Date: 25th November
Weather: Clear, cloudless skies and nuclear fallout
Outfit: I’m in my underwear right now, and some kind of sealskin cape that Pops insisted I wear because he can’t just let me lounge around in the crash zone in comfortable clothes can he? And the only other clothes we have are our body armour, which is all sweaty and stinky after a hard fight. It’s not like Coyote and Ghost have never seen a girl in her underwear before (well, I guess they maybe haven’t, though Coyote likes to drop lots of hints that he is friends with all kinds of crazy girls, but you take one look at that pistol of his and you know there’s a lot of compensation going on, so maybe I should cover up!)
Mood: Bereft! And kind of suspicious! That stupid Carnage guy died too slow, and he managed to get my precious sniper rifle off me and throw it into the sea, the stupid little thug. Of course I killed him but that rifle was worth a lot! Still, we got his bikes, and his cyberware, so I guess we’ll come out on top, but right now here we are in the wilds of the crash zone and I don’t have my best gun! And now we have to have a long, hard talk about that stupid girl we brought with us, who is coming on like the helpless daughter with Pops, who is a sucker for a damsel in distress. Maybe I should have sliced her up when I had the chance …
News: We haven’t had a lot of time for channel surfing, but when we opened a brief comms link with Alt we got a big download of news, and it looks like Arasaka have gone crazy in New Horizon. The whole city is in lockdown and Arasaka have invested a lot of areas, so there’s ground fighting going on even in Main Hub. Arasaka have got a lot of troops in there, and seem to have run some kind of huge hack on the city, so Goliath FBRs are turning and attacking Goliath soldiers. But Goliath have deployed some kind of twisted new soldier that is half cyberware and half robot, but they’re monstrous things and they’re immune to hacking. There are big holes opening up in the pits and things crawling out of them, and everyone is fighting everyone while the FBR’s go crazy and scream their rage in a voice we have all heard before. Arasaka have also started taking over small countries and city states across the Pacific. Something big is happening, and we’re out here on the edge, in the Crash Zone, with no chance to profit. Good timing, really, since Arasaka would surely have found me and Pops if we’d stayed in New Horizon. Maybe it’s time to move on …
So we got to the top of the oil rig and of course the moment Pops and Coyote stepped up onto the platform where our bikes were they stumbled straight into this stupid Carnage guy, who thinks he’s cool because he’s got a bit of cyberware and the kind of hairdo an Oil Age Rocker would be embarrassed by. Fortunately me, Ghost and our captives were out of sight on the stairs leading up, so I could creep up to near the edge of the platform while the boys did that thing they call “negotiation,” where they pretend to be trying to make a deal with each other so that when the dust and blood settles everyone can claim they were trying to be reasonable and it’s really the dead guy’s fault that it didn’t all work out, and isn’t it funny that it’s always the dead guy who was the unreasonable “negotiator”? This time they had to pretend to care about the bikes, and what was a fair trade for letting us just take the bikes and go, even though we all know that no one is just going to give away their bikes, and even if Carnage was stupid enough to give up his motors he was going to change his mind the moment he saw us hustling Sam across the platform. Still, Pops and Coyote thrust out their chests and acted tough for just long enough for me to get up near the platform, so at least one of us was ready to do the sensible thing and put a bullet in Carnage when the inevitable breakdown happened.
Then of course the breakdown happened, but in amongst all the posturing Pops had let Carnage get close enough that Carnage managed to knock his chain gun out of line, and he ended up shooting holes in the ceiling instead of Carnage. By the time I got up onto that platform and got my gun level, Pops had been disarmed and thrown across the room, and Coyote’s cyberdog had somehow managed to cover him in a super-deadly electrified net, and Coyote was shooting one of Carnage’s minions. I put a bullet in Carnage’s leg while he was standing gloating over Pops’s immobile body, but somehow that bullet didn’t blow his leg off. There were three other guys up there, some sciencey dude in a white coat and two soldiers with assault rifles who were too slow to do anything useful. It didn’t look particularly bad – three on four, since Ghost was back on the stairs keeping Sam and Theo calm – but this Carnage dude was obviously bad news and now Pops was down and Carnage was laughing like he had a whole bunch of trouble still to come. And Coyote was pretty badly damaged from the battle downstairs, so only really me and the four of them.
