With a foot on the Halloweener’s bleeding knee, he reaches down and searches through his pockets. He comes away with a small synth leather pouch stuffed with datachips stamped with the Halloweener emblem. They’ve seen these before. More BTLs.
“They look like they’re worth about 400 nuyen,” Shadow says. “Now, where are you making them?”
“I don’t make them, just sell them.” Each word comes through clenched teeth and deep breaths. He tries to push Shadow’s foot away from his open wound but Shadow presses down harder. The ganger screams in agony.
“Stop that! Stop!”
“Answer my questions, and it ends.”
“What questions? I don’t know what you want!”
“Where’s the stolen simsense gear?”
“Simsense gear?” the ganger screams. “I don’t know about simsense gear. Why are you asking me about simsense gear? Why are you three strangers and your drones asking me about Simsense gear after killing me and my fellow Halloweeners out here in the open?”
“Ah, crap,” 2Graves mutters. “Get him into the truck, quick, before we have the whole go-gang on us.”
“Truck? You mean that Renraku truck? You three well-armed strangers who took my BTLs are putting me in that truck with the licence—“ before he can finish, Elros tases him into silence. 2Graves and Shadow load him into the Renraku truck, close the door, and Elros gets both vehicles moving. Shadow searches the ganger one more time, finds a cheat metalink and crushes it under his heel.
“So he can’t be traced,” he explains.
“You didn’t want to check it out, first? See if it had any useful information?”
“No. What are the odds there’s anything on it we could use? Help me wake him up.” A few slaps to the face and pokes to an open wound later and the ganger is awake and screaming again, but the screaming comes to a sudden stop when the ganger notices where he is.
“Why am I in a truck?”
“Nevermind that. Who supplies you with BTLs?”
“All right, all right. Just stop stepping on my leg.”
Shadow steps on his leg.
The ganger screams. “A tenement! There’s an old tenement where we pick them up for street sale.”
“Where is it?”
The Halloweener reaches into his pocket. “Where’s my commlink? Give me my commlink?”
“Why?” 2Graves asks. She already knows the answer, and she figures Shadow knows it to, but she wants it said out loud. She wants him to hear his mistake.
“I’ve got a map. I can show you where it is on the map.”
Shadow shrugs. “Commlinks gone. We lost it. Can you take us there?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to think straight right now on account of all the p—“
2Graves kicks the Halloweener’s knee, eliciting another agonised yelp.
She steps away from the conversation and with a tap on her commlink, opening up a channel with the rest of the team.
“We’re hitting a dead end with this one. We might need to go pick up a commlink from one of those bodies.”
“Halloweeners are there,” Elros says. He commands his flyspy to share footage with the rest of the team, giving them view of eight Halloweeners gathered around the scene of their most recent battle.
“What about that deck?” Shadow suggests. “There might be something on it. If nothing else, we could try and steal it. Decks are worth a lot of money.”
“I’ve still got my rotodrone over there. The decker is asleep.”
“So we drive over there, head up-stairs, take it, search it, find our map and get ourselves a new deck.”
“Shadow, we don’t… Never mind.” The ferocious eye-rolling is audible in Sunny’s tone. “I’m already hacking it. I don’t need to be near it. Geez, join the rest of us in 2076, would you.” Sunny already has two marks on the deck, one more and she’ll have full control. In VR, with one eye on the deck’s icon and the other eye on the video feed from Elros’ rotodrone, she runs her hacking program and marks the deck a third and final time. But as she does, the door to the room opens and a young Halloweener. Elros commands his drone to tase him before he can bring anymore unwanted attention, and the drone complies, firing at the Halloweener. The twin electrodes strike the ganger and he yelps in shock, but it’s not enough to bring him down. Elros calls his rotodrone back just as three more Halloweeners burst into the room, AK-97s up and at the ready. They’re too late to get a shot at the rotodrone and they’re too busy picking up the unconscious decker to notice Elros’ flyspy slip in through the broken window and tail them out the door. Elros follows them down a flight of stairs into what appears to be a Halloweener bunk house. At least a score of gangers are loitering about the open plan floor, checking weapons, lounging on mattresses, knocking back cold ones and talking Business. With so many eyes, Elros knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s spotted and he decides to bail on any further investigation.
