We double time it to the Clubhouse to keep Takashi in the living. Doc calls Sitra to tell her we are coming in with wounded and to get the med bay prepped. We get Takashi plugged into some binging machines and Sitra says he’ll make it, but will be incapacitated for the next few days. She then goes on to rant that real living fleshy humans are much easier to treat then these (insert some word in Indian that I assume not complimentary, sounds like chew-tan) cyborgs he works with, and that Doc should learn to use the (oops, Indian swear word dropped again) vehicle garage if he wants to keep us living. I guess by the glare that we all get, she must be talking about us. You know, I’m quick like that. Getting the subtle hint that we are not wanted around, I suggest that we should go elsewhere and have a few drinks. The rest of the group, feeling the same chill in the air quickly agrees. Besides Zany is AWOL again tonight, and I really need to figure out what in the world is going on with her. Red, who is almost unable to walk on her own, opts to ‘hang out with the boys,’ rather than get the medical treatment that she needs. It looks like she does not want to be the only other person here to be on the receiving end of Sitra‘s ass-chewing about Doc’s current friends. She sure needs the rest, but I ain’t her father. Besides, she is still dealing with Judge Brown’s death, so maybe this is what she needs. Reno’s and the Banshee are too far away, so we decide to hit the Lunatic’s Fringe, a bar we’ve passed by in the Barrens a few times, and their parking lot is almost always full. We pile up in the van and head into the Barrens.
As expected, the Barrens looks like a war zone. We hear the reports of gunfire in the distance, and see some questionable legal activities in the alleys we pass. As we near the Fringe, we see the street ahead blocked by a few dozen dwarves, all wearing a patch of a red-outlined nuclear mushroom cloud. We slow down and look for an alternate route to the bar, when another group enters the intersection. These are mostly orcs and trolls, all wearing black and rusty-brown jackets. This looks like trouble, so Drake takes a sharp right down an alley as the two gangs start a maelstrom. A broken dumpster is halfway down the alley, standing between us and the street beyond. Byk & I double time it out and over the van, and spend the next minute moving the smelliest, heaviest dumpster in all of Seattle. We finally get it out of the alley and the van pulls into the street beyond. We get back in and continue to the Fringe.
We finally get to the Fringe and see quite a variety of vehicles in the lot. From ganger bikes to limos, it’s all here. Down the road the dwarves, orcs and trolls are still fighting it out, but the security detail outside seems quite dismissive of it. Apparently this fight has been brewing for a while now, and they are none too surprised that the Red Hot Nukes and the Rusted Stilettos have finally started to kill each other. Some of those bullets are hitting close, so we quickly head inside and find ourselves in quite a diverse group. Members of both gangs are here, not knuckle bumping each other, but not fighting – more just keeping to their own kind. There are suits and business folk, but not too many casual’s. We get to the bar and start in on a fresh bottle of vodka. Well, Byk and I do, anyways. Sadly, the technerds consider ‘going out for drinks’, to imply nursing a beer all night or drinking water. Kids, these days.
Byk and I are hazing the technerds about the drinks when another round of drinks is served by an attractive waitress. She says it is from the gentleman over at the bar, and nods to the far end. Standing there is a well dressed man, with two goons behind him. They do not look like they are here for fun, maybe they should go drinking with these toddlers here. Appreciative of your round of free drinks, we head up to the bar to see what he wants. This man identifies himself as Mr Johnson, and has a employment opportunity for us, if we are interested. His unnamed company is currently losing a race with Federated-Boeing to release the next generation of aeronautical technology. Federated-Boeing is actually poised to release a prototype to Ares in ten days. If approved, this technology, a 1-man flight backpack known as Project: Valkyrie, would be implemented by Lonestar , Ares’ favored son. If goes without saying that, in our like of work, Lonestar is one of the companies we’d not like to have getting their hands on it. He’ll pay us for stopping Federated-Boeing’s unveiling of the project in ten days. In addition, he’ll also pay for – A) stealing the vehicle from Federated-Boeing B) stealing their data on this Project: Valkyrie and/or C) destroying Federated-Boeing’s research data. All in all, we could net up over one mil for our troubles. The vehicle, and data are all located at their Auburn Research Facility, one of the most secure areas in the city, so our payment won’t be easily earned, we’ll have to work for this one. He’ll also advance us 100k of it up front. Although we are a little banged-up from the shootout with the Cyber Dragons and Wei Lange, we agree to take the job. We head back to our table to finish our drinks and figure out how to tackle this mission.
