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Waking up from the American Dream
You crack open an eye, and as usual you're hit with a few sensations in quick succession. The roulette of waking up is what order they come in. Today the dry mouth is first, followed by the smell of stale popcorn, then the headache. Then the feeling that there's something you need to tell Circe. Then the remembering that you can't, ever again.
The construction crew has started up in the middle of the street, jackhammers and that fucking pneumatic drill. You plant your hand on the glass-topped nightstand and see that it's 10:07.
The theater under your apartment was showing a skin flick last night. The marquee said it was called Elf Bondage Babes 14. Your dreams were interesting, I'm sure.
The hum from Zug Island is pretty strong today. That low, persistent sound-not-sound that accompanies daily life in all the neighborhoods nearest to the island. You're used to feeling it in your bones by now, but somehow it never quite becomes background.
Tell me a little bit about your morning routine, Jubilex. I get the shit, shower, shave thing, but the other stuff. Where do you eat breakfast? Do you eat breakfast? Are the clothes you put on wrinkled, or do you actually take care with your appearance? How about your weapons? What do you carry with you on the street?
My dreams were frakking great, to be honest. I'm not into bondage, but those elf babes were pretty amazing. Sure, most of them were wearing ears, but Divanna, the headliner, she was pure elf.
Morning routine, if it still counts as morning, is me time. Stretching, followed by a good workout with my AI holo assistant. She's a hell of a trainer. That's a solid hour if I can make it without being interrupted. Every day that I get in a workout always feels better.
My clothes are in decent shape, a few seasons out of fashion probably. But they don't smell, they're not very wrinkled. My weapons, however, they're in pristine shape. On the street, I carry an Ares Predator as my sidearm, plus seven shuriken, just in case. I have more armament, but this is my barrio gear. Armor vest, of course.
You get through your workout with no interruptions, until a "ring" from inside your head overrides the hum and you feel your palm buzz. Just before you do your warm-down.
When you look, it's Mat. His voice is equal parts sad and determined. "Don't forget we're talking to deckers at two, okay? You missed the last one. She was a waste, anyway, but we need you. Alright? Me and Nizoni and Lindo, we need you to be there. We're all busted, but you're the only one hiding from it."
Tell me, Jubilex, why is it that you feel responsible for your friend's death? Why is Circe's face the first one you see behind your eyelids every morning?
"Program off," I order, and my Trainer, I call her "Jilly" slips into a resting position. I sit back on my knees, sweat dripping onto the padding under me, and answer Mat's call.
"Yeah, you're right, Mat. I did miss the last one. Told you my iCal was on the fritz. It's fixed now, drek. I'll never live that down, will I?" I misdirect. Yeah, I blew it off. It hasn't been an easy month for me. It's my fault Circe died because I pushed him. He said he was worried about the Aztechnology ICE and I told him he was better than their ICE. He always had been. This time, he wasn't. Fried him right in front of my eyes, then the hammer hit hard. I got Nizoni out, but KHL (that's Kool Hand Luc), our rigger, was taken down trying to lay cover fire. We lost two that day, but KHL was just work, you know?
Circe was personal. We were like brothers. He was more of a hero around here than I was. Everybody loved Circe. Everybody. And Lindo and Mat just want to keep working, move on. I know they have their reasons, and I'm not saying I won't get back on the horse. It's just not that easy for me.
Mat accepts your answers and disconnects. You're still dripping with sweat, starting to get clammy. As you clean up and get ready for the day, are there any twinges or aches, Jubilex? Any of them recent? You're young enough if you were some sort of corp wage-slave, I guess, but as a runner, you're not exactly a spring chicken.
Once you're ready to go, it's maybe a little before noon. What's your first, stop, Jubilex?
Yeah, there are some new bumps and bruises. My right forearm has a plastiskin sleeve from that escape from Aztechnology where I skidded on a rooftop. I've still got a bolt in my left ankle where a street doc pinned it, then I never bothered to have it removed. I ache sometimes. So what?
I grab myself a soycaf and a nutrient bar on my way out. I'm heading out to walk down to Fluxx. I could kill some time before I hit Kenzo's for a late lunch.
It's hot out, and muggy with it. You're not sure if the mosquitoes are Awakened critters or just really fucking mean, but you swat three away before you get three steps out from the building.
