I-25, 5 Miles Outside the Wall
Old Denver Battlefield
Saturday, February 25, 2051
The ground five miles from the Citadel’s bulwark is cratered, dirty, and picked clean. Old buildings sit in rubble, their metal fixtures and copper wires all scavenged long ago – not to mention the appliances and anything else of remote value. The battleground, a remnant of the Militia Wars that split the old United States, is desolate, lonely, and depressing – and only made more so by the oppressive shape of the Colorado Defensive Emplacement, the official name for what most people just call ‘The Great Wall of Colorado’.
From five miles out, the wall is easily visible – the largest structure in sight, and easily the largest single structure any of the Lazarus team has ever seen. At parts, it reaches a hundred feet high – mostly on the Eastern edge – while at others it stands ‘only’ twenty feet high and just as thick. The whole city isn’t yet enclosed – the Wall is only a little over half done after more than a decade of work – but construction is evident everywhere. Up above the city fly helicopters, vertols, and drones, keeping a constant watch.
Amongst those vertols is a single one that sticks out for being out of place – emblazoned with a Night City Police Department seal on the side, the night-black vertol looks to be the same one that buzzed the APC down the road…
Mac tips his hat back on his head. “Hey, guys, that’s not normal, is it? The fuzz don’t come this far outside the city, yeah? Maybe someone nicked their ride?” Wormwood is frantically re-touching his disguise while muttering the occasional curse word. He pauses briefly to say “I’m not that lucky, Mac,” then goes back to his task. Pitbull looks right at the V-Tol in the rear-view mirror. “Well, double-fuck. Worm, which of us do you think that’s after?” “Almost certainly me, Pits. I was the public enemy number one on the holo-vid shows before we left. I’m just hoping this disguise and the wheelchair throws them off,” Wormwood replies, watching the police flyer. Pacoy looks at the bleak surroundings and desolate atmosphere and can’t help be turn to his sense of humor cover the sense of dread “Hey, Mac – what say we pick up a few hundreds cans of yellow spray-paint and put a big smiley face on that wall, brighten the place up?” A gleeful smile lights up Mac’s face. “I’m game, doc, but you’re buying. The last of my gambling money is tied up in wonderboy’s legs.”
“Detective Carlos likes me, but at the same time I’m also a prime candidate for him. I just hope that he’s got some other squeeze in this direction.” Pitbull growls, lighting yet another cigarette, before looking at how many he actually has left. Damn. Last pack, and only ten left. This trip burned through the whole carton… Wormwood frowns at Mac, “Wonderboy is good for it, y’know. I’ve never run out on a debt to a friend in my life.” “Yeah, Mac – I find it hard to picture Worm ’_running out_” on you now!" Pacoy grinned. “Sit on this, Pac,” Wormie flips Pacoy the bird. “Anyways, if all else fails I’ll ask the Bey for a loan to make good.”
Mac grins at a thought that has crossed his mind. “Ya know, the last time I saw someone frantically applying makeup like that, Worm, I was taking Anita to the opera and we were running late. And don’t worry about the scratch, pal. I always know if I need a loan I can take it out of your legs, capiche?” Mac’s attempt at the thug accent fails somewhat miserably. Seranya hugs Mac. “You sounded scary, Mac. Don’t go scary on me.” Mac laughs. “Me? Scary? Look doll, I’m about as harmful as an orange sitting on a table. Or a bump on a log. These arms? Wormwood can lift more! It’s not like I’ve got a secret arsenal of weapons stashed away. Never been much of a fighter, and I doubt I’d know which end of his kneecaps to whack if I were that bent.”
That finally puts a smile on Wormie’s face, “Depends on whether you want to dislocate or crack them, Mac. I’ll show you sometime, just in case you ever have to pretend you’re a hardcase, ok?” Mac thinks, then taps his chest. “Yeah, I think I might have to tough up a bit if we’re going to be getting into the roughs business. The last few engagements, my pistol’s been nothing more than a distraction, and my shotgun is only good at tenderizing beef.”
The APC continues forwards down I-25, approaching a small hole in the Wall. The ever-present scaffolding almost covers up a sign on the side, proclaiming the presence of a Citiadel Defense Force substation built within the wall at this point. The tunnel through the wall isn’t particularly busy – a few vehicles make their way in and out, but not nearly as many as the gridlock that had stopped the team back in SoCal; most people travel to and from Citadel via air travel or rail. The current traffic all seems to be industrial vehicles traversing between Foundry and the Citadel. The hovering NCPD vertol begins lowering itself, looking to be coming in for a landing somewhere beyond the Wall.
