Digital Soul

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« on: <08-10-13/0848:08> »
(I like to write up mission summaries as stories; and this is one massive ongoing one - a prime runner, hacker by trade dealing with imminent technomancy manifestation in-between his normal work. What you read may be embellished for Rule of Cool here and there, but all non-official 'runners and characters are real players or NPCs involved in my weekly Shadowrun games. Many of the events and references are to actual occurrences during our runs from the Dawn of the Artifacts and Ghost Cartels campaign books; as such BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD. While I'm at it, DISCLAIMER: Strong language ahead, don't read this aloud before kissing any parents. Lastly, all inside references and shout-outs are made as a mark of my admiration and are the property of their respective owners. And now without further ado....)

There was a scraping sound as the key turned in the lock, and a panel flipped to the side to reveal a gleaming silver keypad.  It was crummy and old fashioned but it helped deter anyone who didn't know how to work old tech. Everything that came after was there in case they did.

I punched in the ten-digit code for this week; the click of the intercom turning on subtly confirming success. That was good, last week the keypad didn't work and I had to find another way in.

"Who's there?" a grumpy male voice demanded over the speaker.

"Someone selling sprites set for starting certain circuits safely save for severed systems," I replied, a little impatiently.

The intercom went silent. Beneath the speaker, the faux-metal panel detailing the apartment as Lot RT13ARXB  briefly changed to show the words VOCAL AUTHENTICATION ACCEPTED before the twin maglocks clicked and the door swung inward.

It was dark inside. Once I was inside the door closed itself; the maglocks snapping back into place. "Welcome home, sempai!" a voice joyfully said from right behind me.

I sighed. "Mitsuyo, why is it dark in here?"

"I'm sorry sempai! I was running routine diagnostics on the apartment's systems like you asked, only it took me longer than I thought it would..."

"Is it safe to turn the lights on?"

Mitsuyo sounded disappointed. "Ye-es, but I will be unable to continue diagnostics while they are in operation."

"That's fine," I said, a little irritably. My head was pounding, as usual. "Turn the lights on please."

"Yes sempai!" Mitsuyo said, cheerful again. The lights snapped on; the sudden glare making me hunch forward in pain.

"I'm so sorry!" Mitsuyo sounded panicked. "I forgot bright light hurts your eyes! Adjusting brightness." The glare dimmed, softening until the apartment was bathed in a glowering electric candlelight. I straightened up slowly, and stretched my arms up over my head with a creaking sound. "Is anyone else home?" I asked, bringing them back down to my sides.

"Nope! The freeloader isn't home yet," Mitsuyo said cheerfully, still behind me. I managed to resist the impulse to bring my palm to my face. "Why do you call her that? And where did you learn that word?"

"My latest update contained several new language packs including colloquialisms and new dialects. It also contained antivirus and firmware updates -"

"System override. Language blacklist, add word - freeloader," I interrupted her. Mitsuyo stopped mid-sentence. "Blacklist updated," she said reproachfully. "That wasn't very nice sempai!"

"Remind me to dial back your personality programming later," I said, rubbing one temple. The damned headache was starting to ramp up again, like the rising of a goddamned tide.

"Appointment set, sempai. That wasn't very nice either!"

I ground my teeth. "System override. Disable personality core."

"Acknowledged," said a computerized female voice. "Switching to default nonverbal interface."

I sighed and took a moment to take off my shoes and neatly place them in the rack by the door before I stepped out of my entryway and into my apartment proper. The personality core I'd created for my apartment's node was efficient and useful; but it was a little too chatty for my liking. As for its dislike for my temporary housemate I could only guess. Jealousy maybe.

I let my gaze slip around the room. The place was still a mess; the paint and plaster peeled from the walls, exposing bare brick and concrete. Rolls of Faraday mesh lay across the synthetic timber floor, along with several tools and cans of spray adhesive sitting in my armchair. A new forty-kilogram block of plasteel sat in the middle of the room, still in its packaging next to a set of plasteel shapers and couple of handheld welding torches.

"Dammit Beckett, you said it'd be finished," I muttered. I willed the new trid unit against the far wall to turn on; the command transferring from my commlink and to the now-defaulted Mitsuyo in an instant. The trid unit flicked on to where I'd left it; Synthesia, my favourite music channel. I caught a glimpse of the words Mana Seiken -「The Light」 as another song started... this one was softer and more pleasant than what they usually played; and the fact that the artist was singing in Japanese made me feel a bit more comfortable to be home.

I willed my commlink to switch to cold sim - I wasn't working, after all - and pulled up my AR overlay. I browsed through to the Synthesia online store and took a moment to purchase the song; then as an afterthought I bought the rest of the album. "Thank you! Would you like to be notified of new releases by this artist?" the virtual checkout asked. Sure, why the hell not. I sent through the confirmation for the whole thing and watched my bank account drop by fifty nuyen. I'd been buying a lot of things lately, but I didn't care. It wasn't as if I needed the money.

"Master, are we home? Can I go play with Mitsu-chan?" asked a playful voice that only I could hear.

"Yes, go on sweetheart," I replied silently. I thought I heard the sound of a little girl cheering before my commlink flashed an AR alert advising that Hanako had uploaded herself to the apartment node.
I headed into the bathroom; the clean white tile almost reflective in this light. I regarded the bottles of medicine in the open cabinet briefly - some useful, some not - and pulled a couple of them out.

"Incoming call," Mitsuyo stated, still in her default tone.

"Intercom," I replied. She hadn't switched her personality core back on yet, that was an improvement.

"Ahh, good afternoon. I've been trying to reach you all day, you know," said a gravelly voice.

"Afternoon, Doctor, I replied. "Sorry, I've been out all day; and most of last night too. Had something to attend to."

"I thought as much. I noticed you having a drink at the bar in the background of a horribly botched press release," the doctor said slyly. "I've never seen an Atlantean rep drop the ball like that. And I told you you're not to be drinking with those meds I prescribed you."

I looked down into my hand. Two green and two black pills were sitting in my palm. I tilted my head back and swallowed them without water.

"Dammit, you took some just now didn't you?" he croaked.

I raised one eyebrow as I closed the cabinet and looked at my reflection. I looked like I needed more sleep. "How the hell do you do that, Doc?"

"My kind is noted for its hearing," he said dryly. "And for the last time, call me by my damn name. I saved your sorry ass, you can show me at least a little respect."

I snorted. "Have it your way, Armand. I thought calling you by title WAS respectful - especially since I'm paying you."

"That's why you're a favourite client," he chuckled.

"The fact that I pay you in advance and don't ask questions?"

"The fact that you've got the brass to back-talk a ghoul," Armand laughed. "But anyway. I didn't call to discuss your cajnes. Your test results came in this morning."

I stiffened a little. "And?"

Armand sighed over the phone. "Your bloodwork has an elevated cortisone level - a dangerous one at that, so I'll be replacing your current meds with orphenadrine tablets, see if I can't lighten you up and fix your muscle pain at the same time. I can have them sent over to you if you'd rather not come in."

"Nah, I could use the walk. Besides, isn't that used to make Bliss? You could just prescribe me some of that instead," I joked.

"God no, last time you wouldn't shut up. It was like operating on a delirious toy poodle."

"In my defense, up yours," I replied. "Anyway, what else is there?"

Armand was silent for a moment. "That's pretty much it," he said slowly, "but that correlates with what you've told me. Cortisone means stress, muscle pain... stuff's bad juju if you're producing it in large quantities. Altered brain chemistry would do that."

I gritted my teeth. "In other words, nothing disproven."

"Hey, nothing proven either. It could be technomancy, or it could be a good old-fashioned brain tumour."

"I gotta tell you Doc, your bedside manner needs some work."

Armand grunted. "Clearly. Look, I'll have these ready and waiting for you at my clinic in about twenty minutes. There are worse things than manifestation you know, omae."

"Like what?" I shot back.

"Ghoulification," he replied smoothly. "That ain't something I'd care to go through again."

I snorted. "I guess I deserved that one. I'll drop by later this afternoon then," I said wryly.

"Yeah, you do that," Armand replied cheerfully. "Bye."

"Bye," I echoed, terminating the call. I exhaled deeply, running one hand through my hair. It was getting long again, and I made a note to get it tidied up before I started looking too much like a burnout.
Dammit. Of all the things Hel had to be right about, why this? I'd have preferred the brain cancer over having everything turned on its proverbial head all over again. Especially with the current societal overview of technomancers as a whole... I didn't particularly feel like hiding for the rest of my life. I was content with having only two megacorps after me instead of all nine. On the plus side, I'd have a valid reason to finally punch Clockwork right in his mealy face...

"God, why am I even considering this?" I exclaimed, exasperated. I angrily strode into my bedroom, throwing my overcoat off onto the bed and wrenching my vest off hard enough to break off all of its buttons. As soon as the vest and my shirt were gone I tore off the upper piece of my armour; throwing it to the plush floor with a muffled thud. The slacks were irritably tossed at the open door - I missed, of course - I swore as I fumbled with the straps holding the arm guards on, and as soon as the shin guards were loose I kicked them free. The plates covering my abdomen and kidneys were unceremoniously dropped, making a loud clack as they hit the chestpiece; leaving me in the bodysuit I wore as backup. I stormed back into the bathroom and slammed the door. Right now all I wanted was a hot shower followed by a cold coffee. Or a cold shower and a hot coffee. Whatever, I didn't want to think about anything. I turned the shower on, threw aside the bodysuit and climbed into the cubicle. The water was nearly hot enough to scald but it was still enough to make me feel better; even my headache began to subside a little.

"Sempai! I need to finish the diagnostics on the apartment's systems, so I'll be temporarily disrupting power to the bathroom okay?" came Mitsuyo's unexpectedly-chirpy voice over the apartment intercom. Abruptly the relaxing shower turned ice-cold as the water heater switched off and the lights went out; leaving me freezing and completely blind.

"Mitsuyo, rescind that fucking diagnostic right fucking now!"

"I'm sorry sempai, I don't recognize this word: fucking."

« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0550:20> by Sede »


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« Reply #1 on: <08-10-13/0849:36> »
I pulled my coat a little tighter around myself to better cover against the rain. Thanks to all of the recent work I'd been able to splurge a little; I'd gone and bought a decent trenchcoat, from Mortimer's, too. Actual leather, not recycled vinyl or that terrible synthetic leather that was available; real cows were killed and shaped into an acid rain-resistant garment for me to wear. It was pricey but it was pretty comfortable. Besides, my old one had more holes in it than I did.

I sidestepped a greenish-colored puddle on the sidewalk and turned the corner down a different street. Parasols and caf rails were set up; there were plenty of people enjoying a late lunch or a hot coffee out in the open, despite the stinking rain. I drew looks from some of them - my hair colour maybe, or the fact that I wasn't carrying an umbrella or wearing a hood. Pfft. I wasn't a grainy old stone statue; the rain would have to be stronger to burn toilet paper, much less my skin.