The construction sounds are loud, ringing in your ears over the Zug hum. A young human girl, hoodie up, taps your arm. You recognize her, she's on the outskirts of the Los Lobos, goes by Twitch, but you know her real name is Esmerelda. "Yo. Ju-ju. Got some new BTL for you, if you want? Just 5K NuYen."
I offer her a smile, "Thanks for the offer, Esmerelda. I'm good for now. Five K? Wow, that must be some good stuff." I can't help but be curious.
It's interesting. ¥5,000 is pretty high for a "standard" BTL chip. That's a week in a really fancy hotel. Definitely above the range that Twitch should be pushing, in the normal course of things. You remember when she was a "real" kid, pig-tails and all. "Bughouse said it's good shit, Ju. That's all I know."
"When did you start working with Bughouse?" I ask, suddenly taking an interest. Esme was a cute kid, always hanging around the arcade for spare nuyen to play. I probably gave in to her puppy dog eye routine more than I should have. "You normally work with Trapper. Why the switch?"
Twitch shrugs. "Bughouse gets better shit, is all. 'Sides, Trapper never lets me sample, you know?"
I nod along, then suck my teeth for a second, considering. I put a friendly hand on Twitch's shoulder, look into her bloodshot eyes. I could use a little diversion. "For five K, I'd like a sample myself." I grin, "No guarantee I'll buy, but if it's good, I promise to spread the word. Heading to Fluxx right now."
I keep my hand on her shoulder, nod, "That's fair. You working with Bughouse full on, or bouncing between them? And how's Trapper doing without you moving her stuff?"
"Sure, let's go." I turn and start walking alongside her, moving my hand back down to my side. "Crazy this construction, right? Almost like they think it'll make traffic better. Or something." Mostly word noise to pass the time until the Arcade. Once we get there, I'm getting a sample. I could use a little sample.
I wonder if I can scrounge 5K? I'll check my account as we're moving.
On the way to Fluxx, you see a number of familiar faces. You get a few handshakes and a bunch of head nods, lots of people know you and most seem inclined to be friendly. Who is it that scowls, Jubilex, and why?
You do check your account. You can probably swing 5K, but it's a stretch.
[You'll be rolling against a GOOD (+3) challenge, when and if you buy the chip.]
Fluxx is always busy, always noisy. Everyone from kids in the front room to the hardcore Linez, Ball2Ball, and Action Go players in the back. SPR1TL33 gives you a smile when you walk in, Jubilex, she's always had a bit of a crush on you, even helped out when you were at your worst. The smile fades when she sees you're with Twitch, though.
"Jubilex, what's up? Come in for a little hand-eye action? Jersey's looking for someone to beat him at Linez."
"Hey Sprite." I look over at Twitch, "I'll catch up to you in a bit." I head over to Sprite's terminal, lean over and look close at the leaderboards, but I'm mostly getting closer to her. I can't help but flirt a little. "Jersey is a glutton for punishment, isn't he? How's tricks, Sprite?"
Twitch gives you a look like "time's ticking, chummer," but she doesn't push it. Goes over to one of the dance games and watches the two kids playing while you talk to Sprite.
The leaderboards are no surprise. Mostly the same names, in a different order every day. You're still up on Linez, but you've fallen back off the Action Go list since you were here last. You do notice one new name in the top five of all the games. "British Dave," it says.
Sprite looks over at you through the longer bit of her bangs with a smile. "Tricks are the same, Jubilex. People come, they play, I take my cut. Living the dream, right? How about you? What do you have going on, since... ah, these days?"
I stare at her for a little too long, just enough to make sure she knows I'm paying attention. "Taking it day by day. Still miss him, of course. Who doesn't? Lining up some new work," I lie. Then, I redirect, "Hey, what's your beef with Twitch? Just the BTL dealing, or something else?"
Sprite meets your look for a few seconds, then looks away. "Fuck, Jubilex, I don't give a shit about the dealing. I run the basement here, too, right? It's dealing to you that worries me. You think this is a good time for you to get into the high-end brain-fucks that Bughouse is dealing? Seriously?"
