5 miles Northwest of Derby
Tuesday 2nd May, 2051
The last two days have been as relaxing a journey through England as can probably be accomplished under the jackboot of its current ruling junta. The small convoy of brightly painted RVs and other vehicles belonging to the nomadic Rainbow Traveller community has wound its way by back-roads down from near the Scottish border, always bypassing major cities and likely checkpoints, to arrive at a small copse of old-growth trees, a remnant of the fabled Sherwood Forest, covering a long, low hill. There they have made camp and while Pitbull went off with one of the Travellers to link up with a small contingent of White Mice who will be providing a diversion for the Lazarus Team’s infiltration of the BBI lab complex, the rest of the team have settled down around a small campfire to make themselves ready for the coming task.
Tillie Jones, who apparently is well enough known to this group of nomads to consider herself “at home” in their company, and a pair of the travellers themselves, join the team by the fire. One of the nomads, a young man with long hair and beard known as “Jumper John”, extends his hand towards Able – a dozen small blue pills sit in his palm. “For later, man. A couple of hits of Nero each – I scored them off a corp security face up in Newcastle last month.” The young nomad grins with crooked teeth. “No worries, I got more.”
Mac looks over at Able and John, grinning to himself. He idly flips his notebook opened and closed before scribbling something, then tearing out the latest page and tossing it into the flames. After watching the paper fold in on itself as it struggled to escape the flame, he turns to Tillie. “So, when are we picking up sticks and heading to the site? Do we know anything about the location, other than where it is? The food and the hospitality has been tops, I feel I should say. Shame we can’t avail of them for longer.”
Able takes the pills from John. “Thank you. We’ll put these to good use.” He slips the pills into his jacket, careful to keep them in an otherwise-empty pocket.
Tillie pulls out a data-slate. “We don’t know a lot about the internal structure – we may get more on the day when the M&S folk try to hack the lab’s mainframe. But here’s what it looks like outside.”
Looking at the data-slate, Able comments, “Fancy. What are the buildings surrounding it? They part of the complex as well, or just separate offices and apartments?”
Mac looks over the data slate, whistling. “See, we need to get a bigger budget, guys. This place is as slick as ice. Pacoy, with this kind of money you could set up a whole new factory… we could have nice offices on the top floor…” He quickly sketches an approximate diagram of each building into his notepad. “And where are we hitting, the big facility, or the corporate attachment?”
“It looks like you could drive a jumbo-jet through the bay doors on the side of that facility,” Pacoy muses, “Always nice to have options..”
Tillie points at the main tower, then the low shed-like building. “These are the corporate offices and what amounts to a ground floor warehouse and loading dock. The main labs are buried away beneath it, an unknown quantity as yet. The surrounding buildings are not part of the complex, they contain other businesses in the main. We’ll go in through the warehouse level, while the Mice create a diversion at the office tower.”
She points again “There are a mix of Umbra and Rossum security on duty, all in BBI uniforms for the duration. We suspect there may be some regular British Army as well, but we’ve been unable to confirm that. There are the usual anti-aircraft measures in place on the tower roof, where there’s an AV pad, and some robotic sentry turrets cover the main foyer and the loading docks – there may be more inside. The weaponry on those turrets is supposed to be non-lethal, but well….”
Mac nods. “That’s a clean classic, Kansas City shuffle, then?” He nods at Pacoy. “Be careful about sending Pitbull that idea. He might make good on it while we’re in the labs.”
Able looks over at Pacoy. “Taxiing a jumbo jet into the building all the way from the airport sounds like a dicey proposition.”
Tillie points again. “We have an alternate possibility available – we could try to go over that wall into that small garden-like section to the rear of the warehouse building. However, it looks like the wall is about 40 feet high and smooth as glass. What do you think, Able? A possibility?”
“Any chance our Mice-pals have access to codes or security protocols?” Pacoy asks.
Mac looks between the picture, Tillie and Able. “I’ve done the over-the-wall into the mark’s garden before, but Able’s our expert on the old slip and shine. I can’t see a better way of getting in there.”
Tillie shakes her head “We’re hoping the M&S net crew will be able to get us some of that kind of stuff at the time, but trying for it early might tip our hand.”
Able nods. “I have the gear to climb in easy enough – my gloves and boots are gecko-soled. But I don’t have enough for everyone; if we could get the rest of us some…”
He shrugs. “On the other hand, give me some rope and I’ll climb up, then haul the rest of us up after me.”
Mac lets out a short snort of laughter. “I could get behind a Rapunzel play. Even if we did it old fashioned-like, just bring up two hooks and a rope ladder, that way you’re hands free if things go sour.”
John grins “I can get you rope, plenty of it – and two iron hooks are easy to make.”
Able claps John on the shoulder. “Go for it. Up and over we go. Should give us a nice vantage point before we head on down, too.”
