The morning sun glares through the spotted window as I sit, trying to smooth the rough edges of the early hour with a cup of something like coffee. For me, such drowsy moments are commonplace. News doesn't keep decent hours. Today is a special case, for today Rhode's Roads goes on the road with the much-maligned deathrunners.
The place is "Death's Door," a tiny greasy spoon in a forgotten corner of the Midwest called Gages Lake, IL. It's a deathrunner hangout, open at all hours to accommodate its bizarre clientele. It's also the place I've agreed to meet with the Packrats, a successful freelance deathrunning squad, in order to join them on a "pickup."
They make their appearance at six, a motley bunch spilling in the door, calling a casual greeting to the early-morning regulars. Some seat themselves on the torn vinyl of my booth, others pull up chairs, and one sits on the next table. Smiling, "Doc" Wallace, a charismatic young woman, introduces me to the members of her squad: Brett Miller, ex-duellist from the Alabama amateur circuits; Sam, who admits this is a pseudonym and wishes to remain anonymous; Izumi Saito, expert in electronics and a student of death philosophy; Joe Paolo, the group's mechanic; and Mike MacDunne, grizzled veteran of both deathrunning and professional combat football. With this odd group assembled, I begin my interview.
RR: Many of my readers have little concept of your work and how it fits into the business of cloning. Could you enlighten them on that subject?
JOE: (laughing) We scrape up what's left of the rich stiffs and take 'em to the mad scientists. Ain't much more to it than that.
DOC: Crudely put, but accurate enough. When a client of a cloning company dies, and the company is unable or unwilling to send in its own pickup teams, deathrunners pick up the corpse for memory transfer. It sounds simple enough, but it's not an easy job. A couple of hours are all we've got to get the bodies to cold storage before the memories are lost, and there are all kinds of hazards to deal with. They don't all die in their sleep, you know. I've seen cars come off of deathruns looking worse than the losers of professional duels. Repair costs can get ridiculous.
RR: Aren 't the vehicles supplied, and therefore repaired by the companies you serve?
DOC: No . . . except, of course, for the high-profile Gold Cross units, manned by techs. Deathrunners keep pretty much to their own squad, you see, which might be employed by several different companies over the years. A company's not willing to buy a vehicle for an unfamiliar squad to take out and get shot up; so, even if they display a company logo, the escort vehicles and hearses are property of the squad.
MIKE: We don't think of ourselves as company employees. When you're a deathrunner, your first loyalty is to your squad. To the company you're the little guy, the grunt. They don't like to think about you. So business is left pretty much to the squad, especially if it's freelance, like the Packrats.
RR: When do the companies use their own techs for a pickup, and when do they use deathrunners?
DOC: Company vehicles handle routine local traffic - they pick up from hospitals and homes, and handle most of the road casualties that actually take place in the same city as their home base. They're also kept on hand for CCZ wars and major AADA events.
Deathrunners mostly work the outskirts of the cloning facility's region. To make it as a deathrunner, you have to be willing to go anywhere, at any time. We go places where the police won't go ... daily.
MIKE: The company techs get the milk runs, we handle the rough stuff.
DOC: That's not really fair. Some city pickups can be as bad as anything in the uncivilized zones, and the company techs are always on hand for riots, hostage situations and other police emergencies - that's no milk run. But the fact remains, Deathrunners will make the pickup anywhere.
RR: Is it contempt on the part of the company that has influenced the social rejection of your occupation?
IZUMI: Actually there is a tendency in many Western cultures to fear and reject anything associated with death. The deathrunners, I believe, are victims of this superstitious fear. You would not be here if deathrunning did not hold some morbid fascination for your society, yet revulsion is mainly what your readers will feel towards us and our job.
JOE: Yeah, for some reason blood, gore and severed body parts with dangling shreds of skin and veins puts folks off. Go figure.
DOC: As you might have noticed, the occupation tends to make one callous about death, and the morbid sense of humor we sometimes develop to cope is often considered in bad taste.
MIKE: When you make money from dead men, people think you're some kind of vulture, like you're waiting around for your clients to kick off. The clone companies are making even more money off the business, but people only see them resurrecting. I ain't knockin' the Gold Cross or nothin', but there's not much to their miracles if the clone wakes up an amnesiac. That's not immortality.
