About a week has passed since the blackmail job that led to Bliss 101, the Yakuza bunraku parlor, and the team has been keeping busy. Cole, deeply disturbed by what he saw there, has begun surveilling the parlor, determined to somehow work to put them out of business, although he has nothing more than a gut feeling that the people there are not there by their own consent. Blixt has been practicing a couple of new spells, Bashurr continues to tweak and improve his motorcycle, and Red has been experimenting with some of the hydroponic deepweed the team received as a bonus payment for securing the water filter from the EVO farm a few weeks prior.
Outside, the Redmond Barrens have been growing steadily stranger and more violent as the Redmond Mafia consolidates its grip on the slum districts outside of Touristville, demanding that the local turf gangs, sex workers, and dealers pay a steep tribute – and calling in some outrageous new heavy weaponry when they don’t. Days and nights in the Barrens have always been punctuated with sudden staccato bursts of distant gunfire from some penny-ante battle over a street corner or a squat, but to that is now added the gut-churning rumble of high explosives and the haunting new shriek of high-intensity laser weapons.
The team’s comlinks and PDAs ring with a message from Byron, asking for a meet at a secure and anonymized Matrix node. Each member finds their own way there: Blixt logs in from the high-speed comfort of his Bellevue apartment, Cole jacks in brain-first with his cyberdeck from his grotty apartment. Bashurr syncs his AR goggles to a public terminal in Touristville. And Red quietly slips into the computer lab at the University of Washington, where he attends school.
“We can’t meet in person anymore,” Byron’s voice is flat and his face is haunted. “They’re looking for that. Groups of people meeting up and talking shop. I think they have an idea where my squat is – Knight Errant was knocking on doors up and down the block the other day. They didn’t get to me, and wouldn’t have found anything if they had, but it was a message.”
He takes a deep breath. “And then last night…an ‘unidentified Bellevue businessman’ was ‘badly beaten and robbed’ during an ‘unwise excursion into the Barrens.’ That was the news this morning. But my guys say that guy was a Johnson. And the message is: Redmond is closed for business until further notice.”
Blixt sucks air in through his teeth. “That means…”
“God damn it,” Cole grumbles.
“I had hoped to put off this decision a while longer,” Byron says, his voice still mostly devoid of affect, “but this has forced my hand. Remaining independent operators in Redmond is no longer an option. We can make a tactical retreat and start again in Puyallup, or Tacoma – “
This is met with snorts.
“ – or we take the fight to the Mafia’s doorstep. Put them on the defensive for a change.”
“I want to stomp guidos,” Bashurr offers.
“The downsides to this,” Byron continues, “are that they have lots of money, lots of guys, and now, somehow, lots of really great hardware.”
“Yeah, where the hell are they getting that from?” Cole says.
“We need allies,” Blixt says. “Maybe Bashurr’s contacts in the gangs – “
“Well, that’s…you’ve both kind of anticipated my next point,” Byron says. “On the assumption that you fellows would want to ‘stomp guidos’ I’ve started drawing up the beginnings of a battle plan.”
A virtual whiteboard pops up in everyone’s field of view.
“I’m not your fixer on this one,” Byron says. “For this, I’m more of an…advisor. I’ll toss out ideas as they come to me, but it’s up to you guys to decide what to follow up on. I’ve got a lot of potential avenues of exploration here. We could, as Blixt mentions, start looking for allies. The gangs are an obvious first place to start as they’re in open warfare with the Mob right now. But there might still be some other indies, some fixers and runners, who might be willing to pitch in, too. Half my contact list has gone dark these days but I can start rousting out the other half.
“There’s the gun angle. Where’s this stuff coming from? The obvious answer is that it’s being smuggled to them. The slightly less obvious answer is that with the Triads controlling the docks, the smugglers are probably working overland. So that means the city government, Knight Errant, the UCAS, the Salish, or Tir Tairngire might know something – flight data or something – or, again, one of us might know someone who knows something. Or it’s possible that some of the really exotic stuff, like those lasers, might be on some kind of registry, maybe track down its serial number -”
“Get a laser and find out where it came from?” Cole says. “Let’s do it. I could use the extra stopping power anyway.” There are murmurs of assent at this.