We sit around the table and put a few more away as the night continues. Doc must have been feeling the effects of his third Loco Lemonade, because the next think I know, as the rest of the group are otherwise occupied or elsewhere out of earshot, he is having this dead-serious one-on-one therapy session with me. He’s all over, talking about Zany, and where we plan on taking our relationship and on an on about commitment. Admittedly, I am a little annoyed with her recently, and a little buzzed at the moment, so my tone may have been a little negative when talking about her and our future. Doc then gets this kinda funny concerned face, and blurts out that I need to see this through because she is pregnant, and then something else about caring for a friend. That appeared to be a big blunder because all the color drains from his face and is followed by funny another look, this one like he just got walked in on by his mom in mid-masturb. Apparently Sitra told him that Zany came to her, who then promised Zany that she wouldn’t tell anyone. So then Sitra immediately told Doc, who then promised not to tell any one. So, now Doc told me, but under the circumstances, I don’t think that he meant to. Not that his lack of intent will get him in any less trouble with Sitra. I assure him that the secret is safe with me, and that I’ll deal with Zany properly. I’m not sure why she hasn’t told me about this little thing, but that’s for another day. Maybe it’s the vodka, but it takes a few moments to sink in. Zany pregnant? Drek. Well, that could certainly explain her recent changes. This will sure make things more interesting. I smile nonchalantly and try finishing my drink as my stomach is in free fall. Shortly thereafter, we agree to head back home.
The gang spat outside has subsided and we are able to pass through unhindered. There is a sizable amount of destruction here. There are destroyed bikes and bodies from both sides, as well as some new craters in the road and other notable collateral damage to the neighborhood. It’s late when we get back home, so we split up to our respective domiciles. Zany is actually here, so I try to get her to tell me what is going on, without letting her know that I am aware of the pregnancy. Asking her about where she has been going, and where the steady stream of money I am supplying her is going towards. I have to give her credit; she evades answering my questions like a professional con artist. I’d like her to tell me honestly, but I know that my current state of inebriation may not help those negotiations if I keep pressing her. I leave it well enough alone for tonight, and head to bed. Sleep proves to be every bit as elusive as Zany’s answers were.
The next day we try to work out how we can approach this mission. We’ve learned that this is one of Federated-Boeing most heavily secured facilities, and an important project like this one will be even more protected. We certainly can’t take them on with our usual subtle tactic, kicking in the door, guns a’ blazing – we may need a different approach. We make some calls, and learn that the Auburn Research Facility generally specializes in experimental aircraft and ships for the military and is running on a tight closed-circuit network, so we cannot access it from outside. Chips cannot find much on this facility on the Matrix, only finding some 12-year old blueprints of the facility. We can, for a fee, get visitor’s passes, and gain entrance to the base. If we do that, then perhaps we could rig a transmitter to allow us access to their network remotely. From there, maybe we can figure out where this Project: Valkyrie is located. So, we make a request for a few visitor passes, through Doc’s uncle. He says it’ll be a few days to get them. Another option is to approach this from a military standpoint. Lieutenant Case was kind enough to drop off my ‘dues,’ my dress uniform. Perhaps a ‘representative’ from the CFSA could warrant a tour of the facilities? I make a call to Lieutenant Case, and he says that he’ll try to pull some strings and get me a VIP tour there. We also learn that the likely competition to Federated-Boeing on this aerospace technologies would likely be Omni Dynamix or Aztechnology. Perhaps one of these corporations is our employer? Either way, we need a few more questions answered before we can even formulate a plan of how to pull this off.