A little defensive on that, I rise up, a hand up like stop, "I'm not. I was just chatting with her, Sprite. I'm between work, can't really afford Bughouse's prices anyway. Easy, girl. Easy." Wow, am I that obvious? Some simsense junkie? I thought I had at least a little class and decorum.
"At five K nuyen, it's easy to walk the straight and narrow, you know?" Play it off with humor. "You're looking cute with those bangs, Sprite. And I like how you look out for me. I tell you, if I wasn't otherwise involved..." Misdirect and flirt.
SPR1TL33 gives you a little shove. "You're full of shit, Jujube, but you get away with it because everyone thinks you're hung like a Troll. Someday I'll find out."
I give her a little smirk like "maybe I am", then head on, "See you round, Sprite. Keep livin the dream." Maybe I'll not track Twitch down. I don't have to have a sample. I'll do a walk about, but lunch calls soon. Kenzo sounds good right now. I'll jander that way if nothing gets in my way.
Twitch has moved on, apparently writing you off. You make the rounds at Fluxx, give Jersey some shit, check out British Dave's moves. He's a weedy little guy with a tick that twists his lips into a weird snarl every thirty seconds or so, but he is some hot stuff, especially at Ball2Ball. Definitely one to watch. Tell me, Jubilex, do you ever win much spending money at the games back here?
After your walkthrough at Fluxx, you head for lunch. It's humid, like you're in a smelly steam bath, and the temperature's somewhere between boiling and the surface of the sun. Feels like you haven't felt a breeze for a month. On the few block walk to Kenzo's, you see that same chummer from before, the one that scowled like you raped a puppy or something. Seriously, Jubilex, why do they have such a hard-on for you?
I make the rounds, it helps my mood. Win money? No, that's not what I'm after. I make sure I keep even, maybe a little ahead, but by the end of the night, I leave it here. If I stressed about winning, it would just add to my pile of things that aren't fun. Besides, Fluxx is small potatoes in the e-sports scene. I'll throw in with a tourney or two, but never high stakes.
Grbek the Ork hates me because I wouldn't bring him on as muscle. Circe owed his a few K nuyen and sort of made him think he was an alt for the team. He came collecting on that drek and I had to tell him "no thanks". He's twitchy, too cybered, and I've got the rough stuff covered, thanks. I avoid eye contact and move on.
Some Ramen will help my mood even more, so I'll shoot a quick text to Jessi as I head over:
To: Jessi Heading to Kenzo's for lunch. I'm buying. -J
Kenzo's is a little pocket of delicious smells, but no relief from the heat or humidity. Kenzo himself is supposedly fourth-gen and speaks English with a flat North-Midwestern accent. His Japanese, by all reports, is perfectly fluent and idiomatic, though. This place has been operating in this spot since well before most people in Detroit knew what the hell "ramen" was, always getting by, thriving even. Riots, manastorms, that thing with the quartet of toxic shamans back in '58, nothing has ever closed the place down. There are rumors that Kenzo's not exactly off-the-rack human, despite appearances. There are also rumors that he has serious Yakuza juice. There are lots of rumors about Kenzo, really, but only one incontrovertible fact, Jubilex. The ramen here is the closest thing to a perfect food you've ever had.
All the tables are taken, but you find a spot at the narrow bar and nod to Kenzo, who gives you a wink and starts building you a huge bowl of noodles and broth and toppings.
To: Jubilex Daddy already claimed me for lunch. Sweet to ask, though. Later? -J
Frak. Big Daddy stole her away.
To: Jessi Count on it. I get you for supper. -J
I grin at Kenzo, pushing down the slight frustration at losing out on Jessi. I order some delicious Ramen. "How's tricks, Kenzo?" I ask lightly.
Kenzo has always been a little... impish? With a quirky grin, he leans over the partition to place your noodles and broth in front of you, then reaches behind your ear and pulls out a ceramic soup spoon. "You know I don't have tricks, Jubilex. I have miracles." He hands you the spoon with a flourish.
I chuckle, Kenzo always makes me laugh with his antics. His Ramen is amazing, no lie. But his personality is top notch, too. "So noted. How are your miracles?" I dig in, but keep listening.