“Where are we supposed to just find a laser laying around?” Red asks.
“Well, they’ve been using them in these big fights with the gangs,” Blixt says. “Maybe if we find one of those fights before it’s over…”
“Or we start one,” Bashurr offers.
A plan begins to take shape.
The next day, Cole pores over trid maps and street photos of Redmond, looking for a likely spot. He finds it: a small disused factory in a former industrial park. As a robustly-built three-story brick building surrounded by ten blocks of parking lots and broken ground, it seems like an ideal place for the more tactically-minded gangbanger to hole up.
“If any smart gangers are still alive,” Cole says, showing the others, “some’a them will be hiding out here.”
Bashurr races past the factory a few blocks away on his motorcycle, taking snapshots with his cybereyes. When examined later, the pictures show unmistakable signs of occupation, and the evergreen-tree anarchy “A” of the Ancients, the elven race gang.
That night, a somewhat worse-for-wear Ford Americar parks a few blocks away from a McHugh’s fast-food franchise. This McHugh’s has a particularly disreputable reputation as a place owned by the Redmond Mafia and frequented at all hours by its enforcers, lamely pretending to sip soykaf and tap away at consumer-model cyberdecks like wageslaves while sporting prominent bulges under their jackets and often openly dealing drugs to the other patrons.
The Americar disgorges four elves (one of them freakishly tall and clearly augmented) wearing the black-and-green leather biker gear of the Ancients. They stride into the McHugh’s laughing and swaggering like they bought the place, and completely without ceremony the oldest one, a silver-haired elf with piercing blue eyes, pulls a Ruger on the gum-chewing register girl. “EVERYTHING YOU GOT ON YA, NOW, BREEDER BITCH!” he bellows. “Get down and run for it, lady,” he adds, softly.
The two solitary patrons – both men, one heavyset, one slender – in the dining area stand up and produce a shotgun and SMG respectively. “You fuckin’ knife-ears got any-fuckin-idea-at-all whose joint you decided to fuck with?” the first guy says.
“Put ‘em down already,” the second guy whines, and fires a burst at Cole, tagging him in the shoulder. With a chorus of screams, the register girl and the cooks and janitor in back race for the rear exit.
Elf-Bashurr leaps forward with blinding speed, driving a tomahawk purchased for the occasion deep into the first man’s torso. The guido, not quite dead, tries to fire his shotgun point-blank into the big guy but completely fails to hit anything. Bashurr contemptuously knocks the gun aside.
Cole, reeling from the gunshot, fires a coouple of rounds at the smaller guy, but the little dude is clearly wired up and seems to move without covering the intervening distance.
There’s a bellow from the back and Cole sees a third gangster, a huge ork in a suit, charging straight for him from the back office.
Red puts his hands together, murmurs, and summons a spirit. “CHARMANDER!” it burbles happily, as flames pour from its tiny unnatural body into the kitchen, searing the big ork, whose screams fill the diner.
Blixt decides to be risky and casts a hasty Heal spell on Cole, knitting the wound instantly and leaving the mage free to act again. He recites a formula and fires a bolt of acid at the thin, weedy-looking gangster, striking him dead-on and completely dead. The scent of obscenely-powerful acid and melting flesh fills the diner as Bashurr retrieves his tomahawk from the first guy and finishes him off.
The big ork in the kitchen, looking at the ruin that’s been made of his fellow goons, drops his weapon and flees out the back. Charmander starts to give pursuit but Cole waves Red off. “Leave him,” he says, shuddering a bit. “We did what we came to do.”
Cole steps into the manager’s office and quickly decks through the ICE on the local computer, snagging some useful information on local Mafia activities as well as a couple pieces of paydata.
Bashurr withdraws a spraypaint can and, with his encyclopedic knowledge of local gang lore, does a very credible impression of the Ancients’ sigil on the wall of the McHugh’s.
Their work done, the message sent, the four elven gangers race out the side entrance and take a couple turns down nearby alleys, where Blixt dismisses the illusion spell. A little while later, four completely different people grimly pile into the Americar to head home and start preparing for the war they have just committed themselves to.