by Mathieu Roy, Mike Scheidel, and Bryan Feir

As soon as Falcon met them in front of the 93 underground, Raven led her and Adam to a side street a few blocks away. The place was dirty, and the slight acid drizzle wasn't helping, rivulets of dusty water dripping down the wall and an old roadsign, which by some miracle hadn't been picked up for scrap. "No parking between 8 AM and 6 PM," it read. Too bad no cars had passed in that street for years. There was some graffiti on it, too, maybe a gang tag.

Raven leaned on the Harley and looked Falcon over. She wore the coat and bodysuit again, accessorized with a holstered Assault Pistol and a bandoleer of ammunition. Her golden, raven-shaped locket twinkled just above her breast. She folded her arms and spoke. "Hope you came perpared."

Falcon was dressed similarly to before, full armourcloth brown bodysuit, but this time the helmet was closed and sealed. She patted a few bulges over her body, one of which was obviously a pistol of some sort and a couple of which were pre-loaded magazines. Her voice was slightly muffled by the helmet as she nodded and said, "As prepared as I'm likely to get right now."

"Okay, here's the deal. You are going to take a VIP and her bodyguard—that's me and Adam—to the intersection of Twelfth and Brook, in the Wastes. Once there you'll be given a package which you'll have to deliver, alone, to a place I'll name once we reach our first destination. We'll be waiting at the finish line. Sounds good?"

Falcon nodded, and slipped onto her bike with a smooth, practiced motion. "Sounds good. I take it I'm leading the way to the first stop?" After waiting for the nods, she looked around at her own bike and the two others, then continued, "Okay. I'll want the two of you behind me, about two cycle lengths back, one on each side..."

"There's only one bike," Raven interrupted her. "I can't ride on my own, so I'm going with Adam."

Falcon did a minor double-take, then nodded. "Right, I remember now. Okay, Adam, just stay behind me but off to the side so I can keep track of you in my rear-view.

"I'll warn you now that I'm not overly familiar with that section of town, and you know as well as I do how long maps stay valid around here once you're out of the core areas."

Raven chuckled. "That's part of the test, Falcon, so to quote the clichˇ, it's your problem."

Falcon nodded. "Understood." She looked Raven and Adam up and down carefully for a moment, then said, "And I presume it would be poor form to inquire into what the two of you are armed with, or much into what my clients are doing here at all, so with that I think it's time to go." She climbed onto her motorcycle, waiting for Adam to do the same.

Climbing onto the Harley, Adam held it steady for Raven to climb on behind him. Snagging his helmet he fit it over his head, dropping the mirrored visor into place.

Raven climbed behind Adam, and took hold of the handlebars. She nodded to the syntheric, then announced, "Ready."

Falcon started up the motorcycle, sending commands to the on-board computer to pull up a map layout. Twelfth and Brook... right about there. Of course, the map was based on the last official map of the area, before any of the buildings collapsed, or alleys were plugged by garbage and cars, or the like. Well, as long as she stayed to the main roads, and watched for any obvious gang markings, there should be no problems.

Taking a quick check to both mirrors to make sure both the people she was 'escorting' were in view behind her, Falcon opened up the throttle and started on her way down the road.

Pausing to make certain Raven was in place, Adam guided the big bike out into the street behind Falcon.

Sitting on the bike behind Adam, Raven watched Falcon, noting how she picked her itinirary and the pace she set according to the surroundings.

The trip went quietly for the first while; Falcon kept an eye on the passing scenery with a touch of paranoia in her gaze. She'd been out of the Zone for several months while working for Fantoma, which could be an eternity in the shifting politics of the local gangs. There were always a few safe paths, though; areas policed by some of the larger gangs that wanted to keep peace, neutral zones that nobody dared touch for fear of everybody else around them ganging up on them, and regions that just weren't worth trying to control. She'd got a crash course in politics while stuck with the Tenth Street go-gang, though she didn't know too many details outside of their territory and neighbours.

Falcon deliberately chose a path that covered some streets she knew. Both their starting and ending points were relatively stable, but some of the spots in between were otherwise. Falcon was pondering this as she started leaning into a turn taking her to the thoroughfare, and saw a spray tag on a wall that she recognized: what looked to be sort of a silver sunrise. What on earth were they doing up here? She started slowing down, braking gradually, and reached up to turn on the radio... then realized a problem.

