South Of Nottingham
Wednesday 19th April, 2051
It’s been three days since the big Fight Night at Sharktooth’s London base, and the Lazarus team have made good most of Mac’s injuries with the help of Sharktooth’s well-equipped workshops. Able too, has recovered from his grande mal seizure, although the shakes in his arms and legs are more noticeable – an almost constant minor tremor now.
True to his word, Sharktooth Tony has arranged smuggled transport to a safe house near Nottingham, there to meet with a contact of his named Tillie Jones. Thus the team find themselves and their gear crammed into a small compartment, half of what would be a large refrigeration unit in an 18-wheeler’s trailer. A smaller but more powerful unit takes up the other half of the space, almost screaming as it tries to keep a trailer full of fish chilled. Up front, the truck’s driver is none other than the team’s new-found friend Marquis Deeds, a general aide to Sharktooth.
Mac flips the collar up on his trenchcoat up. “We need to get better accommodation. Can we use some of the flight money to fly first class back home, you think?” Able sits with his back to the unit’s wall, his arms and legs shivering – and not from the cold. “I’ll be happy to be rid of this wretched country.” “We could always cash in your ticket and send you Parcel, upgrading our seats,” Pacoy smiles to Mac, “But as far as a return trip, I want something a little less stressful on Able.” Mac nods. “Say, I’ve heard great things about these classic cruises that take a while to move you from A to B, but there’s plenty of drinking, gambling and excess… that seems our style.”
Pitbull lights another cigarette from the stub of his last one and begins to field strip the PDW he got from Able…again. “I hate this box,” he says. “It reminds me of the back of an AV6 one cold night over Tijuana. That went bad fast.” Mac rolls his eyes. “Pitbull, did ANY of your missions go well?” “Not since I’ve known him!” Pacoy answers with a grin. Pitbull blows out a stream of scented smoke “Those are the ones I managed to forget, Mac.”
The truck slows gradually and Deed’s voice comes over the small intercom built into the wall – barely heard over the refrigerator hum. “We’re coming up on another check-point guys. Same as the last two, so keep it quiet and don’t worry.” Mac sighs and slinks down even lower. “You know, if it weren’t as cramped as a bear in a doublewide here, I’d have a bigger problem. As it stands, it’s just moderately uncomfortable watching you guys grow icicles under your noses.” Able taps on the wall twice, the noise reverberating through the walls of their little cell – and into the driver’s cabin. A simple, inarticulate ‘OK’ signal. Afterwards, Able leans back against the wall and closes his eyes – and tries his best to still his limbs.
Moments later, the team hear familiar sounds – voices with rough local accents asking Deeds where he’s going – shouting at him, as all the checkpoint soldiers so far have. Then the back of the truck is opened up and a couple of fish crates get inspected. After some more shouting the truck lurches into motion again.
Mac breathes out a sigh of relief, glad to be relatively immune to the cold. “I hope it’s not too much farther. You holding up alright there, Able?” Able takes a deep breath before answering. “For now, when my nerves don’t feel like their own fire.” He gives a silent laugh. “And those have mostly been replaced with electrical conduits. It’s strange having phantom-nerve pains.” Mac winces. “It’s hard to imagine, given that I’m pretty sure all of my nerves are electrical conduits. I wonder if it’s different from your actual nerve pains..” “I don’t think any of our crew has their original nerves left,” Pacoy nods in sympathy. Mac nods. “Not much we can do if we don’t know what you’re feeling. I’m no doctor, to be sure.”
The truck makes a wide, slow left turn and Deeds voice comes over the intercom again. “Nearly there, chaps. One more turn, about ten minutes from there, and we’ll be on the home straight.” Pitbull gives a sigh of relief and reassembles the PDW without looking at it. “Maybe we should be ready, just in case,” he growls.
As soon as he’s said it, the intercom buzzes alive again. “Heads up! We’ve two Trasher vans coming up behind us fast, lights and sirens going. It must be us, we’re the only thing on the road!” The big truck begins to accelerate.
Mac braces himself against the wall, fumbling in his pocket for his little snub-nosed revolver. “I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to use this thing.” Pacoy draws his pistol, augmented reality highlighting strategic options throughout his field of view as he tries to get in the best possible position in these cramped conditions. Able looks around their compartment, trying to visualize the situation. The refrigeration units – could they be pushed off the back of the truck? Opened up so they could fire to the rear? Where are the entrances and exits?
Deeds voice comes again “There’s no way we’re getting away from these bozos. We’ll have to ditch the truck and yomp it overland. In a minute I’ll make a hard turn right then stop. When I do, bail out and be ready to shoot if they’re fast enough.” As if to punctuate his words, a ripping burst of automatic fire slams into the rear of the trailer with metallic thunks.
