Otters aka Roadkill
The team, pausing to allow for Jazz crash to wear off, plot out their route to the next numbers station. While waiting, Otters and Locke do some analysis on the data Otters scraped while jamming the last stations and drones, and confirm that it looks like the drones were being used as a back channel/off-matrix comms relay to allow the stations to communicate indirectly without blowing their cover/being directly traceable. Worried that this will have blown their chance to find another station intact, they plan to rush along. Otters convinces Tabasco to carry her so she can stay hot in the VTOL and do some route mapping and then some long distance surveillance on what the explosions in the distance are….
Otters spots some ARES military deployments seemingly surrounding and slaughtering bugs pouring out of the craters that the explosions have opened. It looks like the the Alpha deployments are working well so far, with what appears to be a high kill to casualty ratio. Their support teams seem to be taking minimal casualties, and the Alphas appear uniquely destructive, almost frenzied. From what Otters can gather from the VTOL, it looks like the ARES detachments in the outer zones are looking to push the bugs back into the tunnels they’ve opened into the underground and follow them in, forcing them all to emerge from the major bombing site downtown, where the main (and most elite) ARES forces are. Interestingly, they don’t spot any Firewatch members anywhere, and given that the Alphas are all wearing modded Bug Stompers, it looks like the entire elite corps has been transformed into these merge monstrosities.
The team swings wide of the major engagement sites in the outer zones, heading south, and manage to avoid the poorly equipped KE patrols holding the outer perimeter. Unfortunately, Dig is unable to get his tech locator spell to work- either the gear is gone, or he’s too beat. Otters also is unable to find the expected broadcasts, so it seems like the Numbers Stations have switched protocols or gone dark in response to the team’s attacks. Feeling pretty tired after pulling an all-nighter, they head back to the safehouse. Unfortunately, Chew Gum gets spotted by a KE patrol, who open up with a machine gun mounted in their back seat. Creep manages to chuck some smoke grenades in the way and the team escapes, eventually, finally returning to the safehouse.
Dig instantly crashes while Otters does further drone recon, and the rest of the team pushes North to do some more recon on foot. Otters sees similar engagements in the rest of the zones, ARES forces looking successful so far at holding the line, and starting to push the bugs back into their tunnels, as the Downtown meat grinder continues. South of the river, bizarro science soldiers, seemingly Otto Hendricks loyalists from the R&D division, wielding modded Excalibur magitech guns, look to be ready for any breakouts that direction, though it looks like the bugs are fully north of the river at this time. The other zones all seem to be in a similar state as Otters does a quick flyby.
To the north, the on foot recon team gets a vantage at the Vendor’s Row area and gets some good intel- this looks to be the reserve force, deployable via VTOL’s, but they look to be bored and waiting for the most part at the moment. Many of the businesses (restaurants, brothels, etc) on Vendor’s Row look to have been allowed to remain open to keep the waiting reserve forces fed and entertained. The team does get a better look at the loadouts- it looks like squads of 6 in modded APC’s, with a containment chamber for the Alpha’s taking up half the space in the troop compartment. The reservists at least look to have one portal closer/tacnuke per squad as well- a distressing amount of explosive power!
Creep and Tabasco also sneak closer while Locke and CG provide overwatch and manage to overhear some chatter- getting some important stats updates on how the battle is going etc. CG also notices an astral aspect towards Wealth here, and Tabasco feels quite comfortable in the area. They head back to the safehouse, and Otters pulses a data packet to the Platinum Zone before they all crash. Waking first, Dig heads over to the Zoo in case anyone shows for his Red Magic Order meeting. He sees that Moreau seems to have taken charge of keeping the animals safe/fed during this crisis, with the minimal staff who remained onhand. After a short wait, a Watcher spirit shows up to excuse Norman from attendance, saying the University is locked down, while Marjo-Lin dashes in shortly after.
They schedule the next meeting, then send the Watcher back, and Dig teaches Marjo-Lin to shapeshift, though she makes Dig transform out of bird form first, as she says that Lion will only allow her to take feline forms. She cracks some jokes about Dig being naked etc which mostly confuse him. She seems to know Moreau and says she’s gonna stay at the Zoo for a while and study the big cats, so Dig heads out and flies back to the safehouse as a bird. The rest of the team is just starting to get moving as he returns. They check their messages and find that a few updates have made it- Chessick sent a retainer to help a colleague, assuming she can get into town, a journo who wants to try to document the situation on the ground.