“We’re not getting that deck out of there. The place is swarming with Halloweeners,” Elros tells the team.
Not that it matters for Sunny. While everybody else was wasting time chasing clues in boring old meat space, she’s hacked the deck and pulled a map off it. She considers planting a data bomb just to screw with them, but suddenly her connection drops and the deck’s icon vanishes. She figures one of the Halloweeners finally had an intelligent thought in his head and turned the deck off. No matter. She has the map. She shares it with the team. The map shows The Verge with a number of buildings marked by red dots. Shadow shows the map to their prisoner and asks the prisoner,
“Can you show us on this map where you get supplied with BTLs?”
The captured ganger points to one of the dots.
“Just as I thought, it’s where the decker was hiding. Now, let’s go blow—“
“That’s not the same building,” 2Graves says. “It’s not even in the same direction.”
“So we don’t need to go back, get the deck, and shoot every last Halloweener inside? Because I’d really like to do that.”
“I noticed that, but if Sunny has to wait until after the run to detox B, you have to wait until after the run to get yourself killed trying to lay siege to a Halloweener fortress.”
Shadow and 2Graves open the truck doors and toss their prisoner outside. Elros collects his drones and plots a course for the BTL suppliers. He stops both vehicles outside, unloads the team, jumps into his steel lynx, and sends the vehicles to circle the block a few times.
“I’m not seeing anything inside on the Matrix,” Sunny says uncertainly. “We sure this is the place?”
“The whole places looks sealed up tight. No way to do physical recon,” Elros says. They all draw the same conclusion: the building has been cut off like a Faraday Cage. They’re going in blind, which can only mean:
“I’ll go first and talk to them,” Shadow says and double checks his gun is in its holster. “Just follow my lead.” He strides forward, comes to the only visible doors, and pushes on them gingerly. The doors swing open to a shot corridor and another door. The team gathers inside the corridor and pauses.
“Oh, yeah, just before we go on,” Sunny says, “I decided to do a search on any lakes in the area and there’s a James Lake at the south end of the Verge. EVO Maps has a street view of the area and while I can’t be certain, I’m pretty sure that’s the area I saw in the BTL. Maybe we should go there?”
“But the guy said he gets his BTLs here, so the equipment must be here,” Shadow says.
“But I saw the BTL being recorded by a lake. There’s no lake around here.”
“So they probably moved it again.”
“Or this is just a distribution centre,” 2Graves says. “For all we know, it’s another bunk house. If Sunny has a strong lead, maybe we should check the lake first.”
“But we’re already here so we might as well finish following this lead.” Shadow’s growing impatience begins to outweigh his usual charismatic charm. He doesn’t know why they’re all suddenly being so difficult and arguing with his plans. It’s like they didn’t notice how well all his plans worked out before. Did he not basically accomplish the Ares factory run single handed? This kind of mistrust and disturbing lack of faith is exactly why he never tells them what he’s—
The door opens.
An unusually clean-cut man – a white human in his 30s wearing a leather jacket but no spikes, chains or piercings in sight, just a datajack and a friendly smile – sticks his head through the door, looks at the well-armed drone, well-armed 2Graves, and the frustrated Shadow and says without hesitation:
“May I help you?”
“Yes,” says Shadow. “I would like to buy some BTLs.”
“Of course you would. Come in!” The Halloweener throws open the door and ushers the team of runners inside. The room beyond the corridor looks like it might have once been the lobby of an apartment building, but now it is a BTL den. Five Halloweeners in all are scattered across the room, three openly carrying their weapons and looking tough, one sitting by a dataterminal at the back of the room, and the friendly sales-ganger welcoming the team inside. A few dozen doped out junkies lay sprawled over the floor or sitting against the walls, none apparently conscious of their surroundings. “Now,” says the dealer. “What are you interested in?”
