|Part of In Remembrance|
A team of shadowrunners hike through Death Valley in the summer to find long-lost evidence that could bring a California Protectorate war criminal to justice.
In 2061, when Colonel Keiji Saito was ordered to withdraw from the Japanese occupation of San Francisco and return home, Saito refused. He declared himself "Protector General" and invaded the rest of California, sweeping across the Central Valley. He doubled down on the former anti-metahuman policies of the Japanese Imperial State in his new "California Protectorate," encouraging violence against metahumans and the newly-created changelings whenever possible. His armies and police gathered metahumans for deportation or execution, sending them into concentration camps where they died in untold numbers.
After the Protectorate seized control of the Central Valley, it expanded its concentration camps to deport or kill the metahumans living there. With these established, an unknown party in the Protectorate established a secret research site a quick flight over the Sierra Nevada in the northern reaches of Death Valley, where select metahuman prisoners would be sent as medical test subjects in quick stealth aircraft flights. What exactly was of interest to this test site is unclear, but it was believed to be engage in bioware research of some sort. Some test subjects were changelings who'd been sent there after the Comet passed. However, most were simply metahumans who exhibit extraordinary physical qualities, such as particularly tough orks, or particularly lithe or pretty elves.
The head researcher at that site was a delta-certified, awakened surgeon. According to Mothers of Metahumans' research, this doctor is a man who went on to gain megacorporate citizenship with Mitsuhama, Renraku, or Shiawase, and investigating him has proven difficult due to jurisdiction. A promising lead turned up, however; the surgeon's delta-grade scalpel focus is believed to have been left behind during an escape, still sitting there in Death Valley. This focus would be of immense value as thaumaturgical evidence, and if any servers are still active there, they may contain further evidence.
The man who posted the job listing, a suit-wearing ork named "D. Weaver," met with the team in a tea house in Palo Alto. He explained the situation to the shadowrunners and offered each of them 80,000 dollars (UCAS) upon completion of the job. They agreed to these terms. Weaver gave them a commcode to call once they had the scalpel focus. Along at the meet, the four ShadowHaven runners were surprised to find a fifth shadowrunner not affiliated with them, an academic Hermetic going by the name "Umbranox." Umbranox introduced himself as a seer, explaining that his ability to read into the histories of objects may prove of some use along the way, but he was no fighter. He preferred not to speak about more than business.
The team was warned the search area they were going to be working in would be near the CFS-PCC border patrolled by drones, and it was also believed to be under regular megacorporate satellite surveillance; thus, vehicles were advised against until an extraction was called for. Thus, they packed for a long expedition on foot. They bought survival kits, desert suits, and snake-mesh socks. They charted an overland course that should make for an efficient search pattern, though they would end up spending several days in the desert before completing it. To minimize exposure, they decided to drive to Teakettle Junction first and go out "hiking." Roadkill noted it would be difficult to hack any patrol drones as they would be on a protected government network. He called in a favor from The Florist, who was able to get the address for the host protecting the border patrol drones from an unnamed Pueblo government employee for the small price of 15,000¥. The team split the cost evenly. They also spent some time researching the California Protectorate, but everything they found reinforced a central point: the Protectorate never controlled land beyond the Sierra Nevada. There was nothing to indicate this black site existed, which, to be fair, is ideal for black sites. Some speculated about megacorporate involvement, which may have been the case, but they could only theorize. Proof would have to be found in Death Valley.
Packing their contraband into their cars' smuggling compartments, the team drove across the border and made its way to Teakettle Junction. They found it a somewhat popular tourist spot, which it had become since the Awakening and the independence of the Native American Nations. Some of the local Timbisha tribe members talked about wild fire spirits and nova scorpions that lived far from town, recommending the team not wander from the hiking trails. The nova scorpions were timid creatures, only attacking people when threatened. The fire spirits could sometimes be seen glowing in the distance, though they were less predictable.
