It’s a late-May afternoon, and an elf by the name of Jason Campbell, or “Blackbook” in his profession, is sitting out on a cafe patio in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. Blackbook answers a call to his comm, hearing a modulated voice on the line.
“Hello Mr. Blackbook. I understand you manage certain… assets for those willing to make use of them?” Even through the modulation, the voice on the line has a degree of urgency, the elf notes.
Blackbook speaks in a gentle, light, but professional tone.
“For the right price, yes.”
“I need a four-count in the carpark just off Orchard View and Duplex in the far corner at 10pm. 12k. Each. In addition to your… finder’s fee.”
“Mm, I think we can arrange that. Any specific concerns?”
“Technical capacity is highly desired, if they’re discreet.”
The elf sips on a fine cappuchino. Soykaf just doesn’t cut it for him.
“Not a problem. You’ll see them at 10 on the dot. Take care, Mr. Johnson.”
Blackbook downs the rest of his drink and gets a selection of runners on the comm. He gets Crash Zero: a novahot decker with a code of ethics, a rarity in this day and age; Otto: a wizard on wheels and in the air alike; Cassius: a giant augged up mountain of a troll sporting a bow as his favoured weapon, and Second Sun: a mage for hire decked out with combat magic and manipulation spells as his calling cards. He addresses them with a more casual air.
“Yo, I’ve got a job for you, if you’re interested. Didn’t get too many deets, didn’t ask for them, but for a four-man job, Mr. Johnson’s offering 12k per head, with 3 up front. You’ll be getting more information from him at the meet.”
The runners agree, Cassius particularly interested in that payday. By the evening, they swing by through the carpark separately to meet with Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson plainly appears as a man of business, with a well tailored suit, a pair of jet-coloured shades, and black, slicked back hair. As the runners approach, Mr. Johnson steps out of the car with his bodyguards, a troll and a ork, similarly well dressed.
“Evening, gentlemen. I don’t have much time, so I’m going to make this quick. I do hope that isn’t an issue. So: there’s a storage unit where an asset my client previously held has been lost, right near Dupont and Concord. So at the risk of sounding a little obtuse here, I need that asset back. Just a little black box is all you’re looking for, and then you call me at this number. I don’t think I need to mention that you’re not to open the box. Good?”
Crash Zero immediately picks up on the Johnson’s urgent manner and tries to squeeze him a bit.
“For a job with so few details, we’d appreciate some compensation for the fact that we’re going in blind, here.”
“And the amount we’re putting up is more than enough to cover that.”
“Then can you at least tell us a bit more about who could possibly have taken this?”
Mr. Johnson wrinkles his brow.
“Well, the honest truth of it, Mr. Zero, is that when it comes down to it, any number of interested parties could have had a hand in this. Name a major corporation, any big player in this sprawl, commercial or political, or even a major criminal element, and you’ve named someone who could be interested in this.”
“…That could be a lot to deal with.”
“And that’s why it’s so important you look into this matter quickly, and get that asset back. You’ll each be receiving 3,000¥ upfront, but you want the rest, you get this done and you call me.”
Mr. Johnson offers a hand to each runner to close the deal, shaking one hand and bumping the rest, and walks back to his car.
“Take care, gentlemen. Let me know when you have it.”
The runners return to their homes for a good rest before the job, and the next day Crash Zero is on the grid, laying back in his apartment as he lets himself slip into VR. He takes a look over toward the storage unit. It’s right near Davenport, not too far off from Corso Italia, he notes. He looks over the icons in the area and sees a few things of interest: right now, he can see a few goons parked around the area with a few red-highlighted icons indicating that they’re packing. One of them seems to be investigating the storage unit Mr. Johnson directed them to.
Crash Zero enters the storage facility’s host. He’s a wiz in the Matrix and before long, he’s looked up basic information on when each unit was opened and finds information matching the unit of interest. The last time the door’s been opened (save for this most recent access by the goons) was three days ago, Crash notes. He hacks a security camera and views footage dated around the timestamp of the unit’s access, noting a black car with tinted windows pulling up, a weedy Italian man leaving the car and searching the unit. He’s clearly authorized to access it as he opens the door without effort, and after a good 10 minutes he’s left the storage unit carrying a small box. There’s a sense of urgency to his actions, and Crash follows along in the Matrix, looking up past recordings of traffic shortly after to follow after the car as it moves up north.