“What’s our plan on the inside?” Pacoy Asks, “How sneaky-vs-assaulty are we going to be? Because a Hijacked semi could fit a team of miscreants and a ton of gear if we wanted to try and pass ourselves off as employees. Hell, for that matter, a hijacked semi with a smart rig could be filled with enough nastiness to provide the biggest distraction London ever saw!”
Frowning at the picture, Mac looks over at Pacoy. “If I’m honest, I’m almost more worried about how we’re getting out. If we were able to sneak all the way in and out, that’s one thing, but I know us, and I know our track record. We had trouble sneaking through an abandoned facility in Omaha. How are we planning on getting out, the AV Pad on the office building?”
Tillie shakes her head, “Nottingham isn’t a major garrison, but it’s still a major city – we want to be sneaky for as long as possible, otherwise the cops and maybe army will arrive in force and we don’t want to have to fight out even harder than we’ll have to fight to get in. The Mice will be using silenced weapons, jammers, and a small masquerade – three will be pretending to be drunk and homeless, making a small noise in the car park right outside the tower.” She continues, “I doubt the AV pad is viable – it’s all the way up through security and has automated defenses. We’d be better heading back out the loading dock, then get lost in some nondescript waiting vans as quickly as possible.”
“By the way, the Mice know they’re role – it’s to get us in and out again successfully – their own survival will be a secondary consideration.” Tillie looks flatly at the team. “Just so you know what’s on the line on our behalfs.”
“I assumed we’d run screaming from chaos and doom as per usual for our escape plan, Mac,” Pacoy grins before turning to Tillie, “So, can we hijack a truck, and have the ‘driver’ distract the receiving personal while we infiltrate our way deeper?”
Able rapidly agrees. “The AV pad is a suicide route. Might be a good diversion, though – send off an empty AV, then go out a completely different way.”
Tillie asks “Why hijack a truck and run the risk of having it be noticed by some cops before we get there?”
She continues, “I mean, we can probably provide a clan truck if that’s the way you want to go in – but I’m hoping there’ll be less active security going over the garden wall.”
Mac nods solemnly. “Unfortunate side-effect of fighting the good fight against the big guys. We all bear equal responsibility for what happens there. I like the idea of slipping in through the back, then slipping out through the front – once they figure our entrance point, they’ll likely reinforce that area to prevent us from heading back out, particularly if we make it seem like we’re headed out that way.”
“Hey, I’m the Patch-It Guy,” Pacoy says, “just spitballin’ ideas here, I’ll defer to Able’s expertise on this area.”
Tillie smiles warmly at Pacoy, “You’re so much more than just a patch-it guy, and you know it Pacoy. Don’t do yourself down.”
“Well,” Pacoy blushes slightly, “I’m an extra-versatile Patch-It Guy. If it has moving parts, circuits or blood vessels, I can fix it.”
Mac slaps Pacoy on the shoulder. “Damn fine fixer you are, but don’t sell yourself short. In all the time we’ve been together, you’ve proven yourself to be excellent in every field – shooting, engineering, these aren’t skills any fixer would have. Able’ll be able to get us in, and we’re there for when things go sideways. So, you know, you can fix things then.”
“You’re also a pretty handy fighter,” she replies, “Remember, I’ve seen you – you got the biggest chunk of those Army snipers on the border.”
Able nods, “We’ll all need to work together to fix the damage that my old employers are attempting to do to this society. And don’t forget – one of the first tasks in fixing anything is ripping it apart.”
Tillie chuckles, a warm throaty sound, “Exactly, Able.”
Mac pales. “No, no, don’t tell him that. I don’t want those words rattling around his bone box if he ever needs to fix me again.”
“Yeah,” Pac agrees with a smile, “Taking things apart is just as easy.”
Tillie looks up at Able’s words. “Oh, that reminds me. John, could you go see if the packages are ready yet?” John nods, stands, and heads towards one of the RVs.
“We’ve been hard at work,” Tillie explains. “That van contains a small but rather good biolab, and the girls have been synthing some explosives on the bio-printer. We’ll have three charges of a designer plastique, each about five pounds and each with a one minute enzyme fuse – all undetectable by the usual scanners. Will that be enough to ‘fix’ things properly, Pacoy?”
“Sure,” Pacoy grins, “Putty makes a great patch!”
Tillie stares into the fire for a while, idly stirring the embers with a stick. “If all goes well tomorrow, all well and good – if it doesn’t, well, each life is short and hard but it is never more than an instant on the great wheel of rebirth. I’m not afraid to die, I’ll see you all again in some other time, I’m sure of it.”
She looks up, “Able and Mac, I’m sure somehow that you have both lived and died before. You have the aura, so to speak. How about you, Pacoy?”