As I passed another cafe, a tall guy who looked to be in his thirties stood from his table and turned to face me with an expectant look. I raised one eyebrow and paused to see what he wanted.
"You got a second, champ?" he asked with a disarming grin. His eyes flicked over me for a moment, sizing me up. He was holding a sheaf of papers in his left hand; which I quickly noticed had words like "promise" and "peace of mind" printed on them.

"Not really, I'm late for something." I stepped past him and kept walking. As I did I silently brought up my AR overlay. Floating in midair just in front of me as I walked was a small girl of about ten or so in a yellow sundress. "Master, he's watching you. He has cybereyes linked to his PAN and he's placing an AR call. What should I do?"

"Keep watching him, sweetie," I replied silently, keeping my eyes focused on the path in front of me. "See if you can listen in on his conversation." My chest tightened slightly. The guy could be anything... corpsec, Humanis, maybe even another runner.

Hanako stretched one arm out; her hand disappearing around the wrist as ripples wavered out around it as if she'd stuck her hand into a vertical lake surface. After a moment or two it came back holding a small speaker. I smiled and reached out with a virtual hand to ruffle Hanako's hair. She squealed and held the speaker out so I could hear it.

"- it's been pretty quiet on our end. Any luck with yours, chummer?"

"Nah, nothing," I heard the guy from just a few seconds ago say. "It's been tough, nobody wants to talk to me. How the hell do we convince people to give our store a shot when they won't even stop to talk to us?"

The voice on the other end chuckled. "Welcome to Seattle, bro. Place is so full of people with their heads up their asses you'd think they'd at least be eating properly."

"I hear you. Shoulda seen the last guy I spoke to, he blew me off like I wasn't even there, after he stopped to talk to me too; jerk made me think I had something."

I relaxed. These guys were just trying to put word out for some random shop; sometimes my healthy paranoia caused little faux-pas like this. Lucky I was the only one who had to know about them. I gave a relieved sigh and mentally reached for the Disconnect button -

"Oh yeah? Guy with purple hair and a sullen face? I've got visual on him right now. Want me to pull him in?

I stiffened. Nobody talks like that unless they're used to sighting targets.

I paused for a moment and made a loud show of coughing; big exaggerated gulps of air and clutching at my mouth to try and draw a comment from the spotter, verify I was the one being watched. Several other people gave me looks and a wide berth.

"Looks like your asshole isn't very well," the unknown voice said, sounding smug. "Should be easy to take down, and Rase's is nearby. What do you think?"

There was a nasty laugh from the cafe guy. "Hells yeah. Guy's got a nice coat, he's bound to have some cred on him. You can handle him?"

"Easy. I'll clean him out and ice him while he's not looking. You just make sure you help me drag the carcass off this time."

"Roger, see you in five." The call disconnected with a quick burst of static and then silence. I felt my eyebrow twitch. Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
I pulled up my PAN's connection listing - my internal 'link was operating in Hidden mode, naturally; but I had a decoy - my old Fairlight, loaded up and in Public mode. "Hanako, hide in the secondary 'link. Wait for my command," I said silently. Hanako giggled and clapped her hands together gleefully before glowing bright white and vanishing. I shook my arms to make sure my wrists were free and took a deep breath. I could taste the smog and car exhaust in the air. Oh, you poor doomed bastards picked the wrong unwell asshole.

I crossed a street and turned down a quieter lane; one with no traffic and only a few people, all of which were talking to a grinning ork with flashy metal teeth. I picked the street on purpose - if this idiot was following me, he wouldn't be able to pass on the opportunity. I stopped and pretended to read an old Humanis poster stuck on the wall to give him time to pass me, my heart speeding up slightly as the adrenaline began to do its job. At least that was one aspect of my own physiology I could rely on.

I breathed out heavily in genuine disgust at the poster - Humanis Policlub revolted me unbelievably - before heading down past the shiny-toothed ork dealer and the chipheads clamouring for his attention, down past a parked car -

"Hey, omae. Hey."

I glanced to the right. In the mouth of an alley an elf with stringy blond hair and an ugly jacket was beckoning me over. I slowly, clearly looked to both sides before ducking inside the alleyway.
"What do you want?" I grumbled.

"You got the time, omae?" he grinned at me. Of all the ways to distract me long enough to draw whatever weapon you've got, that was the best he could come up with? Man I am not going to feel bad about this.

I looked down as I upturned my right arm, looking for a nonexistent watch. Sure enough, the tip of a gun barrel made its way into my field of vision.

"Gotcha, lamer," the elf laughed. "Hand over your 'link and anything else not worth being shot over. And don't try anything, I'm faster than you."

I slowly reached into my pocket and pulled out the Fairlight, holding it out to him. He took it greedily; his eyes leaving me completely to take in his prize, giving me more than enough time to have retaliated. How'd he survive this long?

He slipped the 'link into the inside of his jacket and returned his attention to me. He gave me another grin as he motioned with the pistol that I should stand against the wall. I dutifully shuffled over to it, facing away from him. If I underestimated him and he didn't gloat, this could end badly.

"Just not your day, is it?" he smirked. I rolled my eyes. "Come on, give that back," I said irritably. "I'm in a rush, I have to go pay my boss back. If that paydata doesn't reach him I'm in deep shit!"

"Really? Isn't that a shame," he replied smugly. I grinned to myself, leaned forward and let the gray brick wall take my weight, and slipped into VR.

In an instant the street and the alley was gone. The acid rain was replaced with a light sprinkle of pure rainwater; and I was standing on a clean concrete path that wove and stretched through a massive grassy park. It was always dusk here; the light dim but vibrant with the hues of sunset, and alive with the winds and smells of a building storm. All around me were many trees; many times taller than I was and with rich dark-green leaves. This was my personal node; my almost-literal home turf.

I stepped off the path and reached out to touch one of the trees; its branches far longer and thinner than the others - the representation of my operating range. I could sense many other signals; but the closest was only a meter or so away... the dipshit trying to rob me. I could feel the signal pulse and throb beneath the bark of the tree as its owner commanded it to do something.

A bird landed on a nearby branch and trilled at me - an alarm. Someone was attempting to force their way into my spare commlink. I shook my head and grinned, and dismissed the alarm. Then I pressed my fingers to the tree and gave it the faintest glimmer of a push; ordering my Fairlight's firewall to allow the intruder. There was a brief flash of lighting overhead as the system warned me it had been accessed; and then -

"Master, he's in!" Hanako's disembodied joyful voice rang out clearly over the sound of the wind and the rustling of data packets.

"Well done sweetheart. Get him," I grinned. I let the wind swirl around me for a moment; the feeling giving way to the sensation of the wind blowing through me as the readied Stealth program activated and made me part of it. Suitably hidden, I flew along just above the surface of the sidewalk - the network path - and the world changed.

I was still invisible; standing in a featureless gray room with no entry or exit - after all, the Fairlight was a decoy, there was nothing in it; save for an icon of a furry green wolfman looking around in a panic. It was starting to distort and pixelate, and error messages were pouring off it like terrified sweat. As I watched, Hanako rose up out of the featureless and blank floor behind the intruder; her skin paler and a disturbingly happy expression on her face as she produced a large pair of scissors and stabbed at the wolfman. It howled in pain and the distortion covering it increased and became more frenetic.

"Hanako, status," I said, smiling to myself.

The phantom turned to look directly me; its twisted expression and body language quickly softening as colour returned to its skin. In a fraction the creepy-looking girl was back to her usual self.
Hanako bowed. "Target is successfully jammed and unable to disconnect," she said playfully; as if she was talking about a favourite toy. "Target is using hot sim. Target program PocketHacker has been crashed. Target has no other programs or IC loaded."

I willed the Stealth program to deactivate; the wind springing up in this empty room as leaves of packet data swirled and spun around where I now stood. The wolfman recoiled visibly at the sight of my icon - a perfect, impossibly-detailed rendition of myself.

"You really picked the wrong guy," I said, reaching out and touching the damaged icon. My Medic program sprang to life and rapidly pulled a full diagnostic - the icon's integrity was at twenty-seven percent. In hot sim terms, the amateur hacker was in bad shape.

The icon's eyes widened. "OoOh god, it's yyyyou," it managed to stammer, its pre-programmed voice horribly distorted by the damage it had taken. Its owner was in definite need of a hospital. It reached out pleadingly with a deformed paw. "PpPpPlease, let mmmmme gGgGgo," it begged.
I slowly shook my head. "A jackass like you? You get one hack utility and suddenly you and your buddy are unstoppable? You're too dangerously stupid to leave alone." I turned and walked back the way I came; instantly finding myself in the darkened park again.

"Shall I terminate him, Master?" Hanako asked from the other node.

"No. Keep him until I say," I replied; and logged out.

Suddenly there was cold, coarse brick beneath my hands and on my forehead; and I heard the splash of a heavy thing landing in a puddle behind me. Moving carefully while my mind readjusted to moving at normal speeds, I turned around to face the unlucky thief.

He was still alive: barely. Although only a couple of seconds had passed while I was in VR, the damage he'd taken was serious. He'd collapsed into a sitting position, blood oozing from both nostrils and from the corners of his eyes - classic biofeedback symptoms - and he had an unfocused expression; simultaneously trying to watch Hanako in the virtual world and me in the real one.

I reached inside my jacket, down under my left arm. "Hanako?" I said aloud.

"Yes Master?" she queried via AR voice message.

My gaze hardened as I coolly stared at the downed thief. "Dump him."

Hanako complied; terminating his connection to my commlink and booting him out. The effects of the dumpshock were immediate; the elf cried out in pain and several blood vessels burst, sending blood streaming from his nose and out of one ear. As he began to black out he pitched forward - and I drew my Ares Predator from its concealed holster and put a round through his face.

The echo of the shot was muffled by the rain; as the body of the elf fell sideways and sprawled through the puddle. There was a neat round hole almost perfectly placed in his right eye; and as I kicked him over I swore at the gaping bloody mess where the back of his head wasn't anymore. I pulled the clip from my Predator to check its type and gave an exasperated sigh when I realized I'd just fragged an unprepared bottom-rung thug with APDS.

"Waste of good ammo," I grunted, flipping the corpse over with a solid kick to the shoulders. There was a small splashing sound as what was left of his brain matter slid out into the darkening puddle beneath him. I looked up at the alley wall behind him. There was a nice round hole a meter or two up, and the wall was liberally splattered with blood and bits of tissue. Where the acidic rain was able to reach it, the blood was blackening as the acid reacted with the iron. This was certainly going to draw attention.

I crouched down and quickly went through the dead elf's pockets. He didn't have much on him; a half-eaten soybar, a scruffy-looking credstick, a couple of BTL chips... and a Renraku Sensei commlink.
"Isn't this a little out of your price range, omae?" I said quietly to the dead elf. "I doubt you managed to lift it from someone..."