Able braces himself the best he can, getting ready for the abrupt movement. Mac begins opening the secret compartment’s door, ready to clear a path for his friends to the exit. Pitbull gets up and stretches, then moves past Mac to the hatch into the cargo area and begins to crawl through. He motions for the rest of the team to follow him, then pushes on. “Better to be ready to unass quickly, guys,” he throws over his shoulder. Augmented Reality highlights a plan of action for Pacoy, and he edges his way into position to follow through. Mac follows behind Pitbull, ensuring Able is mobile behind them.
With a screech of brakes and a scream of tortured tyres, the big-rig throws itself into a hard right then stops hard in a hiss of air-brakes. “Now” shouts Deeds. Pitbull leads the way, kicking open the rear trailer doors then jumping down to crouch in what you can now see is a narrow country road, with high banks and hedges on either side. Outside, the night is warm and clear, although somewhere to the West a thunderstorm rumbles warning. A half moon lights the little lane as Deeds comes around the side, shotgun ready, and points to the North hedgerow urgently. Pit crouches by the rear right tire and motions for everyone to move as he levels his PDW at the end of the lane where it meets the main road. They can hear sirens and see flashing lights over the hedges there, as well as hear two racing engines.
As the trailer slams into the turn, Able steadies himself against the cargo crates – and then surges forwards when the vehicle stops jerking around, running full-bore out of the trailer before turning to keep the trailer between him and the gunfire. Mac puts his hand on Able’s shoulder, and then begins the move forward. He moves ahead, keeping pace with Able, making sure that he doesn’t stumble and fall.
Deeds has already clambered up the bank and located a gap in the hedgerow. He waves at them all – go faster, then drops through the hedge into the fields beyond. Pacoy brings up the rear, watching Able’s back while relying on the Augmented Reality to keep him one step ahead of the opposition. Mac pushes Able forward, moving as quickly as he can without pumping his system full of electronic adrenaline. Able keeps up a fast pace, turning quickly into an all-out sprint down the embankment and away from the road.
A “Pitbull” ATV in plain green, but with police-style lightbars, slams around the corner at speed, almost tipping over in its haste. Pitbull fires a rapid burst at one of its wheels, but misses. Still, the ATV brakes to a halt, as another pulls up behind it so the two completely block the road. On the team’s comm-net Pitbull says “Break contact. I’ll lead them into the fields on the other side and circle around to meet you all.”
Mac grumbles. “Oh, this is just wonderful. I don’t like running from the police, but now I’m doing it as an illegal in a foreign country. Pitbull, you be careful. This is not Tijuana!” Pitbull throws back, “No, its colder and greener. But just the same, really.” Thent hey see his shadowed form sprint up the opposite banking and throw himself over the hedge there. Seconds later, he fires again at the lead ATV, blowing out its left-front tire. A fusilade of fire is directed at his muzzle flash but he texts “Missed me.”
As Able runs, he slaps a button on his chest – and blurs into the background, his active camouflage clothing activating.
Deeds turns to the others as he runs West, parallel to the road. “We’re headed for a place called Bleasby, OK? Due west right by the river. There’s an old campsite there, hasn’t been used in years but we keep some caravans there as a safe place. Ask for Tilly and say Deeds sent you, if…well, you know.”
Mac sighs. “Don’t get yourself killed, you big lug.” He scans around, following Deeds as best he can now that Able has become much more difficult to see. “Yeah, you’ll be there, Deeds. We don’t leave people behind.”
Another burst of fire comes, further South now, and a flurry of return fire along with the bass growl of the second ATV in motion. Pacoy starts with a witty dig, but swallows it as he follows a tactically laid out path to the rendezvous point, throat tight. Able triggers the minimap program on his internal HUD, noting the position of the vehicle, the road, and their destination as he continues running flat-out for the rendevous point. Deeds points up the half-moonlit low valley of the historic Avon river at some roofs and a church steeple. “That’s Bleasby. Let’s get down near the river and we’ll get some cover. Can one of you send Pits the location so he can meet us?” Mac looks down at the jangling chain of his pocketwatch. “I’m a bit busy enjoying the jog and the view – you want to send it to him, Pac?” Able gets the message off, routing it through his brainset. “Done. Let’s get out of the open.”
Away to the South, the sounds of gunfire and pursuit are sporadic and fading, but still it means Pitbull must be alive out there. Deeds leads the team down to the river, which is about a hundred yards wide at this point, deep and slow moving. Along the banks, the bushes are thick and plentiful, wound around by angler’s paths. Mac whistles quietly, his breathing still calm and even as a cat’s purr. “Shame we aren’t here during the day – this place would be quite the looker in the sun.”