Kenzo quirks a smile. "My miracles are good, business too. It's the world you've got to worry about." He nods up at the vidscreen, where the news scroller is showing its usual litany of disasters, violence, and random bizarreness. "How's my next ex-wife, Nizoni? She may be crazier than a bag of rabid monkeys, but wow. Worth the risks, yeah?"
I wouldn't know if she's worth the risks, to be honest. No reason to let Kenzo know she sort of spooks me. I mean, NAN and Elven? Who wouldn't want to stick a dick in that? Except me. We work together. I don't drek where I eat.
But I could eat for days.
Speaking of which, I eat some more. Then answer, "She's a special lady. I look forward to your wedding cake, Kenzo. I do indeed. Oh, I'll see her in a couple hours, any secret messages I should pass along?" Another bite, some nice soycaf.
Kenzo gives you a little bow. "No messages. Someday, she will know all there is to know about Kenzo. Enjoy your food, Jubi-san." He turns to serve another customer.
To: Jubilex Daddy wants to see you and your team. BUSINESS -J
I grin at Kenzo, then pull up my pocket secretary to respond to Jessi
To: Jessi Great! When and where? -J
I keep eating noodles, but tap out a message to the team, as it were.
To: Team Possible job with Don. Meet today. Waiting for time/place. -J
Things get hammered out as you finish your noodles. Amazingly, the Don is going to come to you, in the back room of the Second Chance, after you interview the potential decker. Once you finish and pay, with a few more words to Kenzo, there's still a bit of time, but you head on to the Second Chance. Amazingly, you're the first to arrive. What do you do?
I head up to the bar to chat with Vince, the evening shift bartender. He's a slick customer, great ears, too. Not physically. "Vince, how's tricks?" I lead off with my usual patter, waiting for him to serve me a Tequila Sunrise. What? It's after noon.
Vince starts making your drink as soon as he sees you, and by the time you give him your opening line, it's ready. "Tricks is tricks, Jubilex. Hard times. Gang comin' by, new one, call 'emselves Samhain something. Hasslin', lookin' fer protection. Y'know... sure it will blow over. How's by you?"
I don't let that pass, "Samhain? That is new. They have a calling card or something? Or just plan to stop by again?" I will not let some go gang mess with my bar. I will find out these Samhain-ers and see if we can work out something. Or, I may just mark my damn territory on their ass. I'm a Shadowrunner. I've taken down a gang or two, and I don't do it in a straight up fight.
Vince shakes his head. "No calling card. Just the usual 'We'll see you again, chummer...' I can handle 'em. Los Lobos will back me up if need be. What I pay 'em for, right?"
"True. True. Just be careful, hombre. I like this bar of yours." I take a swig, then add, "Oh, and you, too. Of course."
With a chuckle, Vince moves off to another customer, leaving you to your Tequila Sunrise. A few sips in, you see the guy from the arcade, British Dave, walk in. He winds up taking a stool next to you, ordering a beer through the regular twitch that distorts his face.
"Thanks, barkeep. S...seen any EmDubs around? Got a m...meeting."
I turn in my seat to regard him. Is he our maybe decker? Grrrrreat. I clear my throat, "British Dave, right? I saw you at Fluxx. You can call me Jubilex. I know Marcus Wellby. Why are you interested?"
British Dave turns toward you. "Heard Mr. W...welby needed a decker. Talked to another f...friend of his. Named Mat." The tic and stutter don't embarrass him in the least. He seems to eliminate as many unnecessary words as possible, keep sentences short. Practical adjustments.
Oh man, this boy better be a drek-hot decker if I have to deal with this. Probably should have played some games with him to see how his reflexes are.
He's no frakking Circe, that's for sure. "Well, I know they're coming this way, so have a drink, British Dave."
British Dave nods and takes a sip of his beer. He doesn't seem too inclined toward conversation, that's a lot of work for him. Before too long, he pulls out a pair of mirrorshades and puts them on. He must have contacts implanted in his fingertips, because his fingers start moving quickly and purposefully, just above the surface of the bar. You notice that the interval between twitches lengthens significantly as he hits his groove.
Who's the first of your three team mates to arrive, Jublilex? And are they surprised to see you're early? Surprised to see you there at all?
It's Mat, of course. Very surprised, from his expression. I give him a nod of greeting. I swear, he's such a frakking mother hen. I did build this team with Circe. I think they forget that.