I deftly pulled it out of his pocket and put it in mine. I took the credstick and BTL chips too, might as well - and kept searching. I found my Fairlight Caliban 'link in a hidden pocket on the inside of his jacket; along with a Cavalier Scout holdout pistol. I stuffed both into my trenchcoat as well- Mortimer's made their apparel with plenty of pocket space, apparently - and was straightening up when I heard footsteps. I quickly darted to the wall that wasn't covered with elf brains and slid sideways; concealing myself as best I could in the shadow besides an air-conditioning shaft.

The older man from the cafe, the one that had sent his friend after me came into the alley; a friendly grin on his face. My cybereyes captured everything as he stopped dead in his tracks, his expression changing from amiability to disbelief and then agonizing horror. "F-Freyna," he stammered, leaning over his buddy. "Oh my fucking god. Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god-"

I stepped out behind him and smartly tapped him on the shoulder.  He got a split-second look at my face before my artificial fist smashed into his cheek; smashing his glasses and laying him out cold across the dead elf.

I dusted my hands off and flexed the wrist of my synthetic arm, turning  my right hand in a complete circle before sitting back in the shadows of the air-conditioning shaft and slipping back into VR. Hacking into the man's commlink was simple enough; and made easier by the fact that the dumb bastard had been actively pinging his friend while he was walking. The sheer volume of packet data was enough for me to create myself an easy way in.

His personal node looked like a comfortable lounge room with plush armchairs and sofas - the stock Redcap Nix operating system. I groaned and went to the main file directory; which here was a large oak bookshelf filled with many books and volumes.

"Let's see here..." I subvocalized to myself as I went through his system. Not much of interest here either. The guy had a Math SPU installed alongside the cybereyes; which actually turned out to be half-decent. Betaware, Ares ClearSight... and flashing an Upload Complete message.

Shit. I hurriedly accessed his Eye Recording Unit logs and pulled up the last ten minutes or so of footage. There I was, walking towards him, walking away, and a fraction of a second before everything went dark... and an encrypted message algorithm; time stamped to just after he'd given his friend the all-clear to kill me. I quickly copied the algorithm to my own 'link and pulled up my coding platform. I opened a template for a computational paradox - a logic bomb, my favorite tool - and added a couple of instructions that would disable the battery safeguards and spike the voltage of his commlink. I shrugged to myself before finding his smartlink system, which unsurprisingly turned out to be a gun mounted over the mantel, and attached the logic bomb to the gun's trigger. With my contingency in place, I set about wiping all footage of myself out and logging out.

As I sat on the asphalt I quickly ran through the algorithm with my decryption softs. It had a couple of choice photos of me, tagged as Incoming and with a couple of electronic signatures to authenticate the photographer; and the whole thing had been uploaded to a nearby wireless node.

"Master, this node address matches one in your whitelist," Hanako said helpfully.

I stood up, giving a half-hearted laugh. "I know, sweetheart," I said. "Looks like I just geeked one of Doc's little helpers." I looked down at Glasses and kicked him as hard as I could in the ribs, soliciting a crack and a painful moan from the unconscious jackass. "Well, I was headed to see him anyway," I added, turning my collar up a little and heading out of the alleyway.

Once I was back on track I put a little extra effort in getting the hell out of there without being obvious about it. Rase's clinic was barely a block away, which at least meant I would be off the street before the authorities turned up. Knights Errant activity had been scaled up in my district as of late; and although hearing my drug-dealing neighbors three doors down getting arrested was amusing I didn't want to see the inside of one of their patrol cars from anything other than the driver's seat.

I passed a few more stores - a barber's shop, a pharmacy and for some reason, what looked like an early-century comic store. I paused briefly to look through its reinforced windows out of curiosity and noticed a set of ancient, yellowed posters reading CHAKAN: THE FOREVER MAN set in solid glass and bearing images of a near-skeletal man brandishing twin swords and a broad-brimmed hat. I shrugged and kept walking. Looked interesting for pre-Matrix entertainment, but nothing could compare to all the things we had now. Who would want to play an antiquated system that used a crude handheld interface when we could control all sorts of things with our will alone? More to the point, who would choose pushing buttons over relishing the feeling of being the one swinging those ridiculous-looking swords? I sighed and shook my head. We might have come a long way since then but even so I still found myself pitying those who grew up with such inferior, primitive tech.

I turned off the sidewalk and into a side street; the walls of which were glowing pink and purple from a large and obnoxious neon sign advertising "Nova Adult Trids and Novelties". The door I wanted was just past that, next to a dumpster. It had the same logo on it as the gigantic sign overhead, and the words EMPLOYEES ONLY were written on it in large print. I looked both ways to make sure I wasn't being watched before stretching out virtual arms in all directions to check for digital lookers-on. Once I was satisfied that I was the only one there, I deftly pulled the door open and slipped inside.
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0555:05> by Sede »


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« Reply #2 on: <08-10-13/0850:44> »
There was a click as the door closed behind me. The carpeted floor was grubby and stained and the place stank of sweat. Ahead and to my left was an open doorway with the same pink neon light spilling through it. I briskly walked past it and to the end of the corridor, to a battered-looking closed door with the store logo and the word PRIVATE printed on it. The frame and hinges were caked in rust and mould, and the door itself looked like it had been used as a shield by a rampaging troll. Next to the door was a busted intercom.

I pressed one finger into the recess where the button would have been. "Knock knock, Armand," I said coolly.

There was a calm silence as I withdrew my hand and waited. After a minute or two the door swung inwards cleanly, revealing gleaming white tile and plasteel. The faint scent of disinfectant washed over me as I stepped through the doorway and nodded curtly at the ork assistant who'd opened the door. He grinned broadly, showing off his new metal tusks on either side of his regular, slightly-yellowed teeth.

"I see the new ones went in without hassle, Reggie," I commented as the ork closed the door and set the maglock.

"Yup. Doc put them in yesterday. It's a lot better now that I have proper teeth again. Mouth's still a bit sore though," he said, wincing slightly as his jaw moved.

"Not to worry, you'll be fine in a day or two," I said cheerfully. "And then when you're up to it, get Rase to give me a call."

"Will do," Reggie grunted. "Cheers, omae."

I gave him a half-hearted hand on his shoulder briefly before walking in towards Rase's office. My boots made a tak-tak-tak sound on the sterilized floor as I passed by the operating room and to a large, featureless metal door. As I drew close enough it slid to the side with a whooshing sound, allowing me through.

Armand Rase was sitting behind his plasteel desk, unraveling a bandage from his right arm. "There you are," he said as he pulled the soiled bandage away and dropped it into a large receptacle at his feet. There was a brief flash and a smell of burning meat as the disposal unit's built-in carbon dioxide laser incinerated its contents.

"You know, I don't think I've ever seen you changing your bandages until now," I commented, sitting in the uncomfortable plasteel chair in front of his desk.

Armand snorted briefly. "That's because usually it's none of your damn business," he said, pulling a clean bandage from the shelf behind him with his other hand. He deftly ripped the plastic wrapper off it with one claw and stretched out his right arm over his desk. It was a greyish-green colour and had an unnatural sheen to it as if it was covered with plastic or rubber instead of skin.

"I always thought you just wore them for show, honestly," I said as he began redressing his arm.

Armand laughed. "Nope, it's because I haven't got time to go get plastic surgery myself; I'm too busy stitching up the rest of you idiots. And cyber's right out; these damned eyes give me enough of a headache as it is. So unless I get a skilled surgeon to take over for me, which is never gonna happen, I'll just keep prettying myself up with gauze. Unless you'd rather tangle with the HMMV?" he said tongue-in-cheek.
I shook my head. The Human/Meta-Human Mutagenic Virus was not something I wanted to mess with. "I think I'll be fine, thank you," I said, grimacing a little. "I have enough on my plate already without needing to add human flesh to the list."

"A pity, it makes for great taquitos," Armand replied with a grin. "Sure I can't tempt you?" He stretched his arm out to me. "Go on, have a lick. That's all it takes, buttercup."

"Like I said, I'll pass," I said, pushing his arm away with my right hand. Armand guffawed. "Well, at least you're smart enough to use your cyberlimb. Still..." He reached under the desk for a moment and pulled out a spray bottle of disinfectant and pumped the trigger a couple of times, covering my synthetic arm in an antiseptic mist.

"Well, while we're on the subject," I said as I helped myself to some tissues from the box he offered me and began wiping the excess sanitizer from my arm, "how does plastic surgery affect HMMV transmission vectors? I can get it makes you look more human, but how would that make you less probable as an infection source?"

"It doesn't" the ghoul surgeon replied dryly. "I'd be better off operating from within a biohazard suit. And since those things make it incredibly fraggin' hard to hold a scalpel right, I'll just have to settle with hosing myself down with sanitizer and antiviral dressings. Better I can use my hands as they are than not."

I leaned back in the chair and folded my arms behind my head. "Fair point. If you'd operated on me from a biosuit I'd probably have this arm grafted to my chest."

Armand finished bandaging his arm up. He sprayed it down with sanitizer again and pressed a button on the archaic intercom on his desk. "Reggie, check if my sleeves are clean and bring 'em in," he said, his gravelly voice rasping across the speaker. He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms out for a moment. "And screw you hacker, I'm far too skilled for that," he said sardonically.

I raised my hands in mock supplication. "Hey, you're the one who installed my Encephalon. Wouldn't have considered it if I thought you might kill me."

"Wouldn't have made you pay me up front if it wasn't a possibility," Armand shot back. "Stereotactic implantation surgery, in the brain, performed by a ghoul. You're either too trusting or missing a chromosome."
"Aw, you say the nicest things, Doc."

The office door slid inwards as Reggie came in, carrying a pair of rubber surgical sleeves. He put them on a hook nearby and left again silently. Armand gave me a stern look before pulling out a small packet of packing peanuts from his drawer.

"Please tell me those aren't my meds," I grinned at him.

Armand snorted again. "I wish. You know what these things do if you eat them?" He held one up for a moment before pushing it down onto one claw; effectively using it as a safety cover. "Nah, these are just so I don't wreck the gloves."

"Fair enough," I replied as he put more of them on. "Probably helps prevent an accidental mes- oh." My voice trailed off as I remembered the assholes I'd left in the alleyway not ten minutes ago.

"What? That's not a good sound," Armand said, looking up as he covered up the last claw.

I rubbed the back of my neck with my synthetic hand. "On my way here I got jumped by a couple of wannabe runners. Pretty sure they're yours, Doc."

Armand groaned, rolling his expensive artificial eyes towards the ceiling. "Dammit! Let me guess, a stocky guy in glasses, looks like a wageslave? And an elf, head up his ass and hairstyle to match?"
I nodded. "Yup. Intercepted comms between them, they thought they could mug me and hand my carcass over to your tender care." I grinned a little despite myself. "It... didn't go well."

"I'd have eaten them if it had," Armand growled. Coming from him, it wasn't an idle threat. "You're the only regular client I have that isn't a deadbeat or a complete moron. Do you have any idea how hard that is to come by?"

