The team heads out from Norfolk, stashing Ortega and all their illicit gear in the smuggling compartments. They get across the border with no trouble, and make a stop at ATF, on the southside outskirts of Chicago. Aemon stocks up on all of their branded merch, as the shirt he bought here previously is barely holding together. The rest of the team gears up, and Chessick manages to get access to the illicit “special stash” after interviewing and charming the owners. They complain about how the increased corp presence is eating into their business, and it does seem like they are a bit less completely-stocked than previously. As they head further into southside, they see that ATF are not the only one’s effected: the corps have been making inroads (sometimes literally) all over, the matrix is running better, but the ARO ads are near constant. Project: Takeback seems to be a big success for big business so far, but the team is curious to see how it is in the CZ.
They contact Thankyou aka Eckhard Roberts, who says he will have some work for them soon, and also arranges for them to have secure housing at the anarchist-controlled Midway Airport, where he has been dossing down in exchange for helping out with technical repairs and perimeter security. They agree to chip in as appropriate, and head into the CZ, bribing some border guards. The lines are a lot longer getting in (and the security a bit less-militarized) so it looks like the corps are pushing into the CZ too. Chessick writes some angry screeds about corp intrusion, but most of the rest of the team just see the nuyen piling up in their mind’s eye. While driving, they have heard news reports of a ongoing review of A, AA, and AAA corporate statuses by the Corporate Court, so no doubt the corps will be operating in full panic mode until it is resolved- good news for runners.
They reach the base, and are introduced to the 2 security committee heads, Gamze Seidel and Vinko Novacek. They brief them on the situation: they can stay on-base if they solve a missing-persons mystery for the anarchists. Some supply runners and a 2-person security patrol haven gone missing in the last few days, and they can’t spare anyone to investigate. The team agrees, and heads out. Using tracking from last known locations, as well as Toff’s spellcraft, they locate the burned out supply cart, and find a body pile as well as 2 booby-trapped people with all their limbs removed. Scouting around, they find a camera and seismic sensor, which Aemon destroys, but Chessick manages to harvest a sat-uplink that they were attached to. They manage to save one of the maimed people, with Ortega diving on the explosive while Ro lifts the body out of the way. However, Ort can’t handle 2 blasts like that, and they fear what info the sensor may have sent along, so they head back to airport to get more help.
When they return, the remaining maimed person has been killed with a very precise double-tap, and the explosive removed. Aemon almost sets off another tripwire trap, but Ro spots it and disarms it. They also find a symbol on the wall, and omega sign over a suburst. Conferring with the anarchists, and researching on Jackpoint, they ID this as the tag of a mysterious anti-leftist deathsquad that JP-ers have termed Omega Dawn. Ro and Aemon (upgraded to full membership) are added to a working group on the subject, and Ro puts out the word that she’s paying for info on this group, and gets some info from Nick Ryder about crime scenes around Chicago that the logo has turned up at. Lacking any substantial leads at the moment, they decide to keep an eye out and put this on the back burner while they make some money.
Toff helps with healing, as does Aemon, Ro and Ortega help with physical security and training, and Chessick works with Gamze on improving the sensor net and matrix security (such as it is- they are one of the nodes for NooseNet, so it’s about as good as it gets in the CZ). They hit it off, and end up spending a lot of time together. Chessick continues his interview series. Aemon, wanting to seem cool, tries to party with Simon Andrews, but he’s working on something for SK elsewhere, so Aemon invites Suzuki Jones to join them, which she agrees to: the reporting opportunity of her young career! She seems to write pieces that don’t insert her into the story as much as Chessick does, so it seems like they can avoid stepping on each other’s toes. They all go to a large funeral celebration/corpse-burning (aside from one woman who wanted to be donated as ghoul food) with the bodies left by Omega Dawn. It is a somber affair, which Ortega makes uncomfortable by getting way too into how this was “god’s plan” before Chessick and Toff manage to steer it back in a safer direction.
