Stealth Mission 18: The Lodge

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As Stealth made his way out of the sordid soykaf shop his nostrils were filled with the dingy night air. It was cold and enough to shock him out of his indignant mood. The majority of the people on the streets of the kreuzbasar paid little attention to him, but the young girls with pink hair, a servant of one of the most influential information brokers in Kiez was rapt at attention, so much so that she barely caught herself staring. Her eyes shifted from him to her PDA. Calmly she ran one hand through her multicolored locks and smiled as the dim light from her device illuminated her face. It was a good trick. It might have worked on another runner. Probably Blitz, but the elf rigger knew that the jig was up and by this time tomorrow all of the players looking to hire him would know. He was pissed. If it wasn’t for the heated conversation that he had had with Luca Derr had probably alerted every patron within the establishment of his displeasure. People had died in a well put together run and a well-known person of interest was caught in a heated conversation with another person of intrigue. Rumors would start soon, but Stealth didn’t care about that anymore. Calmly he smoothed out the finer edges of the dark blue ballistic cloth suit he had purchased during the run and fixed his demeanor. The mask of anger that had consumed the elves face was replaced by another. One of disinterest. Something he’d learned during his training in Ares and hadn’t really gotten rid of until this very day. In much the same way the informant had tried to hide her motives, Stealth did the same. One hand slid through his long brown hair and turned his control rig on. In mere seconds his vision doubled. The drone that hovered none too far from him became another set of eyes.

The process was always jarring. His consciousness had split, but that mask of disinterest didn’t crack. He had the machine hold a flight pattern, similar to how it usually does. The key difference was that every so often it angled itself so it’s cameras could catch errant reflections as he began his lonely trip back to the place the team called home. He appeared as a normal man walking amongst the others, hardly aware of the tens of eyes that glanced at him as he passed. The young woman from before had followed him for ways. The Strato drone had angled itself just enough to catch her reflection in the very soykaf shop she no doubt would scurry back into to relay her findings. Others paid attention but didn’t go to the lengths of tailing him like the human waif who attempted to stay just out of sight. Stealth took stock of their expressions. Some seemed to regard him with respect as others had a slight drek eating grin on their faces. No doubt knowing that whatever mission he had taken he’d received no pay. The situation around the deal didn’t matter, but soon word would be out that he was emotional. That was what bothered him. Monika got emotional and look where it got her. Not that he’d missed out on a substantial sum and guaranteed jobs, but the circumstances around it. Luca said that he and Stealth were just the hands and eyes of a larger collective. That had the greater good in mind. It was a bunch of Bull Drek. The same shit Ares told you after a security guard got smeared against a wall following one of their actions. The same thing that they said when an asset was killed due to their possible treachery. Same shit different people. No matter where you are you’ll be used, the only question is whether you’re fine with it. The mega corps made the rules and if you chose to do anything contrary to their plans, you were as disposable as a soykaf filter. The elf chuckled for a second.

Standing there in the middle of the street, dressed as impeccably as he was, the man drew quite a bit of attention. The strato showed the faces of those around him. The girl stood eyed him from Malit’s shop, politely browsing the wares, but sneaking up a few glances towards the rigger. Others just glared, some seemed to want to approach him, but all of them stayed far away from the chuckling shadowrunner. With a heavy sigh, he continued on his way back to Amsel’s curio shop. At some point, his stalker disappeared down an alleyway most likely not wanting to get caught on whatever security system Paul had installed. Just before he entered the building the strato drone caught his reflection in the window of his home and the image gave him pause. That mask that he had thought he’d covered had reared its ugly face yet again. His eyes had narrowed. His lips were locked in a deep frown, and everything else about his posture seemed to express a man on the edge. With considerably more effort than last time, he forced his anger and resentment down until his face was in its normal state. Neither happy nor sad, impassive and entered the establishment.