RR: So what you're saying is that the deathrunners' reputation is undeserved; that they perform a necessary function in the cloning process. But because they are closer to the death, they're stigmatized as ghouls.
IZUMI: Yes. That's our side of the story, anyway.
RR: How does one get to be a deathrunner?
DOC: You need company certification. The basic qualifications are a college degree or two years hands-on experience in an appropriate field - technology or medicine, usually. Plus you need to be certified as a paramedic, and you have to pass an offensive driving test. In addition to testing and certification fees, you have to post a bond - usually about $2,000 - which is returned to you after you've been on the job for 18 months, with no black spots on your record. After that, it costs about $200 a year to renew your certification.
JOE: (waving his hands around grandiosely at the diner and its patrons) But in return for all that time and money, you get ... all this.
MIKE: That's what gets to you, y'know. Not just anybody can be a deathrunner This is a job for experienced educated professionals, but we're still treated like road scum.
RR: Because of their outcast status, the deathrunners seem to have banded more tightly together under their own bizarre code of honor. Are there any unwritten rules to the job that you 'd like to explain before we go on the road'
MIKE: Deathrunner honor's no more bizarre than simple respect for the job and those who do it. We're like family. We take care of our own.
BRETT: (with marked bitterness) 'Cause nobody else will.
SAM: A deathrunner doesn't fall into any social group but the deathrunner community, since most people will turn their backs on us. You can lie about your job, but someone's bound to find out.
JOE: Especially if you're the type of guy who brings his work home with him ... (Doc clears her throat and glares.)
SAM: Even people who work in related or similar professions cut down deathrunners. For example, the techs at the cloning company think deathrunners are beneath them. Likewise, morticians will use you for body retrieval, but they aren't really fond of anyone in the cloning business. That leaves us stuck with ourselves, mostly.
DOC: We gather in places like this in the off time, and we watch each others' backs on the road.
RR: What are the most common popular myths today about deathrunners?
IZUMI: The worst one by far is that deathrunner squads ambush clients to drum up more business for themselves. That's based on the actions of a couple of rogue squads from the early years of the deathrunning industry. At the time the rogues were stamped out thoroughly, and there hasn't been another legitimately reported incident of that sort since.
DOC: A related rumor is that deathrunners who find their client still alive at the pickup point will allow him to die through neglect, or even finish him off. Our first responsibility is to the client, and we'll secure the client's corpse before dealing with any wounded on the site. But our official procedure for a pickup is to secure the body, provide first aid to survivors if possible, then deliver the body at best speed.
RR: "If possible?" So you'll sometimes abandon a wounded individual in order to make your delivery?
DOC: Sometimes it's necessary. But the Samaritans know their business as well as we know ours, and if we got in, the Samaritans usually aren't far behind, if they're needed.
BRETT: There's another myth - that rival deathrunner squads will fight each other over a pickup. I've got to admit, that used to happen, in the early days of industry, but it never happens anymore. The companies don't like it, for starters; it's bad for business. And deathrunners already pay enough for repairs without shooting up each other.
RR: You've mentioned "the early days of the industry" a couple of times. now. When did deathrunning get started?
DOC: There have been deathrunners for as long as there have been clones. In the early days of clone insurance, there weren't nearly as many facilities as there are now. So Gold Cross started a program where the best road duellists in a town without a clone factory would be loaned a refrigerated ambulance and a long-range radio. When a client needed delivery Gold Cross would call their local stringer, and tell him to make the pickup. Often, for security, the ambulance driver would invite some of his duelling friends to make the delivery with him, in exchange for a share of the profits. Those were the first deathrunner squads.
In the '30s, Gold Cross phased out the local stringer program in favor of Valkyries and CONDOR units. But at the same time a lot of new, smaller cloning companies were starting up. They had technology just as good as Gold Cross's, but they didn't have the same budget for client pickup, so they started relying on deathrunners as their primary means of client delivery, and the industry grew instead of dying out.
RR: In addition to the usual dangers of the road, what are risks that are unique to deathrunning?
MIKE: The most unique problem we have is probably corpsenappers.
MIKE: Uh-huh. It's just what it sounds like - somebody either offs a client or picks him up after a fight, puts him in the deep freeze in the basement, and then calls the cloning company and tells them to pay up or they'll never see Uncle Joe's cerebral cortex again.