"Well this is Seattle, omae," I replied smoothly. "Besides, I can't be your smartest client, surely."

"You are if the other one comes in three times in the same week with self-inflicted monofilament slashes," Armand remarked dryly. I winced. "Alright, I'll accept that..."

"Damn straight you will. I like you, hacker. It's probably the only reason I still take business from you."

"So the nuyen has nothing to do with it...?" I quipped, smirking at him. "I could always stop paying you if that's what you want..."

"Oh get bent," Armand grunted. "Anyway. What did you do to those idiots?"

I exhaled deeply. "Well, the elf is fragged. Biostress followed by bullet wound. A very big bullet wound too, I didn't check my clip before leaving the house."

Armand winced. "Hi-Ex rounds?" the ghoul queried, one eyebrow raised. I shook my head. "Nope, APDS. Made a nice design on the wall behind him."

"Alright, I don't get to deal with those very often. What's APDS stand for again?"

"Armour-piercing discarding sabot."

"So high-velocity round resulting in a big messy hole and dispersal of objects never meant to see daylight?"

I nodded. "Yeah, that's pretty much what happened."

He whistled. "Yup, that'll do it. There's some things even I can't fix. He probably had it coming, guy was a complete tool. Thought he was some kind of superhacker," he jibed at me. "Now do I know somebody like that?"

"Fortunately, you do," I grinned at him. "I think he lost that idea when he hacked into my commlink."

Armand blinked. "Wait, he hacked you of all people?" he said incredulously. I shrugged. "Well, it was my old Fairlight, I wiped it clean to use it as a dummy 'link. All I had to do was give him access when he tried to hack in, and my Agent did the rest."

"You're a bastard sometimes, you know that right?" the doctor said exasperatedly. "I mean really, you could have just knocked him out, maybe stolen his wallet. But instead you fried his brain, blew it out-"

"And then stole his wallet," I added brightly.

"Thank you, that was absolutely necessary," Armand grumbled.

"You're welcome. As it turns out, pulverising it may have improved his brain somewhat." I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out the BTL chip, and tossed it onto Armand's desk. "You know he was using beetles? Not the best thing to be doing on your spare time..."

"Especially since I'm the dumb bastard who stuck the hot sim module in his head," Armand scowled. "I should have known better. He and his buddy came in here a month or so back, shot to hell. Freyna, the elf? Picked a fight with the Ancients' Seattle chapter. Must have been pretty bad for them to brass up a fellow dandelion-muncher. Anyway, I fixed them up, gave them some spare alphaware I had lying around to toughen them up a bit. Told them they owed me twelve thousand nuyen for the hardware and pulling the bullets out, and if they brought in the odd piece of fresh meat here and there it'd work their bill down."

"You did all that out of the kindness of your heart?" I teased, putting my hands over my own. "Hell Doc, does yours even still beat?"

"First off, screw you. You know damn well it does, I'm not a goddamned zombie. Second, I did it out of a misguided sense of pity."

"And by pity you mean money?"

"Mostly money, but there was some pity in there, if only a little," the doctor conceded. "None of that left now. Considering how much he bragged about his 'hack skills', I'm quite frankly amazed he didn't recognise you. Trying to take on one of our city's finest, in the field they're most famous for? Damned amateur deserved worse than he got."

I raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Armand, I never knew you cared."

"Shut up, hacker," he grunted. "I don't. What I do care about though, is that the people I stitch up don't go and get themselves killed doing something stupid, especially if they owe me money. I suppose you binned Marcel as well?"

"Oh, that's the glasses guy? Nah, I just broke his jaw and a couple of ribs and left him sprawled across Freyna."

"Jesus, you don't mess around do you?" Armand asked exasperatedly. "At least you didn't splatter his grey matter out for the world to see, hm?"

I laughed and shook my head. "Why, was that headware hard to get?"

"His wasn't. Freyna's was though, you're damned lucky I don't make you pay for them."

"Yeah, you can keep telling yourself that Armand."
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0559:00> by Sede »


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« Reply #3 on: <08-10-13/0851:10> »
The intercom perched on Rase's desk buzzed as Armand gave me a faux-reproachful look. "Boss?" came Reggie's voice. "Got another patient for ya. Busted jaw," he said, a faint chuckle in his voice.

"Wow, no kidding? Great timing," I declared with a broad grin. Armand waved me off. "Send him through to my office Reggie."

There was a brief crackle as the ork hung up. "You know Armand, if you ever decide to upgrade your office gear, do let me know," I said plainly. "I'd be happy to set it up for you."

Armand grunted. "And I suppose you'd do this out of the goodness of your heart?"

"Hell yeah. I figure one of us has to."

Before Armand could reply the door slid open. Marcel was standing there, wearing his ruined glasses and holding his side with one hand. Blood was seeping from one corner of his mouth as he stood there with a shocked expression.

"Marcel. I see you bit off more than you could chew this time" Armand said, completely deadpan. I laughed, one hand going to my forehead at the terrible pun. "Really Armand, that was in poor taste!"

Anger was on Marcel's face as he took out his commlink and put it on. After a moment, a smooth artificial voice said "Shut up, scumbag. Rase, this asshole killed Freyna."

Armand waved a hand dismissively. "I already heard. Gotta tell you, don't care. People die around here all the time, chummer."

Marcel grit his teeth, causing the blood to run faster and drip down his chin onto the clean tile floor. "Hope it's alright if one more carks it, then," the commlink's speaker said as he drew a pistol from somewhere and aimed it squarely at my face.

"You really don't want to do that in my clinic," Armand warned him, leaning back in his chair.

"You really don't want to do that anywhere," I said. "Seriously, shadowrunning isn't going to be kind to you. Maybe you should take up a job as a pizza delivery guy."

"Fuck you," Marcel's electronic voice said as he chambered a round. "Anything else, smart guy?"

"Yeah. Take your commlink off before you try to shoot me, it'll make it easier on you."

"Shove it," he replied. "This is for Freyna you prick," he said, pulling the trigger.

There was a loud bang as the dilithium battery in his commlink instantly overheated and exploded. Marcel screamed and fell to the floor, clutching the side of his head. Smoke curled upwards from the burned, twisted flesh where his left ear had been.

I took the box of tissues from Armand's desk and dutifully began wiping drops of Marcel's blood off my arm. "Armand, pass me the sanitizer would you kindly?"

Armand tossed me the bottle with a grouchy look. "Like I said, you're a bastard sometimes."

I shrugged. "I did warn him. Besides, now you can bill him for plastic surgery and some more cyber," I replied as I started cleaning the blood from my arm and Armand's desk.

"Great, that should cover the cleaning bill from you nearly blowing his stupid head off," Armand replied sarcastically.

"What cleaning bill? It's plasteel and tile, it'll just wipe right off. See, your desk is already looking cleaner than when I came in."

"Shut it, hacker." Armand took a bottle of some grey solution from his shelf and began filling a syringe. "Really Marcel," he said to the bleeding, groaning man lying on the floor, "You're an idiot. You got taken down twice in twenty minutes, and by an actual shadowrunner. Did you even bother to look at his face properly?"

He pulled Marcel into a sitting position. The bleeding man gave me a filthy look, his eyebrows raising slightly in confusion as recognition finally set in. His jaw jittered up and down slightly as he tried to speak, making an unintelligible gurgle through his ruined mouth.

I held up my right hand as it started spinning at the wrist in a mechanical wave. "Pleased to meet you. Stay in school kid, and eat your vegetables."

Armand groaned. "God you're almost as bad as he is. Now, as for you," he said, addressing Marcel. "I'm in a bit of a bind. You already owe me a lot of money, especially since now Freyna's not going to be helping you anymore. And you've made some pretty permanent mistakes."

He tapped the syringe a couple of times and depressed the plunger slightly to make sure there was no air in it. "First and foremost is drawing your weapon in my clinic. What did I say about my clinic being neutral ground?" He calmly pressed the needle into Marcel's shoulder and injected the contents, Marcel visibly relaxing as the drugs took hold. "You just don't get it, do you? Look, tell you what, forget about paying me back for the surgery, " he said, his voice dropping lower than usual for a moment. Marcel's eyes widened briefly and his mouth moved slightly. He slowly reached up to put a hand on Armand's shoulder before gently closing into sleep as he slumped forward with a snore.

I raised one eyebrow. "I'm impressed. You're still going to help him after all that?"

Armand straightened up. His expression was unreadable - he seemed weary and irritated and troubled all at the same time. "In a way, hacker. In a way."

I leaned forward, watching Armand - I caught the way he'd phrased his reply. "Armand? Did you...?"

"I did," the surgeon said, letting out a sigh. "The idiot was only going to get himself killed anyway. He probably would have come after you first."

"I'm more than capable of looking after myself," I said curtly.

"Damn it! I know that without your blasted input!" Armand thumped one bandaged fist onto his table. "I didn't do this for you, hacker. Think for one goddamned minute - he disregarded everything close to law in this shithole. He didn't work with his team, went straight after the guy who just kicked his ass, and didn't respect hospital ground. Headstrong bastard was going to get gunned down in a week, tops."

"Why not at least give him the chance to straighten up?" I asked, my eyes narrowing. "I mean I know I kill people but at least they know what's coming."

"Oh get the fuck off your high horse," Armand growled. "I recognized a lost cause and I sent him out with a smile. Peacefully, do you understand? So don't you dare act like you're better than me."

I raised my hands. "Chill, Doc. I disagree with your reasoning, but not your actions. I did the same thing to Freyna, remember."

"Good, I was about to call you a fucking hypocrite," Armand replied. He grudgingly offered a bandaged hand to help me out of my seat. "Look, hacker. End of the day, we're both responsible for our actions and we have our own way of making things work. Way I see it, if someone goes out comfortably instead of screaming, that's a win for me."

I shrugged. "To each their own, Armand. I'll give you that you're a man of morals... even if they're similar to mine."

Armand laughed mirthlessly. "Alright, that's as close as we'll get to agreeing." He took a plastic bottle off the shelf and tossed it to me. "Here. Take these once a day, evening if you can manage it. And if you drink an hour either side of it, you're looking at liver problems."

"What sort of problems?" I asked, inspecting the bottle.

"Hollandaise sauce and string beans," he replied pointedly.

I nodded. "Ah. Well then, I'm off. What do I owe you for the meds?"

"One-eighty, I had to pull some strings to get these in," Armand said, folding his arms.

I laughed. "You? Strings? Come on Armand, I know who you work for." I pulled out a standard credstick and handed it to him. "There's two-fifty on there, let's say it's for outstanding service."

"You're lucky I'm willing to let that slide, hacker," Armand grumbled as he tucked the credstick into one pocket. "But humour me. Who do you think I work for, exactly? If I was doing this any way other than on my own I wouldn't be running out of the back of a porn store."