As soon as his boots hit the fake wood floors his nostrils were filled with another scent. As opposed to the pungent scent of soykaf that filled him with disgust, or the smell of the kiez that had sharpened his senses, this smell was warm. Even comforting. It was a mix of the cigarettes that Blitz chain smoked as he tapped away on his deck. It was the smell of synthol, that told him that the punk rock shaman had been partying a bit. And the smell of gunpowder that reminded him of the former special ops soldier who slept here. With control, Stealth walked past Blitz who stopped his coding slash smoking binge to call out to him.

“Hey Stealth”, he shouted in that annoying voice of his that sounded far too comforting to the rigger at this point and time. “When’s the next job? Hope you haven’t been running solo without us!”

And just like that, the idiot had stumbled his way onto a nerve that almost elicited a passionate response from his leader. Calmly the rigger replied not even bothering to turn around.

“Soon Blitz”.

“Great Boss. You know the situation.”

With that, he resumed his activities. If Blitz was that hard to get past, the elf dreaded his other teammates. Paul sat at his computer typing away as Glory lounged on the couch. Glory looked up at him and silently nodded. While Paul politely welcomed the runner back.

“Welcome back Stealth I’ve met with another party who is interested in procuring our services. A full transcript is available on your computer.”

“Thank You Paul” was the response. For a second the savvy fixer noticed something but quickly returned his to his work. Dietrich was the next person to great Stealth. He had a bottle of synthol in one hand a plate of something in the other. Nachos Maybe?

“Hey Boss”, He smiled still evidently celebrating his nephew’s rescue from Humanis.

“Thanks again for Alex, he’s a good kid just…” for a second his features darkened. “He’s had a rough life and got thrown in with the wrong crowd. Woulda has been better if he’d fallen in with the rock scene, hell even neo jazz. At least we’d have something in common. But, humanis. That. That’s something I didn’t know how to handle. I just knew I had to get him out of there. Thanks again boss. If there’s anything I can do just tell me.”

Stealth pointed to the bottle that Dietrich clasped within his tattooed fingers and held out his hand. For A second the Shaman just looked confused, but then he understood. Without a word he passed his boss the bottle and went to rest on the couch next to Glory. The doors in front of Stealth opened and he was regarded by the figure that had given him so much peace of mind as he came back home, but now he regarded her with dread. The easily eight-foot tall troll covered in the latest in frag bullets gear was standing right in front of him. She looked down at him and before she could even speak, Stealth held up his free hand telling her wordlessly to shut up.

“I’m going to need the room for a few alone. It won’t take long I just need to work on a few things alone.”

She looked down at the elf. He wasn’t as physically imposing, but the look in his eyes was different from the last time the two were in this position. It was just after Monika had died and he was full of doubt. His eyes were determined and the drone that had carefully made its way behind her hadn’t given her time to think. Whatever it was it had to be important, and she’d seen what he could do with that drone. So, she wordlessly left the room and joined Dietrich and Glory tilting the couch slightly to her side. As the door closed behind him and the locks engaged. Stealth unscrewed the top of the Synthol bottle and took a swig. The smell of synthol burned his nostrils as it burned his throat, but that’s in part what he wanted.

“Fuck!” he yelled after taking another swig that seemed to go on for ever. On the opposite side of the door. Even Glory perked up at the sound of hearing their leader scream. The team exchanged glances as the string of profanities hit their ears. Blitz ran into the room submachine gun in hand and deck slung over his shoulder.

“We under attack?” The frenzied decker managed to ask before another word could audibly be heard from the other room. Dumbfounded Blitz raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Boss bring a chick home?”

“No Blitz”, Paul managed to say without sounding condescending. “I think the stress of his new position has finally gotten to Mr. Stealth.”

With a sigh, the decker calmed down. He rested his smg on on top of the table next to the small television in the common room and snagged a nacho or two off of Dietrich’s plate as he lounged on the couch across from the rest of his team.

“You know”, the words somehow made it out between crunches. “If he needed to get rid of stress there’s this new novahot sim I” He trailed off as he looked around the room, obviously a tad bit embarrassed. The only face in the room that showed any sign of knowing where the man was going with this was Dietrich, whose grin was widening by the millisecond. “A friend could take care of that for him.”