Mat comes up to pat you on the shoulder. "Jubilex, good to see you here." He nods to Vince, holds up two fingers to indicate a round for the two of you. Vince gets to work on another Tequila Sunrise and pours Mat a scotch with a water back. "Any idea what Gobbi wants with us?" This last in a low voice. He won't take it too much farther until you're in the converted storage room down in the basement.
What's special about that room,Jubilex? Is it just... there, or is there some particular facet of tech or construction that makes it well-suited?
"No idea, Mat." I answer as I pick up my second drink. I hold it to him for a clink, "But he's coming to us, so that's good."
The back room is pretty well secured, it was Circe's little man cave project. White noise generators, reinforced walls, door and ceiling, closed circuit cameras to the outside, and you can toggle switch the systems to offline or satellite searching. No, I don't really know why one is safer than the other.
Plus, really comfy chairs and a slick table with a holovid display.
Mat nods, clearly ready to "wait and see". Before you say anything else, you hear Lindo's basso rumble from near the door. When you turn, you see that he and Nizoni arrived at the same time. Do you think that was on purpose, Jubilex? How do they get along?
Lindo's talking to one of the regulars, Variska, a troll that runs the neighborhood talisman shop. "How long do you think it will take to get me some fresh mandrake, Variska? I've got a few roots, but they're drying out. Can hardly get a peep out of them." He pauses to talk with the troll as Nizoni continues to the bar. Vince has poured her a glass of honey-colored wine imported from Salish-Sidhe territories.
"Hello." She gives you the disturbing, cold smile that usually makes strangers flinch, her eyes looking through you to something in a distance you can't quite estimate. "I hope this will be interesting. I'm bored.
I tap the bar so Vincent pours Niz a drink, on my tab. "Well, the new guy's interesting to talk to, if nothing else. Plus, after the interview, we've got some work coming our way."
After the drinks arrive, my third. "Kenzo sends his greetings." I take a drink, "Why isn't it that you've given him the time of day yet?"
That smile doesn't get any less disturbing as it gets wider. "Is pretty little Kenzo sniffing around? That might be interesting." She takes a sip of her wine. "He is good with knives."
Lindo comes up. He's disinclined toward intoxicants, so Vince hands him a glass of guava nectar, cut with club soda.
For a guy who's paid to shoot people, I shouldn't be creeped out by Nizoni. But I am.
Haven't quite figured out what makes that girl tick. I doubt I will anytime soon. But she's good at her job and Circe loved her. Not love love, just loved working with her love. I think.
"Em Dub, shall we retire to the back room and chat with British Dave?" I pick up my glass and head towards the back room to do just that.
The rest follow you, including British Dave. He seems pretty impressed by the room, looking around. "G...good stuff here. Someone cared a l...lot." You all sit in your usual chairs. Mat and Lindo look to you as if waiting for you to begin. Nizoni just sits, staring into her wine.
Someone did care alot.
Well, I didn't need that reminder, but it's not like I don't think of him in here. Every time in here.
I sit back in my chair, looking at British Dave. "As a decker.... how would you find the name of the leader of the Samhain gang that's recently sniffed around the barrio?"
British Dave doesn't pause. "D...do you have a handle? A picture? That would be the easiest place to start. Of anyone, not just the leader. If n...not, with some f...footwork, we could find a pattern. Who's been c...contacted. Build a g...geographical profile, work backwards. Even a race could help. If all we n...know is the name of the gang," he shrugs, "S...Samhain is Halloween, right?"
I give him a noncommittal look, "Seems so. They tried to shake down Vincent, say they're moving in. Samhain is Halloweenie, right Mat?"
Mat looks up and to the right, clearly combing his mind. "'Samhain' is new, don't know of any gang with that name, but it could be an offshoot. Halloweeners got their asses handed to them not long ago in Seattle." He looks to British Dave. "I wonder..."
"What's with the twitch, chummer? Addict, injury, congenital? What?"
British Dave nods. "Black ICE. Hit m...me on a supposed milk run. Fucking 'Free Clinic' turned out to b...be an Aztechnology f...front. Bad intel, not mine."
