Saturday 29th April, 2051
Four days ago, the Lazarus team agreed to enter and destroy the Rossum/Umbra laboratory complex being used to produce super-soldiers for the British Government, in a pilot program which if successful could see AI-controlled human-derived drones in service by despotic governments and corporations the world over.
Three days ago, “Radio Clash” released edited footage of the team’s assault on a manor house in Central England, designed to give the impression Rossum used their operation as an excuse to kidnap the top Umbra scientist working on that program. Shares in both corps fell abruptly at first, but then the Solar System’s largest corporation, HUB Bank, stepped in to guarantee both’s stability in return for a 51% slice of each and shares are slowly recovering.
Two days ago, the team and their ally from the radical resistance group Mutate & Survive, a bio-enhanced woman called Tillie Jones, boarded a trawler and hunkered down for a sea journey, surrounded by ‘borrowed’ gear and the smell of fish.
Today, they landed in Salcoats, Scotland, and boarded the evening train to Glasgow, there to meet a contact known only by the name “Malky” and a passphrase – “Here’s to the gentleman in the velvet coat”, to be answered with “Even though he’s below the heather now.”
Now, they are exiting Glasgow Central Station, beneath the massive Victorian porch known locally as “The Umbrella”. The street is busy with pedestrians, many of whom are queuing outside a shop called “Umberto’s Fish & Chip Emporium” from which the smell of freshly fried fish wafts.
Tillie hefts her “kit bag” and smiles, pointing, “There’s a sight, that place must be good! Anyone hungry?”
Mac grins, feeling the weight of his instruments of persuasion as he hefts his kit bag and his attaché case. "Always. It better be good, though. " He reconsiders his weaponry and sends a wry message to his teammates, “I feel a bit like Pitbull with all this kit…”
“Mac, with the way you eat I’m surprised you can afford ‘good’.” Able flexes his hands, still getting used to the feeling of control slipping back into his grasp.
As Tillie joins the end of the queue, the team notices two ragamuffin boys, no more than 12 years old, dart across the “Umbrella”. One climbs up a stanchion and the other tosses him a silvery tube – then the first sprays black paint all over a small device lodged in the junction of stanchion and bridge. A couple of people in the queue laugh, and applaud, as the second boy executes a swift bow, both give cheeky grins, and then they run off into the evening crowd.
“We need to sit down and compare Macs meal budget and Pits ammo expenses when this is all over,” Pacoy teases.
Able watches the crowd’s reaction with interest. “These people don’t care much for the nannycams, do they? I wonder if this place’s attraction is the food – or the privacy.”
Mac grins. “You’d be surprised. There’s always an extra bill in the old fold for mealtime.” He looks around at the clientele. “Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a bit of both.”
As the team edge closer to the wonderful smell of food, a shifty looking man in a blue rain-poncho approaches them. He has a clown’s smile painted on his face and a tray of packaged items hangs from shoulder straps. He speaks around a lit toke-stik. “White sports socks, guvner? Three pairs for a buck!”
Mac frowns. “Clash with my shoes, sorry. You got a name? Awfully enterprising business you have here. Socks in a chip shop?”
“Me? Naw, I dinnae hae the shop, pal.” The man responds, with a definite slur in his voice – his breath reeks of booze. “Auld Armando’s a guid guy though, ne’er gies me the boot when I’m workin’, ken?”
Instinctively, Mac’s nose wrinkles. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The man pulls out a bottle – a half pint of brown liquid – and upends it into his mouth without taking the toke-stik from between his lips. Then he offers the bottle to Mac. “Hae a drink, pal?”
Pacoy raises an eyebrow at the offer, but then realizes Mac probably has very little chance of catching anything from it.
Mac looks at the bottle, shrugs and then takes a swig from the bottle, gritting his teeth before passing it back. “Stuff’s not half bad.”
As Mac upends the bottle, the hawker grins and says “There’s a traditional toast hereabouts, from the old Jacobite Rebellion: ’Here’s tae the man in the velvet coat’! It could refer to a mole or tae Bonny Prince Charlie, y’see.”
“That’s be right enough, puir soul that he was. The damnt English did for him.” The man says. “Weil, a better get goin’ – the fuzz wil be along soon, nae doobt. If ye a’ want tae, I’ll stand ye a drink. Meet me o’er there on the corner in a couple o’
minutes and we’ll hae a wee belter for the old Jacobites.”