The former punk rocker couldn’t contain his mirth anymore and started laughing. Paul just sighed and went back to his work paying no attention to the no longer audible sounds of Stealth or the growing fracas concerning their team leaders “stress”.

On the other side, the elf had nearly finished off the bottle when he spotted the mission computer. It was a ramshackle monstrosity. Parts and pieces obviously ripped off of machines that were not factory compatible with each other, but that never mattered to Monika. She always used to say that she didn’t care if her deck looked shit, as long as it had the power she needed. Like a moth to a flame, the man found himself sitting in front of the giant contraption. Long, dexterous fingers found themselves tapping away at the keys. First, bringng up the previous logs of Monika, she talked about him and the rest of the team as Stealth finished off the rest of the synthol. If it had helped Monika to talk about this maybe it’d help him he thought after watching her last recording. It was meant to be her message from the grave, and it had served to guide him however oddly.

Those long fingers typed away again, not quite achieving the speed at which Monika had blazed the keys and not even close to the unskilled banging of the team’s newest decker, but there was still a mad fanaticism to them that made every stroke echo in the riggers mind. Soon his reflection played out on the main monitor and Stealth could barely stomach it. It was him. Although it looked like he’d been on a week long binge. Alcohol. Drugs. Chips. Something like that. His hair was mussed and his eyes were red. Had he shed tears? With the same measure, he had had on the streets. The man was put back on again. His hair was moved back into place and he adopted a posture the exact opposite of the sad state that he’d been in for the last twenty minutes.

“Hello”, he addressed the camera. “I’m Stealth A Shadowrunner, who is between a rock and a proverbial hard place. I don’t know if this will reach Eiger or Dietrich, hell if this all goes to drek Blitz might be leading the team. If it’s Paul. I vote for Eiger to take lead on the team. She’s calculating and efficient, but she still has some emotions. It means she still has some morals.” He paused trying to collect himself. A lump began forming in his throat as the images of tonight’s events blended in with the horrors of working security at Ares. All those years ago he had been a puppet, that was as disposable as A soykaf filter. Undertaking the now gargantuan task of keeping all of his emotions in check, the Elf forced down whatever had tried to bubble up and continue.

On the other side of the door, a heated conversation had sparked up between Blitz and Dietrich.

“So you think he’s into robots”, Dietrich roared in laughter as Blitz stumbled trying to find the right words.

“Look, man, I’m just saying I haven’t seen him check out any chicks on our runs.”

Dietrich arched an eyebrow slightly distorting the tattoos on his forehead. “So you think he’s gay.”

“Or just a professional.” Eiger chimed in from across the room, lightly blowing on a fresh cup of tea, that looked like it was a child’s toy in her hands.

Dietrich just threw his hands up in annoyance. “I’m just saying I’ve never seen him check out anyone maybe he’s into bots.”

Dietrich just laughed and the troll sat down on the couch with him trying not to spill her drink.

“Remember Silky. He seemed to like her.”

Glory came into the conversation from out of nowhere despite her position next to Blitz on another coach. During the deep discussion about their team leader’s sexuality, she seemed aloof. But she had apparently been paying attention the entire time.

The three sat dumbfounded by the team medic’s words.

“I think it prudent to divulge the reasons that pertain to my message. Today I participated in A Shadowrun that upon completion would have resulted in A series of lucrative opportunities to our team. I trust that I need not explain to you the gravity of our current situation there is a dragon known for ruthlessly incinerating her enemies, some insipid program within the matrix that was capable of killing multiple highly skilled deckers, and a security contingent of unknown size that may worship said dragon.” There was a deep audible sigh that filled the room. With another exhale fingers became interlocked.

