Otters aka Roadkill
The team finally follows up on CG’s famine investigation, and calls up Pretty out at the relocated Long Pig Farms. She reports that her and the other ghouls have been bogged down defending their turf from ex-ARES Corpsec militias, as well as packs of roving hunger-crazed survivors. However, the Bee spirit BETAS and some other locals they’ve befriended have all banded together with them, so they have a big farm compound and are trying to get another harvest in with whatever they can get to grow in the strange astral light.
The team asks them to snag any of the hungry people they come across, as Pretty reports that they often have lower essence than it seems like they should, and thus don’t make the best meals. Still, trespassers = free food. The team spends a while patching armor, catching up on sleep, charging all their gear, and refreshing all their rituals and magical supplies, and CG also trades a little more info on the famine situation with Penelope Beans.
They listen to a new dating show on Radio Free Detroit called “Motor City Meet Cute” while The Detective gets high in their dry tub outside, and Pretty calls to report that they caught a live one, with the weird “missing essence” problem. The team heads out to the farm the next morning, and Otters gets some more usable data points for her attempt to map where the center of the Zap Zone blast occurred.
They meet up with Pretty and Rains, who both seem a bit exhausted, but who lead them through the recently fortified farm complex to a reinforced paddock where they’ve chained up a gaunt human man, who is idly clawing the ground, almost like he’s trying to dig something out. He seems minimally aware, so Dig mind probes him, and finds that he is experiencing a depersonalization, akin to cyberpsychosis, but not triggered by any obvious source of the massive essence loss.
They think about it a bit, and compare notes and knowledge, and determine that Vamps, Shadow Spirits, or some other critters could be the source, but nothing points to any of those in particular. Diving further, Dig discovers that they guy is totally addicted to the SnakAttak Packs, and that acquiring more is his sole desire- he seems to have been near-mindlessly searching for other food to trade for them when captured.
Scanning him astrally, Dig does detect the same dark magic that was present in TD when they ate some of the chips, but in a larger quantity. Probing to the very depths of the man’s near-empty mind, Dig manages to get a good idea of the location where the food for chips trades occur, and then he and CG stick around to watch some ghoul farmhands consume the man, which they make short work of- they complain that there isn’t much to him, but Dig is relieved to see that whatever the dark magic is doesn’t seem to transfer, and reports to Pretty that it should be safe to keep eating any interlopers.
The team heads north, following bird Dig, who is astrally scouting the area the man thought of. They find a large ARESFood complex, with one of the buildings running off a generator on limited power. Desperate-looking individuals queue and mill about carrying whatever food they’ve scavenged out front until they are let in by security, after which most of them leave through one exit with chips in hand. However, some small number don’t emerge at all.
After some further drone, astral, and physical recon, plus an infiltration by TD posing as a hungry wretch with some emergency rations to trade, the team discovers what is happening here. Guards, who are all wearing armored chemsuits with metahuman skin patches sewn on somewhere, manage the queue and keep things orderly. The hungry are let in, and sent to one of two machines by a scientist inside, and either drop their food into a hopper or are fed into an industrial dissolver.
Those that drop food in the hopper then head to the exit where they are given an amount of bag of chips that seems to correspond to their essence. Upsettingly, while whatever food they bring in seems to be the basis for the chips, one of the additives is from compressing some sort of enormous grub, kept out of sight of the line, with multiple piled containers showing they’ve been at this for a while. The ones sent to the dissolver all seem to be super low essence, when the team compares data. Following a slurry tube into an adjacent building, the team finds two more of the skin-patch guard pouring it into 55 gallon drums, sealing them up, and loading them in a van.
Mouse Dig and Creep are almost killed when Creep slips partway into the dissolver solution, but escape, and the team decides to wait and follow the van. Otters does so via van initially, but seeing that they seem to be heading towards the Blight, switches to VTOL with mouse Dig along for the ride, as the van battery won’t get them home after that long of a drive north.
They park the van, and the rest of the team, at Moreau’s, who is thrilled to see them as he needs to offload Dr. Aurand back onto them. He has hooked her brain in a jar up to a low end spider mech body, but says he will do no more for someone so unethical and will no longer tolerate her presence. He also seems to have taken a full turn against making biodrones, though he says he will still of course care for them at the facility.
Aurand loads up in the van, where Creep tries to get her to watch Roseanne, which she refuses. Meanwhile, Dig and Otters track the van to another old, abandoned Chrysler warehouse in the Blight, in the Toxic Valley Exclusion Zone, which also seems to have been reactivated. Some new duct and pipe work runs from the side of the building into the ground, and there is a high force ward around the structure.