More upsettingly, they get some major updates from the Plat Zone- apparently things have taken a turn for the worse for ARES in two major ways. First, the desperate bugs seems to have tunneled faster and farther than ARES expected and there have been breakouts behind their main lines, leading some of their forces to be attacked from flanks and rear if not fully enveloped. Second, the Alphas seem to be unable to leave their combat rage, which in areas where ARES has been successful, means that they turned on their support crews and handlers, seemingly content to rip through whatever is at hand. The pheromones from this have lead to Alpha attacks amongst the reserves as well, and there is apparently active combat up on Vendor’s Row.
The team decides to head in to the Plat Zone, get some on the ground recon, and figure out next steps. They check in with Zennia at the bar, and find many locals having a lock-in “end of the world” party. The team convinces them to all conserve some water, and head up to the roof to help Zennia start filling some tanks, just in time to see the distinct mushroom cloud of a tacnuke going off to the North. Rushing inside they all take some iodine that Zennia had stashed, but she explains that the explosive will have limited range and spread, giving the infantry size charges and the still weather. When the team looks overheard, it seems ARES has pulled something similar to Boston and pulled in some cloud cover, keeping it magically in place to conceal what happens here.
The team heads out and quickly encounters some Children of Loxley, who have fought off a small bug breakout. They heal up the wounded and send the dire cases back to Jaga at the safehouse for more attention, and then head in to check out where the bugs broke out. They find a slaughtered family, a 3rd dead bug, and a small tunnel chiseled up through the basement’s slab. Dig seals it with magic, and they report to Zennia and the CoL to tell people to guard and seal off basements and tunnels. They see Sikh Burn and some others going house to house to check for other breakouts, and no sign of KE locally.
Otters also gets ahold of someone behind the CoL to talk strategy, and chats a bit with someone named Alfredo, agreeing on an info trade. Alfredo seems to have some former ARES ties but seems quite bitter towards the corp so seems safe. Otters inquires about the Numbers Stations, and gets the feel that Alfredo isn’t involved but has some ideas who might be- some old-timers with a grudge, former corp special forces for CAT, a megacorp almost ran that ARES (and some other corps) devoured between the two Crashes. Locke calls The Detective, and gets some distressing talk about bugs and cities dying, but also passes along the Numbers Station info and finally gets a name for the mysterious fourth faction: The Malakim, having renamed themselves after dark angels from their former named, The Seraphim.
They head to the Plat Zone, and find Marv collecting intel from locals who are reporting in, Rifleman trying to keep on top of the tactical situation on a digital map spread over multiple shoved together pool tables, and Ringmaster eager to chat. The secretive dwarf hints that the Null Sect are behind the intense matrix blockade, though Dig massively misunderstands so Ringmaster has to clarify a bit. Using a way over-taxed onsite technomancer, he manages to get a data packet out with the team’s info, brokering a sale and getting them a sizeable chunk of change. He also arranges for them to train some small unit tactics, and offers them a few more jobs.
While training, Locke recognizes one of the instructors as the Asian man they helped smuggled in, who introduces himself as Li Wei. Tabasco also gets offered the opportunity to do some training himself, as he seems to know the ropes pretty well. The rest of the crew trains with Mama Dot, who Creep knows from Seattle, and who seems to have answered Rifleman’s call for aid, leaving her store in her son’s hands. All a bit better educated, they head back upstairs (having also seen a large, well-equipped clinic in the formerly secret basement) and get the latest from Ringmaster: they are to find out what happened with that nuke up north, and they are to find out who is behind the latest upsetting update.
Someone, just now, has bombed the ARES forward operating airbase on Belle Isle, with massive explosions taking out much of the ground fleet of planes and drones there, plus destroying infrastructure, fuel and weapons depots, and killing personnel. As this will significantly advantage the bugs, Ringmaster needs to know who’s behind it and what their next play is. Otters then uses one of the favors they took as partial payment to get access to the team’s sub’s feeds and controls via the TM, Electric Blue. EB says they’ll have to make it quick, as the matrix security keeping Detroit locked down is no joke. Otters manages to punch into the sub, but finds an unexpected passenger: Julia Pesina, the journo Chessick paid them to help.
Otters talks through the sub speakers to Pesina, and makes a plan to run her ashore a park peninsula in Windsor, that Otters and Locke have used as a smuggling spot before. However, she will have to trust to autopilot to manage to job since direct piloting for that long will prove impossible. Pesina provides some encouragement based on Chessick’s reco, and says worse case, she swam in college. Feeling bolstered, Otters does her best to quickly input the requisite commands before getting dumped, to find an even more fried looking Electric Blue saying he kept it open as long as he could. So another job: rescue to journo from the landing site! Luckily she said she still had a few days food and water, and it’s warm and muggy out but not deadly hot so in the tree cover should be fine so long as she can keep her head down…