“We would be fragged if it weren’t for the hope of finding Dr. Vauclair, the dragonslayer. But, that is not the focus of this message. Whether you are a shadowrunner or apparently an electrician, you will have to make certain inevitable choices compounded by the cold hard realities of life. Time is of the essence and with an opportunity to make more than our standard endeavors, I let myself be used. This Black Lodge hired me, threw me into the fire with a team of runners unsuited to delivering a package, let alone to conduct a complicated infiltration mission. I got it done, just like I’ve done for other less than reputable organizations. But, there was always an air of professional courtesy between us. Make no mistake I’m a murderer, A Thief, and A fairly deplorable person. But, I am not a mindless drone!” For a brief second then came facade disappeared and the true anger that Stealth had come out again. This time it didn’t go back down.

“Back at Ares I disposable and I knew it! I was something that would receive a certain amount of pay and in return give the corporation myself in exchange. It’s for the best of the company. They say. It’s for the best! Just like Luca said in the shop. We are expected to allow the Lodge to exploit us for a fee. Never to question the higher ups, because they knew what they were doing. If they really gave a damn, why would they put a bigot on the team, knowing my race and that of the other members? For the same purpose, they included a man who couldn’t speak German. They didn’t care. Only that their task was accomplished. The collateral damage, pain, and loss of talent would be considered a net gain, not a loss. But, then again the test was more than that. It was to ensure my docility. To make sure that I would always follow their rules. I was desperate and they used that. Monika was a heavy proponent of the flux state and that was used against her. Monika once told me that freedom was having choice. And in this line of work you have the choice to accept a job or to not. Once you give up that option, once you lie down for the money or some hypothetical greater good. You’ll lose that choice and just become another drone in the shadows.”

At that Stealth hastily ended his recording and left the room. The file was left in a folder that was labeled “in case I die”. As soon as the door that separated him from the rest of the team opened with a pneumatic hiss, his nostrils were filled with the smell of soy cheese and herbal tea. Not wholly unpleasant, but the looks on the faces of his allies were slightly disconcerting. All of the people in the room save from Paul regarded him with wild looks. Even Glory was slightly off. She was blushing slightly. They hastily excused themselves from the room each, in turn, measuring him with their eyes. Blitz handed him a note when he passed. As the room cleared Stealth finally felt like he could relax. The weight of the world was on his shoulders, but he felt refreshed. Until he opened Blitz note. There were several dubious sites that offered hot elf on ork action. Silky number and contact information, the burned out girl from the club. Also, A list of sims that included said elf on ork action with an offer to alter the sim to resemble Silky.

For the first time in what felt like years, the elf laughed. It wasn’t a chuckle but a full on gut busting laugh.

“Paul”, he asked. “What the hell went on out here?”

“I’d rather not say”, was the response.

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Stealth Mission Log 8: The reality of the Shadows

Stealth and the gang go on their first mission. It’s a clean up operation, that sheds a little light on how well the team works together and how lucky their new decker is.

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(Video down below)

 

Blood stained the white tiling on the office floor. The workplace was a mess. Bullet holes formed a clear picture of the runners that had came before the team. The burn marks dotting the ceiling and scared door frames marked their methods and the fact that their team was there highlighted the effectiveness of these techniques. They had been offered a job to tie up loose ends and after seeing the aftermath of these runners “stealth” operation it was painfully obvious why. The run didn’t just go south it had dug its way China and back. There was no coming back from something like this. The majority of runners were dead, save for a rigger by the name of Thorvald Enstad. He had been captured and no doubt tortured by now. Whatever information he has has been declared damning by his employers and they would rather have him be eliminated than recovered. As stealth’s consciousness slipped into that of his doberman drones he almost smiled. From the position of the little robotic turret he could see something that he hadn’t seen in far too long. The camera zoomed in on the knight errant officer, hiding behind the large desk of the reception area. Helmeted and covered from head to toe in “state of the art” ares body armor he held his shotgun tight to his chest. He looked to his left and was rewarded with the sight and smell of dried blood, probably left from the last knight that had take cover behind this same desk. From the drone’s point of view Stealth could see the telltale signs of nervousness. The human’s chest was rising and falling a mile a minute, the shaking of his hands seemed to try to be keeping up. “Such a shame” the rigger thought to himself.

