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S3E05 - Tracing the Dragon
episode writeup by Crimson

Two more weeks fly by, during which Scott invites Crimson out to several dates, including a screening of the trid remake of the classic Street Fighter trilogy: Street Fighter, Son of Street Fighter and Sister of Street Fighter, strolls on the beach and watching the sunset from the top of Whitehill.
At first, Crimson is a little frustrated with the slow progress of the relationship, but then decides she rather likes the highschoolesque courtship and attention. Crimson never went to high school.
She is standing on front of her wardrobe, trying to decide on something to wear for the next date that is not too trashy but still gets her message across when her commlink goes.

It is Milo “Need you guys to discuss a job for the government. Meet at my office at eight.” That is all he says before hanging up.

Crimson swears. This does not bode well for her date, only a few days away. Runs always get in the way of life. Instead of trying on a halter top/ wraparound skirt combination she had been toying with, she retrieves her Actioneer business suit for this meeting. When the time comes, she calls a cab and travels across town to Milo’s office where the rest of the team are waiting for her.

“How do we do this?” she asks.

“We meet our clients at a secure location in the matrix” Jeff tells her with a smirk.

“The…? You’ve got to be shitting me. You know how well those go for me.”

“Yup” the orc replies happily and goes about setting the required networks up.

After a while, the team find themselves as replicas of themselves in the matrix. With the exception of Jeff who has donned his floating head avatar and Crimson, whose avatar software has malfunctioned and given her the likeness of a toilet.
That the other five are amused is an understatement. Once they are over the hilarity of the situation, Jeff opens up the node given to them by Milo’s contact where they find four likenesses of men so generic it is hard to tell one from the other. One of them gives Crimson a look.
“Yeah, you might want to get that looked at. Your avatar software is bust” she tells him testily.

“I will take it under advisement. I understand you are willing to take on this retrieval job?” he states rather than asks.

“I guess. What do you need?” the toilet asks.

He brings up a satellite picture of a public works facility with three domes used for storing grit. “This is our secure storage facility in the Teesside sprawl. Yesterday, a team in the same line of work as your good selves, entered the facility, overwhelmed security and absconded with important documents and a crate of great value to our interests. We require you to track down these individuals, retrieve our property and, if possible bring the perpetrators in. For this we will pay you 15,000 nuquid each and a further 5,000 if you manage to capture all of the team and bring them in for questioning. That is non-negotiable.” He looks around “Is that acceptable?”

“Mr Whatever-your-name-is, you have yourself a deal. I’d shake on it, but I’m a toilet and don’t have appendages.”

Milo nearly chokes with laughter and even the government man almost cracks a smile.
“Unless there is anything else you require, I would like you to start straight away. I will inform the facility staff that they should expect you.”
Nobody has any more questions and the men’s avatars vanish.

“I need to get out of here” toilet-Crimson says “Somebody pick me up in two hours” she leaves the virtual space and shortly after, Milo’s office to go home to pack a few things and let Scott know she’ll be out of town for a few days.
“Hope to be back in time, for Wednesday, though” she adds before disconnecting.

Shandor picks her up at the appointed time and they make the long journey to the Teesside sprawl.
Crimson catches some sleep on the way and is awoken by Shandor at the gates of the facility they saw from the satellite picture. A man wearing a suit underneath a high vis vest is waiting for them.
“I believe you’re expecting us” Koh tells him, striding up to the gate.

“Absolutely. I’ll still have to see your credentials, though.”

The team transmit the access IDs the generic man has provided.
“This seems in order. Follow me please, and let me know how we can help you in your investigation.”

“How’d they get in?” Arthur asks bluntly.

“A car bomb detonated in the car park. While our security forces were distracted, a team of armed individuals…”

“Humans, orcs, trolls?” Crimson interrupts.

“One dwarf (?), the rest of them humans, orcs or elves.”

“How many?”

“Five (?) in total, attacked with assault rifles and small arms and a few drones from the other side, while our security systems were hacked. A few of my men reported some strange mental interference, probably a mage.”

Koh has been looking at a pockmarked wall and is digging a slug out of it. “Doubt we’ll get much use out of this but we can try” she pockets the bullet.

“Can I have a look at the car that blew up?” Arthur asks.

“Of course. This way.” Mr High-vis leads them to the car park.

On the way, Crimson spots a small blue speck behind a supporting strut and reaches up to pluck out a blue rose petal.
“What have we here? Some kind of calling card. What sort of idiot leaves calling cards at the scenes of crimes” she says with a meaningful look at Koh who does her best to ignore the comment.

In the car park, the man shows them a generic panel van, gutted inside. Arthur climbs in and inspects it for a while, the gets out, shaking his head “No use, just a petrol based bomb. Can’t even find anything resembling a detonator. Could have used a candle and some tissue paper.”

“Here’s something” Jeff, who has been poking around in the security systems for clues “I haven’t seen this for years.” He names the algorithm as if it is supposed to make sense to anyone else.
He sighs “It’s outdated but very complex. Can’t be too many people who can pull that off.”

“Nice one” Crimson compliments him “so we’re looking for five, probably six runners, of which we have one hacker, one mage, one rigger with a traditionalist bent to their hacking and a ridiculous flair for the dramatic, leaving calling cards” she sums up “I’ll call Garner. He might have contacts up here who can help.”

Garner picks up presently “Claire, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I am working a job and there is a rival team involved and was hoping very much that you might be able help me out. I’d be deeply indebted to you” she adds the last with her most suggestive smile.

“Really? An evening in your delightful company would be more than recompense. What area are you working in?”

“North East, the Teesside sprawl” she adds the details they have managed to uncover so far.

“A little out of my area, but I will see what I can do. I will contact you shortly.”

“Thank you so much” Crimson hangs up and goes back to where the others are quizzing the security crew. They are unable to shed much additional information. Before long, her ‘link tells her she has a message from Garner. Three names: Pink’s Group, Tees Barrage Crew and Valentine’s.

“Well that’s something to go on” she shares the information with the others. “How about we head to an establishment where we might find information on these crews and see who we’re dealing with.”

“Already on it” Jeff says “it’s a… a wine bar? Across town.”

“A wine bar? How civilised” Crimson remarks

Arthur and Milo look like they might be sick but the team go to the address Jeff dug up, which is, indeed, a trendy-looking wine bar.

“How about I introduce you as someone looking to hire some runners?” Koh suggests to Crimson.

“Worth a try” they enter the establishment and sit down at the bar to order drinks.

The wine is surprisingly drinkable and even Arthur and Milo stop griping when the barkeep draws out a special single malt that should probably have a biohazard sticker on it.
“What brings you to my place?” the man asks as he is serving up the drinks.

“The boss here” Koh nods at Crimson “is looking for some retrieval specialists and we were told this is the place to find them.”

“Sure is. Do you have anyone in mind?”

“We’ve heard good things about the crew who leaves blue rose petals behind on their job” Crimson tells him “adds a touch of class and a sense of romance. I like that.”

“Blue roses, ey? That’ll be Molnija and the Tees Barrage Crew. Haven’t heard from him in a few days.”

“Would you be so kind to contact this Molnija for me? I am sure I can make it worth his time.”

“I’ll give it a shot” the barman disappears into the backroom.

“Trace that call” Crimson hisses at Jeff but the orc is already on it.

“Got it. A warehouse across town” he hastily tucks his ‘link away as the barman comes back.

“No luck.” He informs them “But I left a message. Where will you be staying in case he gets back to me?”

“I don’t know. What is the best place in town?”

The man brings up a map of the sprawl and points “This one’s the best but a little pricy. Over here is cheaper but clean and in the centre here is cheap but still good.”
“The first one sounds fine to me. Thank you for your time.” Crimson finishes her wine and gets up to leave, followed by the other five runners.

Outside Koh asks “Are you honestly going to be staying in that fancy place?”

Crimson only looks at her.

“Think we’ll bed down in the second best one” Arthur says “yours doesn’t sound like my kinda place.”

“Fine. Just drop me off on the way.”

They do just that and leave Crimson to stroll into the ostentatious lobby. On her way to reception she notices several discreet wireless cameras in addition to the official hotel security ones.
“Jeff” she says into her subvocal mike as she signs in “get back here please. I’m being watched and would like to know by whom.”

“Be right there” comes the reply.

Only minutes later, Jeff walks in, makes a show of looking for someone before settling down in one of the armchairs and gets to work.

It takes him a short time before saying “Room 526, one Regina Scarlet. Sounds like a hacker’s alias if ever I heard one. I’ll head out and see what I can dig up. See you tomorrow” He checks his watch, looks around once more then leaves the hotel.

Crimson makes her way to her floor, where she kicks off her shoes, lies down on the bed and calls Scott. She gets a busy message and remembers that he is on duty, so leaves a message saying how she misses him. Then she turns the ‘link off, considering there is a professional hacker only down the corridor, has a shower and goes to the hotel bar where she talks small talk with a few other guests, before turning in early to meet her team in the morning to discuss their next move.

Crimson wakes up, showers and heads downstairs for her breakfast. She has just finished and is relaxing in the sunshine coming through the hotel’s windows, when an annoyed-looking Koh sits down uninvited opposite her.
“Will you switch on your damn ‘link already” she demands angrily.

Crimson had forgotten it was even off and casually draws it out of her handbag. “This? Oh look, it is off. Silly me. Turning my commlink off when there’s a professional hacker not three doors from my room. How stupid of me” she says innocently, none of which improves Koh’s mood.

“Well I’ve had a busy morning, looking at abandoned fire stations and such, while you’ve been living it up.”

Crimson plants her elbows on the table and props her chin on her hands “One of these days, you might discover that there’s more to life than work all the time. Just because we have a job doesn’t mean I can’t relax a little” she decides not to push it further than that “Tell me about this fire station of yours, then.”

Koh relaxes a bit “Pretty sure it’s their safehouse. They’ve got a rotodrone on the training tower, Milo had a look inside and they have a big truck and a small tank drone in the garage but the main building is warded. Jeff reckons the blimp drone flying around is communicating with them inside, so we’re pretty sure they’re in there. Apart from the hacker. Calls herself Alice by the way.”

Crimson resists the urge to pat her cousin on the head and tell her ‘well done’.

“What’s our move then? Grab this Alice and get further info out of her?”

“But then they’ll know we’re coming…” Koh starts to object.

“OK. We’ll sit on our hands then and do nothing. We need to know if they are actually there and Alice will know. We’ve got that jammer so she can’t call for help.”

“If her system goes off they’ll know something’s up.”

“If we do it without, they’ll definitely know.” Crimson switches on her ‘link “Jeff, I need you to open Ms. Scarlett’s door, if she is indeed in there…”

“I reckon so. The logger on her door matches with her coming in yesterday afternoon. Nothing since then.” The orc comes back.

“Yeah, she’s in there” Milo puts in “Had a nose in the astral.”

“Superb” Crimson says “once the door’s open, switch on the jammer and I’ll subdue her.” She gets up and walks in the direction of the elevator. “Coming?” She asks Koh over her shoulder.

With Koh in tow, she pushes the button for fifth when Milo squeezes in between the closing doors.
“Might need my help. Also there’s a minibar I don’t have to pay for.” He adds with a wink. Crimson can still smell last night’s alcohol on his breath.

“How long did the drinking contest with Arthur last?” she asks him.

He shrugs “Dunno. Sorta lost some after midnight” he says casually.

On the fifth floor they silently approach room 526 “Lock’s open” Jeff tells them.

“Hit the jammer, I’m going in” Crimson opens the door carefully.
Inside, a woman in her late twenties in a purple dress is busy packing things into a bag. Her heavily-styled hair matches her dress. As Crimson runs at her she has time for a “Oh shit” and turns to the window.
Something narrowly misses Crimson in the narrow corridor and wraps itself around Alice’s feet. The purple-haired decker teeters for a few seconds before crashing to the floor, Koh’s bolas firmly tied around her ankles.

Crimson turns angrily to her cousin “Are you nuts? Throwing that past me in a confined space. Fuck it. Maybe I should just go home now, as you’ve got this all in hand.” She composes herself, turns back to Alice before Koh can reply and hauls the woman on to a chair.

“Hi” she says cheerily “how are you?”

“Suddenly a lot worse” Alice comes back. “Are you here about the crate?”

“That’s right. How did you know that?”

“Once we knew what was inside, we figured someone would come after us.”

“And come after you we did. We also need the files you nicked.”

Alice nods at a dataslug in the side of her commlink. Jeff who has wandered into the room with the other three picks it up “Heavily encrypted” he says after looking at it for a bit.

“Give it here” Milo says and plugs it into the secure government commlink he got from a ‘man in a black suit’. “There you go” he says, handing it over to Jeff “Lots of gibberish but looks like it’s a ritual to summon the avatar of the dragonslayer or something.”

“Means nothing to me” Crimson admits.”

“The dragonslayer is a metaphor for great accomplishments and triumph of good over evil. Also something here about making Britain great again.”

“Tir. They’re going after Tir” Crimson guesses “Can’t blame them. Bloody fascist elves giving the rest of us a bad name. I mean we’re obviously superior, but they take it too far” she adds with a wink and a smile.

She addresses Alice again “So we need the rest of your guys. We know you’ve got a caster, a rigger and someone who leaves rose petals about the place. Anyone else? They all holed up in the fire station?”

“You know about that? Should have guessed. Yeah they’re all there. We also got a sniper and Shadow. He’s an adept and sort of in charge.”

“Excellent. Anything else we need to know?” she asks the room in general.

Silence all round and Koh steps in with her neurostun hypodermic. Alice slumps forward in her chair.

Jeff switches off the jammer. Immediately, Alice’s ‘link goes. The readout says ‘Safehouse’. Koh answers in Alice’s voice “Yeah, I’m kind of busy.”

A man’s voice says “Drop the act. Who are you and what have you done with Alice?”

Crimson takes the ‘link from Koh who looks irritated at having her bluff called “She’s fine. Who am I talking to?”

“Shadow. You after the crate, right?”

“Right.”

“We’ll trade the crate for Alice. How’s that sound?”

“I’ll have to think it over. Call you back.” She disconnects.

“You heard the man” she addresses her team “what do we think? We could go for it and not collect the 5,000 for bringing them in.”

“Or we could double-cross them and take them out when we make the switch” Koh says “I’ll find the sniper and take him out.”

“I think you should do that in any case. I hate snipers” Crimson tells her “Third option: You take the sniper out and we present them with the fact that we get extra to bring them in and offer them the option of buying that clause out.”

“Good thinking lass” Arthur approves “if they say no we can still take them out.”

“Just give me a headstart to find the sniper” Koh says and leaves the room.

A few minutes later Crimson calls the safehouse “You’ve got yourself a deal” she tells Shadow “Where do you want to make the switch?”

“At our safehouse.”

“Your safehouse?” Crimson feigns ignorance.

“Don’t play games with me, I’m pretty sure you know where I mean.”

“Oh right. That safehouse. We’ll be there in 30” she kills the connection.

Somehow they manage to manhandle the unconscious Alice into Shandor’s cruiser without attracting attention. Milo makes clinking noises as all the bottles from the minibar bulge in the pockets of his coat.
Arriving at the fire station the PI astrally projects. “Can’t find ‘em anywhere” he reports “figure they’ve got spirits concealing them.”

Crimson swears “Keep looking. Any luck on the sniper?” she asks Koh.

“Nothing. Making my way inside. There’s a balcony inside that looks promising.”

A small drone emerges from the fire station “Step out of the car and bring Alice” it demands through its speaker.

“You come out and bring the crate” Crimson says and puts her fist through the drone.

They wait for a little while before the metal rolling shutter doors open and reveal what looks to be the entire team; a houngan, dwarf, cyber sam, a man with a sniper rifle and a muscular-looking elf.
“Is that sniper real? Can you see if that’s an illusion” Crimson asks her mages.

“He’s a fake” Milo says shortly.

“Sniper’s still out there” she updates Koh and gets out of the car slowly. Shandor and Milo retrieve Alice from the boot.

“Here she is” Crimson tells the elf, who she guesses is Shadow “let’s have the box.”

Shadow and the cyber sam, Molnija lift the crate and carry it most of the way to the cruiser.
“There you go” Shadow says “don’t think we could have shifted it anyway.”

“What? Hang on, are you telling me that you knocked over a government facility on the off-chance of stealing something good?” Crimson can not believe they are common thieves and tries to keep them talking until Koh can take out the sniper.

Shoadow shrugs “Times are hard and we’ve had some success doing this kind of thing before.”

“Maybe you should stop leaving calling cards everywhere” she raises her voice for the last bit, ensuring Koh definitely hears “we had three leads and chances are you’d have got away while we were chasing a dead end. What sort of idiot leaves calling cards at crime scenes anyway?”

Molnija, who has been looking at her with open hostility looks like he is about to draw a weapon.

Shadow, on the other hand, casts a sidelong look at his teammate “I know, right? I think we’ll need to have a word about that at some point. Can we have Alice now please?”

At that point the message comes through form Koh “Sniper’s down.”

“Of course” Crimson turns as if to fetch her, pauses and turns back “One more thing though. We are set to receive a bonus on bringing you all in.”
She sees the other team tense “However” she carries on “I don’t really feel like fighting you right now and seeing how you are already two team members down” she nods at where the sniper was “I feel it would be a little unfair on you. So I would like to give you the option of buying out that particular clause in our contract.”

Shadow studies her for a while then draws the others into a huddle.

“Arthur, a lightning bolt… Arthur?” she spots the dwarf coming out of the fire station wheeling a sackcart laden with alcoholic drinks.
“Arthur, dear” she says sweetly “would you mind readying a lightning bolt at that tank drone, in case they try anything, please?”

“Anything for you lass” he replies happily.

“I’ve got the roto drone” Shandor says.

A few tense minutes go by when Shadow breaks from the group and approaches Crimson “30 grand and we’ll all walk away from here.”

“Done.”

Koh meanwhile is lowering the sniper’s unconscious from the balcony and Crimson is sure she can spot her slip something into the man’s clothes.
Shadow follows his team to the truck. “If you need any help with a job, I’m sure you’ll find a card somewhere telling you where to contact us” Crimson calls after him.

The elf laughs. “I’m sure we will. I’d step back from the building, by the way. We won’t be coming back here.” He guns the truck and pulls away.

Crimson rejoins the others “What’s in the box?” she says leaning over Arthur to have a look in the inspection window. Inside is an ovoid shape, almost a metre long, covered in small greenish scales.

“Is that what I think it is?” she asks nobody in particular.

“Yup. That’s a dragon egg.” Shandor says.

“Let’s get this back to the compound quick then” Crimson suggests.
They call ahead and make their way to the Highways Agency compound. On the way, Milo’s government commlink pulses. He answers a man in a military uniform “I understand you have retrieved government data.”

“Maybe” Crimson says guardedly.

“We are willing to compensate you handsomely for a copy of this data.”

Crimson throws a quick glance around the group “Sorry, sir, but that would represent a breach of our contract. We have never done so and would like to continue this record.”

“I understand.” The military man says.

“If you require our services we will of course extend the same discretion to you” Koh adds before the man hangs up.

The exchange of the data and the egg is brief and the runners are on their way home to the PoBoMet.
Crimson notes with satisfaction that she will even be back in time for her date with Scott.

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WttP S3E04 "Ready, Set, Gogh" [SPOILERS]

Episode writeup by Crimson. Contains Shadowrun Missions spoilers

In the two weeks since the aborted Urban Brawl match, Crimson has stepped up her training as much as her injured ribs allow, before launching herself into an intensive programme aimed at the title rematch.
She is going through some of her forms when Jeffrey Garner rings.

“Crimson. Always a pleasure.”

“Jeffrey.” She acknowledges the Horizon exec “the pleasure’s all mine. What can I do for you today?”

“I have a friend in need of your and your team’s special services. Would you be free to discuss the matter at six tonight at The Gilded Truffle? No need to bring the team.”

“Sure. I will see you at six”

“I will look forward to it.” He hangs up.

Crimson glances at the analogue clock on the wall. Almost two. Just enough time to finish her forms and get ready for dinner at one of the PoBoMet’s foremost restaurants with a MacroCorp executive.
Garner confuses Crimson. It is almost as if she has a school girl crush on him. He is handsome enough, but she does not usually go for men nearly old enough to be her father. It might be the mixture of wealth, influence and his confidence that makes him attractive to her. Irritatingly, he is very hard to read, so she is at a disadvantage when dealing with him. Crimson is not used to this kind of uncertainty and, as a result, Garner manages to throw her off balance regularly, much to her annoyance.

Closing in on six o’clock, she is finally satisfied with her hair and attire, her low-cut blue moonglow dress and matching shawl, and calls for a cab to take her to the gated foothills of the Sandbanks Arcology. The guards at the gate wave the cab through quickly after briefly examining her ID and the car pulls up in front of the Gilded Truffle.

Crimson makes her way past the ornamental water features and gives her name to the maître d’, who shows her to a secluded table where Garner is waiting. He takes Crimson’s shawl and pulls the chair out for her to sit. Garner looks up with what appears to be genuine pleasure.

“Claire. You look lovely.” He takes her hand and kisses it lightly.

Crimson murmurs something she hopes sounds complimentary and sits down on the offered chair. She studies Garner for a moment but gets nothing from his body language. His blue eyes give nothing away and he smiles when he catches her looking. Crimson looks away and hopes she is not blushing too much.

“You said something about a job.” She says, trying to get herself in to her comfort zone.

“Plenty of time for that” Garner replies with a smile, waves a waiter over and orders wine from the bottom of the list.
“Truth be told, there’s not much to discuss and I took the opportunity to see you in person again. I hope you’ll forgive the pretence.”

Crimson is almost sure his eyes flicker down from her face and leans back a bit in her chair “Absolutely. These get-togethers are most enjoyable” she relaxes a little bit, thinking she has his motives figured out. What she is less sure about is what her answer will be. If things were progressing less well with Scott, she would have little qualms if it helped her ties to a man of considerable influence.
Luckily, she does not have to decide as Garner throws her another curve ball by sticking to small talk and eyeing her over a bit.

“The job then” he says when the coffees arrive after the meal “Simple really. A friend of mine would like an item obtained and delivered to him. If you are interested, you and your team are to meet him at the Marquis, tomorrow at ten.”

“That sounds simple enough, depending on the details. We will meet with him and I’m sure we can come to some kind of arrangement.”

“Excellent.” With the talk of business out of the way he returns to small talk for the remainder of the evening. Finally, he escorts her outside, calls a car. “Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable evening, Claire” he says, kissing her hand again and opens the cab door for her.

“I’m the one who needs to thank you” Crimson replies “it was a lovely evening.”

