As the armored truck bounded down the narrow access road away from the food processing and refinery plant, explosions and gunfire echoed through the humid Peurto Rican evening behind them, the scattered cloud cover lit from beneath by reds and yellows. Marred by deep gouges, shattered reinforced windows, and bullet holes all along the driver’s side, the truck had only one last gate to get through before freedom.

The lone guard, who hours before waved them into the facility after barely glancing at their fake credentials, stepped out of the small security shack, a hand near his rifle but wisely not resting on it. Even at their reckless speed the truck’s team could see his quirked eyebrow and wrinkled brow. The multi-layered security gate did not open for them. “Run him over?” the driver asked his companions, one half of a split effort to destabilize the food giant’s hold on the local economy and its workforce.

Acahya, bleeding profusely from a sniper round she took exiting the ruined facility control room and the taxing effort of casting offensive and defensive spells in the ensuing firefight, painfully lifted her head out of the truck’s bed to take a look at the guard through bleary and bloodshot eyes. She had spent most of her life under the thumb of the vast megacorporation they had just attacked, and had helped lead communities in her native Sonora against their oppression.

Their team’s strike, undertaken on behalf of a would-be rebel leader in San Juan named Maria, would hopefully foment more support for the rising independence movement. She didn’t want to kill any locals she didn’t have to, knowing that good local men and women were forced to work for the corp or risk homelessness, starvation, and death. Her heart, erratically beating as it was with pain and shock, went out to the people of the island, and their plight.

“Give him a chance,” she wheezed, her breaths labored. She could feel the bullet, having entered near her collar bone at a steep angle, digging into her pelvis. It had lanced through her torso and broken a hip on its murderous travel through her body.

Slowing to a stop beside the guard, who wisely made no aggressive movements as the truck neared, the driver calmly rolled down his window, gripping a high-caliber pistol just out of sight. “Hola, officer Rodriguez,” he offered, reading the man’s badge. The driver’s eyes were far icier than his neutral tone.

The guard turned his head to the distant sounds and flashes of destruction, and the approaching wails of more vehicles, likely filled with the plant’s remaining high-threat response teams. “A busy night for a routine inspection,” he said flatly, calmly.

Acahya, the only team member who spoke Spanish natively, answered from the truck bed, her eyes shut tight from pain. “Aztechnology is bleeding your land dry, your people, your futures. It is time for San Juan to tell them you are a free and self-governed Puerto Rico, that doesn’t bow to corporate greed. It is time for revolución.”

Officer Rodriguez nodded, seemingly unfazed by her grievous wounds. “Maria is waiting for you at the dock. Your ship is free to launch as soon as you arrive.” He glanced back in the direction of the plant. “You had better hurry, I think.”

Lifting her shaking hand toward him, rather than offering a handshake as expected, Acahya left a bloody smear on his arm and wrist. Rodriguez looked down at it.

“I bled for you,” she coughed, her teeth awash with crimson. “I bleed for freedom. what do you bleed for, hombre libre?” Her head slumped back down into the truck bed, the last of her energy spent, as a companion started a new bag of saline.

Rodriguez nodded solemnly, slowly, his eyes focused on the dark stain she had left across his clothing and skin. An outsider, willing to fight—and perhaps even die—for his small island. To take on a company with all the money and power in the world, she and her team. He wordlessly triggered the gate to open for the abused truck.

As they drove away, toward the distant lights of San Juan where their exodus awaited, the driver caught one last look of the local man in the rear view mirror. He had thrown his corporate uniform hat into the dust, spitting on it with disgust, before wiping his bloody hand across his cheeks as war paint. He lifted his rifle to his shoulder and slowly walked back toward the plant, toward the corporate hit squad sent to capture or kill the escaping mercenaries.

The heavy security fence closed as the truck passed, and then they were alone in the darkness.

Behind them, gunshots.

This story continues the adventures of Acahya and her shadowrunning crew, beginning with Team Dynamics, expanded on in ¡Viva Aztlán!, more fully revealed in Plumbing the Depths, recovering in A Piece of the Dream Americana, and reliving the past in Smoke Under Water.

Header image by Fajrul Falah from Pixabay