The next morning, they get a frantic call from Sid Gambetti requesting their help. Chessick squeezes him for more money, as they kind of have him over a barrel due to his desperation. He tells them to swing by The Vault and pick up a local guy that he already hired for the job, who knows his way around. They meet up with Chem, and find that they are driving the same van (though the team’s is waaay more tricked out, giving Chem some ambitions). They head to near Northside, into Horde/Ork Protectorate turf, to find the hangout of the Chemical Boys, the street gang that is shaking Sid down. They find it, and Chessick manages to talk his way into a back room, where he meets the gang’s leader, and ork deceptively named The Ogre, who has a rep for psychotic violence. Chessick boldly joins his poker game, and manages to win, and the Ogre delivers the info as promised: they were hired by an ex-fighter named Garza to blackmail Sid. He also gives Garza’s girlfriend’s address, where Garza says he can usually be found, as he appreciates Chessick’s “troll-sized balls.” They make their way off without any bloodshed, disappointing Aemon and Ortega (who was hoping for a free meal).
They find Garza, and kidnap him after knocking him unconscious when he tries to fight them. They take him to one of Horogront’s shops, and rent a maintenance bay where they interrogate him. Although he seems like a piece of shit, they discover that he thinks Sid tasered him, thus causing him to lose the fight (which he was maybe supposed to throw anyway), and that a mafia security spider gave him some vid stills, promising more if he paid up. Hence the extortion. They pay to smuggle him, his gf, and his child to Denver, figuring he can start over as a fighter there more easily than here, where he is pretty burned (as well as giving him some distance from the Milwaukee Mob, who he just burned).
They head way into Northside, effectively Milwaukee, to the gated community where the spider lives and works as inhouse security for the recently-retired Don Leo McCaskill. They infiltrate through some sewers, and sneak up to the house, with Chessick doing some quick thinking to hack a security drone that spots him. They mange to avoid the sensors, and Aemon kills the Don’s dog, which is sleeping at the foot of his bed, as they clamber through his open window on the 2nd floor. They avoid waking the old man, who looks sickly and is hooked up to a ventilator, and manage to reach the spider’s lair. They grab and jam him before he can dash into a nearby security room, and ko him to carry him out.
They escape after fighting off a powerful spirit, and flee in the van. They interrogate the spider, who tries to lead them into a trap down at the docks. They see through it, ko him again, and have Chessick hack his comms. He finds a copy of the file, copies and deletes it, and manages to find the original in a “secure” data lock. He deletes that after confirming that only the 1 copy exits, and they leave the spider on the curb by the AB+ hospital at Trinity College, after Toff convinces them not to kill him. Sid pays up, and they hand over the file, but Chessick keeps some snap shots of the telling moments just in case. Chem joins them at Midway, feeling that it could be good to work with a team again, though he insists on sleeping in his van near an exit “just in case”.
They get hired a few days later by Lothan The Wise to collect some rare reagents from the old Field Museum, renamed Sanctum, and currently under control of the ASPS. They go there, and arrange to trade the canister of presolar grains for some research on the Cermak Crater- a dangerous task! They get a custom sensor device built by the ASPS’ Chicago head, Dr. Eric Kersh, meet his odd friend Daytripper, hop in some radsuits, and head out. They reach the crater, and manage to get their sample, but Ortega is heavily injured while playing with/distracting 2 radiation spirits that appear as small children. He stumbles blindly out of the crater, his dosimeter black, and gets back into comms range of the van where Toff and Chessick are waiting, horrified. The manascape here is the most awful thing that Toff has ever seen: seemingly an astral wound, leading to the total absence of astral space for a radius around the blast zone.
The rest of the team begins falling back after destroying the 2 spirits. However, their firefight and the explosions from Chem’s grenades seems to have awakened some slumbering bug spirits scattered about the crater (seemingly sleeping off a FAB III overdose). They flee to the van with Ro urging them on, and the team barely escapes with the van taking some damage as they dive in just ahead of the bug’s scything talons. They flee back to Sanctum, and find that they have come under attack from members of the Swamp Thangs. They fight them off, but find that some other gangers have made off with the canister. Kersh is very apologetic, and him and Daytripper use some serious detox magic to clear the team of radiation damage. They manage to scour everyone except Ortega, who they manage to prevent from dying. However, he has serious longterm radiation damage.