She gets into the car, happy at having negotiated another confusing meeting with Garner, but he is not done.
“We should do this again sometime” he suggests, closing the car door.

Crimson nods and waves, thoroughly confused and irritated at the man as the taxi pulls away to take her home.
On the way, she calls the rest of the team and gets Jeff, Koh and Shandor. Milo is not answering and all she gets form Arthur is an image she hopes to scrub from her memory as his link answers while he is busy with his ladyfriend. Crimson hurriedly cuts that connection, Shandor merely laughs and Koh is making noises as if she is about to be sick.
Crimson fills them in what little she knows about the job.

“The Marquis?” Koh asks “What’s that?”

“It’s a night club in Sandbanks. Not the Arcology, but plenty swanky anyway. It’s got a dress code, so unless you want to be thrown out a suit or a dress please.” Crimson tells her cousin.

“A dress? Can I have a look through your wardrobe? Don’t think I own anything suitable.”

“No problem. The usual fee applies. Not sure I’ve got anything you can squeeze your fat ass into, though.” Crimson says with a wink. Koh groans when she remembers the money she owes.

“You guys ok with that?” she asks Jeff and Shandor.

Jeff only gives her one of his ‘I know what I’m doing looks’ while Shandor seems to think about it before nodding. “I’ll come up with something. You want picking up on the way?” the orc asks.

“Yes, thanks. I’ll catch you guys later” Crimson says and hangs up.

She has to rearrange her training for the day to allow for the change of plans and for Koh’s dress fitting.
After a “I could live for a year off what you’ve got in here” Koh settles on a green number with lots of buttons and high neck in a pseudo Chinese style.

Crimson looks her over. “You look almost pretty in that. It also nearly hides you big butt” she teases her cousin again.

“Will you lay off the big ass jokes already” Koh demands.

Crimson pretends to think about it “Alr… No, I don’t think so.”

Before this can escalate further, Shandor makes her presence known by blowing her car’s horn repeatedly.
The elves head down and into the cruiser. Shandor really has made an effort, without compromising manoeuvrability, Crimson notes looking at the slits down the side of the gunslinger’s dress.
At the gates, there is a short holdup as the guards scrutinise Koh’s ID closely, but let the car pass eventually.

“If this identity-hopping comes back to bite us collectively, I will kick your big ass into next week” Crimson tells Koh.

Koh mumbles something under her breath that Crimson does not quite catch. Shandor pulls the car up near the Marquis and the three girls hook up with Jeff who is waiting nearby. Crimson has been to the Marquis a few times and greets the two orc bouncers familiarly. They nod politely, then look the other three over. Koh and Jeff get a curt nod, Shandor a nod and a bit of a leer when she gives them her sweetest smile, exposing her polished fangs.

Inside, they tell the snooty maître d’ “Johnson party” and he leads them upstairs from where the neoTech beat emanates. The dancefloor is already busy, even at this early hour as the man leads the runners to a booth on the edge of the dancefloor where a man is sitting with several very attractive women around him and five black-suited men placed discreetly but noticeably nearby.
He waves the women away. They give the runners a look and leave giggling to themselves. The man, Johnson, motions for them to sit and Crimson examines him. Very expensive suit, spoiled slightly by the huge-brimmed hat, which screamed ‘pimp hat‘. They sit and the man leans over shouting over the music “Sorry about this, but I like doing business in a public place. Let me fix you up.”

Commlinks ping with invitations to a closed conversation.
“Now then, that’s better” Johnson says through their earbuds. “I understand you are interested in the extraction job I have in mind.”

Nods all round.
“Superb. I would like you to retrieve an item, undamaged and alive and deliver it to a location I will specify. More details when you accept this job. Thank you my dear” he says to another attractive woman bringing him a drink containing fruit, stirrers and a pink umbrella. “What do you say?” he turns back to the runners, mostly Crimson.

She looks briefly at the other three, who all nod “You got yourself a team, Mr Johnson” she tells him “What is the item you would like us to retrieve?”

“The Starry Night, currently on loan to the PoBoMet from the MoMA.”

Crimson looks confused.

“It’s a piece of modern art. Kind of a tank of gen engineered fish that looks like van Gogh’s painting” Jeff supplies.

“Very good” Johnson says “it will be in town until the end of the week, so time is of the essence.”

“How big a tank a we talking here?” Koh asks.

“About 90 by 70 by 20 centimetres, give or take” Johnson shrugs.

“About 150 kilos of water, plus tank.” Jeff calculates “Pretty heavy but we should manage” he looks at Crimson and Shandor.

“Ok. Let’s talk payment” Crimson says.

“9,000 nuquid apiece, of which 2,000 in advance, if you deliver the item intact to the specified location in the specified time.”

“How about an early completion bonus, since you seem to be in a hurry” Crimson leans forward to give Johnson a good view of her cleavage.

He takes a good look as he thinks it over “I’ll pay you a bonus of 5,000 nuquid each if I receive the item within two days.”

Crimson sits back “Deal.”

“Very good. I look forward to hearing from you. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other business to attend to…” he dismisses the runners and waves the three women back.

The two elves and two orcs make their way across the dancefloor to the bar.
“What do we think?” Jeff says over their secure channel. “I’ll get the layout, security details and access to their systems.”

“Nice one. We should probably pay the museum a visit in person tomorrow, as well, get a feel for the place” Shandor suggests.

“Yeah. But maybe not all together. If we drift in one by one it’ll be less suspicious” Koh adds.

“Jesus.” Jeff has just found the admission fee “50 nuquid. Are they nuts? Listen I’ll head home and get on with getting into their systems. I’ll catch you tomorrow.”

Shandor, Koh and Crimson stay for a little while before also going to their respective homes. Crimson is disappointed when she finds out Scott has finished his shift. She really wanted to talk to him.
“He’s not long left” his replacement tells her “should be able to call him before he hits the hay.”

“Thanks.” She says and does exactly that.

“Claire” Scott sounds tired but pleased.

“Hey Scott, sorry to call so late…”

“Don’t worry, I’ve just got home. How are you?”

“I’m good. I was wondering, are you busy tomorrow daytime?”

“Nothing that can’t wait. What have you got in mind?”

“I’m going to the museum of modern art, you know broadening my horizons” she winces at the lie “and I thought, maybe you’d like to come along and we could have lunch at the restaurant?”

“It’s a date” he tells her with that winning smile of his “pick you up a ten?”

“Brilliant. See you later.” She hangs up, has a shower, and goes to bed.

She sleeps well and rises early to get ready in time for Scott’s arrival. She throw on a blouse/skirt combo that she hopes he’ll like goes downstairs. Outside she checks the time. A bit early. Might look to eager. She has little time to fret over this as Scott pulls up only a minute or so later. The car door opens and he leans over to give her a kiss on the cheek after she gets in. “Ready?”

Crimson nods, smiling. They talk little on the drive, but Crimson does not feel uncomfortable with the silence and if Scott does, he hides it well.

“I don’t come here often enough” he says as they walk up the wide open steps to the glass-fronted museum “too expensive.”

“This’ll be my treat” Crimson tells him as she pays the admission and takes the coated Perspex sheets that allow the user limited views into the astral needed to properly appreciate many of the works in the museum.

Scott offers his arm, which she gladly accepts, rests her head on his shoulder and allows him to lead through the museum.

“Ummm… you do know we’re here on business?” Koh tells her over the bud in her ear “are you turning this into a date?”

“I know what I’m doing. Looks even less suspicious now, right?” she mumbles into the subvocal mike.

“Sorry?” Scott says.

“Nothing. I mean, anything you’d like to see first?”

“Wouldn’t mind having a look at the Starry Night. It’s only here for a short while.”

Crimson makes a show of looking at the information board. “It’s on fifth” which she knows full well. Jeff found that out and sent the information over. She leads Scott to the escalator, while keeping an eye on the security personnel and drones.

“There’s a bound spirit on the ground floor” Shandor’s voice says. That picture that looks like the Scream.”

“That’ll make things harder.” Koh’s voice.

On the fifth floor, Crimson spots another spirit, this one a statue of a man made of shards of stained glass. She informs the others as she walks over to the Starry Night tank.
“You know that this is a view from the north window of the asylum where van Gogh spent time after one of his breakdowns?” Scott says as they examine the glowing fish in the tank.
Crimson looks at him in surprise.

“I studied art for a while” he says blushing “do a bit of painting now and again. I’m not very good though.” He adds hastily.

“I’m sure that’s not true” Crimson tries to assure him, liking the hidden depths to the young elf. Most of the guys she has dated are pretty shallow, a bit like her, she admits to herself.
“You can give me the tour then” she suggests.

“It’ll be my pleasure” he says and offers his arm again. Instead of taking it, Crimson slips her arm around his waist and put his around her shoulder.
“All ready to go” she tells the surprised security guard, who recovers his composure and leads her on a tour of the museum.

He knows a bit about most of the pieces and Crimson finds herself listening with genuine interest, not just because she likes the sound of his voice. That too, though.
At midday, they sit down for lunch in the restaurant and share some more comfortable silence, before leaving the museum.
“Do you need a ride home?” Scott offers.

“Thanks, but I’m meeting my cousin in a bit” not entirely a lie “thank you so much for a lovely morning.” She reaches up and draws him towards her to give him a less chaste kiss than the one after the meal at the Greek restaurant.

“Thanks again. Call me. Or I’ll call you. See you soon, anyway” she says after letting go of him.

“See you, Claire.” That lovely smile again. He turns, walks down the stairs and waves from the bottom.

Crimson reluctantly watches him go, then turns, only to nearly run into Koh and Shandor.

“Can we get on with the job?” Koh asks testily. Shandor only grins. Crimson’s relationships are a source of amusement to her, for some reason.

“I guess” Crimson says, disappointed “so we got two spirits and as far as I could see four guards on each floor.”

“Not bad, considering how distracted you were” Shandor grins again “missed the blimp drones though going up and down the main stairwell.”

“They’re programmed to patrol the floors at night, in addition to the guards” Jeff cuts in through their commlinks “they’ve also got a mage on duty, day and night.”

“Those spirits are going to be a major pain in the ass” Koh says “especially the one on the ground floor opposite the entrance. He’ll spot a group of adepts coming in a mile off.”

“So we don’t go in on the ground floor.” Crimson points out “we climb up the outside, there is roof access, right Jeff?”

“Sure is. Maglocked but won’t be a problem once I’m in to their system.”

“We climb up, go in through the roof access, avoid or spoof the camera feeds, avoid the guards, or take care of them if we can’t, load the tank on to a dolly…”

“But how are we going to get that thing down past the spirit?” Koh wants to know.

“Getting to that. Wheel the dolly to the roof access and make our way down to the street using the window cleaning lift they must have, judging from that rail on the roof there.” She points to the top of the building.

Koh and Shandor look up, then back at her. It is her turn to grin “I had a hot elf on my arm, what’s your excuse for being distracted?”

“Have they got a window cleaning lift?” Koh asks Jeff.

“Hang on… yeah in a storage closet on the top floor. Maglocked again, but no probs.”

“What about lifting capacity?”

“About 500 Ks.”

“That’ll be enough for the tank, Shandor and me” Crimson says “we’ll have to get your ass down another way.”

Koh looks like she might have a swing at her cousin, then decides against it “That leaves three more details; the mage, but I can take care of him on his way to work and send a message that his car’s broken down or something, the fact that we’ll be descending a glass building…”

“No worries” Jeff puts in “I’ll polarise all the windows and make ‘em think it’s a glitch in the system”

“Fine. Three: our getaway.”

“We’ll do what we always do: steal a van” Crimson tells her “do I have to think of everything?” she adds with a grin “we can make the rest up as we go along. Over-elaborate plans have a tendency to blow up spectacularly anyway.

With no more planning to do, they depart, Crimson thinking over her next moves with Scott. Planning a heist was so much easier. She has no big ideas when the time for meeting Shandor to steal a van comes around.

She dons her ruthenium polymer coated battle dress and meets the orc gunslinger not far from the museum. They do not have to look for long when they find a decorator’s van parked in an alley and manage to get it started with little difficulty. Shandor drives it round the back of the museum where they wait for Koh. They do not have to wait long when Crimson’s cousin sneaks round the corner, also clad in ruthenium.

“Mage is out” she says “he won’t be missed for at least an hour. Let’s do this. Jeff, you in the secure system yet” she pulls out a grapple gun.

“Of course. I’ve set up a feed so we can listen in on the guards’ chatter. Don’t seem to have a set check-in pattern or anything, just talking. Have a listen.”

Crimson switches on the audio feed “get up to much lately?” one of the guards is asking.

“Went to the Urban Brawl tryouts the other week.” Another says.

“Heard about that. Bunch of morons crashed it and now the mayor’s suing the league?”

“That’s it. Got a painted figurine of this hot elf chick. Once the league’s back, I reckon it’ll be worth a fortune.”

“Yeah, right. 50p maybe…”

Crimson turns down the feed, smiling and looks critically at Koh’s grapple gun “That heavy duty wire on that?” she asks.

“No regular, why?”

“Just thought you’d want reinforced to haul your ass up there.”

“Bicker later” Shandor says, but she is suppressing a laugh.

Muttering, Koh fires the grapple on to the roof and tugs on the line to secure it. Shandor shoots up the line, Crimson following closely, they leave Koh behind. When she finally makes it she waves a finger at Crimson “No comment about my behind.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Jeff, could you open the door for us please?”

In reply, the maglock clicks open and they enter the silent museum. The door closes behind them.

“Where’s the supply cupboard?” Crimson asks Jeff.

“Third on your right, door’s unlocked.”

It only takes a few minutes for them to locate the window cleaning platform, to deploy it on the rail outside and steal a small wheeled dolly.
With Jeff’s help and a real-time overlay of the guards’ positions and orientation of the cameras, they make it easily to the room with Starry Night, the only tense moment when a guard appears to hear Shandor as she stubs her toe, then decides he had not heard anything after all.
Shandor and Crimson lift the Tank on to the dolly after Jeff has disabled the alarms and they return the way they came as fast as possible, evading guards and cameras.
On the roof, they load the tank on to the lift and are about to descend when Jeff polarises all the windows in the museum. Some confused chatter by the guards is followed by a “Where’s the fish tank” and a “Oh shit we’re being robbed” when they are halfway down.

Luckily, by the time a response is mustered, the tank is safely in the van and well on its way to the address Johnson provided.
Johnson is waiting with his heavies and a man with a doctor’s bag by a van. The man with the bag produces several instruments with which he inspects the tank after Shandor wheels it to the other van.
Two minutes of probing later, he gives Johnson the thumbs up. Johnson turns to the runners “Well done. Here is your payment” he produces four credsticks, gets into his car and leaves with the van in convoy.

“That went well” Crimson observes “time for us to split”.

The three women head off in different directions. Crimson has not walked half a mile when a message comes through from Shandor “Got a car tailing me, says they have our next job. Would appreciate some backup.”

“You got it” Crimson tells her and Koh also confirms.

The location given is a car park, where Crimson sees Shandor, as well as a group of suited men surrounding a man in a fine-cut suit and a man in mirror shades. She looks through the coated sheet she still has from the visit to the museum. The mirror shaded man blazes brightly in the astral. Spirit, Crimson reckons. The group make no hostile moves. The man in charge beckons for Crimson and Koh to join them. Crimson looks at her cousin who shrugs and they walk over together.
One of the goons deploys a white noise generator.

The man in the elegant suit starts to talk “I am most impressed by your skills. That last heist was most expertly executed. Horizon has need of your services.”

At the name of the corporation, Crimson feels her heart sink. Horizon deals with them through Garner. This is no ordinary deal.
“What would you like us to do?” she asks cautiously.

“Mr Johnson, now in possession of a very valuable fish tank is getting too big for his shoes. We would like to have him taken down a peg or two. The best way of doing that is to hit his collection, which is his pride and joy.”

Crimson swears under her breath “You’re re going to get us to steal the tank back?”

The man raises an eyebrow “Very astute. In addition you will retrieve two further pieces from his collection” he names two artworks Crimson has never heard of but is sure would mean something to Scott “The Starry Night you will return to the museum, the other two you can dispose of as you like. As you are probably aware, Mr Johnson has a suite in the Arcology.”

Koh swallows hard.

“He will not return there for several hours, I expect to hear of your success from my security detail there before he does.”

“And how much does this pay?” Crimson asks.

“I’m glad you asked” the man produces a small holoprojector. The images show the runners handing over the Starry Night tank to Johnson. “I am sure you understand the implications of not carrying the job out to my specifications?”

Crimson nods silently.

“Capital” the man says with irritating cheer “I will hear from you soon.”

“One thing. When you said ‘my security detail’ does that mean Arcology security know we’re coming and will stay out of the way?” Crimson asks.

“Let’s say that requests for assistance will be substantially delayed. I have arranged for access to the Arcology for you.” He makes a show of checking his watch. “I suggest you get going.”

Crimson decides she dislikes this man.


Part Two --

The Horizon security man motions his team into the cars and they depart, leaving Crimson, Koh and Shandor looking at each other a bit dejectedly.
“What now?” Shandor asks.

“Don’t have much choice” Crimson tells the orc “we go in there, swipe the art, return Starry Night and hand the other two pieces over to the Henderton Clinic.”

“How’s about we get Arthur and Milo another try” Koh puts in “having someone who can turn things invisible and summon spirits could be useful. Might be worth you getting over here as well” she adds to Jeff “could be we need you to interface directly.”

Their hacker agrees to be over as quickly as he can and Koh contacts the mages who both do the same.
“They’re on their way” she tells the other two.

“Let’s meet them at the gate then” Crimson says and the three women start off in the direction of the Arcology.

Jeff arrives first, followed shortly by Milo, who simply nods at them. Arthur arrives a little later. “Sorry I’ve not been in contact, I’ve been a bit busy with my new flame” he grins “Gather you’ve been busy with whatshisname. Scitt? Can’t wait to meet him” he adds to Crimson who tries her best to pretend she can’t hear him and fails.

He raises an eyebrow “Now I definitely can’t wait to meet him. I’ve not seen that look on your face before when we’re talking about one of your boys.”

“The matter at hand” Crimson tries to deflect him.

“Oh yeah. Can’t believe you got yourselves caught on camera. Schoolboy error.”

Crimson is inclined to agree.
“What’s the plan then?” Arthur asks.

“I figured since we’ve got access, we go up there, take out whatever security they have and wheel the artworks out of there.” Crimson suggests.

“Simple and to the point” he approves “That’s what I like about you. Well that and…” he makes some curvy gestures with his hands.

“Yeah simple alright” Koh interrupts with a meaningful glance at Crimson “why don’t we get a floor plan of his penthouse and work out a plan from there?”

“Because those aren’t in the public domain and hacking in to the Arcology security is going to be difficult, even for Jeff, and we don’t want to tip them off before we need to” Crimson objects.

“Maybe” Jeff interrupts the budding argument “maybe we could get Mr. Horizon Security I Like To Take Hidden Footage to send one over?”

The elves look at each other with a “this isn’t over” look and Crimson phones the man who promptly sends the requested plan over with a reminder that the runners had best get going.
Getting in is remarkably simple. The guards are clearly aware they are coming and wave them in after brief scrutiny of their credentials and the lift to Johnson’s penthouse is easily located.
As the door opens into the apartment, Crimson spots a guard lounging in a chair and launches herself at him, grabbing him in a headlock before he has time to even stand up.

“Get to the security centre” she hisses at the others as the man loses consciousness and she lowers him gently back down into the chair. Koh runs in the direction of the office and Crimson hears a thud as another unconscious body hits the floor.

Then the alarms go off “INTERRUPTION IN VITAL SIGNS DETECTED” a voice informs everyone within half a mile.
Thankfully, Jeff quickly located the override on the security console and cancels the alarm.

“Well that was easy” he remarks “Where are the artworks?”

“In here” Koh has located the trophy room.

“How are we going to get these out of here?” Arthur asks.

“How about I summon a spirit of air? It can carry and conceal them on the way out” Milo suggests.

“Sounds good” Crimson tells him “might have to summon it in the emergency stairwell though. Pretty sure this whole place will be warded.”

“Hang on a sec” the PI says and has a brief look in the astral “you’re right. Wards all round but we’ll be fine if we can get these to the stairs.”

“Right let’s look for something we can use to wheel that tank out of here.”

After a brief search, during which each of the runners manages to pocket some small valuables, Crimson finds Johnson’s wardrobe. It is almost as big as her apartment and contains wheeled clothesracks. She presses two of these into service and lifts the tank onto it with Milo’s help.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve seen in a while” Koh remarks.

“It works doesn’t it? Let’s get out of here” Crimson says and starts wheeling the artworks towards the stairwell, where Milo has summoned an air spirit which has agreed to carry and conceal the artwork as far as their stolen van.

They reach the foot of the stairwell where Jeff disables the alarm on the fire door and they emerge into the fresh night air.
A janitor, leaning against a wall, smoking looks at them quizzically.
“Stag do. We’re the entertainment” Crimson explains shortly.
The man shrugs. He has seen stranger things in the Arcology.

The artworks safely stowed in the van they debate how to replace the Starry Night.
“We put it back without anyone noticing” is Koh’s idea.

“Or” Crimson counters “we just walk up to the front door, say ‘we found this dumped in an alley’ and leave, since the place is going to be swarming with cops.”

“That’s no fun. You know we could do it.”

“Yeah, I do. It’s just not necessary.”

Koh grumbles a bit but agrees “I don’t want anything to do with it, though” she adds.

Crimson rolls her eyes “Fine. We actually ditch it in an alley and I walk up to the museum and lead them back there.”

“Suits me” Milo shrugs.

The others simply nod and they place Starry Night in a nearby alley.

Crimson then walks up to one of the security officers on the cordon around the museum “Excuse me…”

“Yes miss?” the man turns to her.

“I think there’s something you had better see and that gentleman too” she points to a man who appears to be something to do with the museum.

The guard looks at her suspiciously but waves the man over and Crimson leads them to where they left Starry Night.
The suited man draws in his breath as the security officer turns to Crimson “Would you mind explaining how you came across this?” he demands.

“Of course. I was on my way home from the Marquis and took a shortcut through here where I found this” she gestures at the tank “since I was at the museum yesterday with my boyfriend, I knew the museum would like to know.” Crimson says lightly.

“I’m still going to have to ask you to come in for questioning” the guard says, not quite convinced.

“That won’t be necessary” the man in the suit tells him. To Crimson: “Thank you, miss. Have a nice evening.”

“My pleasure” she says and disappears into the PoBoMet.

A day later the news headlines state that a ‘mysterious benefactor’ had donated two valuable pieces of art to a clinic in Turlin Moor, which were auctioned off to raise substantial funds for the clinic, which looks after the SINless of the area.