So I let my ghost out.
She’s been clamouring to come out since this started, like she can smell blood and tears. Or maybe she can hear the happiness singing in me when I’m on the move, shooting and killing, and she wants a part of the only thing that makes me feel anything. Mostly I can keep her down, but she’s a part of me now, growing stronger every time I fight, tense and strong in my limbs when the action starts, and she can feel as clearly as me when the odds are stacked against us. At that time she starts to sing in me, a low, growling hiss of static telling me she needs blood and smoke, a creeping need for speed and death. When it’s just the joy of killing I can hold her off and take it all for myself, like down on the deck when it was just me and my team against a horde of amateurs, but when I start to feel the edge, when the risk begins to stack up, that static hiss becomes a raging tempest of need, a storm howling inside me for release, and I can’t hold her back then. So I let a bit of her free, just a bit, enough to let the pressure off her, and to make me better.
I don’t like to let her free, because I think she might kill my friends too.
So she came out, just that little angry sliver, and in we went. Somehow Pops had shaken off that net the stupid dog put on him, and unloaded an entire magazine into Carnage, but that wasn’t enough to stop him – he was down on one knee but that freakish arm was still functioning and he didn’t even look worried even though he’d just taken a swarm of armour piercing bullets. Coyote was busy fighting the sciencey guy, who had stolen his sword, but I was ignoring that because Carnage was where the danger was. Carnage was fast, and as my ghost was seeping out he was still faster than me, so before I could shoot him with another round from my rifle he extended the whiplike cyberarm that had thrown Pops like a ragdoll, and tore my rifle out of my hands.
No matter, I switched to my assault rifle and let rip on him with a burst of high explosive armour piercing. Even that didn’t take him down, though I destroyed one leg and wrecked one arm. Over there in the shadows of the building Coyote was fighting with the sciency guy still and his dog was blowing up the other two soldiers with a fusillade of rockets, but here on the edge of the wreckage Pops was reloading and distracted by the net, so it was just me and Carnage.
And that’s when something slipped. Maybe I’d been distracted by Coyote’s battle with the scientist, or that stupid dog, but I missed something, and suddenly my ghost broke out. She just came howling out, like the frozen wind off the steppes blowing down onto the beach in winter, cutting through you like you’re just bones and whistling over the ice in the bay. And it was just like back in that bay, when I had to sink down cold and lonely on the beach, listening to my father’s bitter imprecations, cursing me into the rocks and the ice as a useless thing, while he dug a hole in the ice and his men lugged their cloth-wrapped, blood-soaked burden over the ice to the hole, and I crouched there hugging my knees against the cold wind and my father’s colder anger, trying to stay silent and hoping I wouldn’t cry because my tears make him madder and the wind freezes them on my face and afterwards the shame of being weak in front of those horrible men stings me more than icy tears ever will, but I’m still too small and helpless to know that one day I will become a whirling storm of death and destruction and everywhere men dying will whisper my name just right before they beg for their mothers who never come. So I sink down behind the rocks and ice as that wind roars over me and just hope I can come back from the cold.
I don’t know what I did but I came back standing on the stairs just below the platform, my blood-soaked katana held against Sam’s neck. Ghost hadn’t even seen me coming and was staring at me with this stupid goldfish face, and Theo was so useless that he was still raising his gun to point at me, when I sank gasping to my knees on the steps. Carnage was dead, and Pops and Coyote were looting the platform when I returned to it, helped by Ghost. We hustled then, getting everyone onto bikes, and lighted off that platform as fast as we could on four separate bikes. An AV from Alt’s crew tried to follow us but we gave it the slip, and Coyote sent Alt a brief message telling her that things had got complicated and we needed to get away to a safe place with Sam. Then we headed off to the Crash Zone.
