Flashpoint California Burns

And thus… it starts.

Sun April 22 2072

Dodging and ducking artillery shells in Bakersfield, 'Midas' (Ryan) is talking with several commanders. "Look, look, guys. It's this simple. You need an /edge/ and I can give it to you." He says, laying out a variety of auto-injectors, inhalers and other drug delivery kits. "I've got what you NEED. Cram. Jazz. Nova. Long haul. That ones a popular one with the soldiers, let me tell you. Need someone awake for 48 hours without a nap, thats the one you want."

The commanders glance at each other - somewhat dubiously. Several take samples, and a few return later to buy larger supplies.

All goes well, until Midas is working in his little makeshift storefront, a burnt out 'CONDOMANIA' shop with a giant squiggly sperm on the roof. Hey, it's easy to find. He's working in back when a crazed, drugged-out soldier comes barging in. He needs a fix and he needs it bad. Tearing apart the store, he finds Midas running out from the back. What happens next is a beating so brutal that it's hard to put into words. But in the end, two Cal-Free Soldiers have to drag the man off Midas, who's a bloody mess under the soldiers hands. On the plus side… the Cal Guard are a little more alert, a little meaner, and a little more willing to spill blood.

Corcoran Prison was once a place where California stored its most hardened criminals, those who could not make it in world and could not afford to bribe their way back into it. Now, under the care of the Japanese, it's one of the most feared places a metahuman can be sent. Guarded by the internment division and by the Akuma, it's nearly impossible to break out of. It's a one way ticket, to Corcoran. Once you go there, you never come back. Hard labor and gas chambers. Those are the only escape. It is a massive place, housing some 20,000 people at the moment.

Tinman stands atop a truck, narrowing his cybernetic eyes until bare slits in an expressionless face. "Gemini. Move with Steel. Flank to the north - I want eyes on the north guard houses. We can only hit one - maybe two cellblocks before we have to go. Surprise is our biggest weapon. If we fragg this.. well. We're joining them. Warrent, Hardball. Go south. I'll come through center with the trucks. Right through the walls at the midpoint. We blow the satchel charges - we take down the wall. They will be disoriented - scared. We need to provide clear… direct leadership. We all ready?"

Gemini, Hardball, Warrant and Steel nod their understanding.

"Good. Lets go reach out and touch someone."

"Good. Now, I've bought us a 3 minute window. Their entire communications net will be down during that time. Intercoms, Cameras, cell grid. All down. I'm also opening the cages on a cell block to the north 60 seconds before that happens. It will give us a strong opening and distraction." Says Tinman, a decker of no small skill, committing himself to this run. "I've given us ever opportunity to succeed. If we fail now, it will be our own faults. Lets move."

Alarms go off in the prison - lights snapping on and focusing to the north. Gemini stands by with Steel, Warrant and Hardball sneak in close. The sounds of a riot can be heard from the cell block who's doors swung mysteriously open. The Internment Division swings into motion with decisive, trained action.

Warrant hoists the almost-cannon to his shoulder, then winks over at Hardball. "Hey, mate. Watch this drek." With that, he opens the magazine - and round after round of tungsten steal load into the chamber, to be launched down the barrel. What happens down range is a thing of beauty - of precision work with an imprecise weapon. Using the assault cannon, Warrant skillfully cuts lines between two windows, then down to the ground - effectively making a door. There's a groan, and then that slab of concrete flops forward, onto the grassy exterior with a heavy thud.

"Did I just fraggin' see that?" Asks Hardball, a little disbelieving.

"We call that a Lambeth Portcullis. Lets go," says Warrant.

Tinman has the plan. Warrant has the door. Gemini and Steel hit the opening made for them, while it's still smoking. The guards inside are already on alert, but confused as drek. When Steel comes in, Gemini flanks him, both with pistols drawn. Shots ring out, but it's quickly reduced to close combat as the guards rush them.

To say that Steel is 'good' at hand-to-hand would be a disservice to masters of the craft. Every move is elegance in physical violence. No wasted movement, no extravagant shouting. Just a clinical dispatch of those who come at him. In the blink of an eye, 4 prison guards are down, three with broken necks, the fourth from massive cranial trauma. Steel does not seem like he's even broken a sweat.

Standing back from the melee, using Aikido to flip men back at Tycho, Genesis is competent in her application of bullets - sighting down the cellblock to take out a distant guard.

Hardball's on deck. Moving with an alacrity that can only be supernatural - the man moves like the wind. Using parkour-like fluidity, he leaps a table, grabs a low hanging pipe, then fulcrums around it, to launch himself into the air. Landing on the guards catwalk, he jumps across the gap to the control booth. A punch to the man behind the computer has the poor administrator knocked out cold. Hardball grunts, then eyes the computer. "What the frag… Where's the goddamn 'open button'?" He calls on the comms.

Tinman is patient, and walks the man through the standard prison software protocols… and in a moment, the doors all rachet back… freeing 500 prisoners from their cells.

Tinman's team has done the near-impossible, and broken IN to prison. Now. Can they get out? Can they get out /alive/? Can they get out alive… and with a goodly deal of prisoners? What are they going to do with those prisoners?

Find out in about 12 hours.

Lucky left China Lake. But unlike BSyde and his crew, Lucky traveled south by south east. His Jeep travels off road - using the desert as his highway. Sticking off the main arteries, he goes a little slower than he'd like, but he starts to approach 29 Palms just as the sun starts to rise.

"Breaker breaker one-niner. This is Lucky Pass-clearer, calling Deuce-Niner Actual. Come back."

"Go ahead, Mountainbacker."

"Looking for permission to come into town and talk a bit."

"You're coming from china lake?"

"That is affirmative."

"The Desert Rats welcome you to 29 Palms. You may proceed.

Back in Bakersfield…

Barnaby lays on the tarmac at Bakersfield Municipal, busily licking himself. The thick, wet lushing noise accompanying the act has Sam staring at him in mild disgust, but Barnaby does not care. Sam is afraid. Barnaby knows this because he can smell it. All of the humans are afraid. Barnaby doesn't know why, but it is making him nervous. Even without the nerves, he still would have smelled the Other. Her scent stands out from the complex pattern of the base, the melange of odors that he can read like a book. If he could read, anyway. As soon as that strange Otherscent reaches his nostrils, he stops licking, his ears perking. He doesn't like it. It is…something Other. He growls.

