5 Miles from the Free City of Rising
Wednesday, February 22, 2051
The relatively short drive from the intersection to the outskirts of the Free City of Rising is nearly complete. The Lazarus Team, plus one damaged, but still functional, robotic girl is now within the Free Rising Militia’s designated Area of Influence, as a sign grandly erected next to the highway proudly states. So far, there has been no sign of actual human habitation, though several herds of various beasts, from old-time cattle to Gen-Nu pharmgoats and Gnox, have been spotted.
The mechanical girl sits still in her seat, her simulated breathing moving her chest up and down. For the past few dozen miles, Pacoy has been working on her neck, cheek, and mouth, fixing up her vocal synthesizer. Currently, his hand is deep within her mouth, making one final adjustment before he’s satisfied the job is finished.
Mac glances back at Pacoy. “Careful she doesn’t bite, bo. Hate to watch you fix yourself up with a robotic set of fingers.” He chuckles. Pacoy delves into Siri’s speech systems, simultaneously impressed by some of the cutting edge innovations and amused by other obsolete designs. “Don’t worry,” he says to Mac, “I brought spare parts!” Pitbull grunts. “Hope ya gotcha tetanus shot, Pac. Would hate fer ya to get lockjaw from dental work.”
Wormwood flexes his injured hand – it still hurts, but it’s useable – and looks ahead for the first signs of the city proper. “Hey guys, most of Rising’s underground, isn’t it? How will we know when we’ve reached it?” Pitbull whips out his lighter and scorches the cigarette in his face into life, exhaling heavily afterward.
Mac shrugs. “Anyone got a map? Maybe we’ve driven past it already. Any of this landscape look familiar to anyone?” He sticks his head out the window to breathe deeply. Wormwood nods and calls up a Rising map from the WorldNet, looking for some signs of entry points. “Sorry,” Pacoy shrugs, one hand finishing his work, “Navigation isn’t in my wheelhouse. Is the GPS still ruining?” “Anyone check the GPS?” Pitbull growls over Maraudio’s “Rock the Casba(The Fuck Shit Up Remix)”
Mac grumbles. “See, we wouldn’t have that problem if I’d been able to lay my hands on a map.” He scans the horizon. “We picking up supplies in Rising or something?” Wormie grunts, “No, we should be ok for that – we need to top up the tank though. It’s a long drive to Foundry, the next city.” “Fair, fair.” Mac stretches his legs as much as possible. For a big car, this place sure is awfully cramped – wonder if it’s much longer. “Lets get this meat wagon topped up. Where are we pulling off?” “I’m looking for a decent map now,” Wormwood replies. “If we can, it’d be nice to find somewhere with a diner or something nearby too – saving our food stocks for the wilderness seems just plain like a good idea to me.” A grin slides across Mac’s face. “Not that you mention it, I could go for a steak or three.” Wouldn’t want my last meal to be a few lukewarm coffees and a pack of dry oats. I hate feeling like a horse.
Wormie exclaims, “Hah! Got It! About three miles on, take the offramp, Mac – there’s a fuel stop right next to a Donny’s Diner.” He looks up, “Damn, this is a well hidden city – we should be able to see it by now. I hope the GPS isn’t off.” Pitbull reaches into his bag of burgers from their last town stop, only to pull out a fistful of ketchup packets. “I could go with a bit o’ steak an’ eggs myself…” “Three mikes, eh?” Mac eases into the accelerator a bit more. “I’d trust a Donny to handle my eggs for sure, Pitbull. A Danny? Never. Name lacks a proper scrambling clout.” “Or some guy named Denny? Shit, the guy sound like he stuck his hand down his pants before picking up that spatula, name like that…” Pitbull grunts, dragging off his cigarette again. Wormie shrugs, “Aw fuggit, Mac – let’s trust the map for another two miles – then Pitbull’s sense of smell should pick up the steak and eggs.”
“Again, This isn’t my area of expertise,” Pacoy offers, looking out the window “But this doesn’t look right to me…” Mac, eyes on the road, yaps back at Pacoy. “I thought you did robots for a living? Not like any of us are going to be able to fix her up.”