“You gotta figure the local cops will be pissed if we just shoot their counterparts from the Coast, right?” Wormwood muses to no-one in particular as he checks the action on both his silenced pistols. Mac looks up at the towering monster ahead of them. “I’d wager so, Joe. Most people would be – I’d say we won’t run into any trouble. We should be able to just gas up and goose on out of here.” “We’re out of their jurisdiction anyway, right?” Pitbull growls back to the team. “I wonder how they take strangers in stolen military vehicles around there parts?” Pacoy wonders out loud, “I mean it’s not their military or anything, but still…”
“I hope you’re right, Mac. They’re not taking me alive, that’s for sure. If anyone ever mindwipes me and builds me back up from the foundations it’ll be because I paid them to do it.” Wormwood looks quietly determined as he speaks. “Emily’s been talking about me going to a head-changer – and maybe its just about time to re-route my synapses so my Art takes a different course after all.” Pacoy tries to hide his cringing at that thought. Mac nods thoughtfully. “I’m behind you no matter what you pick to do, Worm. Gotta do what’s right by you and yours, that’s what my father always told me.” Wormwood simply nods, then takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly through his teeth.
The tunnel looms ahead, a helpful sign in oppressive red-and-white stating the rules for entering the city:
1. Don’t fuck with the citizens. They are well-armed.
2. Outsiders looking to trade are welcomed. Outsiders looking to swindle are not.
3. The Citadel does not have a customs service, so don’t bother smuggling. Legal trade is cheaper than black market trade.
4. Both Whirlwind Security and the Citadel Defense Force are empowered to perform summary executions if they deem the security of the Citadel is endangered.
Mac blinks. “Cheery place, this. Reminds me of home. No, that’s not right… summary executions?!” “Sounds like a fun town,” Pacoy says, reading over the rules, “There goes my fear of stolen surplus. Bet you they have a heck of a gambling trade going on somewhere.” Wormwood brightens slightly, “It also sounds like they may not be so keen on letting the Night City cops have any jurisdiction at all.” “Reminds me of Mexico. It’s media bullshit to believe that the whole place is anarchy with tequila and taquitos. There are some forts and bases that are pretty much towns that are armed to the core.” Pitbull grates aloud as he drags off of his cigarette again.
Mac shakes his head. “Certainly not – those towns MUST be swimming in Tequila.” “Oh well, let’s go see then.” Wormwood sits up straighter. “Should we unload the extra guns and stuff from the Rangers here, do you think?” “Rule of the thumb, Mac,” Pacoy explains “If a place says ‘we welcome friendly trade but will execute you quickly if you cross us’, then they are probably reasonable people, especially if they can articulate all of their rules in four points. If a place says ‘we are a society of laws here for your safety’ they’ll probably foaming pricks.” Mac looks at Pacoy, then nods. “Noted. But what if it’s really easy to cross the first group? Or what if the others are really here for their safety? This bears further consideration.”
After a good twenty-five feet, the tunnel spits the APC out into the Citadel proper. The city lies before the team, a sprawling conglomeration of buildings, fields, even a good portion of a forest all within view. The other side of the city is hidden by the curvature of the Earth down below the horizon. The city itself isn’t particularly dense, with significant areas for future expansion – the Wall was designed so that it didn’t completely constrain the Citadel’s future.
To either side of the Wall lie a number of military vehicles – vertols, jeeps, APCs, even a few proper tanks. Several artillery guns appear to be being constructed into the Wall itself, allowing them to fire from the top of the Wall but hide behind it when threatened. Civilian buildings start a few dozen yards back from the Wall at this point, though at others it looks like they run up against the Wall itself, maybe even having some offices built into it like the Defense Force substation here is.
In contrast to the oppressive air on the other side of the wall, the interior is rife with verdant green and clean, well-maintained buildings. The industrial portion of the city, some of which is within view, is obviously less attractive, but this portion makes it clear that it’s still a mountain city at its heart.
Mac whistles. “Beats out Night City for looks, that’s for sure. See any spot to gas up, Pitbull?” Wormwood agrees, “You got that right, Pac.” As he looks around for the NCPD flyer again he calls out “What’s the plan, guys? Fuel up and move out fast or spend a few hours and try to sell the Texan gear?” “No. Not immediately. Anyone pull up GPS?” Pitbull growls as he swerves around a combat armor clad pedestrian clutching an SMG. Mac looks towards Eris. “How are we doing on time, doll? If we’re cutting it close, we can always unload the gear on the way back.”
