Tuesday, February 21, 2051
The Six, what was once known as Interstate Six, is one of the busiest freeways in the world. After the quakes of ’43, the other two major arteries connecting SoCal and NorCal, the 99 and 101, were both closed due to damage and a mess of red tape emerging as a minor border war between NorCal and SoCal, halting any hope of reconstruction.
That leaves The Six as the only major road connection between the two sister states. Repaired, repaved, and expanded on primarily by the megacorporations – as opposed to the state actors supposedly in charge of the operation – The Six now operates as a paragon of industrial efficiency – at least, when the automated toll collection system is working. On those days when it’s down – hacked, damaged by the elements, or just plain broken down – things slow to a crawl as The Six’s privatized police force, 6Sec (supported by both NorCal and SoCal police) collect tolls and make border inspections.
This is one of those days. The Lazarus team is in the middle of one of the greatest gridlocks of recent memory, some two miles from the NorCal/SoCal border. It’s already gone dark, and in the past two hours the team has moved forward all of four miles. 6Sec vertols are hovering above The Six, their spotlights shining down upon the horrendous backlog of cars waiting in line.
Mac sighs, stretching his arms as best he can, feeling trapped like a ferret in a cage, hopped up on caffeine. “Are we there yet?” Pitbull switches the song over to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”, before wrestling himself out a cigarette. Wormwood munches on a skewer of chicken tikka he bought from one of the many scooter-born vendors working the massive jam and muses “Pits, we need to find an alternate route, and maybe an alternate pick-up point for the rest of the gear too.” Basically trapped in his seat, Pacoy intently explores the intricate features of the media capabilities of the buzzbot, focusing on the streaming data as it changes from optical input to visual output. This, he thought, is something I should have learned to manipulate at master levels before getting into a situation like this. What was I thinking signing on to be filmed?
“Do you think we can move without pissing these mall-cops off?” Pitbull growls back to Wormwood through the smoke of a freshly lit cigarette. “There’s always a risk…” Mac flips his pocketwatch open to check the time. “Depends on when their last break was, and how sated they are on caff and doughnuts.”
Wormwood quickly outlines a route through the suburbs and open urban spaces to their destination near one of SoCal’s outllying airports, starting at the next off-ramp, and data-squirts the map at the rest of the team. “Like that, Pits.” Pitbull receives Wormwood’s data and smiles. “Figures a stalker would know how to travel. Aight, kiddos! We’re detouring this sumbitch!” Pitbull grates, flicking ash on the floor of the vehicle. Mac pales visibly and grabs onto his ‘Oh Shit’ handle, knuckles going white. “Even if we get to that offramp, I think we’re gonna attract a bit of attention – we’re real close to the border, and they might get the wrong idea.” Wormwood grimaces, “The first problem is to make a big enough hole in this traffic to get us to the off-ramp. Any ideas, guys?” Then he snaps his fingers. “Eris, get the cameras out and make like a newsie! The cops never shoot corp newsies, its bad PR.” Mac pats his pockets absentmindedly, “Yeah – they might leave us be with that card in play. Worse comes to worse the car will get searched – we aren’t carrying any illegals, are we?”
Pitbull snorts. “Anyone got some ’splosives? We could blow a hole in the traffic.” He jokes, smiling big.Wormwood opens his door, gets out, and stands ostentatiously in front of the car in the next lane over, one hand obviously inside his jacket and the other held up like a stop sign. “C’mon Eris, do your bit – we’ll pretend we’re filming for News At Six then be on our way!” Eris looks full of rue as she shakes her head. “Sorry – no can do. I’m supposed to be shooting you and documenting how you handle the journey, not do the action myself.” She points over at Pacoy’s buzzbot. “But he could provide the camera if you really need it, and you can do the work yourself.” Wormwood blows a raspberry at Eris. “Fraidy-cat. OK, Pac, you’re on!”
Mac sniggers, looking between Eris and Wormwood. “I never pictured Pacoy as the reporter type, but I’ve seen stranger things.”
Pacoy closes the access port he was inspecting and activates the Buzzbot, “On it!” The small bot quietly glides out Wormwood’s open door and vectors above his head, making like a cambot. Wormwood keeps his cyber-senses on high, watching for the first cop to approach the scene.