He traces the Italian to a warehouse in North York. Three days in the past, the Italian makes an exchange with some of the men there, and they take the box off his hands. He follows them inside and after about an hour, walks out looking somewhat reassured. He gets back in his car and drives off. At this point, the noise from the distance is getting a bit aggravating, and Crash calls up the other runners. They load up in Otto’s GMC Bulldog and head over to North York. Otto parks by a McDonald’s to close some distance and reduce the noise for Crash Zero while Cassius and Second Sun go inside to grab a bite.
Crash looks over the area in the Matrix and finds the host for the warehouse. He hacks an external security camera and notices that someone’s attempted to scrub the host’s security recordings clean but hasn’t done a very good job of it, and so he digs deeper. As Crash Zero roots around in the Matrix, Otto looks around the physical location with his Lockheed Optic X-2 (affectionately named Ezio) and notices what looks to be a red smear over the pavement in the north side of the building. Police tape and roadblocks are crossed over the area and investigators are combing the place over. Second Sun and Cassius return to the van with a couple meals for Otto and Crash, and Second Sun figures he’ll astrally project himself towards the warehouse to see if he finds anything of note. He notices a mage investigating the area, deeply focused on a couple astral signatures he can just barely make out. In the Matrix, Crash manages to get a security feed and hooks it up to everyone’s comm.
Two days in the past, a few security guards enter the building and the one who appears to be leading them makes a call. Shortly after, they take up defensive positions and wait. After a few minutes, the east door crashes open and a male ork carrying a huge axe bursts in. A dark-skinned male elf gets through the south door around the same time and immediately begins slinging spells. A Doberman drone follows along with the ork and a Roto-Drone trails the elf closely. The security team puts up their best as they wait for backup, but it’s not long before they’re cut down. A guard manages to exit through the north, but judging from the blood smear Otto noticed, it didn’t go well for him. The ork roots around the warehouse shelves, notes a specific crate, and carries it out into a white GMC Bulldog speckled with red. The mage and the drones enter the van as well, the ork slams the doors shut, and they peel out, leaving the scene.
The crate doesn’t match the description Mr. Johnson gave them, but it seems like the best lead. Crash no longer seems to be hungry after having witnessed the bloodbath, but he continues his work in the Matrix, hacking into camera feeds like he did while following the Italian to follow the van he connected to the footage all the way to a shithole neighbourhood in the Scarborough Barrens. Otto drives along the path Crash lays out to reduce the noise, but tracking the van proves a bit more difficult as cameras in the area are noticably lower in quality or absent altogether in certain spots. The closest area Crash can match to the Bulldog’s location is a housing co-op complex near the intersection of Morningside and Ellesmere.
Otto hangs out on a nearby road, laying low. He sets Ezio off again to scout the area. There are children playing around a broken-down playground in the courtyard, with a few parents hanging around watching them. Of particular note, a dark-skinned elf woman with a bit of similarity to the mage they saw in the footage is laying back in a chair in her backyard smoking a synthcig, having what seems to be a heated conversation by the look on her face. Otto eavesdrops on her conversation using Ezio’s microphone and gets her side of the conversation.
“Yeah, Mike, I know I said I had a buyer lined up for this, but—!”
“Look, I know I fucked up here. I know. But you didn’t get it for nothing. I’ll find someone else, I’m sure…”
“So what if we don’t know what it is? They made it out like lots of people were after this thing…”
“Well fuck, why would you just send a bunch of people for nothing? They still slotted us some upfront.”
“Yeah look, I’ll try and get them back on the comm like I’ve been doing for the past fucking hour, but shit. Can you just stop riding my back a little? I love you, baby bro, but you’re getting on my nuts. I’ll sort it out.”
The woman stamps out her cig and heads into her housing unit. Otto relays the information to everyone and Second Sun decides he’s going to sneak into her house and press her for information. Cassius stays near the side entrance to the complex, ready to bust in just in case something goes wrong with Second Sun’s plan.
Second Sun casts an Invisibility spell on himself and creeps over towards the gate towards the elf woman’s unit. He barely needs to sneak, given how loud the children in the area are as they play. He looks for an ooportune moment to open the gate while no eyes are on him, and seizes it, slipping through the gate to the housing unit after the elf. As it turns out, he didn’t realize who might be watching from inside the housing unit. The ork from the warehouse security feed happens to glance upon the gate as Second Sun slips through it, and though he’s still hidden from sight, the gate just swinging open on its own is an unmistakably odd sight. The ork saunters out, looks at the gate, mutters something to himself about a gust of wind, maybe? and heads back inside. With a bit of quick thinking, Second Sun casts a Stealth spell on himself to quiet his foodsteps, straining a little to focus on keeping both Invisibility and Stealth going. Fortunately, Mr. Johnson is paying good money for a good mage, and he keeps it together. He steps inside, following the Ork quickly as he walks inside and flops down onto the couch to watch a bootlegged Urban Brawl recording on the trid.
