Seattle Reign

RUN 1: THE LOCKER JOB

Category Z is a bar in the Redmond Barrens, just outside the relative safety of Touristville (and the heavy protection fees of the Mafia and the Yakuza). It’s a bar, not a dance hall, not a nightclub; there are stools, pitted from use and wildly mismatched because they were sourced in every double-discount house and somewhat-clean trash pile in Redmond. And there are booths, made of creaking, smelly old dark vinyl that bears ancient stains of ketchup and hoisin sauce and God knows what else. And there is a bartender; he is not a friendly neighborhood guy, he does not hail-fellow-well-met anyone, he does not know any cool secrets of the street, and he does not care who you are. He is an hourly employee, not the owner, and tomorrow he might be a she or a troll or something.

The clientele are no more regular. Nobody knows your name – or anyone else’s, for that matter. People stop in for a quick one on their way to and from other places. The closest thing to familiar faces are the clockers and the sex workers on this particular block this particular week, and they are prone to sudden and unexplained recasting, like a sitcom pilot that keeps getting remade over and over.

But in the back corner of Category Z – since a few weeks ago, anyway, which makes him older than all of the customers and most of the furniture – is Byron, who doesn’t belong here at all. Byron is a dwarf, but a clean-shaven one, handsome, well-dressed in a succession of tastefully restrained suits with waistcoat and wingtips. His neat hair is a blinding blonde. His nails are trim, except for one pinky, which is purple with a single rhinestone in it. His fingers sport several expensive but largely tasteful rings. And in a bar that is singlemindedly devoted to minimizing the impedimenta standing between its clientele and the its stomach-rotting hooch, he takes his drinks in a martini glass with a swirly straw.

Byron doesn’t belong here, and he knows it, and he doesn’t care who else knows it either.

Tonight, a spring night in 2075, he is entertaining guests. People he hasn’t met before, but has managed to wangle or finesse their comlink numbers from someone.

Cole, the private detective, recently arrived from CalFree after some unpleasantness went down with some guys in SanFran.

Blixt, the pretty-boy elven mage, and the one person who, in his color-shifting jacket, looks even more out-of-place here than Byron.

Red, a quiet young Japanese shaman, dressed down in a cap and shapeless baggy jacket.

Bashurr, a big, heavily-augmented ork with a mohawk and a biker’s swagger.

Byron makes introductions, then launches into his pitch. “Believe it or not, you all have something in common: you’re all looking for work here in the Barrens. And you all have skills that complement one another. People like me – fixers – fundamentally, what we do is match talent to jobs. For fifteen percent of the take. If that seems like something you could do, I’ve got a little gig that just popped up tonight. It’s a rush job, hastier than I’d like, but simple, and the payout is pure cream for a night’s work.”

“So tell us about it already,” Bashurr rumbles.

“There’s a U-Stor-It storage facility here in the Barrens,” Byron flicks his wrist, and the runners with AR overlays see a disc-downloading icon as a dossier file is sent to them. “Mr. Johnson – that’s the client, and no, it’s not his real name – has a package in unit F-21 that he would like retrieved. The package is about two meters long by one meter wide. Security’s basic – three-meter fence, barbed wire on top, a few bargain-basement rentacops on patrol. The locker itself has a physical lock and a Matrix lock and both will need to be broken for it to open. Get in, pop the locks, get the thing, take it to the address in the dossier, get paid.”

This is met with shrugs. “Sounds easy,” Blixt says.

Cole frowns. “Always a catch,” he says, “but hell, I need the money.”

It is decided that they will take Cole’s Ford Americar to check out the site. It’s a short drive to another part of town, an industrial park, and they pull over in a cracked and pitted parking lot across from the U-Stor-It, which is heavily lit with floodlights. The facility itself is a series of low, one-story lockers in orderly rows with car-sized lanes between them; access is through an electronic gate situated behind a small office hutch and a bored-looking night clerk.

Blixt does some quick math in his head. “I could probably get the whole car levitated over the fence,” he says.

This has its appeal, but other ideas are batted around. Finally, a quiet approach is decided on.

Cole pulls out a dusty, little-used cyberdeck, sighs, and plugs the leads into his scalp. Within moments he is inside the facility’s system access node, and a short while later has managed to obtain the key code to the front gate.

Bashurr is discreetly left in the parking lot to serve as a distraction for the night clerk. Cole and the rest of the team pull up to the gate in the Americar, nod curtly at the employee, and type in the code. The gate rumbles open, and they make a beeline for the F block. Finding it, they pile out of the car. “Now we just gotta work fast. We’re fine as long as the guards don’t see us forcing the locker,” Cole says.

“Oh, I’ve got that covered,” Red says, almost the first thing he’s said all night. “Watch this.” He raises his hands and the team become nearly invisible.

Working quickly, Cole pops the Matrix lock while Red demonstrates an unusual facility with traditional lockpicks. The gate slides open…

Meanwhile, Bashurr approaches the front gate, cursing and demanding to be let in. “My fuckin’…my ex-girlfriend locked my stuff in here, man! MY STUFF! I gotta…let me through this fragging gate!”

Every guard in the place is suddenly on their way up front to face down the angry, possibly violent ork. Blixt flips the locker’s light switch on. It is a bare, sad, ten-by-ten concrete room, empty aside from one thing: a long, black thing of glass and metal, two meters long and nearly a meter high. A stasis coffin. Cole rubs condensation away with a shirt cuff and sees a middle-aged Japanese man’s face beneath his hand. He shudders involuntarily.

Blixt levitates the coffin into the back of the Americar, getting it wedged in mostly securely. Meanwhile, up front, the argument is getting more heated.

“I can’t let you in, it’s company policy, you’ll have to come back during normal business -”
SIR SIR SIR I NEED YOU TO STEP BACK AWAY FROM THE GATE SIR I NEED YOU TO STEP AWAY SLOWLY – "

Just then, rBashurr happens to glance above the buzzed haircuts of the security guards and above the rim of the barbed wire fence into the dull grey night sky; and he notices that one of the ubiquitous choppers that crisscross at a safe distance above the Barrens has suddenly, abruptly changed its course. It seems to be heading his way. It seems to be bearing down on the U-Stor-It.

“Uh…what? What, you just don’t like orks, isn’t it?” he shouts into his open comlink. “And now you’re calling a chopper on me?! A whole helicopter headed this way really fast for one unarmed ork who just wants his guitar? Man, that’s fucked up.”

The Americar pulls out of the front gate, causing guards and ork alike to make way. “Gentlemen,” Cole nods, trying to seem casual. He turns into the street, kills the lights, and pulls into the parking lot across the street. Bashurr backs down from the scene he’d made and dives into the now much more cramped sedan.

“What’s this about a helicop-” Blixt starts to say.

“Fucking punch it!” Bashurr shouts at Cole, who immediately begins driving evasively between the tall warehouses and office parks of the industrial district.

Red looks out the window. “They’re still lfollowing us!”

“It’s that goddamn coffin, it’s gotta be,” Cole shouts. “Red, take the wheel.” He awkwardly trades seats and pulls out the deck again.

“Let me see if I can buy us some time,” Red says. He murmurs to himself, channeling power…

A few hundred feet away, a giant fiery bat divebombs the chopper, raking at the windscreen with its claws. The helicopter wheels around, listing from side to side in visible confusion.