I hate Aztechnology. I hate them a bunch. All of us do. But I can't take on a charity case.
"Well, chummer," I ask, now curious, "Want to plug into our system and show us what you can do?" I wonder if he can communicate with through the system's speakers more clearly.
No pause, no negotiation. "First one's free, chummer." Of course, "plug in" is a metaphor, these days, with the Matrix fully wireless after the second big Crash. Mat does something to generate a one-time encryption key (following instructions on, of all things, a piece of paper) and passes the resulting chip to British Dave, who slots it in to the deck in his bag. Then, mirrorshades and the finger motions you noticed earlier. "Will anyone care if I hack the bar's security? Could get a capture from the visit. Did Vince say it was today?" No trace of a stutter, and the twitch is significantly slowed, at the very least.
"I'm sure Vincent will care," I answer. "If he finds out. So make sure he doesn't."
A nod, then renewed activity, fingers and head moving. British Dave starts humming something a little off-tune as he works. "Got the feed, slipped in like I was saying 'Just the tip.' Got the capture, cool. The one good angle is an Elf, maybe? Wearing black with a patch of an orange bonfire, so not Halloweeners, directly. Another patch says 'Rager.' Catching the face. Assuming former Seattle, so checking against that, they've got ICE, but no problem. Got it... Name's Berenial, old lieutenant for the 'Weeners." There's a pause then, he's digging deeper. "Looking for the leader, following the money. There's a corp, no, not corp, looks like, but..."
Then he stops. Fingers, twitches, voice. Just stops. Rigid in the chair.
I watch, impressed with what he's getting. I'm taking mental notes, a reject, maybe a survivor from the Halloweeners. Heard of them, they were big a few decades ago.
When he freezes, I wait a moment, try to wait more. But flashes of Circe and I'm sweating. "BD!" I'll get up and shake him if he doesn't respond.
British Dave doesn't respond. He's still breathing, still has a strong pulse, but... no response when you shake him. The mirrorshades come askew, and you see his eyes are doing rapid side-to-side motions. He's fighting, Jubilex, you recognize the signs. Fighting against something serious. Something beyond ICE that requires fingers. It's all in British Dave's head now.
What do you do?
"Mat? Any way we can help with our system?" I ask. Damn, why didn't I pay more attention to Circe's ramblings.
"No fucking clue. There's the emergency shutoff, take the whole thing off-line. Big red button, if you remember that? Your call, but make it soon."
I think about it. It's a reflex, wanting to save this guy I don't even know. Save him from Circe's fate.
But I don't. It's trial, evidently by fire. I hope he pulls it out.
British Dave starts twitching. Not the facial tic, but full-on seizure twitching. Through the speakers again, "Triv... bad intel... elin. That good?" Then he slumps to the side. Eye movement stops, but there's still a pulse, still breathing.
After that, I breathe. "Yeah. That's good. Get out of there."
I hit the red button.
The decker starts jerking around again when you hit the Big Red Button, but soon settles down and seems to pass out, naturally. You and Lindo take a look, Lindo touches a talisman to BD's temple, and shortly he wakes up. "How did I d...do?"
I drain the rest of my third Tequila Sunrise, "We've got a Mr. Johnson coming with a job in a few. We'll see how you do on that job. You'll get a full share, so it's worth your while. Deal?"
British Dave blinks and scrubs a hand along his face. "Th...that was serious ice. More serious th...than you'd expect. Bad." He straightens up. "A run would be good."
"The ice hit after you went up the food chain past the Samhain, right?" I ask, interested. "Meaning they've got well-placed friends?"
The decker nods. "F...found a face, but when I w...went for the name, things got dangerous. Corp-level shit."
The intercom buzzes, twice short, once long. That's Vince's signal to be ready, you've got guests on the way. The vid screen lights up to show Don Gobbi and his personal security, two female trolls that look so alike most people just call them "The Twins."
"Drop a copy of that face on our shared drive, I'll pick it up later. Thanks."
When the intercom buzzes, I straighten, then check my team. "BD, keep it quiet, we'll do the talking. Here's my channel, text me any questions you've got, alright? Don't speak unless spoken to. So ka?"
