On the Brink
Adventures on Earth (Detroit Action)
Adventures on Earth
20 July 2110
In front of Harv’s, the bar they’d chosen to gather information on Nancy Lu, Jack watched the two hooligans pointing guns at him and Penny. He watched for just a moment, gauging the punks’ seriousness. He told Penny he didn’t think they were a threat. Penny told him not to do anything stupid. Jack ducked and shoved the rear passenger side door open. One of the hooligans opened fire on Jack, shattering the rental’s rear window. Penny cursed and ducked while Jack rolled out of the car.
Suddenly, memories of the battle in the Middle East that had cost him his humanity came crashing down on Jack. He screamed and staggered, trying to keep his focus in the here and now rather than in the moment where his buddies were being cut to pieces in a horrible ambush. He saw the girl staggering out of the bar and made for her, grabbing her and clutching her to his chest. She was real, her struggles brought him back to the moment or at least somewhat. In his mind, the dying shouts of his comrades played out over and over again.
At the same time, Penny got out of the car as quickly as she could, her boots slamming onto the sidewalk. She threw her back against the car. Bullets flew through the car, one of them nicking her lightweight armor. Penny edged around the rear of the car and spotted the guy who’d fired on her. She let off a controlled burst with her machine pistol, stitching the guy from right breast to neck to left cheek. The guy dropped like a bag of bricks, already slipping into shock.
Inside the bar, Os pointed his gun at the bartender and demanded the knowledge that they’d been so close to acquiring (the location of the wounded Asian lady hiding out somewhere in Detroit). The bartender took the threat without too much reaction, giving the name of the hotel (the Book Hotel off Washington Boulevard) while drying a shot glass. Os thanked him and dropped a cash card on the bar.
In the back alley, James tried to shake off the last vestiges of the wound he’d suffered from the sniper. He staggered from cover to edge towards the end of the alley from which he could best spot the sniper, switching from his pistol to his blaster pistol. He needed to be able to compensate for the sniper’s range advantage.
In front of the bar, Jack brought the young woman under control and shoved her through the front door, pushing her towards Os. After joking he’d found a stray, he asked where James was. Os nodded to the back door. Jack proceeded on, pushing the woman in front of him. He used her hip to bang the back door open.
Penny took a shot at the mercenary—she told herself these were no hooligans—who’d shot at Jack. He was backpedaling, firing at Jack. His shot bounced off Jack’s cybernetic leg. Penny’s shot clipped the mercenary in the leg. He abandoned any pretense of staying in the battle zone and began limp-running for the burned out shell of a building at the far edge of the cratered parking lot.
With the rear door bursting open, James hopped to the end of the alley and searched the rooftop of the building across the alley. He saw the sniper’s rifle wheeling from the front of the bar to sight back in on the alley. Thinking “too slow,” James fired a shot at the sniper. The blaster round hit, taking the sniper down. James radioed the others he was going to check on the sniper.
In the bar, the woman Jack thought he’d managed to control nearly shattered his nose with a quick smack of the back of her head into his face. Jack wasn’t in any mood to put up with such behavior. He brought the considerable force of his cybernetic limb into play and shattered the woman’s left arm and dislocated her shoulder. As she screamed in agony, he finished his abuse, crushing three of her ribs. She collapsed, in shock.
Os collected the fallen woman’s gun and told Jack to leave her since she was no longer a threat. Jack rubbed absently at his bruised face before finally turning away, somewhat satisfied. Os looked the woman over. She was badly injured, but he was fairly confident she would live. He did what he could to make her comfortable then gave her gun to the barkeeper as payment for the damage done to his establishment in the fight.