The five shadowrunners set out early in the morning. Their research into the local terrain and wildlife kept them from making a common mistake: traveling the desert at night. Less-experienced survivalists are often tempted to travel the desert at night when it's cooler, but this is hazardous due to the large number of venomous, nocturnal desert predators and the difficulty of navigating the terrain when it's harder to see. The first day was largely about crossing the threshold from the beaten trails into the wilderness to the north. Umbranox read the desert's psychic impressions and found it a struggle due to "a haze of death and fire." He concluded they were in the right part of the desert, though he could not give specifics for what was there. Working together, the team foraging for pinyon nuts and mesquite beans to supplement their survival rations. They found plenty, and they even found a small spring of drinkable water. The desert summer was harsh, but they were surviving.
The next morning, they packed up camp and set out again. They stopped upon seeing a glint on the horizon. Through their vision magnification scopes, they saw a swarm of aerial drones armed with automatic weapons engaged in a search pattern. Limerick and Roadkill searched for rocky outcroppings to circumvent the drones. Spider and Sc4rl3tt cracked the government host they paid for and began investigating. They located the icons for the drones, and though they were well protected by an industrial Matrix protocol, they managed to gain authentication keys on the drone operator. Spider established a tap and began listening. For two hours, nothing was said. Just as GOD was about to converge on her, a message came through. The drone operator had been warned about criminals active in the area, though at this point, he had decided to give up the search if he didn't find anything in the next few minutes. The five shadowrunners remained hidden and did not exert themselves in the desert heat. After putting some distance between themselves and the drones, the team continued their search. They made camp that evening after some more foraging; they had less luck here, but with their supplies, they were able to get by alright. Around the fire, they wondered who'd tipped the Pueblo government off. Had Weaver betrayed them? No, they ultimately decided it must've been a leak in MoM or a double-cross by the government employee who gave them the host address. They were okay now, though. Umbranox said he had a vision of bodies under the sand, suffocating, but nothing clearer.
On the third day, a sandstorm approached in the distance. The shadowrunners knew they could outrun it if they hurried, but they were worried about overexerting themselves in the desert heat. Instead, they chose to take shelter in a nearby cave they found. Unfortunately for them, the cave turned out to be a nova scorpion nest, and nova scorpions are social creatures. The shadowrunners threw their armor jackets on and engaged the golden-shelled magical arachnids in mortal combat. They shot several of them, but they could not get all of them before the scorpions were in stinger-range. Umbranox was stung by a nova scorpion before the cave was cleared. Roadkill administered first aid and an antivenom patch. Nova scorpion venom sets in slowly, so the team decided to watch him while the storm blew over. The medical attention saved his life, but the venom still took its toll on his system. Between this and the crash of the combat stims the team took before the fight, the group decided it would be best to camp in this mercifully cooler cave. They were running a bit short on supplies without the ability to forage in their condition, but they had enough rations to get them through it. In the scorpions' nesting material, Umbranox found a small doll made of woven leaves and natural dyes. He said it had belonged to a little girl who ran away from home over something foolish, and the scorpions got her. He was clearly growing disheveled, and he pocketed the doll.
In the late morning of the fourth day, the team spotted a figure in the distance. It was a man. Unaugmented, no magic about him, a survival kit and a cheap handgun at his sides. He sat on a rock next to a cactus, seeming on the lookout for something. The team decided they shouldn't interact with him, though Spider saw his protected personal files in his commlink and felt compelled to take a look. It was mostly boring contact lists and family photos. She did find something interesting in his messages, though; he had told his family he was going on a long hike to meet some stranger after a man dressed in a black duster had visited and said something odd he couldn't resist looking into, and he would be back by the weekend at the latest. After this, the majority of the team had its curiosity peaked, so they approached cautiously. They met the man, who seemed surprised they showed up. He explained he was from Teakettle Junction, where a man in a long, black duster and hat had shown up at his home and told him to walk northwest until he found an eagle eating a snake perched on a cactus, where if he waited, strangers would trade him "life snatched from the claws of death" for a message he had been given. Umbranox parted with the doll, which the man seemed to recognize. After a long pause, the man said that the man dressed in black wanted them to head in a certain direction and look for a red rock plateau, where they would find "their shadow rising to meet them." He didn't want to leave them on such a dour note, so he told them that the Timbisha refer to Death Valley in their language as "the place of the red rock face paint," because they saw what it had to offer and saw it as a source of sustenance instead of a land of death. He urged them to trust in the land to sustain them and to do right by it.