The big problem with corpsenappers is pinpointing them. Fortunately this is one time when the cops and the companies cooperate fully with the deathrunners - nobody can stand a corpsenapper.
Sometimes the company has to negotiate a ransom. But if we can pinpoint the corpsenappers' location, then the deathrunners go in, on foot, with or without police support. That kind of extraction can get ... intense.
DOC: Fortunately, such situations are still very rare. The Packrats have only had to go up against corpsenappers twice, and that's more than most squads.
RR: It sounds suicidal.
DOC: Well, most of the people you're working with have clones tucked away with one of the companies as a sort of insurance plan; so death kind of loses its sting.
And the companies offer a substantial bounty for corpsenappers - $10,000 a head, dead or alive. At rates like that; you can afford to call in other squads for backup.
JOE: Yeah, and deathrunners always get a free ride in the freezer, even if they're from another squad. They might be stiff competition, but it's only civilized, you know. (He snickers.)
Doc rolls her eyes and smirks, sighing as she steps with casual grace from the booth.
"'Bout that time, mes amis," she comments while she slips slender hands into a pair of antique, leather driving gloves.
The others tumble from their seats and I follow, out to the cracked asphalt of the parking lot.
Doc leans in the open window of their hearse and flicks on the long distance radio. It's a memorable vehicle - a modified black station wagon with white skeletons dancing on the side. Its hood is adorned with a ram's skull while skull-and-crossbones grin from every hub cap. The perfect accents are assorted casualty markers and the whole fox pelt hanging from the antenna (in lieu of the usual tail, this appears to have been flattened in some tragic accident). I draw my attention back to the matter at hand, with obvious difficulty.
"You're notified of body locations by radio?" I ask.
"Usually, yes." Doc begins, hoisting herself up to sit on the hearse's hood. The others lounge similarly, all save Brett, who meticulously cleans the fallen leaves from his spotless, red, turreted Chameleon.
"A company-contracted squad will usually get a list of two or three pickups from their HQ - clients who are being held in cold storage. While the squad's out getting the bodies on the list, they might get radioed with news of fresh kills - clients who've been killed on the road and haven't been frozen.
"Of course, that's just an average. Some days there are no pickups at all. But an established squad contracting with a successful company can usually count on at least one pickup a day, which is enough to cover expenses."
"And some days are extra-busy. If all the company squads are out or unavailable, they open the call for freelance deathrunners. Sometimes they use freelancers just because we happen to be 20 or 30 minutes closer to the site. That's why you don't find deathrunner hangouts too close to the cloning facilities."
"There's also the mortuary calls," Mike goes on. "They can keep you going during a slow stretch, but they don't pay nearly as well as the clone runs."
"As a freelance squad, we pay a special dispatcher who sends all these calls on a single, scrambled channel so we don't have to listen to all the company channels at once," Doc adds. "Then there are general calls for cloneless bodies."
"Some people don't think about getting cloned until they see the treads of the truck that's running them over. When that happens, the memories have to be stored on an MMSD, then they have to start a new clone. It's an expensive, time-consuming and risky process."
"Who alerts the dispatcher or the company that a pickup is needed," I ask, "and who determines which company gets the pickup of the cloneless body?"
"All cloning companies monitor all police and emergency channels continually," Izumi answers. "Each accident and incident report is run through a computer, which determines the probability of it involving a client and being a fatality. If it seems certain or likely that a client needs a pickup, the call goes out. Of course, sometimes it turns out that the client's just fine, or that he just needs a Samaritan. Such calls are frustrating, but they're not a total loss. If your squad's the first one to make a definite report on a client's status after a call, you get a partial fee."
"There's a new system out that will make such false alarms completely obsolete," he continues, obviously warming to his subject. "It's a satellite network called LifeSat. Users wear one of these." He displays a rather bulky white bracelet on his arm. "When vital functions cease, the bracelet sends out an encoded electromagnetic pulse, which is picked up by a satellite in geosynchromous orbit. The satellite's computers figure out your exact location and transmit it straight to your cloning company.
"Right now a LifeSat biomonitor is expensive - I got mine during a prototype test - but I predict that within three, five years tops they'll be standard wear for all clone-company clients."