Penny watched the lone standing mercenary disappear into a large burned out husk of a building across the street. She decided not to pursue him. She contacted the others. Os told her the gunfight was over, but a gunshot from the roof of a nearby building—James eliminating the wounded sniper—nearly drowned him out. Os—having searched the fallen and collected the earpieces of each—and Penny agreed they should exit the area before the police considered sending contractors in to check the situation out. Jack tried to shake off his PTSD. Another gunshot—this from the back alley—and James entered the bar, winded and looking for any other survivors. Os convinced him they needed to leave immediately.
A quick sweeping out of glass shards and the Aegis team was on the road again, Penny at the wheel, Jack riding shotgun. Jack took several minutes to wind down from his maiming fantasies and flashbacks. In the backseat, Os did what he could to tend to James’s minor wounds.
Fifteen minutes later, they were parked at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Park Avenue, beneath a dead tree in Grand Circus Park. They could see the Book Hotel from where they were parked. Traffic in the slowly dying Washington Boulevard Historic District was thicker than the area around Harv’s. There were a few functional retail spaces, another hotel, some buildings converted to modest apartments, and the ever-present signs of decay: burned out, collapsing shells that had once been grand testaments to . . . something totally lost in time.
Penny uploaded the data retrieved from the earpieces for Konrad to do some hacking while Os, Jack, and James looked the area over. Os suggested he and Jack enter the hotel to search for Nancy Lu while James and Penny watch the building. James took the corner of Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, Penny took the corner of Shelby and State Street. From their positions, they had every exit covered.
Os and Jack entered the hotel, marveling at what must have once been something fairly grand. Beneath the veneer of grime and soot, an impressive architecture defied time. Inside the lobby, Os spied two armed security guards, one in a corner office, the other near the restaurant entry. Realizing the guards were watching Jack, Os told Jack to follow his lead.
Os made a beeline to the registration desk and told the young man there not to panic and not to say anything to anyone. Os explained that an Asian woman infected with a deadly virus had come to the hotel. He showed the young man a picture of Nancy Lu and said he had a single dose of the means to counter the woman’s infection. The young man—doing everything he could to remain calm—offered up Ms. Lu’s room number and registered identity and said a doctor had already come to see her. Os discreetly gave the young man a placebo spray then headed for the elevator. Jack, defining “follow my lead” as “do what you want,” took the stairs.
The two made their way to 222, assuring a nosy middle-aged woman poking her head out from a room down the hall that everything was fine. The door had a red “Do Not Disturb” light on the handle. Jack attempted to simply overpower the door’s lock, but he couldn’t get the leverage he needed. Os asked if he might try something before Jack gave the door a running charge. Jack gave him a “be my guest” wave.
Os knocked on the door and called out that he was “housekeeping.” After a moment, a muffled female voice replied back that she’d told housekeeping she didn’t need anything but towels. Os said he had towels. A pause then the door opened slightly. Jack charged, tearing the bar guard from the door frame and knocking Lu back into a chair.
There was no struggle to speak of. Lu wore a bathrobe over a bloody and sweat-soaked gown that left several bloody bandages visible. Her breath and body stank, her hair was plastered to her forehead. Os instantly guessed she was fighting through an infection from her wounds. As Jack searched Lu to ensure she wasn’t a threat, Os searched the hotel, eventually focusing his attention to Lu’s bloodstained carryall. He found data film hidden in the carryall’s lining and a digital storage device.
Os checked Lu’s wounds and tried to communicate to her through her near-delirium. He replaced the low-end antibiotics she’d gotten from the street doctor with some better antibiotics he carried with him. He told Lu they were taking her data and recommended she get into a different line of business. Lu tried to shake off her condition to protest, but she eventually passed out.
Outside, Penny’s sharp eyes caught a few things that, combined, set her on edge. First, she and James both saw a high-end crawler fly over the area. Second, she saw a reconnaissance UAV pass over the area. Third, she saw more crawler traffic than she would have expected, even in a more upscale section of the city. She watched one of the crawlers—a rental like theirs (but without the rear window shot out)—pull up next to one of the area’s many abandoned retail spaces. She alerted James when she saw Stefan exit the crawler, his right temple bandaged. It looked like two other people were still in the crawler, so she suspected they were the two EEC agents James hadn’t pistol-whipped.