The already potent background count rose as the five shadowrunners headed toward the plateau. It grew and grew until it was overwhelming. Spider cut off her powers, and Umbranox only shivered. He tried to say something about where they were. Here, they had found a place of despair, death, and fire. He could only see fleeting glimpses of violence and cries for help. His education had not prepared him for this. By nightfall, they had reached it. The team's sensors picked up a gust of cool air from a patch of grass, and they found a rusty hatch there. Steeling themselves, they climbed down into a lift that took them underground.
As they descended, they found themselves in an air-conditioned, perfectly new-looking underground base. They walked through the entryway, and Roadkill saw a brief glimpse of someone strapped to a gurney out of the corner of his eye, but it wasn't there when he turned to look. Beyond the entryway was a reception area with a terminal. Spider cracked the terminal's outdated security and found a directory containing arrival logs. These logs listed identifying features of each patient, such as metatype and sex. There was also a "conviction" column containing things such as "threatening a peace officer," "resisting arrest," and "disturbing the peace," though they also contained things like "miscegenation." Some entries did not have a conviction status, though an adjacent note column listed them as "mutant." Spider downloaded a copy of the logs. Deeper inside, they heard the whirring of rotodrones. The team managed to sneak by them, and they caught a glimpse of an odd, decades-old energy weapon of some sort mounted on them. Sc4rlett noted that, as this was a pre-Crash network, there would be a wired system with a host machine that could control everything. They decided to locate the server room before going anywhere else.
More ghostly images appeared as they descended further: brief glimpses of people screaming out for help, the walls and ceiling dripping blood, and a crowd of shadowy figures whispering things such as "give my back my eyes" and "why do you get to live?" They avoided touching the apparitions and made it to the server room, where they hacked a lock open. Despite being old, the system's security was extremely tough to crack. Nevertheless, the two hackers located technical documentation on the security drones and decided to give a "return to charging station" order that should keep them docked for a while. There were also personnel logs that, though void of names, talked about unusually high rates of staff fatigue. It also mentioned the research documents were on a separate terminal in the laboratory. On their way out, the team broke the lock so the door would be jammed shut. As soon as they did, however, laughter came over the intercom, and a swarm of rotodrones rushed them. They took cover from what, upon firing, were clearly prototype sonic rifles. A well-placed grenade took out most the swarm, and a combined volley of automatic gunfire destroyed the rest before anyone was seriously hurt. The voice on the intercom said its network could not be subverted so easily. The sound of more drones headed their way in the distance meant they needed to act quickly. Limerick smashed the door open, and the two hackers returned to the host. They spotted a persona inside that had been giving orders to the drones. After trading data spikes, the two managed to destroy the persona, and when they returned to augmented reality, there was a distinctive smell of burning electronics in the room. They realized what they had fought was not a living person, but an e-ghost that had been trapped in the machine long ago at some point.
With the security drones dispatched, the five shadowrunners gathered their wits and continued. A ghostly chorus of voices gathered as they passed by prison cells, a chamber smelling faintly of chemicals, and a furnace. They sang an old folk song about pleading with Death. Ghostly figures appeared in these cells, watching them as they headed for the laboratory like a funeral procession. The doors opened, and Umbranox saw what he recognized as the scalpel focus. He picked it up and attempted to read its history. He seemed overwhelmed with emotion, then turned around and tried to stab Limerick with it. He couldn't hurt Limerick - he wasn't strong enough. Limerick restrained him, and Spider grabbed the scalpel. Sc4rl3tt had looked into enchanting prior to the trip, but she hadn't heard of a magic item making someone do something like that. That's when Spider put it all together. The fatigue among staff, the despair and violence, the homicidal compulsion - this base was haunted by a wraith.