Wormwood mentally commands his implanted computer to tap the local Net, pull up a town map and directions to the nearest gas station, then squirt the result to Pitbull’s computer. “Here you go, Pits.” “Well, shit. Thanks Worm.” Pitbull growls as he halts then spins the APC around and starts chugging along to the map’s pining destination. “Hey, have we ever made a pitstop without some imminent danger? Maybe we could try something new just for the novelty of it.” Pacoy smiles. Mac looks sidelong at Pacoy. “I think the problem is that every time we stop the danger comes to us.”
Eris frowns. “There’s one week left in the contract. Assuming everything goes swimmingly, we should arrive in Omaha in another day or two of driving. Maybe more – once we approach the Exclusion Zone we’ll have to decrease our speed considerably to remain safe.” Wormwood looks over his shoulder at Mac, “A week if all goes well. But when does it ever go well, eh?” “Right? Did we ask for a stampede or a wild fire on our last two stops?” Pitbull laughs his smoke-tinged chortle, as he attempts to squeeze the APC through a street that wasn’t quite designed for a military vehicle. “Karma, Pits, Karma.” Pacoy answers. Mac looks at Pitbull. “Bud, you smoking like that is begging to start a forest fire, and the stampede was delicious. I’d say we keep this stop short and press on – don’t let the danger have time to find us.” “Amen, Mac. Let’s gas up and ‘wagons roll’” Wormie says.
The APC grinds to a halt at the gas station, issuing gouts of steam from the hydraulics as it comes to a complete stop. “Well, dudes. Piss, smoke, eat, gas up and let’s move on!” Wormwood reaches for his wallet and some pre-paid cred-chips. “I’ll get the gas again, guys.” Mac drops out of the back of the APC. “I’ll pump and you pay, yeah Worm? Make it easy on you.” Wheeling his chair down the ramp and towards the gas station shop, Wormwood nods, “Sure Mac. I’ll grab some snacks and some cigs for Pits too.” Mac sets about whistling a jaunty tune while refueling the APC. The pump works just like he’d expect and begins racking up a nice, hefty toll on the wallet.
Pacoy gets out for a quick stretch of his limbs as the APC is refueled. “Thanks Worm! My brand is the Camel Menthol X’s if they got them. If not, then Marlboro Black Menthol 100’s. Now I gotta piss like an unmanned fire hose.” Pitbull growls as he trots into the building. Inside, Wormwood puts down $150 for the gas, saying, The big rig out at pump three – and two packs of cigarettes, please. I’ll pay for them in a second, just gonna grab some snacks." He wheels over to the racks and begins grabbing chips, candy bars and the like.
The gas station is relatively empty. It’s well-stocked with provisions, but not so well-stocked with customers. A single man, older – Mac would say he’s reminiscent of Clint Eastwood – is by the fridge in the back, picking up some alcohol and a styrette of heroin The proprietor is a real-live human rather than a simple AI agent. She is looking up at something facing her above the counter – probably a screen of some kind, maybe hooked up to the security system. The moment she locks eyes on Wormwood, sitting there in his chair and wearing his disguise, she visibly gets nervous. She turns to the older gentleman, “Hey, Frank, look who walked in.”
The man, Frank, turns, locking eyes with Wormwood. His hand immediately goes to a holster at his side. “Look, son, we don’t want any trouble.” He taps his pistol with his hand, his gravelly voice resounding in the small building. “Just get your stuff and go – but keep your eyes up, here, and don’t you be coming back.” Wormwood rolls to a halt, “Huh, what are you on about?” He grabs a final few snacks and begins to roll towards the front desk, sending a subvocal message on the team net “Guys, I think I’ve been made. Keep your eyes peeled, I’ll try to get out without starting anything.” Pitbull strides out of the bathroom, looking like the weight of the world had been lifted off of his shoulders. Or rather a gallon of fluid has been drained from his bladder. But his relief is short lived as he sees the spectacle that is unfolding. “What’s goin’ on, sir?” Pitbull growls as he strides up to Frank. “Please keep it civil, Pit!” Pacoy comms as he prepares for Pit to ignore his request.