We plot and scheme for the next day, but we do not come up with any better TTP based on the limited information that we have. Byk agrees to head to the facility with Doc, while I hold out to see what strings Lieutenant Case can pull for me for a VIP tour. Chips tells them that, due to the efficient security that this facility has, the transmitter will probably only be good for only a few minutes. An hour or so into their recon, Chips gets a call from Doc, telling him that the transmitter is online. For the next five to ten minutes, Chips scours their network, until the transmitter’s signal is lost. A few hours later, Byk & Doc return. Chips tells us that he managed to upload a program that will shut down their security for a few minutes, and if we set up another transmitter, he will be able to activate that for us when needed. He also tells us that he got the location of where Project: Valkyrie is located, and that it is being headed by a Dr Steven Sawyer. Research into Dr Sawyer does not prove to be too helpful. He has been with the company forever, having headed several of their projects, is a full partner on the board of directors and he even lives on the facility and seldom leaves the grounds. None of that gives us much to work with. He does, however, have three daughters. Two of them are in college at the University of Seattle. The eldest, Joyce is his prodigy, having almost completed her physics degree, she appears to be a shoe-in for Federated-Boeing. The middle daughter, Jennifer is also in school, while in mathematics, she does not look as groomed to follow in her father’s footsteps. The youngest one, Jolene, looks worthy of our consideration. She dropped out of high-school and has been off the grid almost ten years now. Having friends that make a living off the grid, I call Zany. She answers the phone at what sounds like a hospital, for I hear a page for a Dr. Jennifer Welshecki in the background. She says that she can’t hear me, and she’ll call me right back. When she does, she says that she was shopping. It’s bullshit, but not worth debating at the moment. I ask her about Jolene, and she says that it fits a description of a woman named Josie, who runs with the Rusted Stilettos. After that, she’s off the phone almost before I can say goodbye. I decide to pay Pookie a visit and see what he can tell me about the Rusted Stilettos.
I arrive at the suites to see that room 404 is available for rent. That was Scratch’s room. I ask the desk manager and he says that Scratch up and moved out last week, even forgoing his security deposit. Drek. Now, what in the hell is up with that? I’ll try to call him later, right now his drama would not be needed. I see that Pookie has managed to not be around, so I ask were he is off to. The manager says that he was just here and seemed to unsurprisingly disappear when they heard me pull up. I leave a message to have the little slag call me when he slithers back home. I pass by the alley behind the suites to see that same slithering little slag dive behind a dumpster. I pull in to see him trying to look like he was intending to be here all this time. I ask about the Stilettos and he says that, out of the three gangs in the Barrens, the others being the Red Hot Nukes and Crimson Crush, that they are the most powerful, and if we wanted to track them down during the day, to start at the 405th Street garage. We’ve almost run into the Rusted Stilettos outside the Fringe a few days ago, and we quickly agree that is where we should head tonight. There appeared to be a DMZ cease-fire at the Fringe, maybe we can get a meeting on neutral territory. I get back to the clubhouse and Doc says that he received a phone call from a man calling himself Hunter, who says that he is Urlan Mane’s son, and he has intel vital to our clandestine operation into Federated-Boeing’s playground. I’m a bit disturbed that our secret mission is evidently not so secret, but we do not have much else to work with. He agreed to me us at the Fringe tonight, so we can hopefully kill two birds with one stone tonight.
We get to the Fringe and sure enough, reps for all three gang present, as well as more civilians than last we were here. We quickly get a table, and soon are introduced to Hunter, who looks every bit as Urlan’s son. He says that he used to run with another group, who are also planning on stealing this Project: Valkyrie from Federated-Boeing, but they are planning a full-scale assault the night after tomorrow. This group, he says is called Casualty Count, and his dad didn’t feel right that his son was running in direct competition to us, so he asked him to reconsider allegiances. My blood boils at the mention of Casualty Count. These frakkin’ mercenaries owe blood to the Damned after that double-cross they pulled on us in Total Catastrophe VI. This changes things considerably. First, our time table is now less than two days; and second, I really want to put a hurt on these bastards, they are high-priority targets of opportunity for anyone of the Damned. If they are hitting Federated-Boeing in two days, we could use that as a distraction to get in and take the project from under their noses. We could throw a beat down on Casualty Count in the process. Our only problem is getting in. I make a call back to Lieutenant Case and ask him for a nudge on the VIP pass. When I explain the intent to put a dent in Casualty Count’s plans, he quickly agrees will get me in there on that night, ricky tick. When I am there, I can better get a handle on the situation when Casualty Count arrives, and help the rest of the group get in, if needed. He give me a field promotion to a Colonel under the alias Robert A Hsang, and confirms my surprise inspection of the CFSA’s projects the night after next. The next day, I stop in at a uniform outfitters and pick up my new chevrons. I spend the remainder of the day trying to get ‘in character’ and fit the role. By the end of the day, no one is talking to me anymore. Strange.