A lethal wind knifes silently through the night, every footfall carefully placed in the scrubland surrounding the airport. Skullz stays low, and slow. She has time. She knows exactly where she is going. She knows exactly where the fuel stores are for those big, thirsty Cal Free aircraft. She knows exactly where to place the light satchel charges carried high on her back. The elf is alone, and committed, and represents incalculable danger to the units trying to hold Bakersfield, and only a dog named Barnaby has any idea she's there.

That fucking dog's been ghosting Skullz all night long, and it keeps getting closer. She's got half the charges planted, but instead of finishing the job, here she is, laying under a fuel truck, waiting on a goddamn dog. "Hold." She can hear the soldier giving the dog the command, telling it to stay, even from thirty meters away. Her eyes narrow as the soldier starts towards the fuel cache. It's time to do something about this situation before it gets absurd. Her Predator III already has the silencer threaded on. She draws it. Quietly. Just as the soldier nears the last fuel cache she visited, Skullz sights in. It's not an easy shot, across a hell of a lot of open ground, but she makes it look easy, putting a single round through the unfortunate Californian's skull with a cough of her suppressor. That damn dog goes berserk almost instantly, whipping around and charging right for her. He doesn't have a prayer of making it, it's an easy shot, but that doesn't matter

Skullz slides down the shallow gulley on one hip, dirt kicking up around her from the impact of bullets. It's searching fire.

The silver-tongued Sorina rolls into Barstow on a mission of subversion. The city's chaotic, on the brink - its residents are stressed out, war-weary, flooded with refugees, and very likely next on the Protectorate's hit list. It's a perfect opportunity for someone with a talent for persuasion to add another jewel to the Japanese crown without so much as a drop of blood lost, as long as the right words make it to the right ears.

Unfortunately, finding the right ears in Barstow is a tough task. Sorina's deceptive message of pro-Japanese peace just isn't finding an audience, or at least not the right one. There are people who will listen, but they're nobodies; poor refugees, known gullibles, suspected Protectorate agents. Being so charismatic that people will lay it all on the line for you is often a gift - in this case, it's a curse.

The pathetic pro-Japanese uprising in Barstow's over before it begins. The Rangers don't do the dirty work - they've got guys for that. Unaffiliated officially, natch. Ugly bruisers to a man, they break bones and crack heads all along Pioneer Street, home of the burgeoning protest, and they've got it stomped out in under an hour. They've also got the information they wanted: the name of the woman who started it all.

When they come for her, Sorina's silver tongue finally remembers its talent, and she's able to convince them she's not a Japanese agent. Her lack of a Cal Free SIN makes her claim of refugee status a tough sell, however, and the last anyone in Barstow remembers seeing of her is a beaten, bloody pulp being dragged out of town towards the Mojave behind a Toyota Gopher.

Captain Crow - in her shiny new California Free State Captain's Armor, a personal gift from Colonel Jace Gill, she looks out over her men. Yes. She has men now. Crow's got recruits coming to her. They want to work with her. Serve with her. Her right hand man, Lt. Mazon - formerly of the shattered 340th - is there with her. "Now. What we are going to do is infiltrate behind the Japanese line, where we're going to hit the Mettler scrap yard. There's a warehouse there that supplies we need, and the Jap's don't. So we're going to take it from them."

The men, informally called the Archons, after Crows' decision to call them 'Armed Reconnaissance', seem motivated and good to go. They know Crow's reputation and her penchant for pulling it out of the fire. Mounted on bikes, they roar south, along the portions of Highway 99 that California still controls. More than a few cheers go up to see 30 men on motorcycles, all flying California colors.

The Archons roar into Mettler - and suddenly, Crow is faced with a challenge. One half of her unit, two fireteams, about fifteen guys, decides to not stop. It looks like some men came to her unit just for the motorcycle and the chance to get outside of Bakersfield… so they could make a run for it. What can she do? Very little. What's left of the archons scavenge in Mettlet, but it's a quiet ride back home.

29 Palms. This former Marine Base is home to a unit of former UCAS Marines called the Desert Rats. They refused to leave California when the UCAS pulled out, and were some of the only opposition that Aztlan faced when it rolled in to San Diego. Now, those old marines are tired - but their sons and daughters, the locals who have joined them and a steady stream of Ex Marines from the UCAS And CAS have bolstered their ranks. Don't let their worn down vehicles and haggard look fool you. The Desert Rats know what they are doing.

And they are listening to Lucky as he talks about the situation in the southern San Joaquin valley. See, the rats never liked Minton, and they clashed often. The last 10 years saw the rats being used by the Pueblo as a buffer against Mintons occasional raids. So they have very little love for Bakersfield.

But Lucky has the attention of Brigadier General Laurence Tubbles, current CO of the Desert Rats. 40 years young, barrel chested and a veteran of the Desert Wars, he looks past the years of hate for Minton's ways, and sees only slanted eyes.

Bgd. General Tubbles stands up, running a hand down the line of his stubbled chin. He looks to the maps his men are bringing him and he exhales. "Alright. Heres what we're going to do. We've got about… a brigade's worth of troops here. We're not set for straight line battles anymore. But I'll send my armor and my aircover with you, 'Lucky'. You're our liason to the Rangers. We don't work for Minton, or Gill. Or anyone."

"We work with the Rangers. We clear? That's 15 upgraded 2050 Schwarzkopf main battle tanks, 5 Yellowjacket Light Strike Helicopters and 5 Thunderbolt ground strike fixed wing aircraft. Thats all I'm willing to send - but we'll mobalize and send a dispatch of supplies and MP's to BArstow. This good enough for you?"

Lucky just nods once. "Seems fine, sir. Now, the Rangers are coming in across 155, here, so if we… " And then the conversation turns to tactics and coffee.

The Cal Free border guys just across the line from Castaic have an interesting case on their hands. The guy they're debating on letting into Cal Free territory would look pretty bland if it weren't for the absurd handlebar mustache and all the camera equipment festooned about his person.

"So let me get this straight…" begins one of the skeptical soldiers. "You want in, and travel permits up to Bakersfield, because you're an orni…an orni.."

"An ornithologist, yes," answers the man known only as the Sage. "Birds. I love them. And this is the best time of year for spotting the red-necked grebe."

The guards exchange an incredulous glance. "You know there's a war on, don't you, sir?"

