(Back from our Summer break, the campaign continues.)
North-East Of Nottingham
Wednesday 19th April, 2051
After dodging the attentions of the paramilitary British Transport Police, and very likely losing Pitbull in the process, the Lazarus team and their guide have reached their destination – a safe “house” which comprises a cluster of dilapidated trailer homes on a campsite which hasn’t been used in years.
As the team cautiously approach, a voice stops them in their tracks. “OK, that’s far enough.”
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.”
She walks over, eyeing the team professionally – one Edgerunner sizing up others. “First, the rules. No radio communications while you are here, not even encrypted ones. Shut down your interfaces now, not even a handshake signal to weapons. You’ll keep total emissions silence here – as far as the authorities know, this place is deserted and we want it to stay that way. Second, no wandering into the village. We’ve a couple of loyalists who’ll bring us supplies – even bottles of beer if that’s what you want. Third, I’m in charge and I’ll make any new rules up as I see fit.”
She smiles, “Let’s get you inside and get you dry.” She leads the way to one old ‘caravan’, opens the door – and reveals an inside just as dingy as the outside, but with a gas fire and low lights, blocked from outside by thick curtains and thermal sheeting stapled to walls and roof.
With a click of his tongue against his teeth, Pacoy silences his comms and follows Tillie. Mac smiles and goes through the motions of disabling his transmitters. “Quaint little setup you’ve got out here. Feels almost like home, if I lived in the woods, miles away from everything. Say, I am a bit peckish, can we get some food brought in?” With a stray thought, Able disables his wireless communications – going fully off the grid for the first time in a long while. He follows behind Tillie into the old trailer, nodding at the sight of the makeshift thermal camouflage. “Good. You seem to be taking adequate precautions.”
In the low light of the caravan, the team get a better look at their hostess. She is exceptionally attractive, well formed and athletic – with tiny bright flowers growing from her hair (not in her hair, _from_her hair) and swept up, pointy ears. Mac cocks his head to the side. “Have things across the sea gone rabbits over roses? I swear, you look just like the lady nymph in one of my novels.” Tillie smiles, an even row of white teeth between ruby lips, all framed by soft brown curls. “That was my parent’s idea, I’m sure. I’m an Ishtar. A genetically modified person. My parents were neo-pagans, they wanted me to be more closely in touch with the Mother than they were. I was, and I couldn’t help them when the Trashers came anyway – and then Finn came and took me away and I learned better.” She sits on a bench seat and motions for them all to come sit too. “There are spare clothes in the closet there,” She points, “Nothing fancy but they’ll do, and towels.”
Able places his trenchcoat upon a hangar, the blood already slipped off the stain-repelling cloth. His gloves go in the coat pocket, and he pulls off his shirt and pants, replacing them with the provided clothing. “Thank you, Tillie.” Redressed, Able seats himself by the fire. As he moves, Able’s face betrays the acute pain he’s feeling – his nerves burning freely, like molten silver pouring through his veins. Pacoy finishes redressing, then hurries over to check on Able.
Tillie watches Able intently. “Have you been hurt? I’ve a small amount of medical training…” Mac hangs his jacket and his hat, grabbing a towel to dry off his hair before changing after Able. He frowns at the fact that the spare clothes seem to fit him better than his normal outfit. “Indeed. I imagine the cuisine out here will pale in comparison to your hospitality.” He slouches over to the fire, parking himself with little care. He holds his hands out to the flame in a mock-attempt to get warm. “How you holding up, pal? That overland hump can’t have been good on you.”
Able waves Tillie’s help away. “Thank you, but I don’t think you can help. It’s some kind of non-communicable degenerative disease Rossum infected me with to prevent me from surviving for long after leaving their employ.”
“Are those government issue?” Tillie nods at their guns, recently ‘liberated’ from TransPolice hands. “They have IFF chips, you know. Yank the chips and I’ll dispose of them.” Able nods to Pacoy. “We disabled the IFF chips when we acquired them.” “Yeah,” Pacoy nods, “We assumed as much, took care of it when we picked them up.”