Cole plugs into the stasis coffin’s software and finds an active security profocol – an RFID theft alert. The storage shed’s dampers must have killed the signal, but when they took it out, it was like sending up a flare. He hurriedly shuts the process down, but not before noticing that the software operating system screams “Renraku.”

The firebat spirit can’t do any real damage, but the copter pilot has lost his bearings, and now they’ve lost their signal. The chopper peels away at high speed in the wrong direction, and the runners slip away into the shadows.

A while later, the Americar pulls into a sublevel parking garage, where a large unmarked black van and two suited, sunglassed corp types are waiting. A man and a woman, both with odd markings on their faces. Circuitry? Or tattoos?

“Well, med data says our man didn’t get him inside in time,” the woman says, glancing at a small black handheld readout. “He’s meat. What a clusterfrag.”

“Oh, I bet the necrotechs can pull something useful,” the man says, with a cold smile. “You haven’t seen them work. Hoi, runners. You just salvaged an operation months in the making, and a couple hours ahead ot schedule to boot. Load that coffin into the back, would you? Thanks. We’ll be sure to mention your efficiency to Mr. Johnson in our report.”

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RUN 3: THE HOSTAGE JOB

A week has passed since the team’s first job and the Stuffer Shack shootout on the way home. Their fixer, Byron the immaculately-dressed dwarf, has been contacted by a new Johnson who wants to meet the team in a secure Matrix node. Present and accounted for are Cole the PI, Bashurr the ork biker, Blixt the mage, and Wintermute the rigger.

The Johnson presents himself as a nervous, stuttering middle manager. He tells the team a rival for promotion has hired a gang in the Barrens to kidnap Mr. Johnson’s paramour and intends to use her to blackmail him into giving up the job. He had put an RFID chip in the girl and has her location but it’s deep in Halloweeners territory. He stammers that he can pay the runners 35 large for the task.

Cole listens carefully to the Johnson’s voice and decides he is lying. He confronts him and demands the truth, or at least more money, and totally blitzes the man with his aggressive negotiation.

Mr. Johnson goes quiet for a second. When he comes back, his voice is subtly different and much more confident. “Yes. You’re right. I’m not some…manager…and they aren’t blackmailing me, but you need to get this girl back unharmed. And that is all I’m willing to say on the matter.”

They talk him up to Y50,000, with twenty upfront, and take the job.

The team decide not to let the soygrass grow under their feet and move out tonight, under cover of darkness. Bashurr shakes the tree with one of his old gang contacts and finds out that some Night Hunters, a racist human gang associated with the Humanis Policlub, have been seen in the Halloweeners’ turf recently. Blixt the mage casts an illusion on Cole’s Ford Americar, making it look like a Halloweener hoopty complete with a flaming hologram pumpkin on the hood, and the team passes through ’weener turf unmolested.

Wintermute flies his spy drone ahead, scouting out the target area. The RFID signal is coming from the basement of a ruined Catholic church. The roof has been partly caved in and the bulk of the structure is exposed to the elements, but the door to the cellar has been heavily reinforced. The drone’s thermographic vision picks up no life signs on the ground in a 200 meter radius around the church save for two adorable dogs curled up on the exposed floor of the sanctuary.

“Hm,” Blixt says, and scans the place astrally. The adorable dogs look somewhat more…robust…under Astral vision. Cole and Wintermute start sneaking forward to try and gain the element of surprise, but Blixt stops them. “I’ve got a better idea.”

A dripping, juicy steak floats through the air in front of the hellhounds and out the open side of the church, off into the distance, and the dogs happily lope off after it.

The team takes a moment to investigate the ruined interior of the church. The indoor stairs have been sealed with explosives, recently by the look of it. There’s an old handicapped elevator on one side of the sanctuary, and Bashurr the ork steps forward and pries the door open, getting a faceful of diesel fumes in the process. The Night Hunters have put a generator down there, using the open elevator shaft to vent the fumes. Concealed by its noise, the runners drop down to the church basement.

With surprising deftness, Bashurr sneaks up behind a patrolling Night Hunter guard and axes him a question – the answer is “two halves,” by the way. The team hears voices ahead and Cole uses his cyberears to filter out the sound of the generator. He can hear three other guards patrolling; two are talking about “the client” and how he’s a real ball buster, but they’re looking forward to getting a piece of “the target.” Cole then filters them out and hears the voice of an older man and a young woman – almost certainly the hostage. The man is demanding to know where “he” is and telling the woman that she is deluded.

The eavesdropping is interrupted by a guard rounding the corner. Wintermute, his Doberman drone, and Cole all take shots at the guy but he ducks back around the corner as linoleum and old cinderblocks shatter from the impact of bullets. It’s on now! Bashurr races forward and once again one-shots the guard. Around the corner is a big multipurpose room filled with card tables that the guards had obviously recently been occupying. At the other end of the room, a guard draws his katana and pistol and charges Bashurr – but Blixt flash-freezes the first guard’s pool of gore, causing the second ganger to slip and slide in Scooby-Doo fashion.
The ganger and Bashurr trade swipes with their katana and axe, respectively. Cole’s big revolver wounds the ganger and Bashurr finishes him off. The third guard, having come around from behind, sprays the party with a submachine gun with more enthusiasm than precision.

From a kitchen door at the back of the multipurpose room, an aged Salish shaman bursts out, waving an eagle fetish and screaming at the runners “You idiots! Do you even know who you’re working for?” Seeing the wrecked bodies of his guards, he fires a powerful manabolt straight into Bashurr’s chest, wounding the ork for the very first time – although having gone a bit wild, the shaman soaks up drain damage in the process, spurting a nosebleed.

The ganger behind the team gets a few solid hits on Wintermute, but his victory is short lived as literally the next thing that happens is the Doberman drone’s AK-97 riddles him.

Just as Bashurr is about to hack the shaman apart, Cole races forward, thinking fast. “Drop the totem, big chief!”

He does, carefully placing both hands on his head. “Do you fools know you’ve been working for a vampire?”

“Well you have racists working for you, so…” says Blixt.

The party goes back into the kitchen and frees the girl, Connie Oh, a gutterpunk girl from Glow City. The shaman, Logan Twelve Trees, says he’s been hunting this particular vampire for decades and this girl is its new thrall. He paid the Night Hunters to snatch her in hopes she would reveal its lair. “But it’s already ensorcelled her,” he says. “She actually wants to be bitten, or thinks she does.”

Blixt checks; she doesn’t seem to be under any mental compulsion. Her Essence has been macerated, though – drained by multiple bites, but there’s something else wrong with her too.
She shows the runners the malignant lumps on her skin. “Glow City,” she says. “Yeah, I wanna get bit. This ain’t no kind a life. This way I can spend it with him, at least.”

“HE’LL TEAR YOU APART, DREKHEAD!” the old Native screams. “I’ve seen him do it! It’s what he did to…”

“He regrets your ma every day,” she says. “He only takes people who ask for it, now. And he don’t kill anymore. But he’ll remember her for the rest of his life, however long that is. He wants you to move on with yours.”

“Yeah, uh,” Bashurr says. “I don’t give a drek for family drama. I think we’re taking the girl and getting paid. You still want to hunt this guy later, give us a call, I guess.”

“We’re spendy,” Cole adds.

Twelve Trees slumps his shoulders. “I can’t stop you. Eagle forgive me.” He kicks away his fetish in disgust.

“Cheer up,” the girl says. “Even if you’re right, it just means he doesn’t have to snack on some other glowgirl.”