"I have ample private means," responds the man known as the Sage, proferring a thick wad of gilt-edged Saeder-Krupp scrip. "I'm sure I'll be fine."

Five minutes later, his rented Americar is on its way up the 5.

The passage of several hours finds that most unlikely bird-watcher known as the Sage firmly ensconced atop an abandoned oil derrick just outside of Bakersfield, giving him a mostly unobstructed view of the western half of the city and its surrounding terrain - not to mention the Guard garrison visible from that side of the 'plex.

As the shutter of his tridcam clicks, a continent away, analysts at an undisclosed location study each new image as it's received, real-time, via 'trix-link, updating and annotating files. The occasional transmission of a half-assed shot of some Californian duck goes uncommented upon as one powerful national government gains a much better understanding of the complex Cal Free situation.

Under cover of stealth, Catherine Carter, electronic specialist, climbs a water tower in Shafter. Shafter is in the control of the Japanese Protectorate, about 5 miles from the front lines. Setting up her gear, she hunkers down as false-dawn lights the eastern sky. Antenna's up, gear online, she nods to her self as she cascades down through the frequencies. Isolate. Decrypt. And… Jam.

In a blink of an eye, the California Guard fighting in Bakersfield loses the ability to communicate. It's radios fill with static and it's comms are dead. The interference is powerful, blanking out a 25 kilometer radius from her tower.

It's several hours of jamming. Confusion spreads down the line, and Japanes troops press forward. The front line collapses again, cut off from artillery support and from the limited air strikes that had been coming in from the Cal-Free air force. Troops regroup at the Kern River, holding the bridges against the Japanese. This move, the wholesale jamming of California's frequency is a risky gamble by any singular player. Military jamming tends to come from heavily defended communication sights, with S-A-M defense and hardened bunkers.

Catherine has none of that. It's nearly 11 AM when a trio of A-11 Thunderbolt Ground-Attack aircraft roar past her, banking to circle the area. Catherine sees them, sees their UCAS markings. She knows they are not actually UCAS aircraft, but rather, the desert rats. The planes circle again, then one banks hard up and away, getting an attack vector on the tower.

"Foxtrot Alpha to Marine Actual. I have located the transmission source. Shafter water tower. I don't see any broadcast devices on fly by, but it's the center of the Jamming zone. Requesting weapons free."

"Foxtrot Alpha, this is Marine Actual. You are a go for weapons free. Destroy the tower. Telemetry confirms it's at the center of the interference zone. Repeat, weapons free."

"Confirmed. Foxtrot Alpha is weapons free."

Catherine looks to the plane as it rolls back on her, and she's already moving. Lithe, limber and fast, she hits the ropes. None could not ever say she was bad at her job. If she had a failing, it was simply hoping the planes would fly her by. But she couldn't know they weren't on the same frequencies as the Cal-Guard.

She's halfway down when the missile slams into the tower, a concussive wave that slams metal and water and fire into her. Battered and bruised, she hangs limp in the rope for a moment.

The tower groans, then leans, then comes shattering down. Her rope jerks along with the tower, and she comes tumbling to the ground, unmoving at the bottom of where the tower used to stand. If she's alive or dead… no one knows.

Sometimes, in war, people take things personally. Like, 'Curse' and 'Princess'. Throw someone's favorite boyfriend into the grill of a mustang, and see how pissed off she gets. The answer is pretty pissed off. Curse and Naomi make their way into the Japanese lines - looking for a target for rage - for vendetta.

Princess wraps and wards her in magic, making her invisible and hard to track. Curse draws an arrow, knocking it back in the string, then draws back the bow. The arrow flies straight - it flies true at Major Kui Suzuki of the DeadMen. The arrow would strike him right in the neck - severing his jugular and containing through the other side. It would have, too, had he not spun at the last moment, eyes blazing, to reach up and catch the arrow with his free hand. Some men are harder to kill than others.

Curse is taken off guard - surprised by the man's defense. He unlimbers his assault rifle, eyes narrowing as he directs his men to basically -hose- the area the arrow came from in fully automatic assault rifle fire. That's a lot of bullets, and even an invisible person gets hit. Several bullets find Curse, and she limps back to her own lines with Princess.

Down highway 155 comes the fighting force of the California Rangers. The sounds of their air horns blowing - not one single whit of thought to stealth given - as the A-11 Thunderbolts of the Desert Rats bank overhead, jet engines roaring. The Japanese have made great inroads - they have taken much of California. Their air cover is unsustainable, their fuel is low, their city is partially occupied - but they are buoyed by the news that the Rangers are slamming into the flanks of the Japanese force, while the Desert Rats, their armor and light strike vehicles, are pouring across highway 138 and slamming into Wheeler Ridge.

The counter attack is ready. With radios finally operational, with air cover overhead and with friendlies in the back 9, with troops hopped up on combat drugs and partially resupplied… Jace toggles the radio open, and hits the send switch.

"Citizen Soldiers of the California Free State. Look overhead. The engines of the Desert Rats and Cal-Free's own Air-Guard roar. Listen to the distance, where the sounds of battle join you. Look across the river - to an enemy that takes only in stealth, by surprise. An enemy that fights without honor. THey have before them the finest fighting force ever assembled by California. To the left of us, The California Rangers. To the right of us, our to-distant cousins in the Desert Rats."

"We are California. We've spent 60 years getting kicked in the teeth by a world we're unable to comprehend. Magic. Metahumans. Attacked on all sides, abandoned by our parent-nation. The Elves, the Indians, the Aztlanner. Kicked in the teeth, then kicked while we were down. The Japanese Look across the river - to an enemy that destroys families and takes our land. Takes our sovereignty. To take what is ours."

"But we are California. Every man. Every woman. Every too-young son, every unready daughter. And California is about to kick some ass."

Back in Delano, Sandman creeps along the bed of Delano creek. His hands have in them an Ares Arms Laser Designator, circa 2060. It's older, but it's the military standard. Light weight, the size of a pair of binoculars and just as easy to use. Even as Japanese troops press in to Bakersfield, Bakersfield presses back. Lifting the unit to his eyes, he uses the buttons atop to scroll through the menus. "MOAB… No… Hellfire… no.. Oh. THat looks fun." Says he, flipping through the loadouts on the various planes in the air. Like a kid in a candy shop. "THAT looks fun…"

30 seconds later, the sound of jet engines swoop overhead as anti-aircraft opens up. There's the whistle of canisters falling… and then…

North of Bakersfield, the city of Delano lights up in a line of fire some 80 feet high. The Desert Rats drop naplam across highway 99, lighting fires and damaging the infrastructure. Fire touches on an ammo-dump, the target that Sandman was lighting up. The ammunition cooks off and Sandman finds himself flat on his ass, holding a now shattered Laser Designator.


