Thursday 28 August 2014

Ghost Echo #1

Coil & Hull’s small flyer sweeps onto the Chalk St. Bridge, coming out of the Ghost World with the usual static electricity cascading down from it to the Real World. They land on the bridge and switch to road-mode, driving towards the dropship. Breaker has the engines idling as he waits for them at the other end of the bridge, they have to get out of here before the authorities detect the breach.

They’ve just come back from a job in the Ghost World, pretty deep in level 2. They recovered 2 large flat Stones from a Wraith cult temple.

What is the Ghost World like?
It’s like a subterranean level of the city, where long lost civilisations once thrived. Each level down is more alien than the previous one. The physical nature of things seems more or less the same, but there are strong Ghost Fields there and the Echoes can seriously overcome you if you’re not careful.

As they drive across the bridge, the dropship suddenly takes a hit from somewhere, a small explosion takes out one of the engine nacelles, and the other engine flares into life. The out-of-control dropship zips over their heads in a tight arc and slams into the bridge behind them. In a frenzied eruption, it’s obliterated.
As Coil looks back to the road ahead, he spots two abandoned civilian cars and a pack of Wraiths behind them.

What are Wraiths?
They’re just like people, right? They’re malcontent and ostracised cults who live in the Ghost World. Sometimes they’re a little weirder than that. Sometimes a lot weirder.

They start taking serious fire from the four Hawks.

Well, they eat human flesh, but mostly when you’re already dead, so that can’t be so bad, it’s not like Coil & Hull can afford After-Life Insurance. But rumour has it that when they put you down they actually eat your soul first. Other than that they’re perfectly normal. They walk around the Real World; at night you might walk right past them without noticing that there’s something wrong.
Coil guns the speed on the flyer and the small but heavy hovercraft crashes through the roadblock easily, smashing most of the Hawks who are pouring fire into the vehicle. The flyer stops a little beyond it and the crew lose it for a second.

Hull: is the steady one, with extra firepower. He’s great mechanically, he can fix or get any device working in a pinch. He also senses past deaths in a place; a very specific and unnerving type of Echoes. 
Coil: is the smart one, but a little bit nervous. He’s not from the city, but in the way of things know the lay of the land better than any native-born son. He sees Echoes sharper and clearer than anyone else around, so much that he can sense Echoes when in the Real World.
Hull kicks out the windscreen of the crashed flyer, and stumbles to the ground. He’s dazed by the crash but otherwise unhurt. Coil struggles with the jammed door but eventually gets out after forcing it open. He falls at the feet of a Hawk, who grabs him and draws a wicked blade. Coil clutches at the Ghost Field and tries to get rid of the Wraith, but only manages to give them both a splitting headache. Hull notices this and takes aim at the Wraith, but misses completely – his targeting scope must be misaligned from the crash. He’ll have to go at it the old-fashioned way.

While he rushes around the wrecked flyer, the Hawk starts to draw its knife across Coil’s throat and Coil wrenches the Ghost Field in a panic. They disappear from Hull’s view and a few seconds later he hears a splash as Coil and the Hawk land in the deep river below. The river is part of the Real World, but it also connects directly to the 1st level of the Ghost World.

Hull rushes over to the side of the bridge and dives off, the Hawk is going to drown Coil in short order if he doesn't intervene. Right before he hits water, he hits the mini-flyer on his suit. This utility is useful in the Ghost World when squeezing into and out of tight spaces where the flyer won’t fit. He grabs Coil and makes it back to the quays intact (double-checking that he still has the stones from the job).

What are the Stones?
Stones are the Ghost relics of the lost civilisations below. Most crews just recover them to sell them onto their rich buyers/patrons, but Coil likes to decipher them properly before sending them up the food chain. He reckons they might hold the key to understanding where the Real World is headed, and how to avoid the oncoming Ghost Apocalypse.
As they hear sirens in the distance, they rush to get to one of their safe houses. It’s only a few blocks away, so it’s no trouble to get there on foot. They open the door to find themselves face to face with Detective Walker, safely standing behind three security bots. As they step back, two patrol units pull up on the street. Hull grimaces when he notices that one has a wheel right on his sewer escape route!

Walker is arresting them under the Verity Act for smuggling of Ghost Relics. When neither Coil and Hull make to drop their weapons or stand down. Walker orders Unit 37 to terminate them in 5 seconds if they do not comply (Unit 37 has got all the bedside manner of ED209, but unfortunately for Coil and Hull, does not have that bot’s dislike for stairs).