Seranya looks down as Pac pulls his hand out of her mouth. She works her jaw for a moment, making sure everything works, before turning to Pacoy. “Thank you.” Her voice is now smooth as velvet; it would be hard to pick it up as anything but natural, even to Wormwood’s enhanced audio filters. “Are you taking me to my master now?” “We need to make a few stops, but that is the general plan,” Pacoy says to the android, “What can you tell us about your master?”
As Mac eases the big SUV onto the offramp, the scene outside the car remains stubbornly the same – miles of mostly flat desert out in all directions, with only a few mesas and other land features to break up the view. It’s quiet, but in a way that’s mostly comforting – serene, even. The road begins to turn towards one of those mesas, maybe two miles away. A small heard of Gnox, only a few thousand strong, is slowly ambling about on the north side of the road. A cloud can be seen forming on the horizon, the first sign of weather that the Lazarus team has seen since starting on their journey.
Wormie looks confused, “This can’t be right – but the map says it is.” Mac frowns. “Where’s my diner, Worm? You gone and woke Pitbull’s growler, and I don’t want to be the first casualty.” Pitbull looks devious for a moment, smiling as he growls to Mac, “Rule #3 of desert survival: Trust no one you meet, trust your companions as long as the supplies last.” Pitbull’s smile turns into confusion as he sights a cloud. “Guys, am I sufferin’ from hallucinations from badly cooked burgers, or do I see a rain cloud ahead of us?” Wormie looks where Pitbull indicates and steps up the telescopic option on his optics, “I don’t think it rains often here, Pits.” “Tha’s what I was afraid you’d say Worm. Shall we go off road to avert this?” Pitbull growls through another cigarette puff.
Seranya smiles at Pacoy. “Sergei is a very important, very smart man. He designed me, and others like me, but I’m his favorite.” Mac looks up ahead, Pitbull’s jocular threat momentarily forgotten. “Rain? Nobody start crying, alright? And wait, what’s Rule #1 and #2?” Mac looks back at Seranya briefly, before asiding to the team subvocally. “If she’s the favorite, I’d hate to see the runt of the litter.” “That’s real nice,” Pacoy tells the android “Do you know more about his whereabouts, or his workshop?” Mac shoots Pacoy a look in the rearview mirror. “We’re going to run into a cloudbank and you’re looking to get into her toolbox, Pacoy?”
Wormie whistles low “There’s a lot of lightning in that cloud, guys. Do we turn around and try to get out of its way or keep on and hope the map is right?”
“There is nothing I can do about the clouds, Mac.” Pacoy says seriously “But the droid can answer questions while those two figure out the situation” Mac smiles. “You don’t have a bot for dissipating a storm? You should get on that. Likely a great market in it for you. Guys, can either of you spot the diner up ahead? The road’s pretty flat, and I’m getting kind of hungry. If we get stormed in, I’d rather be eating rashers of bacon than rations.” “I’m a city-boy, Mac.” Pacoy answers “When I hear about inbound thunderstorms, I head inside. No need for a bot to take care of that!”
Wormie grins, “Floor it, Mac! Let’s see if we can beat that storm to this maybe-fictional diner!” “In my experience, Fictional Diners have the best food.” Pacoy says with a smile. Pitbull switches the music from the almost unbelievably somber Nine Inch Nail’s “Right Were It Belongs” to what you at first believe is ZZ Top’s “Gimme All Your Lovin’”, until you hear Sherlock-X’s baritone rapping inform you that it’s his rap laden cover. A manic smile flashes onto Mac’s mug. I doubt this rattler can outpace my ride, but if it’s worth the grains of salt it was sold on, it should have us there in no time. “Hold on guys and dolls, I’m going to give this girl plenty of swift.” He mashes the pedal to the floor like so much mud beneath his feet.
Seranya frowns. “My memory bank’s been damaged, but his primary workshop is at 38.05, -122.02. My last memory of his location was 32.38,-106.48.” Pacoy jots down the coordinates, readying for future reference. Wormwood does a double take as his computer automatically computes the co-ordinates Siri gave. ’White Sands Missile Range?"