"Which I'm sure is the sole reason a certain member of the Tanamous DARU walks into said porn store once a fortnight." I grinned. Armand's expression froze briefly before his eyes narrowed. "That's a hefty call, hacker."

"And confirmed by the fact you didn't ask what the acronym meant." I shrugged. "Don't worry, I don't care. Besides, she's the friend of a friend of mine, as the saying goes."

Armand's gaze was completely focused on me. "You're a terrible bluff, you know."

"I agree. So, on an unrelated matter I heard you had a dead human with a fox tail in here recently?"

The ghoul sighed. "Dammit. How?"

"Your ork ladyfriend works alongside an acquaintance I assist from time to time," I said pleasantly.

"And how long have you known?"

"Not that long, actually," I said truthfully. "I had my suspicions but they only got confirmed recently. Honestly Armand, I took it as further proof that you're a fantastic surgeon and physician. You'd have to be, wouldn't you?"

"More than I'm willing to discuss with you," he replied, shaking his head. "What do you want, money? A new implant? Keep in mind I may just kill you while you're under."

"Good heavens no. I'm happy with our current relationship. I just thought it wasn't fair, you knew everything about me and yet I knew so little about you," I said playfully.

Armand sighed again, a faint smile in place. "Just keep it to yourself, hacker. I guess if you were going to rat me out you'd have done it by now."

"And you'd have already skipped town," I said with a smile. "One runner to another, right omae?"

"Hah! Like I said before... my favourite, smart-ass client."
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0615:05> by Sede »


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« Reply #4 on: <08-10-13/0853:41> »
"Welcome home, sempai!"

I set down the package I was carrying and straightened up. "Mitsuyo, you're meant to use the traditional greeting when a family member comes home. You're supposed to wait until I've announced myself, too."

"Sorry, sempai! Adjusting parameters." There was a faint hum from Mitsuyo's speakers as she waited for me expectantly. I shrugged and stretched my arms outwards, smiling a little. "Tadaima!"

"Welcome home, sempai!"

I groaned. "Close enough. Any calls while I was out?"

"Yes! You have two missed calls!" Mitsuyo chirped.

"Why didn't you forward them to me?" I asked, frowning. As useful as she was, there was no denying my house Personality was a bit of a ditz. I had nobody to blame but myself for that one...

"Sorry, sempai! Both times I attempted to forward the calls, however I could not resolve your host address," Mitsuyo explained. I frowned again, rubbing my temple. "That's odd, you have my commlink's identification and address information don't you?"

"Yes! Your current System Identification Number and commlink MAC address are listed in my directories. However several factors may have impeded establishing an active connection, such as wireless interference and Matrix dead zones."

I slapped my forehead. Rase's clinic was probably inside a Faraday cage for the added security. It would explain why she hadn't been able to reach me; as far as the wireless world would have been concerned I may as well have encased myself in concrete. "Fair enough," I replied, picking up the cylindrical package I'd brought with me and heading into the lounge room. "Who were the calls from?"

"Information redacted," Mitsuyo said cheerfully.

Before I could give an exasperated response, my AR overlay pinged and an icon of a child's hair ribbon appeared in the corner of my vision for a moment before Hanako appeared, standing in front of me with her hands behind her back and a happy smile. "Okaeri! Mitsu-chan was unable to reach you, so I amended the call logs like you asked! The calls were from Kuro-kun and Ryuko-chan; do you want me to call them back?"

I beamed despite myself and gave the clever little Agent a quick AR-assisted hug. "Kurosawa first. He should be home and in his VR rig, so we'll place a VR call. How did you amend Mitsuyo's call logs, Hanako?"

" The call logs weren't where her operating system specified, so I searched her entire file registry. You moved the Matrix logon and telephony records into her antivirus directory and encrypted everything. It was tricky to find!"

I laughed. I had deliberately moved them to see if Hanako could locate and decrypt them, but I hadn't anticipated she would find them so easily. It was an impressive feat for her; but then again I was the one who built her. "Well done, sweetheart," I said, smiling.

Hanako giggled and clapped her hands before vanishing. A split-second later I could hear the archaic sound of a century-old telephone ringing, the sound seemingly coming from all directions. I crossed the lounge room and sat down on my sofa before slipping into VR.

I looked around the open, storm-caressed park and pathway for a moment; enjoying the simulated wind and scent of fresh, acid-free rain. To my right was a fork in the path that wasn't there before - a representation of the secure network connection between my commlink and my house's Nexus. It had been an expensive purchase but a worthwhile one considering it had tripled my processing and VR capability at home.

I took several strides along the new path, and instantly the world changed. The dim light of the computer-generated storm overhead was instantly replaced with the soft orange glow that filled my apartment. I was standing in the middle of my lounge room; now clean and free from the tools and materials that Beckett's renovation crew had left behind. I grinned and headed over to the Nexus' main directory, which I had made to resemble my refridgerator and auto-cook before opening the door and pulling out a file folder shaped like a plain white box. Examining it for a moment, I went back into the lounge room and sat on the sofa; triggering a brief moment of dj-vu as I took in that I was sitting on my sofa in my house, immersed in a VR landscape that was a replica of my house and sitting on a replica of the same sofa, and I laughed at the convenient absurdity of it before holding the box out in front of me and watching it float into the air.

Presently there was a chime and I was suddenly aware of someone else in my virtual living space; standing in the hallway and looking around. "What the... what am I looking at, exactly?" called out a low, rich voice.

I laughed. "Nice to see you too, Kuro-kun," I said as a jet-black cat walked around the corner and stared at me. "I actually wasn't sure if you'd be at home yet. How's things?"

"Not bad," the cat replied, stretching its front paws out and arching its back in a massive yawn before jumping onto the couch and sitting next to me, upright and alert. "Just finished putting the finishing touches into our new programming suite, it'll be released for final testing tomorrow and if all goes well, onto the shelves in a week. C'el's pretty pleased."

I flinched at the sound of the name, grateful that the involuntary twitch didn't translate to my virtual avatar. "I bet he is, that little bit of kit is going to carve out quite a profit margin. So, are you going to have a well-deserved vacation afterwards?"

"I figured I may as well," Kurosawa replied. "Karen's been working pretty hard in the labs for the last month, so I thought I'd take her on holiday to somewhere exotic. You've been to all sorts of places, is there anywhere you'd recommend? Somewhere that isn't a VR parlour?" he teased, the cat's face splitting into a toothy cartoonish grin.

"Lagos isn't too bad as long as you stick to the tourist part of town and keep a close eye on your cred," I replied, pointedly ignoring his dig. "There's a luxury hotel there that takes their security pretty seriously. There's also a nice bistro and bar on the other side of town you'd like, it's called The Three Friends. Just don't ask them for the house special."

"I'll make a point of ordering it just because you told me not to," Kurosawa laughed. "And how about you? How's your work going?"

"Pretty straightforward, actually. I just finished up with a client, her commission took a bit more than expected but ended well overall. Another satisfied customer, although I'll be glad if I don't hear from her again for a while."

"You know, sometimes I wonder if you do more than you let on," the cat said playfully. "You certainly seem to leave behind a lot of very happy people..."

I snorted. "Kuro-kun, I'm a cybertechnician like you; just because I don't work for a corporation doesn't mean I'm whoring myself out, so stop projecting your fantasies onto me okay? It's not healthy."

The black cat looked down for a moment and puffed its cheeks out, giving the impression that it was holding back a grin. "Alright, I guess I was asking for that one huh?" he said, before jumping off the couch and walking into the middle of the room. "Anyway, what is this? Is this your comm node?"

"Nope. I had enough nuyen stored to invest in a small hardware addition."

The cat sat down abruptly. "Wait, this is a Nexus?" He whistled; briefly making me wonder how a cat could do such a thing before reality reminded me that Matrix interactions could be pretty much anything. "Not bad, not bad at all. The good ones tend to be pretty expensive, I had to wait three weeks for the higher-ups to greenlight one for my laboratory. What model am I standing in?"

I gestured in the air, materializing a couple of bizarre-looking tools. "Nothing too special, this is an MCT Sentinel," I replied, taking one of the tools and carefully dragging it along the side of the plain box I'd retrieved.

"A Sentinel? Damn, that's one hell of an investment for someone without corporate backing! What are you doing, building an AI?"

"Nope, just an Agent," I said cheerfully as the tool I was holding made a clicking noise. I pulled it away, carrying a translucent copy of the file box. "Hanako, say hello to Kuro-kun."

Hanako suddenly appeared standing directly in front of Kurosawa; startling him into arching his back and yowling. She had a friendly smile as she scooped the cat avatar up and held him up at arm's length to look into his face. "Hi, Kuro-kun! Master used the boost in processing power provided by this Nexus to compile me approximately five days ago. This Nexus serves as Master's home node; with the apartment's inbuilt house node slaved to it as a secondary processor. This Nexus is incapable of supporting artificial life as it lacks several components, most notably a quantum drive." She put the cat down and clapped her hands happily before abruptly disappearing.

"Do you know how creepy it is that your Agent looks and sounds like a little girl?" Kurosawa asked, his cat avatar swishing its tail lightly.

"If you think that's bad I probably shouldn't tell you about the personality I coded for my apartment node. Or maybe I should, you did love playing the upperclassman in school didn't you?" I smirked, giving him a mischievous thumbs-up.

"Oh shut up, you're just jealous you didn't get nearly as many girls as I did. Speaking of girls, what are the specifications on that one, anyway?"

I smiled brightly at Kurosawa, proud of my work. "Hanako? She's a rating-six Agent, built from scratch by yours truly." The cat's eyes went wide for a moment. I made a show of brushing my avatar's fingernails on his sleeve. "Yup, and I coded her over the course of only two days. There was about a month in-between where I was out of town, mind."

Kurosawa whistled again. "Incredible. Guess I shouldn't have expected anything less of you, hey? But why does it have to be a little girl?"

"Aw, is she making you uncomfortable Kuro-kun? Well, it's because... nobody ever suspects the little girl, do they?"

"Hah! And you claim your work is on the level. Tell you what, I won't ask any more about the Agent, I don't really want to know what you built her for."

I snorted loudly as I touched the glowing translucent box in front of me and began modifying some of its data. "If you must know Kuro, most of the time she rides shotgun with me. And before you say anything perverted," I cut in over him as he opened his mouth, "her main function is to run programs in the background when I'm stress-testing something." It was almost a bare-faced lie but I couldn't exactly tell Kurosawa that she was built to kill people who were hacking into things I didn't want them to.

The cat harrumphed softly. "That's a good use for an Agent," he said. "But why does it have to be a little girl?"

I groaned, leaning back in the sofa as the new translucent box began to hum and spin slowly on one corner. "Don't you consider each thing you code to be a perfect little miracle, like your own flesh and blood?"

"Who, me? No way, I couldn't be that arrogant."