Bringing her bike to a full stop quickly just before she got to the tag on the corner, Falcon waited for the other bike to stop as well. She popped the faring and stepped out. "Well, one thing I forgot right off the top: you two got a radio? We should set a frequency to communicate on if something comes up."

"There's one on the bike with wireless speaker-mics in the helmets," Raven said. "The bike acts as a base. It's even got pretty decent range in case we ditch the bike."

Falcon nodded. "Sounds good. How about Frequency 143.5 megahertz, with a simple inversion scrambler?"

"Can you set that up, Adam?"

Adam made an adjustment on the front console of the Harley. "Frequency set." He hesistated an instant. "How does one set up an inversion scrambler?" he asked.

Falcon hmmed. "You have any sort of encryption or scrambling gear on that radio?"

"'Course it does. It's a corp model." She grinned. "Of course, we haven't read the manuals."

Falcon shook her head. "Okay. I'd rather not spend too much time on this, especially not out here; we'll keep it unencrypted for now, and just maintain radio silence as much as possible."

"Also, we've got a problem." Falcon pointed to the tag on the corner of the building. "This signifies the 'High Gear' go-gang. This is fairly fresh paint; they're new in this area. They're also one of the better equipped and more actively annoying go-gangs, mainly because they can get away with it as often as not. Unfortunately, if they've managed to take and hold this strip, getting around them is going to be nearly impossible without going at least an hour out of our way, because a lot of the other streets around here are too damaged to ride through at much speed.

"I'd suggest risking it. The thoroughfare is by far the shortest distance, and if we move at a good clip, we should be through before anybody who might care notices."

"It's your call, Falcon. If you think the rewards are worth the risks, then lead on." Raven's face was inscrutable under the motorcycle helmet. "Just remember, it reflects badly on you if we end up needing to fight."

Falcon nodded. "Granted. And I will do whatever I can to avoid such a fight. On the other hand, we _are_ in the Zero Zone. There's unlikely to be a perfectly safe path between where we started and where we're going. This _was_ the safest path I knew of; I wouldn't have thought the High Gears would have moved in so quickly. At least we have some prior warning." Just before she turned to get back on the motorcycle, she added, "Besides, if there weren't a chance of a fight, you wouldn't have need of a bodyguard and a guide."

Raven grinned. "Good point. So let's say a bit of gunplay is okay, but if I have to, um, intervene, you lose points. Fair enough?"

"Sounds reasonble."

The trip down the thoroughfare started off uneventfully enough. After a quick check to make sure the radios worked and they could understand each other, Falcon suggested to keep silent unless something went wrong, in case one of the local gangs could detect the transmissions. Both bikes were running at high speeds to get through the region as quickly as possible, only capping their speed for safety reasons on the poorly maintained road.

They were just over half-way down the road when another set of bikes started roaring up behind them. Falcon flicked the radio on. "Damn. Okay, all High Gear gang members have cyber-enhanced reflexes, and tend to be daredevils. I don't know how good your reaction time is, but be careful if they get too close."

Raven clung to Adam for dear life as both bikes roared down the thoroughfare.

Adam grumbled something that—perhaps fortunately—wasn't picked up by his helmet mic. Driving and attempting to fire a sidearm at the same time didn't look like it was going to be fun. He nudged up the Harley's speed another notch, and hoped like hell Raven was at least shielding herself.

Falcon's voice came over the radio, "Stay out of the line directly behind me." Cutting the transmit, she muttered to herself, "Let's see how they like this." Checking the rear-view displays to see where everybody was, she sent a few mental commands through the helmet to the bike. She felt a quiet click behind her as the mechanism was armed, followed by a soft 'thoomph' as the smoke grenade was launched from one of the rear tubes.

A couple of members of the go-gang started to split off as they saw a small object flying towards them, but most didn't have the time to avoid the sudden wall of smoke that blew up in front of them. That slowed them down some, but several members of the gang just sped right through the smoke and kept on coming...

Raven concentrated, extending her shield to cover most of the back and sides of the bike, shielding Adam for any return fire as well as herself. Hanging tight to the replicant with her right hand, she took her Assault Pistol in her left and held it at the ready. Though it was a big weapon, the large, self-propelled rounds could be fired with very little recoil, a definite plus when shooting one-handed on a moving vehicle.