The shaman’s lip quirks. “I guess he has a type. You look kind of like her.”

“Yeah, and you look just like him,” Connie says. “Let’s go, boys. I ain’t never been on no Shadowrun before.”

They go back out to the car and Blixt nearly passes out re-casting the Halloweener illusion. Cole drives them into Bellevue, where Mr. Johnson has reserved a room for Connie under the name “3Jane Smith.”

“Thanks for bein’ cool, chummer,” she says as they get ready to leave the hotel lobby. “And you ever see a really pale guttergirl dancing in some club in a few years, maybe come say hi.”

“Yeah, well,” Bashurr says, “take care. But I ever hear of you putting the bite on anyone who doesn’t want it, you’ll see me again.”

A little while later, 30,000 nuyen smoothly click into the team’s account, minus Byron’s fee.

“I don’t know if he really earned that,” Blixt says.

“We’re gonna have to talk to that little asshole,” Cole says. “He’s 0 for 2!”

“I dunno, man,” Wintermute says. “The guy came through. We made almost ten grand apiece. Not bad for a night’s work.”

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RUN 4: THE TOXIC SHOCK JOB

It’s been a few days after his last run and Cole awakes to find Byron the fixer dinging his commlink. “Is this going to make me money?” he barks.

“I wouldn’t be calling if it weren’t,” answers the dwarf, matter-of-factly.

Cole cleans up, dresses, and heads to Category Z. Byron is in his usual booth, sporting a tiny waistcoat and fob watch, and seated with him is a tall, pale, visibly augmented man wearing a long black armored duster and blank, expressionless stare.

“Cole, meet…uh, Cage, wasn’t it?” Byron says. The man gives a barely-perceptible nod. “He comes to me recommended by a mutual acquaintance on the Matrix. And I think we’ll need him for tonight’s run…if you’re in.”

Cole grunts noncommittally.

“I’ll take that as a…ahhh, here she is,” Byron’s face lights up with something like genuine warmth and also an edge of nervousness. Framed in the doorway of the dive is a tall, well-muscled razorgirl in full spec-ops regalia. The only things on her that aren’t black are her impossibly pale skin and neon-green hair. “Byron,” she says, snagging a stool with her boot and dragging it over to the booth in one smooth motion. “We heard you’d fallen from grace, but what, you recruiting from the retirement home now?” She smirks, without real malice, at Cole’s seamed face and shock of white hair.

“Can we not talk history in front of the hired help?” Byron says with a peevish edge. “Boys, this is our prospective client. Amber Blaze, one of the hottest runners in the metroplex. She’s subcontracting.”

“Go on,” Cole says.

She clears her throat. “Look, I’m a runner like you, and I feel like us runners gotta have a code. So I’m not gonna bother with the Johnson routine and I’m going to give it to you straight, or as straight as my team has it, anyway. We’ve been tapped to bring in an Awakened that someone wants real bad back in CalFree, alive preferably but dead is okay too. He’s been holed up here in Redmond. Target’s name is Theo Cloutier, a French-Metis from old Canada, and our own legwork suggests he was involved with some terrorist shenanigans in California and that our Johnson is some flavor of Free State law.”

She waves a hand, and a floppy-disk icon appears in Cole and Cage’s AR vision as a file is shared to them, though only Cole knows what the icon is supposed to represent. “Our surveillance has placed him near the Rat’s Nest, in an old DuPont plant up by the riverbank. He’s hired a small band of Rust Stilettos as his guards. They’ve got some ghetto-ass security setup, too. The plan is simple: I want you two to make a lot of noise and really get the gangers’ attention from the landward side of the factory. Put on a real fireworks show, enough that our target will try to slip out the river side. We’ll be waiting there to scoop him up.”

“This sounds like some soldier drek,” Cole says. “What the hell you need a run-down private dick for?”

Byron coughs softly. “Mr. Cage is a gun specialist and will do most of the shooting, I imagine. And I, uh, couldn’t get Bashurr on the comlink.”

A text message pops up in Cole’s AR from Byron. “You can read people. Keep an eye on the new guy and tell me what you think of him. He’s got some weird kind of damage. If he’s gonna get your crew geeked, we should probably know now.”

Cole feigns resignation. “Whatever. Let’s talk fragging terms.”

Amber offers 5 g’s apiece; Cole tries to talk her up but no dice; she knows all his plays better than he does. She takes pity and gives them 3 up front apiece.

“The op’s at oh-one-hundred,” she says, walking out of Category Z. “It’s sixteen hundred now. We’ll be in touch at midnight.”

Cole and Cage slide into Cole’s Americar and begin picking their way through the slums toward the Snoqualmie River, keeping their guns prominently displayed.

Cole puffs an e-cigarette. “So what’s your story, chummer?”

“I don’t have a story,” Cage says. “I woke up on a slab a couple days ago. My memory’s locked up.” He taps the side of his temple.

“But you figure you’ll just start running, no questions asked. Fucking Byron,” Cole groans. “So not only do I not know what you can do, neither do you?”

“I know my way around guns. Infiltration. …Other things.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Cole says.

“Then pull over.”

Cole does so, bemused, as Cage gets out of the car and begins striding towards a pair of squatter gangers sitting on a ruined brick wall.

“Eyy, man,” one says, pulling a combat knife. "The fuck you think you’re going? You gotta pay the fragging toll – "

Cole scrambles out of the driver’s seat. “Hey, wait a minute, I didn’t mean for you to-”

In one effortless move, Cage leaps atop a dumpster, then from it to the top of a small burned-out gas station. One of the gangers whips his knife at Cage and it clatters against the wall. Cage’s thigh opens up and he swiftly withdraws an Ares Predator, which barks three times and leaves the hapless ganger a bloody ruin. The other ganger charges Cole with a tire iron, and the PI grimaces and halfheartedly fires his Ruger into the young man’s thigh. “Aw, jeez, I didn’t want this to….run, kid! Get the fuck out of here!”

The living ganger limps away, into a back alley. Cage leaps from the top of the station and walks calmly back to the car. “You asked for a demonstration.”

“Well, you definitely demonstrated something,” Cole spits.

The two continue their drive to the rusting hulk of the old 20th-century DuPont chemical plant. It matches the description Amber Blaze gave them; a pitted old parking lot provides minimal cover for fifty yards on all sides. The Rust Stilettos have set up a small encampment, and there seem to be four of them: a thickly-built troll woman in leather and a halter top, a gangly, stringy-haired ork man in black denim, a squat ork with a vacant stare, sitting motionless in a lawn chair, and in a makeshift tent that seems to be the command center, a huge, hulking shape under a canvas tarpaulin. Cole also spots three home-made turrets – heavy-caliber rifles mounted on tripods – concealed amidst a few burned-out cars and random junk piles.

“Those cars won’t make good cover from the turrets,” Cage says. “We need heavier weaponry.”

Cole agrees, and they make the drive back to Touristville, Cole calling one of his contacts in Lone Star.

The contact, a fat ork named Kowalski in a polyester uniform, turns up half an hour later in the Category Z parking lot. He produces a trunk full of “slightly-used” weapons, some with the last owner’s blood still caked on the magazine, a set of dented bulletproof vests, and so forth. The fruits of the Lone Star low-priority evidence lockup. “Since Knight Errant got the Seattle contract, nobody really cares if a few pieces go missing,” he says by way of explanation, then launches into a lavish, passionate description of the calibers, ranges, and stopping power of each piece in between slightly fawning questions of the shadowrunners. He’s clearly the Sixth’s World’s answer to the mall ninja.

