Kitten Caboodle aka Kit
The team rests up and heals for a few days, and then decide to sell their massive paydata package to the Shadow Chapters. They use this as an enticement to get the last few holdout corp Johnsons in town (who survived the meeting) to sign on as well, except for Juan Xiuhuitl, who is still holding a grudge for the team not coming to his aid during the bug ambush. Since Carol couldn’t convince the team to sell to ARES first with an exclusivity window, he decides to meet with Candace Phillips personally to at least present the info well. They also convince the Shadow Chapters to pony up for a bounty for the traitor for whoever discovers them. The rest of the team decides they better check up on Tate, since he’s the only one they didn’t have proof of getting ambushed.
Tate reports that his Genesis Clinic is still under heavy guard and seclusion after the bug attack, so he suggests they meet at the Maker’s Collective clinic. The team heads in, and finds the MC even more corporatized/gentrified than before, as well as finding the Zone border crossing reinforced by LoneStar, presumably in response to news of the bugs’ return. They head into the clinic and find Tate has it cleared out for their meeting, he calls them back to his office. As Avocado and Creature step in, a security shutter slams shut behind them, trapping Aradia, Think Tank and Kit in the hall.
Avocado and Creature start talking to a holo-projection of Tate while gas starts to fill the room- he tells them that as trusted confidants, he is going to bring the 2 of them in on his new discoveries and plans, but that the 3 in the hall must be culled as they have not proven trustworthy yet and he can’t risk it. In the hall they hear an accelerating beeping in the walls, and taking some careful sniffs, TT figures out that they’re in a killbox wrapped in plastic explosives. Avo and Creature try to negotiate with Tate but don’t have any luck, he seems unusually fervid and they worry that the bugs have gotten to him after all.
Out in the hall, TT starts trying to blast through the door into Tate’s office but doesn’t have enough det cord, so Aradia summons a spirit to help, which makes quick work of it, with TT also bashing away. Kit tries to disrupt the bomb with some matrix attacks, but initially just triggers a security response from some waiting IC which seems confused by their odd Monad presence. The beeping seems to be accelerating, so the team bashes through the back wall of the office as well (with the help of some of Creature’s grenades) and tumbles out into a storage area, trying to get into cover just as Kit accidentally triggers a failsafe and sets off the bomb.
They take some massive damage to their armor, and make their escape from the MC amidst a scene of chaos- shrapnel from the explosion has blown out into the market and killed or injured dozens, it looks like. Aradia tasks her spirit to help with search and rescue as it’s final service, and the team bails, leaving drones behind. The drones spot a team that looks like Tate’s security, but moving with bug efficiency and unity, arriving a short while later and searching the clinic and wreckage. They ship their armor off to Goober to get repaired, and order in some replacement explosives from 3D, as well as paying rent on both safehouses.
They spread the word about Tate to their contact lists and the Shadow Chapters, to much surprise and dismay. They rest and heal for a few more days, and hear some disturbing bits of news: apparently a number of runners whose safehouses were known to Tate from house calls and the like have gone missing in the last few days, and some others have been noticed to be acting strangely. Paranoia rises. Simon Andrews gets the team the bounty payout for discovering the traitor, but they keep their name out of it for now, worried it will be suspicious that they proposed a bounty and almost immediately cashed in. They also hear that Freaktown has come under attack and some local changelings, including legendary Zone bus driver Murretta Burretta, have been killed, mistaken for bug flesh forms.
Simon also tells the team he’s done his best to make peace with Juan, and Aradia also uses her hold over Simonetta Chandra to try to get back into Juan’s good graces. Juan does eventually call them with some work, and summons them to a meeting at Club Apex, AZT’s new fight/sports bar. The team rolls over, noticing some heavy acrid smoke hovering over the Zone, and looks online to see what’s up. There was a big Urban Brawl match the previous night and the news is saying the celebrations got out of hand, and multiple large fires are burning, with gangers attacking LS first responders preventing them from getting the scenes. TT also gets a “kill penalty” alert- basically an open bounty on one of the Brawl players who is thought to have cheated. Kit wants no part of it, but the rest of the team seems open to partaking if they stumble across the guy.
At the club, they get sent back to a private meeting room and and briefed by Juan, and his 2 new assistants, Atzi and Tenoch. Apparently an AZT work crew that was extending GridGuide repairs into the Zone has gone missing, as has the sec team sent in to find them. AZT retrieved all of their vehicles using auto-pilots, so they don’t think it was an obvious gang hit or corp sabotage. There was no useful sensor data, though the sec vehicle had some small arms damage. Juan provides a list of names of the missing as well as their corp RFID’s, and the location of the work/last contact. TT doesn’t like Juan’s super corp-y energy, but the pay is decent and the team wants to be on his good side so they agree.
