Escalation (Part 1)

Content warning: This story contains strong language.

Dirty grey snow drifted down onto the windscreen before being swept off by a trio of wipers, leaving only a faint smear of ash and chemical residue behind. Esâ pulled xir truck off the permacrete road and onto a parking area made from compacted ice and rock debris. A figure in a hooded parka motioned with a pair of glow sticks toward a space at the end of a row of vehicles next to a low dome, and xi followed their direction before killing the power.

“Okay, let’s go see how the locals are doing. We didn’t see any other vehicles for the last hour, and there’s none queued up here, so either the blockade is going very well or very badly,” xi said, pulling up the hood on xir white and brown patterned parka. “Hopefully someone has some sbitenis on the go, or at least some tea.”

Dropping down from the cab, xi moved swiftly out of the way of the other two occupants. Once the doors were sealed they moved towards a large geodesic tent. “I’ll see what’s going on, bratra,” one of Esâ’s companions said, slipping his small frame quickly into the entrance, made of a brown artificial fabric similar to that which made up their parkas.

Stamping xir feet, Esâ turned to the other, the tallest of the trio. “Feels good to be out of that vehicle and on our feet, yes Asja?” xi grinned, “away from that strange artificial engine noise?”

“It has good torque though, at least—even if the engine recording has a weird glitch in the middle and is only an hour long!” Asja laughed. “Hopefully Tikhon won’t keep jerking awake every time it happens on the way back. Every time he does, the bench bounces and it wakes me too”

Esâ rolled xir eyes dramatically. “I know, and every time you do you kick me! Ah, here he comes now… and with some warm drinks for us too, if my nose is to be believed.”

Stepping out, Tikhon handed a small cup to each. “Coffee for the westernized one, and sbitenis for the old traditionalist!”

“Cheeky bastard,” his two friends muttered in unison, before catching each other’s eyes and laughing.

Turning, Tikhon motioned towards someone who’d followed them out. “Esâ, I believe you’ve met Batya Yakovlevich Osipov, but Asja, this is the leader of the local community who we’re working with here.”

“Please, call me Ony,” the newcomer said, beckoning them to follow as he walked off, “I don’t feel old enough for ‘Batya’! But come, let me show you around.

“As you could see if we had more light, five days ago, the main roadway was blocked by trucks that had their starters removed. Two days ago the backlog of haulers all turned around and left, and the workers should have left for R&R by now, so they’re gonna be pretty tetchy soon. I’ll take you on a proper tour come the morning, and introduce you to the rest of my crew who’re currently sleeping in the cabs, but the key piece is that there’s ten thousand credits of raw material being generated by this site each day that they can’t ship and they’ll run out of space to put it in tomorrow. At that point, they have to shut down and stop polluting our land, or start running air freight out here… but with the weather we’ve got coming, that’s risky.”

“How long do we have to find a permanent solution?” Tikhon asked, making notes on his PAD. “The last I checked showed the wildlife were down to about forty percent of their previous population.”

“You’ll have to talk to Sandra for the accurate figures, but the long and the short of it is that if we don’t turn it around soon the population will be too small for us to hunt without finishing off old Jack’s damage. At that point, we’ll have to abandon the area and that leaves Weyland free to pillage unopposed. A year, give or take a couple of months, and there’ll be nobody here without a logo on their breast and blood money in their pocket.”

The four lapsed into silence as they inspected the blockade, the uncomfortable truth casting a shadow over the previously jovial mood. Tikhon continued to work calculations as they walked, but Esâ and Asja checked the positions and state of all the hamstrung vehicles. As they approached the front entrance, Asja stopped and stretched.

“Well, I’m happy with the setup here. How about you, boss?”

“Yes, the plan seems to have been followed well,” Esâ answered. “We should probably get some sleep ourselves, we’ve another long drive tomorrow to the next facility.” Xi turned back towards the yurt.

The silence was suddenly shattered by a pair of small explosions followed by one, larger wall of sound and wind. The night lit up with orange and red.

Almost instantly, Asja was between Esâ and the source, a heavy machine pistol in hand. “What the fuck was that?”

Ony’s comm unit burst into life, rapid fire profanity from multiple sources making it all but unintelligible. “Zinoviya, what’s going on?” he shouted, switching the device from multiband to single source.