Falcon cursed loudly to herself as the gangers kept coming; she only had one more shot before the Go-gang got too close to Raven and Adam to risk lobbing grenades around. The full armour coverage on the bike made firing off a pistol difficult while moving, and the bike itself didn't have external guns, just the launchers. Which meant once they got too close, she was going to have to close in herself. She switched loads, and fired off a second grenade, this one producing a loud explosion and a concussive force that knocked several of the slower bikers down, scattering them out on the road.

Unfortunately there were a few with more balls than brains, who were already too close to Raven and Adam to get more than the fringes of the blast. A pair of them pulled up close to the Harley, one on either side, with a few others spreading out nearby. One of the ones to the side starts balancing a relatively small rifle on his handlebars, and pings a couple of glancing shots off of Falcon's bike's armour.

Releasing the left handgrip of the Harley—his right hand required to keep the throttle steady—Adam grabs the grip of the Seburo SMG hanging from its shoulder strap. Grateful that he'd chosen a weapon suited for ambidextrous use, he flicked off the safety and brushed the side of his armoured coat out of the way.

Sticking the muzzle of the gun out under his right arm, he glanced to the side to let his smartlink lock in the firing angle for the front tire of the bike on that side.

Triggering a burst from the weapon, he watched the impact points walk their way from hitting the speeding asphalt to the tire, then to the wheel hub, instantly blowing it to twisted shards.

The cycle wobbled, then the front wheel turned over hard, and the biker and his 'bitch' both went flying off the front as the bike rapidly burned off its inertia by friction. The recoil from the gunfire sent the Harley into a slight wobble as well, however, and it lost some headway against the pursuing go-gang.

One of the go-gangers trailing the Harley finally got his shotgun ready while Adam was distracted, and fired wild, hoping to take out the tires of the bike. His aim went high, buckshot slamming hard into Raven's shields.

The force of the lead pellets slamming point-blank into her shield jarred Raven. She lost her grip on Adam and grabbed reflexively for him. Her left hand involuntarily tightened around the assault pistol, firing it; the armor-piercing mini-rocket went right through the biker, who fell sideways, right into the Harley. Adam managed to keep control of the bike, but Raven, her balance already imperiled by the shotgun blast, pitched sideways over her seat. She hit the ground hard, her hardened kinetic shield drawing sparks, and rolled off painfully, expending the velocity she'd had when she fell off the bike, until she slammed into a wall and lay still.

Falcon saw what looked to be Raven go bouncing off, and snarled. This was _NOT_ going to look good as part of the assessment. She prayed the tires were going to withstand what she was about to do, and slammed on the brakes. A very slight lean to one side sent her into a controlled skid, twisting the bike around as she slowed down in a two-wheeled version of a classic 'bootlegger reverse'. As she turned almost completely around, before she had a chance to actually stop, she opened the throttle again, tires screeching as she started accelerating in the other direction, directly into the oncoming go-gang.

As Raven's weight was abruptly wrenched from the back of the bike Adam was forced to grab the handlebars with both hands to keep the bike from going over. To make matters worse, the SMG clattered from his grasp as he did so, lost instantly under the squealing tires of the barely-in-control Harley.

Not as good a driver as Falcon, Adam contented himself with laying down a strip of rubber as he braked precipitously. Shuddering to a halt, he whipped the bike around by sheer force of muscle and wrenched the shotgun from its holster on his back.

"RAAAAVENNN!" he bellowed, his deep-bred training gripping him at the base of his brain, compelling action. Raising the pistol-grip weapon, he began pumping off shots at the oncoming gang.

The first shot ripped through the engine of the lead bike, the armour piercing, discarding sabot slug blowing a head-sized hole out the back, igniting the gas tank in a burst of flame. Jacking a new shell into the chamber, he fired again. This shot missed, gouging a deep furrow in the tarmac and ricocheting into the nearby buildings, but the third and succeeding rounds took a devastating toll on tires, engines, and people alike.

Unfortunately, this only accounted for an additional five gang members before the weapon was empty. Throwing the gun aside, Adam sat back down on the Harley's seat and popped the clutch, laying down another rubber trail as he accelerated back towards the oncoming go-gang.

Even as he advanced, his tally of gang members came up a bit short. Even considering those Falcon had knocked out of the chase, the one Raven had dropped even as she fell, and the ones he himself had eliminated, there were less bikes around than his earlier sight of the gang should account for. For whatever reason, some of the go-gangers were conspicuously absent.

And so was Raven.

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories