“Full House. Aces over tens”, announced the dealer-agent as Highball called Sarge’s raise. He was pretty sure the trooper was bluffing, although sometimes it was hard to read people through the AR projection. Better than sitting around a card table with those twitchy sons-of-bitches, thought the rigger. They were OK blokes, for slanties, but being in the room with anyone whose nervous system was constantly in overdrive was taxing. It was like they were vibrating. And they talked too fast.
“Two pair, Kings over fives”, came the second announcement, bringing a smile to the Aussie’s face. Too right! Come to papa, baby, he thought as the creds poured into his account. He was usually wary of playing on PokerPalace™ with the anti-hacker security so dodgy, but they did charge less percentage on the pot, and none of these goons would know an Exploit program from their mother’s teat.
“Shit, Highball”, came the sergeant’s voice over the commlink. “That’s three in a row! I thought you couldn’t cheat on this node?” The words were light, but the rigger could hear the undertone of xenophobic suspicion from the Japanese squad leader. The corp might try to put on a good face about being multi-ethnic and all, but employees without certain features were still lower on the pecking order.
“Oh, you cheat, Sarge”, replied Highball. “But you have to be better than me to get away with it.”
Before the sergeant could reply, the AR display collapsed into an alert. The Rapid Response Team switched from recreation mode to business mode without blinking. GPS and targeting information flashed into Highball’s vision as he shifted into full VR, becoming part of the chopper. The thumping of the twin rotors became his heartbeat, the multispectrum scanners his eyes and ears… and the goons in the drop bay become the crap I’m about the shit out…
The encrypted feed from CommCent lit up. “Code 1 at facility 313. Four to six intruders with small arms, magical and matrix support. On-site assets have engaged. Facility has gone dark. Tiger Four has Level 3 clearance.”
Level 3? CommCent must think the security team is still alive if they want Sarge to be that careful. No mention of vehicles, though. Just a taxi-run for me., thought the rigger as he slewed the Stallion toward Everett. He felt the RRT shifting in the drop bay, checking gear, prepping weapons. Multiple windows popped open in the image link, CommCent transmitting details for the target facility: street plan, layout, security summaries, personnel info for the current shift. There was limited detail about the intruders, but Highball couldn’t tell if that was lack of info, or CommCent thinking the pilot didn’t need to know. Probably the latter. Bloody slanties.
“Two minutes to target”, he announced of the comm. The chopper was modified for speed, and they’d pulled overwatch patrol today. Dragon Three was on the catapult tonight and probably already getting airborne, but dibs always fell to the team in the sky.
As they passed over into Everett, CommCent narrowcast live feeds from GridGuide sensors and CityWatch cameras near the site. Looked quiet, except for some drunk troll staggering up the street a couple of blocks away.
Seconds after getting visual range on the building, Highball saw the front door open. Three men and a dwarf burst out, carrying a body. He zoomed in to get a better look just as the sensors flagged two vehicles moving up the street toward the facility. Stylin! Some action afterall!
“Visual on the intruders”, he beamed to the team and CommCent, relaying trideo footage for analysis. “Four men, one body. Not ours. Two movers, Bulldog and Mirage. Small arms only.”
“Tiger Four has Level 2 clearance”
CommCent’s reply brought a cheer from the drop-bay. The rigger could picture the boys swapping gel rounds and concussion grenades for real ammo. He still couldn’t open up with the chopper’s armaments, but that also meant less hassle from Lone Star if they were stopped.
The scumbags made a run for their van and the targeting system had begun picking out vulnerable spots to hobble the beast, when he saw a misty form materialize next to one of them. “Spirit!”, he shouted, “Marko, get on the optics and deal with that!” The Stallion was equipped with an extensive fiber optic system to give the strike mage a 360° view outside without needing a window.
The creature loosed a blast of lightning at them from a half-kilometer away, rattling the chopper. No damage warnings blinked on. Thank Ollie for the EMS, he thought, That looked like it would have hurt. “Tiger Four taking fire!”, he beamed to CommCent, as he heard a grunt of pain from the drop-bay. Marko was earning his pay tonight. One of the other intruders took a couple of potshots at the chopper, one punching through the driver’s side of the viewscreen. That might have hurt if I was actually in the meat-seat. Highball was already unlocking the rocket pods, knowing what would come next…
“Tiger Four has Level 1 clearance”
The nose-mounted HMG gave a satisfying roar as he tracked suppressive fire across the back of the van. The rifleman wasn’t fast enough, and smashed back into the van, spraying blood. Highball couldn’t tell if he was dead or just wounded, but at least they’d keep their heads down.
Another blast of lightning rocked the bird without causing damage, and Highball shouted into the ‘link, “Dammit, Marko. Get that thing off us!”. The pained grunt he got in reply didn’t sound very promising.
The rest of the bastards piled into their van as the spirit blasted them a third time. Red lights blinked on, coinciding with the vague ache that filtered through the hot sim to the rigger’s nervous system. Minor damage only, but this was heating up.
Another HMG burst, across the van this time, chewing up armor and structure. Marko still hadn’t dealt with the air spirit when it suddenly disappeared, replaced by a fire elemental. The blast of flame that hit the chopper a half-second later caused a lot more red lights and body pain than Highball was happy with.
“Structural Damage”, he relayed, “Tiger Four breaking off.” He dove the Stallion toward the ground, looking to put some concrete and steel between them and that spirit. The bio-monitors were showing that Marko was in no shape to take on another spirit, and the rest of the RRT wouldn’t have a chance locked up in the drop-bay.
“Acknowledged, Tiger Four”, came CommCent’s reply, “Dragon Three is inbound, and Tiger Two is scrambled.”
Highball could hear the bigoted contempt in the statement, even through the corp-trained monotone voice. White guys can’t get a fair shake in this drekking corp, he thought, Maybe its time to pull the plug and go private like those bastards down there…