Rolling into the San Joaquin Valley with the Grizzlies is LooLoo. Blindside's convoy peels off as they hit the valley while LooLoo sticks with them. This expert Drone Rigger rolls in a van that's obviously not part of the assault team, so she hangs back. A small fleet of drones flies overhead, buzzing about - to the flanks and forward. Her network is without peer, feeding information into the grizzlies.

Thundering down the road, The Grizzlies slam into a company of Home Guard and dont' even stop to count the casualties. They take out a bridge in the back company, then they turn north - destroying a convoy of supplies rolling south. This is where LooLoo runs into an enemy rigger. Suddenly, her drones are under attack. She turns, whirling in her multi-spatial perceptions, but the fixed-wing drones are just too fast for her rotorcraft. One by one, they start falling, and she has to unplug from them rapidly. Calling back what she can, she shuts off the RCD and the Grizzlies cover her in their EMC network. She goes invisible to the enemy rigger… but she's lost a good number of drones.

When we last left Corcoran Correctional, they were in a state of panic. The wall breached, Tinman leading Warrant and Hardball, Gemini and Steel were at the seat of victory - at least… half way there… They broke in to prison. A curious sort of thing to do in the best of times. Now. Can they get out?

Tinman sits on top of the buss as it's backed all but in-to the prison, through the 'Lambeth Portcullus' that Warrant blasted for them. He calls out orders, ticking off the seconds, eyes hard and without mercy. He does not lead with inspiration but with cold precision. He is the clockwork man and he makes no apologies. These are not people around him. They are cogs, wheels, turning with the machine of his plan. "Move move move! Double time!"

Gemini is on prisoner detail - rounding up as many as possible and using the force of personality and leadership she's coming to be known for. A soft touch, but a deadly aim. As she's herding people onto the bus, a team of Japanese Internment guards comes from a side hall. Gunshots ring out and prisoners fall, hit and wounded. Gemini is hit as well, a trio of bullet slamming into her shoulder, rocking her back. Her armor holds, and what could have been a fatal wound turns to a glancing enough blow. Her pistol rises, and she returns fire as inmates scream onto the bus. The Japanese are pushed back.

The buses - all 5 of them - one to a runner, pull out, filled with 250 internees. More are left behind, so many more. But those who have been taken are the fittest, most capable they could find. You can blame Tinman's decking skills for that - subtle shifts to housing details, gathering people forward in one area. Atop one, is Warrant. His assault cannon by his side, a cigarette burning in his mouth, he's the very definition of English Cool as his hair blows in the wind. "Oy!" he calls out, spotting a helicopter lifting off in the distance. "We got some berks want to be birds!" He finds this very amusing, as he sets his stance and takes aim. His finger hits the trigger and the gun powers up - but does not fire. He looks down, realizing his gun has jammed. "DREK!"

"No problem!" Says Hardball, on the next bus down the line. He slips the man-portable Stinger-style missile from his backpack, drawing aim. With a cheeky grin, the shadowrunner sights down range, the little radar in the missile launch system locking onto the helo. A flash of light and then a trail of smoke - then an exploded helicopter.

Back in Bakersfield, things are dire. Supplies are low and the lines are being forced back. One bright spot, is in Gosford. A small suburb of Bakersfield, it's an almost nothing on the map. But it is site of some of the fiercest fighting. The Cal-Guard troops there are better armed, better supplied, and better informed than anywhere else. Why is that you might ask? Because 'Ni' is working with the ground troops. When a Japanese soldier is captured or wounded - she goes into his mind. Pulling up details on battle strategies, supply caches and the locations of other units. It makes the Cal Guard in Gosfard that much harder to pin down… and indeed… they have actually taken territory with this information.

But this plan comes to a stop when Ni is reading a soldier who has a bit more fight left in him than intended - and he stabs her. But she is quick, light on her feet. She sees the attack the moment he thinks of it, and though he is fast, she is able to twist away, taking a long, deep wound to her right thigh - but not one to be fatal.

Bakersfield has problems. The ground elements of the Desert Rats have yet to arrive, and while the Grizzlies are loose in the Japanese countryside, the troops in Bakersfield are being pressed back. Fuel concerns have grounded the Cal-Free aircraft and supplies are running low across the board. The usual supplies that could be called upon from the southern desert have been sucked up by the crisis in Barstow, leaving Bakersfield with nothing to fall back on. The power grid flickers, artillery having taken its toll. Units are running low on ammunition, trying to scavenge the bodies of the dead. Despite gains in Gosford, overall, the line is collapsing.

More problematic… Bakersfield is now fully encircled. The Bakersfield-Barstow highway has been severed and the city is now truly under siege.

The story continues… tomorrow.

Mon April 23 2072

The communications blackout on the part of the Cal-Guard, while temporary, allowed for enough disorganization for elements of the Japanese Imperial Marines to slip around and complete the encirclement of Barstow. Now a city officially under siege, Bakersfield starts to panic. Jace Gill and his team of Goldenboys have left Petro-Cal and are on the front lines, engaging in fire support of the Cal Guard. None can deny that the Goldenboys are the best unit currently in Bakersfield, but that makes them just 'as good' as the Japanese Akuma. It's going to take a miracle to pull off victory.

But there may be a miracle coming together. The Desert Rats ground forces are closing in on the city - and may be able to lift the siege. The California Rangers are marshaling their forces and raiding the interior, forcing Fujiwara to redeploy some of his units to face them. The Mojave Advisory Group is still at large in the JPC, a cause of concern - while Tinman's jail break is causing its own havoc. Rounding out the possible tricks in the hat, is Blindside's resupply convoy, currently barreling for Bakersfield's blockade. Can these disparate forces come together and give Gill the room to breathe?

It seems unlikely. But… did you know that Colonel Takai Fujiwara engages high priced 'specialty' call-girls direct from Japan? It's true. Kismet found out - and then undertook a mission to 'replace' the callgirl coming in from the homeland. Only the 'call girl' was a 75 year old. Yeah. Fujiwara likes his women mature. Real mature.