Pitbull grimaces. “Mac? Could you find my Reaper case, and get it properly hidden? It would truly suck if this whole operation went belly-up if they found some ‘no bueno’ military equipment in our vehicle.” Pitbull grates, as nicely as he can, to Mac. Eyes wide open, Mac’s jaw works silently. “Right… Right… I’ll.. yeah, Pac? Get on with the reporter-acting and make it big, so I have a moment to hide the illicit substances, yeah?” He navigates his way to the back of the vehicle and begins looking for suitable hiding places. After getting the case, he begins digging down to get at the spare tire hatch, but in his enthusiasm he bangs his head against the ceiling – between the gunfire, rough driving, and abuse the car has seen, one of the roof panels swings down. Following some broken cursing in russian, Mac stuffs the reaper case into the thin space uncovered by the panel and begins to secure it in place.
Eris moves aside for Mac, looking right at him with her dark brown eyes. After a moment, he realizes something – her eyes are cyber-enhanced (not such a surprise), almost certainly with a gyroscopic ‘steadicam’ enhancement, as her eyes seem to glide across the inside compartment of the vehicle as she moves around. Her voice is smooth as her skin. “Do you do this sort of thing often?”
Pacoy grits his teeth hearing Eris’s words, making a mental note to avoid her direct line of sight as often as possible. Mac reddens. “Er, if I’m honest? No. Not really. I’m more of a finder, y’see. That’s why I became a PI – really good at finding things.” He mumbles something in Russian again. “Not that I’m not capable, mind, just… never much had to put my mind to scatter things.” Eris smiles, slight and comforting. “What sort of things do you usually find?” Pitbull keeps his eyes steady on the nearest border cop, wary and fully aware of where he sheathed his Urban Fox…
Mac offers a slight shrug as he seals the secret compartment back up. “Anything I’m hired to look for, really… cheating spouses, corrupt bankfiles, runaways. Only thing I can’t find is a decent nights sleep anywhere. Doesn’t matter where I bunk down.” Mac sighs and slips towards his seat, offering a bemused expression to Eris. Wormwood calls back towards the van, “You need to stop bunking down with that amazingly gorgeous chick with the amazingly gorgeous voice, then, Mac!” he grins wickedly in Eris’ direction then begins to guide the big SUV into the gap in the next lane’s traffic left by his own blocking the road with his body. A smile sidles onto Mac’s face. “Just answering the broad’s question, Worm. Ain’t nice not to make conversation – downright rude!” A flicker of worry crosses his smile, making his muscles ripple. Wormwood wouldn’t… try and make Anita into… Art… would he?
The driver that Wormwood is blocking honks his horn angrily several times as the big SUV begins its crawl into the vacated space. A sunroof slides open on top of the offending car as the driver pops his head out. “What the fuck, man! Isn’t this enough of a hold-up already!?” The man sounds pissed, honking again and moving just a bit forward to Wormwood as the driver lets off the brake just a bit.
Wormwood grins at the guy, “Smile, dude, you’re on DreamCorp News At Six!” The buzzbot swivels towards the surprised driver. The man hits his dashboard. “Fuck!” He turns to a passenger next to them. “Fucking DreamCorp got here first, babe! Shit! That cop promised we had an exclusive!” Wormwood laughs, “How much did you pay the cop, dude? Because it wasn’t enough!” He continues to wave Pits forward until the car behind can’t come forward any more. “We’ve got enough, though. We heard there’s a firefight between Nomads a ways West of here and we’re trying to get off the freeway to go see. Wanna help and then you can follow us?”
Through the tinted glass of the sports car, Wormwood can just make out a thin, feminine arm coming up and touching the driver on the side. He looks down at his passenger, frowning, then grows a bit of a smile. “Hey, man. Babe says you ain’t no DreamCorp DreamTeam! If this damned car’d let me, I’d run your face over!” Wormwood walks over and crouches by the car, “Aw c’mon man, you know how it is. We’re just the hired help. The real Mousekateer is in the van, some babe name of Eris.” Surreptitiously, he digs his chromed claws into the offside front tyre.
The arm grabs the driver and pulls him down into the car, to be replaced a few moments later by a familiar, tanned face framed by a crown of red. “Come on, Wormwood. I know DreamCorp wouldn’t touch you. They’re still pissed about that whole caper with the General a few months back.” “Blaizey-poo!” Wormwood crows, “What’s a fine babe like you doing in a jam like this?” He stands and yells to the van, “Hey guys, its Veracity!” then turns and says softly to Blaize, “No really – Eris from the House of Mouse is in the van. Some hush-hush stuff we’re not quite sure about, but we still need off this road fast. Can you help?” Veracity Blaize, their old friend the roving anchor for News24/7 fires back rapidly. “Not sulking off away from the border checkpoint like a little girl, Wormy-woo.”
