While everyone else is off on side jobs, Ortega accepts an invite to the Ghoul Liberation League HQ, and meets up with Blaine Hammond himself. Hammond gets Ort talking about his ghoul catholicism beliefs, and tells him he loves what he hears. Hammond seems like a real slick politico type, but Ort is totally taken in. Hammond gets Ort to deliver some thrilling speeches to receptive infected crowds, and rebrands his belief system True Communion. He also tells Ort that they have a little problem though- last time Ort was in Chicago, he took out a bounty on 2 ghoul flesh traders, and many ghouls were killed (as well as many amateur bounty hunters) trying to collect before Hammond put a stop to it. So, the way he sees it, Ort owes them so skilled new ghouls. Hammond suggests he start with his team members, as they seem useful. He pats Ort on the shoulder, and Ort feels… something, he’s not sure what.
After about 2 weeks hanging with the ghouls (during which time he is well fed!), Ort links back up with everyone else as they filter back in to Midway. The team, having seen the first few convo’s with Hammond (before someone spotted and disabled the drone they had tailing Ort), are a bit worried, but Aemon tries to be supportive, knowing Ort has had it rough recently. They also find hidden multi-corporate RFID trackers in the van that Chessick and Aemon just used on their failed job. They take a job from the Neo-A’s and Jackpoint members, who have raised funds to go on a revenge/info grab mission against Omega Dawn, who they suspect knows where they are staying now. Good to be proactive.
They decide to use Ort as bait, posing as a street preacher. Chessick and Ro compose an epic anti-capitalist screed, and Chessick programs a slick teleprompter ARO for Ort, who brushes up on speechifying as best he can. Ro and Aemon set up sniper/surveillance nests in some ruined buildings, while Ort preaches midblock, and Chessick and Toff hang nearby in the camo’d van. Chessick casually mentions the street preaching on his “Americana” blog, attracting some spectators. They fail to notice someone planting a bomb under Ort’s rubble pulpit on the 2nd night, although the bomber fails to notice them also. Everyone is surprised when Ort and the crowd explode at the climax of the speech. The civilians are shredded by a powerful anti-personnel mine, but Ort manages to survive, although he is quickly felled by automatic weapons fire from a sniper and 4 OD goons approaching on foot.
Ro and Aemon return fire on the sniper, unable to spot the camo’d ground team, and get into a sniper duel. They do some damage but the enemy seems distressingly durable. He drops Aemon. Toff summons a spirit to distract the sniper, which works, and then manages to massively overcast a series of stunballs, ko-ing a few of the goons, as they try to capture the ko’d Ort. Sadly, Ort is massively wounded by the spells also, and further injured when the OD team calls a withdrawal and chucks grenades to cover their exit. The team barely manages to keep Ort alive, and capture one of the OD members (the other ko’d one was killed in the explosion). A suicide bomb drone divebombs them as they race to the van, but Aemon manages to shoot it out of the sky.
Paranoid about more drones, they blast an area jammer, and Chessick jams the goon additionally. They return to Midway, and use the faraday cage in the van’s smuggling compartment to get the goon to a secure medical area where they can keep him jammed to avoid any more drone interference (they hope). They also warn Gamze Seidel, but she says that Thankyou aka Eckhard Roberts has upgraded their drone defense net with some kind of distributed intelligence, which worries the team quite a bit (but also makes them feel temporarily safer).
Chessick runs a deep dive with Carme Kofi on the host that TY found at the OD facility that he tracked the team back to. However, TY set off some booby traps going in, and they have a limited amount of time, but they get some good info on The Soak, who seems to be one of the Chicago leaders. They retrieve his bizarre manifesto, which is mostly fascistic ramblings, and a batman-esque semi-comprehensible “origin story”. The OD team members scrambled back to O’Hare, where they’re heavily protected, and lost TY and the others tailing.