Inside the APC, Eris turns around from her position at one of the computerized stations. “Hey boys, there’s something you really ought to see.” Mac calls to the inside of the APC. “What’s up, doll?” She rolls her chair away from the station, revealing the screen behind her. On it is a young woman in casual clothes, speaking. She hits a button and the audio is pumped into the compartment. “…from Night City. He’s described as being armed and extremely dangerous, and is wanted for a number of sex-based crimes. He’s believed to be traveling with five others in an old Texas Military APC.” A picture of a matching vehicle appears behind her. “He was recently injured and is currently in a wheelchair, and may be disguised. While it’s not as clear while he’s seated, he is described as having taken on the appearance of ‘some hairy-ass dwarf biker’ rather than his typical ‘goth-emo bitch-paint’’. Night City Police are currently in the city and have filed for a $50,000 bounty on his head. The Office of Bounty Enforcement is considering the application; a decision is likely to be made within the day.”
“Damn, 50k is a nice payday. I think we have Lazarus’s next gig, guys!” Pacoy smiles as he comms. “But seriously, lets go. Nice and friendly, get our cheesey-poofs and hit the road.” Wormwood slams an extra $100 down on the counter to cover the snacks and cigs and heads for the door. “It’s all totalitarian police-state lies, you know. I was framed – I have never committed any kind of sex crime.” As he leaves, his enhanced ears hear the old man’s rejoinder. “And you’ll never commit one here, neither.”
“Sir. My friend may be strange, but he is no murderer and he is no rapist. Anyone who has thoughts otherwise, answers to me.” Pitbull grumbles as he straightens up to his full height, bringing him well over the height of the older man. The old man stares Pitbull down, and as he does so Pitbull sees something in his eyes. This man has seen combat, and probably a lot more of it than Pitbull himself. He doesn’t blink even once to Pitbull’s attempt at intimidation; instead, he stands straight and tall, looking Pitbull straight in the eye as his hand taps his pistol at his side. “I don’t know if what those Night City people say is true, but it doesn’t matter none. I’m protecting me and mine – and I’ll put you in the ground if you even think of threatening Maya here.”
Wormwood rolls himself back up the ramp of the APC with a lap full of snacks, not-so-quietly fuming. “Fuckers. I have never committed a sex crime. Not a thing I have done has ever been about sex. Philistines. It was about control and power exchange. Their profilers are all asses.” Mac blinks. “Pot, stop talking about the other kitchenware – it bothers them because they can’t understand it, Worm. Where’s Pitbull, did he get arrested already?” He hangs up the fuel pump and stands at the rear hatch, waiting for his friend to come out. Wormie dumps his cargo on a seat then levers himself up and over into the front passenger seat again. “Mac, it pisses me off to be called a sex criminal! I never touched a woman sexually against her will in my life! It’s be like if you were called a vibrator or wanted for being a rogue robotic weapons platform!” Mac looks into the cabin of the APC. “Who’s saying I haven’t been called a vibrator? And don’t go giving Pacoy any more ideas – I’ve seen the way he’s been looking at my sister lately.” “Nah, Mac. To me, you’ll always be a potential toaster!” Pacoy grins, then looks over to the gas station “AAAND it looks like Pit is earning more Karma for us!” Mac grumbles. “If only Karma were the name of the local currency, then I could be happy about that statement, Pac.”
Wormie slams his fist into the console in front of him. “Bastards! What’s the very worst is I’m not sure I can ever go home now. What will Emmy say? Will she be willing to up roots and move somewhere I can rebuild my life? Fuck! What a mess! I’m a crippled useless thing who’s now wanted for what he didn’t do and a murder a copycat did! If I ever find that copycat I will work my greatest ever art on him, I swear it.” But… Pacoy thinks to himself at Wormwoods words isn’t his ‘art’ serial pervery? I am not asking, I am sure I do not want to know…
Pitbull is still in the old man’s face. “I ain’t threatening Maya. And I ain’t threatening you. I’m just saying that the Night City Police has one decent detective on them and he probably isn’t part of this investigation. They are liars, and nothin’ else. Again, he may be strange, but ain’t a rapist or murderer of any definition. We are leaving now, and try not to believe everything that a totalitarian government announces as it’s right and authority from here on.” Pitbull turns on his heel and stomps out of the gas station, and walks crisply to the APC. Mac clambers aboard when Pitbull nears. “We’ll sort it out, Worm – don’t you worry. I can find the copycat for you, no sweat. I mean, I am a detective, after all.”