Mac looks at Eris, then out the car window. Why is it that the dames we run into are always trouble? Eris looks out the window, then audibly groans. “Ugh. Freelancers.” The disdain in her voice is plain – especially considering News 24/7 isn’t generally considered a ‘freelancer’ organization and somewhat of a heavyweight in the Night City mediaspace – at least, to everyone but DreamCorp. Mac sighs, “Yeah, freelancers have caused some trouble for me in the past – the Russians don’t really know quality when they hire, and they generally muck things up when they get stuck in.”
Outside, Veracity looks down at Wormwood. “Little Eris is doing what, now? Last I heard she was working that old Edgerunners TV show. I didn’t think she had a journalistic bone in her body.” Wormwood double-takes. “Well, she’s got us on a chase across half the continent, on a tight timeline, seeking buried treasure.” He comms the rest of the team on their secure channel. “Did everyone get that? Eris worked on the Edgerunners show until recently, if she isn’t still.” Pitbull laughs, as he H.U.D. messages Worm. “Shitting me? That fake-ass reality show?!” Mac nods, seemingly to himself, before sending a message over to Pacoy. “Is that anything like the the remake of Magnum that came out three years back?” Pacoy rolls his eyes. An actual Edgerunner Reality show! This just gets better and better!
Veracity shrugs. “Maybe they took her on for special assignment – I heard she’s pretty good at the physical stuff, so running around the country’s a bit in her wheelhouse.” Wormie nods, “Thanks for the heads-up anyway, Veracity. I owe you one now, just remember. Now, how the fuck do we get this whale of an SUV off this freeway?” Blaize gestures down to the checkpoint. “Anyway, I’m here for a scoop down there. Someone hacked The Six’s network again and reversed the toll stream – six hours ago, every time someone passed through a toll point their account was debited five dollars. So, sorry, but the best I can do for getting you off this fast is to get you in touch with the cop who told me about the situation. He’s down here doing inspection or protecting the place or something. Maybe he can get this place moving a bit for you.”
Suddenly Wormie has a thought and leans in again “In fact, I’ll repay you right now. If they compare the lipstick print on the murder victim who was supposedly done in by the Lipstick Stalker with the other victims, they’ll find its a different set of lips. It’s a frame-up and you’ll get to break that story.” Blaize’s eyes light up. “Really!” Her eyes scan Wormwood’s own lips, hovering upon them as she speaks. “You know, I was wondering why you were wearing that get-up, but a voiceprint doesn’t lie.” She quirks an eyebrow at the little stalker. “Do you have something else you want to share, Wormy-woo?”
Wormwood smiles slowly, “Not right now, maybe later. Just call it ‘off the record information from a source with insider knowledge of the case’ for now, huh?” Veracity’s eyes dance. “Alright, Wormwood. I’ll hold you to that as an exclusive, OK?” She looks back down into her vehicle, patting the driver on the shoulder. “Rick, call up JT. Let him know I’ve got another favor to ask.” Wormie nods “It’s a deal.”
Wormwood heads back over to the Amur, “Guys, I think this road-snarl was designed to delay just us. Someone hacked the tolls an hour back which might be coincidence but not after Captain Scarlet and his Mysterons chasing us at the car dealers.” “… so what you’re saying is that we’re trapped, stationary, in a shot up car, with tons of vantage points and a perfect excuse for road-rage?” Mac sighs and sinks back into his seat. “Why can’t one job go right? One job, just go, get the stuff, come back. Is that too much to ask?” Wormie nods, “Pretty much, yeah. Veracity’s going to pull in a favor from a cop she bought, see if she can get us off the road easy-like.” Mac chuckles, “I like the way you operate, Worm. The sooner we’re off this road, the better. And not just by way of making progress, neither. Just hope the bull doesn’t take issue.” Wormwood laughs, “If he’s male, Veracity will have him happy to be led around. Got to admire that woman, she gets things done.” He smirks at Eris and then sticks his tongue out at her. “Not like some.”
Eris nods to Wormwood. “Do you interact with Veracity often? She seems to be there whenever your team does anything special – is there some kind of relationship between you two?” Wormie shakes his head, “Nah, but she’s close to our buddy Candyman, and of course to the Emir, who’s been good to us.” Pitbull nods in agreement with Wormwood as he throws his cigarette butt out the window. “Personally? I think she’s got the scarlet fever for Wormy-woo here.” Mac grins. Wormie scowls at his friend, “You know Emmy is my one and only, Mac, so don’t go starting rumors I wouldn’t like to have get back to her.” Mac raises his eyebrows and looks down his nose at Wormwood. “Same for me and Anita, bub. Capiche?” The lightbulb goes on. “Got it, Mac. Sorry, dude.”