After running for half a minute, Deeds drops into a hollow behind a bush. “Let’s stop here for a few. I’m a London street boy, mates, not used to this cross-country shit.” He looks winded, gasping for breath. Mac comes to a dead stop, then crouches down, his breath even. “Couldn’t Sharktooth have sent someone a bit more fit? Besides, I’ve seen Oliver – you street rats are supposed to be able to run for days!”
Suddenly, a shadow passes across the party at speed on a whisper of supressed jet engines. A few hundred feet above, a sleek winged shape glints for a moment in the moonlight – some kind of AV gunship, at a guess. Following close on its wake comes the storm that was threatening, a cold winter rain mixed with booming thunder and flashes of lightning joins the far-off sound of gunfire.
Mac’s watch beeps.
Mac looks towards the sky, tilting his hat back. “Ah, see, I thought this jog could use a touch of rain. And a gunship attack. At least Pitbull is having a time of it…” He swings his watch out on it’s chain and flips it open. Able slides to a stop in the hollow. “With that gunship up there, we may have some trouble. They’ve got to have infrared sensors, and we’ll just be heat blooms to them through the foliage.” Mac clicks his tongue against his teeth. “I’ve always kind of wondered about that…” “…AAAAAND the fun starts!” Pacoy sighs through gritted teeth, keeping his pace while following the most strategic course his Augmented Reality can provide.
In Mac’s holo-display is Pits, obviously using the camera on his PDW. He’s wet and has a cut on his forehead that is bleeding profusely down his face. The signal keeps fuzzing up, perhaps a consequence of the storm. “Did you see that gunship? he almost got me – thank fuck for this storm. He can’t stay around in this, I’ll bet. But he means we were set up. That’s not normal internal border security, even in this bloody place. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, Mac. There were two more of those armored cars behind the first two, and they’re both out there looking for me along with ground troops. I’m going to lead them south-west. I’ll rejoin when I can. If I can. Give the guys a hug from me and I’ll see you all on the flipside.” The transmission ends.
Deeds curses. “Someone back at Tony’s must be a snitch! Shit, piss, fuck, damn.” Mac spits on the ground, recording a voice message to flip back to Pitbull, “Stay safe you big dumb lug. You get in touch when you shake them.” He looks at Able, Pacoy and Deeds. “Well, what do we do, do we lie low and hope their eagle beats it out of here? We can’t lead it to the camp, otherwise they can just come for us at their leisure.” Mac starts chuckling. "So someone working for the crime-boss didn’t have the ethics, and ratted us out? If I weren’t so darn hungry, the irony would be delicious. Did anyone grab a case of that fish on the way out?’ Deeds shakes his head. “No, he’s right, a Mozzie can’t fly in this weather for long. We should press on. Look, let’s get to the campsite, then I can borrow some wheels and go looking for news of Pitbull, ok? Maybe they’ll capture him, or he’ll make it back on his own.” Able stays down, looking up at the vertol. “This traitor’s bad news. Watch yourself when you get back to Sharky.”
Mac nods. “If you’re ever in what’s left of the States, I’ve been working on developing a bit of a contact network, and could always use someone capable.” He dusts off his pants. “We should get ready for another brisk jog, though.” The storm closes in, blotting out all light except from the lightning flashes. Deeds nods again, looking grim. “You bet, old son.” He hefts his shotgun. “I’ll stick this up the wanker’s jaxxi and pull the trigger, see if I don’t.”
With a nod, Deeds heaves himself up and begins to jog Northwest, along the riverbank. The storm intensifies, covering any sound and making it impossible for any light aircraft to stay in the air. Mac jogs along. “Next time I travel anywhere, I’m picking up a phrase book. But I think the context was sufficient here.” Able takes off in a sprint, his camo having trouble adapting to the flashes of lightning – one moment appearing as a shadow, the next as the brightest thing in the area – before he swiftly shuts it back down.
The team cover distance swiftly, although Deeds keeps insisting on stopping for a few minutes so he can get his breath back. It’s during one of these stops, almost blinded by rain and lightning, that Mac catches a glimpse of three figures walking in the opposite direction – all holding stubby weapons and wearing military-style helmets. They’re almost upon the team, but looking at the opposite bank of the river, oblivious to the team’s presence.
Mac silently gestures to the team, pressing his free hand to his lips. He then tightens his grip on the revolver as he tracks their movement.
A rough voice is barely heard above the rain. “What a cock-up, eh? These buggers are obviously way off thataway and what with this storm the comms are out anyway even if we found ’em. Shit.”
