2Graves and Elros know the plan. Sit back, stay alert, provide support when the guns come out. Lorry knows the plan. Wait in the Gopher, be prepared for a getaway. Shadow knows the plan. Talk to Vic, convince him to hand over Moxie, put the hurt on if he refuses. So far, he’s refusing. Sunny knows the plan. But sometimes, plans can be improved on, and sometimes you’ve got to march right up to the manager and demand your money back. Fuelled by the fires in her digestive track and a jilted consumer rage, she marches up to Vic Fratelli and makes her demands:
“I want my 5 nuyen back!”
“All sales are final. Go away.”
“That food is disgusting!”
Vic takes a bite of his burger, chews it vigorously, stares her down with a cold glare.
“I spent good money on that food and I want my money back!”
“No you didn’t. She did.” Vic gestures to 2Graves
“She’s my life partner and her money is my money.” Sunny’s face is tomato sauce red with fury. 2Grave’s face is red with embarrassment. This is not the plan. This is not subtle. This isn’t even sensible. She turns away, gets out her commlink and begins to send messages to the McDonald’s patrons. The innocents need to get out before they become collateral damage.
Vic tells Sunny to leave again, calls for the security guard and has both her and 2Graves escorted from the premises. Shadow is quick to resume the discussion.
“Back to business?”
“Whatever,” Vic shrugs.
“This is a nice store you’ve got here.” He says it casually like an observation anybody might make, then flashes a devil’s smile at Vic. “Shame if something were to happen to it.” The plan is in motion. First the threats, then the extortion, then negotiating for the g—
“Get out.” Vic crushes what’s left of his burger in his fist.
“Get out now!”
Shadow shrugs and heads for the door. He’s alone now and if Vic has to tell him again, it’s sure to come with a side order of gunfire. He rejoins the others at the van. Time to move the plan into phase two.
Meanwhile, Sunny takes a seat in the Gopher to wait. She slips into VR and while she closes her eyes in this world, her persona opens its eyes on the sidewalk of a small town American street, white pickets and American flags to one side, the Gopher’s icon to the other. Soon after, her agent, an orange and white welsh corgi, materialises beside her. On the Renraku grid, the Norman Rockwell suburban utopia extends for a digital eternity, but she doesn’t need to go far. Sunny thinks McDonalds, and at the speed of though, she’s standing beneath the Golden Arches of a familiar Redmond McDonalds. Her next thought reveals the hidden icons of six pistols inside the McDonalds, one for Vic, one for each cook, one on a civilian, and one in a back room. She also spots a deck. The Fratelli’s have themselves some matrix defence as well as the hot lead kind. She lets the team know. They tell her to brick them all. Sunny gets to work.
Shadow climbs into the van, reports and announces the next phase of the plan.
“Lorry, move the van closer to the McDonalds. When we get in range, we’re going to use the grenade launchers to bring it down.”
The team replies with a chorus of “What?” and “No!” So begins an age old battle of white hats and black hats.
“That’s insane,” Elros tells him.
“There’s still civilians inside,” 2Graves protests.
“Then I’ll do it myself,” Shadow says without hesitation. The van slows as it reaches the McDonalds. “Sunny,” Shadow asks, “Have you bricked the guns?”
“Any second now.” Between her and her corgi agent, she’s marked them all. The OS score is ticking up, but all that’s left is to hit them with dataspikes. She’s even marked the fire sprinklers in the restaurant for good measure. All that’s left is the deck. If she can hit that, brick it, they won’t be able to stop her. Just a few more seconds.
Panic erupts in the restaurant. The icons for five of the six guns disappear. Vic, the security guard, and all the cooks pull pistols. With a frustrated scream, Sunny commands the sprinklers to activate. She can’t brick the guns, but she can at least make them all really really wet. Shadow steps out of the van. It’s too late to go back now. He draws his weapon. The Fratellis see him and open fire. The front windows of the restaurant shatter and three bullets hit Shadow. His armoured greatcoat protects him, but they knock the window out of his lungs. At the rear of the store, an angry dishevelled civilian stands up, takes a deep breath, draws a pistol from his waistband and fires on Vic, missing completely. A tragic and embarrassing end to his untold story.