Tillie nods and goes back to her earlier question. “I’m sorry to hear that, Able. Still, I have news that may brighten even your pain. We’ve heard from your colleague Candyman and done some digging of our own. The two scientists you’re seeking are both staying at the same location when they aren’t at their labs. Umbra has taken over Lord Milton’s ancient estate at Newstead Abbey as V.I.P residence and they’re both there. They’ve their personal security and a small guard force, but security is nowhere near as heavy as at the labs themselves.”“Good. We’ll have them quicker than you can put the squeeze on a squealer. We got much intelligence on the place?” He cracks his knuckles, flexing his fingers. “Been itching to get my hands on those finks ever since I learned about them.”
Tillie nods, “Newstead Abbey is huge, there is an old farm and extensive grounds. As best as we can tell there are a round dozen Umbra corporate police on guard there at any time, on foot with three cyberhounds. The grounds will have surveillance and the Abbey itself with have even more, but we don’t think they’ve replaced the locks, which are old 20th century models. There’s a helipad in the gardens, so a Rapid Response Team would have no trouble getting there from Nottingham, say maybe six to eight minutes after the alarms trip.”
Deeds hasn’t dried off at all, and now clears his throat. "Tillie, I need to get going – make my way into the city and report back home. I’ll also see if I can find out about Pitbull, gents. "He nods to the team. “Can I borrow a bike or something?”
Mac nods solemnly at Deeds. “Be obliged if you did, friend. The big lug is fine, I’m sure, but…” “He’ll be fine, Mac,” Pacoy says quietly, followed by a gentle slug to Mac’s shoulder, “A few months from now, we will be on a job and he’ll be filling us in on all of the stuff that went south when he got separated as an anecdotal learning experience.” The silence Mac drifts off to is uncomfortable at best, causing him to swallow sharply. Able gets up to shake Deeds’s hand, his step wavering. “Thank you.” Able’s grip is strong, but Deeds can feel the tremors. Mac looks at his attache case by the door. “I’ve got some kit we can get some more intel with, if we can get close enough. But it sounds like we have to be in and out in less than six once the alarms go. I don’t think we can last in a sustained firefight. Not with Able like this.”
Tillie tells Deeds there’s a train station at the other end of the village, with hourly comuter service to Nottingham. Deeds thanks her, wishes the team good luck, and slips back out into the early morning. Immediately Tillie turns to the team. “So how do you want to be about this? I’d suggest getting some sleep then we’ll slip into the village, grab my car and take a drive up to Newstead so you can scope out the place for yourselves.” “You are the home team,” Pacoy nods, “That sounds like a good plan to me – rest before recon.” Able agrees. “That’ll work. I’d like to get eyes on this place. I’m not keen on the cyberdogs – I don’t have any camouflage for sent-masking.” Tille pats the long sniper rifle by her side. “I have the perfect solution for those dogs.”
Mac starts into little fits of laughter. “Not like you smell that great, either, Able. Say, Tillie, if these lot are going to take a rest, have you got any physical intel I can take a look at? Having trouble sleeping, won’t be able to rest much, so might as well make myself useful.” Tillie looks thoughtful, then nods and motions Mac to follow her. “One of the caravans is set up with a Faraday cage. We can’t access the net but my Pad will have some touristy-historical stuff on Newstead in its encyclopedia.” Mac nods. “You chaps get some good sleep, okay? Especially you, Able.” As he heads out the door, he turns back. “Say, Tillie, any chance of getting some food for while I read…?” Tille opens a closet and grabs three MREs from a pile.
Able lays down by the fire, mechanically eating the MRE – his mind elsewhere, away from the body that’s continuously failing him. He comes back to his physical existence in short fits and starts as the pain lances up and down his side before his mind is able to shift once again to a nonmaterial existence. Pacoy munches on his MRE, thinking of how alien it is for him to be ‘off-the-grid’.
After a short while Tillie and Mac return, making enough noise to disturb any uncomfortable slumber in the narrow, hard caravan cots. She sets about making tea on the small gas stove, as she keeps glancing at Mac, then finally makes up her mind about something and turns to Mac. “What are you, exactly, if you don’t mind me asking? You look human on my Tac-shades HUD, the right I-R signature and everything. But you sound wrong and you smell wrong…more than anyone I’ve ever met. Are you a full-body conversion?”
Mac, having spent the entirety of the night pouring over all of the available documentation, has messed his hair up a bit and pulls off a fairly convincing yawn as he rattles his trap about this feature and that, painting a bleak tactical picture of the residence. “In short, there are a few ways we can cut in, but it’s going to take all the skills we’ve got to pull it off. I figure we can pull a Theodore’s Rose and go in through the grate, or find another way in. Depends on how wet we feel like getting, if we want to sort out some moral issues.”