Toff calls Lothan, who tells them that they better hit the Swamp Thangs asap, and that they don’t have any particular weaknesses but that he is confident in them. He is way nicer to Toff than he has been to other team members in the past. They trick out Chem’s van with an HMG turret in the back, as their van is still getting de-toxed and repaired by Goober. They head down to the Calumet Swamps, where they ST base is rumored to be. They manage to find it (with some help from Becky 99), and Ro and Aemon decide to sneak up to the crumbling 3-story low income housing block, while the rest of the team hangs back with the van.
Sadly, they are spotted, and attacked by some trained cockatrices that an ST member set free. Aemon is paralyzed and Ro is injured, but they manage to kill the cockatrices with ranged assistance from the van, before coming under a grenade barrage. Ro plays dead, and some ST members come out and start hauling her and Aemon into the building. Van shooters kill the 2 on Ro and Ro kills one on Aemon, before he is hauled out of sight. Ro dashes inside to escape more grenades, and gets into a brutal brawl with a large number of foul-smelling, malnourished but oddly strong axemen. She’s about to fall when Chem and Chessick manage to bring down the wall with grenades and HMG fire, opening up the ST gangers to spell and gunfire from Ortega and Toff, who have been racing up to get to a firing point.
They slay the gangers, and start looking for Aemon. They find him in a creepy basement altar, which suggests the gang is engaged in blood sacrifice and cannibalism. Aemon has had some essence drained in a sacrifice ritual performed by a cultist mumbling about The Foul One. He is in a bad place, as he was paralyzed but fully conscious, and has lost some magical ability. They heal him up as best they can, and flee the swamps, feeling eyes on them the whole way. Wanting to rub Lothan’s face in how dangerous the job was (in order to get more money), they head straight for his shop instead of calling ahead.
He agrees to pay more (reasonably) but is as rude as ever, and has no memory of their phone convo. He tells them that the Foul One is a longterm adversary of his, however, and that she is a skilled mimic, and suggests they check their comms. Chessick does so, but finds nothing suspicious. They call “Lothan” again, and someone answers who is not the Lothan in the shop- he is nice to them, and tries to get them to come to the Calumet Docks for the swap. They “agree”, but decide they are too injured to fight currently, though Aemon desperately wants revenge. They decide the tap/surveillance must be on Lothan’s end, which he later confirms after sweeping his shop. Toff joins Lothan’s CZ runner coop, The Ash Union, and spends a lot of time with Kersh and others at Sanctum, thinking about joining ASPS.
The rest of the team heals up. Ortega and Chem visit the Tamir Grey memorial at the Ghoul Liberation League HQ, and Ortega arranges to buy meat at a ridiculous cost increase after going cyberpsychotic on 2 members they encounter and preaching to them about his bizaare ghoul Catholicism. Chem gets a freezer chest smuggling compartment put into his van, and arranges to start selling the ghouls spare meat. He, Ro and Ortega try to set a trap (using Ro as bait) to catch and kill some gangers for his purpose, but only manage to attract a good samaritan (who warns Ro of danger but keeps his distance), and 2 162 gangers, who ko RO with an injection dart, forcing Ortega to buy her back. All in all a failure, and Chem feels a little bad for talking Ort into it. Chem is also experimenting with some new street drugs that apparently came out of some East Coast lab and just showed up. There’s 4 new types, and he learns a little about them, and carries a dose of each for “field trials.”
Ro goes on a dinner date with Sam, who seems to be doing a bit better- catching up on all the things she missed spending 2 decades as a corp test subject. trying new cuisines, etc. She has the apartment that Ryder provided tricked out like a fortress, with a lot of weaponry and escape options. Ro approves. Ro later gets a Happy Belated Bday e-card from Sam, with info about what actually happened to Ro’s parents. She is non-specific as to how she got it, but given how hard Ro has looked she is thinking Resonance Realms. Her parents were liquidated, as were most of her fellow test subjects, after management found out about their off-books experiment. Ro was kept around, as the most stable build, and kind of a test if the theoretical practices could actually work. Her father was snatched up while they were boating together, which explains some things. She seems to be the only survivor.