As Pits takes the driving seat again, Wormie turns to Mac again. “You know, I wasn’t kidding about having mind surgery earlier. Emmy and I talked it all out. After this mission I was going to have a Chaperone Implant done – turn my art to making commercial BDSM sensies and get out of the second-storey business entirely. Now that plan’s as fucked as I am. I might as well save the bounty hunters the trouble and shoot myself.” He draws one of his Prowler pistols and contemplates it. “But, you’re my buddies and I’ll see this mission out unless I become too much of a burden on you.” he puts the gun away again. Eris puts her hand on Wormwood’s knee. “I know, Randall. It looks pretty bad. But don’t decide on anything permanent just yet, okay?” Mac spits before closing the door as the APC fires up again. “You’re a damn fool if you think that’ll fix anything but break Emmy and our hearts, Worm. Won’t be the first time I’ve sorted out a wrongfully accused case, and you aren’t a jilted lover to boot!”
Pitbull flicks some switches and turns the engine as he says to Wormwood. “Man, You’ve got a P.I. and an ex-soldier on your side. We’ll find him and plug him good. Seriously, when I get back to Night City, I’m gonna assemble myself a kill-team, and we’re gonna track down this son of a bitch.” Pitbull growls as he lights yet another cigarette and exhales the smoke from his nostrils. Wormwood gives a bitter half-smile. “No, Pits, if you guys can find him you’ll bring him to me intact. I want him intact. I can work with that.” he slumps back into his seat and glowers out at his surroundings. “Can we get moving before I become cred-chips on the hoof, guys?”
A vehicle comes screeching into view from further on into the city, a black jeep with tinted windows. A siren has been haphazardly affixed to the roof and is blazing. “Why, Hello there, Karmamobile” Pacoy says in mock cheerfulness. “Fuck” Wormie says as he lifts his big rifle and racks a round. Pitbull continues driving, no consideration given to the Jeep that is outweighed three times over by the military-grade APC. Mac groans and starts laughing. “I hate to say it, but Pacoy’s right – every time we stop, it’s never free and easy! Oh, this keeps getting better. Please tell me they have a news crew with them…”
Behind the jeep come two vehicles with Whirlwind Security written all over them, the private police force that holds the contract to all of the Citadel Free City. All three have sirens blazing. The jeep attempts to stop right in front of the APC, but one of the Whirlwind vehicles cuts it off. The APC continues on its way as a man in a Night City police uniform steps out from the jeep, a Whirlwind contractor coming out of his own vehicle. They begin yelling at one another as the APC proceeds forwards, their argument as nothing in the review mirror.
Wormwood reluctantly puts the rifle back down, “Guys, if we shoot at them there’s no way we’re ever getting back through that wall. They may not let you guys through with me onboard. I think I just crossed that line into final liability…” he sees the Whirlwind cops arguing with the Night City ones, “…or maybe not!” Mac laughs. “Even so, Worm, there’s this great thing to be learned in history. Giant wall, right? The French thought that was a great idea once, too. We don’t have to come back this way on our way back – with the return trip we’ll have the luxury of time, to boot!”
Pitbull brays a cruel laugh. “Well guys. Shall we continue on or should we rest? Clearly these assholes are just going to leave with an ass-whuppin’ at the most!” Wormie grates, “Floor it, Bro.” “Keep going. Do not Stop. Do not Pass Go, do not collect the 50k.” Pacoy chimes in. Pitbull slams the gas, and the APC rushes forward like a bat out of hell. Mac topples over, having not properly secured himself in the APC since the incident with the burning. “I should have expected that…”
Wormwood rips off his false nose and doffs his wig. “At least I can get out of this biker-hick get-up and look like the true stylish me again,” he says as he begins to remove his make-up. “Good Thinking, Worm,” Pacoy nods “Reports say to look for a man in disguise – no disguise will surely throw them off!” Mac looks up front. “When are we getting back to the stylish you, pal? Have I seen that getup before? You need a proper hat to be stylish.” He throws his trilby up front to Wormwood. Eris is quick to point out, “Ah, but it also mentioned his ‘emo-goth bitch-paint’, so it might be a good idea to avoid that makeup entirely.” Wormwood does a double-take. “What emo-goth make-up? I only ever wear lipstick – my complexion doesn’t need more.” “Newsflash, it wasn’t the makeup that made Worm look like a bitch…” Pacoy laughs.