Able turns to Deeds, Mac, and Pac, making a slicing motion across his neck to them before shooting them a questioning look.
“Maybe we should investigate the village pub, see if they’re there,” another laughs.
Mac’s lips thin out as he looks at Able as he considers, before pointing to Pacoy, deferring the decision to him, obviously uneasy. Pac hesitates, sighs and then nods.
Deeds nods too, and a monoslicer knife appears in his hand as if by magic. Mac pats his pocket down, then gestures at his revolver with a shrug.
Able begins creeping up to the soldiers, pointing to himself before pointing to the center one. He moves silently and slowly, a knife appearing in his hands. Pacoy takes aim with his silenced pistol at the back of another soldier’s head. Mac braces his revolver, leveling at the one Pacoy is aiming at, on the off-chance it becomes necessary as a last resort.
The storm has reached its peak, and a pair of massive bolts strike the steeple of the village church, which is only a third of a mile away now. The night is lit brightly, and the thunder is both immediate and deafening. Deeds springs from a crouch, grabbing one of the transit police from behind and dragging the monoslicer across his chest then downwards. His blade slices through the man’s body armor as if it weren’t there, leaving a deep gash at it also slices through ribs and muscle. The man opens his mouth in a scream drowned by the thunder. Deeds grins like a fox eating shit through a wire brush, then saws his monoslicer across the throat of the soldier dying in his arms, opening it almost to the backbone, then dropping the dead weight into the wet grass.
The Augmented Reality dancing across his vision, Pacoy takes a steady aim with his C7 Stealth pistol, and fires off a round into the back of the soldier’s neck just as the lightning rips across the sky, the soldier falling limp and silent into the mud.
Able slides up to his man, reaching around and jabbing the knife straight into his jugular. Able moves with inhuman speed as he slices open his target’s neck – and with a single continuation of the movement, jabs the knife right into Deed’s target’s left eye. Able takes a moment to yank the small blade from the eye socket of his fallen victim before placing it upon the back of the torn-to-shreds neck of his first target. He slowly pushes upwards, forcing the blade deep into the brainstem. As the first two begin to expire, he approaches the third soldier – the one Pacoy shot in the back of the neck. Grabbing the poor fellow by the head, he sets himself – and shortly afterwards, there is a sharp crack as he falls to the ground, his neck snapped.
Deeds breathes a sigh. “OK, fast, we’ll strip them of their gear and dump them in the river. By the time anyone finds them they’ll be miles downstream. Oh, and smash their commsets! Pacoy, the guns will have IFF chips, is that a problem?” “Shouldn’t be,” Pacoy answers as he sets about the task.
Mac’s eyes widen at the sheer brutality of the carnage in front of him, illuminated by the optics in his sunglasses. He tumbles backwards as he slips on the grass, his memory forever associating Able’s unbridled carnage with the repeated peals and crashings of the thunder and lightning above. He forces himself to look away, trying to gather his wits about him as he wishes profusely that he was anywhere else.
Able looks down at the collected gear. “Excellent. We needed to restock. Now we just need an easy way to carry it all.” He looks around, glances at Mac, then back at the soldiers. “I suppose we could hollow one out and use them as a man-purse, but there are probably less obvious ways to go about it.” Deeds starts rolling his own victim towards the river, saying “I can’t be toting these guns if I’m going to be out in public. D’you want them, guys?” Mac finds himself wondering why his maker decided to design an artificial gag reflex. “If someone brings the kit over here, sure, yeah. If nothing else, we’ll have the kit when we need it.”
Deeds grins. “OK, I’ve a best idea. Leave the body armor on – heave ho and they’ll sink like stones, never to be seen again! Gimme a hand, Able.” Able grabs one body by each hand, dragging them down to the river. “Let’s get this over with; we should really get to that camp.”
the bodies are sunk in the silty brown depths and the team set off again. The storm lifts to a light drizzle as they skirt the village and make their way to a tiny, overgrown campsite on its far edge. The caravans there (trailers to the team, being American) look like relics of a past age and well past their best, but there are also a couple of wooden “lodge” buildings, and as Deeds leads the team towards these a voice says. “OK, that’s far enough.”
Mac tenses up, already in a terrible mood that has only been marginally improving since the storm began lifting. Able catches the infra-red glitter of a sighting dot as it slips up his chest, then Deeds blurts out “The Masked Man sent us!” and the dot blinks off. From the undergrowth nearby, a woman appears as her stealth suit deactivates, and she shoulders the long rifle she carries.
“Hi there, I’ve been expecting you,” The pretty brunette murmurs, in a voice with a noticeable soft accent. “I’m Tillie.”