Aemon, mourning his essence loss, joins a Black Star raid on the nearby Human Brigade/Humanis Nation turf. They slaughter some border guards, and then one the hit squad, posing as a guard, lures some families from their homes while the rest of the team guns them down. Aemon tries to injure the children in such a way that they will survive but not get shot further, usually trick-shooting them in the legs. He returns to the base, never having seen the face of any of the people he did that with. They seemed to want revenge for the Omega Dawn killings, which they blamed on the metaracists, as they happened near their turf. Aemon feels awful about what he did, but can’t admit it to anyone (especially Ortega). He confides that something bad happened to TY, who tries to get him to open up by sharing his own horrifying past. Chessick, sensing something is off with Aemon, also tries to draw him out, but to no avail.
After everyone has healed and re-equipped from the last run, TY hires them to help him track down a local Gilgamesh Initiative base that April Halfwoman gave him clues to. They arrange to park the van at Freaktown nearby, and proceed on foot to an area near the Truman Tower and Shattergraves. Although they’ve acclimated to the general CZ background count, this area has a bad feel about it. They surveil for 4 days, tightening their perimeter, until they ID the building they seek, based on a troll on a motorcycle seemingly doing supply runs. Chessick and TY disable the exterior security, and they make their way down through the ruined building to a secure vault door set into the floor of the basement. Chessick gets it open, and they descend some poorly-lit concrete stairs winding down a cylindrical shaft. The troll seems to have just ridden his bike down, an impressive feat.
They reach the bottom, and manage to open an earth-core security door, as the vault door irises shut above them. Toff feels very distraught, as they are now cut off from the astral plane, and he brought a spirit down- if ti dies here he doesn’t know what will happen. They enter, triggering a flash bomb trap, after which Ortega is shot with an autocannon, as the troll races towards them through a lab on his bike. He jumps off at the last minute and almost creams Ort, who just manages to dive out of the way. The team take cover behind lab tables that they overturn as they engage in a brutal firefight with the troll. The spirit is heavily wounded in the opening salvo, and Toff tells it to hide in astral space. After Chessick hacks his smartlink, the troll switches to melee and charges Ro, nearly taking her out (Ort is already down), before Chem finally drops him, with an astral combat assist from Toff- the troll’s aura is like nothing Toff has ever seen, and seems to be a black hole (almost like a personal version of the horror that is the Cermak Crater).
They check out the rest of the facility after surviving the troll’s death-triggered explosive. They find 2 living “test subjects” who are in various stages of crude implant surgery, but seem totally animalistic and feral. They kill both out of mercy. Aemon also delivers a fatal sedative to another former human, that has been reduced to an insane brain trapped inside a tumor mass in a medical vat. They find 2 other corpses in various states of decay that don’t look to have survived the implant surgeries they were inflicted with. They also find a bug shaman who looks like a recent acquisition- they try to get info from her, and Toff tries to read her mind, but they kill her when she wound Toff with a spell. They head into the second area, and TY confirms that this looks like a GI facility (given all the hardwired tech, the high expense underground build, the cyberzombies, etc.). But it seems mostly abandoned. They find the living quarters of the security spider/cybertech specialist, as well as his notes on cybermancy amidst his trashed room, alongside a log entry that says “facility compromised, starting end protocol.” They find his corpse torn apart (seemingly by hand?) in a server room, which Chessick starts hacking. They find a bunch of trashed security devices as well- bent turrets, expended rounds, etc.
They also find 2 more corpses: 1, the project head, seems to have died of internal bleeding from injuries similar to those on the spider, compounded by years of damage from radiation exposure, so it seems like he’s been here a while. But it seems the troll tried to patch him up after whatever happened here, and he lingered for a bit. They find logs of comms to someone named “TR” requesting more subjects captured by Aztechnology from the anti-corp monastic militia Sangre y Acero. Apparently the troll was one of these fighters, reprogrammed here to procure test subjects and supplies, as well as act as on-site security. But it seems like he was fairly unstable, due to cyberpsychosis, and required the use of an invoked memory stimulator and extensive drugs to stay sane. 2nd corpse, the lead scientist/medic, who seems to have died around the same time, but from a wound sustained earlier from a high caliber sniper rifle fired from above. This attack doesn’t seem to have happened here, so presumably it happened somewhere outside, and he was brought here to try and treat. TY suggests that this seems like April’s handiwork. He has data in his room about subject collection and management, and comms from “TR” about the feasibility of longterm stable full-body cyborgs.
