5 miles East of Lockerbie, Scotland
Sunday 30th April, 2051
It’s only taken the Lazarus Team two hours to get to their rendezvous point, crammed into the narrow false bottoms of two low-loaders carrying what appear to be the rusting hulks of old cars and vans. The big rigs, provided by a notorious Glasgow smuggler, and their cargoes were stopped and searched several times, but the compartments hidden under their load-beds never discovered.
Now, the team crawl out into a morning light mist, finding themselves in the stone cobbled yard of a ruined farm. Their ally, Malky, and three of his resistance fighters help them out of the cramped compartments, then pull out their gear and weapons. The loaders are pulled into an old barn and their loads dumped – then the whole bunch take up positions to wait for the people who will take Lazarus on the next stage of their journey.
It doesn’t take long – after about twenty minutes a group of a dozen or so electric motorcycles pull into the farmyard. Each rider is roughly but warmly dressed, and all are armed with “liberated” weapons. Most are hairy and unwashed, but one hulking figure in a greatcoat shows the balding head and smashed beak of a friend the team had thought never to see again.
Able looks the ugly bastard in the eye for a few moments before turning to the others. “Huh.”
Mac blinks and rubs his eyes. “Guys, guess who just showed up and ruined our big damn heroes prison break…”
“Is it just me, or is that guy ugly enough to be Pit?” Pacoy says with a warm grin.
The hulking figure breaks into a giant smile. “You thought those border cop-shits could do me in? I’m alive and I got a doctor’s note to prove it.” Pitbull reaches into his coat, and yanks out a crumpled piece of legal note paper and palms it to Mac.
The note reads, “I owed you guys one. -G” in a very familiar scrawl with an Umbra watermark.
Mac smirks and passes the note along. “That’s a pleasant message. Good to see you again, brother. Just in time for things to get messy, to boot.”
“G? Umbra? As in Garrion?” Pacoy is shocked, “Two Ghosts in One Story?”
“Yeah. Speaking of which, these awesome fellers have helped me something fierce, but I still don’t quite know what we’re about to do. Can someone bring me up to speed?” Pitbull growls as he reaches into the other side of his coat for his smokes. “And Pac, I’m assumin’ it is him. Don’t know no one else that fits that description.”
Tillie, who has been doing some yoga stretches off to one side, straightens, arches her back and walks over. “Hi Gazza,” she nods at the biker group’s leader. “Who’s the Yank? Picking up strays again?”
“Ain’t no yank, woman. I’m a Texan. Confusin’ a Texan for a Yank is fightin’ words to us folk.” Pitbull growls darkly before smiling through a drag of a freshly lit smoke.
Able sidles up to Pitbull and clasps him on the shoulder. “Good to have you with us. We’re assaulting an Umbra/Rossum soldier augmentation and experimentation facility, hopefully before they get any of their new forces online.”
Mac pulls out his notepad, half ruined from the incessant water and rain and sketches out a brief outline of the plan, showing it to Pitbull. “Short of it is we’re about to cause some big trouble in little London. Don’t have too much of a concrete plan beyond that.”
“Heyup, pet. Na, we were told to bring him oop with us. He got dropped in Carlisle by the Mice, knaw. Seems he’s one a tha boys yer ta see to Notts, innit.” The beefy biker replies with a smile. “Now we’m got not a lot o’ time afore this glower lifts, if I’m any judge. We’m better get moving.” He points to five bikers, who relinquish their bikes reluctantly. “Naw, boys, din’t fash, we’m be back for youse tamorra.”
“Cliff’s Notes Version, We have a decent idea where Shit Creek is, but we don’t have a map and were a not bringing any paddles with us, should turn out fine though…” Pacoy smiles.
“Shiiiiit, Abe! You’re lookin’ better! We got ya fixed up and ready to kill?” Pitbull rasps, through the exhale of his cigarette. “And that figures. Any idea of what’s in the lab?”
“Shit, though! Hate to get mushy or anythin’ but I was sure that I wouldn’t see you guys again!” Pitbull laughs, before hitting off of his cigarette again.
Mac looks at the one identified at Gazza before turning to his crew. “Guys, I realize now what it must be like talking to me, and I do apologize.” He looks at the bikes. “I think what he wants is for us to saddle up and spur on, get going. We can refine our plan on the way, such as it is, but I have a feeling we’re going to have to go pulp serial on Umbra today.”
“We didn’t think we were going to see you again, either, Big Guy: we were just about to start divvying up your stuff before we realized the HQ was blown up, then it was all moot!” Pacoy slaps Pitt on the back, “We can talk on the way, let’s get out of here!”
Able seats himself on one of the bikes, checking it out to make sure everything’s in the right place. “Let’s get moving.”