“What do we do?” Lorry asks, looking rapidly between 2Graves and the spot Elros’ AR manifestation used to reside.
“I’m not going to abandon him,” 2Graves says and leaps out the door. A little quieter she adds “He’s rich.” She raises her assault rifle and lays down suppressing fire. A second later, a rotodrone joins her in spraying the building and everybody in it with bullets. Elros jumps into his Steel Lynx and leaps out of his SUV. Now his friends have his back, a new confidence revitalises Shadow. He opens fire on the security guard, putting a bullet into her leg.
Sunny doesn’t know what’s going on in the McDonalds, only that her options have become limited. She can’t brick their guns, she wants to steal the deck, so much anger and nowhere to send it. Nowhere, that is, except a kitchen full of cooking machines. She marks the autogrill and commands the corgi to destroy it. The corgi bears its teeth, scratches at the digital dirt, then charges at the autogrill icon, a storm of vicious destructive data coalescing around it. It collides head first with the icon and the autogill’s digital signature disintergrates.
A sudden fiery explosion in the kitchen rocks the McDonalds. Burning meat showers over the cooks cowering for 2Graves’ suppressing fire. Elros moves his lynx into position beside 2Graves and lays down extra support. Between the two drones is enough assault rifle rounds to level the McDonalds and they’ve got the battle locked down. 2Graves take the opportunity to stop, steady her aim, and fire a burst direct at Vic. Three bullets later, Vic Fratelli is no more and a smear of red paste that used to be his head coats the McDonalds floor. Another explosion, this time the fryer, sprays the cooks with burning oil. Their brief screams of agony are barely audible above the assault rifles and the fires.
“Throw down your weapons!” Shadow calls. The security guard, the only staff member alive, tosses her gun out the door. “Now get out of here.” The security guard and the remaining civilians bug out.
2Graves, Shadow, and a steel lynx walk into McDonalds that stinks of burning machinery and deep fryer human face. Sunny opens her eyes in the back of the Gopher. Lorry gives her a reassuring nod and impressed grunt.
“Sorry, I lost cool for a second. Did the explosions help? Should I come inside?” she asks her team over her ‘link. “I didn’t hurt anybody too bad, did I?”
2Graves stares at the mangled corpses burning in a grease fire, then says “No. Stay there. We won’t be long.” One day the deck jockey will have to see that kind of horror, but best she doesn’t seem them until she’s a little less green.
“Okay. There’s somebody else in the back room. Be careful.”
The team moves up to the door at the back of the restaurant. 2Graves and Shadow flank the door, push it open, hold their guns ready, and Elros sends in his flyspy. In front of large walk in freezers full of something in wrapped in black bags, among steel shelves stacked with cardboard boxes, stands the sole surviving Fratelli. In one hand, he holds a pistol, in his other, he holds a bruised, bleeding, terrified teenage girl. Elros broadcasts the view to the team. Shadow lowers his weapon and steps into the room.
“What do you want?” The nervous Fratelli asks.
“The girl. Let her go, and you leave alive,” Shadow tells him. He holds all the cards this time, but these gangsters are a tough bunch. He’s ready to really put the pressure on for this nego–
“Sounds good. Guarantee I walk out alive and she’s yours.”
Shadow smiles and nods. They have an accord. Wiz. He steps back, giving Mr Fratelli plenty of space. The gangster and his hostage step out of the store room, and back up towards the rear exit of the restaurant. He commands them all to the far side of the store. When they’re there, he lets the girl go, and hurries outside. He doesn’t see the rotodrone hovering above him as he runs towards his car.
“I have a shot,” Elros says. “Do I take it?”
“No witnesses,” is all 2Graves says. The rotodrone aims and fires a single bullet. Mr Fratelli drops to the ground, blood gushing from his chest wound into the gutter, one dead hand still clutching the door of his car. The car will be gone long before the body is cleaned up.
The team returns Moxie to her father, collect their pay and ask if he’s made arrangements. George Hampton tells them he’s going to stay with a friend Downtown for a while, then look at either leaving the sprawl or retiring to somewhere in Everett. Wherever he goes, it will be far away from the Fratelli Family. After all, they’re bigger than one McDonalds and one protection racket. Eventually, somebody will have to pay for this.
