Author Topic: "Friends"  (Read 3107 times)

Dog Boy

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"Friends"
« on: (01:35:19/08-13-12) »
I've been working on my background for my first ever Shadowrun character, a technomancer named d0gboy. I wrote several little stories to get myself into his head, but this one was my favorite -- hope you enjoy!


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The boy's head connected with a ferroconcrete pillar. Hard enough to make him bite down and draw blood, but not quite hard enough for a concussion. That was Barry's specialty: an eleven-year orc who was busy in a race between social promotion and growing big enough to graduate to more profitable felonies.

He passed the time taking food chits, bus passes, and even the occasional spare nuyen from his classmates. The school was on the edge of the barrens, run by some two bit corp who thought it would be good marketing for its consumer goods to have vids from children it was helping.

The reality was running a school on the edge of the Barrens was the logical (and certainly legal) equivalent of running a prison. The school didn't make the neighborhood any more upscale. The school didn't make the neighborhood any safer. The school didn't even raise the collective IQ of the neighborhood. All the school did was present a soft target for gangers wanting new users for the drug trade, the occasional snatch and grab by organ selling crews, and recruiters who were getting barely literate middle schoolers to put their sig on some fairly dubious skillwire wageslave contracts.

The latter were considered the school's success stories.

The boy had enrolled in the school a year ago as part of an elaborate scam on the part of two Bliss junkies to scam food chits out of some sclerotic charity. The catch was the program required children to be enrolled in a school to receive the bennies.

Hence the boy: more or less feral, but willing to rigorously comply with the junkie's scheme with not even a word of complaint that he was barely even getting a roof over his head from them. Neither party could believe their luck in such a deal.

Now though, the boy had cause to reconsider. Left on his own in the barrens, vending machines would feed him. Patchy sensor nets would deliver warnings of adult-scale threats like open gunplay or kidnapping. And since he obviously had nothing, people more or less left him alone.

School had something the barrens didn't though: The gateway to the World of Dreams. The boy could see traces of this world as he walked through the slums. Ancient (and surely magical) glyphs would appear on certain walls at pre-specified times. Some alleys, he would hear conversations. Mill around near the sewage processing plant, and he would occasionally have a waking dream with the answers to his questions. And in a few places that were surely magical, he would find himself momentarily transported to another world; full of vivid images and sensations which he had heretofore recalled only in his dreams of the dark pyramid and its Angry God. This mystical layer over the brute and unpleasant world of the barrens he saw as evidence that the vivid World of Dreams could occasionally bleed through into our own.

The school was the most magical place the boy had found, and in time he had come to understand that it was because it had a halfway decent connection to the Matrix. The moment he discovered this fact, he had enthusiastically worked to enable the junkies' plan. He showed up dutifully at the appointed day and time. When the rolls were called, he even whispered a fake name to the teacher's node so that he was allowed to remain in class. That last bit bothered him greatly, but he eventually rationalized the fact that since he did not know his own name, it hardly seemed fair to require he produce it.

And so he came to be a student. In anything resembling a traditional educational environment, his troubled home life and numerous fixations would have qualified him for special attention of some kind. But in this school, the fact that he sat slumped over quietly his desk quietly in the back of the class marked him as the ideal pupil.

Most of the day was spent with automated proctors blindly administering tests or disgorging required sense streams to the class. Every so often though, a human teacher would show up in the classroom to break up a fight or to spend a legally mandated amount of time interacting with them. On one occasion, he had slumped drooling on his desk, wandering through his favorite fantasy trid, when one of the teachers had shouted at him.

"Mr. Underhill! Stop jagging off and pay some attention to the real world or the real world will pay some very unpleasant attention to you!"

At the time, he had been resentful of input so irregular he could not filter out. The teacher had interrupted one dramatic scene when his favorite adventurers had come across an abandoned mastaba in the desert; the shape had reminded him of his uncomfortable dreams of that black pyramid, and he had been on the edge of his seat. How could the real world compare with that?

But now, the boy sat in the alley in pain and bawling, and realized the teacher had been right. The ork boy wanted his food chits or nuyen; he had neither, nor would he ever as his "parents" took both. For himself, he simply asked the dispensers in the cafeteria for what food he needed. As he sat in pain, he heard an uncomfortable series of staccato cries from someone else in the alley; he was not alone.

He stood to his feet on wobbly legs, and found the source of the cries. She was under a stoop, cradling a broken arm.

"What is your name?", the boy asked.
"Sally", she responded.
“I am Frank Underhill. That is my name.”

He stood awkwardly, not meeting her gaze as he sort of choked on the white lie.

“Did Barry do that to you?”, he eventually asked.