Once inside, Second Sun gets to moving. He finds the elf woman before too long upstairs at a desk, lying her commlink flat on the desk with a trid projector bringing up a decently large screen so she can use it not unlike a laptop. She’s making Matrix searches and trying to get in contact with her own sleazier version of Mr. Johnson, but having about as much luck as before. Inspiration strikes: Second Sun plants an Influence spell over the woman, suggesting that she go and check on the crate. Just, you know, see how it’s doing. He strains a bit to exert his mental influence on her and takes a bit of drain doing so, but his gambit pays off and she gets up from her desk. The woman walks downstairs.
“Hey Rob, I’m just going to take a look at that crate.”
She goes out the door, and Second Sun follows quickly along. The door hangs open a little longer than it should as he passes through, but the ork’s eyes are on the trid.
Second Sun stalks along as the woman walks toward the underground parking garage. She swipes a key fob and opens the garage door, and the mage takes care to soften his steps against the echo, just in case his magic doesn’t completely cut it against the loud reverbations of footsteps in the underground.
She gets near the white Bulldog, since cleaned up a little, and makes a call on her comm. There’s a bit of noise, but Crash hacks into her comm to have a listen. He notes her name: Marlene Williams.
“Hey Yusuf, can you open your van for me?”
“Uh… sure? You leave something in there?”
“Nah, I just wanted to have a look at the crate again.”
“Oh. Uh, yeah, I guess. Be my guest, Mar.”
The van doors pop open, and the elf leans in to have a look. Second Sun gets a good look at the crate.
“Haha, I can feel you in my backdoor, Mar.”
“Oh fuck off, Yusuf. You don’t need to jump in just to open the door.”
“Well, whatever. Thanks, Yusuf. You gross ass.”
She stands up straight, dusts herself off a bit, and heads out of the garage. Second Sun gets the others on the comm.
“Yo, I got a visual on the crate. You guys wanna come over here and we’ll get to loading this thing?”
Otto responds: “Yeah, dude. Give her a bit of time to get back to her place, though. And for that rigger to jump out. We’re playing this cool, ain’t no need to be hasty.”
“Right. Meet me in the garage.”
After a bit of time, Crash Zero hacks the garage doors with ease and opens the way for Otto’s Bulldog to enter. Otto keeps the Lockheed Optic X-2 floating around to keep an eye on things and tip them off to anything wrong, but so far, so good.
Crash uses his area jammer to create a cacophony of noise in the Matrix localized inside the parking garage, making it nearly impossible for anyone to remotely access anything within. He hacks the white van, pops its doors, and Cassius hefts the crate out. As this is going on, Otto spots three cars pulling into the complex. A few men, uniformly dressed in cheap suits, exit the vehicles. Some of the adults in the area seem a bit spooked and do their best to gather their children. One particularly sharply groomed individual accompanied by a burly pair of men walks up to Marlene’s housing unit, opens the gate, and knocks on the door. She answers.
“Hey, what do y— It’s you!”
His voice has the hint of a Russian accent.
“Yes. I understand you’ve been trying to call me. I’m here to collect on that deal.”
“Yeah, what the fuck, dude? You could’ve answered the comm.”
“Where is the package?”
“Where’s the money?!”
“You’ll be giving me that package, first.”
“Dude, you really left me hanging. Come on. Let’s see that dough.”
In an easy motion, the man withdraws a large pistol and points it at her from his hip.
“You’ll be taking me to that package, first, miss. I must insist.”
“I… Fuck!” She looks back into the unit, but sees the ork isn’t around.
“Look… fuck… Okay. I’ll take you to it, alright? Just… put the gun away. Not here.”
He slips the pistol back into his jacket. The two men flank Marlene as they lead her toward the garage.
“Hey guys, I think we have trouble. Some Russian dudes it looks like. They’ve got a gun on that elf chick.”
“Yeah. We better hustle, guys.”
Cassius finishes loading the crate into Otto’s Bulldog, strapping it down securely and taking a seat inside. The four make ready to leave, and Otto fires up the van. Crash Zero looks particularly perturbed. He makes a series of checks in the area on the grid. He backtraces the rigger’s commcode from Marlene’s comm and makes a short call.
“Yo. Yusuf? Just a friendly word of advice, you got some Russians all in your house, here. Got guns on Marlene, it looks like. Maybe you wanna do something about that. Peace.”
“…What? What the fuck? Who are you? What are you talki—”
Crash Zero ends the call.