"As to who gets the pickup on a cloneless body," Doc begins, but she's interrupted as the radio crackles and Joe jumps to feed the incoming message into the hearse's HAVOC computer. The others break into a flurry of movement, slipping into their vehicles with surprising speed and starting engines in preparation for a quick departure.
"That's all up to the deathrunners, darlin'," Doc continues, from the window of her deep-green modified Python, "The squad who gets the body, gets the money, remember? Company squads take 'em to their company. For us, we get a bonus for takin' 'em to Iron Shield in Waukegan."
Joe yells. "Rollins Road, half-mile west of the Fairfield intersect. Iron Shield. Bikers. Been less than 15 minutes. Let's go, guys and ghouls!"
As the hearse screeches from the lot. Doc calls to me, "You're with Brett, Rhode!" and pulls out, moving to the lead.
I suddenly notice that I'm the only one left standing in the parking lot. The Packrats have bearded and started their vehicles before I could even consciously grasp that we are moving out.
I jump heavily into the seat beside Brett, causing him to wince. Before I can close my door completely, we're on the street, speeding down Route 45 as I fumble to latch my harness. The fourth car with Sam and Mike is close behind. Time is everything to a freelance deathrunner, and in only a few short minutes they reach the site.
A perfect spot for an ambush, the road curves to reveal a swarm of cycles hovering like greedy vultures near the carcass of a Morningstar limousine. Five bikers are busy picking it clean and loading the parts into a pickup near the ditch that holds our hapless client's body. The rest, perhaps a dozen cycles, turn and bear down, firing on our group, urged on by the Dead Beats' punk version of Taps booming from our hearse's speakers.
"Son of a ..." curses my driver, "It's the flamin' Raven Raiders! Sit back and don't touch anything!!" He flicks a switch to bring the targeting scope up on his windshield, taking a second to align his sights with the cycle straight ahead. Without hesitation, our escorts race forward to meet the oncoming bikes, blazing machine guns and lasers in response to the Raiders' barrage.
Brett's shot is dead-on, but he hardly seems to notice - only swerves past the bike and speeds beyond the crash site to open road. I am quietly panicking. We take a hit on the right side armor, but far from discouraging this vehicle-sensitive ex-duellist, the gunner has only sealed his place as Brett's next target.
"Flamin' road kill!" he fumes as we spin to attack again.
Smoking and broken cycles and riders are strewn across the road, obstacles for the return pass. They still have the numbers, but the hits we've taken are minor, and the bikers won't hold up well through the second volley. Already the pickup truck is fleeing with its load of loot, drawing a shot from our hearse as it goes.
Again the escort vehicles charge while the remaining cycles speed in our direction, the flares from their guns blooming like short-lived flowers. Brett moves his scope up on the bike ahead of us - the same that had marred his paint job with a lucky shot moments ago. I hear a crack amidst the din, and a spidery mesh of fissures spreads across my view. We've been hit, knocking out the targeting display which fizzles a bit as it fades away. Brett curses, phrases that blister the plastic in the windshield. A spray of bullets punctuates his remarks while the cyclist is thrown back, several holes torn through his armor .. . and his chest. Even without the targeting luxuries, Brett proves he's got the feel for his weapon that defines a born gunner.
To the right, I watch as Mike's laser shot melts a tire and cuts its smoking path into a leg. The victim screams and falls to his left, into the path of Doc's Python. She's suffered some damage to her front armor, but it appears to be superficial, no vital components harmed.
Turning, I glance back to see that the remaining bikers are not attempting to turn for another "joust," but snatching up their wounded and continuing west at top speed.
"They're getting away," I remark.
Brett looks annoyed. "Ain't here to kill off scum, we're here to make a pickup." He stops a few car lengths from the hearse where in the ditch, Doc and Izumi are already working with the body. As I step from the car, I notice Joe picking through the cycles for spare parts. He smiles as he works, chanting lines of poetry, "Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'"
"Most deathrunners don't have a very high opinion of looters," says Sam, who has wandered near. "That's not to say we don't make use of the equipment we run across," he nods to Joe. "But we never take a client's property unless it's absolutely necessary to do the job. See, those bikers are dead and won't be using those cycles anymore; clients won't be dead long if we're doing our job right. Taking their cars or equipment is like biting the hand that feeds you."
"You want to see the body prep?" he asks, and motions for me to follow.
"We don't always have time for the full treatment," Doc explains when we've drawn close enough to hear, "Sometimes it's just 'grab-n-go,' but we like to do some prep whenever we can risk it." Crouching over the body, she has her hand inside its chest, thrust through a gaping incision. Small sprays of scarlet liquid fountain from the wound in time with her movements as I realize she must be manually pumping the corpse's heart. For a moment, paroxysms of violent nausea overtake me, but Doc continues to lecture, ignoring my plight.
"If a neural preservative can be injected within two hours of death, it slows the deterioration. It's got to be pumped through the system by hand." She pulls her dripping hand from the man-made orifice and holds it up by way of demonstration. Swallowing hard, eyes averted, I thank God I skipped breakfast.
"I've had some medical training," she adds, discarding the crimson-smeared surgical glove and mercifully zipping the body bag. "Can you help Sam put him in the hearse? Thanks." Oblivious to the fragile state of my innards and without waiting for a reply, she's off, striding toward Brett who has beckoned her to his wounded vehicle.
"You going to be OK?" Sam inquires as he picks up his end. "You look green."
Steeling myself, I lift my end, and still unsure of the proper response. I answer, "Yeah, I'm fine." Still, I'm slightly chilled by the cold sweat that has formed on my brow.
The hearse is open in the back, and a drawer-like rack has been pulled out of the refrigerated compartment. We manage to lift the body into this berth and slide it back into the hearse. Izumi, mumbling something to the client, adjusts the temperature control.
"Deathrunners call these 'stiffcicle' tanks," I am informed by Sam, who points to the compartment we have just filled. "They're not as good as Gold Cross cryo-units, but they're cheaper, and unless you're going long distance for one body, these are more practical. You've got less time to get the bodies to the clone bank, but you've got to be quick to get the business."
Sam slides out a second drawer to accept the body of one of the bikers that Joe and Doc are now carrying in our direction.
"I'm redecorating my apartment," comes Joe's matter-of-fact response to my questioning look. That earns him a smirk from Doc as they fill the drawer and slide it closed.
"Actually," she explains, "There's a big demand for transplant parts. It's not entirely aboveboard, but selling a few 'John Doe' body parts makes a decent second income. In fact, it would be almost impossible to make our profit margin without them."
Joe stops whistling Just a Gigolo ("I ain't got no body ...") long enough to add, "You gotta keep your bodies straight, or this banker here could have a radical personality change. He'll start wearin' leather ties to the office and gettin' really nasty on loan repayment..."
"Time to go, folks!" Doc breaks in. "Sam, you're with Brett this time. He's a little upset about the car and all, so he won't be very good company. I'm putting Rhode with Mike." As the team hurries to their cars once more, Joe reaches into the hearse and produces a four-inch, pink, fuzzy stuffed mouse of the sort native to truck stops and service stations, and tosses it through the open lime door.
"Trademark" the leader of the Packrats comments, winking. "A little calling card to let the police and clean-up crews know we're on the job. It's good advertising."
Gliding by, the wounded Chameleon takes the vanguard and Joe follows in the hearse. Doc has already turned toward her car; so, in true deathrunner fashion, I rush to my assigned vehicle and prepare for the next leg of this mission.
"Don't let it bother you," Mike advises me as we follow the evergreen Python away from the pickup site. "Brett doesn't like anyone else in the gunner seat, least of all a stranger." This takes me by surprise. I had thought the damage to his vehicle was the source of Brett's choler, but I let the comment slide by with only a nod.
Gray pavement flies beneath our vehicle, and wide fields of grazing cattle speed by on both sides. The ride to Waukegan is longer than the preceding trip, so I spend the time prying information out of the squad's most seasoned member.
"Doc mentioned that a second income is needed. If you don't mind telling me, just how much are you paid for this?"
"Ain't much. Ain't near enough, but most of us got nowhere else to go." He smiles genially through the coppery bramble of his beard. "Doc was right when she said the pay could stand some padding. A squad's paid about $4,000 per body, plus half vehicle repair, with a bonus if the clone turns out good. That's gotta be split up among the members of the team, and after payin' your share of repair, dispatcher fees, fuel costs and incidentals, it comes down to almost nothin'. Your only chance of makin' it in this racket is keepin' a squad small and takin' on any extra work that comes your way. So, you deliver non-cloned bodies to the morgue and stuff like that."