The team looked around in the shifting shadows of the laboratory, but they couldn't find anything. Then, a man in a long black duster stepped out of a corner they could've sworn they'd searched already. He congratulated them on getting there, saying he wondered when more would arrive to continue their work. He explained that there had been others before doing such "delicious" work that he didn't have to make anyone do anything - all he had to do was feed off the energy. He had Spider take a look at the notes they kept in a terminal, and Spider found disgusting, dehumanizing experiment logs. He'd grown terribly strong feeding off the energy of the acts committed here, and if the shadowrunners wanted to live now, he told them, they should kill the weakling Umbranox to get started. The team refused. The Man in Black seemed to delight in this and decided he would show them "true strength." Roadkill and Limerick opened up with volleys of automatic gunfire, but they failed to have any effect on him. Sc4rl3tt tried to drag Umbranox to safety, but the Man in Black shifted, space warping around him until he was in front of the only exit. Roadkill and Limerick dropped their guns and fought him with knives and cyber implant weapons. Limerick managed to scratch him a bit, but it was almost nothing to him; he only seemed to find it fascinating. Spider picked up the scalpel focus to use as a weapon, but it was not bonded to her, so she did not fare much better.
When it seemed that nothing could be done to stop the wraith, the apparitions from before appeared. They wreathed themselves around the team, becoming a ghostly fire that empowered them with a righteous anger. Their whispers were different now. They said things such as "Fight for us," and "Don't let our memory die here!" Limerick managed to land a hit on the Man in Black, and it lit a fire on his shadowy form where the strike landed. He recoiled from the blow, deeply wounded. The shadowrunners continued to fight, no matter how quickly the shadowy wraith seemed to shift away from their blows and how exhausted they were from the journey. After some time, the Man in Black offered them a deal: he could make them stronger, empowering their fight against their enemies with his magical power. They refused. Offended, he compelled Limerick to kill the others to prove himself the best for this bargain, but Spider threw herself in the way to break line of sight. The Man in Black smashed into her, nearly killing her with one terrible blow, but in that moment, Limerick realized what had happened, and he retaliated with a counterattack so severely placed, the wraith's throat was torn out, gushing shadowy ichor. It burned up like a piece of flash paper as the ghostly fire consumed it. The flame went out, and the apparitions returned to thank the shadowrunners for sending the wraith away. They asked them never to forget what had happened here and make sure nothing like it ever happened again.
At that point, the base rumbled, and the walls corroded and cracked before the team's eyes. The magic holding this place together had been disturbed. They grabbed the files and the scalpel focus and fled the way they'd come. They called their cars to come get them, and they returned to Teakettle Junction for some much-needed rest.
Sc4rl3tt called the commcode. An unfamiliar voice answered, seeming confused about who they were, but upon mentioning the name Weaver, he seemed to understand. He asked them to meet him at the Mothers of Metahumans offices across the border in Sacramento.
The team met with the stranger there, an elf man in a suit. He asked about what had happened, and they presented the evidence they'd retrieved. The man's eyes went wide, and he seemed to lose his businesslike composure for a bit to see it all. Once he found it again, he explained that Darius Weaver once worked for Mothers of Metahumans, but he was killed during the war. He had no explanation for what they had seen, but he stayed true to Weaver's offer and paid each of them 80,000 dollars along with giving them his personal commcode in case they needed something in the future.
The news later reported a high-ranking Renraku project manager had been extradited to the California Free State upon request and was now awaiting trial. What would actually become of him remained to be seen, but Renraku had thrown him to the wolves because his misdeeds could not be covered up any longer. The list of prisoners was released to the public, and many families learned what happened to their missing loved ones. It was painful, but most were glad to have closure and filled with determination to protect their communities.
- 80,000 UCAS Dollars (40,000¥)
- 13 Karma
- Phil Haskill at Loyalty 3
- 2 CDP
O Death!Won't you spare me over for another year?"