Sally nodded, and then eventually explained, “He told me I was useless to him because I was broke. So he threw me against the wall an hour ago. I guess he caught you on the street and drug you back here?”

The boy nodded. He then paused for a moment, trying to glean some identifying piece of information about her. For a second, he was flooded by images as he looked at her. So much it hurt. Reflexively, he imagined himself as tracing a glyph to shape the flow into some useful form in his head. The images fell down into neat, orderly patterns, and then he recognized her form. Face too!

“Haven’t I seen you around?”

The girl paused for a second, maybe trying to recognize the boy.

“At school?”, she said, maybe (or so the boy thought) doing the same trick to recognize him.

“Yes, we are both regularly at Kaminsky Middle School. You are not in any of my classes, but I see you sometimes in the halls after hours.”, the boy proudly explained. He had an excellent memory for facts.

“I get by doing janitorial work part time. So they let sleep at the school sometimes, since I..”

The boy nodded, accepting her story as an all too familiar one.

With that little secret exchanged, the ice between them was broken. He helped her patch up her arm as best he could, and then even pointed her to a few of the safer haunts he had seen around the neighborhood -- places where the World of Dreams would flicker in and out every now and then, plus some power for lights and the like.

The boy had made his first real friend, though in truth that concept was still a little beyond him. But it seemed to unlock something inside, and so he opened up a little more to the world around him.

He was surprised to learn it, but he had a way about him that would get other outsiders and the worst of the school’s downtrodden to trust him. He was largely guileless (except for the lie about his name), had little interest in material concerns, and was a good one for fixing people’s problems.

And so, over time, he found others who called him friend. Tiny Ella, pixie small, who he discovered one day hiding in a closet of the school as they both tried to stay out of Barry’s way. Big but cowardly Dan, who drilled endlessly at softball in the chemical waste of the fields behind the school. Even slow Steve, who had stopped talking after all the teachers had given up him up as brain damaged or as suffering some kind of near-fatal trauma began to stammer out a few words after the boy spent time trying to get him to open up.

One place that the friends didn’t help was with the teachers. Most were content to let him and his ragtag menagerie of friends be, but one of them kept hammering on the boy that he should sign a contract with one of the corps.

“Frank, you’ve got problems, but you’re smart -- smarter than most of the produce on the vegetable aisle that is this school. You sign the form, and I can get you nuyen and fitted with the hardware to run skillsofts. You wouldn’t need this school then. I know you like computers and machines, wouldn’t you like to work with them? You’d get to spend your whole life putting them together. Wouldn’t you like that?”

The boy would want that, but also he knew he didn’t need implants to understand the machines. And when he’d found the right glyph to analyze that contract, simple accounting had told him that he would never pay back the interest in his lifetime. Why do that, when he probably had a few more years idling away here in school, lost in his trids and hours of really intense Matrix chess with the school’s node. It had taken to emailing him to play lately, and that really excited him -- that had been part of his big revelation that he liked making friends.

The teacher’s insinuations got worse over time though, and the boy worried he had somehow upset the man. He couldn’t quite make any sense of why the man would be showing so much (and here the boy was fuzzy) emotion over the issue, but he began to spot a pattern in his behavior. Whenever a kid was a target of Barry’s predation, the teacher would come by a day later and talk about what a bright future he could have in a factory if he would just sign the contract. If the kid signed, the bullies left him alone If they didn’t, they would get beaten up worse.

It took several months for the boy to put together what this could mean, and it was only the World of Dreams that explained it in the end. Every so often, he would see a dark raven fly in through the window of a classroom, carrying a sack of glittering gold coins. It would always flap its way over to the teacher, and drop them in his pockets one by one. Only after looking at his tally of children who had been beaten, and correlating with the audio files he found on the antiquated school monitoring system did he realize what was happening. The teacher was getting paid to sign people up for the factories. And when people didn’t sign, Barry was used as a kind of enforcer.

Later that night, he had his friends meet him in a hidden shanty. They clustered around a rusty barrel, burning acrid black smoke from rags and bits of plastic from the neighborhood. Never in the sturdiest health, the boy coughed as he recounted what he had learned, while the others took it more stoically, a little older and more hardened to this life.

In the end, it was slow Steve who spoke up.

“You..you...you... you could do something about this.”

“I am just a boy. I cannot stand up to Barry, and he listens to the teacher. Therefore I cannot do anything about this teacher.”

“Nu.. nuh.. no. But you can do other things. We..we..we’ve all suh..seen how you talk to machines.”

The others all nodded.

“That is a secret! I do not like to tell”, interjected the boy. “I was trying not to..”, he added sullenly.

“But we’ve all seen it”, said Sally, putting her good arm around him.