Pitbull visibly becomes upset. “Dude! My Reaper was in there! My sweet, sweet Reaper! Dammit!”
Tillie mounts one of the cross-country cycles and starts its nearly silent engine. “Come then, we’ve a fair way to go. It’s about fifty miles cross-country to our next rendezvous – and from there we’re fair for Nottingham. I know the land here a little, but the Bluebonnets know it like the backs of their hands.” She smiles at Gazza, who may be blushing under the grime.
Mac rolls his eyes. “His first thought goes to the damn Reaper, not my sister or Gladys. Never change, you lug.” He slips onto a bike. “I’ll get you a new one, Pits.”
“Fuck Gladys, but Serana was starting to grow on me. I do hope she survived. But damn! And the metal jaw of the Sarge…” Pitbull trails off as he saddles up to the bike.
Mac grins. “I’ve got every reason to believe Siri was away from the office when it blew. Lets get this fairytale on the road, gentlemen. You set for armament, Pitbull? I’ve got an assault rifle if you need steel in your hands.”
Soon the group is coursing swiftly down tracks and paths through hills covered in dense forest. In large areas, the trees look pale and partly leafless, despite Spring being well advances, but provide enough overhead cover even so in the morning mist. Every few miles, the main group halts for five minutes as an outriding scout returns to report the way ahead is clear – until, about two hours into the journey and just across the border into England, one returns in a flat dash and pulls up making frantic signals to stop.
Able pulls his motored bicycle up to the scout, but focuses his senses upon what he can see and hear in the distance, as this doesn’t look like a good sign.
Pitbull coasts his bike and creases his battle-scarred face into a frown of concern.
“Gazza, mon, there’s a slew o’ Redcoats down’t the vale. About a company, by the look, and regulars too. Light armor an all. We need to go around or hunker down til night!” the Bluebonnet gasps.
Gazza grimaces and turns to the group. “Well, there’s a fix. Normal like, we’d hide – dig holes and pull them in after us until dark, then go slow around them. They must be on maneuvers, since there’s been no activity in these parts for months – so they’re probably not on alert, but e’en so…”
Tillie turns to the team, “Well, what do we do? I respect Gazza’s knowledge of the border but we’re in a hurry. We might be able to avoid any patrols without a firefight, or put them down quickly and silently if we can’t. Still, it would be a gamble.”
Mac looks at his compatriots, the Bluebonnets, then his pocketwatch. “You lot think we can afford the delay? I can’t wrap my head around the timetable we’re working to here. I don’t have the tools to really work silently out here.”
Pitbull turns his options over as he pulls out yet another cigarette.
“As a Gambling Man,” Pacoy says with a grin, “Smart money is best bet on the inside knowledge. I have no problem following the advice of someone that knows both the area and the enemy.”
Able looks to the scout. “How many redcoats were there? I assume their communications systems would be able to reach their base from out here; I’d rather not warn our target any more than necessary.”
Mac pulls out his notebook and taps his pen on it. “I might be able to keen to their patterns, get us through that way. It’ll take me a bit of observation, but if we want to rush it, it might let us skirt some of them.”
The scout turns to Able, “A wheen load – maybe a hunerd men, all regular army, with a pair o’ scout cars and a pair o’ light tanks. They’re in laager down in the next valley over, by a wee stream. We smelt the whiff o’ their cookin’ afore we seen them, but Hughie’s down there naw, keeping his eye on them a’. He’ll be fine – he’s goat an infra-red poncho an’ a giud hide. Ma worry is they might send oot pickets oan foot.”
Mac nods. “That’s the worst part of any job – the wandering security officer. Scuppered a good number of jobs, that guy has…” Mac shrugs. “Give me a handful of minutes with Hughie and we might be able to avoid a picket or two. I’d rather not go up against an army – we don’t have any beef with them, and they’ll prevent us from reaching our true target, and if we engage them, they’ll get tipped off.”
Pitbull takes a hard drag off of his cigarette before finally growling, “Guys, we need to think tactically around these dudes. A hun’erd men. Armored well enough, and armed with shots that could kill us with a lucky tag. Hittin’ ‘em head on ain’ gonna solve anythin’ but our lives.”
Gazza sucks in air over his teeth for a moment, then says “Aye, we canna take that chance. Here’s the deal – we split up into smaller groups. Shuggie, you go back ta Hughie and ye both watch ‘em for us – from a safe distance. I’ll go wide East and around wi our travellers here – the rest o’ ye go back ta Lockerbie and wait for me there.” The Bluebonnets all nod and turn their cycles, then disappear into the woods.
