Bills to Pay


A proud tradition

The fixer’s name turned out to be Warren, and they were both intrigued by and suspicious of his intelligence. If true, it promised a decent payout, and being able to pirate a shipment at a point of relative vulnerability could turn up some nice hardware at the perfect discount. And it certainly was true Paramount’s appearance driven up prices as people tried to stockpile before the crackdown. On the other hand, a dealer just giving up information was a little too good to be true.

So they looked into it.

A quick call to Warren turned up the intersection where he said he’d lost a bunch of inventory. It was just inside one of Paramount’s newly acquired Hoods, apparently because he’d decided to shift the goods to a different warehouse at the last possible minute. Xiaofeng made his way to the crossroads in question, found a little 2nd-floor cafe overlooking the roads, and settled in to watch. He was also of course serving as a local node from which Val and Guei were hoping to find a cam that might have some footage of the day in question. The new Paramount monitoring network was prominent, as much for display as for surveillance, but its security would be mean, and besides, it was too new. Luckily, there was a pawnshop just off the intersection, and its external cams had good coverage of the area.

It was just a little independent place, and its security didn’t present much challenge for Guei, who hopped from Xiaofeng’s commlink into the store’s public site with just a few minutes of effort. Once there he pilfered the stored footage from the day Warren had given them, sent it to Val, told the store’s site to start advertising a 75% off discount to all Paramount personnel, then hopped out.

Across town – way across town – Cami and Jack were having a look around the location Warren had given them for the exchange. It looked like they were doing their best to keep it out of public eye, probably precisely because they didn’t want to attract the sort of attention represented by these two. They weren’t even in the Sprawl-proper anymore, they’d actually ridden Jack’s bike out past the reeking shantytowns, through the slush of snow, ash, and piss, to find the border where nature warred with Seattle. Here, at least, nature had mostly won the fight against what had been the extremely small town of Corrinton.

It was late January, so the dead, empty homes and businesses were blanketed in a thick carpet of mostly undisturbed snow. Towering evergreens had marched a good ways inside the town, cracking and buckling asphalt and concrete, even widening the holes in a couple roofs. They decided to stash the van in the town’s old service center, the snowdrifts halfway filling the garage whose door had long since been dismantled and looted for scrap. They’d halfway covered a desiccated corpse in one cover, a discovery which caused brief alarm, until Jack had a closer look and determined that it looked like the poor guy had probably died of exposure or starvation.

There wasn’t much to surveil, and with both Cami and Jack being unaccustomed to a harsh and unrestrained winter wind, they elected to head back before long.

Val’s analysis of the pawnshop’s footage didn’t turn up any carjacking, truckjacking, holdup, or anything else that looked plausibly like what Warren was talking about. So she, Xiaofeng, and Jack decided to make a visit. Since he’d been relatively free in his contact with them so far, it didn’t take long to track down his physical location from his online presence.

They arrived to find a nondescript stairway sinking below the level of the sidewalk to provide access to a plain metal door into a basement. When he answered the doorbell in intercom, he sounded a little surprised to see them, but let them into his lobby before too long. That lobby turned out to be a small, featureless, reinforced room: diagonally across from the door they’d entered was another door with no visible handle or maglock, and in front of them Warren was standing behind bulletproof glass.

Negotiations went sour quickly, and Warren, obviously scared, asked them to leave. Xiaofeng spotted the vents in either side of the ceiling and, suspecting gas, punched a hole in the pane standing between the fixer and them. He started to bolt at this but, while Guei was struggling with hacking in to his defense systems, Val made the bluff that they’d already compromised his systems, and if he ran his own traps would be turned against him.

He relented and owned up that he hadn’t actually had his stuff jacked, he was just trying to get them to jump in on a shipment he’d picked up word of. There was bad blood on both sides, but he swore the info was good, and for now, the deal was still on.

By the next day they were set up. They’d picked one of the few two-story houses up the street to set up in, then looked outside from the attic window and seen their van’s tracks through the snow, right over the top of the smaller set of tracks from Jack’s bike. After a great deal of debate and inspection of the clear, open skies, they decided that the best disguise would misdirection. They got the van back out, drove over, on top, and across their own tracks, started a bonfire, and gathered trash to spread around it to suggest a recent party. With Cami directing the disguise efforts, they were soon quite convincing, and when two heavily armed and armored offroad trucks showed up later that day, they seemed as satisfied with the results as Cami had been.

Each truck had a machine gunner on an armored pintle turret in back, and it was a pretty safe bet the rest of them were armed too. It was a lot of firepower, and the team was seriously considering just staying in the attic, letting the deal happen, and telling Warren to steal his own damn weapons. Eventually, more out of a desire to not have wasted all the effort on the fake party than anything else, they decided to go ahead with it anyway.

Cami used the window sill, now empty of actual window, as a support for her rifle, and took careful aim on the further of the two gunners. It was a difficult shot: he was hunched a little behind the turret armor, shifting constantly with nervousness and a desire to get out of the cold, and and the winter wind was mercurial and difficult to account for. Val helped out, running analyses on the man’s movement patterns and gust frequency, putting relevant data up on Cami’s goggles, until eventually the stealth specialist felt confident in the shot. The round hit the man in the chest, and although his armor kept him from instant death, it was hard to see what kind of medical care he’d be getting out here.

With the first shot fired, Cami felt the calm of a professional at her work, and shifting her aim fluidly to the second gunner, her next shot took her target directly in the forehead. He too was wearing armor, but nothing short of military battle armor can turn a direct hit to the head, and he did die instantly. The firefight that followed was brief and brutal, with the truck’s passengers and drivers springing out of their vehicles with assault rifles, engaged almost solely by Jack with his Predators.

Cami was dodging suppressive fire when a spirit was called up to take physical form from the boards and beams that made up a corner of the house’s attic and, its dry timbers groaning and creaking, it clubbed her to the floor. She scrambled up and called downstairs for Xiaofeng’s help while running down herself. All of this kept her so busy she wasn’t even able to see it when the gunner she’d only wounded struggled back to his feet only to have his frozen weapon blow up in his hands and shower his face with shrapnel. Meanwhile, Val decided to pop in the van and tell its pilot program to take her towards the two offroad trucks. There was a mage hiding behind them somewhere, and she didn’t want to leave him to work magic unmolested.

Unfortunately, by the time she got there, Cami had reached the second floor and was helping Jack drop the last couple riflemen. The footing in long-abandoned houses is, sadly, not the most reliable, and a rotten spot gave way at just the right time to throw off a shot. Against all probability, about 120 meters away, Val was knocked to the ground by the bullet as it punched through her stylish (and now ruined) armor and lodged itself in a shoulder blade.

It was astronomically poor luck, but sometimes these things happen on a run. The gunmen were dead, anyway, and Jack and his top-grade first aid kit were able to keep the wound from being too debilitating until they could get back to a real medical center. There was no sign of the mage that had called up the earth spirit, but at that second they had to deal with the weapons shipment that had arrived to find unexpected carnage.

Luckily, Guei was able to dig account information out of a commlink, the sellers got their payment and departed without hitting their panic button and burning the goods. The team stashed the armored truck outside the Sprawl, hooked the trailer up to the van, and headed back in to find out what they’d won.

Posting this without proofreading, and they’re always so much longer than I think they will be. But, need sleep.


2 comments. It was Jack, not Xiaofeng, who spotted the vents at Warren’s, and I don’t know if you want to bother with it, but Guei was hurt breaking into Warren’s system and spent part of the night during prep for our hijacking asleep in the Van. I like the way everything flows, though. It has a great feel. :) – Lissa


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