Gamely though, Kismet went through with it - making herself up to seem like an octogenarian hooker. Let none of you doubt this womans -dedication- to her craft. Cameras -carefully placed- were rolling as she performed a striptease for the Colonel in his command trailer. As he swilled Saki and called her 'ha ha', she paraded her sagging, wrinkled goods for his enjoyment. No one's sure if she 'went all the way', but one things for certain.

His men are laughing at him, due to a 'leak' of the tape by parties hitherto unnamed, but rhyme with 'shizmet'.

The Mojave Advisory group. A loose alliance of runners dedicated to sowing terror and destruction behind the lines. Lyric, Valion, Gratch and Draco stand on a low rising hill, looking down into the town of Shafter. Japanese troops are moving through it - the smoking ruins of its water tower a beacon for miles around. You wouldn't think something filled with water could burn quite like that.

They mount up in their chenowith-lockheed light strike vehicles - small dune buggies with room for two, no armor or doors, but the ability to take a punishment and run across almost any terrain at top speed. Engines turn over and they head down into town. It's eerily quiet as they move street to street, flanking the Japanese force. The vehicles pull to a stop, sheltered by the fallen tower, still smoldering. It's Lyric who notices her - broken and bleeding, a heap of shattered bones and ruptured organs. Alive, but barely.

Valion strides forward, gun lowered, intent on killing the woman who fell from the tower.

Grach calls a halt, raising one hand. His point is simple - this woman is paying for whatever crimes she has committed.. and death is to easy a release from the caul of her own pain and suffering. Valion just quirks a brow, but before a serious debate can be had, there is the sound, the unmistakable sound of tons of metal moving in one great machine across treads. A tank. One of Japan's captured Californian M1-G AbraThe M1-G Abrams rattles down the street and Lyric slips out of the Chenowith-lockheed. Rolling into the shadows, she clutches the satchel charge of C-VII military-grade plastic explosives. It's inert in its natural form - you can stomp on it, burn it, electrocute it and it's just really smelly playdoh. Pointless. It's even non-toxic and safe for children. But. She grins, pulling a detonator from her breast pocket, jamming it into the quarter kilo of plastique. Put that detonator in it, and it becomes a weapon of mass amusement.

She waits for the machine to rumble past - the men in the tank not seeing her. She slips forward, walking in the tanks shadow, no need to mask her steps. She makes it up to the side of the tank, hidden in its over hang. Ballsy, Lyric. The satchel she shoves into the treads, then runs. No one even sees her as she runs, jumping behind a fence, then not stopping. She does not stop until she hits the other side of town. Halfway there, the satchel explodes, a deafening rumble and a column of black, inky smoke. hams, it may be a hundred years old in its shell, but it's a capable, canny fighting machine with software and electronics upgrades. The group backs up, reversing out of Shafter. That tank. That tank is going to have a bad day.

The M1-G Abrams rattles down the street and Lyric slips out of the Chenowith-lockheed. Rolling into the shadows, she clutches the satchel charge of C-VII military-grade plastic explosives. It's inert in its natural form - you can stomp on it, burn it, electrocute it and it's just really smelly playdoh. Pointless. It's even non-toxic and safe for children. But. She grins, pulling a detonator from her breast pocket, jamming it into the quarter kilo of plastique. Put that detonator in it, and it becomes a weapon of mass amusement.

She waits for the machine to rumble past - the men in the tank not seeing her. She slips forward, walking in the tanks shadow, no need to mask her steps. She makes it up to the side of the tank, hidden in its over hang. Ballsy, Lyric. The satchel she shoves into the treads, then runs. No one even sees her as she runs, jumping behind a fence, then not stopping. She does not stop until she hits the other side of town. Halfway there, the satchel explodes, a deafening rumble and a column of black, inky smoke.

Up near Fresno…

"Looks like we got us a convoy." People throughout the train of trucks had been making that joke for hours during the trouble-free run down 99, but as the run on Bakersfield itself gets nearer and nearer, people are starting to quiet down. Tinman and his crew took down a nice score, and it's BSyde who's been tapped to deliver it. The dwarf showed his mettle to the Rangers, and trying to run the Japanese blockade is suicide, so he's the perfect man for it: not important enough that he'll be missed when he gets blown to hell, but possessed of a slim chance of success. So it's him leading the convoy, and a convoy it is.

Aside from his own Leviathan, leading the pack, he's got the faithful Scabbard big rig following along behind him, laden with munitions. Behind it, three battered Cal Guard trucks come rumbling along, stuffed to the gills, driven by convalescents. The heavy hitters, though? They're up in Leviathan with BSyde. Mustang. Fairplay. Spot. Serious, serious mojo. Hopefully, they won't be needed. But as they near the lines, nobody's really thinking that's going to be the case.

Wyvern is a decent driver. At the wheel of a LSV, she glances over as Lyric dives into the vehicle, offering a grin. She hits reverse, then spins the tires. Gravel flies up just as a chirp comes from her scanner. A glance up while she maneuvers tells her all she needs to know. "Get down."

"What?" Asks Lyric, confused.

What comes next is an awesome bit of driving, in which Wyvern uses peripheral awareness to dance the vehicle between buildings and other cover. A thunderclap - and a building to the right explodes.

"What the hell was THAT?" Shouts Lyric, eyes wide.

"Your new friend, the tank! It's following us home!"

And indeed, though she knocked the tank off-track with the satchel charge, she did not destroy it - and the automatic retracking system had it back on the go in the time it took Lyric to run to the meet-point. Charging full ahead at 60 miles an hour, the massive tank is bearing down on them, smashing through the obstacles that Wyvern must dance around.

The BSyde convoy passes its first whiff of real danger without getting blown to hell. A flight of three Protectorate assault choppers, waiting for target vectoring, passes within five miles, but their ground-scan radar never picks up the quintet of heavy vehicles making its way down the highway thanks to BSyde's alacrity with the ECM spoofing.

Oil Junction. That's another matter entirely. That's where the Protectorate attack, pushing up from the northwest, has really started to dig in, establish cordons. It's part of the noose looking to strangle Bakersfield to death. And as the convoy rolls through the town, shelled clean of its defenders by Protectorate artillery the day before, it's way, way too quiet.

Wyvern can't shake that damn tank off her ass. She tries - oh how she tries in her fast little dune buggy, to shake the massive tank that barrels after her. The main cannon swivels to orient on her - tracking on the move like only the Abrhams can.