Cage buys a fully-automatic rifle and Cole buys a clutch of grenades. The two then head back in the direction of the chemical plant.

“I think we could use some backup,” Cole says. “Or at least some info. Could be those squatters in the Rat’s Nest know something.”

The North Seattle Refuse and Reclamation Facility, called the Rat’s Nest owing to the small group of rat shamans who call it home, is a mile upriver from the plant. THe evening shadows are lengthening as Cole and Cage pull in, and a young black girl standing lookout hollers their arrival to the squat. “Mrs. Mateo! Mrs. Mateo! Two drekheads with guns in a car!”

A large, middle-aged Filipino woman comes out of a corrugated shed, her faded dress not entirely covering a set of bulky augmentations. “You’re not here to shoot up the place,” she says levelly, “so you want something. Tell me.”

“We’re here about the Rust Stilettos,” Cole says, and her lips quirk. “Specifically, to deal with them.”

“Well, then,” Mrs. Mateo says. “I might be able to help. Girl, run and get Carlo and Mandy.”

A little while later, after a bit of very successful negotiation, Cole has secured the services of Carlo and Mandy, a pair of hot-to-trot teens who act as guards for the squatters, to serve as backup for the attack on the plant for a couple hundred nuyen apiece. Sub-subcontracting. The squatters also tell him about the Rust Stilettos – the leader of the small band is a giant, heavily-aug’ed troll named Thrash, who was kicked out of his last band of Stilettos for being too unpredictably violent.

“They say his reflexes are permanently wired,” Mandy says with a shiver.

The troll girl is Sapphire, and the thin boy is New Logan, who was brought in recently to replace the late Old Logan. “Logan’s not even New Logan’s name,” Carlo adds, “but nobody’s gonna contradict Thrash.”

The fourth member, the ork in the lawn chair, is Burny. “Not Bernie like Bernard, Burny like he got burned,” Mandy says. “He just sits in that chair all day and sometimes they pour glop down his throat.”

The crew begin formulating a plan. Cage will vault the fence out of sight of the turrets and climb the two stories to the ceiling of the building, then take out Burny first, who they reckon is probably controlling the turrets. “I’d hack them, but I don’t have a deck,” Cage explains. Then Cole will ram the car through the far gate, shoot a lot in the general direction of the Rust Stilettos, and peel out again, luring them away from the factory so the primary team can nab their guy in peace.

Amber calls at midnight to make sure they’re ready. She patches in the two other members of her team: Tex Talos, a dwarf rigger from the CAS with huge mutton chops and a down-home accent, and Grunfeld, a pensive-looking elven magician with a German accent. Pleasantries are exchanged, then Cole lights one of the incredibly precious real tobacco cigarettes (Red Apple brand, of course) that he keeps around to smoke before missions where death is a real possibility.

An hour later the plan begins. Cage slips onto the roof with ease. He withdraws his rifle, takes a long moment to aim, and perforates Burny’s skull. Directionless, the three turrets begin spinning wildly on their gimbals. Cole smashes the Americar through the rusted fence and he, Mandy, and Carlo spray fire in the general direction of the giant. Thrash – a truly huge troll, and seemingly half made of metal, begins charging the Americar with terrifying speed, bullets pinging uselessly off his hide. Cole fishtails the car and surreptitiously drops a live grenade in the car’s wake as he speeds back out the gate.

New Logan throws a grenade at the building roof. Cage hits the deck, avoiding the brunt of the blast, but is lightly tagged by some shrapnel. Sapphire fires a burst from her machine pistol but only succeeds in pulverizing a bit of masonry.

“We see him!” Amber Blaze’s voice echoes over Cole and Cage’s comlinks. “We’re making our play!” From the other side of the factory, the river side, a day-bright flare shoots up into the sky, and they hear the sound of a vehicle-mounted gun spitting lead.

“Jesus,” Cole bellows as he spins the Americar laterally. “Everyone bail out, take cover, and focus on the big guy!” They pile out and spray the charging troll with suppressive fire, which, along with the primed grenade finally detonating nearby, forces him to take a knee in a deep pothole in the ruined parking lot.

New Logan makes a break for Burny’s cyberdeck, trying to reactivate the turrets, but Cage is faster, riddling him from the rooftop and sending the ork to the ground, not quite dead. Logan crawls to the console and presses a button, laughing as the turrets switch to computer control, seeking the intruders. Sapphire takes another shot at Cage but misses again.

Thrash raises an enormous shotgun and fires a spray of lead at Cole, who’s tagged in the shoulder. The windows of the sedan shatter. Cole grits his teeth and fires back, scoring a lucky hit, causing the troll to bellow and leak machine fluid everywhere. Mandy and Carlo keep pouring it on, their shots mostly pinging off the chrome but occasionally striking home.

The chaos from the other side of the factory intensifies. From his perch, Cage sees a green ball of toxicity narrowly miss a hovering drone. Cloutier is a toxic shaman, apparently.

Before the turrets can lock on, Cage decides to take drastic action and leaps down from the roof – his gymnastics skill and hydraulic legs mitigating all falling damage, he races to the blood-stained cyberdeck and quickly tries to change the guns’ targeting protocols. Lying there three feet away, New Logan takes a point blank shot at Cage but can’t hold the gun steadily enough to hit. Sapphire pulls a wicked-looking knife and charges Cage with a scream, but it’s too late. The guns are now on the runners’ side. One of the three unceremoniously drops her to the ground without a head. The other nearby turret riddles Logan as he writhes on the ground. The third begins spraying Thrash.

Under the onslaught of Cole, Mandy, Carlo, and the turret, even Thrash’s inhuman toughness has to give out eventually, and the big troll jerks spasmodically as electric arcs fire off from his shattered machine parts.

Just then, a scream comes over the team’s comlink, and there’s an explosion from the other side of the factory, followed by a long, impossibly loud, inhuman bellow of rage. Something sludge-green and four meters tall stands atop the river waters, a single hole in its dripping, fetid mouth.

DIVERSION TEAM!” Amber’s voice cries over the com. “WE’VE GOT A FREE TOX SPIRIT! WE NEED EVAC NOW!”

“Come get these turrets!” Cage orders, and Cole, Mandy, and Carlo dive back into the car and race across the parking lot, picking up the tripod guns as they go.

“Can you meet us at the bridge a hundred meters downstream?” Cole radios.

“I think so,” Amber replies.

“Take the wheel,” Cole tells Cage. “i’m better at hacking, anyway.” He grabs the deck and hurriedly begins writing new automation for the guns. Cage speeds over the broken rubble of the street to the bridge downstream. The green sludge creature is firing gobs of caustic fluid at anything that moves, barely missing the car. Mandy and Carlo and Cole get out and set the turret guns along the bridge, and, fully automated and with a huge target, they begin pumping hundreds of rounds into the toxic spirit, which seems unharmed but stymied, holding up its unrefined, dripping “limbs” to shield itself from the onslaught. The noise is deafening.

Amber staggers up the embankment, leading Grunfeld by the hand and carrying Tex’s limp body over her shoulder. “We’ve gotta get out of -” she pants.