Dig gets worried he got astrally spotted by something large, pale, and slimy and Otters sees something with a skin mask coming out with a rocket launcher, so they delta outta there, following the valley towards the lake, and are disturbed to find numerous drain and runoff systems converging into a major spillway into Lake St. Clair, the sprawl’s primary water source. So it seems like these people are also poisoning the water, as well as the desperate hungry locals.
The link back up with the team and head back towards the safehouse, before deciding they don’t want Dr. Aurand to know where it is, so they foist her off onto Leanna Octave, both of them seem excited about expanding their surgical and experimental frontiers together. They make some calls and Dig flies up to visit G’ma Biyu.
She offers assistance as well as some guidance for their plan, and they also enlist the help of Cehaulli, the somewhat creepy AZT mage and fixer. They decide to keep it to a tight circle, as surprise will be critical. Remembering some rumors they heard from The Swarm, they head out the next day to the former ARESpace/EVOSpace collab area past the destroyed Damien Knight Int’l airport.
Once there, Otters gets some more good data points for the Zap epicenter, and Dig does a massive Catalog ritual to look for parts, while Otters and the others grab some additional supplies from the safehouse after securing the area as best they can. After a mammoth effort, they have assembled two scrap planes, using up basically all the remaining parts, fuel, and engine components, which Otters is pretty confident she can get airborne, though they’ll have to glide from there.
They get a delivery of a bunch of fertilizer and other supplies from Pretty and other friendly farmers, once again massively depleting available stock, on Biyu’s suggestion, and her demolitions expert, a very full-of-themselves individual named Xero Dae, comes out and rigs everything up. Creep heads back to Hamtramck to The Trading Post and picks up another HE rocket for the launcher, and a rigger interface for Otters’ plane, so she can pilot remotely from the VTOL behind it.
Dig quickly learns a little piloting from some simulators that Otters has handy, and plans to fly his plane physically before bailing out as a bird. TD sneaks up to the first factory to keep an eye on things and be able to stay on comms to Dig and provide leadership, as that facility has low magical security. CG and Creep sneak up to the other facility in the Blight, Creep with the rocket, and CG with his sniper rifle.
Otters and Dig manage to get airborne, and fly the planes towards their targets, both gliding in to stay as stealthy as possible. CG manages to snipe another guy in a face-mask coming out with a rocket launcher when the plane gets close enough to be notable, and Creep hits the magical ward with the rocket, to knock it down enough for the plane to hit full force. Dig manages to fly his plane as a chimp, before switching to steering with magic fingers and diving out the side, turning to a bird midair.
Both planes hit their target factories and blow big, levelling the structures, as well as some of the surrounding area. The team in the Blight also sees a magical blue circle glow suddenly with some sigils they recognize from Cehualli’s robes as their is some kind of small implosion, and Otters has the feeling of something powerful happening that she is unable to detect, other than a sort of hair-raising feeling.
They link back up at the safehouse, and report into Cehualli, who sends them a big payment, but seems exhausted by his banishment ritual- he is thrilled the team came to him with this and excited to work together again. They then decide to all watch a new (old) flatvid that Creep has been saving for a special occasion to celebrate, and pop in some Harry and the Hendersons.
Deciding it would be better projected, they radio Ringmaster, who seems busy but says they can use the venue space at the Plat Zone. They head over and start watching, with Dig creating a magical contentment aura. Ringmaster is rushing back and forth but stops to say hello, and Creep mentions that the team was involved in the two huge explosions. Ringmaster pauses the playback and insists on an explanation. When everyone continues to seem too chill for his liking, he uses some kind of device that shuts down all of Dig’s spells, so he is suddenly nude and everyone is less chill.
TD pushes back on Ringmaster, insisting that the team remain freelancers who don’t “owe” him anything, and he pushes back on that re: the state of the city, and what he perceived to be the mutually cooperative nature of their relationship. After tensely working their way towards a middle ground, the team lays out what happened, and Ringmaster explains that he is not unhappy with their work, or even not being in the loop ahead of time, but instead with not being informed about the involvement of people he considers close allies in what appeared to be a major, random attack, for which he has been seeking explanations and doing damage control all night while they kicked back and watched vids next to his office.
They then kinda see his point, and everyone is feeling a little down, until Stitches comes up from the basement, fresh out of a gory surgery and needing a break, and they get the sitcom party started again. With Dig having promised Biyu that they’ll be looking into mystery vans again next, they all eagerly await Cholula’s report on what he found while trying to get a signal from his tracker arrow that he had fired into one of them….