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[Welcome to the PoBoMet] Season 3 Episode 3 - "A Day in the Life"
General Episode Discussion [spoilers]

Between runs, the runners got up to some hijinks.

Crimson, Koh and Shandor are invited to a practice match for the nascent Bournemouth Urban Brawl franchise. Their victory is forestalled by the arrival of the Canford Reclamation Society. Though their assault was easily rebuffed, one of the would-be revolutionaries was the mayor’s son – and the mayor’s legal force proved more challenging for the franchise. Arthur tagged along to spectate, and happened to meet a grubby dwarf chick who he got on very well with. They also met their mildly psychotic street-vendor friend, who’d worked out a plan to sell custom figurines of the Brawl players to the spectators.

Milo, hired by a jealous husband to keep an eye on his late-working wife, discovers a ritual under development. Its mystic formula mentions dragons and Saint George. The ritual is delivered to some generic-looking suits. Later, more ominous suits present Milo with the Official Secrets Act and serious warnings to keep schtum about what he’s observed. Oh well, he still got paid…

Greg’s hacker clique had discovered a mysterious set of files left in the wake of the weird Matrix outage of the previous weeks. Each pointed to a Matrix address. Greg followed one to the DVLA, and recovered an encrypted file marked as one-third of an executable. Combined with the other two parts, it complained of being run in the wrong place. Triangulating the physical locations of the three sites led to an empty node, where the file summoned a message from a construct identifying itself as 387X211C. “Evaluation completed. Candidates acceptable. Await instructions,” it told the assembled deckers before vanishing. 387X211C, it turns out, is the name of a NeoNET AI, tasked to develop enhanced communication protocols…

Episode writeup by Crimson follows

Crimson reaches her ’link just in time to see the “message deleted” notice and has to resist the urge to throw the thing against the wall.
Luckily, Koh calls her a short time later, with Shandor and Cheryl in on the call. She sounds excited.

“Do you want me to pick you up?” she asks her cousin. “To go where?” Crimson wants to know. “The Urban Brawl tryouts, of course. Didn’t they call you?” Crimson swears “Yeah, but my fucking ’link deleted the message.” Shandor laughs “So are you coming to this, or what? It’ll be awesome.” “Of course. Where and when?” “Tomorrow 10am, the Barrens. It’s just a small 4 v 4 match with stun rounds.” The orc sounds a little disappointed. “I’ll be there.” Crimson promises, hangs up and moves her injured shoulder carefully. She reckons it will be alright, although it has not even had the minimum of the one week of rest proscribed by Dr Sheresh. She goes for a short run, stopping for a brief flirt with Scott on the way out and spent the run wondering why she was taking it so slowly with him. Her usual MO was to go for what she wanted without wasting too much time. He is an elf like her and she does not get the chance to date one of her own kind very often. But she decides that can not be it as she sits down outside a bistro for some light lunch. She still has not found an answer after she has got home, showered and changed. In the afternoon, she looks up the rules of Urban Brawl. To her disgust, she discovers that she will not be able to wear her own outfit but will be issued with body armour that looks like it was stolen from a 1980s movie set. She nearly calls the whole thing off but does not, formulating instead a plan of working the team up the ranks before securing sponsorship and designing her own Urban Brawl line. Her mind is busy working out the designs when she heads to bed early, in order to be rested for the day ahead.

Koh picks her up in the morning as promised and for once lays off the insults and only raises an eyebrow when Crimson pauses for her customary chat and fluttering of eyelids at Scott.
They drive to the address indicated in the message by the Urban Brawl League message. It is a poorly-taped off area if the Barrens demarcated by red and white tape strung between electric fence posts.
Shandor and Cheryl are waiting and are obviously looking forward to the coming contest. Shandor vaults off the ruined wall she is sitting on with a “Let’s go” and leads the way to what Crimson guesses is the official’s trailer. On the way, she stops the other three girls, at first because she has spotted Arthur in the spectator’s area in an argument over where the VIP area is and why there is no bar, then because she spots familiar figure manning one of the stalls.
It is the enterprising hobo who tried to sell them a length of rebar before. He is still wearing his old suit with the paintmarks on his skin attempting to mask the holes in the suit but he now appears to have a business model, at least.

“I sell figurines of the players” he tells the all-girl team proudly after Crimson has greeted him. “Really? Do one of me.” Shandor tells him. “Coming up” the enterprising hobo presses a few buttons on his archaic 3D printer and a drone flies out of the cardboard shack, circles round the gunslinger a few times, taking pictures before returning to its cradle. The printer springs to life and Crimson thinks if it was an animal it would be put down. It does, however, produce as small figurine in plastic of a female orc, recognisable as Shandor only with a lot if imagination. Still, the orc accepts the miniature with good grace when the hobo presents it to her proudly with a “It’ll need to be painted, obviously. How much do you think I should charge?” He asks Shandor. “Well, I’ll give you 5 nuquid for this one” she transfers the money to the man’s delight. “Tell your friends” the hobo instructs as they leave to register for the match. “You’ll be red team, the other guys will be blue” the official in the trailer tells them after introducing the other team. Crimson looks them over. Competent but no real threat to three adepts and a biker girl who came close to beating her not long ago. “You’ll need to designate your roles” the official says “a medic, a biker and two runners.” The choices are obvious for the red team. Cheryl will be biker, Koh has to be medic, Shandor and Crimson, with their superior reflexes will be runners. The teams are shown to their end zones. “Right. Here’s the plan. I’ll run at them with Shandor blasting anyone who gets in my way. Cheryl will pick up any stragglers and Koh can pick up anyone trying to get round the back.” Crimson outlines her idea for a first play.

The team nods all round and they take their positions. Crimson tucks the ball under her arm and waits for the starting lights to go out. When they do, she takes off as fast as she can. Rounding a corner, she sees the other team’s bike coming straight at her and sticks out her arm in an attempt to clothesline the rider. He sees her coming, however and swerves to avoid being knocked off the bike.
Meanwhile, Shandor has moved up and is shooting two-fisted at team blue’s runners, taking out one and pinning the other in cover. Crimson is heading for the endzone when the other medic pops up behind a piece of rubble and opens up, clipping Crimson with one of the stick ‘n shock rounds. Ignoring the pain, Crimson runs at the medic who is frantically trying to draw a bead on the approaching elf and kicks her in the hip. Hard. The medic goes down, leaving Crimson with a simple run-in.

“One-nil, red” one of the circling drones announces.

Crimson high fives her team back in their endzone “What next?” she asks the team.

“How about you go for a stealthy approach while I run interference with Cheryl and Koh picking off anybody from the top of that building?” Shandor nods at a derelict low-rise with good views of the approach to their goal.

“Worth trying.” Koh says and makes her way to the top of the ruin. Crimson sneaks around the back of a shattered apartment building towards the goal when she hears Shandor’s guns firing rapidly, followed by groans and a muffled thump as the gunslinger takes down one of the opponents.

As she is approaching the endzone Crimson hears an engine coming towards the game area and sees a black panel van barrelling towards the two runners Shandor gunned down. The sliding door opens and a hand reaches for one of them, only to be hastily withdrawn when it is hit by a stick ‘n shock round, courtesy of Koh on top of her building.
Shandor once again lets fly with her pistols and takes out the driver who slumps forward with his foot on the gas. The van picks up speed, heading straight at Crimson. She makes sure the game is won by touching the ball down, then runs straight at the van, vaults off the bonnet and comes down hard on the sunroof which shatters, dumping an angry elven close combat adept in the middle of a group of men clearly not ready for this.

One of them says “This was a terrible idea”. He is right. Crimson introduces his head to the side of the van, then feels guilty when she realises how poorly-prepared these guys are and holds off. Just when she is about to open the door and leave the intruders be, the van collides with a building, throwing Crimson and the four men forward against the bulkhead. Crimson hits her head, hard, and can feel two of her recently-healed ribs crack again. The four men are less lucky and are knocked out cold. When her vision has stopped blurring Crimson opens the side door and notices a blinking bracelet on one the men as she jumps out.

A calm mechanical voice says “Vital sign interruption detected. High threat response team is on its way.”

Shandor who has wandered over, takes a quick snap of the guy “Wonder who he is” she says as she supports a limping Crimson.

The game effectively over, the team scarper before the Doc Wagon response team can mistake them for a threat to their charge.

Crimson limps into her home and is once again intercepted by Scott, whose smile turns to a look of worry when he sees the cut in her scalp and how she is protecting her bruised ribcage.

“Traffic collision. Some idiots thought it would be a good idea to crash an Urban Brawl match.” She explains, studying him, still trying to work out why he is different. She is very good at reading body language and thinks his concern for her is genuine. Why then is he not pushy like pretty much any other guy Crimson has ever dated?

“Urban Brawl. Jeez. Do you need any help?” he moves to lend a hand and she suddenly realises what it must be. He must be one of those very rare breed of men not full of themselves, even more, he does not even seem to realise that he is incredibly attractive.

Finally satisfied with her assessment, she lets him open the door for her and smiles at him “Thanks Scott, I’ll be fine now.”

“Claire?” he calls after her.

She turns “Yeah?”

He walks up to her awkwardly “Ummm. I’ve wanted to ask you if you’d like to get something to eat tonight. You said we should get together again last week, didn’t you?” he manages. “That’s if you’re feeling up to it.”

“I’d love to” she tells him “did you have anywhere in mind?”

“Well, there’s this Greek place in town that’s pretty good. Athena.”

Crimson has not been there but has heard of it and its reputation is good “Sounds great. Can you pick me up at seven?” she asks.

“Sure, see you then.” He says with a smile that makes Crimson’s day and walks back to his office.

In the lift to her penthouse her commlink rings. Shandor has identified the man with the bracelet. “It’s only the mayor’s son. The idiot threw in with the Canford Reclamation Society, a bunch of jackasses who think that by causing enough trouble Canford will somehow return to what it once was. Anyway, the upshot is that the Urban Brawl Commission is being sued by the mayor and the PBMA. Looks like our UB careers are over” she says sadly.

“I’m sure they’ll be back. Otherwise there’s always Greater Portsmouth to try. Cheers for the info. Gotta go get ready, I’ve got a date.”

“Yeah I know. Your ‘link called me and was on while you were making googly eyes at your security guard, so I caught most of it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell Arthur. He might be busy anyway. Did you see him hook up with that drunken dwarf hobo lady? They were getting along like a house on fire. Seems like he’s found himself a soulmate” the orc grins exposing her fangs. “Have fun and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” she hangs up.

View
WttP S3E01 - The Train Job, Pt. 1.xvid
Write-up provided by Koh

Shadowrun – The Train Job

Koh was sat at home trying to work out how to make her latest plan come together when she got a call from somebody she hadn’t heard from in a long while. Jeff, a hacker who helped out on an old run. Apparently he had a job and needed some specialist help to pull it off.

The address given by Jeff was a club called the Blue Oyster. A nice place downtown with a dress code and a decent bar. When the team got in to the bar staff pointed everybody upstairs. Arthur amazes by wearing only his least stained shirt and a suspiciously stiff jacket.

Up there the team met Ms Johnson, and she cheerfully announced that the drinks were on her. Much to the delight of the mages who proceed to pickle themselves alive.

The group ended up agreeing to the deal to extract a geneticist called Doctor Mitje Lembik (originally from UCAS who was working on some drek-hot new product for his corporate overlords Evo) from an Evo express freight train travelling from Scotsprawl down to London.

The Johnson agreed to 2000 up front and expenses, plus 10,000 each on completion. A pretty good price for a simple co-operative extraction. Things never go well when they pay is good and the job looks simple.

Jeff did most of the research, meeting up with train spotters in a VR chatroom, where he dug up a dying breed of nerd: the Train Spotter. The one he spoke to happened to know about the route and the trains that use is. From him we got a map of the network, signal box locations and an array of data about the train layout.

After a bit of Matrix research, Jeff found out that it has no control rigger on board, only 4 normal guards who normally sit in the engine room. Easy pickings.

There was a flaming argument about who is driving and who would take Arthur with them. Koh eventually persuaded Shandor that Arthur and Milo can share the back seat, because Milo didn’t know any better and it meant Jeff could ride shotgun with her whilst Crimson and Koh took Koh’s car. Anyway the long drive up to the edge of Scotsprawl was long and tedious but thankfully auto-drive meant that people could immerse themselves in the matrix and catch up on their latest shows.

So Jeff did his magic on the local signal box, spoofing the signal so that it looked like there was a fault with the line up ahead and the train stopped on time obligingly beneath an old dilapidated bridge, giving us plenty of space to move.

Jeff and Koh got on at the front, Jeff hacked the engine door, Koh threw in a flashbang and a neuro-stun grenade to take out the guards, but one had gone further forward and manually starts the train again, which rapidly begins picking up speed.

Milo used a watcher spirit to find where the Doctor was and along with Crimson, Arthur and Shandor, they climbed on at the rear of the train, intending to make their way forward. Whilst Milo looked at his Watcher spirit, he spoted the huge bulk of a storm-spirit overhead, which he quickly realized was hiding a helicopter as several figures in full body-armour abseil out and landed on the rear-most pallet of the train.

There was a Troll with a Panther Assault Cannon (frag!), somebody with a sniper rifle (double frag), a couple of humans with assault weapons and the helicopter seemed staffed with a combat-rigger and a mage. Plus the aforementioned air spirit that was still hanging around. Jeff pinged them as Shiawase, presumably they were also after the good Doctor and are coming to get him armed to the teeth.

In the first flurry Crimson took a quick punch at the nearest guard, but their armour reduced the normally irresistible blow down to just a scratch. Shandor tried some fancy shooting, but even with Explosive ammo she didn’t do much more than inconveniencing them as she only had a pair of pistols. Two humans tried and duke it out with Crimson, attempting to kick her off the train, without success. The sniper tried to retaliate against Shandor, but instead buried a bullet in the steel car of the train. However the Troll managed to hit her straight on. As she was only wearing a cheap lined coat against the light anti-tank weapon she got thrown back into the train bleeding horrifically. Out of the fight for the moment.

Meanwhile at the front. Koh placed a high explosive grenade by the train coupling and trying to blow the linkage between the front and rear of the train. Jeff hacked the turret controls on the train, which turned out to be little more than glorified BB guns and missed our attackers anyway.

Then Arthur did one of those things that reminds us about why we have him around. After a bit of muttering about lines of sight, he threw a powerful lightning bolt at the helicopter and the engines died, the rotors slowing and the body of the aircraft started falling onto the last carriage of the train.

Crimson and her two attackers traded blows, with Crimson catching several good punches that were largely absorbed by the armour-gel of the full body armour they were wearing. She tried to keep bodies between herself and the assault cannon and sniper rifle. The troll with the assault cannon decided to join in the melee after Crimson took down the first of the attackers but the sniper stayed back and landed a powerful shot against Crimson.

The Helicopter was being lifted up by the air elemental.

Meanwhile Jeff fell back into VR and took turns between hacking a roto-drone that was making its way up the front of the train and sniping with the trains turret system.

Arthur repeated his lightning bolt as soon as the Helicopter started to look like it was rebooting, keeping it out of commission and the air spirit busy trying to keep it in the air.

Milo, still invisible tried to stun the troll with little success. Then changing tactics, he went to dismiss the air spirit. It didn’t vanish, but there was definitely some effect, the mage probably had to spend some time re-enforcing it.

Koh ran forward as the grenade went off, (but it did not actually sever the train coupling) and prepared to snipe at the troll, only to find that the sniper spotted her with thermographics and put an enormous dent in the front of the train car. The second shot however penetrated. And buried its self in the Urban Explorer jumpsuit, knocking the wind out of her. She opened the door and threw a dart at the troll, burying it in a spot in his jugular just underneath the helmet, causing him to go down.

By now Crimson, despite having been shot by the Sniper and having taken a few nasty blows from the other two, had managed to kick one backward and throw him into a fast-moving signal box and head-butted the other, cracking his helmet which allowed her to use him as a shield to approach the sniper, who she roundhouse kicked off the train.

The helicopter began to pull back and Jeff enjoyed playing with his new roto drone.

The team cleaned up the train and took the gear from the two remaining Shiawase goons that didn’t get ejected early. (A Panzer Assault cannon, a HK XM30 with a bunch of mini-grenades, 2 Shiawase comm-links and a couple of suits of full body armour, minus 1 helmet.

We cut the rear car of the train loose with the Shiawase goons on it and reconvened back in the carriage with the stasis tube. Unfortunately the doctor was nowhere to be found, only his 12 year old son Jan Lembik, who had a holographic play-back device with him.

The hologram said that the doctor had been forced to change his plans and was by this point, most likely dead. He wanted his son to be transported to his aunt in the UCAS where he would be safe, as Evo and other corporations would like to vivisect Jan for the secrets of his father’s research. He promised £5,000 each in an escrow account if we delivered the boy safely.

We discussed this and contacted Ms. Johnson telling her about the boy and his fathers wish for him to go to UCAS, but not mentioning anything about the boy having trade secrets in his blood.

However Ms. Johnson already knew about it, and asked for the boy to be turned over. The team agreed that although it was bad to renege on a job, Ms Johnson wasn’t able to make any promises to the boys well-being.

So we cut our losses. In the hopes of dissuading Ms Johnson from revenge we decided to give them a blood sample from the boy, which we delivered by roto drone, but then we drove the boy straight up to Newcastle where there was a UCAS embassy.

A consular officer spoke to us and reassured us that the boy would be safely returned home, Nation states may also be bastards, but they tend to look unfavourably on the vivisection of their citizen’s children.

The team drove back down home to BoPoMet and lay low for a while not wanting to present a target for revenge.

Koh went so far as to abandon her former home and move out ahead of schedule.

In the news, still no progress on the Urban Brawl League, however there was a mass Matrix black-out over Western Europe, and a signal was identified in the aftermath, a powerful one pointing to Proxima Centauri.

Writeup by Crimson

The train job

A month has passed, most of which Crimson has spent training hard. Her defeat, almost six weeks ago, still annoyed her and she was determined to regain top spot. That left little time for anything else but she had managed to talk to some people about rolling out her Heritage line of “stylish dress for the discerning safety-conscious lady”, which had gone encouragingly well.

She had made little headway with Scott, mostly consisting of casual flirting on her way in and out of her building. Still, she was at least sure that he was interested and she would have to do something about the situation once her rematch was out of the way, if he didn’t make a move before then.
Those are her plans when Jeff calls with a potential job.

“I might have a job. There’s a scientist who’s interested in defecting. We’ll have to go and grab him” the orc hacker tells Crimson and the other runners in the conference call.

“Might be ok. Where and when are we meeting the Johnson?” Crimson asks.

“The Blue Lamp. 8 tonight.”

“Alright. See you all there.” Crimson disconnects before returning to pummel the punching bag. Eventually, she finishes off her training, heads to shower and puts on her evening wear suitable for the Blue Lamp, a classy establishment in the Tri-Town. She is a bit worried about Arthur being let in but Johnsons can usually smooth over hitches like that.
She calls a cab and is at the Blue Lamp just after 7. She likes to take in the ambience of the meeting place before the actual meeting. One by one, her fellow runners trickle in, Shandor first, followed by Koh, Milo and Jeff and, finally, Arthur.

The dwarf has actually made an effort. He is wearing his other shirt and has a bowler hat perched on his head at a jaunty angle.

“The Johnson party?” the barman guesses, looking at the six runners.

“That’s us” Arthur tells him cheerily.

“Upstairs, room two” the man says and points up a flight of stairs on the right-hand side of the long bar.

The group files through the door indicated by the barman, climbs the stairs and enters the room with the number two on the door.
On one of the padded seats inside, they see an attractive brunette in her late twenties, by Crimson’s estimation.

“Ms. Johnson?” Jeff inquires “My contact tells me you might have a corporate extraction job for us.”

“That’s right” Ms. Johnson replies in a soft voice “please, won’t you sit down” she gestures at the red seats around the table. “Can I offer you anything to drink?”

Arthur’s eyes light up “That bottle of Scotch will do nicely, thanks.”

“Scotch” Milo concurs.

Jeff, Shandor and Koh order a beer and Crimson receives a raised eyebrow when she asks for a green tea, but the bartender appears soon after with their orders. Arthur grumbles slightly when the man sets down a glass instead of the bottle but knocks it back happily.

After settling down, Ms. Johnson appraises each of the six, then starts talking. “This is Dr. Lembek” a holographic image of a man in his late thirties appears above the table, “a geneticist working for the Evo Corporation. He has indicated a desire to defect to my employers. Evo are not going to let this happen, so Dr. Lembek has arranged to have himself shipped in cryo storage from the secure facility in Killiecrankie by train to London.”

“So what I think you’re trying to say is that we are going to have to board the train somewhere along the line, find the crate containing the doctor, grab it and hop off the train.” Crimson sums up the job.

“More or less. The details I will leave to you. I will arrange for extraction of the target from the rendezvous point designated by you. Any questions?”

“Yeah. When does this train leave?” Milo asks.

“On midnight, four days from now.”

“Ok. Let’s talk payment then.” Crimson says.

“I have been authorised to pay you 60,000 nuquid.”

“Plus expenses? Within reason, of course.”

Ms. Johnson studies Crimson for a moment while she thinks about it “I can pay 2000 nuquid up front, each.”

“Ms. Johnson, you’ve got yourself a deal” Crimson tells her after glancing at her fellow runners.

“Excellent, I will send you all the relevant information as well as your advance. I hope to hear from you soon” Ms. Johnson says as she rises to leave the room.

“What’s the plan then?” Shandor asks once their employer has left.

“The way I see it, we need to stop the train somewhere along the line, take out security, find the crate, grab it, phone Johnson and be away before anyone works out what’s going on.” Crimson sketches out the outlines of the plan.

“Right. I’ll get details on the train, line infrastructure, corporate security and everything else.” Jeff says.

“Good. Let us know if you need a hand with anything. Once we get the info we can start fleshing our plan out.” Nods from the other five.

“I’ll see you when we’ve got something to go on” Crimson says and leaves the Blue Lamp, calls a cab and heads home.

Two days later, Jeff alls them together once more to update them on his findings and to formulate a plan of action.
“This is what I’ve managed to dig up” he starts after everyone has assembled in the bar Jeff suggested “in a train enthusiast’s chatroom” he adds with a light shudder.

“Wow. I can feel my street cred leeching away just hearing this” Crimson remarks.

Jeff shoots her a look “Anyway, this is the track north of Newcastle” he brings up a schematic on his ‘link “near Alnwick, where the train passes underneath a bridge, handily near a signal box. I can hack that, spoof a faulty signal, we board the train, grab the doc and are out of there in two minutes.”