The man wanders off, in no hurry, around the corner and steps into a waiting car – a beaten up old thing with mirrored windows.
A smile finds its way to Mac’s face as he sees the car. “Lets grab something to-go and go eh, stand a drink with our friend, yes?”
Tillie has already stepped back out of the shop, with a plastic bag full of packages wrapped in plain white paper. “Here’s the food – what?”
Mac frowns at the bag. “A bit light on the food, don’t you think?” He nods at the car. “Our friend’s in there. Figure we should eat on the tarmac.”
“Eat and run, Mac, Eat and run,” Pac mutters as he casually heads to the corner.
Able quirks an eyebrow at Pacoy. “He said he’d meet us over there. You interested in speeding things along a bit?”
Mac smiles. “Lots of running keeps you fit, boyo.”
As the team approach, Malky pops the trunk on the old sedan – something called a Ford Prius Plus – and calls out to ‘put yer bags in the boot’.
Able shrugs. “Or maybe he was referring to the car as the corner. Eh.” He puts his gear in the trunk of the car.
Mac slings his case and his holdall into the trunk, deftly snatching a package from Tillie with a wink.
Pacoy hesitates, sighs and then tosses his gear in the trunk. That’s a major gamble right there, he thinks to himself, but I guess I’m nothing if not a gambling man…
As soon as the team is inside – a tight fit, it’s a small car – Malky pulls away and heads for the freeway entrance just down the street. As he turns he neatly snags a handful of fries from Mac’s package of fries and battered fried fish. “Brilliant, I’m famished” he says, in a far more cultured voice than the one he’d used earlier. “Sit tight, it’s not far to a safe place. The police and even the Army would never come into Easterhouse without so much force that we’d have plenty of warning. I’m Colonel Malcolm Bruce, late of the Royal Marines and now of the Scottish Liberation Army. I’ve been told I’ve to offer you any assistance and get you to Nottingham PDQ. That right?”
Able nods. “Quite so. Do you foresee any problems?”
Mac frowns at the blatant theft and disregard for propriety, ensuring that there is hardly anything left to steal before securing his own seatbelt.
Malky nods. “One pretty big one, I’m afraid – the border. I’m informed that none of you will be able to pass muster at any official crossing, either by train or road. The current plan is for me and my boys to get you down there tomorrow early, then hand you off to a bunch of Bluebonnets for a yomp across the hills to somewhere I don’t need to know about for further transport South, but I’m informed also that you can change the plan as and when you see fit. You boys are in charge, we’re just the hired help!”
Mac laughs to himself. “Not too often I’m put in those shoes. This place has tighter security than most mob rings, you know that? See, this one time, I just flirted with an underbosses secretary, walked into his office, made a copy of his books, then poof. Here? It’s border crossings this, nannycams that, traced IDs everywhere…”
Malcolm nods ruefully, “I know. To think I served with the bastards who did that to Britain once…I tell you if I could get my hands on them and half an hour of left-alone time…”
Able leans back. “It’s much easier than back in Canada. At least Britain hasn’t pushed out chaperone implants to every single person convicted or born for the past eight years. It’s almost impossible to find a place that’s not monitored there, and some of the children act more like robots than I do.”
Malcolm snorts, “That’ll be next, at least down south, Here, they’d have a difficult time imposing it.” He pulls off at an exit marked “Easterhouse” with the word “Free” daubed in white paint above the name. Next to it, a poster is stuck.
Mac looks back to Able at the ‘robot’ comment and fails to stifle his laughter. He sobers on seeing the sign. “I never thought I’d miss Night City until I left..”
Malcolm points, “They try, but they can’t break Easterhouse. Here we are, home sweet home.”
The area of the city Malcolm has pulled into is a slum, of sorts. More like a slum crossed with a war zone. Graffiti telling the “Redcoats” to “keep out or die” is everywhere, as are what appear to be blown up buildings, rubble spilling into the streets. The street lighting doesn’t work, but there are dim lights behind many windows in towering apartment blocks.
Pacoy looks to Mac, “Between London, Canada and Omaha, who knew we lived in such a utopia, huh, Mac?”