Once he gives me a nod of understanding, I open the door with a button and let them walk in. I get up when I see the Don, and I expect the rest of the team to do the same. "Greetings, Don Gobbi, please come have a seat at our table." I'll walk around to shake his hand if he looks amenable.
Don Gobbi's face is grim, but he shakes your hand with his own. The middle finger is missing, only a quarter-inch stub remaining, and the ruby on his ring finger gleams darkly in the artificial light of your workspace. After the greeting, he takes a seat at the conference table, his two bodyguards silently moving to take up a position where they can cover everyone.
After he sits, everyone else does, as well. "It is unusual, I know, for me to come to your place of business in this fashion. I appreciate you seeing me at such short notice."
I remain standing when he sits. "Marcus Wellby is honored to host you, Don Gobbi. We're at your service. Would you like a drink?" I glance over at the bar, which has our private stock. Mostly synth, but a couple nice bottles. That's Mat's contribution to the place.
"No, thank you. Please, sit." Once you comply, he begins. "I will come straight to the point. My son is missing, and I believe I know who has him. I would like for you to confirm this and extract him."
Jessi's younger brother, Matteo, just turned 18 a few weeks ago, you know. He's a nice kid, but a teenager for sure.
That's serious. All pretense of a pleasant meeting drops and I sit forward in my chair. I like Matteo well enough. He's spoiled, but earnest. I had hopes he might turn into a decent man. He should be off limits. The kid's going to frakking college in the fall.
"Who has him, Don Gobbi?" I ask, expecting the other shoe to drop.
"Agata Vishnevskaya. She is head of the Vory in Detroit. Her second was recently killed, and she chooses to believe that it was my people who did this thing. We did not." He reaches into the inside pocket of his impeccably-tailored suit. "What I have is there, on both Matteo and Vishnevskaya and her organization. I would ordinarily go with a more... high profile team for this, but I believe your personal connection might provide some motivation. I told Jessica that Matteo was missing just after she sent you the message earlier, and she is understandably distraught." He gives you a piercing look. "You will have the resources you need, and I will pay ¥7500 apiece to your team for his return."
"We have a deal." I answer without hesitation. He's right, I'm motivated. Someone just crapped in the neighborhood pool, and that's no bueno. "Team, let's get to work. I'll keep in touch, Don Gobbi." I hope Jessi's okay. They're close siblings. She's probably freaking out.
The Don stands. "Thank you, Jubilex. Anything you need, get in touch with me directly. You'll be put through." He turns to leave, his large shadows following silently.
When he's gone everyone looks at each other, a little shell-shocked.
Mat whistles, low. "Holy shit, chummers. I mean, we had to take it, of course, but..."
Lindo rumbles, "...holy shit. Yeah."
Nizoni just grins, and BD reaches for the case.
I push my glass away, still half full. "BD, pull up all the relevant deets and display it on the vidscreen. Niz, you look for weak spots in whatever places we find. I imagine they planned ahead, so think of secondary and tertiary routes. Mat, you're egress, so map paths and check Lone Star coverage maps. Lindo, you think you can get an Astral fix on Matteo?"
BD opens the case Don Gobbi pulled out of his pocket, pulls out two datachips, a credstick, and a medal of St. Dismas, the Penitent Thief, on a silver chain. You recognize it as something that Matteo regularly wore.
The decker tosses you the credstick, slides the necklace across to Lindo, and slots in the two datachips. Ignoring the data on Matteo to begin with, he starts filtering through the vast volume of information on the Detroit branch of the Vory and on Agata Vishnevskaya. Places, people, associations, enterprises, events, businesses. Every now and then, Nizoni grabs something as it floats across the screens and takes a closer look, totally focused.
Lindo takes the necklace and steps away to his own personal space, a separate room with his supplies and accoutrements. Soon enough, you smell sage and ganja and something deep and spicy that you can't put your finger on.
The credstick contains ¥10K for working expenses. Generous, to say the least.
So, the team's working, Jubilex, and there's nothing to shoot. What do you do?
I check and recheck our gear. Pace a bit. Then, dammit, I shoot a message to Jessi.
To: Jessi Marcus Wellby is getting him back before supper. -J
To: Jubilex From: Jessi Probably not so soon, but you WILL get him back, right?