“—ck on them, make sure nobody got some stupid idea” a voice crackled from the unit. “Sorry Ony, everyone’s lost their heads. Not a damned clue what happened, except three, maybe four trucks inside the compound just went nova. Nobody was watching that area, all our focus was on the gate and the road but suddenly whoomp ka-BOOM.”

The four of them made their way to the main gate, where a crowd of a few dozen people stood staring at a raging inferno on the other side of a steel lattice fence.

Ony rubbed his face with his hands, and sighed. “This is your show, Esâ. You’re the one who came up with the plan – what do we do now?”

“First up, we stop staring like children on a camp out. I want everyone to check in—we need to know if anyone is missing. Have people gather by their trucks, and then when their whole group is confirmed here one of them should come check in with someone you trust—maybe that Zinoviya? We need to know within five minutes if this was our side going rogue.

“Secondly, Tikhon, that smoke is blowing away from us but it’s probably toxic—check on that, and keep an eye out for the wind shifting. Asja will keep an eye on the compound, and you’ll go see if any of our sources inside have a damned clue what just happened. Me, I go see what I can discover. Tikhon, you can make sure nobody trips over me behind this truck.”

Watching for a moment to make sure everyone was doing what they’d been told to do, xi crouched down behind the wheel of an old backhoe loader, and reached into xir parka to pull out a transmitter, and dropped xir hood to expose several implanted devices embedded in xir skin. Xi plugged a cable from the small device into the side of xir neck, counted down from three, and then subvocalized a mantra.

Tundra Voice, Vella Axe.

With that subvocal command, Esâ’s cyberdeck, Marrow, spun to life, the hum of electrical activity matching xir increased neural activity. Xir awareness became the infinite nothingness of an unfocused digital environment. Esâ mentally activated a pair of programs—Shadow first, to confuse any tracer ice, and Snoop second to hunt out a local node… bingo. The nearby guard building had a wireless connection to relay comm signals, easily cracked with a brute force password tool. From there, the main facility was accessible with only a single data gate standing in the way.

Esâ smirked. Obviously, whoever budgeted for cybersecurity on these facilities was relying on the remote location for protection and skimmed a little for themselves. They hadn’t anticipated someone sat right on top of their network.

Now inside the network, xi spun up four instances of a search tool, spinning them off throughout the local nodes looking for anything relating to the last thirty minutes. Xi settled xir mind down to review the feeds as they came in.

Production stats, storage quotas, numerous complaints from staff, so much junk data even with the strict timesearch criteria… there we go. Twenty-two minutes ago, an approved requisition for explosives checked out of stores. Three minutes before that, an internal memo promising to ‘deal with both of the recent issues, without impacting the budget’…

A sudden pain jolted through Esâ’s awareness, snapping xir back to reality. Out of Netspace, xi found Asja standing over xir, hand back ready for another slap.

“They got fucking Armour, boss! We are getting the hell out of here!” Asja shouted over the gunfire, pulling Esâ to xir feet and pushing xir quickly towards the truck. “Tikhon, you and Ony get in the back. Make sure he’s strapped in.”

The four figures scrambled aboard. Moments later the electric vehicle demonstrated its torque and hit the highway at full speed, tearing away from the carnage and flexing of corporate power.

Esâ Afontov: Eco-Insurrectionist

Esâ Afontov: Eco-Insurrectionist

Anarch Identity: Cyborg

Minimum deck size: 45 – Influence: 15

link: 0 – mu: 4

The first time each turn you suffer core damage, you may draw 1 card and sabotage 2. (The Corp trashes 2 cards of their choice from HQ and/or the top of R&D.)

Waiting is useless. The crisis is here; pick a side.

Illustrated by Benjamin Giletti

For more on Anarch’s new sabotage mechanic, check out Lead Designer June Cuervo’s companion article to this piece.

Midnight Sun will be released on July 22, 2022, as physical cards via NISEI’s print partners and pay-what-you want files for downloading and printing at home!


  • Serenity "SwearyPrincess" Westfield

    Serenity is the VP of Engagement for Null Signal Games, and wishes it was her full time job. Known by some as "Netrunner's Cool Goth Mom", she's a DJ in her spare-spare time and streams under the psuedonym SwearyPrincess!