Acahya looked over the haul of goods her new companions had “liberated” from Aztechnology storehouses: huge crates of entertainment devices, briefcases filled with drugs, enough weapons to supply a small army, and much more. They had only been in Ensenada for a few days—getting their stolen yacht repainted and re-registered after their perilous flight from the Los Angeles shakeup—but had already made inroads with the local organized crime syndicate who were happy to have foreigners take the risk on daring escapades.

On one hand, she hated being back home. Aztlan is where her parents were murdered. Aztlan was where the corporate overlords debased and humiliated local families just living their lives. Aztlan was where the stunning beauty of untouched wilderness was being plowed under, paved over, or chewed up in the name of profit.

On the other, those reasons and more steeled her resolve, assuring her that however long they could stay in Baja, their time would be costly for Aztechnology. Most of the crew had friends, family, or connections in the Caribbean League, but traveling there meant trying to get through the Panama Canal, which was entirely operated by agents of the Corporate Court, who didn’t take kindly to deniable assets who got burned on a job, whether it had been a set-up or not. With any luck she could keep the runners’ attention on local matters for as long as possible while they “figured out their next steps.”

The commlink at her hip chirped, momentarily drawing her attention away from imagined retaliation jobs against Aztechnology. It was their contact at the local syndicate.

Güey mano, I’ve had some trouble with a driver. He ran into some federales and won’t be back for a while.”

“And this is my problem?” she rolled her eyes, annoyance dripping from her native Aztlanner Spanish.

“You bet it is; this was the guy gonna haul your stuff to the buyer, get me? Unless you want your goods sitting in my warehouse for a few months you gotta make a run for me.”

She pinched her nose. “You lost your driver, and now you want us to haul our own goods to the buyer? And we’re paying you a percentage for the privilege? Get real.”

“Look. You want to make money, I want to deliver goods. I’m cutting my fee in half for this if you haul it. I found the buyer, all you have to do is meet them.”

Sighing, she looked at her companions. Some had gone day-drinking, others to watch Urban Brawl games broadcast out of La Paz, and the ones left on the boat looked bored and on the edge of doing something stupid. People who were trained for a life of excitement didn’t do well cooped up on a boat or in small towns, no matter how nice the boat was.

Pandejo. We’re in, but if we run into any ‘complications,’ you’re paying for our expenses. And we’re using our own truck, si?”

Bumping along the rough and rugged roads leading out of Ensenada, Acahya was fairly pleased with the crew who came along to escort the goods. They’d avoided several military inspection sites and obvious traps by enterprising thrill gangs, and were as professional as she could ask for—meaning they were relaxed and cracking bad jokes. New fish would always be clammy and jittery before the bullets started flying, while veterans knew there was nothing to stress about until it was go time.

“We’re here” the drivers voice echoed through the truck’s tinny speakers. “Acky, are you doing the talking?”

She let loose a tirade of Spanish insulting his mother.

“Okay, since I didn’t catch a word of that, seems like you’re ready.”

She gestured to Whale, a giant of a man and the only other native Aztlanner in the group, to follow her. His role was simple: if anything looked threatening, he was to start smashing it. Conversely, if her words weren’t convincing enough, he was to become the most threatening thing in the area. They had a good working relationship.

She stepped into the sun-bleached dust of a burned-out trailer park, letting her eyes adjust to the glare, and taking the opportunity to give the area a quick once-over with her magical sight. She sensed the buyers in the ruins of a gas station across the road, but didn’t feel there were any surprises lying in wait; they were here for business, same as she.

Nodding to her escort, all 350kg of him, she walked confidently toward the covered carpark where diesel pumps once stood—another example of man’s hubris and excess at the cost of nature, she thought. In their place were three figures: one human, one ork, and an elf. They had pistols on their belts and stood like they knew how to use them. This was an established team with a lot of military drilling, then; Acahya had seen their like in the upper ranks of Black Star. Good, she thought, always preferring to deal with professionals.

“We have the agreed-upon equipment,” she called out as she closed the distance, an even and measured pace signifying she was as calm and collected as they were, her hands open and staying at waist-height. “We can make the trade and be on our way.”

“I thought you were all foreigners,” the human said in perfect Spanish, an eyebrow raising from behind dark glasses. “You’ve been making a lot of noise around here.”

“Some people need to have their windows rattled a little,” she shrugged nonchalantly, “for some of us, it’s just business. For others,” she gestured to herself and Whale, “it’s personal.”

“I can appreciate that,” he answered. “I am Sonodor, and my associates here can transfer the goods, and when they are satisfied the shipment is complete, I’ll authorize the payment.”

“Sonodor—” Acahya’s mind raced. Where had she heard that name before? She had very few contacts left in Aztlan willing to speak to her, let alone work with her—owing to her famously acerbic personality and penchant for verbally abusing anyone she felt showed weakness—so it couldn’t have been an old contact-of-a-contact…

Her eyes lit up. “You’re a colonel in the Yucatán Resistance League! I remember hearing about your raid on the Az facility outside of Mérida a few months ago. You put a nice dent into the oil refineries there, sent the corpo operations back at least two years. Impressive stuff, especially the clean getaway.”