I show up for my inspection and am quickly escorted in by a Dr Fitzsimmons to the labs where they are working on the projects for the CFS. I am shown a stealth VTOL that looks a little all too familiar. It looks like they may be making some upgrades: the engine exhaust looks revamped and he make mention of an improved high-energy laser anti-missile system. I wonder why? As he is directing my attention to another device that they make for the CFSA, amber light start flashing and we hear reports of impacting missiles. Dr Fitzsimmons rabbits out of the room and I attach the transmitter, but hold off on the security shut down. We need Federated-Boeing and Casualty Count to keep each other occupied. Besides, the damage their security should inflict to Casualty Count sounds wonderful. I double time it to the location of Project: Valkyrie only to see them blow open a large garage door and enter the lab. Byk says on the comm that they are moments behind me, so I open fire at the mercenaries, hoping to stall them until back arrives. Unfortunately, they react quickly and pin me down until the crew arrives. Casualty Count sure arrived with the intent of wining a war. They have a dozen troopers in the lab, with a sniper with a laser providing overwatch. We may be in a bind here, as Hunter takes some serious hits. At this rate, we may not hold up much longer. As we take out their overwatch, Chips tells us that another squad is en route to aid the mercs we have pinned in the lab. Drek. Byk just smiles and drops his tripod, saying “Я буду держать в руках этих мальчиков.” I hope he is right, cause we already have a fight on our hands before the next half dozen of come around the corner of a building and into our little party.
Byk opens fire at the newcomers as I drop another inside the room. It turns out that the newcomers were better prepped against us, as the ORACLE shows most of them not only standing after Byk’s barrage, but most of them returning fire. A Casualty Count soldier from in the room darts past a falling friend and hits Byk square with a grenade launcher. What surprises me, is that the nigh-indomitable troll topples from the attack. Drek. I now try to split my fire between the two closing teams, but I am in a bad position. One of them takes advantage of that and hits me square with a blast from an assault rifle, knocking me down. The next few moments are kind of hazy, as I try to get away, and keep my remaining innards from spilling out, Drake, Hunter & Red take control of the battle, defeating the remaining members of Casualty Count. It gets dark, and the next thing I notice is Doc & Drake pulling out some 7.62mm rounds out of my chest. Guys, would it be too much to ask for some anesthetic? We have the jetpack, and the data, having destroyed the original data from Federated Boeing, so we double-time it back to the Clubhouse into the loving care of our own Mother Hen. I almost feel safer staying here…
Doc’s magical healing does wonders on us, it looks like the only incapacitating injuries were sustained are from me and Red, so we agree to call Mr Johnson in a day or so, and make the exchange. Since I am plugged into the bing machines, I take the time to have a little conversation with Zany. As expected, she is still avoiding telling me that she is pregnant, so I call her on it and the flood gates open. To save us all some time, she just was worried that this would cause me to leave. I guess, I do not look like father material in her eyes. Maybe she is right, but I’m not going anywhere. She is quite relived that I am ok with this, and that we still have a future together. Thankfully, she does not mind my choice of career path much, I am a survivor, and besides, the money is damn good. I make the rest of the time to finish catching up on Hope Springs Eternal. Chips drags in a chair to watch and I spend way too much time discussing why the relaunch of the series is not as bad as Sitra believes it to be. All of this seems to irk Red, who is outvoted on the TV shows, and is forced to watch what we want. She keeps pretty quiet though, Sitra has already strapped her to the bed, and threatened to induce a coma on her of she tries to get up. A commercial on the screen shows a new model SUV. This looks completely bad-ass, and I am probably too medicated on painkillers to let caution and rationale interfere, so I ordered one. I’m sure that decision will not make as much sense later…
I also reviewed the combat clips from the facility, and saw some disturbing clips. I am nearly certain that two of the members of Casualty Count, were former Damned. Namely, Ego & Phoenix, two of the Horsemen from Delta squad. I know that Casualty Count, has some good signing bonuses, but I thought that there was enough bad blood between the Damned and them that none of us would be too quick to jump into bed with them. I should call Case and let him know about their most recent, and final employment opportunities. I’ll be sure to do that after the exchange tomorrow. We also note that the device that all the data from Project: Valkyrie is stored on is a really powerful Data Extraction Unit, probably costing Casualty Count a great deal. This could’ve really helped us get the clone data back in the Aztalan jungles. It is valuable, so we transfer the data to a simpler (read, less expensive) storage drive, and agree to keep the unit, in case of need. Chips makes great effort to let us know how much he dislikes this ‘Decker in a Box.’ I imagine it’s probably like trying to get me to respect an brainless automated turret in place of a soldier in the field.