He looks over at Tillie. “Something like that. You had some pretty out there parents, right? My mother is pretty out there too. Gave me some pretty looney ideas about myself. Still a hundred and ten percent original, though.” He grins to himself. Tillie nods thoughtfully. “Original, eh?” Then she’s all business. “Do you want to go take a look today? It’s only fifteen miles or so from here, we could be there in an hour. I think I know a place we can get a look at a lot of the grounds.”
Mac agrees. “We can map out their routes and plan the best way for insertion. We’ve got to sort this out sooner rather than later.” He looks at Able. Able, from where he’s lying in front of the fire, nods. “Sooner would be good. I’d rather get this Rossum shit out of me as fast as I can than linger until I’m a vegetable, stuck unmoving in my own skin.”
Tillie opens yet another of the caravan’s multiple closets and begins to pull out holdall bags. “Stuff your kit in these. They’re lined to defeat scanners. Then we’ll get going. We’ll walk into the village, I keep a car in a lock-up near the train station.”
North Of Nottingham
Wednesday 19th April, 2051
Tilly pulls her rather nondescript smartcar over to the side of the narrow minor road beside a gate through a hedgerow. She gestures to the right. “Through there and up the hill a bit, we should get an overlook on the entire estate.” Mac sighs and heaves the bag over his shoulder as he pulls it out of the car, thinking about his methodically crumpled clothing in the bag, leaving his attache case and pistol near the top of the bag, in case he needs to get a hold of them. Better safe than always sorry. That’s what Pitbull would say… He looks at the team. “Looks like we’re going for a little hiking again, lads.” Able slings the bag over his shoulder, the submachine gun snuggled inside alongside a change of clothes and the pilfered medical supplies. The pistol lies strapped to his waist, hidden from sight behind his trenchcoat.
It’s only a short walk to the shelter of a low drystone wall on the crest of the hill and from there the view beyond opens up. Ahead to the East, about a mile away, is the Abbey itself surrounded by ornate gardens, outbuildings and a small lake. Nearer, at the bottom of the hill the team occupies, is a high wall with dense woodland beyond. The whole are is exactly as Mac described it. To the north slightly, where the abbey’s farm used to be, is an overgrown golf course, turned to thornbush and high grass, with its own entrance through the surrounding wall.
Mac scowls. “Beautiful old place like this… this is a tragedy.” He sets the bag down and retrieves his case and revolver. “So, you’re the infiltration expert, Able. What do you think our best approach is?”
Able grabs hold of a low-hanging branch as he looks down upon the estate. “I’m not sure. Normally, I’d wait until someone left the compound, then take them out and assume their position for their next shift. Recovering two whole people may be difficult; one I could do by assuming the role of a driver and simply drive off with him. Two… Unless we can get them both in the same car, that wouldn’t work as well.”
“And with my… handicap, that may not be something we should count upon. A full-on assault seems like a bad plan – unless we can make them believe we arrived to evacuate the VIPs.” Able turns to Tillie. “Do we have any information on any others in the estate? Are they housing any other ‘dignitaries’?”
Tille shakes her head no. “It doesn’t seem so. Our people have only seen the two targets – they each arrive and depart in their own AV, with their security teams. early every morning and middling late every evening, every day except Sunday.”
Mac shakes his head. “Security lite during the day, then? Could take our time doing an infiltration, bide our time waiting, then strike quickly and exfil fast?” He sighs. “Not usually my cup of tea. People generally aren’t supposed to even know I’ve keened to them.”
Able turns to Mac. “What do you think the protocol would be if there was a surface-to-air missile threat in the vicinity? Either someone shot down one of the AVs or there was good intelligence they had the capability to?”
Tilie now opens her own carry-bag and extracts the sight from her rifle, a large and expensive block of electronics and lenses, then leans against the low farm wall as she sights in on the house. “Let’s see….three standard cars in the back, by the servant’s entrance I’ll bet. Nothing on the pad, they must still be at work…Oh look, there’s a two man team in that folly just as Mac predicted. Another team on patrol with a dog each, looks like. I bet there’s a team at the gate and the rest are in the house in a ready-room.”