A smile played on the man’s lips, while the elf sneaked a sidelong glance to the ork. “I’m touched,” the human admitted. “Not many heard about that raid—Aztechnology was quick to spin the story in a positive light.”

She shrugged. “True patriots know where to find the truth beneath their mierdan lies. I appreciate the work you’ve been doing; your people and I, we understand what’s been stolen from the people in this country.”

A huevo,” he smiled. “Take my commcode. Some operations are…heating up here on the West Coast. We may have use for similarly-minded friends.”

Her commlink blipped with the new contact. “De nada.” She touched her hand to her chest in appreciation and camaraderie. “Power to the people.”

“Power to the people.”

Her team watched the rebels unload the truck and move the various boxes into their own waiting transport. Whale—the Samaritan he was—helped, carrying in one massive armload what would have taken the ork and elf three trips. Acahya and Sonodor chatted in the shade during the exchange, swapping stories of raids and attacks against Aztechnology facilities, and the abhorrent lengths the hated corporation had gone to try and find them.

When the last box was loaded, the ork gave his boss a quick affirmative salute before hopping in the vehicle himself, the elf already behind the wheel.

“The agreed-upon funds” Sonodor said, shaking Acahya’s hand warmly. “And a bit extra for the good work you’ve been doing. If you find yourself near Lázaro Cárdenas in two days’ time, the rebellion might have a job for you and your friends. If nothing else, we have a place safe from Aztechnology spies you can relax at for a few days.”

She smiled, genuinely—a rare thing, particularly in recent months. “We will see you there, Colonel.”

He turned his head over his shoulder as he approached his dust-covered heavy truck. “Give me a few minutes’ head start out of here. Pinche satellites notice when a place empties out in a hurry.”

She nodded and wished them well with a wave. Checking the transferred funds on her commlink, she let out a low whistle before showing the number to Whale. “They can certainly afford us,” she suggested wryly.

“Acky, Whale, we got trouble!” came Wheeljax’s—their driver—excited shout from their truck’s external speakers. “Comms are jammed and we got two forces converging on us. One looks military, the other more rag-tag. And the both got damn air support!”

Acahya and Whale sprinted from the shaded gas station and jumped into the open-air bed of the team’s ride, the former weaving around herself a cloak of defensive magic to help stop incoming fire, while the latter hefted his massive two-handed axe in one mighty fist, his other holding on to the truck’s roll cage.

“I broke their encryption,” their resident tech-head called from inside the cab. “They’re Azzie military, and they’re looking for some rebel officer. Orders are to shoot on sight.”

“And the other side?” Acahya called out as the vehicle roared to life beneath them.

“I dunno. I’m getting—war chants maybe? Prayers? Something about a… oh gods,” he gasped.

“What, pandejo, what is it?”

“They have a fraggin’ dragon! The other force are rebels and they have a damned feathered serpent with them!”

Acahya’s frustrated moue twisted into a sinister and bloodthirsty grin. “These odds just got a lot better. I say we introduce ourselves to our new friends and make short work of the local corp military.”

“Frag that!” came Wheeljax’s immediate reply. “Everyone hold on to something!”

Before Acahya could reason with the rest of the team their truck launched from its partial hiding spot, approaching police lights visible through the choking dust cloud billowing in the team’s wake. “Gun it!” Whale called out, hooting with excitement as he swung his ax over his horned head.

Through the remains of the long-abandoned trailer park, through rusted and sand-blasted chain-link fences, past the momentarily confused band of rebels coming to the aid of their colonel—who, unbeknownst to them had already safely departed before the military’s arrival—and beneath the shimmering scales of an honest-to-goodness flying dragon, Wheeljax drove like a drunk fleeing half-imagined apparitions in a dark, destitute alley, hoping to put as much distance and cover between the team and the faction warfare behind them.

Realizing her efforts to get him to turn around and help the rebels were falling on deaf ears, Acahya sat down in the truck bed, letting the magical energies which enveloped her return to the metaplanes from which she had summoned them. Looking back at the horizon toward the now-obscured showdown between corporate and rebel forces, a curious smile played upon her lips.

“A dragon,” she murmured to herself, almost reverently. “A dragon, and it was fighting on our side.” She whispered a silent prayer to Huēhuecoyōtl, the Aztec god of mischief and wisdom, thanking him for showing her the truth of her purpose, the validity of her fight. A dragon symbolized the very core of Aztec dualism, being born both of the earthly plane and those of the realms beyond. To Acahya, no more clear sign was possible.

Her lifelong fight against Aztechnology, and all the megacorporations which raped the planet for her natural resources and robbed the people of their natural freedoms, was fated to succeed. She leaned her head against the hard wheel well and closed her eyes against the hot Baja sun.

“Now to convince the rest.”

This story continues the adventures of Acahya and her shadowrunning crew, beginning with Team Dynamics, more fully revealed in Plumbing the Depths, triumphing in The Seeds of Revolution, recovering in A Piece of the Dream Americana, and reliving the past in Smoke Under Water.

Header image by Peter Perhac from Pixabay