"Do the clone companies all pay the same, or is the pay a little better in one company or another?"
"Well, assumin' you can squeeze your money out of 'em, they're all about the same. See, payin' the deathrunners isn't high on the list of priorities for the company execs. But if you keep at 'em, eventually they'll pay you just to get out of their hair."
"As the front-runners of the industry, you'd expect Gold Cross, at least, to have the kind of security that can afford to pay top money for your valuable services."
"Gold Cross don't use deathrunners much. They have their own system. To hear them talk, they don't use freelance pickup at all."
"'To hear them talk ... ?'"
"Well, even Gold Cross can't be everywhere. But if they were to use deathrunners, they wouldn't want it spread around, would they?"
I let it drop, returning to an earlier subject.
"Still, you'd expect that given the deathrunners' importance to the other cloning companies, they'd pay up promptly."
"You'd expect that, but you'd be wrong," Mike responds. "The clone outfits, like any other legitimate company, is limited to legal channels on collection procedures, so they can only get away with chargin' a customer so much for pickup. Goin' outside the law, like the Red Hand, for instance ..."
I jump on the mention of that name, a phantom operation much heard about, but with no talkative witnesses.
"Would this be the Mafia-run cloning operation?" I ask, as casually as I can. "They hire outside deathrunners?"
Mike chuckles, shaking his head as if to inform me that I am opening the wrong can of worms. "I've only heard about them, of course, but they use deathrunners like any other." We spin around a corner before he returns to our conversation. "Anyway, they can pay the best, 'cause they can get the most from the customer. You see, after a clone is revived, it's real temptin' to pay off the pickup bill, no matter how big it is."
"You mean ..."
"Yeah. You don't pay up, and they send a guy named Vito out to chop off an extra appendage or two by way of payment."
"Oh, I see. Aside from the clients' potential difficulties, though, you're saying that the Red Hand is the ideal company to work for?"
"They're not the ideal company. Deathrunners kinda like to go by their own rules, and you can't do that workin' Red Hand. Sure, the pay's better and they'll deal you fair, but you're playin' on their field, their rules. Most deathrunners would rather work for themselves. Minor point, really, and some still get lured by the money, but freedom's kinda all we got, so we don't like to give it up."
Silence rules the air for what's left of the trip, with nothing but the whoosh of movement to fill our ears. My mind is still on Mike's last statement as we pull into the hospital lot. Simply, it seems to sum up the spirit of a deathrunner: outcasts, they are none the less free outcasts.
Grisly, unappealing, you might say. The job of the deathrunners is not a pretty one. However, as I look out, squinting in the bright glare of early morning, I see not the ghoulish creatures society has branded them, but men and women, like shining Valkyries, helping to turn death into life.
An organization of journalists who specialize in covering duelling and duellists, in and out of the arena.
A freelance deathrunning squad based in north east Illinois. They specialize in taking bodies from under the noses of company-employed squads. Coeur "Doc" Wallace, their leader, is a sharp and sneaky danger-junkie who tends to think of deathrunning as a hazardous game. The Packrats earned their name by leaving a cheap stuffed mouse in place of each body they take.
The Packrats' vehicles are listed below:
Chameleon: (Vehicle Guide 1, p. 27) modified with a hi-res computer in the driver position.
Courier: (Vehicle Guide 1, p. 17) cargo: one mid-size PR tire (501b., 1 sp).
Doc's Modified Python: (based on Python, Vehicle Guide 2, p. 21) luxury, x-hvy. chassis, super power plant, hvy. suspension, 4 PR tires, driver, VMG in universal turret, 2 linked FCE corner mounted back, DSP (with bumper trigger) back, HAVOC, fire extinguisher, cargo cap. 220 lb. 1 space, Armor: F40 R40 L40 B40 T20 U20 sloped standard plastic, four 5-point wheel hubs. Accel. 5, HC3, 6,600 lbs., $18,700. cargo: one luxury PR tire (50 Lbs. 1 sp) and a gas bottle for cutting torch (25 Lb.).
Packrats' Hearse: station wagon, x-hvy chassis, large power plant with platcats and supercons, hvy. suspension, 4 PR tires, driver and gunner, VMG in turret, SS back, HAVOC in gunner position, sm. stiffcicle tank: cap. 3 bodies, 450 Lb., long distance radio, fire extinguisher, paint-resistant windshield, cargo cap. 1 space, 50 Lb. Armor: F38 R34 L34 B39 T21 U21 fireproof plastic. Accel. 5, HC3; 6,595 Lbs., $41,430. Cargo: mechanic's tools (40 Lbs.) and cutting torch (7 Lbs.)