James whistled and said the EEC agents just didn’t seem to learn their lesson. He told Penny he was going to follow Stefan and his team. Penny could tell from his voice he was set on his course and wouldn’t be swayed. The other two agents exited the vehicle and followed Stefan to the hotel.
As James moved through the pedestrian traffic towards the hotel, Penny warned Os and Jack to get out of the hotel. Jack decided he couldn’t leave Lu for the EEC agents to torture or kill. Although he didn’t consider Lu their problem, Os led Jack back to the stairwell. After disabling the alarm on the door with Penny’s help, the two exited the hotel through the emergency exit in the stairwell.
James entered the hotel through a side door and spotted the kid who’d been driving the second EEC car. The kid—James thought his name was Mical—was stationed in the lobby. James watched Stefan and Yuri enter the elevator. Once they were out of sight, James headed up the stairs.
James popped the stairwell door open just a crack and watched the hallway. Stefan strolled past him. Yuri prowled the corridor, sticking his hand into the elevator door’s path to keep the elevator on the floor. James waited until he was sure Stefan had reached 222 and Yuri was distracted then slipped out of the stairwell. He sneaked up behind Yuri and pistol-whipped him into unconsciousness before dragging him into the elevator and running his hand over the panel, sending the elevator to every floor.
With Yuri out of the way, James jogged for 222, holding his finger up to silence the same middle-aged nosy lady. He caught Stefan stepping out of Lu’s hotel room, focused on trying to raise Yuri. James had his pistol out and warned Stefan not to do anything stupid. He waved Stefan back into Lu’s room.
As James interrogated Stefan about why EEC had come to Detroit after being warned away, Penny watched for the recon UAV and kept Jack and Os informed of what she was seeing. Back in the hotel, Stefan said that Konrad had agreed to provide EEC the ADMP data Lu had stolen. James didn’t seem to care about that. He was peeved EEC hadn’t followed his instructions to quit following the Aegis team.
James and Stefan went back and forth for several seconds while Jack, Os, and Penny contemplated abandoning James. Suddenly, Os spotted trouble. Ahead of him, someone was paralleling his movement. To his right, he spotted another pedestrian paralleling his movement. He looked back and spotted a third. The trio were closing, with the one ahead of him cutting between him and the car. Os warned Penny over the communicator and told Jack to drop Lu and follow him. His sharp eyes caught a promising abandoned retail space to his right. He made a run for it. Jack, still carrying Lu, followed. The trio pursued.
Back in Lu’s room, James spotted a large shadow through the heavy curtains. His distraction gave an agitated Stefan the opportunity to rise. A muffled whumpf, shattered glass, and a gas canister caught Stefan in the back, knocking him forward. James and Stefan caught a lungful of a white gas before staggering out of the room. Around woozy coughs, Stefan asked what the hell Aegis was doing and James replied it wasn’t Aegis. Stefan, not aware of the elevator being on a trip up and down, ran for the elevator, James for the stairs. Behind them, they could hear the glass shattering. They assumed whoever had fired the gas into the room had sent people in.
James took the stairs as fast as he could, exiting into the lobby. He couldn’t see Mical, which was fine by him. He made a beeline for the front door and bumped into a clumsy woman. As he shoved past her, he felt a prick in his arm. A young Arab man stepped up and shoved a pistol into James’s ribs and pretended he was helping. James pulled out his pistol and took a bullet into the armor for his trouble. Whatever drug the woman had hit him with left James disoriented. He sensed several more forms rushing at him then he felt himself clubbed unconscious. His last thought was where the hell are security or EEC thugs when you need them.