They also find a depleted supply room (explaining why the troll was venturing out so much), and some quarters heavily aspected towards blood magic and Wasp, but no corpse. Toff destroys the reagents and supplies here, feeling they are evil. Chessick, meanwhile, has managed to avoid the IC librarians long enough to gain access to the 3 surviving data stores that the spider didn’t wipe before his death (the actual project data and funding info is gone), before getting brutally attacked. He had refused TY’s help, but notices some sort of powerful presence in the matrix seemingly protecting him as he flees, and when he comes to he notices TY reeling in a datacable- he’s a little worried about if TY plugged that into HIM or just into the server. But he gets a ton of data.
It seems like the GI emerged from the ashes of the Augmented Soldier Program, a joint Israeli-corporate initiative ( Aztechnology was speculated as a partner) to force augmented soldiers to awaken as adepts. It seems this facility was experimenting with furthering that line of research by doing managed insect merges onto cyberzombies. AZT has been supplying heavily cybered ex-pit fighters, as well as Sangre members captured on raids. There has been an extreme mortality rate. The program origins seem to date back to a man named Thomas Roxborough, who TY recalls learning a bit about in the ACHE. Apparently he had purchased some info on biodrones from Deus in some sort of trade, and also was using AZT resources to help fund the Israeli program. When that was shut down due to a number of high-profile psychosis-induced massacres by test subjects, he relocated under the named The Gilgamesh Initiative, aka the Legendary Warrior Project. They also learn of other lab locations: the fjord lab in the Scandinavian Union is marked as “compromised”, as is the Chicago lab and the Mars lab. But they also list labs in Lagos and Tenochtitlan, and hint at a new East Coast lab going in somewhere due to a “promising situation.”
TY seems thrilled to have all this info, and believes that he has now found the facility where he was “made”: Lagos. He says he will do more digging but will likely hire the team again down the line. Aemon also realizes that the summoner’s corpse must be somewhere, so they carefully search, and find a secret door. It leads down a burrowed stone tunnel, and Ortega takes the lead. He is ko’d by a roving FAB III cloud, and they barely manage to pull him out to safety. Chem goes in alone and feeds back data. He finds a sacrificial altar, with a narrow shaft letting in some light. He speculates they are near the base of the Truman Tower, which TY confirms is full of FAB and bugs. Chem also finds the summoner’s corpse, wearing *Aztlaner Path of the Sun" robes suggesting he was a high-level initiate (and likely blood mage). He seems to have burst open from the inside. What they decide must have happened is that some sort of air pressure system forced some FAB into the airshaft, and either ko’d or distracted the mage while he was attempting a summoning, allowing the spirit to break free. Apparently the troll was the sole survivor of that attack, and has been trying to keep the project running with his limited skills, while slowly going insane due to running out of meds.
They leave the facility, and Chem and TY rig it to blow, destroying as much as they can. They head back to airport, heal up, and celebrate another job survived, as well as a massive payout from TY, partially from sale of some of the relevant info. Chem tricks out his van a bit more, and the members of the team who can purchase or upgrade some implants as well as training some new skills. He also makes contact with some bomb-builders who work at a CZ co-op called The Atomizer. A woman named Jaro seems to do security and sales, while a gruff old ork, a handicapped young human named Walter Turnip, and a bizaare-looking SURGE-d woman do the technical work. Aemon gets an adrenal pump, feeling that since he lost essence he might as well gain something. He and Suzuki also hook up again, and she fills him in on all the cool stories she’s been filing. He agrees to take her on a date to the swamps sometime to show her how creepy it is, and he shares some vid from their runs to impress her. Ro trains the team in some new tactics also. Ortega, realizing that last time he was here he posted a bounty on 2 ghouls that he saw trying to kidnap a family for food, starts to feel conflicted given his current situation. He checks with Archangel Bounty Redemption, and finds that it’s already been paid out, so he posts an apology on a variety of bounty boards, explaining that he didn’t know better but now he does. Shortly thereafter, he gets a call from one of Blaine Hammond’s rep’s, asking him to come in for a meet, saying they are intrigued by his ghoul Catholic True Communion take on things.
It seems like there’s plenty more work in Chicago, so they plan to stick around for a while.