“Nah, I’m of the ‘Die just once’ camp, planning on saving it up till the end.” Pacoy nods.
Mac does his best to keep his smile subdued as he looks at Tillie before giving Pacoy and Able a knowing wink. “Not something you’ll need worry about, miss. We’re all pretty hard to get rid of. You stick by us, behind me, and you’ll make it through alright. Wouldn’t wish knowledge of death on anyone.”
Able nods. “Not inaccurate. I’m still trying to recover the life I once had, or at least prevent my current life from draining out of me over time. I doubt we will ever know whether I truly succeeded.”
Tillie looks deadpan at Mac, “But I already know death. She rides with me everywhere, the Morrigan. I will invoke Her when we go in to this place, and reap Her bloody harvest for Her.” The team can actually hear the capitalization when she speaks.
Mac stares at the fire, something primitive that their ancestors all shared, a heritage he artificially inherited, and begins to feel cold, pulling his trenchcoat tighter. “You’re doing alright Able. At least there are remnants of your past life still around, and you’ve got a promising new one ahead of you. I can’t look back, and can hardly remember what was back there either.” He pauses, and looks at Tillie. “Moll, that’s not…” He stops, then starts again, unable to find the correct words, then settles for a sigh as he stares into the fire again.
John, returning to the camp-fire, makes a complex gesture with his hands as he sits and intones “The earth must be fed.” Tillie smiles sadly at him and nods.
Mac looks at the two of them. “I can’t pretend to know what you believe. That is well beyond anything I can dream of, if you could call it that. But you have to understand that it doesn’t have to always be that way. You don’t want to have to watch your entire family interred, to walk through their hollow crypt, seeing what was, what could have been, and knowing you were too weak to do anything but hide while they were all dismembered and destroyed.” He idly checks to ensure his revolver is loaded properly, snapping the cylinder back into place for emphasis. “Death, sometimes she is unavoidable, but she is never to be cherished.”
Tillie shakes her head again. “Death is no more un-natural than Winter. They are the time for rest, to be followed by resurrection in the Spring. So it has always been, the glorious Circle of being.” She looks hard at Mac, “Perhaps I was wrong – perhaps you have not truly died yet, and so have not experienced rebirth as a thing as certain as the newly returning Sun of Spring.”
Sighing, Mac tears off another piece of his notebook, letting the flame catch fire, holding onto the note until it almost burns his fingers. “As long as you remember that the real important part of the Circle is the part where your heart still beats.” Or something like a heart, at any rate. “There’s no rebirth for me, doll. I’ve got one shot at this, and I’ve got to make it right the first time around. That’s why I’m putting it all on riding with Able and Pacoy here. You take comfort in your cycle, but if you ever meet your Morrigan, ask of me, and she’ll never know my name.”
John pulls out an old, worn, pocket watch computer much like Mac’s and flips it open. “Tillie, it is time.” He pulls what looks like a small perfume bottle out and squirts it once into his face, then inhales deeply. Then he passes it to Tillie who does likewise. A sweet smell of cinnamon and cedar wafts from the light mist she sprays into her own mouth. Then she holds out the bottle. “We missed Beltane, May Eve, to convey you all this far. Now we have stopped we will worship the Goddess with our bodies and our songs, as it is written we should. Would any of you care to join us?”
I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. Pacoy smiles to himself as the old quote runs through his mind, but he bites his tongue to avoid offending their mealticket.
Mac looks at Tillie, then around the circle. “Sorry lass, my dance card’s punched full.”
“I’ll have to pass as well,” Pacoy says, realizing the offer includes both mind altering drugs and sex with people of questionable hygiene, “I’m going to need a clear head on this on.”
Able looks to the bottle with a frown, then back to Tillie. “I’m afraid I would just be in the way of your worship. You may continue without us.”
Tillie is already brighter-eyed, breathing more deeply and a little flushed in the face. She nods sadly, looks at Pacoy a moment, then rises and slides away with a sensuous wiggle in her walk, followed by Jumper John.
Mac waits until the pair disappear from view before looking back across the fire with a silly grin plastered on his face. “This place is wound up tighter than a tinker’s clock. I am having trouble believing everything we’ve seen and done here. What do you guys think of our odds tomorrow?”
“About the same as always,” Pacoy grins, “Even odds of scraping out by the skin of our teeth, I’m just glad Pit is with the other group, and we wouldn’t have to hear him joining a new religion…”
Able seats himself, his gaze focused upon a still of the image Tillie showed them earlier in his HUD. “80-20 that the primary mission succeeds. We’re quite good at bringing things down when we need to. I agree with Pacoy’s even odds that we survive the incursion.”
Mac looks at his notepad sketch. “We just need to stop them from going through with this. If we can do that… well, let’s just say getting out should be… easier. I have a few ideas, even if the van extraction fails.”