It’s past 4am when the runners finally put their head on pillows and fall asleep. They’ve earned a sleep in. They get it.
Except 2Graves. Even in sleep, her memories of an old life chase her and blood streaked ghosts reach up to her from an ocean of scotch and guilt, and 2Graves wants to join them. She deserves to join them. She suffers this way until the ring of her commlink brings her back to the waking world at 7am.
“Hello?” She asks, forcing the words out through a dry mouth.
“Morning, 2Graves!” It’s Carter, friendly local publican and even friendlier local fixer. “Looking for work?”
“Well…” 2Gaves takes a second to consider the month’s budget, then says “Yes. Yes I am.”
“Great. Something’s come through and a few others have passed on it. I need somebody to go down to the Barn Burner at 7 o’clock tonight to meet Mr Johnson. Bring your friends.”
“Sure.” They exchange a few more pleasantries, then say goodbyes. 2Graves sends a message to Lorry, Sunny, Shadow, and Elros to let them know of the meet, then lays back and tries to squeeze a little more rest out of the night.
The runners spend the day mostly resting. 2Graves puts a call into her friend and arms dealer Jess. She has some guns, freshly picked from Fratelli corpses, to sell. Jess is an old friend and, after a night like that, 2Graves needs a friend to talk to. Shadow calls Nathan, again, thanks him for his help with the Stuffer Shack bill and asks if he can return the favour. Nathan has nothing just now, but will be in touch. Sunny spends the morning talking Business to her bookie, Bobby Gorem, then swings by the Stuffer Shack at the Auburn Supermall to see if there’s any Amber Gel in stock. There’s one tub left on the shelf.
“Getting anymore in soon?” she asks Victor, the manager and this morning’s cashier.
“It’s been on order for two weeks. I’ve only got this one because I found it under a box out back. Nobody will tell me what the hold-up is, but everybody wants more and they’re not giving it up. Only going to get worse, too.”
“Next week that actress Euphoria is coming to Seattle to do a promotion tour. Once the sprawl sees her eating Amber Gel, there’s going to be riots to get a hold of the stuff.”
“Well at least I’ve got mine. Good luck!” Sunny tears open the Amber Gel tub and digs in before she’s even out the door.
When the clock strikes 1900 hours, the team is onsite for their meeting. They step inside the Barn Burner restaurant, ask for Mr Johnson, and are taken to a table with a dark haired, cyber-eyed handsome Japanese man. He’s already eating steak. The real stuff. Real potatoes and corn, too. All of it barbecued. Shortly after the team sits down, they are served a similar meal, even Elros, who sits in AR above the empty seat, staring at the food he cannot eat.
“Thank you for coming,” Mr Johnson says. He reaches into a briefcase beside his seat, takes out an envelope roughly the size of a brick, and places it on the table. “I need you to deliver this to a man named Jao Chung. Jao Chung manages, and lives in, an Ares factory in Redmond. This package must be delivered to him discretely. That means without being checked by security. It’s a certain hobby of Jao Chung’s that he’d rather his employers didn’t know about. It needs to be delivered tonight, intact, and I will pay you 10,000 nuyen for the job.”
“Can we look inside it?” Sunny asks, keeping the conversation going while she checks out Mr Johnson’s credentials in AR. His commlink, an unimpressive Metalink, broadcasts his SIN and name: Mr Johnson.
“No,” he replies.
“Can you tell us anything about the factory?” Elros asks.
“It manufacturers equipment used by Knight Errant. Because of that, it’s important and you can expect it to be well guarded by Knight Errant. Jao Chung makes his home on the top floor of the factory. It’s three floors. You should also know that there’s a construction site beside the factory. SoySpam Inc is building a warehouse there, but it’s closed over-night, and should provide you with a hidden approach to the factory.”
“I think we can complete this job for you. But, Mr Johnson, while we’re happy with what you’re offering, it is standard practice to receive half payment up front.”
“I will pay you 3,000 nuyen in advance. You can collect the rest from me here, tonight, when you’ve completed the job. Because of the strict timeframe, my offer is already generous.”
The runners exchange a few looks to silently confer. It is generous, 3k upfront is sufficient, they’re all on board.
Shadow nods at Mr Johnson and says, “Deal.”