Steve continued once the boy was more composed.

“You.. you.. could”, he paused conspiratorially, “Hack his commlink. Even the school might have to do something if it came out.

The boy thought it over, and could find no flaw with the idea. The teacher was like some evil wizard from the trids, binding the souls of students to him with some dread geas, and he even had an ork lacky to do his dirty work. What would one of his heroes do?

“I will do it.”

In the following week, the boy scoped everything out about the teacher. When he ate, when he took his smoke breaks, what color his socks were on each day (Thursday was red), and even when he would or wouldn’t be fiddling with his commlink in the slow time before school and in between classes.

And then he was ready: The boy hid out in one of the ventilation ducts by a classroom, and waited till the teacher was distracted with class. Then he closed his eyes, and re-opened them, this time in the World of Dreams.

He sat in a silver glade, face hidden by a cloak of twisting shadows. Here was a world where he knew the rules, and was a force to be reckoned with. He spoke words of power, and a staff materialized in his hand, humming with magic. Ahead of him was a wizard’s tower, all crooked with shoddy stone and stained black with sinister soot.

He approached it, circling around the base warily. His eyes were keen though, and he spotted the flaw between two overlapping stones.

“Mellon”, he invoked, and tapped with his staff. The walls swung open, and he was inside!

Protected by his cloak of shadows, none of the towers wards noticed him. He searched through the place room by room, eventually finding his way to a wizard’s study, on the very top floor. The wizard was there, a mish-mash icon with the face of the teacher and some of the dark symbols from the boy’s dreams. Fortunately, he was asleep; his attention was elsewhere. What the boy was after was a spellbook, massive and chained to a table.

He crept over to it, and thumbed through the pages. Searching and searching, he found what he was looking for: A spell that would tally the wizard’s gold and send a missive about it to the school’s node for everyone to see -- where it had come from, how much, and for who. With a chill, he saw that what the teacher was truly being paid for. Children who signed his Contract didn’t become skillwired workers; they got simsense rigs and mounts and became meat puppets for a certain club which character to those with a taste in young performers. The boy shook at he read these dreadful words, and knew he had to act now.

It was really just a simple cantrip, something even an amateur like himself could cast. He pronounced each syllable carefully, and the entire spellbook shined with a glittering white light.

Success! He turned to flee down the stairs, but was stopped by the angry shriek of the black crow. The teacher’s familiar!

The boy whirled just as the bird was on him, a nightmare of pecks and claw scratches. He warded himself with a powerful shield, and then let loose with a gout of fire from his palm. The bird gurgled with pain, but then somehow got bigger as the teacher noticed what was happening and began directing it with diabolical gestures. The boy had no choice; he reached deep inside himself and called forth his most powerful spell, filling the room with a hell of rime and lightning. Blood trickled from his nose as the spell cost him to invoke, but it was enough: The wizard teleported away, and the bird exploded in a gory gout of feathers.

The boy came to in the vents, shivering and blood dripping from his nose in this world too.

“As above, so below”, he repeated in his head, knowing this was the price for being so close to the World of Dreams.

He was still in trouble though. The teacher was stumbling around the room, a little distracted from what had just happened to his IC. “What the hell?”, he snarled, and he shook his commlink, and started scanning around the room.

The boy forced himself to move. Coughing and head aching, he kicked out a vent and ran out into the classroom. The teacher saw him, but the boy was well away and running as a stream of invectives followed him. It was enough; he had completed his quest.

The next day, he forced himself to school. He should have feared reprisal, but his curiosity about what happened was enough that he couldn’t keep himself away. He arrived to see that the teacher’s office had been cleaned out. Nothing he had done had violated any sort of law, but even in a place like this, there was enough outrage that he wouldn’t be welcome.

Plus, the money he’d made was exorbitant. Now that his secret was out, the other teachers would be poaching his targets. The easy money was over; better to slink off to another creche or school and pull the same scam.

It was enough for the boy, and he allowed himself to feel relieved at the end of the day.

A mistake.

Barry jumped out of the shadows as he left through the school’s back lot after hours.

“You. You little piece of drek! Do you know how much Mr. Johnson was paying me for sweet racket of his? No more being lookout for the drug gangs. No juvie and re-ed for smash & grab jobs. All I had to do was kick the crap out of little pukes like you!”

“I am going to beat you like a mangy dog, boy!”

And so did. Thick, ham-fisted blows batter his stomach, causing him to lose his breath. Once on the ground, Barry began to kick him. Hard.

The only way to drown out his pain was to slip into the World of Dreams.

This time, he was what Barry had called him -- the dog. He did the only thing he could, which was to howl in pain. Howl, and howl, and beg for it to stop.