“Well, what’s popular?”
“Big this month is musicals. We’re even offering a special on romantic musicals.”
“Sounds great. I’ll take one of them.”
“Of course you will. Just the one? They’re cheaper by the dozen. You understand they only work once, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I know. This isn’t my first BTL.”
“All right, sir. Suit yourself.” The Halloweener shrugs then turns to 2Graves. “And for you?”
“Something calm and soothing,” 2Graves answers with a clenched jaw. She’s following Shadow’s lead but her trigger finger is getting itchy, but she hasn’t decided if she’s going to shoot Halloweeners or Shadow first.
“We can do that. Now, how about yout?” the dealer turns to Sunny and smiles. “What are you in the mood for?”
“Oh, no thank you. I ate before coming. But do you have any bliss?”
“Sorry, only BTLs here. Nothing? No. All right, please take a seat, and I’ll go and load up some chips for you.” The dealer gestures the team towards a park bench positioned beside the door, then crosses the room and opens a cupboard near the dataterminal.
“I don’t see any simsense recording equipment here,” 2Graves says through her sub-vocal microphone.
“There’s nothing on the Matrix, either,” says Sunny. “Looks like some people upstairs but no simsense studios.”
“Oh well, I guess we can kill them,” Shadow says with a shrug. Without waiting for second opinions, he turns and draws his weapon. Elros and 2Graves follow suit, aiming at the Halloweeners on guard. Three fatal bursts of fire erupt at once and half the Halloweeners in the room are dead.
“Surrender!” Sunny shouts at the two remaining.
“Okay,” the Halloweener by the dataterminal says and stands. “But, one question. You know what else is popular this month?”
“No, it’s murder.” The Halloweener hits a button on his terminal, then ducks. Immediately, the junkies open their eyes and stand up. Expressions of hatred and anger seize their previously vacant faces and the mob moves towards the team of runners. Seizing the opportunity to hit them by surprise, the dealer steps out of the cupboard, grenade launcher in hand, and hits them all with a flashbang. The explosion of sound and light stuns all of them except for Elros, whose mechanical body is immune. But his targets – the Halloweeners – are obscured by a horde of junkies and his drone won’t be immune to them. Worst of all, they’re poor people. In a panic, he lays down surpressive fire on the room, but the junkies aren’t in their right mind, or even their own mind, and instead of ducking for cover, they continue to advance into the fire and are mowed down by Elros’ mad spray. 2Graves regains her wits and takes a shot at the dealer, putting a burst of assault rifle rounds into the door he’s using for cover. It’s not the lethal attack she was hoping for, though, and the dealer steps out of cover again – now sporting some fresh bullet holes in his body – raises his grenade launcher in an unsteady grip, and fires. The round falls short and lands in the centre of the room, placing the runners, the Halloweeners and the BTL fiends in the blast zone. But when the smoke clears, only Sunny and Elros are standing.
“You okay?” Elros asks.
“Please. A couple of flashbangs are nothing compared to the biofeedback I’ve suffered.”
“Yeah. I’m just going to sit down for a while.”
“Before you do that, can you do some first aid on the others.”
“Sure. They’re on the ground, so I can do that while sitting down.”
Moving slowly, taking her time, and insisting to the steel lynx that she doesn’t need first aid mansplained to her, Sunny gets 2Graves and Shadow on their feet again. 2Graves dead checks the gangers, Shadow searches for clues, and Sunny checks out the dataterminal and finds a nicer simsense experience to broadcast to the unconscious junkies. Their heads are throbbing, there’s splotches in their vision, and stepping around the destroyed corpses of innocents makes the whole experience a little awkward. But they’re not too out of it to jump to attention and aim weapons at the door when it opens and an awkward looking B stumbles in.
“I heard gunfire. Is everybody okay? I’m a doctor, although I guess I can’t do much right now.”
“We’re fine,” Elros says. “But how did you get out of the car? Where are the cars?”
B looks around for a moment, unsure of where to address, then says “I don’t know.”