Outside, the trio pursued Jack and Os into the retail building. With the windows painted over, there wasn’t much light. Os hid behind a fairly sturdy overturned display table while Jack hid Lu among some empty display bins. Their pursuers gave away their positions with penlights. From the glow of their penlights, Os could make out guns in their hands. The lights were actually coming from some sort of flexible headband they’d pulled on at some point.
Not one for subtlety, Jack charged the trio. He was surprised to find himself facing a competent martial artist who held his own for a moment. Os fired, wounding the woman he assumed was the team lead. Os then slipped on the gas mask he always carried with him and ran for another exit door, hoping he could escape while Jack kept the team occupied.
Outside, Penny approached, seeing the combat between Jack and the two men still standing just inside the doorway. She looked up at the sound of the airborne crawler, which was speeding towards the building, trailing smoke from what looked like a belly grenade launcher. The crawler dropped a man in a jacket off then climbed to get to a safer altitude that would allow it to act as command and control. The man in the jacket had a grenade launcher in his hand. He casually popped a shot off at Penny, forcing her to stagger away, coughing. Fortunately, the flying car fired a single grenade before peeling away, Penny assumed to gather reinforcements.
For the next several seconds, things looked bad. Penny managed to survive a few more sleep gas canisters. Jack managed to escape the combatants and shrug off the sleep gas, retrieving Lu and hooking up with Os again (despite Os’s attempts to lose him). Jack and Os tried to hide out in another abandoned building, but two of the agents pursued them inside. Os managed to blow a hole in one of the agents’ head (acquiring a gas mask for Jack). The remaining agent, now outnumbered, backed out of the building to hide in the gas and wait for backup.
Os tried to contact James for support. When he realized James wasn’t responding, he told Penny they needed to get out of the area now. Penny, dodging gunfire from the guy who’d been shooting gas at her earlier, looked around for a vehicle. She spotted a city maintenance vehicle and ran for it. The gunman pursuing her shot the city maintenance worker as Penny tried to get the vehicle’s access code from him. The maintenance worker managed to give Penny the code before slipping into shock. Penny stole the vehicle and swung by to pick up Jack and Os (and the unconscious Lu).
Realizing the UAV was still somewhere above and the flying car would be returning soon, Os and Penny decided their best course of action would be to get to a covered structure. Penny made for a nearby parking garage structure, pushing the van to its limits. She managed to get into the garage despite the van’s crappy condition and the structure’s worse condition. On the third level, they found a fairly nice sporty vehicle.
Os contacted Konrad using the sporty vehicle’s built-in communicator. He demanded Konrad get them a hiding place. Konrad told him that, with James captured, they were compromised and needed to ditch their earpieces. He gave them directions to a bombed out building several klicks away and promised to meet them there before dawn.
Everyone destroyed their earpieces before transferring to the sports vehicle. Penny sped through the garage then drove as normally as she could to escape the area. Neither she nor Os could spot the UAV or the flying car. A few hours and stolen vehicles later, they finally reached the bombed out building Konrad had sent them to. They hid out there and waited.
Shortly after midnight, Konrad walked up to the structure. He apologized to the others and explained to them he had let them come to Detroit alone because he was concerned about his past. Some time before arriving on Bermuda colony, Konrad had pulled a metacorporate espionage gig for Cytek. For whatever reason, Cytek had screwed him over and blacklisted him as a failure. He’d fled for his life. He’d suspected from the moment they had arrived in Earth’s space that he might show up in Cytek’s security monitoring, so he’d held back to give the group help should his suspicions prove true. He knew they’d be fine without him if he was wrong.
Konrad had identified the team that had taken James and attacked the others as Cytek. He told the group he intended to exact his revenge against Cytek, doing whatever it took to get the blacklisting removed or at least to take down the people who’d screwed him over. He said “whatever it took” would probably go beyond what the rest of the Aegis team was up to. Jack, Os, and Penny said they were in, but wouldn’t cross certain lines (no killing of innocents). Konrad accepted the limitations and began laying out his plan . . . .