The Amur rumbles and rolls on the bumpy road, especially with the big trailer hitched up in the back. As it moves forwards, Mac spots a sign up ahead, with big bold letters declaring ‘Slow For Inspection’. The grin diminishes on Mac’s face. “I don’t want to be tooting the wrong ringer here, but we should probably slow up, huh?” Pitbull grimaces. I’d heard R&D dudes in the military were working on a weather distortion device of some kind, but didn’t think it’d actually work. That is, if this is one…
About thirty seconds past the sign, the Lazarus team are met with their first sign of civilization. It comes upon them suddenly, and without any more warning. One moment, they’re driving down a normal road – and the next, four metal poles almost materialize next to the vehicle, boxing it in. A laser barricade forms into existence around the car, which slowly stops seemingly of its own volition.
Pitbull practically chokes on his cigarette. “Ach! Gack! Weeze I cough think shit just got real, guys! Cough”
Pitbull’s the first to notice a man appear next to the vehicle, crawling up from the sandy ground to stand at attention at the driver’s side window. He’s wearing a crisp, desert-camouflage uniform; no obvious body armor, but the firearm at his side is serious enough. His face is covered by a helmet with an integral gas mask and a dark, reflective visor. Mac nods to the man out the window. “Evening officer. Some weather we’re having out here, isn’t it?” A look passes over Wormie’s face, then it fades and he very obviously moves both hands to the dashboard, away from his pistols. Pitbull continues hacking his smoker’s cough as he gives a wave to the officer.
The Free Rising Militiaman nods to Mac. “Good evening, traveler. I’m Militiaman Stevens, and I’ll be your inspector today. Please declare any fully-automatic or military-level weaponry, biological, explosive, or nuclear devices, and state your reason for visiting Rising and the expected duration of your stay.”
Mac smiles. “Sure thing, officer. Just carrying for personal defense. I’m a private eye up by way of Night City – you know how it can get, I’m sure.” He smiles at Pitbull. Pitbull stops hacking as he raises his Reaper. “Reaper Weapon System and Aphex Rounds, Urban-Fox 3 Ultra Heavy Pistol, Tiberius Arms M-16X Carbine.” Wormwood mutters, reluctantly, “I’ve aphex in my pistols if that counts. Oh, and we’ve a machine gun we ‘liberated’ from some road-jackers earlier.” Pacoy lists off his pistol, rifle, and the swarm of automated bots and their ammo. Eris leans forwards over Wormwood, her her low-cut top showing a bit more cleavage than is typically appropriate. “A Krieg Kapital Barcelona-EXT and a custom Fletcher Imperium.” Seranya raises her artificial-looking arm. “Hello, officer. These gentlemen are returning me to my master.”
Wormie blinks once and sends to the rest, sub-vocally, “Nice weaponry she’s touting.” Pitbull turns wide-eyed to Eris. “Where in the double fuck are you even carrying that, cowgirl?” Mac rolls his eyes, sending back, “Bunk, Wormwood – you couldn’t give two cats and a hammer about the armament. You’re going to get yourself burned someday, gawking like that. Don’t be a bunny.” Eris winks to Pitbull as the Militiaman nods; he seems nonplussed by the veritable arsenal the group is carrying. “And the reason for your visit?”
Mac rests his arm on the windowsill. “Just passing through to gas up, won’t be here long.” He pats the side of the Amur affectionately. “She’s a hungry girl on occasion, and we could use a good meal. Donny’s still open up the road?”
Pitbull smiles as Eris winks at him. Get over her dude. Your hearts beatin’ like a virgin during a lap dance. Focus soldier…
Officer Stevens nods. “Alright. You’ve been entered into the system and are cleared to travel through the Outer Wards. If you stay longer than 24 hours or wish to travel to one of the Inner Wards, you must visit a Militia Tower and peacebond your heavier firearms. Donny’s is just up the road there,” he points to the sand-colored mesa just a mile or so away. “You can’t miss it. I’d recommend getting to cover soon; the sandstorm coming in looks to be a bad one.”