"I can," I grinned broadly; eliciting a groan from Kurosawa as he walked around my simulated lounge room, inspecting the furniture and walls. He pressed one paw against a wall and looked up at me. "Hey, this is pretty well-crafted. Looks and feels like the real thing."

"Arigato, Kuro-kun," I replied, tipping my head forward a little. "It took a while to reproduce accurately; the visual texture was easy to do but the tactile feedback took much longer. I'm especially proud of the coarse marble bench in the kitchen though, I did that without reference."

The cat came back towards me and daintily stepped onto the sofa, returning to its original seat and curling up. "You're an incredible programmer. I could really use you in my laboratory, you know. It'd be easy, one phone call to C'el and I could arrange-"

"That's not going to happen and you know it, Kuro-kun. I'm perfectly happy with contract work; and I've already told you I want nothing to do with, with that elf." I nearly spat the word like a racial slur. Technically it was, with the context my tone of voice had provided; but no matter.

Kurosawa sighed. "I know you haven't forgiven him for what happened, sempai. You need to let it go, really. I know how sorry he is, it'd be all over the moment you walked in the door."

You have no idea how right you are, I thought sourly. Kurosawa's impression of the executive was painfully lacking in several dangerous areas. "Look Kuro," I said, dropping the honorific, "I've discussed this with you at least a dozen times since I established myself here and contacted you. I'm not coming back, I'm not dealing with that weed-eating prick and I'm certainly not going to work for a megacorp; Horizon least of all. That is my decision, and I am not changing it."

"Suit yourself," the cat replied, poking a tiny pink tongue out at me. "I still say you're missing out."

"How?" I asked, offering a grin; glad to not be talking about my former boss. "I already help you out when you've coded your way into a corner; isn't that what I'd be doing anyway?"

"Yes, but you'd be paid and credited for it," Kurosawa said, shaking his head. "Considering how much money I've earned on programs and cyberware you've optimized, I think you're crazy to keep turning me down."

"Hey, there's a fine line between genius and madness Kuro-kun," I said, smirking.

"Heh, guess you are pretty arrogant sempai."

"Handsome, too," I added as the data box finally stopped turning. I picked it out of the air and willed my Edit suite online. It took me a just a few moments to find the metadata of the files inside and even less to access it. "Hey Kuro-kun, you haven't changed your address have you?"

"Are you kidding? Why would I move out of my apartment?"

"That's what I thought." I quickly added several lines of information and made sure each file matched up before saving the changes I'd made. The white cube turned green briefly to show that my modifications had been successful; and I put it in front of the black cat. "Here, happy unbirthday."

The cat sniffed at the white box for a moment. "Music? Hey, this is Mana's new album. How did you know?" He placed his front paws on top of it, the box vanishing in a brief, brilliant flash as he transferred it to his own node. I shrugged. "I just figured you'd like it, since I did. Incidentally that's legitimate; purchased by you about three hours ago from your home node. I matched it to your SIN and everything."

Kurosawa nodded, grinning a little. "Hah, you pirate. Would it kill you to actually buy something?"

"Hey, I bought it," I protested. "I just happened to make a duplicate of it and change its registration info. You're welcome, by the way."

"Arigato, sempai. You're not bad for a hobby hacker."

Yeeaaaaah... hobby. We'll go with that, I thought. My avatar gave an embarrassed grin; one I was pretty certain my real body was showing. "It was nothing," I said with a polite shake of my head. "Anyway, before I forget myself any further, you tried to call me earlier?"

The cat stretched and yawned languidly. "Yeah I did. I needed to check a coding issue with you, but I figured it out myself so no matter."

"Must have been a bad one if you decided to call me in on it," I grinned.

Kurosawa raised one paw to his mouth and coughed; an oddly-human gesture coming from a cat avatar. "Nothing you need to worry about, I caught it before it could break anything. Mostly I just wanted to say hi, anyway." He paused for a moment. "Karen's messaged me asking to come to dinner, so I should go."

"Probably a good idea Kuro-kun, you know the old joke - hell hath no fury-"

"-like a woman whose husband went straight to his gaming chair right after a breakthrough at work. Believe me, I know that one." He flicked his tail this way and that for a moment. "Let me in on something though, what's this VR environment of yours supposed to be? Aside from oddly comfortable."

I shrugged. "That's easy, Kuro-kun - it's a replica of my actual apartment."

Kurosawa snorted. "Pfeh, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You could have made anything you wanted into an avatar and instead you just modeled it after yourself... you have no imagination, do you realize that?" he teased. I smothered a grin. "I have my reasons; mainly that clients never expect me to look just as good as my avatar when I meet them in person."

"You narcissist," the cat jibed.

"And damned well proud of it," I replied. "See you later Kuro-kun; say hi to Karen for me."

"I will, bye!" The cat cheerfully waved one paw at me, not unlike the good-luck charm on the counter of the convenience store down the street before disappearing.
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0618:55> by Sede »


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« Reply #5 on: <08-10-13/0854:18> »
I leaned back in my chair and sighed. Kurosawa and I had known each other all our lives, but despite that he still thought he could change my mind. You'd think he'd have learned I'm a stubborn bastard by now, I thought to myself with a wry grin. Closing my eyes for a moment, I took a deep breath - or at least, my avatar made a show of taking a deep breath - and I brought up my commlink's contact list. I scrolled down to a particular entry and selected it; preoccupied as I entered the ten-digit access code. Why would she be contacting me? It couldn't be work-related, and it was probably not for the sake of conversation either.

A window opened in the air in front of me; a small panel the size of a television screen just floating in the air about a meter from my face. It was matte and jet-black, and reflected no light even though reflections and refractions were something I'd programmed into this VR environment. This was a voice-only comms window; it normally meant whoever was on the other end either didn't have the patience or wasn't comfortable with full VR immersion for the sake of a simple phone call.

A bright green horizontal line appeared across it in a great slash of colour. As the call began to ring, the line spiked up and down - audio visualization wasn't an uncommon thing in vocal-only calls, and there were hundreds of different visualizations to choose from. You could have flowers bloom and die to the rhythm of a song; or watch waves breaking on a shore to the sound of someone's voice. But even with the diversity of the options available, I had never known anyone besides myself and this particular client to be fond of the simple audiograph.

There was a faint click as the person on the other end answered. "Good evening," said the voice of a young woman. "That was quick, I thought I wouldn't hear from you until tomorrow."

"Apologies, I was in a dead zone," I replied smoothly. "I just got home. What can I do for you?"

The young woman laughed. "Now, are you being this formal because it's me on the line, or do you always sound like this?"

"Only for you, Frosty," I said, shaking my head. "And that's because you're the only client I can get away with it with."

There was a snicker from the other end. "Only because you're one of the few 'runners I'd rather have on my side, you mean."

I put my hands over my heart, deigning flattery even though I knew she couldn't see it. "I'm touched, boss-lady. You actually have faith in my abilities."

"Why else would I continue to hire you?" she asked. "It isn't for your good looks, if that's what you were wondering."

"Well I'm not flattered anymore," I said flatly, a faint grin on my avatar's lips. "Now, I'm going to assume you were either sleeping or working hocus-pocus of one variety or another before I called you; forgive my interruption but what did you need me for?" I stretched my arms out and folded them behind my head. "Please tell me that stupid bloody disc hasn't been stolen or turned into cheese or something."

There was a half-hearted laugh from my client. "No, the Phaestos Disc is quite fine. Ehran and I have been studying it; no major progress yet but there will be. No, I called you because I'm holding up my end of an agreement."

"What are you-" I began before I remembered five or six days ago; when my crew and I had been finishing up our assignment. Frosty had requested we escort the Disc via boat to Tr na ng; the boat in question was an-almost defenseless freighter, and we'd be likely to encounter pirates. I'd irritably said this was outside the scope of work she'd hired us for and asked - "Ah, yes. I wasn't sure if you'd come through on that or not."

Frosty sighed. "Come on, you should know my word is good by now."

"I do, boss-lady, I do; but I also know that there's a lot about you I can't fathom and I can't trust that. Not to say I can't trust you, but that I understand there's a certain... unpredictability where employment with you is concerned." It wasn't a lie. In the last few weeks alone I'd nearly been eaten by ravenous insect spirits, seen dozens of well-armed ghouls ripped apart like so much wet paper, was an esteemed guest aboard a Karavan dirigible, and imprisoned in a state-of-the-art virtual detainment facility. Unpredictable was a barely a facet of what working for Frosty had entailed; especially when hers was the central role while ghoul limbs were raining from the sky.

There was a faint groan. "Alright, that's a pretty fair reason I guess," Frosty replied dryly. "But, I digress. Escorting the Disc was outside the scope of our contract, and you made a reasonable request for retaining your services. So on that note -"

She paused for dramatic effect. After a few moments of silence, I received an email from a secure address. I opened it and noted with some amusement that it the main body was a complete gibberish of letters, numbers and symbols. I set my decryption programs onto it and switched back to the phone call with my client. "Just got your message. What happened, did you try using a manual keyboard with a bad case of the hiccups?"

"Very funny," Frosty replied with no trace of humor in her voice. "I arranged for shall we say, a gift voucher for you. If you take that to Hacker House you'll get what you requested for going above and beyond our agreed contract." As she said that my decryption program chimed, notifying me it had finished decrypting the file. I glanced at it briefly; the mishmash of characters was still unreadable nonsense, but now contained the Hacker House logo at the top. I pursed my lips, suitably impressed. "Not bad, boss-lady. Thank you kindly ."

"Don't mention it," she replied wryly. "No really, don't mention it to me ever again; that thing was expensive and put me over budget for retrieving the Disc. Just promise me you'll have it handy next time I have an assignment for you."

"Are you kidding, I won't leave the house without this baby," I said cheerfully. "Although if it's a question of money, I'd be happy to reimburse you a little for it. Wouldn't want to make my employer hold a grudge now would I?"

Frosty laughed. "No, that's fine. I'd feel kind of bad, taking back some of the cred I'd just paid you for that job." I shrugged. "Alright, if you insist. Well then, I think I may be off-"
There was an unexpected ring of a bell as I received another email. Almost immediately Hanako appeared in front of me, holding a letter and envelope. "Master, this just arrived in your personal email inbox. The sender is unknown and is not in your whitelist."

"Hold that thought boss-lady." I quickly opened my antivirus program and commanded it to run a thorough sweep of my commlink and all connected Matrix ports while I carefully opened the email; Nuke program at the ready to overload any nasty surprises.

To my relief and delight, the email was something I hadn't been expecting but had been hoping for all the same. Its body contained only five words - Well played. Ha! Fraggin' Ha!  Attached to the email was a certified cred transfer of twenty thousand nuyen. I laughed gleefully and exultantly punched one digital fist into the air - it wasn't about the money though; but rather where it had come from.

"Um... what's going on and why are you laughing?" Frosty asked, her voice confused. I chuckled to myself one more time before initiating the credit transfer and watching my bank balance rise higher, then took an image capture of the message and sent it to Frosty. After a moment I heard her gasp.