The team abandons this end and head back outside. Elros is relieved to discover the vehicles are still making their rounds, and calls them back so they can pile in again. Next stop…
James Lake. The snow is still falling and the lake is frozen over. Cold black dirt surrounds the lake, no doubt once the scene of lush grass and family picnics. There’s plenty of buildings larger and larger to choose from if somebody wanted to set up an illegal simsense studio, but the team is certain the building they want is an abandoned green grocer called Fresh Harvest. It’s not only that the building appears to be another Matrix deadzone, and not only that it has been boarded up and sealed shut like the BTL den that lead them to their conclusion. It’s the enormous flaming Jack-o-Lantern spray painted on the street outside Fresh Harvest that makes the shadowrunners think this is the place. The only problem is, what do they do about it? They’re lucky to be on their feet after taking two flashbangs to the face. They consider calling in Renraku now and letting corp security deal with it, but if the gear isn’t here they lose call credibility. They’ll already lose some if they ask the client to do the heavy lifting on the run. They could wait, give themselves a few hours to recover before going in, but the Halloweeners will be on alert. A bunk house, a BTL den and some street toughs have all been hit in one afternoon. If the team waits any longer, they’ll either reinforce their BTL operation or move the recording gear. Maybe both. No, it has to be now.
Elros does a circle of the building with his Flyspy and checks the room. No sign of an entrance, no sign of a gap in the security. But there’s a ventilation system on the roof that has been sealed and could be a quiet access point for a drone. Shadow climbs up and, with his sword, cuts an opening. Elros sends the drone in, navigates the vent tunnels and eventually gets into the room. There’s only a few gangers inside, including one big SOB wearing a hessian mask. The set-up is the same dining room Sunny described, but a little less ornate. All around the room, simsense recording and editing hardware has been set up.
“This is it,” Elros confirms and backs out.
“Does the serial number match?” Shadow asks.
“I didn’t get close enough to check. There’s five gangers inside, including our masked killer.”
“I don’t care whether it’s the gear or not. If it’s not, we’ll keep looking. Either way, we’re shutting down this operation.” 2Graves loads up the grenade launcher taken from the BTL den and approaches the building. “Shadow, cut me a whole. We’ve got to hit them fast, before they can respond.” Nobody argues with 2Graves. They don’t want to put themselves on the wrong end of her sudden grim determination. 2Gaves knows she’s not being professional, she knows they’re in a tight spot and anger is not the way to move forwards. But frag that, they hurt her friend and they’re going to pay.
It doesn’t take long. A handful of flashbangs fired one after the other into the store through a hole cut in the front door, first there’s panic, some wild blind fire that hits the reinforced doors impotently, there’s screaming barely audible over the sound of grenades bursting, a crash of overturned furniture, and then at last silence. Then the team kicks in the doors, checks the serial numbers on the simsense gear and confirms it’s what they’re after. While 2Graves deadchecks the Halloweeners, Sunny places a call to Ms Johnson.
“We’ve found your recording equipment,” she says. “I’m sending you the address.”
“That’s wonderful, dear. We’ll pop over right away.”
Right away indeed. In minutes, three helicopters are unloading a Renraku security team. Ms Johnson herself is last out of the helicopter, with assistance of a ladder for her dwarven stature. She’s beaming with pride as she approaches the team and says to Sunny,
“I knew you’d do well. Thank you all so much. I have the rest of your payment here, and don’t worry about the rest, we’ll get all this to the reclamation centre. Did you happen to find the truck?”
“Nope,” says Shadow.
“No,” says 2Graves.
“A shame. Oh well. Thanks again, dears, and take care.” Ms Johnson hands over some credsticks and heads into Fresh Harvest to supervise the rest of the operation.
“Good job, everyone,” Elros says. “Well played. Now we’ve got a truck.”
“I guess we weren’t asked to retrieve the truck,” Sunny mumbles. It doesn’t sit well with her, but she’s the minority opinion so there’s no point arguing.
“Whatever. Just come pick us up with one of the vehicles. I need a drink.”