The runners meet a Johnson about a high-paying smuggling job, but something seems a little off. As best they can tell, he’s receiving live instruction on how to respond to them, but they pay’s quite good and they can’t find anything obviously fishy so they agree. They hear shortly after that the remote junkyard that was the site of the meet exploded spectacularly shortly after their visit there, and are they glad that they narrowly dodged…. something?
They meet up with Michael Wind-Rider, a risky but respected local t-bird smuggler, who is recently back in the air after getting shot down on a border crossing a few months back. He tells them to prepare for a few days travel and they take off. First they fly to another junkyard outside Reno, this one looking like old US military from the teens, and meet a dwarf rigger, who passes over the package, a sealed and warded crate. They load up and head north through the PCC, dodging patrols. At a refueling stop, they almost lose a fight with some snakes.
They then cross into SIoux terrirtory (Prot0’s TM abilities proving quite useful!), and make another fuel stop at a smuggler’s alliance depot, but find it overrun by Prairie Igasho, obnoxious “lost cause” nomad survivalist types. PPJ successfully negotiates with them for fuel, but then Jonny insists on getting involved and blows the whole thing (they aren’t fans, as it turns out), and 3 Card ends up killing a teenager and feeling rather bad about it (though he was attacking her). They escape with the fuel, and Michael launches a missile into the half-built terminal the Igasho were using for shelter, as revenge for killing his friends who previously ran the place. The team speculates that this may have killed as many as a few dozen people, mostly children.
They fly on, crossing into UCAS territory, after setting down to wait for an ideal time and covering the craft with ruthenium tarps. They make it to a remote private terminal at Stapleton Airport/Base and call for a pickup, but quickly come under attack. A blood adept that the team recognizes from the Los Espejos base nearly kills Jonny, and an invisible blood mage badly injures Yanko and a few others. A sniper kills Michael and almost takes out other team members before sneaking away (and seemingly leaving no blood magic traces). An ork with a military look shows up from the Johnson and gives the team a van to leave with, saying he’ll clean up at the airfield. He gives them Wind-Rider’s share as well.
The Johnson also provides a hotel safehouse in the UCAS sector. Prot0 upgrades his medical drone, which keeps watch over Jonny and Yanko while the rest of the team scouts and attempts another job for the same Johnson: a quick snatch and grab at a local brothel. They have a pretty enjoyable time scouting, exploring various new areas of their respective sexualities, as well as getting a lot of useful info on their target and the house’s security. However, when they come back for the grab, with a lot of specialty tools, they find they’ve been set up. One of the targets bodyguards (who turn out to all be secret service) have killed him and the other guards, and badly wounded his companion for the evening.
The team manages to stabilize the injured woman, but the guard’s head explodes from an implanted bomb before they can capture- he briefly registers a look of hate and disappointment before they detonation, seemingly knowing what’s coming. They flee the house, not encountering anyone else as they are funneled to the street. KE shows up suspiciously quick, and the team is debating a blaze of glory ending when Prot0 gets a message signed with a rabbit mark that says “surrender and trust me”, so they do.
They get interrogated by some bruisers and kicked around a good bit, until “a fed” shows up to take over their case- apparently the man they are believed to have killed is none other than UCAS rep Iain Lesker, and they are being implicated in the bombing at his office as well. However, the fed is none other than Puck, who says that if they agree to help him he will get them clear of this. They do. He gets them out and to a safehouse in the warrens, where they catch up on the news of an eventful few days- Lesker wasn’t the only government or corp type to get hit (or vanish), and there have been some major infrastructure hits in the various sectors as well as mercs massing on the Aztlan sector border, seemingly under ZDF command.
Meanwhile, Yanko and Jonny barely survive a hit attempt at their hotel “safehouse”, and manage to make it out, make contact with Puck, and also get to the safehouse. They noticed some large explosions at a UCAS military base nearby and a power substation, so something is kicking off. Puck suggests it’s GW making a move of some sort, and say he wants to find out what, and also get back at the team’s traitorous Johnson, GW’s special ops/intelligence cleaner, an elf named Bennett.
