The team enjoys the luxe ride on Grendel’s tour bus. They reach St. Louis, the border city where they plan to cross, when Wulf shares some unfortunate details about the job. She puts on an ARO newscast showing their target, Tom Paine aka Ace aka Livewire, shaking hands with the CAS president, as he has just been promoted to head of CAS Intelligence. Grendel seems a little concerned, but figures the payout will be worth it.
The team doesn’t have much time to discuss the new info before they are pulled over, shortly after crossing the border. The large collection of wary people in unremarkable suits, as well as all the unmarked government cars, screams “spies.” Grendel has a quick convo with one of them, and tells the team they are parting ways: LRC has been handed some solid intel on easier bounties in return for giving up pursuit on this one. However, there’s a Johnson who wants to meet them in the nearby abandoned rest-stop. They agree, and head over.
After accepting some bev’s from one of the suits, they are surprised to find that the Johnson is none other than Ace himself- he greets them and another suit provides fresh-grilled food. He doesn’t seem worried about their wariness (or state of extreme armament), and talks them into taking a few small jobs from him, in exchange for giving up on their current “foolish quest”. They agree. They are to take on 2 small tasks: rescue a kidnapped 8 year old from a Zobop house, and neutralize (and preferably identify) a covert ops team holed up in a Stuffer Shack. Both jobs are in St. Louis.
They decide to tackle the kidnapped girl first, at Ace’s suggestion and Ortega’s insistence. TY tracks down a contact for Mama Martha, the proprietor of the Zobop house, on Jackpoint, and Tonie cuts a deal. They pay her to gain access to the basement safehouse that she rents out, in exchange for helping her avoid trouble for the people she has staying there. She seems only to happy to comply, not seeming too happy about the whole situation, and its potential to interfere with her business.
Ro stages a tactical entry, and they execute the kidnappers with no problems, and rescue the girl, although Ortega is disturbed by her temporary possession (by a Loa, to protect her, courtesy of Martha), but eases up after he “banishes” it with a cross (aka the Loa lets go at the end of the fight). Toni realizes she is the grand-daughter of a major CAS political family, and gets a feeling Ace is either repaying or creating a debt.
They rest up at a local motel, and Ro and Tonie bond in the hot tub, while Ortega chastely stays in the room, and Aemon gets his ear talked off by TY in the car, getting his fill of all the various conspiracy theories that make up TY’s worldview. TY begins surveillance of the SS in the morning, but his blimp gets spotted and zapped by a mage. They rush over to make sure the targets don’t escape, and get in an extended firefight, including some jury-rigged grenade traps at the entrance points. They eventually defeat the 4 commandos and 1 support mage.
Looking for clues as to their ID, they determine that the “blood magic ritual” involving 3 slaughtered SS employees, is not actually Aztlaner, but merely a simulacrum intended to appear as such. Similarly, the Aztlaner spanish the men spoke was accented wrong. Aemon also spots signs that they have signs of having tattoos removed. Based on this info, they and Ace conclude that this was a false flag op, designed to ratchet up tensions between the CAS and Aztlan, although what the team’s ultimate goal was remains unclear.
Satisfied, Ace pays them off, and flies them to Europort (they don’t want him to know they reside in Hamburg just yet). He tells them he’ll be in touch with future work, and that whether they care or not, they have done a favor for the CAS. They fly to Europort, get smuggled to Hamburg, and Aemon and Ro head off to initiate with Aemon’s family. They do so, engaging in quests of mind and body, and tests of survival skills. Aemon excels and Ro muddles though, but they both come back with new magical insights. Aemon notices a subtle but large presence of Horizon-branded stuff amongst his family. TY and Ortega work on gear, upgrade ’ware, and train at the base.
Shortly after returning to Hamburg, Aemon gets a call from Lorenius Marrow, telling them of a Johnson looking for a team to run an extraction in Hamburg.