Mac smiles and nods. “Much obliged, officer. They have sheltered parking up at Donny’s?” You can hear the smile in the militiaman’s voice as he answers. “All parking in Rising’s sheltered, traveler.” He backs up from the vehicle a few steps, then leans down – and suddenly, he’s gone, as if swallowed up by the sand.
Wormie turns to Eris. “Next time the bad guys start in, any chance you might help out with those fancy guns of yours?” Eris shrugs to Worm. “My job is to document everything. If I didn’t think you could handle it I might join in, but I’m not really a soldier like you boys.”
Mac blinks a few times. “Did anyone else feel that had a Chinese angle to it?” He shakes his head to clear it and then sets the Amur to rumbling along again.
“Well, you must be compensatin’ that with yer firepower, that’s fer damn sure. Got hit by an Imperium once. Was a bitch to recover from, but I still opened him a new breathing hole in his chest afterward.” Pitbull growls as he finds where his cigarette had rolled off to. Wormie shakes his head at Pitbull’s anecdote. “Yeah, and he pissed out the bullets so the autodoc didn’t have to remove ’em.” “But only after I shot the chupacabra with my pistol, which I improvised human teeth as the ammo.” Pitbull adds, smiling back at Wormwood, who only laughs aloud and gives his pal a thumbs-up.
The laser fence suddenly deactivates, the lasers no longer clearly visible in the dusty air. The posts slowly retract back to safety underground, revealing where they had sprung up from so suddenly. The road is clear.
Wormie whoops, “Hit the road, Mac! There’s a Donny’s almost-burger with nearly-bacon and soy-rooms up ahead with my name on it!” Mac shakes his head, clearly distracted as he eases back into the gas pedal. If I could’ve pulled the disappearing copper trick, would’ve saved me eight worlds of trouble back on the Wilmington case. “You got it boss. I hope nobody minds me ordering a bit of everything. I’m famished.”
Pitbull laughs. “I might’ve had real bacon once. Might’ve been fake-on though…” He growls in tandem with his stomach. Wormwood answers, “You had real chicken at the Ottoman, Pits – unless Mac ate it all first.” "Shit-yeah! I can now actually say “that tasted like chicken” an’ know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!" Pitbull laughs again. A sheepish grin crosses Mac’s face. “Well, to be fair, that chicken tasted just like chick-im. Still filled me up pretty good.”
The Amur rumbles forwards, steadily moving straight forwards to the mesa, now dead ahead. As you get closer, the team slowly realize that the road doesn’t go around the mesa or over the mesa or anything like that. No, it goes right into the mesa – and for all that you can see, it looks like a rather sudden and painful transition.
A look of concern begins as a parasite on Mac’s face shortly before it erupts into a full-blown infection. “Uh, guys… I don’t think we’re getting into Rising this way…” Pitbull was attempting to light his cigarette as this happened, but failed miserably as the flame of his lighter was too far to his right due to his distraction. Wormwood gulps, “It’s gotta be an illusion, right? The city’s underground.” Mac winces. “You want me to drive into the wall of that mesa and check to see that it’s an illusion? Is the diner supposed to be inside?” Wormwood says, “Yeah – but go slow, m’kay?” then braces himself. “Yeah. Like 10 miles an hour slow, ’kay?” Pitbull adds as he rights cigarette lighting, trying to force the image of Wile E. Coyote holding up a comically small umbrella at an avalanche of rocks out of his head.
Mac brings the Amur to a stop right in front of the mesa’s facade, wincing as he does so before giving the gas the lightest of taps to send them into their obstacle. “Hold on Mac!” Pacoy yells suddenly, sending a Buzzbot out to the mesa
As the Amur gets within fifteen feet of the cliff face, the optical illusion finally shatters; the cliff face shudders and breaks as the road begins to slope downwards, a well-hidden tunnel suddenly appearing in the otherwise natural cliff face. Wormwood grins, ‘OK, that’s just cool."