“All that training gone to waste.”

He felt the treads of the treads of his machine glide across the tiled floor. The rise and fall of the barrel as he took aim and the kick back from the weapon as it fired. It turns out that “high level” of training paid off. Despite the ares operative’s skittishness he had still been on the lookout. He had noticed the drone and through himself from the desk as he heard the telltale sound of a drone drawing nearby. It was just enough to dodge the first shot. But, the second shot nailed him in the shoulder. Through the camera that had become his eyes the shadowrunner could see the man reel back from the shot, but still take aim. The shotgun held as level as his opponent could with his injury and uneasiness. Just as the barrel became level a knife appeared from out of seemingly nowhere followed by a loud german curse. It struck true, burying itself in the fresh would and causing the knight enough pain to illicit an incredibly dangerous response. He stood up, discarding the very cover that had been his only ally in this battle. As soon as his shoulders made their way into full view a loud bang filled the room. In a flash a chunk of body armor was sent hurtling across the room. Blood and lots of it began streaming down from the hole in the agents stomach. Despite this he still stood. A hand frantically trying to dam up the red stream and another lightly grasping his weapon. Bang. The knight errant and his leg were viciously separated. Any doubts the other runners had about Eiger’s sniping ability were silenced.

As the robot wheeled itself into a new position the camera fell upon the corporate security member. His body was painted red, no longer rising and falling a mile a minute, but as still as death itself.

“Frag the knights”, was something that forced itself out of the shadowrunners lips as he continued maneuvering the automaton past the dead body. It was but a whisper, that no one could hear over the sound of Blitz yelling “cover me” as he hastily leapt over a makeshift barrier of chairs the previous group of runners set up as cover. With a stumble and a suppressed chuckle from Dietrich the decker had jacked himself into the corporate system. Any intel he could get would be valuable and the practiced runners couldn’t fault him for his eagerness. He was trying to show his worth to the team to make sure a sniper’s bullet or a well thrown knife didn’t wind up in his back. A good move, but one that soon placed the matrix jockey in hot water.

More knight ares rushed into the room. One almost identical to the previous, but the other was lithe and wore spiritual talismans over her battlegear. Wordlessly Eiger reloaded her weapon, Dietrich summoned lightning that arced around his clasped hands, and Stealth split his consciousness again. The sense of flying filled him as he took over the hovering Strato drone. It sped across the room to try and find cover amongst the overturned tables and chairs. The corporate shaman sniffed the air as she hid near the same desk that her allies had died behind. From the position of the flying machine, Stealth could see her. There was only a few seconds between her actions, but she did look at the body for a few seconds. Her shoulders didn’t rise or fall. She was a professional and from the looks of the other he was prepared as well.Then the Shaman was wreathed in red light. This light shot out from her onto the floor just behind her. Out of the light emerged a smoldering fire. The fire spirit vaguely had human features, but the claws of a beast. It regarded the shadowrunners with contempt as it’s master pointed towards them.

The creature rushed forward leaving a trail of soot where it’s feet had touched the floor. Dietrich shrunk down further behind his barricade of chairs, Eiger lined up a shot, and Stealth began evasive maneuvers with both drones in unison. The only person who didn’t move was Blitz. The red headed hacker was too into his matrix adventures. So into his battle with digital guards, that he hadn’t reacted to the approach of the apparition at all. It held up one hand of fire and began gathering it’s flaming essence. Soon enough a ball of fire formed causing the temperature within the room to raise a few degrees. With a sickening cry it launched the scorching sphere at the human.

“Damn it”, Blitz yelled as he shifted slightly. The ball of fire just missed his head as it sailed into the chair behind him, melting the heavy plastic. It sizzled and burned, releasing a new foul odor into the air before it worked itself out. Dietrich smiled and Eiger huffed. But Stealth just marveled. It reminded him of the first time Monika had jacked in on a mission, and how much it reminded him of their worst job together.