Eris holds a hand to her chest, giving Wormwood a good, solid pout. “Oh, that hurts Randall. I thought we had something going there.” She smiles and winks after a moment. Wormwood silently smiles as he files a still of Eris’s wink away on his internal hard drive.
An easy smile brightens up Mac’s face as he flicks open a holo-display of Anita from his pocketwatch. “Wonder what they’re up to right now? Wouldn’t that be a kicker if they ended up palling around, going shopping or some nonsense?” Wormie laughs, “Or going clubbing together…” Pacoy smiles “Now there’s a mental image.”
“Hell, I don’t care if I get a couple’a rumors. It’d be nice to get some uncertain noteriety, ’f’ya’know what I mean.” Pitbull growls almost to himself. “Don’t worry, Pit” Pacoy smiles “We’re planning on spearding plenty of rumors about you on this trip.” Mac snorts,“Quick, Pac, set up a net-site! ‘Pitbull, bruiser with a heart of gold!’ There’s a rumor that’d catch on real quick.” Mac slaps the back of the seat in front of him, flashing Pitbull a grin. “I was thinking more along the likes of robotic sheep-shagging, what with the Texas Army and all…” Pacoy says with a big grin. Pitbull growls a chuckle, “I want it to either be the one of how I ripped the head off of some prick with my bare hands after castrating him with my firearm… Or the one that I bedded a damn fine an’ busty blonde nomad. Those’d be some nice ones.” He laughs loudly as he switches over to Inphamous’ “Baby Got Back”.
As the Lazarus group continue to bicker and discuss their love-lives (with complete audio/visual surveillance of the entire situation from their resident walking-talking-camera lady), Pitbull notices some movement up front – a blue-white-and-black blur, which swiftly transforms into a police motorcycle, shiny, new, and armed to the teeth – he’s sure he can see a machine gun grafted to the side. The armored driver slides the machine up the side of the highway, pulling to a stop near Veracity’s sports car.
Pitbull frowns, and H.U.D. messages the group. “Don’t look but either I just saw one of them Transformers, or we got us company.” “Be careful, Pitbull. ’could be more than meets the eye.” The message flies back, accompanied by an audible snicker from Mac. Wormwood turns and puts on his friendliest and most honest smile. “Hopefully, this is Blaize’s pet cop.” Pitbull messages Mac back. “Better not be one of them damn UFOs! I don’t wanna git probed!!” Mac doubles up laughing, slapping his knee, a wild grin on his face. He attempts to compose himself as the cop draws near. Stowing the recalled bot, Pacoy straightens himself up before the cop arrives.
The cop steps off his motorcycle, walking up to speak a few words with Blaize before turning to the Amur. He’s wearing some pretty hefty armor – not quite fully powered, but a hardsuit with enough internal muscular juice to sustain its own weight and sport a number of advanced tactical sensor and optics systems, only recently introduced to the Night City rank-and-file. They haven’t pervaded the entire department yet, but they’re starting to ship out – and the number of dead or maimed police officers has been going down so far this year for the first time in living memory.
The faceplate of the cop’s helmet lowers down as he steps forwards, a smiling face appearing from beneath it. “Well, now, what do we have here.” As he gets closer, he begins to look a little familiar to you. Just seems to be lacking something. Maybe add a broken nose, a shatter orbital socket, a hefty pattern of bruising…
“Tunnel Cop! It’s good to see ya, brah!” Pitbull roars his ridiculous greeting loudly and obnoxiously. Wormwood grins, “Damn, look what the sewer washed out! Looking very good, officer. Fancy duds.”
Officer James Taffy nods. “Vera said you looked a little different, Wormwood. She didn’t say you were dressing as a rodeo clown.” Wormwood quickly runs a data-trawl on his implant to aid his memory – the guy’s name wasn’t that important back then. “Officer Taffy, or is it Sergeant Taffy now? I’m trying out a new look, gotta fit in wherevere I go and SoCal isn’t exactly dark and gothic enough for the old look.”
Mac sends a text to everyone’s HUD: “Think they gave him the fancy duds to prevent him from taking another broderick like before?” His face had improved, much like a hamburger after it’s been handled by a master chef – transformed from raw meat to something you could sink your teeth into.