“Good work” Crimson tells him “did you manage to get details on the train and what kind of security they have on board?”

“Of course. I also got the cargo manifest. Apart from the doc, the train is transporting mostly medical hardware parts, so the security team is a standard four man squad with no special armour or other kit. The train itself has several turrets on rails around the first six carriages, but I reckon I can hack them, as well.”

“I can deal with the security team if you can open the maglocks for me here” Koh points at the front of the train.

“No problem” the orc hacker assures her.

“Anything else we should be aware of?” Crimson asks him.

“Nothing that I could dig up. Think I did a pretty thorough job, so anything I’ve missed is likely to be super secret.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” she says dismissively.

“Just leaves the question of how we’re gonna get up there” Shandor puts in “I got my cruiser and Koh’s got her car. So who gets Arthur?” she glances at the dwarf who is happily pouring glass after glass of paint stripping liquor down his throat.

“I call shotgun on Koh’s car” Crimson says quickly “hasn’t your cruiser got a cage?”

Shandor nods.
“He can ride in back then.”

Arthur is about to object when another glass appears in front of him.

“We have a plan” Koh observes. “Meet you at yours tomorrow at two.”

“Sounds good.” Crimson says, gets up and heads home.

She uses the remaining day to buy some gecko tape gloves, useful on a moving train and talks to her Heritage Line tailor about incorporating a pair into her battle dress. He promises her that he will come up with something in two days’ time.
Before that, Koh pulls up outside at the agreed upon time and the elven cousins drive north in convoy with Shandor’s ex-police cruiser. The drive is dull. They spend most of their time swapping mild insults and sniping at each other, but are glad they are not in the cruiser when they receive updates from Shandor about how Milo and Arthur have started a drinking contest.
A seemingly endless drive later, they arrive in Newcastle where they swipe a battered old van to travel to the bridge at Alnwick.

Once there, Jeff gets to work on the signal box and the approaching train rolls to a slow halt. Crimson, Arthur, Milo and Arthur jump onto the open top cargo carriages at the rear while Jeff opens the door between engine and first car for Koh, who lobs in two grenades before slamming the door shut.

“Flashbang and neuro-stun” she says over the ‘link “security team is down. Let’s get the doc. What the…?” she exclaims as the train starts moving.

“Nice work on the signal box” an unknown voice comes over the comm..

“Fuck” Jeff swears “someone else has got control. Jesus. Shiawase. What the hell are they up to?”

Milo has been looking at the space above the train, the suddenly turns invisible “We’ve got incoming.”

He is not wrong. An air elemental materialises and draws back from the helicopter it was cloaking, which takes position above the last car and releases four rappelling lines.
Three men, two in full body armour carrying assault rifles, a third in camouflage gear and a sniper rifle and a troll carrying a panther assault cannon rappel down and take position.
Crimson swears and runs at the first of the gunmen. She kicks him in the knee and uppercuts him under the chin. His armour absorbs most of the blows but he grunts in pain before swinging his assault rifle like a club. Crimson ducks and recovers in time to block the second man’s fist coming at her head. She feels an invasive presence in her mind and recognises a mage’s attempt to attack her mentally and tries to get out of the helicopter’s line of sight.
Two gunshots ring out behind her as Shandor opens up but her explosive rounds explode harmlessly on the heavy armour.
The troll retaliates with his assault cannon and Crimson loses sight of Shandor as one of the huge shells punches through her lined coat..
Arthur lets fly with a lightning bolt at the helicopter. Electricity plays over its surface as it spirals out of control.
Unwilling to fire into the melee between Crimson and his two colleagues, the troll shoulders his assault cannon and lumbers over to help the two men. He is too late for one of them as Crimson catches the first man’s arm and flips him off the train. As he cartwheels off the train he smashes and destroys a signal control box.
She turns to engage her other two assailants when her shoulder explodes in pain where the sniper’s bullet catches her and almost spins her around completely. The troll takes advantage of this opening, catching her in the ribs on the left side. She feels at least two of them crack before knocking the second gunman’s helmet off, then grabs him by the front of his jacket and headbutts him until he goes limp. Keeping the limp form between herself and the sniper, she turns to the troll, just in time to see a small dart embed itself in his neck.

“Oh for…” is all he has time for before Koh’s neurostun toxin takes him out.

Crimson drops the unconscious man and accelerates at the sniper.

“You ruined my dress you dick” she tells him and feints low. He jumps over the feint and she catches him in the chest with the flat of her hand of her uninjured arm powerfully enough to hurl him off the train.

“Team compromised” the unknown voice says “pull out.” The helicopter does exactly that and leaves the train.

“Everybody ok?” Crimson asks

“Kinda” Koh replies “Shandor’s down and in a bad way but she’ll live. Arthur’s passed out from drain and I took a bullet from the sniper. The carriage wall stopped most of it though. How about you?”

“A few cracked ribs and a bullet in my shoulder. And he fucked up my outfit.”

Koh laughs. “Just need to find the doc.”

“My watcher spirit’s found him” Milo says “he’s in the third car.”

The runners head to the third car and find the cryo crate.
“Best make sure he’s actually in there” Jeff says and opens the crate.

“What the…” Arthur says “That’s not the doc.”

It isn’t. Inside is a boy of about twelve years old and a holovid projector.
“Oh for…” Jeff says and presses the PLAY button.

An image of Dr. Lembek appears. “I apologise for the subterfuge, but circumstances have changed since I put the plan for my extraction into action. I guess that by the time you receive this I will have been killed. I therefore implore you to see my son, Jan, to safety. Within him, he carries the results of my work and I fear that, should Evo or anyone else get their hands on him they will vivisect him. I have authorised a payment of 30,000 nuquid to be paid to you if and when Jan safely reaches his aunt in UCAS. I hate to leave him in the hands of strangers but hope that you will see him safe.”

“Dammit. What do we do?” Arthur asks.

“Guess we need to call Johnson and let her know what’s what, ideally without the bit about the kid holding trade secrets. It’s not our fault their intel was wrong. We’ve carried the job out as required.” Crimson replies.

Jeff is already dialling the number Johnson gave them.
“Do you have him?” Ms. Jonson wants to know.

“There have been complications” Crimson tells her “Play the tape please, Jeff.”

The orc does as asked and plays a heavily edited version omitting the child’s part in his father’s research.
“I will need to contact my employers” Johnson says after she has taken it all in.

Not long after she returns the call. “Since this is not Doctor Lembek, I can offer you 7,500 nuquid each in return for the boy.”

Crimson swears under her breath. Johnson knows about the boy. “No can do Ms. Johnson. That was not part of our contract, handing over children. We can get you a tissue sample. Good enough?”

“No, that is not acceptable.”

“Tough. That’s the deal.” Crimson breaks the connection. Turning to her team she says “Let’s get him to the UCAS embassy in Newcastle. He’ll be safe there. Unless you think we should hand him over to Johnson to do god knows what with him?”

Nobody thinks that. Shandor and Koh summon their vehicles via the grid and they are on their way to Newcastle.
There are a few anxious looks as a police siren comes towards them but it hares past in the other direction and they arrive at the UCAS embassy, a heavily fortified compound in the more salubrious part of the city.
Crimson walks up to the intercom and presses the buzzer.

“UCAS embassy.” A voice says.

“Hi there. We’d like to talk to someone about repatriating one of your citizens.”

“A minor.” Koh adds to Crimson’s introduction.

“Just a moment. Please leave all weapons with your vehicle.”

The heavy gates swing open and they are met by two competent-looking heavies in expensive suits.
“This way please” one of them says and leads the way into a waiting room. One wall is a made of dark glass, a one-way mirror.

“Can you give this to the ambassador, please?” Jeff hands the guard the holovid projector “it will explain a lot.”

The heavy looks at it and leaves the room.
Before too long the room behind the glass lights up. A man in a very expensive-looking suit stands there studying the runners. He is holding the projector.
“This is concerning” he nods at the projector “may I ask how you got involved in this matter?”

“We are retrieval specialists” Crimson tells him form the chair into which she has collapsed “hired by Doctor Lembek’s prospective new employers to extract him. As you can see, the plan changed, so we thought we had best bring the boy to you.”

The man nods thoughtfully “I see. The boy is not a full UCAS citizen, but considering the circumstances I am sure we can make an exception. You did the right thing bringing him here. The UCAS does not forget its friends. If that is all, I shall have my men escort you out.”

The glass turns black again, the door to the waiting room and the two guards politely but firmly show them the way out.
Crimson sleeps most of the way home. She has never been shot before, shot at many times but never shot, and the experience and the loss of blood have left her tired. Back in the PoBoMet, Koh drops her off at the Henderton Foundation Clinic, where Crimson hopes Dr Sheresh can patch her up.
The elven doctor is in and only raises an eyebrow when Crimson tells her why she is here. Sheresh knows better than to ask too many questions and gets to work on Crimson’s shoulder. Less than an hour later, Crimson arrives back at her apartment building, her right arm in a sling with instructions to rest it for at least a week, of not two.
She enters the building and is greeted by Scott coming out of his booth. His greeting is caught short when he sees her arm.

“Are you alright Miss Bl…, Claire?” he corrects himself. She has told him many times to address her by her first name.

“I’ll be alright, thanks Scott. Wrong time, wrong place is all. The place was the space a bullet was travelling through at that particular time” she looks at him and the concern in his brown eyes.

“How long have you been working here, Scott?” she asks.

“About three months. Why?”

“Just curious. There’s something else I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while and today has taught me I can’t keep putting these things off.”

“Sure.”

“When does your shift end?”

He checks his watch. “About two hours” thoroughly confused now “Why?” he asks again.

“I’ve had a long hard day and think I may need a drink. I’ll be in Jethro’s in about, say, two hours, if you’d like to join me” she gestures at the bar down the road.

“Oh, yeah, that’d be great” the young man says, thrown by her sudden direct approach.

“Awesome” Crimson says brightly “see you then.”

She heads to her penthouse apartment and has a long shower before changing into something less blood and sweat stained and makes her way to the bar to meet Scott the security guard. She has not been waiting long when he enters and walks over to where she is sitting. His blue uniform looks good on him, she decides, even though she tends to stay clear of men in uniform. She realises she has never seen him in anything but the security firm’s colours and mentally outfits him until he sits down next to her and interrupts her train of thought.

The next hour flies by enjoyably with Crimson having to do a little question dodging what it is she does for a living. The truth about that is always awkward. Finally, the day catches up with Crimson.
“I need to head home. Thanks for the company, Scott. Maybe we can repeat this sometime soon?” she suggests and passes him her number.

“That’d be great” he puts the card in his breast pocket “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

For a moment she has forgotten that he works in her building “Wh… oh yeah. See you then” she gives him a kiss on the cheek and goes back home, feeling tired but in high spirits.

When she wakes, very late for her, she discovers she has a message from Jeffrey Garner at Horizon who she contacted about advertising her Heritage Line battle dress. It sounds pretty encouraging. Horizon will pick up the advertising for a percentage of the sales. She could not have asked for more and starts thinking about accessories and possible winter wear.

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WttP S3SPECIAL1 Private Investigations x568-HD[FREEXORZ].mkv
A wild Milo appeared!

A Very Special Episode of Welcome to the PoBoMet, introducing magician and private dick Milo Something-Or-Other-Beginning-With-O. When a worried couple put Milo on the case of their missing son Gerald, the trail leads to the secret cult of vampire Élet Itató – not to mention Gerald’s blood-drained corpse. The parents want revenge and are willing to pay cold, hard cred. Just so happens that our favourite runner team is at a loose end.

Also, the fight with the vampire and his cronies was possibly the most anti-climactic thing I’ve ever run.

Milo and the Vampire Writeup provided by Crimson

The ringing of her comlink wakes Crimson from her dreams. She is instantly alert and reaches for the ‘link. 02:33 is displayed in cool blue numbers in the top right-hand corner. Only two people generally call this hour of the night. Her sister, Jess, with another emergency and Arthur, drunk again, or perhaps still, inviting her to come round to whatever watering hole or sleaze-ridden pit he was currently occupying.
Crimson’s money is on Arthur as Jess seemed to have settled in nicely with Steve and things were going well there.

She is not disappointed as she recognises Arthur’s caller ID and checks the piece of duct tape she has stuck over the camera is in place before answering. Even with instructions for audio calls only, her ‘link mysteriously switched to video mode at the most inconvenient times. She recalls with a shudder the time she had unthinkingly answered one of Arthur’s calls after leaving the shower. The look on the dwarf’s face had almost been worth the embarrassment and she had managed to cancel the video feed before Arthur recovered enough to find the RECORD button. She had had the thing checked over by Arthur, Colara and Jeff. None of whom could discover the reason behind the machine’s odd quirks and pronounced it clean.

Only briefly does she consider rejecting the call. After all, he might one day genuinely need her help and she would never forgive herself if she missed that call and something happened to her friend.

“Answer.” She tells the commlink. “Hello Arthur” she addresses the person at the other end “to what do I owe the pleasure this time?”

“Crimson? That you love? Your video feed’s not working” his Scottish drawl was slurred.

“That’s intentional. I am in bed, you know. Normal people tend to sleep this time of night.”

“Bed? Yeah, I know. Was hoping your vid was on the fritz again.”

“What do you want, Arthur?” Crimson asks wearily now she knows Arthur is safe.

“Oh, right. You need to come over to the Disc…”

“I’ve told you…”

“No. Got a job, so swing your sweet ass over here, so you can talk to this guy… Here what’s your name again?” he yells at someone.

“…”

“Milo. That’s his name. Milo. He’s got a private dick” Arthur chuckles at his own joke “I mean, he is a private dick and he needs some help, getting rid of some vampires or something. Just call the others and get that hot bod of yours over here. I’ll be waiting.”

The dwarf disconnects the call and leaves Crimson to mull over what she has heard. A job would be quite welcome. They had not had one for over a month, she had lost her first fight for nearly a year and had split up with her boyfriend.
She calls up the numbers for her cousin Koh and the orc gunslinger Shandor. She also tries Jeff, their hacker but he shows up as unavailable.
Koh is less than pleased to be woken up, while Shandor takes it in her stride. Not much seems to ruffle the gun-toting adept’s feathers. Come to think of it, it takes quite a bit to annoy Koh. For some reason, a call from Crimson always gets under her skin. Family rivalries.
She calms down quickly enough, though, when Crimson tells them that they had a job and agrees to pick her cousin up from her apartment on the waterfront.
Fifteen minutes later, Crimson is dressed and hears Koh’s car approaching. She heads outside, waving at the security guard on the way out. He was quite new and Crimson has only spoke to him briefly. She thought his name was Scott or something. What she does know was that he was good-looking. Maybe her break-up with Herman has a silver lining.
She is still thinking about what might be when Koh pulls up and Crimson climbs into her cousin’s battered car. The atmosphere is frosty as it always was between the two, but mild insults are usually as bad as it gets.

They talk little as Koh drives them to Arthur’s favourite haunt, the Crashed Disc in Boscombe. The neon-lit establishment is mostly empty apart from a few die-hard regulars, one of whom recognises Crimson and quickly places his expensive electronics in an anti-static container to prevent her peculiar bad luck with machines to spread to his.
Koh spots Arthur in a corner with Shandor and a human Crimson guesses must be Milo.

She appraises the PI. He is human, not bad-looking in a rumpled sort of way. His short hair and long coat look like they had been slept in. Many times. With distaste, she also notices that he has a large number of empty whisky glasses in front of him. Arthur has found a soul mate.

Koh, Shandor and Crimson sit down opposite Milo and Arthur and Koh introduces first herself, the Crimson and Shandor.
“Arthur says you need help with a job.” She says, the pleasantries out of the way.

“Yeah, right” he says in a slightly northern accent “there’s this kid, his parents hired me to look into his disappearance. Turns out he’s been sucked dry by a vampire and his parents want retribution.”

“What’s it pay?” Koh wants to know.

“Dunno” he shrugs “never got round to negotiating that bit.”

“How about we sort this vampire or vampires out and then bill them accordingly?” Crimson suggests.

The detective looks at her, then nods “Sounds sensible. I trailed it to a place in the barrens. I suggest we head over there sometime tomorrow, when we’ve got daylight on our side.”

“That also sounds good” Crimson agrees “how about we meet there at 10? Unless there’s anything else, I’ll head back to bed. No you can’t come.” The last is directed at Arthur who was about to say something, then slumps back, a little sulkily.

“10 it is” Milo confirms the time “I’ll send the coordinates over and we’ll meet a little down the way.”

“See you then.” Crimson stands up, followed by Koh and the two elves leave the Crashed Disc.

The next morning the runners assemble near the address Milo gave them in the Canford Barrens. Arthur grumbles about the ungodly hour of the morning but follows the other four as they make their way to what turns out to be an old community hall.

Milo briefly peeks into the astral before pronouncing the place clear. “There’s a basement with a ward over it. Can’t get into there.” He cautions.

The hall is quickly searched, as it comprises of a meeting hall and a store room in the back. Koh has been inspecting a ledger on a lectern at the front of the stage. She suddenly laughs out loud. “This you gotta see” she waves the others over.
Peering at the ledger, Koh slowly turns the pages for everyone to read. When they have read a few of them, Crimson looks up at her cousin “Are these guys for real? Nobody’s that stupid.”

“I dunno. They sound pretty dumb from their vampire fanboy melodrama. Listen to this: ‘found food for the master’; dated the day your kid went missing” she shows Milo the entry.

“Yeah but to schedule your meetings in here…” Crimson says incredulously “surely not.”

“One way of finding out” Milo tells her “they got one tonight by the look of things. At Midnight. Of course at midnight.”

“Guess we’ll reconvene here then in that case and see if these idiots are for real.” Crimson suggests “How come we keep running into morons? First the Gentlemen, the Ragers weren’t too sharp and the less said about the Hitler-Stalins, the better. Now these guys. Easy money though, I guess. See you all here at half eleven?”

The rest of the group nods and murmurs their assent and they depart for their various homes again.
Around eleven Crimson heads back to the Barrens to hook up with the others, already waiting there.
“We good to go?” she asks.

Nods all round.

“So how about Koh and I sneak in through the back and you guys come on in when we know we’ve got all of them in there?”

“Sounds ok. Milo and I can keep watch in the astral and let you know what’s happening.” Arthur adds.

“Good. Let’s head out.” Crimson says and does just that with Koh in tow.

Around twenty minutes later Arthur’s voice comes over the commlink “We’ve got six guys inbound, they’re ever so slightly active on the astral. Can’t see the big bad yet. They’re heading inside.”

“Thanks. Let’s go.” Crimson whispers ay Koh.

The two elves cautiously open the back door and creep to the stage’s back entrance. No sooner have they arrived when Arthur reports back. “Think the vampire’s in. A big cloud of astral mist just came out of that basement we couldn’t get into and has taken place on the stage.”

He has just finished his report when Crimson hears a deep voice from the stage “Our guests have arrived. Slay them my minions.”

“Acolytes” a nasal voice objects.

“Whatever” the vampire replies and casts a spell. Crimson can feel his mind trying to fill hers with dread but the feeling lasts only a short while as she resists his mind control. Koh seems a little more shaken but pulls out two sharpened pieces of wood before opening the door and hurling them at the vampire on the stage with deadly accuracy. They both find their target unerringly and the vampire has time for one scream before collapsing to the floor, quite dead.

Crimson calmly walks into the room and addresses the stunned cultists. “I suggest that you drop your weapons and surrender” she says sweetly.

The six humans look at her, then their dead leader, then at Koh and drop their weapons.

At this point Shandor bursts through the front door to find all of her targets with their hands in the air. “Was that it?” she asks disgustedly.

“Looks like” Crimson says “let’s truss these guys up and call the cops. Then we can have a word with Milo’s clients and see how much revenge is worth.”

Milo does as she suggests, calling first the police, then sending his clients a picture of the deceased vampire who killed their son.

“30,000 nuquid” he says after hanging up.

Arthur whistles “Not too bad, 6Ks each for a day’s work. You can call us in more often” he tells the detective.

“And we’ll give you a bell if we need a hand” Crimson adds “you’re a useful guy to know.”

“No worries. See you then” Milo shrugs and heads into the night as the noise of sirens approaches.

“Sounds like that’s our cue to split, as well” Crimson says and the four do exactly that.

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Project Malachite
Season Finale

As I’ve actually commited to running another season of Welcome to the PoBoMet, I thought I’d write up my faded memories of what happened on the team’s last case.

A contact had noticed something unusual. Recent news reports talked of gang crime on the rise, with shots of armed gangbangers making trouble. The local MP, Cedric Thackery, made pious, solemn noises about the PBMC’s inability to keep up with the rising tide of trouble, and how it may be necessary to contract policing out to private initiatives as has been so successful in the UCAS..

Funny thing about these gangers, they all seemed to be using the same kind of guns. Gotta be something up, right?

They didn’t take him up on his offer of a 50% split of any profits deriving from that information (for some reason) but set about investigating the matter on their own.

A bit of legwork soon indicated that, yes, all the Pobomet gangs had been arming up. Cheap weapons were flooding the black market.

Pursuant to getting hold of some of these guns, the runners rolled over one of the more obnoxious local gangs, the Hitler Stalins. Judiciously applied violence pointed them to a warehouse where the HS purchased their weapons.

A close inspection of guns taken from the gangers indicated they were produced to venerable designs long since passed into the public domain. The ammunition feed mechanisms, however, could be traced quite clearly to a popular brand sold by the PBMA operation of Ares Macrotechnology.

The runners investigated the warehouse. Locked, though lightly secured, it turned out to be empty. The runners left a set of concealed cameras around the building in the hope of catching an ongoing weapons deal, and left.

The warehouse turned out to be owned by a real-estate company, Celdar Properties – owned by one Cedric Thackery MP.

The team’s hacker went to work poking through Thackery’s details, and discovered a number of large payments from an account linked to Ares PBMA – and regular meetings with one Aaron Getty, VP for Ares PBMA. Getty’s name was repeatedly mentioned in regard to a secret initiative, Project Malachite.

The runners managed to eavesdrop on a meeting between Thackery and Getty, gathering some rather incriminating footage regarding Project Malachite – an ongoing attempt to destabilise the PBMA in order that Bulldog Security, the UK subsidiary of Knight-Errant, could obtain the policing contracts for the PoBoMet.

As a politician, Thackery regularly attended public functions. In a fine bit of irony, he was shortly to speak at a local do where the Chief Commissioner of the PBMC would be in attendance.

The team got in touch with a contact at Horizon, who proved very interested in being able to film the arrest of a sitting MP. Disguised as a film crew for the local news, the runners attended the do, and at the critical moment, broadcast the footage of Thackery’s meeting with Getty over the venue’s multimedia system. No sooner had the film finished, but the massed high-ranking police placed Thackery under arrest. The runners even got footage of Ares’ representatives fleeing into their ominous black sedan.