She looks to Able and smiles, “They’d have to up the coverage if they had a tip like that. The luxury AVs they use have countermeasures, sure, but they’re relying on discretion here so as not to upset the boffins too much, I’d think. Give them an illusion of freedom and they’ll work better, eh?”
Mac taps his chin. “Bet we could isolate the ready-room with the laser mike. Not sure we want to risk the additional goons by pulling that ploy… unless…”
Able continues, “I’m mainly curious about evacuation plans in the case of a serious threat to their safety. Those vertols can’t handle a big sniper bullet in the lift fan very well; they’d probably survive the crash, but it wouldn’t be particularly controllable. If we shoot down an AV while it’s landing, what will their plan be?”
Mac looks at Pacoy and Able. “Exactly. Why not take a cue from the landed gentry? What can we do to flush them out and hunt them down on our terms?”
Able looks around. “I’m wondering if there’s any way to get them to come to us – to force a land evacuation, preferably in a single vehicle. Taking someone so heavily fortified during transportation is typically easier than while they’re holed up somewhere.”
Augmented Reality dancing across his vision, Pacoy’s Insta-Soldier starts compiling a plan. “Able already knows what various Rossum big-wigs look like! If one of them arrived, all the security folk would be headless-chickening in panic, but not the “call for back-up” kind of panic,” Pacoy informs the group, “The targets would already be on the ground, and security would be out of place and vulnerable. Heck, some of the folk Able could impersonate could order the two scientists to come with him – their security teams would want to check that, but maybe I can spoof up some facke ID given a minute. Or just take them out in the confusion.”
“It’ll be kind of like the play we pulled at Talking Rock Tower,” Pacoy reminds Able, the only other member of the current line up that was there.
Mac flips open his notepad and begins jotting down some notes. “Seems more plausible than a straightforward snatch-and-grab, that’s for sure.”
After a moment, Able nods. “Yes, that could work. We’d need to come up with a cover story for why my disguise is here, and what he needs with the targets.” After a moment, Able smiles. “Actually, I have just the one. And it should hold up to the closest of scrutiny.”
He turns to the others. “We tell them that RJ Able-001/ANL39 has gone rogue and is known to be in the area, with the assumption that he’s targeting them. The only difficulty will be in hiding my neural degeneration.”
Mac winces. “That is certainly one heck of a diversion. But is that enough to flush them out, or cause them to hunker down?”
Tillie puts her sight away. “We’ll need to steal a suitable vehicle – a limo of some kind, maybe. That old car of mine won’t do the trick. But if it works we need to hightail it for Peterborough – from there I can arrange transport to the very safest of places to stash the goods.”
Able waves his hand. “It should be enough to get them to agree to a change in venue – especially when the head of Rossum’s Special Projects division asks them kindly. We arrange for the security precautions, then quietly take out the guards during transport – and we disappear off their map.”
Mac smiles. “I like that. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it’s crazy enough that it might just work.”
Able smiles. “And if we need extra confirmation – we can just tip off the real boys that I’m in town, and when the security gents call up they’ll have true information to work off of. A bit risky, if he’s able to arrive before we take our leave – but it should still work.”
Tillie raises her hand. “I can’t go in – I’m known to the authorities and I’ll be on visual-recognition databases. But I can help make the threat seem authentic from up here. A couple of rounds downrange out of the night should do that nicely. I can arrange my own egress and have some people help you get where you need to go.”
“I can send a sacrificial drone with you to make the assault seem more convincing,” Pacoy offered, “Lots of flashing and noise.”
Tillie gives Pacoy a thumbs up and turns to look back at her car. “I need to send some messages. Nothing unsubtle – we use encrypted packages imbedded in what looks like phishing emails, which our bot network pick up and pass along to those that need them. One of you drive.”
Able slips into the back seat, not quite convinced that it’s safe for him to drive. “With a little bit of luck, this might work out.”
Mac stows his kit. “I’m feeling better about this than when we were in that thunderstorm. I’ll take the wheel, in case Pacoy needs to see to Able. I’m all thumbs when it comes to medicine.” He slides into the drivers seat. “Say, Tillie… that’s quite the complicated protocol. You seem savvier than anyone we’ve worked with over here, to boot. Who signs your checks, anyway?”
Tillie grins at Mac from the passenger seat. “The Finn does, m’dear.” She rolls up her sleeve to show a subtle grey tattoo worked into her biceps. “Mutate and Survive!”