Gazza turns to Tillie and the team, grim-faced. “Let’s go – follow me and don’t make any noise you don’t have to. Oh, and turn off any radio and telecoms devices.” He pulls his bike around and heads off up a deer track heading roughly East, by the faint glimmer of the sun.
Mac sets about powering down his kit before mounting up and following Gazza.
Able, whose implant comms have been deactivated since they were back on the mainland, follows Gazza silently.
Pacoy powers gear down and tries to follow as quietly as possible.
Pitbull shuts off his internal WiFi as he lurches the bike into motion.
The team and their guide move fairly rapidly eastwards, and an hour later are almost seven miles away from their starting point. They’ve managed to be as quiet as is possible running electric bikes through springtime woodland, except for the time Mac brushed a rowan bush and startled several small birds into flight. Finally, Gazza turns South and the team come to the edge of the trees. Ahead is a deep valley, dotted with ruined buildings and tumbled down stone field walls. The mist has burned off and so they can see that the far hillside is again covered in forest, this with the look of well tended plantation – rows of tall evergreens interspersed with wide broadleaves just coming into full leaf. “The last big obstacle, pet.” Gazza tells Tillie. We need to get over fast and smooth."
Mac scans the valley, thinking to himself. “This looks like it could be a good place for an ambush. What do you think Pitbull?”
Able looks the area over. “It looks like the setup to a killing field.”
“Damn right, Mac. This spot has all the good shit for some snipers looking for some practice.” Pitbull growls, assessing the situation with the mind of a soldier who’d seen his share of dirty tactics.
Tillie unslings her big, black holdall from her bike’s pillion and retrieves the scope from her rifle – which she passes to Pits. “Here, have a look.”
Pitbull looks across the valley, scanning among stones and trees for telltale signs – and sees the glint off another scope just in time!
“Shit!” Pitbull announces as he launches into a dive for cover.
Mac takes a cue from his tactically minded friend and dives for cover, stringing a silent chain of Russian expletives as he does. “So, Pitbull, there’s a reason we’re doing this right? You’re not just having us on?”
Pacoy dives for cover instinctually at hearing the shout.
Able follows Pit into cover. “How big’s the problem?”
Tillie too dives into cover, as does Gazza – Tillie already frantically grabbing at the other parts of her long sniper rifle.
As the sniper’s shot whizzes over his head, Pitbull racks his rifle. “Snipers. Cowardly shits scratching their balls and shelling peanuts in trees!”
“I’m guessing that he’s got two more buddies, a spotter, and comms to the rest of their force. ‘Cuz that’s how they roll.” Pitbull grates as he prepares himself to lob some shots.
Mac wrinkles his nose. “I don’t understand the military at all, and the more you talk, the worse my impression of it gets. What the hell are we going to do about it? I can’t do anything to them from here. Maybe if I got closer, but…” He sighs. “We’re pretty snowed if we get buttoned up in here, aren’t we?”
Able quirks an eye at Mac. “Did you forget our stealth suits?”
Mac’s eyebrows shoot up. “Yeah, I did. Trenchcoat kind of put that in the back of my mind, ya know?”
“Well, the suits will be a little less than optimal, seeing as how they know where we are and we don’t know where they are…” Pacoy mutters.
Tillie snags her scope back off Pitbull and begins slotting it together with her rifle, then slips out of her outer clothing to present a skin-tight bodysuit that flickers, then fades into the background as it mimics her surroundings. This takes all of a minute and a half, all told, but the enemy sniper seems patient and to be awaiting a clear target. She pulls up the hood and almost disappears from view, then begins a low panther-crawl to the left. “Gazza, with me!” she whispers, urgent and low.
Able pulls up his own hood. “Let’s go stalk some stalkers.” He begins to shimmer and fade from view as his chameleon rig lights up, then heads out in the direction of the gunshots.
With a quick bit of concentration, Pacoy engages the his Insta-Soldier Beta and tries to formulate the best course of action.
Mac sighs. “Showoff.” He begins slipping out of his armor, activating his suit after transferring his pistol and his rifle. He then slinks out after Langy.
Pitbull throws off his trenchcoat and activates the camouflage function in his undercoat and his tactical pants. He pokes head out of cover and takes aim in the direction of where he spotted the sniper.
Augmented reality dancing infront of his eyes, Pacoy hangs his long-coat on a branch and activates the stealth suit as a Pinbot flutters out to act as a forward observer. “I’m running under the assumption that these guys already called us in,” He whispers to the team, “Let’s take them down.”
“I’m in position over here in a ditch by the old wall.” Tillie sends over the team net. “Gazza’s behind the wall guarding my flank. Get me a target, someone.” She sounds fiercely calm and concentrated.