But then, the whine of an engine and then in comes Valion's LSV. It leaps from behind a dirt ramp, all dukes-of-hazzard as he stiff-arms the wheel. The man driving the dune buggy draws his M1911. It's not a tank. It's a 45 Caliber hand gun named for the year it was first produced. Designed by the daddy of all gun designers, John M. Browning of machine-gun fame, the pistol never ever jams and has been in continuous production and service for over a hundred and 160 years. It is the most popular firearm on the planet, eclipsing the AK-47 somewhere in the late 2020s.

At the top of the jump, with dirt and gravel trailing behind his tires, Valion lets of a pair of shots. The shots would do nothing to that tank - they could do nothing to that tank. But to the soldier exposed, manning the top-mounted 50 caliber (browning made!) machine gun, those two bullets are a bad day in the making.

With a sort of marksmanship that comes only with the best of the best, the two bullets shatter through the soldier's goggles and rattle around in his skull after making doors out of his eyes.

He slumps over, dead, the 50cal now unmanned as Valion's buggy slams back to earth.

"Did you see that drek?" Asks Valion of Grach."

"Whoa." Says Grach.

BSyde's convoy has been forced off 99 by an ominous-looking roadblock, coaxed onto the eerily silent (and much tighter) streets of the city itself. As they come round a corner, the silence in Oil Junction's broken by the crack of a heavy anti-material rifle. The Japanese sniper had a head-on shot, and he was going for the vehicle in the lead - Leviathan - but the heavy, engine block-destroying slug goes high, passing over Leviathan, over Scabbard, and thunking solidly through the hood of the first Guard truck. It dies almost instantly with an agonized shriek of metal, forcing the vehicle to an immediate halt, and blocking the progress of those behind it.

BSyde's jacked out and out the door of his Leviathan almost instantly - without those three trucks, this run's little more than a vanity exercise. He has to get them up, and get them moving. Mustang's with him, already starting to bark orders at the Guard drivers, who already look like they're thinking strongly about ditching their charges and legging it. And nobody could blame them. This? This is a perfect ambush spot. Playfair and Spot are already doing their thing, seeking out the opposition in the astral. Their report's not going to be good.

Picking up the coms, Grach switches to VOX. "Wyvern! Valion! Here's what we're going to do. Valion, I want you to lead the tank left, into Oil Junction! Dodge, duck, dive and dodge. Wyvern! When we come around to the outskirts, I want you to cut across his front… Lyric, thats where you throw another satchel charge to get his attention. When that goes off, we break left, you break right. He'll come down the center. Lyric, Valion, you'll knock the tops off two of those oil wells here on the map, and we'll lead the tank right into the spray. A little Grand Dragon ATM later… and we've got a goddamn tank fricassee."

And that, they say, is exactly how it happened. The tank roared right into the trap, egged on, spurred on by the tight knit coordination of the Mojave Advisory Group. The right tactics, the right situation, the right plan. The two vehicles of the MAG roar off down the road - skirting a battle underway involving what looks like a convoy of trucks. "Sucks to be those guys." Mutters Valion, as the team heads deeper into town.

Heavy autofire rains down from the surrounding buildings on the convoy trapped in Oil Junction. Two platoons from the Third Battalion of the Zennyo Ryuo have the picket duty here, supported by a half-squadron of the Noppera-bo's light tanks, and they're doing everything they can to kill every last member of BSyde's crew as the dwarf works furiously to patch up an engine block with little more than spit and hardcopy porn. Miraculously, nothing's exploded yet.

Though maybe it's not so miraculous after all. Seriously outnumbered, seriously outgunned, the three Awakened runners BSyde took along to ride shotgun are showing exactly what kind of pain they can dish out. Mustang has marshaled them and the drivers into what little cover the rubble offers and, trusty Manhunters in hand, she's slapping fresh mags like a mad woman. Every bullet kills. Every. Last. One. Impossible at this range. Impossible for anyone. Mustang? She makes it look easy.

Spot's a dervish. There's no other word for it. The dwarf's a spell-slinging madman, and just as many Protectorate soldiers are going down under the barrel of his shotgun as they are from the astral flares of his stunbolts. He's running the ragged, pathetically small defensive line BSyde's convoy has established, and what he lacks in precision he makes up for in ferocity. Don't piss off dwarves. Ever. They're the perfect height to buckshot your nuts.

And Fairplay? He's not exactly a slouch, either. His fire elemental, Bob, is currently throwing a sniper team out of their nest high up in the Allison Energy building, letting them burn all the way to the ground.

Just as BSyde slams the hood shut and shouts that they're good to go, the first of the Japanese tanks rumbles around the corner up the road. It doesn't know what it's walking into. A raised palm, a muttered word, and a wall of invisible force hits it, hard enough to knock it right over like a toy. Fairplay, looking drained, humps it back to Leviathan.

Mon Apr 23 2072

The Leviathan roars back to life, and it's pissed. It's been shot at without getting to respond, but as soon as BSyde jacks in? Up comes that turret, and soon enough the transport rig is screaming its anger back at the Protectorate troops remaining as the dwarf at her helm guns the engine. It's like something out of a tridflick as the convoy gets rolling again, taking fire from all directions, giving better than they're getting back in return. The convoy starts to move, Bambi driving Cerberus (Who knew a sexbot was more than a fleshlight with legs?) and doing a decent job of it, running interference.

It's a hailstorm of shells and bullets. Rounds bounce off Leviathan, sparks flying up from its bulk while they ricochet off Scabbard. Lighter armored, that truck takes a pounding, holes appearing in her metal and cries of anger rising from the Drone Pilot. Pulling out of the would-be death box, Mustang, Spot, Fairplay and Blindside appear… free and clear. Shot to shit, but free and clear. Miraculously, nobody's dead, and the worst injury is a broken coccyx. The tale of how it was earned will likely be told over beers in Bakersfield, a city that's going to be more than happy to see relief, however token, barreling down the highway.

Meeting up with Blindside's convoy is Tinman's private mass transit system, the five busses of the Corcoran Correctional Breakout. Using the hole punched through by Blindside, they all roll into Bakersfield together, airhorns blaring.