The runners were well paid, and even gave the contact who tipped them off about all this a finder’s fee.

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The Accountant's Adventure

This episode was played some time in late 2011 – now presented in sketchy Can’t-Really-Remember-o-Vision in preparation for the new season.

The team was hired to secure the services of an accountant – the means selected: blackmail. As the beancounter in question proved implausbly squeaky-clean, they were forced to fabricate ‘evidence’ of malfeasance.

Once he’d been ‘recruited’, the team were further retained to babysit the accountant and prevent him from running to the authorities. Despite laudable efforts on the team’s part, he managed to get a message to the UK’s Serious and Organized Crime Agency, (which, by the time of the setting, had blossomed into a full-fledged FBI-equivalent). More annoying yet, a third party – another local cartel, interested in the secret information the accountant would be privy to – redirected his vehicle to a local parking structure where they planned to take their own custody.

Cue a car-park-rooftop firefight, including grenades, hacked cars and the GM failing to use cover rules properly. The team managed to secure the accountant just as a SOCA strike team inserted into the parking structure, and returned him to their irked, though largely grateful employer, who were pleased that his knowledge hadn’t fallen into the hands of either their rivals or the police.

View
It started so well

Well that did not go quite as well as expected.

I had intended to impress Crimson with a display of daring, cunning, stealth and wit that would put her in awe.

I had hired a hacker, an orc named Jeff I met whilst working for S-K and we had a whole elaborate scheme planned out. I would ambush Crimson, knock her out, dress her up as that bimbo actress that played her in the mini-series and put her in my car on grid-guide programmed to take her round the block a few times whilst I infiltrated her social circle and introduced the multi-talented Jeff.

Unfortuately despite throwing a message out to all of her runner companions the only person who turned up at the Cracked disk was the sotted drunk of a mage Arthur McPride, who appeared to have been spending every penny of his commision on various kinds of booze.

We showed up, I passed effortlessly as Crimson and even had her com-link. But honestly, a blow up doll could have fooled him.

Arthur looking at his comlink did however have a contact who could get us a job. His associate Mr Sly as it turned out knew a Johnson who had need of our skills.

Naturally that’s when Crimson showed up, honestly I was a bit embarased, expected her to punch me in the head again, but I guess wealth and time had mellowed her out a lot from when we were kids together.

She gave me a bit of a verbal chewing out, but seemed interested in getting back to work. So we looked over the job offer. 20,000 nuquid for an infiltration job, seemed right up my alley and would be a good start on paying back my not insubstantial debts.

We had to meet the Johnson at this terrible Mexican/Hungarian restraunt. I can’t be certain, but I’m suspect the Goulash tacos should have had biohazard warnings on them. At least we got the private room upstairs.

Johnson was about as dry and non-descript as every other, I swear there’s a cloning facility that churns these guys out somewhere.

Anyway he says that some corp has been experimenting on the local ghouls and he wants us to shut down their opperations. Gives us the contact for one of theghoul leaders one Gerald Scamel, who lives with his community in an old abandoned doctors surgery in the Canford Barrens.

I talk him upto 25,000 in exchange for waiving the standard 50% upfront fee. Crimson chips in and gets him to agree on an extra 2,500 in bonuses/expenses. Not a bad pay-cheque

They want the facility destroyed, the research wiped and copies of the research for themselves.

Sounded easy enough. Anyway, we drove down to Canford, although before we hit the Doctors Surgery, we got flagged down by some crazy guy (He tried to make himself look smart with tip-ex to whiten his shirt and boot polish over his tattered jacket), selling tiny little racist ork figurines wielding huge swords. Apparently this guy tried to sell them a lump of rebar before. I think Crimson felt sorry for him, between the bouts of laughter.

Anyway we declines his offer to sell us the figurines and because of my stunt, I got volounteered to take point and go upto the ghoul nest to speak with Gerald. Arthur had an astral snoop around and told us that it seemed to be a full community of infected in there of all ages rather than just a gang.

Anyway when Gerald came out to speak he sounded pretty surprised. He’s never heard of the Johnson and says that all the experiments have been completely volountary. He mentions a company by the name of Intrinsica.

A quick Snoop by Jeff suggests that Intrinsica are working on the Big D’s Bequest that gives a big fat reward for the first commercially available meta-human flesh substitute for ghouls. It’s all up on their front-page and suddenly I feel a lot less sanguine about this job. A flesh-substitute is the sort of thing that could save tens of thousands of lives each year. If Intrinsica are working on this then more power to them, but if we back-out of a job, our street-rep will take a nosedive.

Not good anyway you look at it. But we had a deeper look anyway. We found a Doctor Lorenzo who was one of the top researchers, so we decide to do a snatch and grab with him. Find out what he knows and if he’s on the level.

He lives with his family out in Yeovil and Jeff worked his magic again getting all the information we needed, including his vehicles com-code, schedule the whole works.

Jeff redirected the car out to the middle of nowhere and prevented any alarms. Arthur did an astral reconisance, not finding any signs of astral security, unsurprising really.

We pulled him over only to find that he was working in the back seat on an old-style stand-alone tablet with a propriatary port. I made him hand it over, letting Jeff and Arthur examine it, whilst me and Crimson talked to the Doctor.

Jeff cracked the case and rigged up a connection to his comlink, downloading the data. Arthur said that there were elements of some complex variation of a health spell in there, as well as a lot of chemical formula and other technical notes.

Meanwhile the Doctor spilled his guts apparently quite honestly. It was as we suspected, he was just a contractor working on a solution to the problem of a ghouls dietary needs. He didn’t recognise Mr Johnson, but suggested the names of a few corps and groups that might have an interest in stopping his research, from competitors to racist ass-hats.

So Jeff spoofed a load of data onto the car and com-link to give the impression of a maelfunctioning GPS system and I gave the Doctor a whiff of Leal, that would wipe his memory of the last hour or so and sent him on his way. Everything clean as it should be.

I think we need to find out more about Mr Johnson.

Session 2:

We met up with our newest recruit, a female ork gun-slinger adept with a complex name I can’t quite recall.
Then after much bickering we decided to investigate Mr Johnson, to work out if this job was a set-up or not. Reasoning that if he were a humanis policlub member then he might have good reason to want the ghoul flesh experiments stopped, so that politicians wouldn’t have any viable alternative except extermination on the ghoul issue.

Hitting the matrix, Jeff did an image-search for Johnson and found a few photos of him, notably one as part of a meta-human rights group. Which seemed to blow that theory out of the water. There were also reports of him frequenting a local bar for management types, so Crimson, Koh and Jeff set out, dressed up in smart casual wear to investigate (Koh mimicking a male human manager in a power-suit, the others just dressed up and given a bit of make-up to help fool any image recognition software trawling the place.

As it happens the place is quite Luddite, with hard-wired CCTV cameras and average, but low-tech security (a couple of bouncers and a secured system only accessible by terminals seemingly behind the bar.

Crimson tried to chat up the bar-tender, although getting quite worried by a mechanical-looking jerk of his head, she concludes that he could in fact be a robot.

Koh lurks around just listening inconspicuously at the door to the private room (They don’t seem to be discussing anything important)

Jeff hits up the bars matrix node, disappointed to find that he needs terminal access, he grabs a wi-fi dongle and looks for a way to plug it into the terminal. Crimson distracts the barman, luring him down to the other end, Koh stealthily plugs in the dongle and Jeff trounces the firewall in no time. It’s not terribly informative however, he does find Mr Johnson speaking with a representative of a minor UK firm. Which after some digging appears to be a distant shell-front company for Ares Macrotechnology.

Crimson gets the barman’s phone number, hoping to cultivate some contacts, Koh steals back the Dongle and Jeff and everybody else heads back out nonchalantly.

Meeting back up with everybody, information is exchanged and contacts are sought for information and/or advice. The vague conclusion is that there’s no immediate reason to suspect that Ares would just be trying to kill this research for no reason and even if they are, it’s not really our business. Lets just do the job and get paid.

Crimson buys herself a spy-fly (Which hilariously she needs Jeff to look after as she would just snap the wings or otherwise break it if she touched it) and everybody bundles into the rented van, driving up to the Intrinsica site.

Intrinsica is part of an industrial park about 5 minutes drive south of Yeovil. With a perimeter fence made of hardened steel with tall spikes on it to prevent access and a main front gate that leads to a few distinct sections, one of which is Intrinsica.

Jeff pwnzors the Intrinsica firewall again and escapes detection by the resident hacker. Allowing us access to all the admin systems.

We get the lay of the land and come up with a plan. Since Dr Lorenzo is away on sabbatical, we nab the most senior researcher available, kidnap her by Jeff jacking her car and Koh delivering a knock-out/memory loss dart. Koh takes the doctors car and comlink, learns to mimic her voice and drives up to the gates. Jeff inserts visitor passes into the system for Koh to pick up and the rest wait nearby. Jeff will stay outside to control the matrix from a safe distance, whilst Arthur becomes Dr James Kilkenny, thaumaturgical researcher in the area of Re-generational spells and his two young assistants from the University of Aberdeen (With a little make-up to obscure their real features)

Koh blends into the corporatocracy with advice from Jeff, until the others arrive at the gate. Koh in disguise gives them the full guided tour. First stop the server room, as we needed to secure the data from the servers here. A quick dart of neuro-stun incapacitates the sole inhabitant of the IT suite, presumably the resident spider/hacker. Plugging the dongle into the IT guys com-link and plugging that into the firmware allows Jeff to get unrestricted access to the otherwise hard-wired servers.

A tense minute passes as the data downloads, finally it’s done. We drag the hacker to safety as a High Explosive grenade blows the server and the fire alarm sounds.

Heading outside we moved over to the barn where it appeared they were storing the cattle for the experiments. For good measure, Koh got up onto the roof, and dropped another HX grenade into the middle of the cattle pen, destroying or damaging the careful natural balance of the test subjects.

Koh fled outside, where the others were waiting for Jeff to cut the fence with Arthurs beloved monofilament chainsaw. Arthur alert for the mage he saw back at the offices who he is worried will turn up and cause trouble. However Koh drops a smoke grenade and it melds with the smoke from the server room to give them a screen to escape with. The guards being surprisingly on their feet are searching for the “guests” that arrived earlier.

As a few bars are finally cut free, everybody escapes out and piles into the waiting van, before heading back to civilisation.

The end… (Except for the bit where we get our money hopefully)

View
Symptoms include fever and abduction

It had been two weeks the events in Greater Portsmouth and things had been fairly quiet. There had been no official word on the killing of a narcotics officer, although there were a few rumours about in the PoBoMet’s underbelly to that extent.

Crimson had been going about her everyday business in that time. In the Swan and Tomato, Bones had taken her aside for a word. “Here, I’ve got a fight coming up. Up and coming youngster, wants to cut her teeth against someone in the big leagues. So I thought of matching you up with her. Interested?”

“Sounds alright. Rules?”

“I thought bare-knuckle, topl…” “If the suffix to that next word is ‘less’, I will replace your tonsils with your testicles” Crimson interrupted.

Bones thought hard about it. “Top…ladder! On top of ladders! Yes! What an idea!” he said with a broad smile.

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Crimson was still giving him a hard look. “Make the match up not retarded and you’ve got yourself a fight. Just let me know when you schedule it.”

A few days later Bones confirmed the match. It turned to be tighter than Crimson had thought, but the new girl seemed a little overawed at the occasion and had not developed her awakened powers to the extent Crimson had. Still, she showed promise and Crimson left with a few more bruises than she had anticipated.

She hadn’t seen much of the other team members since the last run, although Arthur did invite her out ‘for a night on the town’ on a regular basis. She could imagine what that entailed and found reasons for declining his offers. Her sister was very busy with her new man, Stephen, who seemed to be turning out alright, despite Crimson’s misgivings about him. She had still not quite stopped listening for the other shoe to drop on that. So she was unsurprised when she received a call from a distraught Jessica in the middle of the night.

“Claire?” she said through tears, “it’s me, Jess. Stephen. He’s gone.”

Crimson took no satisfaction from being right about her sister’s boyfriends. “I’ll be right over.” She had started dressing as soon as she saw the caller ID. A call from Jess at this time of night always meant one thing.

She called a taxi and went over to the Moor, where Jess still lived. Her sister, still tearful, let Crimson into her flat. Crimson was surprised to see that the place hadn’t been cleaned out. In the past, several of Jess’ men had done just that.

“Tell me what happened.” she said sympathetically.

Jess must have seen the look on her sister’s face. “It’s not like you think. Not like Jimmy. Or Alan. Steve, he’s been taken.” she started crying again.

“What do you mean taken? Rewind back to the start.”

“He’s had this flu or something, I don’t know, so he’s been off work for a while and I’ve not seen him for a bit. But we talked on the ‘link every day. We were talking earlier, when he just cut out. Now I can’t get hold of him. His ‘link seems to be off, as well. I thought, you and your friends, I mean that guy who doesn’t look like anyone and Colara, I like her, and that creepy dwarf, you do this kind of thing, right? Find things. Hide things. You’ll find him?”

“Course we will,” Crimson told her reassuringly “you get some rest and I’ll call them right away and we’ll see what we can find out.

Jessica hugged her younger sister. “Thanks Claire, I knew you’d be there for me. You always are, even if you can be a grade A bitch at times.” She said with a smile, then lay on the couch and closed her eyes. When she was sure Jess was asleep, Crimson dialled Arthur’s number. She looked at the clock. Nearly four a.m. Arthur was sure to still be awake. She was not proven wrong. He was not in the Disc by the sound of the background noise, but she couldn’t tell where he was. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“Crimson?” Arthur sounded drunk “that you, love? Yeah, knew you’d come around. Come join us.”

“No thanks, I’ve got a problem. My sister needs help. I’m going to need you, Suit and Colara to solve this one.”

“Your sister, ey? You know I’d do anything for you two lovely ladies. Where are you? I’ll be there in a bit.”

Crimson smiled. He might be a concentration of sleaze, but she didn’t know many people who would drop what they were doing like that to help out a friend. “At my sister’s in Turlin Moor, catch you here soon.”

“You’re at hers? Listen don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. At least not until I get there.”

She sighed. ”’Bye Arthur, see you here.” She then dialled Suit’s and Colara’s commlinks. Suit answered and she was about to leave a message on Colara’s as she, too answered. “Hey guys, really sorry to disturb you at this hour, but I need your help. I need to help my sister out. I can pay you 1,000 NewQuid each, if you help me out.”

But both Colara and Suit declined the money. “I’m not going to take money off you to help your sister, Crimson” Colara said.”Where are you? I can pick Suit up and we’ll be right over.”

“I’m in Turlin Moor, at my sister’s. Thanks, guys, you’re the best.” She was feeling a bit more upbeat as she disconnected.

Arthur appeared a little before five a.m., with Suit and Colara a short while after that. Crimson checked in on Jess, who was still sleeping and quietly closed the door as she met up with her team outside.

“I really appreciate you guys helping me out at such short notice… not that much, Arthur” she added as she caught the gleam in the dwarf’s eye. “Anyway, Jess’ boyfriend has disappeared and not like they usually do. She was talking to him on the ‘link when he was cut off. He’s a motorcycle courier for a small company, nothing special there. He has been off with this flu thing that’s been making the rounds. Suggest we head over to his place and see what we can find there. It’s just down the road, in Hamworthy.”

They climbed into Vanessa and Colara drove them the mile or so down the road to Hamworthy, where Stephen lived. He lived in one of the crumbling tenements, that were occupied by countless squatters. The people living here got along by minding their own business. Nevertheless, someone might have seen something. Stephen inhabited an apartment on the top floor of this building, the third. The other floors had never been finished. They made their way up the grafitti-covered stairway to his flat. Several of the denizens of the block peered out of their doorways at the four runners as they passed. None of them said a word, until they came to Stephen’s door, which was covered with a throw nailed to the frame. From the opposite doorway, an aging troll watched them warily. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“We’re looking for Stephen. He’s my sister’s boyfriend. She’s worried something’s happened to him. Have you seen anything?” Crimson told him.

“Your sister? Pretty little elf? Yeah you look a bit like her. Something has happened to him. Bunch of toughs in black motorcycle leathers and helmets came and grabbed him out of his place, that’s what.”

“Could you recognise any of them?”

“Like I told you they were wearing helmets. Were no trolls or dwarves. Orcs maybe, probably humans or elves, though. I’d steer clear if I was you. Mind your own business, that’s what I do. Keep out of trouble.”

“This is my business.” Crimson replied firmly, turned and entered Stephen’s flat.

They searched through his meagre possessions. The only thing of note were several strips of antiviral drugs from a nearby community hospital, the Henderton Foundation Clinic. They also turned up Stephen’s commlink. It was a shabby, off-the-shelf thing and someone had done a thorough job of smashing it up. Crimson picked it up. “Anything you can do with this, Colara?” The dwarf took it, examined it for a while, then handed it back.

“Sorry, it’s too mangled. While I was online, I did notice something odd. Seems like there was a local disruption of matrix coverage, about the time your sister said Stephen was cut off. My guess is someone’s using a jammer, which means we’re dealing with either professionals like us, corporates or law enforcement.”

As they left the flat, the elderly troll once again emerged from his doorway.”Thought you might like to know that I heard of some trouble in a block down the way a bit. Think someone went missing there too. Maybe it has something to do with Steve. Hope you find him. Quite a pleasant neighbour.” The team said their goodbyes and went to investigate this new lead.

The block the troll had talked about was a low-rise building just round the corner from Stephen’s building. It was immediately evident that something had definitely gone awry here. The front door had been smashed in. As the team neared, a large troll emerged from the building, sniffing a piece of female underwear.

“I like this guy’s style” Arthur commented.

“I don’t.” Crimson replied and adressing the troll:”Those yours?”

He stopped and said: “No, his sister’s” he pointed at an orc, who had emerged out of the building behind him. Both of the guys looked sort of grubby. Crimson later learned that they shared a squat in the Canford Barrens and had not had much work lately.

The orc introduced himself.”Name’s Shandor. This is Frog” he said nodding at the troll “I’m looking for my sister, she went off the radar about two days ago. Her place has been turned over by the scum living round here. There’s signs of a struggle. Not much left but these drugs from the local clinic.” He produced a packet identical to the one found in Stephen’s place.

Arthur spoke up. “I’m Arthur. The chick with the attitude and the hot arse is Crimson and this here is Colara and that shadow over there is Suit.” Hands were shaken all round.

“Any of you guys good with tech?” Shandor wanted to know.

“Yeah, Colara here can make machines get up and dance.” Arthur replied

“Think you can have a look at this here camera?” Shandor pointed to a peephole to the side of the main doorway.

“Sure thing” Colara said and busied herself extracting the data the camera had captured. The six of them watched as a scenario similar to the one the elderly troll had described unfolded. Several individuals, dressed in black leathers, helmets and what seemed to be body armour broke down the door and dragged out a feebly struggling figure.”Bastards” Shandor remarked.

“Colara, can you check the RFID tags on these drugs?” Crimson asked “Seems like they’re the only link between the two cases.”

Colara took the packet and inspected the tags. “Look genuine. Both are from the same batch. Company called Seneca Pharmaceuticals. This is odd… they’re transmitting a signal. They shouldn’t be doing that.”

“Interesting” Crimson mused “seems to me that this is how the kidnappers select their victims. You say the tags look genuine?” Colara nodded “Then they must be coming from the source, the company. We should head over to the clinic and have a talk with the staff there, maybe they know something.”

The Henderton Foundation Clinic was a charitable foundation for those who were SINless and could not afford private healthcare. It was a drop in the ocean, but showed that some people did genuinely still care. It had been built since Crimson had left the Moor, so she was not familiar with it. The Clinic lay half a mile away from Jess’ house and was a heavily secured compound that even boasted its own autocannon turret. The six of them walked in through the automatic front door and Crimson turned to her companions. “Might be best if we don’t all crowd these people, they might get the wrong idea. I think if Shandor and I find out what we can, the rest of you wait here for now.” Arthur looked like he might say something but kept it to himself. Crimson and Shandor approached the receptionist, a middle-aged human woman. She looked up. “Welcome to the Henderton Foundation Clinic. How can I help you?”

“We would like to talk to someone in charge of treating the flu patients. Several of them have disappeared and the only link between them is this Clinic.” Crimson told the receptionist, who looked taken aback at this statement.

“You’d best talk to Dr. Sheresh. She’s in charge here. I’ll call her for you.” The receptionist spoke into an intercom and summoned Dr. Sheresh. A few minutes later an elven woman in her forties appeared out of one of the doors near the reception desk.

“I am Dr. Sheresh, what can I do for you?” Shandor outlined what had happened to their friends and relatives. Sheresh frowned. “I don’t see what this has to do with my Clinic, but we had best discuss this in private. Are those people with you?” she indicated Arthur, Colara, Suit and Frog. Crimson nodded. “We’d best use one of the theatres, then” Sheresh said “This way please.”

She led the way into one of the operating theatres, where they all had ample space, even Frog. “Explain again why you think my Clinic is involved in this” she demanded.

“The only link between the two people is that they were both treated for flu in this Clinic and given the same antivirals.” Crimson produced one of the packets.

“Yes, Teromahazapromazumadene. It’s what we prescribe all our flu patients. It is donated by corporations, like all our medications. I don’t see what…”

“The RFID tags on these packets are transmitting a signal” Colara interrupted “it’s probab;y how these people find your patients.”

“But why?” Sheresh asked.

“We don’t know yet” Crimson replied “what we do know is that both samples came from the same batch of drugs. Would it be possoble for Colara to check your remaining stock to make sure they aren’t transmitting?”

Sheresh looked dubious “I don’t know…”

“Please Dr Sheresh, if we don’t more of your patients might be abducted” Crimson said.

“Well alright, but I’ll come in with you.”

“Of course.”

The doctor led them to a room sealed by a large steel door and several state-of-the-art maglocks. “This is where we keep all our drugs” she said. “It should be impossible for anyone without authorisation to get in here.” She opened the door and led the way into a large storeroom illuminated with fluorescent lights and lined with line after line of shelves, containing boxes and bottles of drugs. Dr. Sheresh stopped in front of one of them. “Here is our stock of Teromahazapromazumadene. Take a look of you like.” she told Colara. Colara briefly examined the boxes of the drug. After a short while, she put them back. “Seems like it’s only this one, newer batch that seems to be transmitting. The other ones are fine.” she concluded.

Crimson turned to the doctor. Can you tell us which of your patients were treated with these particular drugs? We might be able to intercept these guys before they take another one of your patients.”

“Those records are confidential..” Sheresh objected.

“But your patients might be in danger. We can put an end to this, doctor” Crimson told her firmly.

“I suppose… but I don’t have their precise addresses. A lot of them move around a fair bit, so our records only show their area of residence.” Dr Sheresh conceded.

“Tha should do finer, thank you very much. Colara should be able to pick up the RFID signals as soon as we get close enough.”

Dr Sheresh led them out of the drug storage room and into an office, where she printed off a list of names and addresses. The latest one was a Mr. Henton Dvorak in Nelson Mandela towers. “Thank you so much. We will keep you updated.” Crimson told Dr. Sheresh as they left the clinic.

Nelson Mandela towers were another one of the architectural abortions that littered Hamworthy and Turlin Moor. As they got closer, Colara did indeed pick up an RFID transmitting. “Think his place is on the fourth floor, can tell you further details when we go in.”

She brought Vanessa to a stop and Crimson turned to the others. “I think it may be best if only Colara and I head up there. We’ll call if we need you.” She and Colara left the van and went up to Mr. Dvorak’s flat and knocked on the door.

After a few mintes they heard shuffling footsteps and an elderly human opened the door. He peered at them with rheumy eyes. He was obviously unwell. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“We’re from the Henderton Clinic and we’re following up our patients’ progress after the drug treatment.” Crimson improvised “are you Mr. Dvorak.”

“I am indeed. But I only started the treatment two days ago. Dr Sheresh said it would take a few days to take effect. She’s nice enough, for an elf.” Dvorak informed them, oblivious that there was an elf standing in front of him.

“That is true, we are simply checking that our patients have not deteriorated any further. I am glad to see that you appear to be doing alright. Just keep up the treatment and you’ll be right as rain.”

While they were talking she had managed to catch a glance into the man’s flat. It seemed that this door wa the only entrance. Anyone trying to abduct him would have to come through here. Colara, meanwhile, had secreted her observation bug so that it could survey the entire hallway.

“We’ll be of then” Crimson told the old man “see our other patients. Thank you for your time.”

“Any time” Mr. Dvorak replied a little more cheerily “come back soon, I don’t get many visitors.

The elf and the dwarf went back down the stairs and rejoined the rest of the team in the van. “Guess we’ll have to wait now” Arthur said ” I hate waiting. Wake me when something interesting happens.” he closed his eyes and dozed off. When he woke from his snooze an hour or two later, he found that he had missed nothing. Colara, Crimson and Shandor were watching the entrance to the tenement and the feed from the old man’s hallway and were drinking something, which, to Arthur’s disgust, turned out to be tea. He moved forward to join them. “Someone switch on the trid. Time for Carl Combat Mage.” Colara did as he asked and they could soon hear the theme tune to Arthur’s favourite programme. It was one of those reprehensible shows with a larger than life, perfect lead character. Crimson caught the beginning of the episode over Arthur’s shoulder and frowned at the screen. It was truly ridiculous.

Twenty minutes into the show, Colara, who was still watching the street, said “Guys…”

“Shhh!” Arthur and Crimson hissed at her “he’s almost there.”

Colara rolled her eyes and turned off the trid. “No time. We’ve got company.” As she spoke, a black van, not dissimilar to Vanessa pulled up forty yards away. As it did the feed from the camera in Mr Dvorak hall went dead. Colara swore “The matrix is down. Looks like our friends are up to their jamming tricks again.” Crimson looked out of the window at the other van. The side door opened and six figures in black body armour and motorcycle helmets trooped out. They made straight for the tower block, without looking round.

“Right, let’s wait for them to get inside, then we’ll follow, quietly and engage. Try to keep as many alive as you can.” Crimson said as she turned from the window.

Shandor had drawn a brace of pistols and Arthur was also inspecting his gun. Even Colara had produced a submachinegun from somewhere. “Ready?” Crimson asked. Arthur nodded. Shandor was already out of the door.

They entered the building through the same door that the men in black armour had used. The six thugs had reached the stairs up to the first floor when the team entered the building. Four of them managed to move forward with at least a modicum of stealth. The fifth, Arthur, did no such thing. As his lenses were still adjusting to the darkness, he stumbled into a large stack of cans that someone had piled up in the corridor for some inscrutable reason. He went sprawling to the ground with a loud crash and their quarries turned around.

“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” one of the men demanded, then saw the guns in their hands and shouted at his fellows “Do-gooders! Get them!” and it all kicked off.

Colara reacted first and clipped one of the goons with a shot from her submachine gun. The bullet exploded on her target’s armour, causing him to cry out in surprise and pain. Crimson swore “In-door ammo please!” but she may as well have been talking to thin air as Shandor opened up with his pistols. One of them appeared to be loaded with explosive rounds, as well. The second of the men looked in bad shape after Shandor’s volley and he scuttled into one of the nearby rooms. A red blur, Crimson emulated him and took cover in on eof the rooms near them, ready to engage after they had retaliated. This proved to be a smart move as she heard one of the assailants shout “Flash!” seconds later a loud bang and a blinding light lit up her friends and several bullets tore into them. Arthur brushed himslef off and limped into an adjoining corridor and seemed to cat a spell. Crimson ran from her cover and engaged the first of the men, the one Colara had wounded. As she ran pat the man, she kicked at his knee and felt it give with a crack. The man dropped his weapon to clutch at his shattered joint. Shandor sent another hail of bullets over her head and two more dropped in a shower of blood as the explosive shells made short work of their armour. Crimson rounded the corner into another room and found herself looking down the bareel of the gun. The gun’s wielder was obviously just as surprised as she was. He hesitated, which gave her time to grab his wrist. With a sharp wrench it snapped. At the same time she kicked him hard in the other shoulder, dislocating it. The pain from the two injuries was too much for the man. With a whimper he passed out and collapsed to the floor. The last man remaining in the hallway dropped his weapon and surrendered. His wounded colleague in the apartment by the stairs did the same.

Colara produced some cable ties and duct tape from somewhere on her person and the surviving would-be abducters were trussed up well. Crimson woke up one of the ones she had knocked unconcious to interrogate him. As he came round he blinked blearily at her, still clearly in pain. “Who are you and who do you work for?” she demanded from him.

“Don’t tell them anything.” one of his colleagues hissed at him.

“I think you and I should have a little chat in private.” Arthur told him. With a wink at Crimson he dragged the man out of the room. A little while later a shot rang out, then silence.

The man in front of her paled even further. Crimson smiled at him. “You were about to say?”

“We work for Seneca pharmaceuticals, we’re on the Project Narcissus snatch team.” the man blurted out.

“Good, now let’s go into some detail here. You work for Seneca. Does that mean you’re employees or freelance contractors?” Crimson asked.

“Employees.”

She swore under her breath. Runners would have been much easier to make disappear without repercussions. Corporate employees not so. “Ok. And what is Project Narcissus?”

“I don’t know. They don’t tell us anything. All we do is follow the signal, pick up anyone there and deliver them.”

“Deliver them? Where?”

“The compound in the Barrens. I’ll put it on a map for you.” She produced a commlink and he did as he had said. Arthur returned at this point grinning evilly. Crimson turned to him and the others. “Anyone think of anything else to ask this guy?” Nobody was forthcoming with ideas, so she replaced the man’s tape gag. “Let’s have a look at this compound then.” she said as she rose.

“What about these guys?” Colara asked.

“I’ll give Jess a call. She can spread the word that the guys who’ve been taking people are here. Let the locals deal with them. We got everything we need?” she asked Shandor who had been busy plundering the men.

“Sure thing.” he replied happily “I got their guns, armour and ‘links.”

“K. You might want to wipe those RFID tags off the stuff. Otherwise we’ll have Seneca goons breathing down our necks before we get out of the Moor.” Crimson suggested.

“Tags! Of course. Clean forgot.” he slapped his forehead.

“Hand them over” Colara said and got to work disabling the ID transmitters.

“What about the van? They might have a driver in there.” Arthur said.

“Good thought” Crimson agreed. “I’ll get myself into their armour and take hinm out when I get close.” She donned the mooks’ armour and left for the van. There was indeed a man in identical dress satnding beside the van. As she approached he called out “Everything alright?” Then stared straight past her at something. As Crimson turned to look, she saw Shandor emerging from th e building with his guns drawn. She started to run at the driver as the orc fired two shots at him, wounding him. She reached him just as he managed to draw his gun. His espression was one of surprise when who he thought to be a friend drove her knee into his midriff. He collapsed without a sound and Crimson threw his body into the van. She spoke into her ‘link: “All clear. Colara can you get this van to your place? We might be able to get some cash for it.”

“No problem” the dwarf replied. “Just switch off that jammer. Crimson located the device in the front and switched it off. “Thanks.” Colara said over her commlink. “I’ve got control. Taking her to my place.” The van started moving off.

Shortly after, the rest of the team left the building to joins Shandor and Crimson outside. “I suggest we head over to the Barrens and have a look at that compound.” The others started piling into Vanessa and Shandor went to his disused police cruiser. A short distance into their trip, Crimson was just about to call her sister, they saw another van, very similar tp the other one scream past them toward Nelson Mandela Towers. Crimson swore.” They must have got a message out. Maybe best if we lie low, at least until tonight, then try our luck.”

Arthur concurred. “Good idea. I need a little timne to recuperate and we can get a hold of our contacts, see if anybody’s after us.”

I can have my spy drone follow them and keep a look out” Colara threw in. ” We can monitor it from my place.”

“Alright we’ll head over to yours then.”

At Colara’s place, Arthur crashed out on the couch and called Mr. Sly, his fixer to enquire whether there was a contract going out on their heads. Mr. Sly had not heard of such a contract but promised to call if he did hear anything. “I did hear there were some ganger types looking for you and your friends though” he warned” be on the lookout. Meanwhile, Crimson phoned Mr. Johnson at Horizon and outlined their problem. “I’ve not heard anything” he said “but if you can get me some proof of this thing, especially footage from this compound, I can buy that off you.”

“See what I can do” Crimson told him.

Colara had been watching her spy plane. “Seems like our boys told the truth. That second van went straight there and unloaded them.”

“Right” Crimson said, “We’ll catch a few hours rest and then we’ll se what they’re up to over there.”

They did so and a few hours later they headed out to the Barrens. The compound was roughly one hundred metres a side, bounded by a chain link fence which was topped with razor wire and had a gate in one corner. The gate was opened buy some kind of keypad. Three squat two-story buildings occupied the compund. Two were obviously warehouses. The other was an office block.

As they watched they saw two pairs of guards patrolling the perimeter. At regular intervals they saw a security drone sweep the area. Arthur, who had been in Astral space, said “There’s a spirit in there. Big. Nasty. Seems to be linked to the patrolteams. Anything we do to them, it’ll know. So will the mage controlling it. We’ll have to take them all out at once.”

Crimson thought it over. “Here’s the plan: Colara; you’ll bypass the electric fence. Then we can use their jammer against them, make sure they don’t call for help, but leave a channel open for us. We can spoof their reports if we can listen in with your insect bug before we go in. Then I’ll take out one of the patrols, while Suit and Shandor take out the other, using stick and shock ammo. At the same time you, Arthur, banish the spirit. Plan?”

“Plan.” the others agreed

Colara attached clips to the fence to bridge the cut she was making and Crimson slipped inside after she was done. She did not have to wait long until she heard footsteps from around the corner. She waited untiol they were almost on top of her, then stepped out from behind the building. Before the guards even had time to register her, she had knocked one of them out cold with a punch to the face that shattered his nose and had the other one in a headlock. He, too lost conciousness quickly. As she dragged the bodies away, Suit reported: “Patrol’s down”

“Good work, mine are out too. Any news from Arthur?” Even as she asked she got her answer in the form of an angry spirit materialising in front of her. She kicked it in where it should have had a head if it hadn’t been a spirit of air. Thanks to her adept powers, she was able to harm it and it faded from the material plane with a wail.

“Right everybody get over here. Colara, can you hack these cameras?”

“I’m on it. Dammit. Something’s triggered an alarm. The drone’s on it’s way out over to you Crimson. It’s packing some serious heat, as well.”

As the drone rounded the corner, Crimson froze briefly. Then the drone was hit by a lightning bolt courtesy of Arthur and several stick and shock bullets from Suit and Shandor. She recovered and took out the thing’s turret with a flying kick. It powered down and Crimson wheeled it to Vanessa.

“The cameras are hacked” Colara reported, “but we’ve got incoming. ETA about thirty minutes.”

Crimson swore “Let’s get into the buildings and search them. They did so. The two warehouses yielded nothing. In the office block, they found nothing in the computers, but found a door in the basement, secured with a retinal and fingerprint scanner.

Crimson checked the time. Twenty minutes until a huge problem developed. “Can you get this door open, Colara? Failing that can you find out if any of the gurads outside has access?”

“Can do… none of the guards have access. Guess We’ll have to do this the hard way.” The dwarf busied herself with the locks, removing miscellaneous tools and gadgets from her toolbelt. After what seemed like a lifetime, the door slid open. “Got it” Colara declared with an air of satisfaction. “I’ll stick around up here and keep an eye on the situation form here” she said as the other four runners moved into the newly-opened stairwell in front of them.

“Be careful” Crimson told her as the group made their way quietly down the stairs, Suit slightly ahead of the others.

They followed the stairs down for several turns before Suit reported an end to the stairs in a L-shaped corridor with a heavy blast door at the short end and another, less formidable one, almost immediately in front of them, also in the shorter section. He couldn’t see down the longer section from here. “One more thing” he said as they moved out towards the closest of the doors, “there’s some kind of rail runinng along the ceiling of the corridor and into the blast doors. Maybe some kind of transport system?”

“Maybe.” Crimson concurred. “Let’s check out that door in front of us. Arthur are you recording all of this? We might be able to get good money for this footage from my contact at Horizon.”

“Never thought I’d hear you say that” the dwarf said with a wide grin and started looking her up and down.

“Stop that. We’ve got incoming in fifteen. Let’s hurry.”

The door opposite was unlocked and led into a server room, their fans whirring noisily. “It’s probably worth seeing if you can hack into these things Col…” Crimson cursed as she remembered that Colara was keeing an eye on the situation upstairs. “Guess it’s up to you Arthur” she told him dubiously.

“Don’t worry your pretty little head, I can do this as well as our techie friend upstairs” he announced confidently and hit one of the covers with the butt of his gun. It fell off with a loud clang. “See? Just as good and much quicker” he said before turning back to the console. He inserted a datastick and pressed a few buttons. Whatever he was doing appeared to be working, although Crimson was almost convinced that sparks were not ususlaly part of the process.

Eventually Arthur retrieved the datastick. “All done. Told you I could do it.”

“Well done. Time for self-congratulations later. We’ve still got to find Steve and Shandor’s sister” Crimson said as she peered out of the doorway into the corridor. ” All clear. Let’s go.” They crept up to the corner and peered around. They quickly ducked back again. Two drones were now patrolling the corridor on the ceiling rail. “Oops, must ‘ave triggered something in the server room” Arthur whispered. After checking the matrix “Yep, I know now what I did wrong.”

“Never mind now. We need to get past them. Looks like they’re armed with some kind of autocannon.” Crimson whispered back.

Shandor had an idea. He rounded the corner, both guns blazing stick ‘n shock at the first drone, which fizzed and switched itself off temporarily. Crimson swore and raced around the corner, grabbed hold of the ceiling rail, prayed it wasn’t live and kicked the remaining drone off the ceiling as it swivelled round to return Shandor’s fire. “Nice going on the subtlety department” she told the orc as she landed.

“It worked didn’t it?” he replied with a wide grin.

“Sure did” she agreed, “next time, give us a heads up, alright?” He shrugged.

They could now see theat the long side of the L was covered on one side by a large window, behind which a man in a labcoat was manipulating AR displays of metahuman bodies and molecular diagrams. He shut them down as he saw the newcomers. “It appears I have visitors. Most inconvenient. I wonder if he could… As good a time to run a test as any.” he appeared to be talking to himself as much as to Crimson and her friends. He then suddenly whirled around and ran through the doors behind him.

“After him” Shandor shouted and the team started through the lab. They stopped in their tracks, when the door their quarry had fled through opened again and an eigh-foot monstrosity stepped through. Not a troll. It appeared to have been human. Once. Now it was part mechanical and it was wielding two large firearms. Arthur paled.

“It’s got a Gauss rifle and a laser gun. We’re in trouble now.”

Shandor seemed unaware of this and opened up with his stick ‘n shock. Which had absolutely no effect. In response the thing raised its laser and fired back. It missed Shandor and hit the wall behind him. Which exploded. The four of them dived for cover “X-ray laser.” Arthur yelled. “NOW we are in trouble.” He appeared to cast a spell. “Hang on. Seems like it’s being controlled somehow. There.. that thing on its neck. Here, Crimson maybe you can try talking to it, it seems reluctant to be attacking us.”

With a muttered “I must be insane” Crimson got up from her hiding place, her hands raised. “Look, we mean no harm, the scientist behind you in the one who did this to you.” The thing paused to look at her then turned to walk through the doors behind it. It then roared in pain and Crimson could hear the scientist shout: “You WILL kill them!” and the thing turned to face her again.

“Any other bright ideas?” Crimson asked.

“Yeah. Smash that collar thing. That seems to be controlling it.” Came the reply from behind the cabinet.

As her adversary brought its guns to bear on her, Crimson ran at it, vaulted off a desk and delivered as solid a punch as she could to the collar. The thing moved back and raised its guns again. Crimson flung herself to her left as she heard the whistle of magnetically accelerated particles pass through the air where she had been standing and tear up an expensive-looking piece of equipment in the corner. “It’s not working.” she yelled

“It is. You damaged it. One more hit should do it.” Arthur yelled back from his hiding place.

Rolling to her feet Crimson leaped at the thing as it was levelling its laser at her. She pushed herself off its knee and another partition of the wall exploded behind her and she brought her knee into contact with the collar. This time it splintered into broken metal and plastic. Its wearer bellowed again and shambled off into the backroom.

Arthur emerged from behind the metal cabinet. “Not bad… for a girl.” he grinned.

“Feel free to step in anytime you need,guys” she told Shandor, Arthur and Suit. Suit shrugged and Shandor said: “You did alright.” At this point Colara called. “We’ve got company. I’ve had to scarper.”

“Thanks Colara. I have a feeling this situation might resolve itself” Crimson said as she watched the enhanced once-human emerge from the back laboratory, the broken body of the scientist over its shoulder. It shambled past them and they could soon hear gunfire and screams coming from the stairwell. “Quick let’s find Stephen and your sister” she said to Shandor and the team headed into the adjoining room. In there, they saw row upon row of hospital beds, most of them occupied by unconcious forms. “Good god, what are these guys up to?” Arthur exclaimed.

“I can guess” Crimson replied grimly. There’s Steve.” She pointed at one of the beds and hauled the limp form up over her shoulder. Shandor located his sister and was likewise carrying her over his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here.” Crimson said. She contacted Colara. “Can you get on to the authorities? We need someone to get these other folks out of here. And someone needs to stop that thing with the big guns before it gets into the city.”

“Will do” came the prompt reply “but get yourselves out of there quickly.

They did not need reminding and made their way back up the stairs, which were now filled with smoke and broken bodies, where the thing had rampaged through the security team. Outside they could hear sirens in the distance. “They’re playing our song” Arthur remarked as they jumped into Vanessa “time to blow the joint.” Colara left as fast as the van would take them.

She drove the short distance to Turlin Moor in record time and pulled up in front of the Henderton Foundation Clinic, where Shandor and Crimson dismounted, still carrying their unconcious burdens. “You guys hang back here” Crimson instructed Artur, Colara and Suit as she and the orc left to enter the clinic. Inside, the receptionist looked a little alarmed, yet unsurprised to have two people enter with bodies slung over their shoulders at this time of night. “Dr. Sheresh, please.” Shandor said without preamble. The receptionist did as she was asked a little hesitantly and soon after, the elven doctor appeared from one of the doors. “You found them” she exclaimed as she recognised the runners,”please come this way, quickly.” and she led them into an examination room with two beds. Crimson gently put Stephen down on one, while Shandor did likewise with his siter on the other. Dr. Sheresh checked the patients’ vitals. After a while she declared “They’ve been drugged, but seem fine. What happened to them?” Crimson briefly outlined the events surrounding the case.

“Thank god you found them in time. Did you inform the authorities, to have the other victims rescued.” The doctor wanted to know.

“Already taken care of” Crimson replied. She cocked her head as she heard approaching sirens. “Sounds like you’re going to be busy doctor” she said.

“I think you’re right” Dr Sheresh concurred “thank you so much for helping these people. It’s good to see that some people still care. That’s rare these days. If there is anything I can ever do to help you or your friends, don’t hesitate to ask” she said as she shook Crimson’s hand before leaving to attend the new arrivals.

Crimson turned to Shandor “I’ll call Jess. Are you going to stay here?” The orc nodded and Crimson dialled her sister’s number. Jess answered immediately.

“Claire? What’s going on? Have you found him? I can hear sirens. Is he ok?”

“Calm down. We’ve found him. We’re at the Henderton Clinic. Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.”

“I’ll be right over” Jess informed her and disconnected.

Crimson went outside to wait for her sister. As she did, Arthur waved her over.

“You should have a look at this.” He showed her his ‘link. On it was as aerial shot of what seemed to be a running battle between PMC forces and the large creature they had encountered in the lab. As they watched, a missile from a helicopter impacted with the thing. It did not get back up.

“Poor bastard” Arthur commented “never had a chance.”

Crimson agreed, then spotted Jess arriving on her bike and walked over. Jess took off her helmet and embraced Crimson fiercely.

“You found him! Thank you! Where is he? Is he alright?”

“He’s sedated but otherwise fine” Crimson told her as she extricated herself from the embrace and led the way to Stephen’s room. She quickly filled her sister in on how they had found him. Jess hugged her again.

“Thank you, Claire. I’ll never forget this” she opened the door to the room and went over to her boyfriend’s side. Crimson smiled, closed the door quietly and returned to Vanessa.

“Are they ok?” Colara wanted to know.

Crimson nodded. “Let’s work out our next step. We’ve got all the gear and the van we liberated from those goons, and I think Mr. Garner will be most interested in the footage you took, Arthur. We should see if we can’t turn those things into some money. Best thing to do, I think, is if you” she pointed at Arthur “get onto your friend, Mr. Sly and see if we won’t buy the weapons and armour off us. “Arthur gave a mock salute.” The van we’ll probably have to shift to some chop shop and get rid of piece meal.”

“By ‘we’ you mean me, right?” Colara interjected.

Crimson smiled and nodded. “Yes, you ok doing that?”

“Sure thing. What are you going to do?”

“I’ll call Garner and see if he wants this footage. Can you make a few copies of that, Arthur? I’m bound to get a few lost. Damn machines.”

“Can do,” the dwarf replied and fiddled with his ‘link. “There you go. A copy for you and there’s one at this address in the matrix. Just in case you manage to bugger your ‘link up. Again” he said as he and Colara shared a grin. It was still a source of amusement to her team-mates how badly Crimson got along with machines. She still called them regularly to have her commlink debugged and Colara had taken to locking her kit in anti-static containers when she was near her elven friend.

“Funny,” Crimson replied drily, but she, too, was smiling. “Can you drop me at my place? We’ll get together tomorrow when we’ve sorted everything out.”

Colara drove her to her apartment. They said their goodnights, Arthur with his predictable “What, no kiss?”, and she went into her block, waving at the security guard as she entered. In her apartment, she showered quickly and shrugged on a dressing gown before dialling Garner’s commlink. He answered swiftly, despite the late hour.

“Ah, Miss Crimson. What can I do for my favourite runner? I take it this has something to do with the commotion in the barrens?”

“You’re not wrong Mr Garner. We managed to get into the compound and found… certain interesting things. My associates managed to get some good footage and some data from their servers. Is this something you would be interested in?”

“Indeed. I would have to see this footage in person, of course. Why don’t you join me tomorrow at eleven for brunch in the Arcology?”

The Arcology! She had only been there once, immediately after she had made good on her first tournament. She hid her surprise well “Eleven sounds fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Excellent. I will look forward to it. I am transmitting you a visitor ID. Do not lose this. The guards won’t let you in without it. Until then.” He disconnected.

She slept soundly and awoke in plenty of time to make herself look suitable for a visit to the most ostentatious place in the PoBoMet, if not the whole of Britain. Luckily, their runs had been prfitable enough to allow her to assemble a wardrobe for most occasion, even this one. She selected her shimmering blue moonglow dress and went to work on her hair. Finally satisfied, she called for a taxi, which took her to the Sandbanks Arcology. Even before the Crash and the Awakening this had been one of the most expensive places to live anywhere on earth. Now it was a spire of shining metal and glass that glowed in the late morning sun. Remembering the attire of the kidnappers, she somewhat warily approached the similarly clad guards at the entrance. “I have an appointment with Mr. Jeffrey Garner at eleven.”

“Visitor or residents ID, please.” She transmitted the ID she had received the previous night. The guard paused for a while, cross-checking the data, then adressed her again. “Follow, me please, Miss Blackland” as he turned to lead her through the now open gate. Crimson nearly jumped as he used her real name, although she should not really have been surprised that Garner knew everything about her. Still a little wary about this new turn of events and the presence of so much security personnel, she followed the man into the Arcology proper.

She tried not to be too conspicuous about staring about in wonder at the sheer luxury that these people lived in, but obviously succeeded only partially as her escort asked “First time in here?”

“No, second” she replied, a little embarrassed at having been caught out. “Is it that obvious?”

“Not really. You look like you belong here. We’re just trained to look out for these things. Here we are.” They had stopped outside a cafe that was more luxurious than her apartment. “Have a nice day, miss” the guard wished her as he left her.

She entered the eatery and was immediately greeted by a chirpy waitress. “Table for one?” she wanted to know.

“No…” she collected herself “no thanks. I’m here to meet Mr Garner.”

“Of course. He is expecting you, please follow me” the young woman instructed after she had scanned Crimson’s ID and led her to a private room, where Jeffrey Garner was sitting at a large Mahogany table, sipping coffee out of a genuine porcelain cup. Garner was a tall man on his late thirties or early forties, slighly graying at the temples. He rose as the waitress showed Crimson in.

“Right on time. You look lovely.” he took her hand and led her to the table. “Please, sit.” Turning to the waitress, he said “The usual, make it two, please.”

As she left he sat down opposite Crimson. “Welcome, Miss Crimson… that sounds so formal.”

“Please, Claire” Crimson supplied.

“Very well, Claire. I am most interested in this footage and data you and your associates managed to aquire.”

Crimson produced her commlink and played back the footage Arthur had captured the night before. Garner watched with interest. “Most impressive,” he said when it ended, “very good indeed. I am sure I can make you a good offer for this, especially if the data backs this up. I am thinking we might even be able to produce a trid mini-series about your exploits. We would pay you royalties, of course. How does a hundred thousand NewQuid sound to you?”

Crimson nearly choked on the croissant she had been eating, but regained her composure quickly. “That sounds fair, Mr…”

“Jeffrey” he interruppted.

“That sounds fair, Jeffrey” she continued, trying not to blush. She had no idea how this man managed to knock her off her stride so much and she was starting to get annoyed with herself. It was a matter of pride for her that she could fit into any social situation, but the Arcology and Garner made her feel like a schoolgirl on a first date.

“Excellent” he exclaimed “now, let us finish our brunch.”

They did, taking about this and that, during the course of which Crimson started to feel more at ease. When they had finished, Garner showed her out, kissed her hand and said “The money has been transferred to your account. I will be in touch when the trid show is ready and if I require your services. Goodbye Claire.”

Crimson said her own goodbye and he turned and walked through the crowd, leaving Crimson to her own devices. She made her way back to the entrance and called for a cab, which took her to the Crashed Disc, where she expected to find Arthur. As she entered she generated more looks than usual and she silently cursed Garner for knocking her off her stride enough to forget that she was completely overdressed. Not just for the Disc but the entire district.

Arthur whistled as she came over to where he and Colara were sitting. “Well, well, well. What have we here? Aren’t you a sight. How’d it go with your sugar-daddy?” he wanted to know with another one his grins on his face.

“Not bad, not bad at all” she replied for once ignoring his smirk and comment. She lowered her voice “Horizon are going to pay us a hundred grand for the data, footage and rights to a trid show of our exploits.” Arthur spat his mouthful of bathtub whiskey across the table. It was Crimson’s turn to grin. “That’s more or less what I thought.”

“A hundred…” Colara said in amazement “we thought we did well. We got a total of twenty-five thousand off Mr Sly and a guy I know, who was in need of a van.”

Arthur had been running the numbers in his head “That’s twenty-five, each, if we give Shandor a share” he exclaimed.

“I think we should” Colara said “he helped a great deal and we might want to call on him in the future.”

“You’re right” Crimson concurred “he’s a useful guy to have around. Who wants to give him the good news?” Arthur volunteered and called the orc. The others could hear his shout of joy clearly over the speaker.

“He seems pleased” Arthur commented after he had disconnected. He raised his mug “To another job well done.” For once, Colara and Crimson joined him.

Several weeks later, Crimson received a datastick from Garner. It contained the pilot episode of the trid series. She called up the rest of the team and invited them over to her apartment for a viewing. After an hour of mindless dialogue and action, Arthur gave his opinion. “Great ey? What d’you think. They captured you perfectly, Crimson.”

Crimson was less enthusiastic. “Quite good fun” she conceded “but there is no way you can keep your balance required for those kinds of stunts with breasts that big. Plus I didn’t know Urban Explorer made jumpsuits that low-cut.”

“I know” Arthur said happily “maybe you should take some pointers.”

Crimson sighed. All back to normal then.

View
UpTempo Run

Tempo. A new drug on the streets. Supposedly, it allowed astral perception, as well as all the benefits of good old PCP crack. Beyond these things, Crimson had been unable to find much out about the drug. It was too early to know what the side-effects were, hiw addictive it was or whether it might just be a passing craze. Nobody knew what would happen should someone already capable of astral perception were to ingest it. Not really something you wanted to mess around with.

The familiar tone of her commlink calling for attention distracted her from her thoughts. It was Arthur. By the look of things he had also called Suit and Colara. He must have found a job. “Morning all.” He sounded much more cheerful than he ususally did at 10.00 am. Crimson took this to be a bad sign. The four had been a team for almost three years now and had come to rely on each other. This did not mean that things always went smoothly. Arthur still took some kind of perverse pleasure in making her uncomfortable. He never spent anywhere near that kind of energy winding up Suit or Colara.

“Morning Arthur.” she said as she braced herself for it.

“Guys, I’ve been approached with a job.” and with a broad grin “guess where we’re to meet the Johnson. You’ll love this one, Crimson.”

Could only really be one or two places if Arthur was this happy about it. “A brothel?” she guessed.

“Ooh, so close, yet so far. No, we’ll be meeting Miz Johnson in Ticklers down in Boscombe.”

Not a brothel, but a strip joint. By all accounts, one of the slightly more reputable ones. She was very unsurprised to learn that Arthur was a regular there.

Determined not rise to his bait she asked calmly “What kind of time are we meeting her?”

“Guy said about eight. Here, maybe we can get there a bit early and you can give us a dance.”

“You couldn’t afford me, little man.” and she disconnected.

In the past three years, the team had built a reputation for themselves as a professional outfit. This had allowed Crimson to maintain her chosen lifestyle. The other three were more or less unchanged, as well. Suit was still inscrutable as ever, Colara, despite the money they made on their runs was still desperate to move out of the less salubrious part of town her house/garage was in. Crimson could sympathise, she had been in the same situation not too long ago. That was the main reason she had agreed to turn over the cash they had made from the sale of the C-12 to her after their first run.

Arthur, well, he was still Arthur. Metahumanity was known to have several basic needs. Arthur was the only person Crimson had ever who seemed to live on sleaze.

Still, they worked well together and watched each other’s backs.

He had been thrilled when she presented him with the combat axe she had had customised for him after he had saved her skin from the previous owner, a troll with a very bad attitude. Crimson would have been willing to bet that “Bloody Mary” shared his bed, if she could be sure that Arthur actually slept.

There was not much to do until Colara picked her up to head to the meeting, so Crimson spent the day relaxing and reading.

At seven pm she donned her Actioneer business suit and went to meet Colara when she arrived in her van. She had already collected Suit and they swung by Arthur’s haunt. Colara parked her van, imaginatively named “Vanessa”, up and they walked the short distance to Tickler’s.

Outside the neon-lit establishment two trolls in ill-fitting suits were employed to keep out the undesirables.

Arthur strode up and greeted them by name.”Benny! Pork! How you doing?”

“Arfer! Doing fine thanks. How bout you?” the troll called Pork patted the dwarf on the head. “Come on in.”

Benny looked at Arthur’s companions, stopped when he came to Crimson. “You here for a job, love? Not sure about the costume. Might go down well with the corporate types.” He and Pork laughed as if he’d just made the best joke ever.

“Maybe, should be safe, if all staff here are eunuchs.”

At this point Arthur ushered the team in, before the bouncers figured out what that meant. Inside, he made straight for the bar. The barkeep greeted him. “Artie, the usual? What can I get for your friends?” He looked as if he, too, was going to make a crack at Crimson’s expense but thought better of it when he caught the look on her face.

“Yeah, the usual, Jake, cheers. Listen we’re here to meet Miz Johnson.”

“Oh, right. Just a minute” and he disappeared through a door at the end of the bar. He returned a moment later. “She says to go through, I’ll buzz you in.” “In” turned out to be the changing rooms. Arthur looked like a kid who’s been given the keys to the candy store.

One of the women, dressed in an outfit that appeared to entirely out of lace approached them. “This way please.”

Arthur recognised her. “Dae? You’re Miz Johnson? I had no idea you did some moonlighting.”

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’ll have more privacy in here.” she showed them into one of the champagne rooms.

“Please, have a seat.” After the team had complied, she produced three photographs. One was an aerial shot of some buildings, while the others showed two men. The buildings appeared to be dilapidated, in a neglected area of the town, probably the Canford Barrens. The two men were dressed identically in bowler hats, long johns and bracers, some form of gang colours, Crimson presumed. Her presumption was confirmed when Miz Johnson identified the men. “This is Christian Ferdevoegel” she said pointing to one of the pictures “and this is Alec Littletree. They are lieutenants in gang known as ‘The Gentlemen’. Recently these two men have been spending money that is way beyond their means. The job, should you choose to accept, will be to tail these two, find out who their contacts are and where their money comes from. At this point you are not to engage them in person. This is a pure surveillance mission. It pays 5000 NewQuid, half up front.”

“Each?” Crimson wanted to know.

“Each.” “5000 each?” Arthur exclaimed “that’s a l…” but was silenced when Crimson kicked him under the table. Hard.

You should never accept any amount of pay as good. Always question. Surely every runner knew that.

Crimson tried to recover the situation. “It’s ok. But we need to go to the Barrens, follow these guys around for god knows how long, probably need to grease a few wheels here and there. Still, I don’t have much planned in the near future. How about you guys?”

The other three nodded their assent.

“You’ve got yourself a deal, Miz Johnson.”

“Good. Here’s a number you can contact me on, if you find anything worthwhile.” And she transmitted a number to a disposable commlink as well as the advance payment.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to work” Miz Johnson said as she left the room.

As Suit, Colara and Crimson rose to leave, Arthur said “you’ll have to excuse me as well, think I’ll stick around,then head to the Crashed Disc, see what I can find out. Sure you don’t want to hang around, Crimson? Could be fun.”

“Only if they have guys stripping.”

“Sorry, girls only here.” He didn’t sound too sorry.

A little disappointed: “I’ll pass then. See you later.”

Crimson said goodbye to Suit and Colara and called her sister, Jess. Jess still lived in Turlin Moor and usually had her ear to the ground. Maybe she had heard anything about the Gentlemen. They arranged to meet at the Swan and Tomato as Crimson thought that Bones might have heard something and she could get changed there. She kept a set of spare clothes in her locker. The Swan was relatively quiet. It was still quite early and no fights were scheduled. Nodding to a few regulars, Crimson headed into the back to her locker, showered and changed into clothes suitable for a night on the town.

She headed back into the main bar area, sat down at the bar and motioned for Bones to come over. “Yeah?”

“What do you know about a gang called the gentlemen? More specifically, these two guys?” she showed the troll the pictures of the men.

“This a job?”

Crimson nodded.

Bones scratched his chin. “Don’t know much. Seems that they’re quite new. Up and coming, I hear. Operate mainly out of the barrens and have got some connections in the slums. Seem to be branching out into Greater Portsmouth, as well. Not sure what kind of stuff they’re into. Mainly drug-peddling and protection rackets, I think. Don’t recognise this guy” he said pointing at Ferdevoegel’s picture “but this one” he gestured at the other one “think I’ve seen him around. Thinks he’s some kind of bigshot, flashing cash everywhere. That’s about all I know.”

“Thanks, Bones. Need to run, anyhow.” Jess had just entered the dingy establishment. The sisters shared a brief hug and headed out into the Tri-Town area. The evening passed enjoyably. Jess had not heard of the gentlemen or the two men in question. For most of the evening, she talked about the new man in her life. Crimson was somewhat dubious about this guy. Jess had a tendency to make very unfortunate choices in men and had got burned a few times. She hoped for her sister’s sake that this one was what Jess thought he was.

Around midnight they called it a night, said goodnight and headed home to bed. The next morning, Crimson arrived at the Crashed Disc at eight. She suspected Arthur had not been to sleep and tha tshe would still find him here.

She did not particularly like Arthur’s local. Way too much neon and the clientele consisted mainly of tech-head freaks. Most of them were pleasant enough but Crimson found talking to them very trying. Her unfortunate tendency to upset machines was also a hindrance when it came to interacting with the denizens of the Disc.

Arthur was sitting at a table with several other reprobates that frequented the Disc. All of them had that rumpled look that suggested that they had not slept last night. This was diffcult to detect on Arthur as this appeared to be his natural state.

Arthur was tucking into his breakfast, which appeared to consist of a large mug of paint stripper, otherwise known as Joe’s vintage malt, and something charred and unidentifiable, which was probably a mercy.

He paused as she approached and looked up. “Morning, Crimson. How bout you join us fer a bite to eat?”

Nobody had any right to sound this cheerful after a sleepless night and what Crimson conjectured was enough drink to put an awakened bear to sleep. With a dubious look at his plate, she replied: “No thanks, no charcoal before noon.”

She sat and Arthur introduced her to his companions. One of them managed a polite nod. The others seemed to be on a different plane.

“So what you got?” Arthur wanted to know in between mouthfuls. Crimson told him what she had learned from Bones. “How about you? Anything useful?”

“About the same. New gang, up and coming, bla bla. But I’ve asked my guys to keep their ears open and let me know if they hear anything. What do we do now?”

“Think we should wait for Colara and Suit. Maybe they’ve got something we can go on. I left a message on their commlink to meet us here.”

They waited for a while, but neither of their companions showed up. “Best give them a call” Arthur suggetsed. Crimson did as the dwarf said, but neither Suit nor Colara were answering their commlinks. “Strange, still if they don’t show, we get to spend their share, right?”

Arthur’s eyes lit up at this suggestion. “So, what’s the plan?” he asked.

Cimson thought about it. “I guess our best bet is to check out the safehouses in the Barrens and go from there.”

“Suits me. When do you want to do this?”

“Late afternoon, early evening would be best. That way we can sneak in under cover of darkness later on, if we have to.”

“K. That’ll give me time to pick up some of my gear. Meet you back here at 4.00?”

“If I have to.” she said with a smile.

Outside the Disc, she looked at the time. Plenty of time for a run back to her apartment, a light lunch, shower, change and get back here in time.

Back at her place, she looked through her wardrobe. She didn’t really own much that was suitable for a trip into the Barrens. But then, anything short of full body armour was unsuitable. She decided on one of her Urban explorer jumpsuits, this one coloured in earth tones. Relatively inconspicuous, while still affording adequate protection.

Neither of them had any means transport, so they took public transportation to the edge of the Canford Barrens. It meant walking from here. Maybe skulking. People who drew attention to themselves here did not last very long.

The first building on the photographs was the old grammar school, near the Heath. It was the closer of the two locations and they should be able to get a good vantage point on the Heath. They had tried to build on the Heath, but then the Matrix crashes put an end to that project and Canford as a feasible place to live in general.

Arthur and Crimson made their way through the crumbling skeletons of half-finished tenements and onto a ridge on the Heath proper.

From there they could see that the majority of the Gentlemen were clustered around the southern end of the complex, around a building that seemed to have been the assembly hall. The gangers appeared relaxed, just hanging around. No sign of much activity at all. Aside from hassling a tramp who strayed too close to their turf, they appeared content to stand or sit about drinking, smoking and generally lazing about.

After a while, the two watchers were about to give up, when one of the men, Christian, left the building and headed to what used to be the bike sheds. He had a parcel under his arm. When he exited the shed, he did so on a monocycle. Crimson swore. No way could they follow that. They had become reliant on Colara to drive pretty much everywhere. Unless.. “Arthur, wake up. Can you follow him astrally, see where he goes, what he does?”

Arthur, who had been dozing off replied “Sure, just keep good watch while I’m gone.” and he closed his eyes and his body went limp as his spirit left to follow the ganger. For the next half an hour, Crimson watched the former school and waited for Arthur to return. Then she heard a noise nearby. See turned slowly and saw several creatures size of a spaniel coming out of the undergrowth. A pack of devil weasels. The awakening had taken the weasel, an aggressive animal by nature anyway, grew it made it even meaner and had caused them to hunt in packs.

They did not ususally attack metahumans, but you never knew how hungry they were. Very slowly, Crimson got up and grabbed Arthur’s collar, then backed away slowly, dragging Arthur’s body along with her.

It was at this point that Arthur returned to his body. When he opened his eyes he saw that he was being moved away from a pack of mean-looking mustelids. “What the..?” he exclaimed

“Shut up.” Crimson hissed at him. “Let’s just keep moving away slowly, ok? Remember I don’t have to outrun them, just you.”

She continued backing away from the weasels. They watched the elf and the dwarf go with way too bright eyes, evidently that they were more trouble than they were worth and scurried off back into the brush.

“Close” Crimson muttered “Did you find out where he went?”

“Sure did. Nothing particularly useful here, though. He visited several bars around the university campus, Jumping Monkeys, Spikey Unicorn, Sticky Vicky’s and the Green Lantern. Seemed like he was peddling drugs to the students. Didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it. Went about it in a half-assed manner. Like he didn’t need to be doing it.”

“I suppose that’s at least something” Crimson mused “maybe his drug-peddiling is a cover for where his cash is really coming from. Let’s check put this other building and see what we’ve got then.”

They made for the gang’s second safehouse, this one a low-rise apartment building. The picture was more or less the same. The Gentlemen seemed to be loafing about, not really up to much. Crimson was starting to get frustrated. “This is going nowhere. Let’s see if we can’t find any other denizens around here. Maybe they know something.”

A brief search found a tramp asleep in a newspaper cocoon in a nearby building. Arthur prodded him gently.

The filth-encrusted man leapt up, instantly alert.

“What the hell do you want?”

Crimson decided this was more like Arthur’s sort of person and let him do the talking. The dwarf produced a hip flask and offered it to the transient. “Have a pull on this, friend” The hobo took the offered flask, twisted the cap off and drained it in one go. “Ahh, haven’t had a good vintage like that in years.”

The ‘Vintage’ was all of two days old, Crimson guessed.

“Now what do you want?” the man asked, now a little less suspicious.

“What do you know about your neighbours, over in that building?” Arthur gestured at the low-rise. “Them. Unpleasant lot. Very touchy. Just got slightly too close and they knocked out a tooth. See?” and he revealed his gums, which, indeed, had a few teeth missing. Although whether that was due to violence or poor hygiene was anybody’s guess.

Arthur seemed to feel sorry for the guy, because he made a few small gestures and the tramp leaped back, his gums suddenly more healthy and even his skin had taken on a slightly more healthy glow.

“What the..? Did you…? Thanks, I feel better than I have in years.”

“Don’t mention it” Arthur replied and produced the pictures of their quarries “you seen these two guys around?”

The tramp squinted at the pictures. “Yeah seen ‘em. Not very often, mind. Now and then. Here, the gang has another hideout around here somewhere. Seems that’s the place where these two hang out mostly.”

“Thanks, buddy. Take it easy.” and the runners left the man’s abode and headed back towards the school in order to talk with some of the locals there.

They found some of the locals in a basement of an abandoned shop, which, judging by the smell, was used as living area, kitchen and latrine by its inhabitants.

Several people, who life had evidently dealt a very poor hand, were clustered around a burning barrel.

A little off to one side, one man drew attention by wearing a relatively clean suit. Indeed, his entire appearance, seemed to be a lot tidier than the other denizens’.

Crimson and Arthur decided to approach this individual for information.

As they got closer, Crimson’s naturally keen eyes adapted to the gloom and she saw that the man’s suit coat showed paint marks and she could see brush strokes on his “shirt”.

Arthur seemed not to have noticed and as they approached, the man turned round.

“Ah customers, welcome. Have a look around. See anythinig you like?” he said in a very cheery voice.

Arthur played along with this ‘shopkeeper’ “I don’t know. What’s good today?”

The man hesitated, a little unsure what it was he was supposed to be peddling. He then recovered his composure, picked up a bent piece of metal and said “This is very popular today.” He held up what seemed to be an old concrete reinforcing rod.

“Hmm, not quite what we’re looking for” Arthur declined the rod “we’re really after some information about those fellows inhabiting the old school, especailly these two men.” He showed the pictures.

“Ah yes. I know them. Fellow enterpreneurs, I’ll have you know. Don’t have much to do with them, they’re in a different line of business and I can’t say that I much approve of their business practices. Bunch of thugs to be brutally honest. These two chaps appear to quite important. I see them around the old school occasionally.

The man rambled on for a bit and it was clear that he was not only hopelessly insane, he also did not have much useful information to share.

Arthur and Crimson said their goodbyes. “Let us know when you have new stock” Crimson said as they left the basement.

“Will do.” the insane tramp waved cheerfully.

Outside, Crimson turned to Arthur. “Poor bastard. What do we do now? Have a look in the school?”

Arthur shrugged “I’m more or less out of ideas. Let me see if I can get anything on the Matrix. That’s if I can get a connection in this place.”

As it turned out he could and he found old blueprints of the school. There was a maintenance tunnel that ran from the main school building to the one the Gentlemen had made their own.

Sneaking on to the premises proved to be easier than they had anticipated. The Gentlemen weren’t particularly alert and they found the maintenance tunnel easily. Arthur made short work of the lock using his autopicker. The exit grate turned out not to be locked and the runners emerged into a shower room.

After having a quick look and listen, they made their way towards the assembly hall, where the gang seemed to be hanging out.

They had almost reached the stairs leading to the balcony overlooking the hall when they heard footsteps and voices of at least three men. Not wanting to attract attention to themselves, they ducked into a janitorial closet. Crimson looked through the vent in the door and saw three men dressd in the ganger’s uniform of long johns, bracers and bowler hats.

They seemed relaxed and were talking among themselves. “Man, can you believe Christian? Totally up the bosses arse” one of them was saying.

“Course he is” another replied as they passed the closet “what with his sales numbers so down.”

They then turned a corner and were out of earshot.

Crimson and Arthur left their hiding place and crept up the stairs. At the top, they concealed themselves behind the railings and watched the gang.

“What was that all about?” Arthur whispered.

“Seems that Christian isn’t doing so well with his drug sales. Yet he still appears to have plenty of cash. Where’s that coming from?”

Arthur shrugged and they continued watching in silence. Nothing further happened and Arthur was getting impatient.

“This is a big fat waste of time. Let’s go.”

Crimson was inclined to agree and they sneaked out of the school.

They were running out of ideas, fast. “Think the only thing left is to hit the bars and talk to a few of Christian’s customers” suggested Crimson.

Arthur’s eyes lit up again as she mentioned the word ‘bars’. “Now that’s a plan with no drawbacks.” he agreed happily.

They made their way out of the Barrens and into the Tri-town district where the bars were found. Th closest one was Jumping Monkeys, so they made for that bar first. It was another one of the soulless chain bars that catered to students. Predictable decor and a very limited but cheap range of drinks.

The place was still busy; it was just past midnight.

They mingled with the students. “Keep your eyes open for anyone looking stoned.” Crimson instructed her partner. “Maybe you can step out into the Astral. See who can see you.”

It wasn’t hard to spot who was on Tempo. Three people, all students by their appearance sat at a table, looking very at ease. They were a male elf and two girls, one elven, the other human.

“Mind if we join you?” Crimson gestured at the empty seats next to them.

The man tried to focus on her, finally succeeded and smiled brightly.

“Sure thing, grab a seat.”

His female companions did not seem as enthusiastic about letting her join them, but said nothing. He leaned closer to her to be heard over the background noise. “You a student? Don’t think I’ve seen you in here before.”

“Sure, but I don’t get out very much.”

“Oh, ok. What’s your subject?”

“Finance and Marketing in Extraterritorial enclaves” Crimson improvised. PoBoMet U was mainly a business orientated establishment and she hoped that he was too drugged to question the made-up subject.

He didn’t seem to notice. “What brings you out tonight?”

“I was hoping to meet Christian here. Need to buy something off him. Do you know him?”

“Chris? Sure thing. But you’ve missed him. Best bet is to be here early in the evening.”

Crimson made a show of being disappointed. “Shame. I was really hoping to score some Tempo off him.”

“Tempo?” he leaned even closer. With what he evidently thought was a winning smile “Listen I’ve still got a bit left. Could share with you of you like.”

“Really? That’d be cool.”

He reached into his pocket and produced a small amount of white powder.

“There you go. Just stick a bit of that on your tongue.”

She took it and made a show of taking it as instructed, but managed to palm it and transfer it to her pocket.

“Not bad eh?” The student commented.

“Yeah good stuff.” she replied as she took the lead from their behaviour.

After some time spent mainly laughing mindlessly and staring at things, the students rose to leave.

“We’re about to move on. Care to join us?” The young man said suggestively.

Crimson considered it, looked at him appraisingly. Nothing special and she did have a job to do.

“Thanks, not tonight. Will probably come back tomorrow though. Might see you then.”

He shrugged and said “Maybe, have a good night.”

Arthur, who had been quiet the whole time, spoke up “What a dork.” he muttered. “What next?”

“Damned if I know” Crimson replied

“How about I phone Dae and report our progress. Maybe she’s got some ideas.” Arthur suggested.

“Sounds good. Otherwise we’ll come back tomorrow and try and collar Christian or hope that Colara and Suit pick up their damn phones. They’d be very useful to have around.”

They left Jumping Monkeys and Arthur tried the number Miz Johnson had given them. He got through to a voicemail and left a message detailing their progress.

After he’d finished he turned to Crimson. “How bout a swift one down the Disc?”

Crimson gave him a look. “No thanks, think I’ll turn in. Catch you later.” and she headed home, while Arthur went to his home away from home.

Crimson met Arthur in his favourite haunt the following morning. Whether the dwarf had spent the entire night there or actually caught some sleep was anyone’s guess.

She was just about to sit down on one the seat that looked the least sticky, when her commlink bleeped. It was Colara.

“Where the hell have you been?” Crimson wanted to know, “we’ve been trying to get hold of you for nearly a day.”

“Sorry, one of the drones needed attention and I had my head in there nearly all day and left my commlink in the other room. What’s going on?”

“We really need you and your drones for this surveillance job, Arthur and I have done all we can without, but have run out of ideas. We’re in the Disc.”

“Be there in twenty.”

No sooner had Crimson disconnected when her ‘link rang again. Suit this time.

“Got your messages. Where are you?”

“The Disc. Where’ve you been, anyway?”

“Busy. See you in a bit.” He disconnected.

Despite working with him for three years now, Crimson could still not figure Suit out. At times he was introvert to the point of being laconic, at others he seemed to share Arthur’s love of life. Arthur, for that matter, was happily emptying his second mug of bathtub whiskey since Crimson had arrived. Someone, somewhere might have known how many had preceded but Crimson guessed she was not looking at that person.

“S’up?” he inquired.

“Colara and Suit have finally picked up their commlinks. Should be here soon.”

“Plenty of time for another then” and he lifted his mug and gestured a the barkeep to fill it up. “Here, you should have one, as well. Will wake you up a bit” he told Crimson, knowing exactly what her answer would be. He wasn’t disappointed.

After a short while, someone spoke up just behind them. “So what’s the plan?”

They both jumped.

“Dammit, Suit. Will you stop creeping around like that.” Arthur told the newcomer after he finished coughing up the whiskey that had taken a wrong turn in his throat.

“Let’s wait until Colara gets here. Then we won;t have to gi over this twice.” Crimson suggested. They did not have to wait long until they heard the noise of Vanessa’s engine. It stopped and Colara walked into the bar. She seemed to be in good spirits.

“Finally ironed out the bugs my kit was having.” she said with a meaningful look at Crimson. “Hey,” she protested, “not my fault I don;t get on with machines. Besides, I barely touched them.”

“Barely is too much in your case, Crimson” Colara said, but she was smiling. “Where are we at?”

Crimson and Arthur recounted their mostly fruitless pursuit of Christian Ferdevoegel the previous day. Crimson then outlined the plan she’d been working on.

“As we’re out of leads, I suggest that we head back to the old school and see what we can pick up. Colara, we’ll be needing your plane and some way of planting your smaller bugs in there. We should be able to acquire some long johns, bracers and a bowler hat and Suit can have a nose around inside and plant the bugs.” Suit just nodded.

“Good”, Crimson went on “Colara, have you got face recognition software that you can load into the bug to make them follow our two guys.” The bug in question was a centipede-shaped thing about two inches long.

“Nothing easier than that” Colara saod and busied herself making the appropriate adjustments.

“Suit,” Crimson addressed him again “Arthur managed to find some old blueprints of the school. There’s and old maintenance tunnel that leads into the main building. We took that last time and had no problems. From there it’s pretty straightforward to get into the assembly hall. That’s probably the best place to plant the bugs, but I’ll leave the details up to you.”

Arthur spoke up “And if you need to hide, there’s a closet halfway up the corridor. Me’n Crimson had a moment in there.” he leered at her. Arthur was good at leering. He got a flat, unfriendly look in return. She was getting good at those, as well. Still, looking hard at the grinning dwarf, Crimson asked “Any questions?”

The others shook their heads. “Let’s head out then.”

Arthur settled his tab and they piled into Vanessa. Colara piloted the van to the Barrens and they found an empty garage near the old school that the Gentlemen used as headquarters. “Everybody happy with what we’re doing?” Crimson asked.

“Sure,” Colara was already readying her drones. Suit, dressed in the style of the Gentlemen, nodded and crept off towards the maintenance tunnel.

“Arthur how about you have a nose about in the astral and I’ll head over to that rise and see what I can see from there.” Crimson instructed and started walking up the hill. “Right you are” Arthur replied, sat down and went limp as he left his body to explore the astral space.

Crimson had just taken up her position overlooking the school when Arthur returned to his body and reported his findings to the team via commlink. “Pretty much the same as last time. Guys are just loafing about, not doing much. There is a guy in what appears to some kind of office though. Crimson should be able to get a look at him. One other thing: Tempo has an astral presence. Don’t know if it’s important, but something to bear in mind. Not sure why I didn;t notice it before though.”

Crimson engaged the vision magnification in her lenses and scanned for the man in the office. He was a corpulent man, sitting at a desk in the office, with his hat in front of him on the desk. He was chewing on a cigar and counting something in the safe.

“We’ve got an incoming vehicle” Colara reported “Fancy looking, too. Two guys…, wait three. One of them’s our man, Alec.”

Alec was dressed in the Gentlemen’s uniform with a long coat in addition. Some kind of lieutenant’s garb, Crimson guessed. The other two were obviously bodyguards.

“Suit, are you in yet? We need the bug to head to the office, my guess is Alec’ll be heading there.”

“Yeah I’m in. Bug’s on it’s way. I placed the other one in the main hall. Should be able to see and hear everything in there. Hang on I’ve got a guy coming over.”

“Crimson held her breath as she listened in on the conversation. She hoped Suit’s cover hadn’t been blown. She needn’t have worried. The ganger had only come over to invite a fellow gang member to a game of dice. Suit was good. He slotted right into the role.

Time to check on the bug’s progress.

“Colara, how are you doing. Got to the office yet?”

“Almost… yeah I’m there”

Not too soon either, as Alec had swept straight through the assembly hall and to the office. Through the bug’s microphone the team eavesdropped on the conversation in the office. “Alec,” the fat man, who appeared to be the boss said “good to see you. What can I do for you?”

“I need another case” Alec replied.

“Another one? We’ll have to get some more soon, good work” the boss reached into the safe and produced a small briefcase. “There you go. Same as always.”

“Thanks. I’ll get right back onto my buyers.” and he turned to leave, but not before Colara managed to pilot the bug into his pocket. Crimson could have sworn that she saw the little drone somersault into the coat pocket. Colara was obviously enjoying herself.

“Right guys, time to head out and follow him wherever he goes. Meet you back at the garage. Colara can you get your plane to follow him to make sure.” Crimson spoke into her commlink as she made for the van. When she got there Suit had already left the school. It seemed like he’d simply walked out of the front door. Crimson was again surprised how easily Suit fitted into any given situation.

“Let’s go” she said as she climbed into the van. Colara started the engine and they followed the spy drone that was following Alec Littletree’s car.

He had left his bodyguards at the school, a fact that they were obviously not too happy about, but would make shadowing him that much easier. Alec drove straight to Turlin Moor and Crimson could not help a frown as they passed the signs that had promised such a bright future for the area not that long ago. They followed the ganger to a low-rise appartment building that was still in decent repair. He parked his car and went inside, into one of the appartments. Through the bug the watchers could see that the placed was lived in, but looked like it was only inhabited some of the time. Alec threw his coat onto a hook and went about changing into a different set of clothes, much to Arthur’s disgust. The clothes he changed into looked quite upmarket. “Think we may have to swing by my place and fetch a change of clothes for me, so I can follow him where he’s going. I think we’ll stand out if we follow him dressed as we are” Crimson said. “Keep that plane on him Colara so we can head him off later.”

They drove down to Crimson’s appartment building and she hurried in to retrieve a dress more suited to where Alec may be going. Alec, meanwhile was moving, toward the Tri-town area, where they could intercept his path.

“Arthur’s eyes lit up as Crimson returned with her dress. “You getting changed in here?” he wanted to know. “Yes, but you’ll be standing outside. Out!” she commanded. Arthur made a disgruntled face but complied. A few minutes later he was let back in and they moved to intercept Alec’s car. “Hope one of you got that recorded” Arthur said, nodding at Crimson. They drove to the Tri-town, where Alec had stopped. He was walking towards a cafe named Bruno’s. Crimson had never heard of it, though she was usually quite good at keeping abreast of where to eat or drink and where not to. It looked like another chain franchise that had a shelf-life of six months.

She got out of the van and followed Alec into the cafe. He was sitting in a booth near the back. She selected one close by, sat down and ordered something unpronouncible that turned out to be a milky coffee. Alec was checking his watch, but he didn’t have to wait long before a large black man with dread locks and gang tattoos entered the cafe. He looked very out of place, but headed straight to Alec’s booth and sat down.

“You got the stuff?” he demanded.

“Same as always” Alec replied and slid the case over to him with his foot.

“Good. Here’s your payment.” the man produced a stack of cred sticks, which Alec pocketed quickly. “Pleasure doing business with you.” he picked up the case and left.

Alec stayed a while and finished his drink. Arthur spoke through the commlink. “Got a good look at the guy. I recognise his tattoos. Gang called the Ragers. Mainly orcs and trolls, from the Barrens as well. We got a few good pictures. Will call Dae and see if that’s enough on Alec.”

As Alec rose to go, Crimson paid as well and left the cafe. Exiting Bruno’s, Alec made straight for his car. Crimson was about to walk over to the van when she noticed a group of six men on the other side of the street watching Alec. She recognised one of them. Tony Falaci. Tony was part of the PoBoMet family and he and Crimson had met. He was relatively small fry and had tried to better himself when he tried to pay her to take a dive in a high stakes fight. Crimson had told him where to go. Luckily for her his actions had not been sanctioned by the Family and she only gained Tony’s enmity. Still, it wouldn’t do to let him spot her, so she bent down to adjust her shoe strap. Tony’s gaze went past her, paused briefly on her, although that may just have to admire the view, then continued to Alec, whom the mafia goons promptly followed.

As Crimson climbed back into the van, Arthur said: “Just got off the blower to Dae. She says that we’re good on Alec. Just need to find out what the other one’s up to now.”

Crimson checked the time. Somewhat early to hit the student bars, but they were out of other leads. The student bars turned out to be a complete waste of time, although Arthur seemed to be of different opinion, especially when one of the Arts students asked Crimson if she would do some live modelling for his course. “I’ll think about it” she said and took the guy’s number. “If you do, I think I’ll enroll” Arthur told her enthusiastically.

They left the bars somewhat disillusioned. Colara came up with an idea. “How about I get into the traffic guidance grid and try to track his unicycle? Can’t be that many about and we got the registration.”

Crimson slapped her forehead “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Cause you were too busy making eyes at the college boys” Arthur said, still with the same grin he’d been wearing since the bar.

“What’s this?” Colara, who had missed the episode, wanted to know.

“I’m sure Arthur will tell you in great detail later. Can you find Christian’s ‘cycle?” Crimson replied.

“Already got it. He’s parked outside a B&B called Debbie’s, over Broadstone way.”

“Alright let’s head over there.”

They did. Debbie’s was a somewhat rundown semi-detached house in a middle-class part of town. Several cars, as well as the unicycle were parked outside.

“Suit, can you get in there to see what he’s up to.” Suit, who had obviously had the same idea was already in his chameleon suit and he was donning his gecko tape gloves to climb up the outside of the building. Without a word he slipped out of the van and went round the back of the building.

It was not long before he reported back. “He’s in there with a woman. They’re well… Anyway I’m in the next room and I can hear them from here.”

Arthur got up. “This I have to check out for myself.” Before he Crimson could stop him, the dwarf had got out the van and walked up to the receptionist just visible through the open door of the B&B.

Through her ‘link Crimson could follow what was going on. Arthur was putting on a show of being an obnoxious drunk wanting a room. But then he was an obnoxious drunk. Crimson was very surprised when the receptionist refrained from calling the police and gave him a room key. Sh then proceeded to show him the room. This happened to be the one Suit had hidden in. Luckily, he had followed the exchange and was ready to hide under the bed as the receptionist showed Arthur to the room.

She left and Suit emerged from his hiding place somewhat unhappy about the dwarf’s antics. Together they waited for the couple next door to conclude their business, but failed to glean much useful information from the talk after. The woman only wished Alec “Good luck tonight and be careful.” as he left.

He mounted his unicycle and drove off, monitored by Colara via the traffic grid. He seemed to be heading for the Barrens. The woman left shortly afterwards and got into one of the cars. Colara was running the ID on the car when Suit and Arthur returned. “Damn, it’s registered to the PMC. She’s a cop.”

“Think he’s a narc?” Arthur mused.

“Possibly. Let’s keep on his tail, see what his move is tonight.” Crimson said.

They tailed him back to the Barrens and they parked up in the abandoned garage. As they left Vanessa to take up their positions, the man from Bruno’s and nine other toughs came into the garage. He strode up to Crimson. “We’ve seen you. Poking your nose into our business.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” she replied calmly “Our business is with those fellows over there.” she nodded at the school.

“Whatever.” the Rager said with a sneer “just tell the Don to keep out of our affairs. ” Crimson nearly laughed. He thought they were with the mafia. “Sure. I’ll tell him the next time I see him.”

The ganger was clearly surprised. He obviously had been expecting more opposition, maybe a fight ”... good. Make sure you do.” He turned and left, his posse of mooks in tow.

Suit had changed into his ganger’s disguise. “I’ll have a look around, see what’s going on inside.” he said as he left the garage.

The Gentlemen were obviously more alert and apprehensive than before. Whether that had anything to do with the black van parked round the back or not remained to be seen. Even so, Suit had no problems gaining access to the building. Inside he mingled with the rest of the gang and managed to learn that they were resupplying with Tempo that night. He had not been in the school long when the head of the gang appeared and designated three other gangers to accompany him.

Christian was not among those selected. The four Gentlemen exited the building, climbed into the waiting van and left the old school compound. Colara sent her spy drone after them to keep an eye on them. After a few minutes, Christian left for his ‘cycle and followed the van. A short while after that Colara started Vanessa and followed him.

The Gentlemen’s van drove up Gravel Hill and joined the A31 east. The 31 became the M27 after the New Forest and the van continued towards Greater Portsmouth, unaware that it had company. They finally entered the Greater Portsmouth and wound their way through to the docks. As the team got clsoer to the docks, Arthur and Crimson began to feel unwell. The harbour and dock area was so polluted it had twisted and perverted the astral space.

The Gentlemen approached a large warehouse compound, which, as Colara found out on the Matrix was owned by KondOrchid, AA company originating in South America but had since branched out to Asia. The van was waved through. Christian had pulled up nearby and was skulking towards a building dressed in a chameleon suit. Suit, in similar attire moved to the other side of the building and started to scale it. On the roof, he saw Christian attach himself to a zipline and drop into the compound. Arthur who had been nosing around in the astral spoke through the commlink “Watch yourself, Suit. There are three very powerful spirits in there. I can also see several sentry drones. I’ll guide you through.”

On Arthur’s cue, Suit followed Christian into the compound, dodging the drones and spirits. Christian had crept to a position where he could see the Gentlemen meeting with some Asian-looking men.

Crimson looked at Arthur “Think we’ve got enough? Seems like you were right. He is a narc. Give Miz Johnson a call, see if she’s happy with the work.”

Arthur did as he was asked. Miz Johnson was happy with their work, but not their revelation that Christian was a cop. “A cop!?” she swore. “Listen I’ll pay you 10,000 NewQuid to take him out.” Crimson looked at the team. They didn’t seem very keen. Ignoring them she took over the call “12,000 and you’ve got a deal.” Miz Johnson wavered a little. “You need to make your mind up quick, the window’s closing.” Crimson reminded her. “Alright 12,000 it is.” she disconnected. “Suit get back here” Crimson told him, “we need to take Christian out.”

“Understood. Think I’ll drop a flashbang on my way out, then cut the zipline. Let the Corporates deal with him. How does that sound?” he asked

“Good plan. Difficult to get back to us then.”

Suit did as he had suggested. On his way back up the zipline he threw a flashbang grenade at Christian and swung to safety, then cut the line.

Christian ran for the zipline, pursued by the guards, spirits and sentry drones. His face turned to one of dismay as he realised that his escape route had been destroyed, just before he was gunned down by concentrated gunfire.

Suit made it back to the van. “Got some proof for Miz Johnson that he’s been taken care of.” Miz Johnson was indeed pleased with the result and did not hesitate to transfer the outstanding payment to the team.

As they headed back to the PoBoMet, Colara said: “I’ve spoofed Vanessa’s trail in the Control grid. Will be even harder to track us now. Especially considering that he was killed on extraterritorial ground. For some reason I don’t think KondOrchid will be too keen to clear up that particular murder.”

The extra payment seemed to have soothed her conscience somewhat. Crimson was still a little surprised at how reluctant Arthur had looked when Miz Johnson suggested taking out Christian. But he looked more appeased now, as well.

Crimson was pleased with the job. Apart from a few minor hitches, the team had worked well again and this would mean an enhanced reputation and more work in the future.

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