Able moves down into the valley to hide amongst the destroyed buildings, careful to check for traps as he moves.
Mac spits. “I can do that, but it’ll be painful, at a guess.” He tries to get near to a destroyed building before calling back to Tillie. “You ready, lass?”
Able switches tracks as a flicker catches his eye; he begins moving towards it at an oblique angle, careful to keep out of sight as much as he can on the way.
Pitbull spots one of them in a flicker of light from his suit, which is more than enough reason for him to fire off a three round burst at him.
Following the augmented reality advice of his Insta-Soldier, Pacoy relays his findings “They’ll most likely have split right, towards the easiest way up their hill.” Meanwhile, the pinbot flounders in the wilderness, relaying back random footage of trees while it searches un guided, “As soon as we get a bead on these guys, I’ll give the pinbot better orders.”
Pitbull’s burst of fire catches the flickering sniper in the left arm twice, mangling it but not severing the arm. The sniper audibly cries out in agony as he rolls over in pain.
Tillie unleashes three rounds at the same target – hitting with all but the fat, blunt rounds from her big rifle fail to penetrate the soldier’s state-of-the-art body armor.
As the bullets start flying, Pacoy takes cover and sets the Pinbot in Forward Observer mode as he aims his own rifle. A single, well placed round slams into the snipers abdomen, knocking the redcoat from the tree.
There’s a gurgling scream from the army sniper – Pacoy’s armor-piercing round has hit something vital.
Mac draws a line on the lower of the two spotters, sending a burst at him from his rifle. “Bottom of the treeline, they’re together.” Unused to the recoil and heft of the rifle, the bullets kick up dirt and rocks all around the position of the observers, giving his allies a clearer picture of where he was shooting at.
Able takes a moment to steady himself, braces his weapon, and fires off a single shot at Mac’s target.
The exploding dart flies through the air before impacting right upon the nearly-invisible chest armor of Mac’s target. The dart itself does little damage; the bursting charge dispersing the gas is barely audible, and the soldier is able to look down at his chest for a moment with a confused look upon his face before the green gas cloud envelopes his face. The gas, which would have been stopped right there had he remembered to wear his gas mask like his superiors instructed, flows freely into his respiratory tract, which brings it into direct contact with his brain – and with that, light’s out. He slumps to the ground, unconscious.
Tillie sends, “We’re on the move, bringing our bikes! I have no shot!”
Pacoy sends a burst of rifle fire into the last-standing soldier, two of the rounds penetrating the armor in his right leg.
Pitbull fires another burst at Pacoy’s target, which crumples him into an unconscious heap as he is hit in the abdomen and right arm.
Seconds later, Tillie and Gazza burst from cover astride their cycles and race across the valley. “Grab your bikes, quickly!” Tillie sends. “We need to get out of here before there’s a follow-up.”
Able waits for a moment, checking to see if any potshots are taken upon the now-in-the-open bikers.
Pacoy races to grab his jacket and recall the pinbot as he runs for his bike.
Mac sprints back to his bike, bundling his gear onboard, pausing only to throw his trenchcoat on before gunning for Tillie’s position. “This has been one hell of a detour!”
The field is clear, except for the anguished cries of the last soldier, who sounds like he is mortally wounded. The first has already fallen silent.
With no shots incoming, Able hurries back to his vehicle and climbs on, whipping off his hood and powering down his camo as he goes.
Once on, he guns the little engine and gets moving to catch up with the group.
Pitbull ducks out of his vantage point and makes a tactical bee-line for his bike. He hops back onto it and guns the engine to catch up with Able.
Soon the little band are powering down another tree-shadowed trail, this time in deeper woods offering more cover. Only once do they hear anything like pursuit – the thin whine of a stealthy AV – but it doesn’t come close enough to find them and two hours later they emerge from the wood into a small village of old stone buildings – on the edge of which is a campground occupied by a rattle-bag assortment of RVs, off-road vehicles and a converted bus all brightly painted in flowers, peace signs and pentagrams. Tillie beams and sends “There you go, fellas – my home, and the next step on our journey!”
Able looks down upon the little hippy commune. “Let’s hope the redcoats don’t trace our trail down here. Those happy little trees won’t be so happy if they follow us.”
Seeing the camp, Pacoy wonders how close the team will get before the smell of patchouli raises to great them…
Pitbull screeches his bike to a halt and dismounts, a smile creeping onto his sun-damaged and battle scarred face. “Ah… It’s good to do some damage again.”
Mac draws up short, a smile quirking at his lips. “This country is a strange mix of places. Going from a sniper ambush to a peaceful commune…” He casts a sidelong glance at Pitbull. “You’re always doing damage, Pitbull. That’s what we love about you.”