The Crash Zone is maybe six hours at full bike speed, if you’re avoiding New Horizon. You end up in this messed up slaughterhouse, a stretch of what was once China covered in wrecked cities and the occasional radioactive wasteland. I guess we ended up in what was once Guangzhou, that was then a city of 30 million people before a series of fusion reactor explosions turned it into a wasteland. There are people living in there, and whole ecosystems of post-apocalyptic madness stretched across a large portion of the coast of what was once China, and that’s where we went. Eventually we settled down into this tableau of wrecked trains under a crumbling highway bridge, to have a small chat…
We put the bikes down and set up inside one of the wrecked train carriages. I helped Sam relax and clean herself up, and while I did so I made sure to mention that if she messed around with Pops I would gut her like a seal – just a sisterly warning, so she doesn’t make any stupid mistakes – and I also thought about sending a message to Alt telling her where we were, because Coyote and Pops had turned off all our signalling gear and weren’t going to turn it on until we knew what our next steps were. They seem to think it’s very important that we discuss whether we should hand Sam over to Alt or not, and they had a big argument over it.
That’s not a conversation I’m interested in. Alt is getting Sam. That’s what I promised to do, and that’s what I am going to do. Those two can debate whatever they want as long as they want, but I know where Sam is going to end up. I messed up once crossing Arasaka, and the price on my head is growing every day that they can’t find me, I don’t need more people chasing me because my team suddenly decide they haven’t got a taste for the human trafficking they signed up to do. Last time Arasaka sent Pops, but Alt will never make the mistake of sending someone as broken and fragile as Pops – whoever she sends will be much, much crueler than sentimental old uncles like Pops. I aim to die fighting, not strangled in my bed by some transhumanist monstrosity in the pay of a woman I had no intention of ever crossing. And I can’t die fighting if I’m constantly hiding from all the enemies my team makes because they can’t keep themselves from “protecting” the first mark they find who acts vaguely feminine around them.
Sam is obviously older than she looks. It’s easy to think she’s some kind of vulnerable prodigal daughter, like an angel who fell to earth to look after that broken flock of Children of Exalta, but I’m not looking at her soft little heart-shaped face and her gentle eyes the way the boys are. She’s older than Pops, and she holds a secret that corporations have been killing their way across the planet looking for. Everyone who knew Sam is dead or dying, and everywhere she goes she leaves a wake of destruction and wrecked lives. She’s the custodian of some dark and deadly secret so valuable that those who seek it will brook no mercy, no compassion and no error in their quest. Whatever evil spirit of destruction stalks her will find us too if we don’t keep moving, and get rid of her as soon as we can.
Sometimes I know she catches me watching her and before I can put on my face I think she sees what the boys don’t – that there’s nothing in here her pretty looks and pleas of innocence can touch. To me she’s meat, just meat, chum in the water, and I have to get clear of her before the sharks start to circle. And I will.
No matter what.
fn1: Drew is a solo but somehow managed to get the worst possible initiative roll, so by the time she got onto the platform everyone had acted, Carnage had used some kind of mega-cyberware to throw Pops around and Coyote’s dog had rolled a fumble. It’s a crowd-control police dog, which is why it has a super-deadly net and a swarm of armour piercing missiles in its chest. Go figure.
fn2: 39 on 9d10 wtf? I have the worst luck.
fn3: Once I unleash the ghost I have to make a check every round. Of course I fumbled it immediately. I have the WORST luck.
fn4: I actually killed Carnage with this sword, and then ran down the steps to attack Sam but recovered myself at the last. This is relevant because the rules for the Russian ghost state that I must always attack the nearest, biggest threat…