Mac sniggers. “Hey, you think it’s this bad up in space? I bet that’s where it’s at. Lots of freedom, being encased in the stars.” He smiles. “At least this place seems a bit like my hometown, such as it is.”
The car rolls past two burned out APCs, then turns into a parking garage beneath one of the blocks.
Able looks around. “I thought there were more craters in your home town, Mac.”
Mac scrounges through the leftovers in Tillie’s bag. “Well, yeah. I had meant Tears. This place isn’t nearly beat up enough to compare to Omaha. Ugh, does that mean I’m a country boy? I can’t stand that idea.”
Malcolm pulls the car between two pillars and flashes the car lights three times. Immediately, a false section of wall pulls to the side and he drives into a sectioned-off area made up of a variety of scavenged huts, buildings, repurposed vehicles and so forth. There are about twenty or so people milling around, all armed to the teeth. They all wave to Malky, and one or two sort of salute instead of waving. “Here we are, let’s get you put up for the night and then tomorrow we’ll get you headed south.”
Mac looks about. “You’ve got a mess hall in this hideout? Going to get hungry in a bit, I feel.”
Malky laughs and gestures to a thin woman with green hair. “Mess hall, stat, Maggie! Our guests have come a long way.” She leads you all to an old bus conversion that holds a field kitchen, with a generator and gas tanks behind it and a set of chairs and tables out front. Soon, Mac is tucking into beef stew and bread – the real deal. Maggie explains the beef was “liberated” from a rich Junta sympathizer last week.
Malcolm brings out a sleek datapad and calls up a map. “Here’s the border area we’ve been looking at. The hills are heavily forested, still, even if half the trees are dead or dying, so there’s cover from the air and patrols have a tough time with it. The Bluebonnets are biker nomads, they’ll get you across and probably hand you off to some other cell for further transport.”
Mac compliments the chef before turning to his crew, “At least it’ll be bikes. I’m getting a bit tired of all these cars and boats.”
“Don’t jinx us, Mac, we were one step away from resorting to goats in Omaha,” Pac teases.
Malcolm nods, “Watch those Bluebonnets though – they’re no friends of the Junta but some are a bit rough. Now, anything you need or would like to know?”
Able looks over the map. “What problems are we likely to come across on this border crossing? Are the approaches patrolled often, or is this just a known sieve point?”
Pacoy makes a mental note that apparently ‘bluebonnets’ aren’t bonnet-wearing blue-hairs.
Malcolm muses for a second then answers crisply, "There’s just too much territory for patrols to cover, although they try. The Bluebonnets use electric off-road bikes, so they’re agile and quiet, and they run the border pretty much at will. They live by theft, smuggling, assault, and ambushing small Trasher units. Until now, they have survived by melting into the decaying forests on the border when larger military units go looking for them. There’s always a chance you’ll get unlucky and hit a patrol – just a platoon or two with light armored vehicles, although regular Army more than likely – but the likelihood is that the ‘bonnets will get you through or past anything that’s so big and noisy.
Mac frowns. “Not the most fantastic recommendation of a taxi route, but our options are limited.”
“Hey, Mac, it isn’t a car or boat, right?” Pacoy grins.
Able nods at Malcolm. “Sounds good.” He turns to Mac. “What do you think? This a sound plan?”
Mac grins. “Fair enough.” He gestures to Able with his last scrap of bread. “Based on what I’ve heard, it’s good enough. If we had a map and access to their normal routes, we could make it air tight. But it’s good enough in a pinch.”
Malcolm winces, “We might be able to get you that data, but it’d take a week or so. I understood you people were on a tight timeline.”
Mac sighs. “That’s the problem. We are. I think we have to play it fast and loose.”
Malcolm turns, “Maggie, please find places for our guests to bunk for the night. We’ll be off early.” He turns to Mac, “Shock and awe, laddie – and if that don’t work run like Hell!”
Able puts a hand on Mac’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s better that we stick with what we do best. I don’t know what would happen if we ever took the time to make a plan air-tight, do you?”
“Standard Operating Procedure: Seat of our Pants,” Pacoy nods.
Mac looks at Able, an unknown glint in his eye. “Able, if we had enough time to plan something properly… the world would never be the same.”