“N..no,” Grunfeld says. “We can’t leave this unfinished. The creature is…” he grimaces in pain, “distracted. I have to try…”

He grits his teeth and pronounces a spell of banishment. A blue bolt of pure mana strikes the toxic spirit, taking it completely by surprise. A huge volume of its torso is converted back into pure mana, falling away as glittering blue snowflakes, before the entire creature just deliquesces, its substance crashing into the river like water from a burst balloon. Grunfeld flops to the ground.

Mandy and Carlo drag the other runners into the car – it’s a cramped fit but do-able – and Cole makes a beeline for the nearest street clinic.

A little while later, Cole is standing with Amber, peering into a decontamination room where Tex and Grunfeld are being treated. Satisfied that they are no longer in imminent danger, she leans against a wall and exhales a long, shuddering breath.

Cage stands in the waiting room dispassionately, looking as if he could stand there in that exact pose for a decade or more.

“They didn’t tell us he was a tox shaman,” Amber says to Cole. “Fucking sicko didn’t even care that we’d geeked him. He thought he’d let his slime monster out to play just out of spite.” She rubs the bridge of her nose. “That’ll be leverage, when we next speak to the Johnson. He’ll cough up something extra. He’d better.” Her voice has a dangerous edge. “And I think you and tall, dark and creepy over there earned your pay tonight, and more besides. Gimme your credsticks.” She slots them into her PDA and tacks on a couple of extra g’s.

“Thanks,” Cole offers.

“Looks like Byron’s maybe got his nose for talent back,” she says. “If he moves back Downtown and takes you with him, I wouldn’t mind running with you again.”

“Yeah, well, count me out of any toxic shaman drek,” Cole says with finality.

She attempts a smile. “Can’t blame you there,” she says. “See you in the shadows, runner.”

View
RUN 5: THE AGRIBUSINESS JOB

Bashurr, Blixt, and Cage head into Category Z, the fixer Byron’s dive of choice, to meet the dwarf about a new offer of work – but no sooner do they arrive and order their drinks than the door opens again, giving way before an enormously tall human covered in muscle grafts that give him a grotesque, almost alien silhouette. The man is wearing dark pants and a sleeveless white button-up shirt with a tie, and sports a beetling brow, enormous mutton chops, and a grease-slick pompadour. He makes a beeline for Byron. The middle-aged ork behind the bar swallows nervously. “The boss isn’t here…” he offers, but the hulk is only interested in the little fixer.

“Thought we explained it good and clear, little guy,” he rumbles. “You wanna fix here, fine, but we get a cut. We get a cut of all the action.”

“Slot off,” Byron says, emboldened by the presence of his runners. “We’re independent. You don’t know what that means, go look it up. It means we’ve never paid the mob’s vig and we’re not about to start now.”

“Big talk’s only gonna take you so far,” the hulk says.

Bashurr stands up. “There a problem here, friend?”

“Not if you and your buddies cough up the family’s percentage. Otherwise, yeah, we got a problem.”

“Name the place and time,” Bashurr says nonchalantly. “I’ll be there.” They size each other up for a long moment.

“Be sooner than you think,” the hulk says as he leaves.

A few minutes later, a woman in her early forties steps into the bar. She is human, of medium height, and thin, with sharp features. She wears denim jeans tucked into heavy duty hiking boots and a black micropore tank top under an enormously baggy blue flannel shirt. Her hair is short, dark, and practical, and she wears thick prescription sunglasses. Everything about her says “granola,” 2070s-style. She looks around nervously and Byron waves her over.

“Mrs. Johnson,” he says indulgently.

“Uh, Dr. Johnson,” she corrects him. “I’m…sorry, I’ve never had to hire….you know…before.”

“Hire what?” Blixt smirks.

She looks around. “Shadowrunners,” she whispers at last.

Around then, Cole turns up, a bit late and smelling of booze, but he takes a seat and assumes an attentive posture.

“I represent a small, er, growing operation,” she begins. “A grow-op. We grow food and…other things.” She hurries on. “Anyway, our water purifier recently broke down. It’s an old model and needs a replacement control board. And, uh, that’s where you come in, I guess. I know where one is, but I need you to get it for us.”

“Hold on,” Bashurr says. “Why not just buy a replacement?”

“Well, we don’t…we want discretion. Buying it would create a data trail. Someone would have to come do an installation. The corps would find out where we are, the mob or the Yakuza…no, we have to keep this under wraps. Stealing one is best for all concerned. And like I said, I know where one is. It should be easy.”

Everyone looks skeptical at that one. She looks confused.

“These things are rarely easy, madam,” Byron says by way of explanation.

“Oh. Well…I already did the, the background on this. What we need is a Saeder-Krupp Wasserreinigungssystem 660, or rather the control board for it. Here are the schematics,” she waves a hand and shares file to everyone’s PDAs. “And I’ve learned that Pacific Pride Family Farms up in Snohomish has one. THey’re a soy farm. Agribusiness. I’ve got some photos I took..” She shares another file. “My, uh, my organization is prepared to pay 25,000Y for an intact working control board.”

Cole coughs theatrically. “You’re new,” he says sympathetically, “so you might not know that that’s a bit on the low side…”

She looks abashed. “That’s really all the liquid cash we have at the moment,” she sighs, “but after the job is done we could offer you a quantity of our product…? The Awakened find it particularly -”

Blixt’s eyes snap open. “Done and done!”

The deal is finalized, and she gives them part of their payment upfront. “So I wasn’t expecting to meet here,” she muses, as she gets ready to leave. “The friend who told me about you, Byron, said you usually held court Downtow-”

“That was a long time ago,” Byron says peevishly. “Things are…different. Good day, madam. Please contact me with any further developments.”

For once, this is not an especially time-sensitive job, so the team decide to put in several days’ worth of legwork. Snohomish is northwest of the Redmond Barrens and is largely wild and empty, a district of hills and fields, home to several huge agri-farms but sparsely occupied in general. The largely rural population harbors some anti-metahuman sentiment and the Humanis Policlub has a thriving chapter among the ag workers.

Pacific Pride has a smallish spread, mostly given over to engineered soy cultivars, but is surrounded by a three-meter chain-link fence and seems to have several guards. From what the team can discern from the photographs, there is a small administration building, the main processing plant, and, furthest from the road, what looks like some kind of low, long building, like a Quonset hut, but strongly reinforced.

The team get a room at a no-tell motel and get to work. The first day, Cole parks his Americar sedan (its windows finally replaced after having been shotgunned out a few days ago) on the side of the country highway near Pacific Pride’s main entrance, jacks in, and gets wi-fi access to one of their administrative servers. The nodes here are tougher than he had expected but he manages to download a personnel roster, a basic building schematic, and a delivery log before a pair of uniformed security begin walking toward his parked car to ask his business. He feigns taking a phone call and casually drives off.

It looks like, aside from administrative personnel and a couple dozen ag workers, Pacific Pride employs several parabotanists and a small army of security. And while it doesn’t say this anywhere on their signage, their internal documents make it quite clear that they’re a subsidiary of EVO.

Cole begins researching the careers of the parabotanists. That night, Bashurr, Cage, and Red (who has joined the team late) head to a nearby roadhouse to try and catch the Pacific Pride security staff on their off hours.

The mood inside is tense, and only gets tenser as Bashurr steps in. The problem is immediately evident: at one side of the honky-tonk sit a small gaggle of off-duty guards, many of whom – demographically more than you’d expect – are orks and trolls. EVO is friendlier to the “goblinized” than most corps.

And on the other side of the room sit a crowd of human bikers flying some of the regalia of the Humanis Policlub. The two groups, metas and skinheads, are glaring across the length of the bar at each other.

“Look at that fucking tusker,” one of the bikers yells as Bashurr enters.

The big ork steps up to the oldest and beardiest human biker, whom he guesses is the leader. “I’m not looking for trouble, friend,” he jerks his thumb over his shoulder, “and neither are my friends back there. So why don’t you just let us drink in peace?”

The biker leader eyes him, and then eyes Cage, standing inhumanly still at the door, and swallows. “We’re humans,” he says at last, jerking his chin upward. “We don’t start trouble.” He gives the men at his table a withering look that brooks no disagreement.

Bashurr nods and orders a drink, and a huge troll girl in a security uniform calls him over. “Wow!” she says. “I thought for sure that was gonna end badly. What’s your story?”

“It would’ve ended badly for him,” Bashurr nods. “No story. Just a thirsty biker pulling in for a drink.”

“You dealt with him the like a pro, though,” she says, not dropping the subject. “You ever worked security? Think you might want to if someone offered?”

“A SINless biker ork work corpsec? I don’t know…” he sounds intrigued.

“EVO isn’t like other corps,” she says excitedly. “We’ve got a home here. Why, you could…”

They talk a while longer before Bashurr baldly asks her if she wants to leave with him. She considers for a moment – then makes her apologies to her coworkers, takes the ork’s hand, and leads him outside.

Meanwhile, Red and Cage get a darkened corner booth in the honky-tonk and Red commands one of his spirits obscure them so Cage can pull out his cyberdeck and hack a nearby guard’s PDA. The fishing expedition is successful; Cage pulls an orientation memo with a list of Pacific Pride’s basic security protocols. It seems they have fourteen security personnel on site at all times, two of whom are mages, several of the rest of which are trolls. There are also Doberman drones in the guard shack, administration building, and the Quonset-hut-things, which are called the “high security labs.”

The next day, the troll woman, still eager to make a convert, brings Bashurr to the Metahuman Resources office at Pacific Pride, where he does well enough at the aptitude tests to intrigue the guard commander and be given a security orientation. It is during the course of this that he learns that the water purifier is located adjacent to the high-security labs; a pipeline brings up water from the nearby polluted Snohomish River and the dirty water is sent to the labs while the clean water is piped to the main processing plant and the auto-irrigators.

Red, waiting in the car, also notices an aerial drone keeping an eye on the entire Farms from a hundred feet up.

Cole finishes his research and shows the group what he has learned. The lead parabotanist employed at Pacific Pride has written papers about the possibility of “tailored organisms to replace security infrastructure.”
The group hatches a plan. Blixt gets a hold of one of his contacts, a talismonger named ZenZen, and pays through the nose to learn the Oxygenate spell. Red and Cole shake the tree and get ahold of tox-resistant wetsuits and waterproof gear bags.

The next night, Blixt casts Oxygenate on the wetsuited team and they dive into the Snohomish River. Guided by Red’s “Squirtle” water spirit, they find the intake pipe and begin swimming up it, although the general nastiness of the toxic river water causes Cole and Blixt some distress. Soon Red and Squirtle, in the lead, hear the thrumming of the giant pump that draws the river water uphill, and see whirling turbines ahead. Red produces a small ball of plastic explosive and lets the current carry the ball right up to the turbine before he remotely detonates it.

The explosion is deafening and the shockwave rattles the taem’s teeth, but the pump shatters and the water in the pipe immediately begins draining back downhill. Part of the wall of the huge water storage tank has smashed through the wall of the secure labs, and Bashurr grunts and widens the hole as the sound of alarms fills the air.

The water spirit and Cage are the first out of the water tank and into the secure labs, and as they enter, big gobs of caustic acid slop narrowly past them, leaving a sizzling mess on the wall behind them.

The secure lab is a long greenhouse, and from the planters on the floor tower five enormous plants, vines as thick as trees but topped with black blooms that belch acid – specifically the concentrated acidic river sludge fed to them as byproduct from the water purifier. And somehow they can see the water spirit in the Astral.

From the other side of the greenhouse come the shouts of security. The team works quickly. Cole orders Cage and Red to cover Bashurr as the ork (the most mechanically-gifted of the team, with his motorcycle repair skill) unscrews the purifier housing and retrieves the control board. Red chucks a flashbang grenade, blinding the Astral Fly Traps, while Blixt casts a Force 6 cold spell to turn most of the floor slick with ice. As the first security team bursts in, they slip and slide on the ice, landing prone and in disarray, and Cage fires his rifle at a conveniently-placed set of hazardous waste barrels, coating the lead guard in caustic spray.

Bashurr deftly unscrews the control board and gets it out at the top of the second round, clearing the way for the team to begin withdrawing back down the intake pipe at a run. The last bit has to be swum, this time without the benefit of Blixt’s Oxygenate spell, but fate is with Cole tonight and the old private eye is able to keep pace with his younger, stronger companions. The team clamber out of the pipe, across the river, and up the opposite embankment to the waiting Americar, as shouts and searchlights fill the farm’s side of the river. They dive inside.

And not a second too soon, as the Americar’s windows explode in a hail of gunfire! A spotlight from above pinions the car. It’s a drone, probably piloted by the rigger in the main building.

“God damn it,” Cole moans, surveying the wreckage of his brand new windows.

“Let me drive,” Red says calmly, grabbing the wheel as Cole scoots over. The car leaps forward, rumbles over some rough terrain, and then the wheels greedily seize on the asphalt of the country road. Behind them, the drone spins to pursue – then continues spinning, its pilot evidently having oversteered in his zeal to pursue. The searchlight bobs and spins and sinks below the level of the riverbank.

They’re home free.

A couple of hours later, the runners are Downtown, putting the Saeder-Krupp 660 control board into a certain locker at the train station near the University of Washington campus. A few hours later, fresh credit slides into their accounts.

And Cole surveys the reeking, stained upholstery of his prized Americar, wondering if he will ever get the stink of the Snohomish out of his seats.

View
RUN 6: THE BLACKMAIL JOB

Byron the fixer asks Bashurr, Cole, and Blixt to meet him at a new address – not Category Z, the independent bar at the edge of Touristville, but a straight-up flophouse. It’s a figurative and literal shithole, with hallways crammed with bums and BTL junkies sleeping in puddles of piss. But behind a quintuple-locked door and reinforced steel window bars, Byron’s rented apartment is an oasis of purified air, tasteful if minimal decor, and a bathroom with a water filter that “cleans out the rads and most of the toxins. You can take a shower, just try not to get any in your eyes.”

The little dwarf himself is standing on the couch in a button-up shirt and boxer shorts next to an ironing board on which he is pressing his trousers. “Still getting moved in,” he says by way of explanation. He gingerly sticks one foot in the hot trousers, winces, pulls it out again, and ultimately settles for sitting on the couch and draping the hot trousers over his legs in an approximation of modesty. He seems defiantly unfazed by the skeptical looks of the runners.

“So here’s the question, chummers,” he says at last after a long silence. ‘No point sugar-coating it. I’ve been made an offer – and you remember our thyroidal visitor last week. Do you want to work for the mob for a somewhat smaller paycheck but a steady supply of guaranteed work, yes or no?"

The group shake their heads at this, and there are general murmurs of “nope.”

“Or do you want to continue operating independently and pay the mob’s vig to get them to leave us alone, yes or no?”

This time the response is more emphatic. “Fuck no” is heard.

“Okay. Nice to hear. Last question. Do you want to keep working independently, taking our own jobs, and telling the family to go fuck themselves, come what may?”

Heads move in slow nods of approval.

“All right, then. Because half the guys in my contact list said yes to one of the first two questions. Some of them work direct for the mob now, and cut me out of the picture completely. Some of the rest want to go along to get along and are forking over the nuyen to be left alone. And then some of the rest…haven’t been seen on the streets lately.” He looks at each man in turn. “I hope you understand that’s what you’re signing up for. That’s why the anonymous flop. This is our new place of business until things blow over. The owner of Category Z folded the other day. It’s a Mafia bar now.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Bashurr asks.

Byron shrugs. “Family’s been making a lot of big moves lately. Not against the Yakuza – not yet, anyway – but they’re treating the rest of Redmond like fair game. All the independent operators, from shadowrunners down to the shitty little turf gangs, are getting rolled up or finding themselves ‘under new management.’ The guidos are packing some serious state of the art hardware and aren’t shy about flashing it. Someone’s backing this play. But who, and why, that I don’t know yet.”

“So what do we do about it?” Cole asks.

“Right now? We meet Mr. Johnson. I told you this is our new place of business, and I found you boys work. Supposed to be a blackmail op. I imagine you’ve run a few of those in your time, Cole.”

Cole grimaces and nods. “Been on both sides’a that one,” but says no more.

A little while later, there’s an urgent knock at the door. Byron dons his cooled trousers and unlocks it, waving in the guest.

The Mr. Johnson that walks into the apartment is the archetypal Johnson, the ur-Johnson from which all others were hewn. Blandly handsome, male, apparently in his late thirties; but who can tell these days? Immaculate dark suit. Polished wingtips that you would swear hadn’t just been in a hallway full of cat piss. Big hair. Big smile full of big white teeth. Big shades over the eyes. And a big Halliburton Zero briefcase because obviously.

Mr. Johnson steps in with a swaggering confidence and just the tiniest bit of urgency. “Oh, Jesus, I can breathe.” He dabs at his nose with his pocket square, then puts the briefcase on a nearby table. He pops it open and the team get a glimpse of the spendy computer and holo-rig inside. Mr. Johnson claps his hands like a gavel to open the session. His voice is full of the boundless, slightly nervous energy of the high-powered novacoke user.

“Alright, boys. I’ve got a rush job on my hands and you don’t have time for bullshit and, frankly, I don’t have time to bullshit you. I assume the little guy told you this is a blackmail gig?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, but taps a button on his computer. A face appears, floating in the air – a thin, pensive, academic sort of face, silver hair slicked back, a small beard, wire-framed glasses, and, above where the projection cuts off, what looks like a nice button-up shirt sans tie. “Target’s James Purness. He’s a kind of…cultural attaché to the Salish-Shidhe nation. Speaks the tribal languages, knows the customs, all that drek. Last few years he’s been working for Saeder-Krupp, negotiating with the natives on S-K’s behalf. He’s got an in with them, and it gives his corp an edge. In the interests of fair, market-based competition, you guys” – he makes double gun-fingers at the runners – “are gonna bring me something on him to use as leverage. I’ll send the particulars to your PDAs, but our preliminary investigations showed that Mr. Purness takes a lot of ‘business trips’ but never checks in at SeaTac. I’d start there.”
Bashurr rolls his eyes. “Why not just crush his skull?”

Mr. Johnson shrugs. “You could do that, big guy. Yeah, you could do that no problem. Of course, S-K would start asking questions about who geeked him and why, and as direct competitors of theirs, suspicion would naturally fall on my employers. And my employers, in turn,” the Johnson’s hands whirl animatedly, “would have no choice but to cooperate fully into any investigation of the rogue agents or elements that committed such an act.”

Bashurr blinks, nonplussed.

“He means don’t do that or we die,” Blixt finally says.

“Ohhhhh,” Bashurr says.

The deadline for the delivery of incriminating information (if any is found) is one week. Cole negotiates a payout and manages to get Mr. Johnson to agree to a bonus provided the team gets the data to him before Friday so he can take a long weekend.

“Thank fuck,” Mr. Johnson says, closing up his suitcase. “That’s all arranged, now I’m off the clock.” He loosens his tie. “Later, boys.”

“You lookin’ for a party?” Bashurr says.

Mr. Johnson stops. “Why, you know where one is?”

“I’m from the Barrens. I know all the best places. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Cole and Blixt shrug and decide to hit the ground running. Blixt casts an illusion on the (once-again) battered and bullet-ridden Americar. Between Blixt’s residency, Cole’s newly-upgraded fake SIN (it no longer shows him as a young Chinese girl), and the illusion spell, they get past the Knight Errant checkpoint into Bellevue without a hitch and cruise down the tony streets until they find James Purness’s townhouse, a stately, dignified place that speaks of quiet, unostentatious wealth. The lights are on in a few rooms, and through the heavy drapes they can see the silhouette of a woman moving around
.
They consult the dossier. Purness has an academic background. Married a tribal native – Sierra Mountain Crow-Purness. Two kids, a daughter in college and a son in middle school.

Cole sighs, plugs himself into his deck, and begins trying to hack the house’s wireless signal. It’s surprisingly well-defended with some pretty recent Saeder-Krupp commercial-grade security softs, but after a while he gets in and gets access to Purness’s personal PC, skimming through its contents as quickly as he can. “Huh,” he grunts. There are plans for a new S-K facility in Everett for which Purness has been negotiating water rights with the tribe. That’s not blackmail material, but it could be valuable in the right hands.

No porn on the computer at all. Lots of family pictures. James was a tan, rangy sort once, in outdoor gear with a thick beard and UV-protective everything. And for her part, she has aged gracefully, but when she was younger, Mrs. Mountain Crow-Purness was a genuine va-va-voom stunner, even through her preferred attire, which even in her wild youth was strictly demure and practical: denim jeans, baggy flannel shirts, and those big belt buckles you could eat dinner off of.

Accounts are all boring and normal – power, gas, Matrix. Except for one thing: every month, like clockwork, there is a Y2000 payment to Saeder-Krupp labeled “expense account reimbursement.”

Lots of emails back and forth between James and the tribal negotiators and between James and his bosses and James and his family. But buried deep, about six weeks ago, is one message from an anonymous user at “b101.net.” It says “We haven’t seen you in six weeks, loyal customer! When you come back, you’ll get the VIP treatment!” Cole traces the domain name to Matrix Confidential, a small hosting company in Touristville that handles Matrix security, e-business, and Matrix pages for small businesses (and Yakuza fronts) in the Redmond area.

Blixt has not been idle during this. He casts Clairaudience to hear what, if anything, the woman is saying. It’s clearly Sierra, James’s wife, and she is in the midst of a heated phone argument.

“No, Grandfath – no. No. We’ve – we’ve been over this. Yes. A million times. I don’t care what the spirits tell you about him. I moved to the metroplex to get away from all the fucking spirits, remember? Spirits lie. I can’t believe you people still don’t get that. …Yes, well, even if that were true, that would be between him and me, wouldn’t it? And not a talking blob of water or whatever? Here’s what I think: if you want to see your great-grandchildren again, you’ll fucking get over the fact that I married an Anglo, and you’ll stop listening to every passing…fairy! Ugh!” There’s the clatter of a PDA being hurled with great force.