A few days pass and we make the scheduled call and agree to meet Mr Johnson at a deserted yard in the Barrens. I’m not sure of all that happened here, but it seems that Doc sensed that there were many chromed people conveniently stashed in the storage units in the yard at the exchange’s location. They were concerned, so they canceled the meet and agreed to meet the next night at the Fringe, much to the inconvenience of Mr Johnson. They returned a bit frustrated and suspicious, so they talked to Red and me about it. Byk and Doc were pretty irritated with each other and not making much effort to hide it. The meet seemed strange, but not unbelievable – but, better safe than sorry.
They took off the next night, several hours before the meet, to scope out the Fringe ahead of time. I plugged into the ORACLE, to follow the exchange. Drake called in his off-again, on-again Lone Star girlfriend, and convinced her to get some increased security in the area. Perhaps some Lone Star presence could dissuade any aggressive attempt of renegotiations of our deal for Project: Valkyrie. Doc sensed some of the same auras enter in here that he perceived in the vacant lot the night before. That can’t be a coincidence. There is something afoot with this exchange. Lonestar showed up, and immediately converged on the Fringe, detaining anyone entering or exiting the parking lot. Doc gets a call from the Mr Johnson who wants to meet back at the original place tomorrow night. We counter offer to meet him ASAP, which he does not want to do. It seems that he is reluctant to want to meet where he does not have adequate time to position his goons. We are not sure if they are added security, or is he is looking to double cross us, but we do not want to play to his advantage, so we press and get him to agree to meet back at the lot in 30 minutes. Lone Star try make that difficult by detaining the crew for most of the time, forcing Drake to run a few red lights to make it there on time. They see that they are being followed by some of the goons from the Fringe, but a show of force, namely Byk pointing his cannon out the door at them, forces them to back off. We seem to be walking into a trap, and we only have a few minutes to figure out how not to lose the upper hand here in this exchange.
We still are feeling paranoid and do not want to walk into a trap, so Doc calls him up again, and explains that with the ‘coincidental’ presence of others around, we do not feel safe, and that it is in both of our best interests to pick a new locale. Mr Johnson is getting frustrated, and says that the deal is here and now, otherwise it is off. We offer to have him come to us, and out of the lot, and he refuses to do that. Suddenly, Byk steps out of the van and opens fire on him and his bodyguards! Doc, Hunter and Drake seem dumfounded with Byk’s attempt to parlay. Only after both of the guards are gone, and Mr Johnson is now lying on the ground, having his leg shot off for fleeing does Byk end his rampage. Drek. Not too surprisingly, he is not willing or able to renegotiate with us, or accept apologies for this. This is one of the most fucked sideways solution that I have witnessed. Byk, Doc, Hunter and Drake pack up and head out before Byk tries to parlay again.
They get back to the Clubhouse, and Doc seems as mad as Sitra gets, not a pretty sight. Byk seems oblivious to any wrongdoings on his end, felling quite justified. I don’t know if that was troll logic or Russian logic or sheer insanity. This fiasco could paint a giant target on our backs. Not to mention the whole reputation we’ve been trying to keep on the streets. Now we may be seen as amoral as Casualty Count. We (sans Byk), agree that we need to salvage this and try to keep our rep from being ruined. I try to call the number that we had for the Mr Johnson, and no one answers. Not real surprising. Byk says that he overheard our Mr Johnson called ‘Tobias.’ We ask around, and eventually discover that our employer seems to be none other than Tobias Gormonte, head of the Special Operations division at Aztechnology. Having nothing more to lose, I give them a call and ask to speak to someone concerning the little snafu this evening. After mentioning Tobias, I am then shortly transferred to a man who wants to know what we want. We still want to trade the item in, as that was our intent all along. They still want the item, but are none to amused with the shootout. Surprisingly, they agree to meet the terms that were initially set. They will only accept a drop exchange at a warehouse in Renton later this morning between eight and twelve hundred hours. They will leave the money, and we will leave the flight suit. Any more shenanigans, and they will treat us as hostile enemies from this point forward. The deal was one million times better than I hoped, so we agree. We head there promptly at eight, and sure enough, there is a briefcase with a single platinum credstick waiting for us. We leave the flight suit, and the data, and head back to the Clubhouse. I limp back into the medical bed for a much needed recovery. I sure hope that Aztechnology is able to get past this, I’d hate to lose all their potential business in the future.