Mon Apr 23 2072

Trailing in on the convoy into Bakersfield, is Watson. The intrepid reporter came out with LooLoo in her little van, then shifted to the Grizzlies for a while. Armed only with a camera, a plated vest and a lack of terrible good sense, she transferred to Tinman's convoy just south of Cororan after the Grizzies blew the hell out of a pursuit team raised by the prison. What's she been doing the entire time? She's been making a documentary. It was too good a chance to pass up.

The Documentary is yet untitled, but with 59 hours of footage, including battle cams from drones and vehicles, landscape shots from the terrain she's traveled, with Interviews with Rangers, Runners and Refugees, it's going to be good. If she can get it on the air. NewsNet seems interested, but it's going to need polishing.

But it may just blow the lid off this whole goddamn state.

Mon Apr 23 2072

What has it cost Watson? It's cost her quite a bit, and it's the piece de resistance of her little show. Watson's now in the critical care facility of Bakersfield General. Coming into Bakersfield, her car took a shot that seems to have blown off half her face and left her with burns across shoulders and chest. She's weak, and no amount of cosmetic surgery is going to restore her good looks, but it's scars well earned. The centerpiece interview, is Jace Gill, interviewing Watson - asking her what made her do it. What made her risk herself. The image of the reporter, lying burnt in her hospital bed… is what will drive home the personal, less abstract cost of war.

Mon Apr 23 2072

Fresh troops. New supplies. A renewed sense of morale. But is it enough? Can the Cal Guard overcome the deficit of trained, professional soldiers? Can they dig themselves out of the hole they got into when Minton died and they turned on each other? Can they fight their way out of an encirclement by superior forces?

So far, even with every victory scored by the runners assisting, with every round fired by the soldiers defending, it's just been a delaying action.

Mafen's refugees, armed by Blindside's supplies, constitute a bare fighting force of only 200. Motivated, to be sure, but only 200 men. Flint's attack on the ammo dump slowed the enemy down, and though the artillery was stopped, it still rained down hell. Efforts by the MAG cause havoc and force the redeployment of the Home Guard off the front line, but the advance isn't slowed appreciably.

The Japanese have heavier armor, better training and more men. They knocked down the Cal-Guard aircraft, they blocked Cal-Guard communications for hours, and the slammed into the front line and collapsed it time after time. The collapse of Bakersfield looks imminent, as the powergrid flickers - then dies.

Mon Apr 23 2072

But what of the California Rangers and their vaunted Grizzlies? Oh, they are powerful, and they are wreaking havok. But they are being pitted against the Home Guard, and those units, while impressive, are reluctant to open full bore against their own countrymen - though the feeling is mutual. They have turned south, to attack the Japanese flank.

And what of the Desert Rats? Their planes control the sky, it's true - but what of their land forces? Tanks roll into Wheeler Ridge, along the I-5 corridor, and the fighting there is fierce. The muzzle flash of tanks and the drop of bombs light the night sky to the south and west, the Desert Rats doing what they do best.

But neither of these forces are invulnerable. No one is. Losses do mount. People die. Symbols shatter. No people know that better than the Californians. They've been in the business of shattering for 70 years now. They are experts in watching everything they love tumble down around them.

Mon Apr 23 2072

"And this is Ken Takamura with NewsNet Nightly. All news. All the time. The straight scream. We go now to our action-point: California Bureau and Jill Haverstrom in Bakersfield, California. Jill - can you hear us? We know you're connecting through STARnet. You're coming to you live from the top of Petro-Cal tower in Bakersfield. We can see behind you, that the city is blacked out. How many people are still in Bakersfield, Jill?"

Jill is indeed, atop the tower, standing with General Jace Gill - recently promoted by order of Governor Gill for valor in battle. He looks tired. He looks haggard, but he's got a hell of a strong chin and alert, angry eyes.

"Yes, Ken! The city is blacked out - with complete power failure as of 30 minutes ago. The city receives power from the Lake Isabella Hydro plant, but with the encirclement of Bakersfield and the severing of Cal-178, the power appears to have been cut. Still in this city, are some 200,000 civilians who have been shelled, bombed and burned, and now have lost power. The pumps on the water towers will only operate for some 36 hours, before water pressure will drop to nothing, Ken. When that happens, basic sanitation will break down."

"Oh my. Who is that with you?"

"Ken, this is General Jace Gill of the California Guard. He'd like to say a few words."

"Well certainly, put General Gill on."

Jill passes the Microphone to Gill, who takes a moment to compose himself. "People expect me to make an inspirational speech. They expect me to stand up here and tell you that we're going to pull together and come out of this as heroes, covered in Glory and the Bear Flag. Well." He says, features hard. "That may not be the case."

"Loyal agents of the Great State of California, they intercepted and stole a shipment of VX 301 Aerosol gas. This is a Neurotoxin. It's fatal with even a small dose - and when not fatal, it causes paralysis and coma. It doesn't break down rapidly - it doesn't go away. This shipment was bound for the 3rd Marine Division, which is bearing down on us. This is not a weapon of war. It's a weapon of murder. It doesn't care who you are. It doesn't care if you're metahuman or human, it doesn't care if you are rich or poor, Japanese or Californian. It's a horrible substance and has only one use. Mass Murder. And it's coming for us."

Mon Apr 23 2072

The California Rangers have sent out word. The man responsible for the disaster at Delano has escaped. Lazarus 'Tonka' Jones used magic to make his way out of ranger custody and vanished. The rangers are offering a bounty of 250,000 for his return alive or 100k for him dead. There are rumors that this elf may be working for someone else, and that the whole fiasco was engineered to help lead to Southern California's situation. The collapse at Delano and the destruction of the Prospects allowed Bakersfield to be encircled.

Mon Apr 23 2072

Halferville has been attacked! A magical terrorist snuck into the refinery and managed to detonate explosives that damaged the dock facilities! West coast gasoline and oil prices are expected to spike. While repairs are currently underway, the work stoppage will take at least two weeks. The ruling council of halferville is being fairly mum on finger-pointing, though there are rumblings from some that the individual in custody has links to the Japanese. Some rumors place him as a sword-wielding elven magi. He is currently being held in the Port Chicago Prison.

Mon Apr 23 2072

Mafen, Tycho, Flint and Sage only: Undercover of darkness, the city blanketed in a blackout, they strike. Rappelling down from a nearly silent helicopter - a helicopter only you seemed to hear - be it from acoustic reverberation or your spidy sense. You can't pinpoint it, but it was there…

Moving with military precision - a crisp control and communication. Hand signals only, no radio communications, no lights, no nothing. They move through the Bakersfield armory. Silently, they take down the 4 members of Gill's personal guard - the Goldenboys - who guard the Canisters. All four are loaded into backpacks, then the men are wenched back aboard. It's less than a minute, in and out. Then the helicopter - and its whisper quiet rotors - is gone.