A deathrunner's hearse is a refrigerated vehicle designed for carrying corpses. It may be a "reefer" truck or have Gold Cross cryo-units, but most commonly it is equipped with specialized multiple-body refrigeration units called "stiffcicle" tanks (see below).
Aside from this basic distinction, hearses differ from their escorts in other ways. Protection from those escorts allows the hearse to be relatively light on weaponry. This lets the designer either bulk up on armor or increase acceleration. Choice of weaponry generally run to light defensive weapons. Smokescreens, spikedroppers and mines are common, since they put off pursuers. Likewise, armor is usually heaviest the rear to deflect pursuer's shots.
Accessories, if affordable, are mostly defensive in nature, like wheel guards or radar jammers. Since a long distance radio is necessary somewhere in the squad, it is usually installed in the hearse. In many civilized regions, the law requires special license plates for hearses (cost $100 to $150).
Most companies are willing to provide clones for each member of an accredited deathrunner squad. In order for a deathrunner to have a clone prepared, the squad normally must waive cash payment for the successful delivery of one body. Programming and maintenance fees for the clone while the deathrunner is employed by that company are guaranteed. If the deathrunner dies on the job, his clone is activated at no charge. Likewise, body retrieval is free and deathrunners never accept payment to pick up other deathrunners. If the deathrunner leaves the company that maintains his clone, he may continue paying maintenance fees, but at full price.
Freelance deathrunners depend on dispatchers who transmit information on both cloned bodies and normal deaths (for the benefit of those who pick up morgue-bound bodies). A charge of $500 per unscrambling device is paid to the distributor.
A LifeSat biomonitor bracelet currently costs $6,000 a year. The signal cannot be blocked by anything short of a dozen yards of solid earth or equivalent insulation.
LifeSat is a young company, and its technology is in a constant state of flux. LifeSat R&D is researching numerous possibilities to cut prices and upgrade service. Strong possibilities for future advances include satellite imaging, which would allow the satellite to take a high-resolution picture of the point of origin of a signal, to be used in assessing the risks of pickup and for visual confirmation of the coordinates. Another probable advance is a "panic button" feature, that would allow the client to send out a call for help via LifeSat when he's still alive.
A cycle gang based in Round Lake, Illinois, recognized by a black raven displayed on jackets, etc. These rabble may attack anyone they feel they can bully, but specialize in ambushes of single, expensive, but relatively combat-weak luxury cars.
Their vehicles consist of anything they can steal, repaint and rebuild. They have a motley assortment of motorcycles, primarily medium and heavy. In addition, the gang often runs with a Longhorn pickup (Vehicle Guide 2, p. 29). Claws, their leader, rides a cycle he built from various stolen parts. Its statistics follow:
Nightwing - hvy. cycle, hvy. suspension, 50cu. in. engine with turbocharger, 2 PRR tires, cyclist, MG front with HRSWC, cycle blades front, SS back, 5-gal. hvy. duty gas tank, streamlined, Armor: F30 B20. Accel. 10 (15 after 40 mph.) top speed 110, 60 MPG, HC 3; 1,295 Lbs., $9,675.
Stiffcicle tanks are standard equipment for hearses. When constructing a hearse, stiffcicle tanks may take up both standard and cargo spaces and run off either the power plant or laser battery. (Two laser batteries for a large tank, three for an extra large.)
A Gold Cross Cryo Unit will keep a body in ideal condition for memory transfer for a week. Stiffcicle tanks will preserve a body for three days maximum.
If carrying MMSDs, a deathrunner may install an MMSD berth. This is a protective device that includes a cooling unit and component armor. They work off any power source that will power a stiffcicle tank.
Weights listed are for empty compartments. When figuring the vehicle weight, add 800 Lbs. per MMSD and 150 Lb. per body.