Toff mind probes the goon, and finally manages to break through their mental defenses, after they ko them with a carefully managed drug cocktail. They get deep into the goon’s brain, and find out that he was recruited into Omega Dawn after working on a corpsec detail on which the rest of his team was killed by runners. They also find out a lot of details about OD and it’s organization and supply lines. They post the info to JP and pass it along to the Midway anarchists, and Ro also warns Hiro Katakura about possible intrusion into Renraku, which seems to get her back on his good side. He offers her some fancy new upgrades, next time she has some downtime.
Ro uses a newly acquired PAB bio-assist therapy machine to decondition the goon over a week, leaving him totally broken down. They also infect the goon with HMHVV and test some of Chem’s drugs on him, before passing him onto the Ghoul Liberation League, to start paying off Ort’s debt. Chem has been cooking up a storm, and paying for info on the toxies who killed his team and tortured him. He thought the Swamp Thangs might have been involved, but after raiding their base, realized they weren’t the ones. Word on the street and returns from info brokers have lead him to the local Painted Horse Lodge, where some rumors of toxicity have been stirring.
They check the current bounties on toxies, and figure that if they find one, they’ll try to take them alive and cash in. They also find out that Ortega has been officially excommunicated, and that his bounty has gone up significantly (seemingly coming from the Church). They also find that there is a bounty for Aemon (who freaks out, thinking it is for the families he helped kill), for killing the Milwaukee Mob boss’ dog. They decide to do this one last job, and then get outta town.
TY tells them there’s work in Boston, and that they should pull a job in NYC to pay for getting smuggled in. Aemon also hears that an unknown adult western dragon was seen over Boston, crashing into a NeoNET tower and a stadium, while trailing some sort of iridescent blue cloud. The QZ went up shortly after, so he does some research, and Sem-par tells him that it sounds like the nano-weapon that Aztechnology deployed versus Sirrurg. Worrying… Chessick gets a sort of apology from TY, and agrees to work with him again, on the condition TY will land him an interview with New Lives. He does, and Chessick has a pretty interesting chat with someone who ID’s himself as one of the Monads, a confusingly pluralized term. He gets some info about CFD infection/transmission, as well as a promise of future convo’s.
They head for the PHL, and Ro (being the only team member present with a mentor spirit) enters, having secured a meeting with Rayen through Lothan The Wise. Ro, not being the best liar, dances around the issue somewhat confusingly while claiming to be interested in joining, but Rayen adamantly denies the presence of any true toxics in their lodge. Ro arranges to attend the meeting later to see for herself. While the team watches wirelessly from outside, Ro observes the meeting, and Chem is able to ID 2 middle-aged humans of the more adamantly anti-corp lodge members as some of the people who held him captive. However, they seem to be on the same page as some of the team with the anti-corp message, so there is some confusion, but Chem is adamant, and everyone hates toxies!
They wait for the meting to break up, and then follow the pair as they leave, linking up with a younger bulky ork. Chem keeps his distance for a few blocks, but then his vendetta gets the better of him, and he tries to ram their tandem bike. They dive out of the way, and a toxic spirit manifests in the van. Chem freaks out and leaps free, but as he was driving, the van crashes pretty hard. Aemon manages to drop the first spirit with a lucky shot, but they are all forced to flee the van when one of the shamans launches a pollutant wave inside.
They engage in a lengthy and damaging firefight with the mages and an acid-spitting spirit, and melee (the ork kid turns out to be a toxic adept, with radioactive punches that shred Ort’s armor). They emerge victorious, though acid-scarred, and manage to take in one of the shamans (and a variety of foci and fetishes) for the bounty, using Grendel to help them get a quick verification and payout. Ro flies out to NYC early, to go in for her Renraku-provided upgrades. The rest of the team heals up for a bit, and prepares to van convoy out to NYC, using the smuggling compartments to bring their gear and get Ort and Aemon out in relative safety.
Ro gets an angry call from Rayen, who blames her for the lodge member’s deaths/captures. Ro provides proof of their use of toxic magic, but Rayen counters with evidence of their effectiveness as anti-corp radicals. She says she didn’t support all of their methods, but that she welcomed their dedication: they were willing to use the corps’ methods against them. And they had incredible results. Ro tries to play it cool, but Rayen menacingly says that they will see each other again, using Ro’s real name (which she somehow found out).