloaked in the night and his thermoptic camo, moving in to position underneath Pitbull as he continues ascending on the autograpnel. As Able begins to climb, the Toes are at last beginning to return fire – but it’s poorly directed, panicked, not like the storm of bullets Candy is directing onto gap after gap in the tower’s structure. Pitbull, firing, catches one Toe who leaned out of a window to aim at Able and the ganger pitches past them both the thirty feet to the ground. Garrion kills another with a well aimed burst of three armor-piercing rounds. A lithe figure in black combat armor with pink flashes appears at an upper floor gap, cradling a PDW. She fires a three round burst back at Garrion and her shots zing close by, leaving three close-spaced holes in a sheet of board siding on the stall he’s crouched inside. She ducks back into cover.
A hulking Toe ganger appears in a mid-level gap with a tube across his shoulder. Behind him, a smaller Toe reaches up and slots a long cylinder onto his tube. Otherwise, the return fire from the gang is beginning to slacken as members fall, but still the slacker fire is more is targeted and a few members of both the Sharks and Desiderium have fallen wounded or dead. Garrion curses and shifts his weapon toward the hulking ganger. He squeezes off another 3 rounds while remaining behind cover himself. The big ganger falls backwards, and his missile arcs out into the night. Moments later, there’s a muffled explosion somewhere off in the zone’s shanties.
As if the missile’s flare was a signal, rather than the death of the big man who led the gang, Toes begin throwing down their weapons and holding their hands high. In return, the fire from their assailants slackens and dies. Everything is over in a few short but intensely violent seconds, testament to the sheer volume of fire poured onto the Toe’s inadequately-protected shelter and the gangers’ own poor preparedness. Chacon appears in a window, her hands above her head. Without her allies, she realizes her position is impossible. As Pitbull, then Able, reach the roof and secure the so-needed AV for the second stage of their plan, Candyman steps forward, surrounded by Sharks and his own companions, and yells up at the tower, “Stand down and leave the premises. This site now belongs to the Desiderium Cartel -withdraw and your lives will be spared. The pilot of the VTOL, please come down so we can escort you out of the Combat Zone safely.”
-To Be Continued-