Gold Cross Cryo-Units
For details on the Gold Cross cryo-unit, see Vehicle Guide 2, page 56, "The Valkyrie." Transplant Parts
It is officially illegal to sell roadkill or other "stolen" body parts, but it is common practice among deathrunners, paramedics and crash vultures. If frozen within an hour of death, or delivered to a hospital within that hour, a full transplant body will fetch a price of $1,500, while major pieces will bring $75 to $100. Small parts, like ears or feet, will bring about $20. The victim must have been healthy and the part must be undamaged, and even so there is only a 50% chance that any body or part will be accepted when presented.
The roadkill black market used by deathrunners, paramedics and authorized salvage operations has a quasi-legitimate status in most communities, official prohibitions notwithstanding. There is very little chance of arrest or prosecution as long as the seller keeps to established channels and keeps his nose clean in other respects. The laws against the roadkill trade are generally only invoked against gangs or predatory duellists who try to provoke fights purely in order generate roadkill and salvage.
Unreadable bodies are those that arrive at the clone bank after the 24-hour limit, (or the 1-week limit if frozen) and cannot be read. The listed penalties are invoked if, in the company's judgment, the pickup was delayed due to deathrunner carelessness or incompetence. Red Hand penalties are stiff for such bodies (and not always monetary). Deathrunners must be mindful of time, since the bodies they pick up may be hours or days old at pickup.
It is not the deathrunners' responsibility to determine whether a body is or is not suitable for cloning, but most companies pay a 10% bonus if the transfer is 100% successful, to encourage the deathrunning squads to take extra measures and precautions like prepping bodies thoroughly.
Some companies will make a deal with a certain squad like the Packrats' agreement with Iron Shield. The squad agrees to deliver all uncloned bodies to that company, in return for preference in company pickup calls, and a cash bonus - typically 15% - on all uncloned bodies delivered.
If a deathrunner squad is the first to report that a client marked for pickup is not in need of cloning services, they will be paid an information bounty equal to 5% of the company's normal rate.
Clone companies pay 50% of vehicle repair for damage incurred during a successful pickup by freelance deathrunners. This is not paid for false runs.
Gold Cross, despite its claims to the contrary, is occasionally forced to use deathrunners. They pay rates that are a full 25% above industry standard, in return for which the deathrunners are expected to keep the deal strictly confidential.
Mortuaries may pay around $1,500 for a body of a non-cloned citizen. In particularly difficult retrievals, if the relatives of the deceased are willing to pay extra, remuneration could be up to $4,000. Mortuaries normally do not reimburse for vehicular damage.
Deathrunners in GURPS Autoduel
In GURPS a deathrunner is built on 100 points. All have the disadvantage of Social Stigma -1 for -5 points. Necrophobia and Squeamishness are not wise choices for disadvantages.
Deathrunning squads generally adopt a standard formation in travel or combat which enables them to work smoothly together. Because hearses are lightly armed valuable equipment, squad formations are usually designed to protect them first. Additionally they attempt to look intimidating, as scaring opponents takes less time than fighting them.
Tactics revolve around the purpose of the job: rush in, grab the body, and rush out. The initial charge is meant primarily to frighten any opponents away from the body. If that doesn't work, escorts try to draw fire while the body is loaded. This complete, escorts will drop the fight if allowed to and speed off, protecting the hearse. Mines, spikes, or smokescreens may be laid if there is a threat of pursuit.
Using deathrunners as encounters can spice up any campaign, offering a refreshing change from the usual cycle gangs and rival duellists. Have players encounter them at some point of their pick-up run, or send a rogue squad out to drum up business by attacking a player who has a clone.
Deathrunners are also suitable foci for a campaign. Players could create their own deathrunning squad to go on regular deathruns as well as side adventures. Have players create a hearse and a few escorts. Give them a short list of frozen body locations in the area. While they collect these bodies, occasionally "radio" them with news of fresh kills and throw encounters at them. Usual encounters can be augmented by rivalry with another squad, crash vultures, and anti-deathrunner attitudes in fellow motorists. Interludes and side adventures might include a long haul to pick up a body in another state or a friendly wager, race or practice duel (with non-damaging ammo like rubber or paint rounds) between squads.
For players who have established non-deathrunner characters, the campaign could take a bizarre detour into the world of deathrunners. Offer a run as a method of payment for a character's cloning expenses, or have the party hired specially to fetch some high-profile client as a demonstration of a company's reliability. Whether the focus is on them, or they are merely a diversion, deathrunners can add a strange dimension to Car Wars adventures.