As they’re leaving, Atzi offers a small bonus if one of them will step into the fighting ring as a last minute replacement for a missing fighter. Avocado agrees, feeling maybe this will be good closure for the whole 6Cylinder thing. He gets whooped, but stays in long enough to get paid, and is mostly healed up by the ring doctor and Aradia. Outside, Kit is getting van ready to go when a Taco Temple driver backs into them in the lot. Kit gets out in a huff and thoroughly freaks out the driver, as the van begins to repair itself with the new nano repair suite that Kit just installed.
Avo and the rest of the team arrive and manage to cool Kit down, and gets a Taco Temple discount code for a 5 person 5 piece meal. The kid peels out and speeds off, but Creature, paranoid, looks up his info online. He seems to be an incredibly lucky/unlucky person, having been the lone survivor of multiple crashes and accidents. TT has a feeling and begins frantically looking around, and locates a Tarot card just under the van. It’s unclear if it dislodged when the van was hit, fell out of the kid’s pocket, or what, but they spend some time analyzing it, feeling that they have maybe found some sort of weird set showing the life of one person, TT thinks it might be an assassin who uses the name Hylda- another rare club/staff, and spear fighter in their world.
They head out for the last known sighting of the AZT crew, but get ambushed by gangers on the way. Kit luckily slams the brakes and avoids hitting a small ork girl who is thrown in the road ahead of them, but the van is quickly surrounded by a flaming dumpster pushed in front, and what looks to be a stolen fire truck pulling out in back. They notice wrecked cars making a sort of impromptu barricade on either side of the street just as the van is hit with a lube grenade. A massive fight breaks out, Avo and TT charge out, with Avo assaulting the fire truck and TT tipping over the flaming dumpster on the 2 gangers behind it just as Creature hits them with a lube grenade in return. Aradia sends a spirit up to take out the gang’s grenadier on a nearby roof, and turns TT and Avo invisible, as Kit gets the car unstuck and starts ramming their way out of the trap zone.
The team emerges victorious, but the van has come under attack from an as yet unknown hacker, and the gang was once again all wearing those bug masks and working with better coordination than their gear and skills would otherwise suggest… something is up! Carol zips in on the VTOL after he finishes getting briefed on the part he needs to play in ARES’ Latvian Gambit project, and grapples up to the apartment where the hacker is hiding after Kit spots her in the matrix. Carol finds that the gang hacker has plugged directly into the severed head of the AZT SecTeam hacker and seems to be using his deck (inexpertly). Carol pulls the plug and zip ties the hacker, which unfortunately also fries the head, so they maybe lose some paydata there.
There’s a debate about what to do with the hacker and Kit insists on not killing her, so they sedate her with some of Creature’s drugs. Aradia reads her mind and finds out that the Nasty Grrls gang has joined up with the Fraternitas Insectorum and some local bug shaman to gain power, feeling that they would otherwise just end up as victims, since they’re a small-ish gang. Carol and Think Tank also tell the small ork girl it’s ok to go back to her apartment, which is apparently the one the hacker was using, after Carol frantically cleans up the gore, and also leaves her a credstick
The team debriefs with Aradia and finds out that the work crew accidentally dug into a bug tunnel nearby and all got grabbed, and the gangers were told to ambush anyone who came looking, successfully trapping the AZT team and burning them and the building they were in (explaining the noxious smoke). The team heads to the dig site and finds the hole the work crew made covered over with some kind of fresh organic “concrete”, they confer and decide this must be termites. Doing some recon, they find a nearby building appears to be covered entirely on the inside with the same stuff- they can’t see in any windows etc. They explore into the tunnel a bit and find a commlink as well as one of the workers’ bodies.
Kit scans the link and they get some footage of the workers accidentally breaking into the tunnel, seeming confused, and then all getting pulled in by termite spirits. One is killed in the process, explaining the body. They call it in to Juan, who pays them extra to keep watch and make sure no one else goes in or out while he gathers another team and some materials. They do so, taking shelter at an old folks home that the gangers seem to have been raiding for meds and bug hosts. Kit heals up Avocado, still badly hurt from the fight, while the others take watch.