Meanwhile, in another place, Mr. Johnson is telling Bashurr that he loves him, man. A few minutes later, in between pulses of gutwrenching bass, he confides that his real name is Lord Dragonmaster the Third. For his part, Bashurr is in no state to disbelieve any of this.

Cole and Blixt head back out of Bellevue into Touristville and pull up outside of Matrix Confidential, where Cole does some more tricky decking to sleaze past their security and get a copy of their client list. The “b101.net” domain is owned by a local business named Bliss 101. An address is given – the floor above a nightclub in Yakuza territory – but no description other than “Preferred Customer Status.”

The next morning, Bashurr awakens naked in a strange apartment.

He slowly crawls to his beeping comlink and answers it. A few minutes later, Cole and Blixt burst in and set about mixing some kind of godawful home hangover remedy (mix some soyeggs with soypepper and a bit of soyvodka…). Soon, they are driving out to the address of Bliss 101.

It’s eleven am, so the nightclub on the first floor is dead, nothing but chairs on tables and dudes pushing brooms. But the stairway to the second floor is accessible, and it transports the runners to a whole new world. The second floor is tinkly music, black marble polished to a mirror sheen, a cool smell in the air like a morning mist, and an enormous troll bouncer behind a velvet rope. “Welcome to Bliss 101,” he says skeptically, eyeing the runners up and down.

They’re beginning to get an idea of what this place might be. “We’re from out of town,” Cole says, “and a buddy of mine recommended you.”

The troll shrugs and opens the door. “Bliss 101 does not accept responsibility for any heart attacks or strokes incurred on the premises, old man.” He jabs a thumb at Bashurr. “And your…hired help…can come inside if he checks his weapons. Each of our rooms have annexes equipped with one-way viewing mirrors for the convenience of close-protection personnel.”

Bashurr’s brow quirks, but the runners check their arms at the coat check and step inside, breathing deeply of the purified, refreshing air as their footsteps echo on the marble floors. A crowd of intensely beautiful people of every description begin to flock to them. "Why hello there – " “Oh my god, that coat…” "Hope you didn’t check all your weapons, big guy – "

And that’s when the girl who looks just like Maria Mercurial tugs on Cole’s sleeve, and he realizes exactly what kind of place Bliss 101 is.

“You look old enough to have been there for my first big show at CenturyLink Field,” she coos in a perfect replica of the voice, running chromed nails up his thigh. “Ever hear what I liked to do with my biggest fans backstage…?”

“Uh…” Cole looks around, suddenly seeing clearly all the telltales of personafix chips. Meat puppets. Bunraku. “Actually, my friend Jimbo told me about this place? Ever heard of him? Jimbo…?” She stares. He pulls up a hologram of James Purness.

“Oh, him,” she rolls her eyes. “He only ever plays with Millie. Between you and me, I think her shtick is maybe just a little ra-”

“Ah, new customers!” says a commanding voice. An elegantly-dressed Japanese woman, somewhere in that nebulous space between forty and seventy, stands in the hall, having stepped out of a side office. “Welcome to Bliss 101. I am Ms. Kamato. What brings you…here…today?”

Cole senses, in his gut, daggers of data pointed his way – biometric scans, SIN scans, whatever else this place can muster. He forces a smile. “Howdy! We’re here from out of town, and well, our business partner Jimbo told us we just had to try this place while we were here. He said ‘try Millie.’ Those were his words. ‘Millie will change your world.’”

She is if anything even more suspicious. “He wants you…to try…Millie?”

“Yeah! He wouldn’t shut up about her!”

Ms. Kamoto is silent for a long, long moment, then shrugs. “I…see. Room eight. Your Barrens trash may wait in the viewing area. It will be a few minutes to…prepare her.” She claps theatrically and strides off, the moment instantly forgotten as she attends to other business.

Cole and Blixt are led to room eight and Bashurr is gently guided to the “viewing area,” which is quite literally a small, closet-sized room with a mini-fridge holding some drinks and snacks, with one side wall given over to a large one-way mirror that looks down the length of Room eight.

Room eight isn’t anything notable at first – synthleather couches, treated to be double-extra-stain resistant. A big circular bed, speared through the center by a giant brass stripper pole. The walls are mirrors.

Until suddenly, the walls ripple like water, and the mirroring gives way to a detailed tri-d image of a beautiful forest primeval. The air is filled with birdsong and even a faint scent of pine and a distant hint of campfire ash. Artificial moonlight plays over the floor in complex patterns.

The door opens, and Millie stands before them. Tall, tan, impossibly proportioned, barely covered by some kind of leather jerkin. Cole squints at her face. There’s something funny about it…

“Get off the white man’s couches, Anglo,” she spits without preamble, rolling out an enormous bearskin rug with a single practiced kick. “A real hunter takes his woman on hide, under the sky and stars.” As if on cue, the room’s stereo begins blaring the most stereotypically “Indian” drums and song any of these runners have ever heard.

Blixt recognizes the voice instantly. “What. The. Fuck.”

The woman who looks and sounds exactly like Sierra Mountain Crow twenty years ago begins loosening the leather straps on her jerkin. An appalled Cole stops her with a hand. “What the…what’s your name?” he says.

“Sierra Mountain Crow, of the Cascade Crow,” she says, confusedly. Cole grimaces, reaches for her hair, and with a quick yank pulls off the black wig, exposing the simsense ‘trodes and pointing them at the mirror.

“You get all that?” Cole calls back to Bashurr.

The ork replies by comlink. “Yep.” His cybereyes recorded the whole thing.

Red-faced and deeply, deeply uncomfortable, Cole and Blixt leave, with “Sierra” angrily calling after them. “So you can’t handle a real woman, white man? Go back to your chrome! Go back to your synth!”

Ms. Kamato meets them in the hallway. “That was…sudden. Is there something-”

“I can’t believe James recommended that,” Cole says. “That was awful. I’m beginning to seriously reconsider our business relationship.”

Genuine relief spreads over Ms. Kamato’s face. “Ahhhh, so he did not tell you that…”

“No,” they all say emphatically.

“Ah. Yes. In that case, no fees will be assessed. You are invited to return to Bliss 101 at…another time, perhaps,” she says.

“Yeah, maybe.” Cole doesn’t even try to sound convincing. Bashurr, looking around at the sociopath’s playground he stands in, looks more thoughtful.

Later that day, the runners are in Byron’s flop. Byron is wearing the same shirt, now stained around the collar, and a stack of red-e-heat meals can be seen teetering near the entrance to the kitchen. Mr. Johnson looks some combination of hungover and profoundly unimpressed.

Without ceremony, Cole pops a hastily-edited highlight reel into the trid player.

“Oh, he likes to get laid?” Mr. Johnson snorts contemptuously. “Come on, guy. I’m snoozing here…I…wait, what the fuck? What the fuck?!” They have the distinct impression that his eyes would be saucers behind the mirrorshades. “I asked you guys for bronze and you came back with novahot platinum. And it’s…” – he counts on his fingers – “Tuesday, and that means I get an extra-long weekend, which I have richly earned, and you get that bonus we agreed on.” He taps on a secured credstick and tosses it to Byron. “Alright, fellas. It’s been real. Bashurr, I took the liberty of putting your number in my PDA. I’ll give you a call the next time I need a real wild man on my wing. Sound good? Hell yeah. Scan you later, kids.”

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RUN 7: THE FOOD FIGHT JOB REDUX

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.

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