Coil grabs Hull and reaches for the Ghost Field, hoping to bring them down a level so they can escape to a different safe house. Something spikes it, and instead of slipping away, he’s brought Walker with them. Also, looking around, they’re deep in the 2nd Level of the Ghost World. From the décor, it looks like Spider territory.
They’re about as xenophobic as you can imagine. They live in small tribes and guard their territory in the Black Circle vigorously. They have no society to speak of – they just like to hunt intruders and their neighbours. They see in the dark with flawless eyes and do not use high-tech. Their skill at stalking and using melee weaponry makes up for this though.
As they find their bearings, Coil and Hull try to get Walker onside. They represent her only way out and she knows she’ll never get to the egress point without help. She promises that she’ll write them up as helpful informants, but the Stones have got to go through official channels and end up with Veritas, who take control of all recovered artefacts for research purposes.

On the way out, they have to make a few long diversions to avoid Spiders, but when they’re nearly out, they come across the body of Kilo. He’s been tied up and stripped of all his equipment. The body is freshly dead, so it can’t have been here for long. Kilo works in a crew with a few others, with Kilo being the weapons freak. They’re rivals, but not too unfriendly.

Hull winces, somewhere out there is a Spider with a 40MW Phased Plasma Cannon, just what they need (Ho Ho Ho!). The three of them approach the egress point, but while they avoid the roving patrols the static Spiders notice their attempt to infiltrate (should that be exfiltrate?). A brutal fight erupts as two sentries drop from the ceilings to rip into them. Coil is nearly gutted, but Walker brings her shotgun to bear and Hull lays down some serious fire to drive the rest away. Before the rest of the tribe arrives, they quickly plumb for a Ghost Field to bring them back to the Real World.

These Stones must be radically affecting the Ghost Fields, as an unstable backlash brings them down to the 3rd Level of the Ghost World. They have never been down this far. This is the shit that White and old-timers like that would talk about in the bar after 3am. No one else in their crew ‘cept them ever made it out after the Vipers sniffed them out.

They’ve long ceased to be human and they died a long time before that. They don’t have faces. Once they get their hands on you, they’ll just push it into you and you drop like a stone, armour or not. That’s not the worst thing: bullets don’t even touch them! They only way to get around them is to manipulate the Ghost Fields around them to bring them as close to the Real World as possible. Then you can kill them.
This region is almost completely pristine. The streets and buildings are immaculate, with zero detritus. But there are the Canals. Deep canals of nothing, where the light barely break the surface and it feels like it goes down for klicks (or maybe for aeons). Walker is freaking out, she found the 2nd Level bad enough but this is insane. They cross a bridge slowly, Coil has picked up on an Echo which seems to lead to the centre of things – there’s going to be some massive Stones there, and they can’t resist the temptation of a huge score.

As they near the other side, Hull notices small tendrils poking out from beneath the bridge. Moving as slowly as they can, they reach the other side of the bridge; but Hull draws too strongly on the Echo and there’s a reverberation forward to the central hub. Something’s bound to come at them for that. And then Coil realised that the Viper underneath the bridge is stirring. More tendrils rise up from both sides of the bridge, almost enveloping them. Coil wraps the Ghost Field around them: make like a bridge he whispers.
They hear a strange rapping noise coming from nearby. Hull can’t but think it sounds like an evil teenager rapping a rod along a metal fence.

They crawl as quickly as they dare back to the other side of the bridge; even though the sound is slow it’s gaining on them. Soon each clang seems to tug at their memories, with the same effect as a smell from their childhood, but building like a gatling gun spooling up. They begin to be overwhelmed by these quick-shot memories and they begin to run, all subtlety gone.

Turning, they spot a Viper behind them, its impossible and exquisitely disturbing physique causing them to stop in their tracks. It has no face, but a sharp beak with compound eyes encircling its head. Long tendrils and tentacles spin out from its body, but while some of them touch the ground that can’t be how it moves.
It catches up with them, just as Coil reaches again for the Ghost Fields, he’s going to try to impose some Real World hardship on this Viper’s ass; but again the Stone intervene bringing on a massive backlash on them. Coil finds himself face to face with the Viper in the middle of The Undercross; the city’s main financial centre.

Hull stares at the space where his buddy just stood. But Walker clears her throat to warn him of a new threat. A pack of Dogs pads down the street towards them.

They’re exactly like real dogs, so long as there’s just one of them. When they join up (and when they’re in close proximity) their hive mind gains intelligence at an exponential rate. Five or six of them in unison are frighteningly effective. 
Walker is ready to fight, but Hull hopes that there’s some way they can talk their way out of this. Oddly, the Dogs drive a bargain whereby they’ll take one of the Stones and send Hull and Walker to safety.
Deal made, Hull and Walker appear in The Undercross as well. Crowds of office workers run in panic from the Viper and Coil. Coil has drawn his sidearm and peppers the Viper with most of his magazine. But the Viper grabs hold of Coil and is just about to prove what Vipers do to real people, when Hull opens up on it with his withering autofire. When the local security bots appear on the scene, it’s all Walker can do to stop them from wiping all three of them out (she’s out of her precinct area). They’re bundled into a truck and transferred to a nearby station house. Walker disappears into a different holding area, but Coil & Hull end up in a high security cell (with full Ghost and Echo protection). There they wait for hours.