Mon Apr 23 2072

"Mr. President. Here's the dossier you requested. California Free State."

Kyle Haeffner takes the datapad and touches the screen. Pressing his thumb to it, it reads his DNA and unlocks. 'Eyes only'.

It's census figures.

2040, State Population was 45,000,000 people. Before Los Angeles was kicked out. Population of estimated metahumans: 9,000,000.

2050, State population was 35,000,000, after Los Angeles. Estimated Population of Metahumans: 7,000,000.

2060, State population 38,000,000, Estimated population of metahumans: 7,500,000.

2070, State Population (CalFree+JPC), 30,274,000. Estimated Population of Metahumans: 2,300,000 (Anomaly: Population indexes indicate average mean of 6,054,800).

2072, CIA Estimation of Metahuman population: 242,200.

Kyle closes the datapad, then puts his face in his hands. "Why havn't I seen this before?" He asks, voice deceptively quiet.

"Sir?" asks Avery Brooks, director of the CIA. "You've never asked to see it."

Mon Apr 23 2072

Word filters back to Bakersfield - Corcoran is in an uproar. The internment camp there, though only 20,000 people remained, is in a full riot. Lt. General Neil Rogers has had to pull back the Sons and the Brother's Keepers to assist the internment Division in putting the riot down. The Warriors have been redeployed to chase down the Grizzlies - pulling nearly 2700 men off the line in Bakersfield.

Tues April 24 2072

The Akuma came into Bakersfield with 14,000 men. Due to their superior medical support services - their casualties have been lighter than one might expect. Men who might have died are saved, and men who might have been removed from the fighting can move back to the front lines. The care for this goes to Noppera-Bo, Batallion 3. Unmolested while the war raged around them, they have been quietly patching up men left and right. But that does not mean the 3rd is without casualties. The air company was wiped out of the air in the first day - no match for the Thunderbolts of the Cal-Guard. The Aobozu have suffered 50 percent casualties, with 2,500 men down and unable to fight, while the Onryo have taken 20 percent casualties.

Meanwhile, The largest armor battle ever fought in North America appears to be shaping up between Zennyo Ryuo and the Desert Rats - three Battalions, all but one of the Akuma Armor, are now squaring off with the two battallions of the Desert Rats.

Tues April 24 2072

Meanwhile… In Barstow…

Tues April 24 2072

A unified Barstow would be a hell of a good thing for Cali, and at least one man has his sights set on just such a goal. The vice-peddler known as Rose, who recently made an impression amongst the criminal underclass, is starting in on a takeover. He's got the network for it, and he's a pretty convincing bastard, and it certainly helps that he's got some muscle behind him. That always makes people more willing to listen.

And listen they do, when the elf known as Billie starts making the rounds of the drug smugglers, making offers that they can't refuse, so to speak. She makes plenty of sense as to why they'd want to align themselves under Rose, and she gets what she wants, but more than a few can't help feeling like they're being taken advantage of, or getting in a little too deep. Besides…never trust an elf.

Tues April 24 2072

In Barstow, not everything is death and chaos and explosions. A troll is there entertaining some of the refugees, fancy magic tricks, which in a trolls hand, rather large objects manage to disappear. You also wouldn't believe the fact he made a small pipe disappear up his nose instead of a pencil. The finally is when the troll performs acrobatics, literally running up the side of a building before back-flipping and landing on the ground. Its not food, its not shelter, but for a short moment, its enough to raise the spirits of this ragtag group of refugees.

In the crowd though is someone who while smiling, is not quite thinking of the circus. Rose and Billie watch the trolls displays, and realizes that this talent could easily be put to use in other areas. The elf will soon have to have a chat with the troll about his earning potential.

Tues April 24 2072

The Battle of Wheeler Ridge. It's a show down between armored forces that is being watched by every major power in North America and beyond. The single largest clash of tanks ever had in North America outside of Texas, it's a trial by fire for the Desert Rats and a critical battle to win for the Japanese.

On one side, you have the superior trained, superior equipped Desert Rats, but they have just completed a forced march of over a hundred miles and are charging directly in to combat.

On the other side, you have the numerically superior Japanese, using a smattering of Japanese tanks, but the majority of which are captured Cal-Guard tanks taken during the first invasion.

The battle seems to go in favor of the Japanese from the outset, with Major Ken Abe of the Zennyo Ryuo outflanking the Desert Rats. Losses mount on both sides, but with nearly equal commanders and numerical superiority, the Japanese clearly dominate. The forces break off, regrouping to return to battle in the next few minutes. Some 1/3rd the Desert Rat force lays smoking, while less than a quarter the Japanese have been destroyed.

Tues April 24 2072

The regrouping of the Desert Rats does them well, but they are unable to break the grip of the Japanese. An inspired charge by Ken Abe is only barely blunted by the efforts of the Desert Rats, in an engagement that will be disassembled for decades to come at West Point. It is a ballet in the hills, a dance between hundred ton partners that maneuver and turn for the advantage. In the end though, the nickel and diming of the Japanese add up and the Desert Rats have to break off yet again.

Tues April 24 2072

The Desert Rats are pressed on all sides. Ken's armor has out maneuvered them, out gunned them and out flanked them. Pulling back for a moment, the beleaguered and exhausted fighting force tries to figure out what to do. Major Jim Sykes shakes his head, eyes squinting. Conferring with Lucky, who knows the lay of the land better, they come up with no real options. They're boxed in.

"You know what rats do when trapped?" Asks Lucky. It's only a half heartbeat pause. "They fight like lions. Lets do this."

And do it they do. The Desert Rats stop trying to play games of flanking and posture - they stop trying to dance and they start a good old fashioned American Brawl. The Japanese, somewhat overconfident with their ability to wear down the Rats are shocked - stunned by a full frontal charge by a numerically inferior foe.

When the dust starts to blow off from the battlefield, the Desert Rats have lost more tanks, more men - but Ken Abe's feared armored Brigade has broken - leaving behind more than two thirds it's number as they retreat north along highway 5.

They will not be returning to Bakersfield.

OOC: Victory, Desert Rats.

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