Otto pulls the van out of the garage as smoothly and nonchalantly as one can under the nose of the Vory.
Yusuf gets Mike on the comm. Crash Zero continues to snoop as Otto pulls out.
“Yo Mike, these dudes are here, they’ve got a gun on your sister, dude.”
“What?! What about Rob? What the fuck was he doing?!”
“I dunno, dude! Oh… fuck. Shit!”
“I just tried to jump in my van, dude. It’s… the crate’s not in there anymore.”
“What? Fuck! Dude, what about Marlene?!”
“I’ll let her know. If that crate ain’t where she shows them… Fuck…”
Mike exits a store in the complex where the Vory are parked, leaving a pile of goods on the counter.
“Yo!! Where the fuck you going with my sister?!”
A sobering number of guns are pointed in his direction, and the street mage reluctantly throws up his hands.
A comm text appears over Marlene’s AR glasses. She mutters a curse to herself. A GMC Bulldog lumbers out of the garage in front of her and the Russians, and she immediately puts two and two together. “Oh god. The package, it’s in that van!”
The sharp-dressed Russian swears and turns to run back to his car. The rest of the Vory goons get back in their vehicles. One of them wrenches Marlene’s arm and drags her into the car with the sharp-dressed Russian. The pair of goons drag Mike into their car, as well. Butcher is hustling out of the compound, cursing over the worst time to answer the call of nature.
Otto guns the engine, their cover blown. He pilots his Lockheed to follow them and run on autosofts to avoid the trouble of managing a scout drone in the middle of a chase. Crash Zero immediately gets to hacking traffic grids and manages to redirect some traffic ahead of them west on Ellesmere to give them a good opening, and Otto sails around the corner. Cassius locks and loads his Ares Alpha and gets ready to rock and roll. Second Sun amps himself up, ready to work a little magic.
The Russians gun their engines and drive after the fleeing Bulldog. Yusuf gives chase in his own Bulldog, not even waiting for Butcher to catch up to the van before peeling out and charging after the rest of them. They’re in a busy traffic area, and so Otto relies on his vehicle’s handling to see them through swerving around other cars or the occasional cut through a gas station. Crash keeps his focus on hacking the traffic grids to give them the best advantage he can. He manipulates the local GridGuide, stopping most of the traffic where they need it and keeping it flowing where they can use it. Otto keeps a healthy distance from the Vory, but every so often the Vory manage to pull in uncomfortably close.
Cassius opens the van’s door briefly to give Otto’s Roto-Drones an exit as he boots them up over his RCC. Second Sun manages to impose Mob Mind over the goons in the one car without the elf captives and attempts to ram the other cars off the road. The Vory attempt to unload into the Bulldog, but the rough driving conditions make it a hell of a task for them. Yusuf’s Bulldog roars up behind Otto, and makes ready to ram the van. Cassius kicks open the back door and goes rock and roll all over the front of Yusuf’s van. His immense strength and a good helping of luck keeps the Ares Alpha steady as it roars lead into the Bulldog’s face, nearly knocking Rotor out back in his apartment.
Hack and Slash, Otto’s Roto-Drones, fly up in the air keeping pace with his Bulldog. They fire upon the cars holding the elf captives at Second Sun’s insistence; the mage not wanting to stop controlling the goons in the other car. They take out of the sedans without too much trouble, ripping through the chassis and forcing the car holding Mike to pull over. Seeing a chance, Mike attempts to make a getaway and set one of the goons alight as he does so, but the Russian manages to knock his arm aside and a fireball is seen streaking up into the air through the car window at a low angle off the ground. Immediately after, the remaining parts of the window get a decent coat of blood as the goon shoots Mike through the side of his ribs.
Otto manages to pull away even farther, but the Vory just barely manage to keep the van in sight. The goons lean out the side of their car to open fire on Otto’s Bulldog, but a combination of driving skill and thick vehicular armour keep the van mostly unscathed. Rotor dials back into AR to avoid getting knocked out by another volley of fire and tries his best to stay in the chase, but Hack and Slash put a few too many through his engine block and he’s forced to pull the van over. Slumping back, defeated, Yusuf grips his chair and nearly rips the arms off.
Cassius opens up another burst of fire on the Vory car with Marlene and the sharp-dressed Russian riding along and disables it thoroughly. The driver barely manages to keep control of the vehicle and crashes into light traffic. The Russian shouts and screams, and Marlene just cries in her seat. Second Sun, still exerting his influence over the last car, slams a hard brake and keeps the goons immobile until they’re out of sight, giving Otto plenty of time to get away.
The group takes a breath of relief. All there is to do now is call Mr. Johnson and get that payday.