As they pass into the mesa proper, the occupants of the Amur can see what appear to be windows blending naturally into the rock face of the mesa, only visible from this angle as the reflections no longer hide their true identity.
Pitbull finally exhales a cloud of smoke in relief. These kind o’ surprises and shit make me miss the simplicity of fightin’ insurgents. They’re crafty little shits but not this crafty… “Impressive!” Pacoy mutters as he recalls the bot. A breath beaks out from between Mac’s sealed lips that he didn’t realize he was holding. “Well wrap me up with a bow and stick me under the Christmas tree. Here I was thinking I’d seen everything.”
The tunnel is well-lit and swiftly opens up into a proper thoroughfare, traveling straight through the underground city of Rising. A designated parking area is to the left up ahead, and right next to it is a charging/fueling station. Above that, and running against the mesa’s outer wall, is the Donny’s Diner.
Wormie points, “There! Food and restrooms! My boots are almost swimming.” Mac puts the heat on and pulls in to the fuelling station. “I’ll gas the beast up. You lot head on ahead, grab a table and water the flowers. Someone order me one of everything on the menu, will you?” Pitbull shakes his head in Wormwoods direction. “Shut up. We’re gettin’ food, dammit.” Pitbull grates at his stomach, as it makes a sound not unlike someone grinding the clutch on a truck.
As soon as the SUV stops, Wormie jumps to the ground and heads for the diner, walking fast but controlled. Pitbull follows Wormie’s lead, racking and loading his Urban Fox as he makes a swift and determined pace to the diner. Mac slides out of the car, assisting Eris to the ground before beginning refueling the cumbersome vehicle.
The door to the Donny’s opens up, revealing a surprising interior for an international chain restaurant. Green plants decorate the sides farthest from the outer wall, but the mostly-unobstructed floor-to-ceiling windows offer one of the most stunning views from a restaurant that any in the Lazarus group has ever seen – well, if you like viewing the serene beauty of the natural desert surroundings, at least.
“Looks kinda like home. Without the crushing poverty and the hourly gunfights, but similar to home. Oh and the smog. It’s missin’ that too.” Pitbull growls as he waits to be seated.
The windows give a clear view of the dust storm rapidly closing in on the mesa. The Gnox herd that was roving around up top has obviously become agitated, and they’re beginning to spread out, moving here and there while searching for shelter from the storm.
“Am I the only one uncomfortable with the steak watching us eat?” Pacoy says as he eyes the nervous beasts move on the other side of the window. Wormwood, coming back from a hurried trip to the restroom, claps Pacoy on the back. “Yup! I’m famished, let’s eat.” “Wonder if they’ll let us kill an’ clean one ourselves. Y’know, like it was run by Ted Neugent?”Pitbull growls, smirking to himself.
An attractive redhead greets the Lazarus crew with a smile. “Welcome to Donny’s. I’m Jenny, and I’ll be your server today. Follow me to a seat. Our special this evening is French toast served with poached Gnox eggs and bacon.” The woman leads the group to a large table at the center of the window wall, with plenty of room for eight people to sit.
Wormwood automatically sits with his back to a wall, facing the main entrance, and looks at the menu. “Gnox steak, eggs and fries, please. Make the steak rare.” “Gnox….Eggs?” Pacoy says, disturbed.
“‘Scuse me, ma’am, but are we aloud to kill and clean our meal?” Pitbull asks, unable to resist the question. The woman shrugs at Pitbull. “Only if you’re willing to wait twenty-four hours to eat it, pay extra for the pleasure, and find a restaurant willing to cater to your desires, sir.” Wormie smiles up at the waitress. “Ignore him, Jenny, he’s a barbarian. Can I have some coffee too? Black and sweet, like my men.”