Taffy leans in towards the vehicle’s window. “I have to say – thank you for getting me out of there in one piece. I was a little too blittzed on the aid meds to say it the first time, but there you go. And I know my recall of that whole scene is a little fuzzy, but it’s still good to see you.” Wormwood nods, “We’re glad to see you in better circumstances too. Things got tight in there, didn’t they?” He nods, frowning. “They did at that. They did at that.” He shakes his head, then looks back up at the group. “Come on – I owe you guys even more than Blaize. Follow me. I’ll skip you to the front of the line, then you can get on your way.” Wormie grins, “That’d be awesome. Thank you!” He hops back up into the Amur.
Pitbull contains his explosion of excitement, as he shifts gears and begins the haul. Finally! I’d’ve shot a bitch to get outta this! Taffy walks back to his motorcycle, directing traffic on his way. He indicates for the Amur to follow through the vacated path onto the median, then climbs onto his bike and starts heading towards the border checkpoint. Mac waits until they’ve gone ten feet from where they were parked before tapping on the back of Pitbull’s seat, sending him a HUD Message: “Are we there yet?”
Pitbull, almost in response to Mac, announces to all of the vehicles occupants, “How about I sing the travel song of my people! It’s called 99 Mexican insurgents on the wall! Ooooooooooooh! 99 Mexican Insurgents on the wall! 99 Mexican insurgents! Shoot one down, cap him a round! 98 Mexican insurgents on the wall!-” Pitbull continues on with his atrocious song. Mac groans aloud and thinks, What have I done? What have I inflicted on these poor people? How can I make this torture end? Pitbull simultaneously sends Mac a H.U.D. message, “That’ll do, Donkey. That’ll do.” The message also contains the picture of Shrek from the ’00s Dreamworks film Shrek. Mac lets out a strangled cry, faux-scrambling at the child-locked back door of the Amur, before collapsing into paroxysms of laughter. “I give, Pitbull, I give! You win!”
The drive to the border is a short one – three minutes, maximum, when the rest of the cars look like they’ll be taking three hours. Not too surprisingly, Veracity Blaize’s vehicle is right behind the team’s own – but when a few other cars try and follow in their footsteps, the 6Sec vertols patrolling the area turn their lights – and gun sights – upon them and they back down. Taffy directs the SUV to the next available lane through the semi-fortified border crossing; Veracity pulls up into the parking lot adjacent to the crossing, not planning on leaving NorCal herself. As the team’s big SUV moves in, a SoCal police officer knocks on Pitbull’s window.
Pitbull rolls down his window. “May I help you officer?” He growls levely, attempting politeness. Just be a friendly civilian driver. I big, ugly, armed to the teeth civilian driver.. Wormie sends a HUD text to Pits “What sheems to be the officer, problem?” Pitbull sends a H.U.D. reply to Wormwood “Not helping Wringwald!” A second message hits Wormwood immediately following “*Wormwood. Damned auto-correct!”
The officer nods. “Of course. We just need your passport and those of your companions, a statement of why you’re coming to SoCal, and a short inspection of your vehicle.” His eyes dip to the fresh bulletholes in the Amur’s coating. “Just the normal – sorry we have to do this the old-fashioned way, but you may have heard that The Six’s network’s down again.” Pitbull feigns rifling around in his back pocket, knowing full well that one look at his actual credentials will get him deported. “Damn! Must’ve left them at the house. How about I pay the ’I’m the dumbass who left his shit at home’ fine of 1500 cred?” Pitbull growls, smiling like a smug snake.
“Not a problem officer, we are just passing though SoCal on our way east. But time is money, and we be very interested in saving as much time as we could.” Pacoy smiles as he flashes a wad of cash while reaching for his ID – nothing too direct, but visible enough for the officer to see it as bait.
The officer leans forwards, discretely palming the money Pacoy offered. “Alright, good. You’re paperwork’s in order. Let’s just take care of the inspection now.” He indicates to two other cops standing by, who move up to the Amur – one to the trunk, the other looking through the roof rack and the bottom of the vehicle, both carrying portable scanning equipment.
Wormwood coughs, “That line’s getting awfully impatient back there, Officer. I saw a couple of fistfights and I bet at least half are armed.” The officer pokes his head back in, glaring at Wormwood. “I’m sure – but we all have to act our part, capeesh?” Wormwood nods at the border cop and shuts up.
Mac does his best not to hold his breath while the officers search the vehicle. “So, are there any good drinks beyond the border? I haven’t really had the opportunity to get out much.” After a not-so-thorough inspection, the two searching cops back up, slapping the side of the vehicle as they depart. “Alright, everything’s in order.” The SoCal cop leans forward and pushes a stamp against Pitbull’s forehead, marking him with the SoCal governmental seal. “And there you go – you’re paperwork’s all stamped and official. Welcome to Southern California.”