Mat's digging through his own personal databases, making calls, pulling on his old contacts. He grunts occasionally, but most of the conversation is subvocalized.
You clean all the guns, check the gear. Charges, ammo levels. While you're doing your checks, British Dave switches to the chip with Matteo's information. After a minute he starts frowning and shoots something over to you, Jubilex. Matteo's been gone for 24 hours, but his credit's been tagged, with biometrics, twice in the last 97 minutes.
To: Jessi Marcus Wellby will get him back. I promise. -J
I look at BD, "He's dipping into his funds, or they're pulling nuyen with him? Can you pinpoint it?"
"First was at a fancy grocery store in Greektown, second was to get an anonymous credstick for ¥7500."
Lindo comes back into the main room. "He's alive, for sure. Under some stress, but I don't think he's hurt or afraid for his life. Closest a map scry would get me is that he's somewhere Downtown near Great Circus Park."
This feels weird. "Give me your honest impressions. Does this feel hinkie to you? Is this a paper tiger?"
Everyone turns their attention back to the room.
"This does not feel like an abduction to me, but it does seem like an unstable situation. I would not rule out the possibility that Matteo actually is in danger from Vishnevskaya or the Vory, but me? I say they did not take them."
"There is an apartment block in the area Lindo pinpointed that's owned personally by Vishnevskaya. If this is Vory, that's the most likely spot."
"The old lady is looking for Matteo, too. Clearly doesn't have him."
British Dave keeps silent for the moment.
I take in their input. "Alright, does this seem like a frakking obvious set of breadcrumbs? Surely the old lady knows we're coming. What are we missing?"
Let's see a team Intel roll here. You're rolling to Create an Advantage. THIS time (not necessarily all the times), you'll be rolling against a static difficulty of Average (+1). If you beat that by two shifts (that would mean a +3 result), invoking the Aspect created by the roll won't cost a Fate Point.
SPECIAL: Since there aren't any team Aspects to tag for the roll here, let's talk about what might apply, if needed, after your roll.
(Rolled: 4df+2. Total: 2. Rolls: -, -, +, +)
You bat it back and forth for a while, and it the conclusion everyone reaches is that, for some reason, Matteo is in the wind, but in Vory territory. If he's actually in the building Vishnevskaya owns that Nizoni located, and it's a fair certainty that he is, it's clear she's unaware of that fact. Shit, man, she lives in the penthouse, and most of the apartments are family and close associates, but she's looking everywhere else.
To summarize: You know where Matteo is, but not who he's with or why he's there. You're clear that he wasn't taken, but given the situation he is certainly exposed to danger. You have no idea why the Old Lady is looking for Matteo, but you know she is.
Why don't you ask a few questions, Jubilex, we can drill down a bit, then agree on an Aspect for the run that expresses the advantage you just earned.
"BD, what did he buy at the grocery store? Can you put a trace on that credstick?"
British Dave dives back in, then you hear a chuckle through the speakers. "Credstick won't be traceable. He made sure of that, but at the market? Wine, chocolate, candles and condoms."
"Yeah..." I say and sigh. "I kinda figured." I shake my head, "Well, he's still in dangerous territory, and I know Don Gobbi will still want the job done. Let's mount up. Faster we extract loverboy, faster we get paid." I just hope it isn't some high price hooker.
"So, what's the plan? It's still Vory ground, we can't just knock on doors, and we don't know what apartment he's in."
I pull up the map Mat worked up, "Alright, here's how we play it. BD, you are overwatch, and you get to stay here, isn't that wonderful? Lindo, you're with him, but you ride with us in Astral, keep in contact for unnatural threats. Mat, you drive Niz and I there, we go in, hunt him down, grab him and get back out. If we can avoid with the shooty shooty, we will. Questions?"
So, your Intel roll gives you an Aspect on the mission. "Teenage Runaway." That implies all sorts of things. Make me a "Planning" roll to Create an Advantage for the run, and pay a Fate Point if you want to invoke that new Aspect. (Also, of course, tell me HOW you're invoking it.) The Team has a total of 4 Fate Points, one for each member, or you can use one of your own, if you like. Static difficulty again, at a +1.
NOTE: "Teenage Runaway" lasts for individual rolls throughout the run. This isn't your only chance to use it.