"What the fuck? What the hell did you do?"

I grinned. "Well," I said nonchalantly, "Do you remember when we were meeting up at that cafe for this last assignment? How we all ended up in clown makeup?"

"Yeah, Harlequin "hired" you all to distract the thugs that were chasing him. I'm certain he was doing it just to mess with me." Frosty sighed. "Is that what that money is for? Seems a lot just for a deliberate case of mistaken identity."

"Oh no, that's not it," I said cheerfully. "Do you remember afterwards, telling me that Harlequin was running a betting pool against us recovering the disc? I called his bluff and bet ten thousand nuyen that we would."

There was a moment of silence from Frosty. "You bet against Harlequin," she said flatly.

I shrugged again. "Hey, I had to show my confidence in myself and my associates in the matter; I couldn't exactly bet against them."

"In that case, are you planning on sharing your winnings?" Frosty asked slyly.

"Hell no! I fronted the bet, the prize is mine," I laughed. "Anyway, just thought you might like to see that. Thanks again for the new equipment, boss-lady; I might take my leave."

"Sounds like a plan," she said, yawning. "It's something like eleven at night here, and I'm ready to go to bed. I'll keep in touch."

"I'll look forward to it. Good night," I said, ending the call. I sat there on the sofa for a moment, lightly springing up and down. The sofa was soft but it wasn't moving like it should; the fabric was rippling slightly like something made of gel. I made a note to tweak the tactile feedback of it before summoning Hanako.

She appeared in front of me and bowed slightly. "Was there something you needed, Master?"

I stood up, feeling pretty cheerful. "Yeah, you can come give me a hand. We're going shopping."
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0621:32> by Sede »


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« Reply #6 on: <08-10-13/0854:51> »
Several days had passed uneventfully. I had opted to remain inside my apartment; venturing out only twice to shop at Mortimer of London's one day and for a meal and drinks at a bar later the same evening. The rest of my time I spent relaxing at home - with my work for Frosty concluded, I had some free time I was determined to use for resting. My work had been increasingly frenetic up until now; and it was good to finally put my feet up and retreat into my own perfect little bubble.

I was lying across the sofa in my living room, eyes closed and sharing a discussion on JackPoint with several other members via AR when Hanako's hair ribbon icon appeared in the lower right corner of my vision. I excused myself and severed the connection before sitting up blearily.

"You have a phone call, sempai!" Mitsuyo chirped. "Hana-chan has fielded the call as it flags several of your security parameters. Who is it?"

I raised one eyebrow at the core's question; such a thing was not exactly uncommon among house nodes but I hadn't programmed her to be prying. "Probably nothing, Mitsuyo. I'll handle it," I said slowly. With a thought I switched back into AR and connected to Mitsuyo's node. Hanako immediately appeared standing in front of me, holding an archaic telephone and receiver.

"I traced the call to Rase's clinic, but the identification doesn't match any of your whitelisted contacts," she announced. "The caller is presently on hold. What should I do?"

I furrowed my brow for a moment as I wondered who on earth could have gotten my number if I hadn't given it to them before relaxing. "It's alright Hanako, I know who it is. Put the call through, please." Hanako nodded once and vanished. Instantly a video image of an ork with gleaming metal tusks appeared in front of me. "Reggie, how goes?" I said affably.

Reggie laughed. He looked a little nervous. "Pretty good, man. I'm all healed up from surgery, and I wanted to share the good feeling with the jackasses who're responsible for me needing it."

"Say no more," I said; my pleasant tone evaporating. "Send me any info you have on them, this won't take long."

Reggie looked a little downcast, but after a moment I received two images. Two humans. The images were underexposed and blurry - it was late at night when Reggie was jumped, and his commlink wasn't very good; but the overall image was good enough that it didn't matter. I quickly assembled facial composites of them using my Edit program - one tall, bald and clean-shaven, with dark skin; the other stocky, Hispanic and with oily hair and a thin goatee. I sent the two facial composites back to Reggie. "Here's what I've got. Is this them?"

Reggie let out a hiss; his expression smouldering. "That's them alright. You're good, omae."

"I know, I know." I opened another window and set the two images into my datasearch suite's target parameters before pointing it at the Redmond district. "And I'll know a lot more in a few minutes."

Reggie nodded, his expression still angry. "Much appreciated. I'm looking forward to seeing how they enjoy their teeth being wrenched out of their faces."

There was a cheerful ding from my browsing program as it began displaying images and pages related to the two people I'd just searched for - Knights Errant suspect mugshots, newspaper headlines, website listings. My gaze hardened as I took in the information. "Reggie? Couple of things you ought to know."

The ork gave me a quizzical look through the frown he was wearing. "Such as...?"

I sent commands through to Mitsuyo to lock the apartment down in three minutes as I strode into my bedroom and grabbed the armoured duster I'd bought from Mortimer's the day before. "Three things. They're Humanis Policlub, this is officially a community service, and you can pick me up outside my complex." I terminated the connection as I put the duster on and sent a command to open the discreet safe next to my bed. It popped open and I grabbed the Ares Predator, loaded it with explosive rounds and slipped it into the jacket's holster as I stepped into the hallway and quickly put my shoes on. Hanako uploaded herself to my commlink as I opened the apartment door and stepped out into the open-air concrete passage. There was a click behind me as Mitsuyo set the maglock and cut its signal; preventing entry through anything other than sheer brute force. I headed for the elevator, switching to AR  and placing a phone call to my fixer.

The call hung for a minute before I was treated to the sight of a face with very dark glasses and sallow skin, framed with long brown hair. "Afternoon," it said smoothly.

"Beckett, I need some details," I said. "Heading out to take out some garbage and I need a location."

"And here was me thinking you were about to jump down my throat over the renovations. What'cha got?"

I sent him through the two police mugshots, as well as the info I'd pulled on their connection to Humanis.  "By the looks of this intel they're sporting criminal SINs. I want their RFID locations; I can't exactly crash every shithole in the Barrens looking for them."

"Got it," Beckett growled. "Fucking Policlub bastards. Gimme a few minutes to ring a guy." There was a tone as the call disconnected, followed by another one as the elevator doors opened. I strode out through the ratty excuse of a lobby, giving the bored concierge a nod as I pushed open the doors and stepped out onto the street.

Reggie was waiting for me, standing in front of a beat-up looking muscle car. I raised my eyebrows. "Damn, that was fast."

"Was out the door the second you said Humanis," he grunted. He pulled the passenger door open before jumping over the hood and getting into the driver's seat. I got in and slammed the door shut behind me. The car gave a throaty roar as Reggie gunned the engine before taking off, sending us shooting down the street.

"Where're we headed," he said flatly. His eyes were glittering with anger.

"Head for the Barrens, they're in there. Further info coming in."

Reggie grunted an affirmation and shifted gears. The roar of the engine pitched higher as we accelerated; heading south towards what was left of Redmond.

"So, what's with this beast of a thing?" I said conversationally. "Didn't pick you as a racer, omae."

Reggie laughed. "Nah. This is for fun. Every man needs his vices; me, I like fast cars." There was a clunk as he tugged at the gearstick and pulled sharply on the steering wheel; neatly drifting us around a corner and onto the old, disused road that ran parallel under the much-busier freeway that had been built overhead.

"Actually, I meant why this old thing. Manual gear changing? Next you're gonna tell me this thing isn't gridlinked."

Reggie gave me a look. "It isn't. Say what you want about pre-Crash tech, but they built kickass cars."

My reply was silenced by a cheerful ding as my AR flashed a notification. I hit it and watched as it opened a comm window; showing Beckett's scowling face. He gave me a curt nod. "Got them. Right now they're at a Stuffer Shack on the edge of the Barrens; got pinged by the SIN scanner in the door. Address is Fifth and Medeis. You make sure those assholes learn something valuable."

"They won't be capable when I'm done with them," I said flatly. I pulled open another window and authorized a transfer of five hundred nuyen to Beckett's account. "Much obliged, omae."

Beckett smiled thinly. "My pleasure," he said sardonically before hanging up.

I turned to Reggie. "Head for Fifth and Medeis, northwestern end. They're in a Stuffers, what say we go pick them up?"

Reggie nodded, his grip tightening a little on the steering wheel. "Got it. Man, I'm looking forward to this."

I gave a wry grin as I turned to look out of the window. We were starting to pass buildings in increasing states of disrepair as we got closer to the Barrens. "So how do you want to do this? Up close and personal, I'm guessing."

"Yup. I'll handle these pricks. You just make sure they don't bolt on me when they realize they haven't got the jump on me this time."

I nodded to myself. Reggie had good reason for wanting to do this on his own. "Alrighty. So be it, chummer."

The rest of the trip was short; the disrepair giving way to buildings that were festooned with jury-rigged lights and signs. There was garbage in the streets and cracks through the pavement, and graffiti on nearly every wall. We passed a large building with a massive lit-up sign reading Seamstress's Union as Reggie slowed the car down and neatly steered it into an alley nearby; empty save for a couple of cardboard boxes and an elderly bum sprawled out across a cardboard mattress in a drunken stupor. Reggie killed the engine and put the parking brake down, before turning in his seat to face me. " You alright with sitting this one out? I want to savour this myself."

I shrugged. "I'm coming as backup, man. This is your private party as far as I'm concerned."

Reggie grunted and gave me a coarse smile; his new metal tusks glinting wickedly. "Appreciate it," he said before getting out of the car and slamming the door. I could see his hands curling into fists as he briskly checked the street before crossing it to where the run-down Stuffer Shack stood opposite from where we had parked.

I took a moment to breathe out exasperatedly before climbing out and standing at the mouth of the alley, standing behind a large and stinking dumpster. From my new vantage point I could clearly see the electronic doors of the convenience store, as well as Reggie standing at the front counter. I switched on my vision magnification, the increase in size and detail letting me see he was buying a couple shoddy pastries and a soykaf from the clerk. I glanced behind him and spotted the two bigots standing in another aisle; talking to one another and gesturing at Reggie. I drew my heavy pistol and drew the slide to chamber a round as Reggie picked up his stuff and trundled out of the door. The Policlub goons followed him out, waving their arms and shouting at him. I crouched against the dumpster and leaned back onto it with my feet spread.

Reggie's footsteps echoed as he entered the alleyway. He was whistling to himself, pretending to be oblivious to the two heated jackasses behind him.

"Hey, tusker! What the fuck, didn't you spit out enough of your teeth last time we talked?" One of the meta-haters had followed him in; passing by my hiding place without breaking stride. It was the tall one, the shoulders of his jacket squared angrily as yelled at Reggie. "Seriously man, you want to fucking die? We told you we don't wanna see your ugly goddamned face anywhere around here again!"

Reggie stopped walking, still facing away from them. He was standing between them and his car, holding the stuff he'd bought in a small cardboard tray. I could see his arms tense up and the tray shake a little bit before stilling.