And then it did.

His friends were there, in a protective ring around him.

Sally got underneath Barry’s legs, tripping him up somehow and clawing at his face with her good arm.

Ella was all over him as he went down. She had something sharp, and stabbed at him through his tough kid leathers. First blood!

Barry managed to stand up, flinging Ella aside and against a wall.

But then Big Dan trundled up, and smashed Barry into that same school wall. Something went snap, and the ork fell down in a heap, wheezing with a wet and sickly cough. Slow Steve came next, but only looked down on Barry with that terrible blank face of his.

“Luh.. luh.. leave our friend the dog boy alone. You leave him alone forever, or next time Dan won’t stop.”

Slow Steve picked up d0gboy tenderly in his steely tendrils, and the rest of the drones followed after him as they departed with their friend into the night.

VajraSupremus

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #1 on: (16:01:18/08-13-12) »
This is a really good story. Great job!

Dog Boy

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #2 on: (17:22:00/08-13-12) »
Thanks Vajra, glad you liked it!

AndyNakamura

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #3 on: (21:56:56/09-04-12) »
Really nice twist with the drones in the end.
"If you are expecting a rousing speech, or a cunning plan that will get us out of this, I will have to disappoint you. I don't have any. We either do this, or we die. And the world dies with us."
"I paid quite a lot to get all of you here. I expect you to give me my money's worth. Shogun out."

Ethan

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #4 on: (10:15:01/09-05-12) »
Great story, +1!

VajraSupremus

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #5 on: (19:43:07/09-05-12) »
Really nice twist with the drones in the end.

Wait...The other kids were just drones? Machines?

Dog Boy

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #6 on: (17:04:52/09-14-12) »
Quote
Wait...The other kids were just drones? Machines?

Yup -- I'm glad to see the twist was right on the border of subtle. :)

You can see it all over the text if you re-read:

Quote
“Did Barry do that to you?”, he eventually asked.

Sally nodded, and then eventually explained, “He told me I was useless to him because I was broke. So he threw me against the wall an hour ago. I guess he caught you on the street and drug you back here?”

Quote

“Yes, we are both regularly at Kaminsky Middle School. You are not in any of my classes, but I see you sometimes in the halls after hours.”, the boy proudly explained. He had an excellent memory for facts.

“I get by doing janitorial work part time. So they let sleep at the school sometimes, since I..”

The boy nodded, accepting her story as an all too familiar one.

And so on. The idea here is that d0gboy was abandoned at a very young age -- possibly as a Renraku arcology shutdown survivor, and consequently had a very early emergency as a technomancer. A high functioning autistic, he generally survived on the streets with the help of his "friends", with a very limited ability to even distinguish between human or artificial life (something like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia, a condition many severe autism spectrum disorders have). The drones in the story are all things you might plausibly find around a shithole school in the barrens -- broken down janitorial spider, malfunctioning nurse/first aid kit, something big and slow to push back trash on the premises. Whether or not d0gboy is simply projecting dialogue into machines, is communicating with some sort of proto-AI, or is manifesting machine sprites without realizing it is left unspecified -- it could be any or all of these.

VajraSupremus

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #7 on: (17:58:05/09-14-12) »
Absolutely riveting addition. +1 for you, you wonderful writer.

Dog Boy

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #8 on: (19:42:59/09-16-12) »
Absolutely riveting addition. +1 for you, you wonderful writer.

Thanks -- I actually have written a few more vignettes for my backstory, since our GM did this thing where he ran a few sessions and let us re-spec once we'd all gotten a feel for the system and the universe. In the interim, moar:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Hjo0MrBVSoWDOFd6QCGNV_7GlkJpMjnaKTju7pM85GQ/edit

Hellion

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #9 on: (02:12:39/05-28-13) »
Great story +1
Its not the victors who write the history books, its the suvivors

mtfeeney = Baron

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #10 on: (02:17:05/05-28-13) »
Am I the only one that started hearing the theme song for "Friends" when they saw the thread title?
Remember, you don't have to kill the vehicle to stop it, just kill the guy driving it.

Richtenstahl

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #11 on: (05:13:24/05-30-13) »
Haha, totally got me with his "friends"!
Thx mate, was a very nice read. I like your story.
Will we see more of it?

Deepeyes

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #12 on: (20:05:42/05-31-15) »
Awesome story! Loved the drone twist! Nicely done!!! :) I also read that second "prequel" part and it's equally awesome!! :)

Cormac21

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Re: "Friends"
« Reply #13 on: (06:41:42/06-22-15) »
Really it is very nice story.
I read it 2 times.
Like it very much.
Please post more beautiful stories as this one.