Finally a familiar figure walks down the corridor and opens the intercom connection with them. It’s Crane. He used to run with Kilo, but rumour was that he retired a few years ago to a cushy corporate gig. They don’t catch up on old times, but Crane says they’re in serious shit for dealing in artefacts without Veritas’ ok. Coil and Hull tell him a little bit about where they recovered them. But he really wants to know where the second of the two Stones is. When Hull tells him that a pack of Dogs down on the 3rd Level have it, Crane grimaces and walks away.

But Coil isn't happy with the exchange and needles Crane for more – telling him that they found Kilo cut up by Spiders and left hanging and wondering what kind of idiot would’ve led his men into such a position. Crane grins and tells Coil he should ask Breaker about lines of exfiltration next time they meet up. That must mean that Breaker and Crane screwed them over for this job. Crane walks out and leaves them in the shit.

The only person they can think of is Venom. She used to lead the crew until 4 or 5 years ago. She’s extraordinarily well connected (her father was a Senator or something) for someone like them, a criminal. 
They get a phone call. Not one they get to make, as they expect, but someone phones them. It’s Venom. She quickly gets them to give her a summary of their situation and says she’ll be there in a while. Coil hears some funny background sound, and tries to open the Ghost Field to assess what’s going on at her end, but he gets shut down and Venom declares that the line is protected.

Ten minutes later, the door at the end of the corridor opens again and several figure walk in. The first two are seriously well-armed security people (with power armour and assault weaponry). The last is Venom, who’s looking resplendent in a suit which probably cost more than the guys make in a year. She quickly bats away their suggestion that Crane works for Veritas – he’s just a freelancer. If they go after him and bring back the Stones to her, she’ll arrange carte blanche with the authorities for whatever payback they’re going to dish out to Crane and Breaker. Added to that she’ll double the price they were expecting for the Stones.

She’ll also fit them out for the duration; she taps her wrist and her power suit flickers into a power armour suit – real handy if you want to go unnoticed, just don’t bump into anyone. Crane’s got a reservation at The Factory for a meet with Breaker (although to be honest everyone’s surprised that Crane can get a table at the most exclusive restaurant in town, or that they’d even let Breaker in the front door!) so they’ll have to move fast to grab them and recover the Stones.

The twins, Cable & Axis, are very tough, but not too smart. Nix is a different proposition entirely, she’s impressive with a blade and is very tricky indeed. With those three and Kilo in one crew it’s obvious that Crane is more than just a bit of a control freak.
Venom’s gotten them a reservation, so Coil & Hull, in their shiny new suits, just walk straight up to The Factory, shielding their faces as best they can from the prime vantage points overlooking the building. They walk in, but here some explosive cursing from Cable and Axis behind them as the doors close.

This place is very swish. A well-coiffured Maitre D stands behind a mahogany lectern. Behind them are a mere four tables (one is empty) and they easily mark out Crane and Breaker sitting at the one nearest the kitchen door. As Hull pulls his assault weapon out the Maitre D proves quicker and her pistol parks itself next to Hull’s heart for a moment before (oh it’s Nix!) she pulls the trigger. Hull falls back on the floor, thankful for the mondo stopping power of his armour. However there’s a faint arming sound and a sudden burning from the round and Hull begins to panic. Ignoring Nix, Coil reaches inside him with the faintest of Ghost touches and dumps the bullet into the Ghost World.

That does not work as planned as the entire building jars into the Ghost World taking everyone inside with it. Nix reacts slowly and Hull’s rifle fire rips her in half. Hull smashes through the lectern taking fire from Crane’s holdout, but he shrugs it off and plants one round in Crane’s skull.

The doorway to the kitchen swings shut and he follows Breaker out into the alleyway. The chase favours Breaker, who’s a sneaky bastard (even when on their side) and Hull is just about to give up when he turns the next corner and Breaker is there with a gun out and pointing directly at him. Hull’s reflexes safe him this time and he engages the quick-deploy helmet in time to protect himself. He smashes into Breaker and holds the gun to him for a long minute as he catches his breath and waits for Coil to reach them –we have the Stones, let’s get out of here.

After putting two rounds through Breaker’s brain, they stroll back to the real world where they find themselves in the middle of a major security operation. The Factory now has a contiguous Echo surrounding it, like the remnant of a previous age. Coil & Hull display the backstage passes they got from Venom and waltz through the security cordon.

They spot Venom’s vintage car (something by Hennessey) and lean in to have a quick chat. They hand over the Stones, power armour (she doesn’t leave them stand in the street in their underwear for too long) and IDs in return for two platinum bank cards which’ll set them up for quite some time.

Venom roars off into the distance, but not before she hands over her card – give us a shout when you spend that minor fortune and maybe I’ll have some steady work for you.


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