Non-Optional Conversations

And we begin on a dark, cold, cloudy night in Chicago.  The researchers began arriving about one hour prior to the start of the trial.  Or, it should be known that their undergraduates did so.  They began to set up the field with the mana ebb for the trial by placing some sort of sensing equipment around the perimeter connecting it via wires back to a data collection unit.  Additional atmospheric sensors were also rigged up and prepared for the trial.

Seizing the moment, Claudia leaned against the computer systems to create a skinlink with it.  She quickly compiled a Courier sprite and asked it to collect the information that was being collected and prepare to transmit it back to her when she reconnected to the unit.  Oddly, the sprite seemed extremely helpful and was more than happy to perform this task; it actually seemed a little sad that it wouldn’t be working with Claudia further.

The researchers from the Astral Space Preservation Society (ASPS) arrived about 7:30 PM.  They began to prepare the field in ways particular to their idiom.  Two Asian gentleman began meditating and preparing themselves, while three others moved about the space doing various forms of woo.  Finally about 7:45, Bartlett, Quinn, and Kaufmann arrived along with three of their grad students:  Aaron Lee, who the team had met before; a woman named Beth Sidney; and an Indian man named Nitin Rao.  The grad students moved to check the work of the undergrads as Bartlett and the others began to chat with their colleagues from the ASPS.

Longfeather and the boys took up defensive positions along the north end of the field and began to prepare themselves for the assault.  Various automatic weapons were drawn and checked and our team took up positions.  Claudia remained on the field with the researchers while the others took up positions in buildings across the street as planned.  Things were fairly calm for the first 45 minutes to an hour and then the Renraku Stormcloud deployed by Douglas began to pick up movement on the ground approaching the field from the north.

Shortly thereafter, Claudia was also able to see a large group of people — Douglas counted about 40 — approaching the site.  Our team decided on a wait-and-see policy to try and get as much information about what was about to occur.  Longfeather and his boys demanded that the approaching individuals halt, but their tone and demeanor indicated that they were not expected to comply.  In their defense, they did way until the last possible moment before opening fire.  The first few bursts killed many of the horde, but perhaps Longfether and the rest had waited a bit too long; a few moved through their line and continue to approach the ritualists.  Worse:  this put the ritualists in the line of fire.

Still curious to see what was unfolding, Claudia fouled one of the few remaining safe lines of fire before she was pushed to the side by one of the boys.  The graduate students that arrived with Bartlett erected some magical defenses but with ten or so of the “zombies” still intent upon reaching the ritual, those defenses were overcome.  A few of the zombies were confused and driven away, though.

Watching via the Astral from across the street, Paul noticed something:  one of the graduate students, Nitin Rao, was gesturing wildly and generally appeared to be working magic in defense of his colleagues, but there were no astral signatures created by him apparent.  For whatever reason, he was not actually performing magic; he was simply performing.  He alerted the others, but there was little they could do.   By this point, six of the zombies remained upright and the ritualists had scattered to either side of the lot in what appeared to be a coordinated maneuver.  Longfeather and his boys set themselves to fire on the last of them, but before they could do so, knives were drawn by some of the zombies and they fell upon each other.  First, the unarmed were slaughtered by the armed, and then the armed zombies casually slit their own throats or self-disemboweled.

The mess was enormous.

Realizing that she was not likely to receiving any more interesting information from the data collection systems, Claudia moved over to the device and collected the information that her sprite had collected.  Then, using her medkit, she collected a sample of the blood spilled by the zombies.  Paul and Dru left their concealment and joined the others in the lot and the team began to analyze the corpses for identification.  Many were obviously street people and lacked any ID, but a nine of them carried their papers.  One of the less messy corpses, identified as Ben Thompson, also included an AR tag with an in-case-of-emergency contact number.

The team had four leads:

  1. Ben Thomson’s address and his ICE contact.
  2. The blood samples that could be analyzed.
  3. The data from the researcher performed that night.
  4. And, the fact that Nitin Rao was only pretending to cast magic.

A quick analysis of the data revealed that the ambient magic within the area had been rising from it’s lowest point fairly steadily during the research.  The only truly concerning part of the results was a sudden and sharp spike of power when the zombies killed each other and themselves.  Concerned, Paul very carefully analyzed the blood on the field and was able to detect a faint signature on it.  Bringing this to Longfeather’s attention, the mercenary also attempted to see what Paul saw.  He was unable to do so but believed Paul and knew that it was likely significant.

Next step was to take a look at Thompson’s residence.  Driving there didn’t take too long; he lived only a few miles away in Northside.  Arriving, there was a car in the driveway but the house seemed otherwise vacant.  Dru noticed someone lurking in the shadows down the street, but he claimed only to be out getting milk.  The team ran him off and returned to the Thompson place.  Breaking in and searching the place, they were able to find his stash of the zombie cocaine.  Examining it, Paul was able to find the same signature that he discovered in the users’ blood on the drug.  The house clearly indicated that someone else lived there:  a woman but with a separate bedroom.

It was time to call the ICE number.  A woman picked up, introducing herself as Irene Gross.  The team asked to meet with her about a matter of some importance and she asked them to come to her “office,” a local strip joint named Gentleman John’s.  They drove over there, met with Irene, and gave her the news.  She didn’t take it well but was able to indicate that Ben’s dealer was a member of the Crows.  Irene was also able to tell them that the vehicle back a the house was Ben’s.  The team returned to it and Claudia hacked it to get location information off of it.  Using that information, they were able to determine the likely location of where Ben met his dealer.

But, at this point, it was fairly late.  Deciding to call it a night, the team reconvened in the morning to take a run at Nitin Rao and determine if he was involved in some way with the cocaine.  Tracking him down to his “dorm” they found him living in a room in Westside coincidentally not too far from the hotel where the team first met Longfeather.  He was asleep and so the team carefully performed a cursory search of his apartment and found little of interest until Dru uncovered some pro-Human paraphernalia.  Douglas armed himself with a knife from the kitchen, crawled up onto sleeping Mr. Rao’s chest and the team proceeded to wake him.  He fairly quickly revealed that he was working with the Human Brigade inside the CZ which routinely works to sabotage efforts to clean up the Zone which would destroy their power base.  Frightened, not only by the looming Troll, but also the knife-wielding teddy bear on his chest, it was clear that Rao had nothing further to tell them.

Finally:  the blood sample.  Lacking the resources to do much with it, the team dropped it off with the Anarchist Black Crescent for analysis.

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