The team agrees, and they pull a wild data heist at the ZDF command center in the Hub, which Puck has been preparing for. He and Prot0 get the data (barely) while the rest of the team holds off the guards and gets them out of there (also barely). They heal up for a few hours at the safehouse until Puck insists they head out, seeming very distraught- the ZDF know one of the Nexus’ new locations and are going to hit it shortly. The team must help! They reluctantly agree when promised money and other rewards.
They race to a rundown area near the CAS border and warn Perri and the other admins who are there, who start calling in favors and evacuating people- this is where most of the sick, young, and injured from the last attack washed up, as well as being a major data center, so they have some work to do. Meanwhile, a broadcast comes out from GW giving a very short deadline for anyone not loyal to him and him alone to leave Denver, and promising hellfire for Aztlaners. Then the matrix shuts down.
The team starts helping to organize a desperate defense, giving the defenseless people and the data time to get clear via secret escape tunnels that the ZDF seems unaware of. An eclectic mix of runners, mercs, hackers, dealers, bikers, gangers, smugglers, Sons of Sauron and Diamond Eyes band together into impromptu squads and divy up the armaments onhand. They demo a few nearby buildings to create more bottlenecks and slow the ZDF’s approach, and the team splits off to attempt a possibly suicidal alpha strike on the ZDF’s rear command post, where Bennet will be. Prot0 activates a tarot card he was sent by Zany Zuni (the rabbit mark entity- apparently connected to the Denver Exchange.)
They successfully make their approach, hearing the whole time over shortwave that the defenders are taking heavy losses, but slowing the ZDF to a crawl as the evacuation continues. Yanko engages a milspec armored ork (the one with the van from before), using a power granted to him by a tarot card gifted him by an elderly Russian sniper at the Nexus. He channels pure electricity through himself, obliterating the ork as well as himself in the process, and creating one of the “reality rips” the team has been hearing about. Prot0 uses the tarot power, a rose icon on his comm, to brick 2 devices, saving the last use for an emergency.
The rest of the team, shocked, takes out other ZDF guards and drones as 3 Card makes her way to the command trailer. Bennett emerges in more milspec to take them on, but is engaged by some sort of pure electrical spirit in Yanko’s shape that emerges through the rift, before pulling them both back through as it stitches closed. 3 Card slipped through the door as Bennet exited, and in her chemsuit, drops 2 7-Seven grenades into the mass of deckers and riggers, who all quickly jack out, presumably spotting their peril on camera. They rush 3 Card with hand weapons and small arms, but she is an expert of 52 blocks, and she keeps them from the door til they all die.
This gives the Nexus folks just enough time to finish the evacuation and blow the building just at the final ZDF wave arrives- 12 troops in full milspec, who finished off the last of the defenders. The team hustles to the rally point, finding only Puck and Perri waiting. They get brought back to the Warren’s safehouse, paid well, and proclaimed heroes for saving the Nexus (they are also made members). One of the Diamond Eyes had told them to expect a call as “their boss was interested in the team”, and sure enough, a mysterious new Johnson calls to set up a meet, though as far as they can tell it isn’t Harlequin himself.
After restocking, healing, and mourning their dead, they agree to a meet. Sadly, their team is down a few members: 3 Card, finally having earned enough for a near-perfect fake SIN, says her goodbyes and flies back to Seattle after some cyber-alterations, to start a new life with Gina, completing her goal of :get good, get out, and get the girl", though she pays a price in nightly PTSD flashbacks to the things she did and saw to get there. Yanko’s name is inscribed in the memorial wall at the original Nexus site, a pilgrimage spot for hackers and TM’s, alongside those who died fighting the wyrm Jormungandr during the 2nd Crash, and the defenders who died during the ZDF’s last assault.
Aleiron, distraught at the loss of exit of her 2 longterm companions, retreats to Frantic’s bar, where Frantic opens a portal to the astral crossroads city of Yann Ti. She finds another tarot card on her pillow on her 2nd night, seemingly offering a path to revenge on her enemies, and she debated returning to the team. Puck has brought in a new runner in town, a Neo-A medic from Chicago named Ratched, and they team also hires an extra gunhand named Kayra through Darien Black. Off to the meet they go!