The waitress turns to Pacoy. “They’re quite delicious, I assure you, sir. We serve only the best genetically modified dishes at Donny’s Rising.” Pitbull’s slab of a face contorts into an expression of hurt. “Sorry ‘bout that. Just enjoy the challenge. I’ll take two orders of your Gnox steak and eggs, the steaks medium rare, eggs scrambled. A beer, if you got it, if not, then some sweet tea.” Wormwood suddenly remembers: “Oh, and our friend who’ll be in shortly wants one of everything!” Pacoy frowns “French toast, bacon, coffee. Please don’t tell me where any of it came from.” Seranya smiles up at Jenny, her metal eye shining. Eris, seated next to her, winks at the startled waitress. “I’ll have some Gnox beef, fried, served with eggs and bacon. She’ll have two orders of sausage with heavy syrup.”
Mac saunters into the restaurant, having parked the vehicle after refueling. He manages to detect his way over to the table, smiling at the waitress as he passes her before taking a seat. “So, what am I getting, and is there a lot of it?” “Wormwood ordered you one of everything like you said. 10 cred says the cook walks out.” Pitbull grates matter-of-factly. Mac’s grin splits all the way to his ears. “You’re on. Bet I can finish my meal faster than you, too!” “If you even get it. No cook means no food. Nice job, Captain Literal.” Pitbull says darkly as he puffs off of his cigarette. Wormwood snorts amusedly and spreads his hands to say ‘not my fault’.
Jenny shortly returns with the drinks; she sets several coffees down, then four different glasses in front of Mac – one coffee, one milk, one juice, one soda. She puts three plates down in front of him – all different varieties of appetizer – and winks at him as she turns away. Wormwoods sensitive hearing can just make out her muttering a few words under her breath, “Let’s see how you do with ‘one of everything’, smartass. At least the autochef isn’t complaining, but does he have to carry it all out there, oh no…” He relays it to the rest via their data-link.
“Revise the bet. 10 cred says the auto cook malfunctions and fizzles out.” Pitbull says through a cloud of smoke, smiling. Pacoy Grins “Autochefs might not spit in food, but a waitress might!”
As the meal goes on, the group busies itself with the business of talking, eating, drinking, and admiring their ring-side view of the oncoming storm. As the sandstorm gets closer, the Gnox are increasingly becoming restless – and moving closer and closer to the mesa. Lightning begins to flash, more and more frequently and closer and closer; the dull sound of thunder echoes into the otherwise-quiet restaurant.
When the Gnox finally reach the outer barrier of Rising – about the location of that border post the Amur was stopped just a few minutes ago – there is sudden movement, and the air is split with blazing light of a fully-activated laser fence. From all the way the eye can see, horizon to horizon, the laser fence posts surrounding Rising have risen out from the ground and activated, strong enough to hurt the eyes if you are foolish enough to look directly at them – and likely strong enough to burn any Gnox foolish enough to get in their way.
A soft chime sounds in the air, followed by a voice coming from some hidden speakers ever-present within the underground city. “Now hear this. The Rising Defense Barrier has been activated due to the oncoming sandstorm and a large Gen Nu animal threat. Transit outside of Rising is restricted until the end of the emergency. Thank you.”
The laser barrier soon proves its worth as a few hundred Gnox move forwards, away from the sandstorm – straight into the heat of the lasers. The Gnox visibly bleat, turning away from the pain as they try and distance themselves from the source.
The storm outside continues to rage just as the meal continues to be served, nearly endless plates coming out to fill Mac’s seemingly equally endless stomach. Soon, the scene outside is nearly black as the sandstorm obscures any and all view except the occasional flash of lightning.
And then, something happens. Maybe it was a flash of lightning that got too close to something important and overloaded the protective circuits. Maybe it was the sandstorm clogging some important intake that had been carelessly left open. Maybe, even, it was enemy action, perhaps a bounty hunter willing to put an entire city at risk just to spite the Lazarus group.
Whatever the cause, the effects were clear and sudden. The lights within the diner – and everywhere else within eyesight – shut off, leaving the entire urban mesa in pitch darkness. The ever-present whirr of automatic air exchangers went silent. And the auto-chef went offline, leaving Mac’s fifth entree half-finished in the now-unpowered electric oven. But what’s more, a rare glimpse of clarity arrived through the windows of the desert plains on the outside of the glass – a field devoid of the laser defense barrier. And the Gnox, they were headed inside…