Hearing that a street doc named Hole-Patcher is trying to step into the void left behind by Tate’s betrayal, TT calls him up and arranges for a medic and bus to get sent over to get the surviving old folks to somewhere better, and Kit calls in a favor with the Shadow Chapters to send the restrained gang hacker along too to get rehabbed (or otherwise dealt with) as Aradia confirms that none of the gangers were actually inhabited. Carol sees the termites covering the tunnel opening again over the team’s excavations, and TT watches some AZT vehicles roll up as the sun rises.
They head down and get the briefing: Tenoch has brought a large explosive charge which the team will need to get down into the core of the hive- since it’s so reinforced inside the building this should focus and reflect the blast and ensure total destruction, but only in a very localized area. The team notices that the AZT sec team that came with all appear to be disgraced, so this seems a little suicide mission-y, but Juan assures the team that though the AZT team is potentially sacrificial, he hopes the runners will survive. Atzi has a chem sprayer with some new formulation in it, that Juan explains is an old AZT pheromonal experiment, that should make people sprayed with it undetectable to the bugs for around 5 minutes.
They send in the disgraced AZT team first to clear the way. They make it most of the way to the building before encountering another organic wall, which they manage to break through, but not without alerting some spirits to their presence. They fight further in but are overwhelmed, and all killed except one, though the only feed the team is getting is a weak bio-monitor signal. Tenoch passes the explosives to TT, and Aradia explains that given the terrible background count in the tunnel, she’ll guard the exit from inside the van.
The team heads in, after getting sprayed with the pheromones. They do seem to work, as they bypass multiple worker spirits with no issue. They find the lone AZT survivor getting walled up and begging to be killed, but manage to ignore his pleas and keep going- good thing they all took Guts beforehand. They emerge into a central chamber and find a termite Queen actively holding open a portal to Vhortas and pulling more spirits through to inhabit various prepared hosts: neighborhood denizens, the AZT work crew, staff and patients from the old folks home.
TT sneaks forward, counting on the pheromones, and sets the charge, with a short timer. The team starts hustling back to the exit but finds the way out walled over. Creature manages to sneak through but Kit gets stuck, and the rest of the team has to bash through the wall while holding off alerted worker spirits. As they race for the nearby exit, they get in a gun battle with some true form termites that manifest, and then luckily manage to all get out just ahead of the massive explosion, which levels the building and send some light debris flying for blocks.
Juan congratulates them and gives them the extra pay agreed upon. He also lets them keep the KE-V anti-bug ammo (another AZT experiment) that they didn’t use in the fight, but warns them against experimenting on it. Carol almost immediately wants to send some to ARES but decides not to, for now, though he sends a description of the KEV ammo and the pheromones. The team decides to drink and party a bit, getting some Hurlg (Avocado has a hard time as a vampire wishing to drink and ends up getting a little taste from some of Kit’s blood but then almost can’t stop himself drinking too much). They read some touching “in memorium” posts on the Rate My Johnsons channel about those already lost the bugs, and review some files that Sam uploaded there from the Endless Archive, where she seems to now reside as an e-ghost.
The files suggest a few thing: Tate seems to have been convinced or mind controlled by the dragon, rather than possessed by a bug. Also, he seems to work a lot more directly for Horizon that anyone had suspected. Also also, Horizon seems to have recently signed on for some kind of big PR push on behalf of ARES (specifics unknown) but was encouraging Tate to further his bug research and knowledge in order to better be able to deal with ARES stuff “if their plans go sideways.” Meanwhile, Carol has an upsetting convo with Candace and Dr. Ellis, where they share some info and theories. The worry is that the dragon that was being prepped for a Queen host may have gotten taken over by someone/something else, possibly the evil contender for the Spirit of the City, V’golkotl. This could imply some kind of master entity making moves behind the scenes, coordinating the bug alliance, etc. Candace tells Carol to accelerate his portion of the Latvian Gambit plan in response, and gives him access to a corporate credit line for the purpose.
The team then writes up another dossier about all of what they just found and put together, and uploads it to the Shadow Chapters for some good rep and meager pay, Carol is once again a little frustrated with the vote going that way. They get a call from Juan, who says that if they do another job for him, involving some internal AZT corp intrigue, he will join the Chapters as well, and that he is continuing to develop/bring out of mothballs all of AZT’s bug-fighting tech and experiments from the bad old days, so he will be able to share more the pheromones, KEV ammo, etc to the Chapters as well, once he’s a member. This job sounds a little shady to some on the team, but Juan’s resources are too valuable to ignore, so they agree.