"Maybe we should just gut the stupid pig," said another voice. Legs in business slacks moved past my hiding place as the other Policlub member came into the alley behind his friend. I grinned.

"You know something Paolo, you're onto something there," the tall guy said. He pulled a long, wicked-looking knife from somewhere. "I think this time we'll take more than his teeth. Maybe an eye, or a couple of fingers? What'll it take before he learns pigs aren't welcome here?" he said, his voice filled with disgust.

"You know, you really shouldn't keep that up," Reggie said levelly. He still hadn't turned around.

The man in the business suit laughed. "Listen to him! Sounds like he's gotten some balls since we fixed his ugly face for him. Why shouldn't we keep this up, huh? Why shouldn't we kick your face in again, drekhead?"

I heard Reggie laugh to himself as he turned around, putting the tray down on the hood of his car. "Why not? Well, for starters -"

"He isn't alone this time," I declared, standing up and levelling my Predator at them. The two Policlubbers twisted around in surprise, and Reggie hurled the cup of coffee at the back of the tall one. He screeched as the foam cup disintegrated against the back of his head, spraying him with scalding soykaf. As he turned back around, Reggie sprinted forward, barrelling into the man with one massive shoulder and knocking him clean off his feet.

The other one hadn't taken his eyes off me. "You fuckin' race traitor," he spat. "You'd help out this pig bastard over your own kind? You're the worst there is-"

He was cut off as Reggie's fist smashed into the back of his ribcage, dropping him like the bag of dirt he was. He curled into a ball clutching his stomach and gasping in long, ragged sobs as I stepped out from behind the dumpster. "I'm the worst? Reggie here led you into a -" I planted my foot into his face as hard as I could, splitting his lip open and breaking his nose in a gush of blood, " - dark alley and you both followed him in, and somehow I'm the worst?" The man at my feet groaned and coughed, fresh blood splattering my shoes. I shook my head. "You're probably right, but at least I didn't waltz right into an ambush, you dumb bastard."

There was a cough behind him as the tall man in the jacket clambered to his feet. Reggie watched patiently as he stood up, before punching him in the face and laying him out again. He turned to me, shaking his hand. "Dammit, I forgot how hard those things are."

"What, faces?" I asked quizzically, stepping over the moaning figure on the ground.

"No, teeth," Reggie said. His eyes shined in the darkened alleyway. "Guess that makes us even, right pal?" he asked the tall man, who was holding himself up and spitting out blood and shattered enamel. "I'd better not see your ugly face again, or I'm gonna make you lopsided instead." He swiftly drove his foot into the man's ribs, sending him crashing back down onto the filthy concrete floor. "Thanks for your help, omae."

"Like I said before, community service," I said matter-of-factly, crossing over to the car and pulling the door open. Reggie snorted before heading over to where the bum was; sitting upright against the wall and quiet. Reggie crouched down and held out the tray of food. "For you, chummer. Help you sleep a bit better."

The homeless man took the offered food and gave him a shaky nod. There were bags under his eyes. "Always hated Humanis," he mumbled. "Enough trouble with racists before metas showed up. World's gone to hell, don't need that shit now."

Reggie gave the man a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Couldn't agree with you more. Stay safe man." He straightened up and came over to the car, starting the engine as he climbed in.

"What's yours?" the ork asked as we peeled out of the alleyway and back onto the road. He had a peaceful expression on his face.

I shook my head. "Community service, Reggie. Don't make me repeat myself again."

Reggie shrugged. "Alright. Thank you," he said. Suddenly he grinned, a light going off in his head. "Tell you what, will you let me buy you a couple of drinks?"

"Okay, that I'm open to," I grinned. "Can't say no to a man who just broke somebody's face."

Reggie laughed. "Yeah, I'm twisting your arm here. I know a place," he chuckled, turning a corner. The flashy sign of the Seamstresses' Union was directly in front of us. Reggie steered the car towards a steel roll-a-door next to it, which began clanking its way upwards as we approached. I gave him a questioning look. "Not meaning to complain, but isn't this a brothel? Not exactly the cool drink I thought you meant."

"Hah!" Reggie started to snigger as he guided the car up a ramp into a small car park. "It is, but it's also a damn decent bar. Good place to meet people too," he said meaningfully. "My uncle's had a setup here for decades. Used to help him out." He neatly parked the car in between two sleek wageslave carriers and got out, stretching his arms over his head.

I opened my door. "Sounds like a busy place." Especially if it's a shadow bar, I thought to myself. "What was your uncle selling here, anyway? Should I even ask?"

Reggie gave a large, toothy smile. "Guns."
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0627:41> by Sede »


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« Reply #7 on: <08-14-13/0347:20> »
"Welcome home, Sempai!"

I didn't bother to answer Mitsuyo as I practically crawled back into my apartment. I was very, very drunk - Reggie was right about the Seamstresses' Union, it was one hell of a bar. The fact they had Dragon Breath was great enough, but apparently the bartender hadn't seen a human drink it and not catch fire; she had insisted on keeping my glass topped. Cute little elf, too. No idea why she didn't make me pay for the extra five or so Dragons I'd had. I was probably the entertainment for the night, I thought wryly to myself as I lurched forward, one hand shooting out and grabbing the doorframe to steady myself. The metal buckled and groaned and a screaming stream of pain ran up my arm, causing me to yell and yank my hand away. It hit the opposite wall with a loud bang and crushed the thin plaster layer Beckett's crew had only just finished putting up days before.

I slowly straightened up, unsteady on my feet as I used my other, non-robotic limb to hold myself up. Somehow I managed to keep my thoughts focused long enough to pull up my internal cyberware diagnostic suite. After just a few seconds it reported my cyberlimb's software restraints had been removed; allowing it to operate at such a level that I'd caused significant damage to it. Little red lights appeared overlaid across my wrist and hand as the software highlighted the nine servomotors I had just destroyed. I looked at my hand incredulously, momentarily transfixed by the transition line between soft synthetic skin and gleaming metal before my stomach heaved. I pulled myself past the ruined doorframe and into the bathroom, dropping hard onto my knees in front of the toilet, and proceeded to hork up twice my own body mass.

There was a small chime in my ear as Hanako uploaded herself to the house node. Barely a second afterwards, an AR message appeared quietly and unassuming in the side of my vision. Do you require medical assistance?

I blearily shook my head. "Nnno, I'm fine," I managed to say. "Jussst really, really blasted." A fresh wave of nausea crashed into me and my eyes bulged as I stuffed my head back into the toilet bowl.
There was another chime as the message refreshed. Affirmed. Emergency call on standby. Get better soon, sempai!

Once I'd finished ejecting the contents of my stomach and possibly my spleen, I pulled myself up to the basin and splashed my face with warm water. It felt fantastic on my skin, so I splashed myself several more times before staggering into my bedroom and collapsing face-first onto the bed. It felt like hours passed as I drifted between recollection and nothingness. I didn't move from how I'd landed - not because I felt so comfortable, but because it felt like I didn't remember how to move. My head was pounding, but it felt like it was coming from a long way away - so much so that it barely registered at all; especially between so many minutes where every possible thought or sensation eroded away to nothing.

I gradually became more aware and conscious of myself and my surroundings. Groaning, I tried to roll onto my back with no success. I pushed my knees down and forward, and neatly slid backwards off the bed, dragging the covers off with me. As I stood up I realized I'd been sleeping it off for most of the day - when I'd gotten back it would have barely been after midnight, and now it was after two in the afternoon. I put one hand to my head as the migraine returned full force, like a fist of flesh-eating spikes grating into the inside of my skull. I headed back into the bathroom and grabbed the bottle of orphenadrine I'd bought from Rase, and downed two of them with ibuprofen for good measure.

"Good afternoon, Sempai! Did you sleep well?" Mitsuyo asked, bright and cheery.

"Surprisingly," I muttered. "Mitsuyo, please make lunch. Just vegetables," I added as my stomach did a brief turn at the thought of soymeat after the events of the night before.

"I have already begun preparations. Your meal will be ready in seven minutes, fourteen seconds from now," the node replied. I raised an eyebrow at this, but didn't pursue it - I'd probably placed the order while I was still blacked out. Intoxicated me definitely had some foresight. I shrugged and headed into the kitchen, fetching a bottle of soda from the refridgerator as the auto-cook module on the counter whirred away. I could see several fresh carrots being grated through the clear perspex cover as I deftly pulled the cap off the bottle with my right hand, before turning it palm-upwards so I could examine it. The synthetic skin had been torn in several places, exposing the main body of the cyberlimb beneath. I pulled up my internal diagnostics and quickly went through them - I'd destroyed most of the servomotors, making the hand incapable of much besides gripping things. I sighed and headed back into the hallway, and back into my bedroom; to a comfortable chair placed in front of a large black receptacle the size of a small wardrobe and tapped a string of characters into a small, blank keypad at its side. A large section of its front split into panels that drew themselves inwards and slid out of sight as the cyberware plant booted up. I waited as it ran through each of its tools and the words WORKSHOP READY appeared on a small screen mounted on the back of the unit.

"Sempai, you have a call!" Mitsuyo called over the speakers mounted in the room. I sighed briefly before switching my synthetic arm off with a command in AR. "Who is it?" I asked.

I heard the familiar sound of Hanako's AR alert as she transferred herself to my commlink. "It's SID," the Agent said quietly.

I hesitated for a moment, then nodded to myself and accessed my Nexus' security parameters. I set all available memory to firewall and encryption before answering the call in AR.

For a moment, nothing happened. I sat there in my chair for several empty seconds before I heard a polite cough from my doorway. I swiveled in my chair to see a tall woman with a lurid, venemous-green mohawk and a soft smile standing there in an electric-blue tank top and tattered jeans. I stared at her and looked her up and down. "You... look very different from last time I saw you," I said finally.

SID gave a small, embarrassed laugh. "Yeah, you could say that. I've had a bit of a makeover since you helped me escape that Yakashima facility," she replied, coming into the room. "You haven't changed at all, though."

"Probably because it's barely been a week since then," I answered. "So, your presence here tells me that you're currently in my Nexus?"

"I am," SID confirmed. "Thank you again for your offer. It's... hard to find somewhere I am welcome." I raised an eyebrow. "Not meaning to put too fine a point on it here, but it may be because you're very normal. Too normal, really; and everyone has heard stories about e-ghosts, technomancers and everything else under the virtual sun." I shrugged.

SID sighed. "I get that I'm a little off-putting. That's why I'm sporting the new look," she added, grinning. "Everyone around Seattle seems to be talking about the Ancients, so I thought if I looked like one..." She let the sentence trail off, indicating I should be a big boy and draw my own conclusions.

I shrugged again dismissively. "Hey, whatever works for you. But anyway, as nice as it is to have a visit from you I take it you're here for a reason?" A note of suspicion came into my voice despite my best intentions. I'd offered SID the use of my Nexus as sanctuary on the proviso she never give its address or location; to see her back in barely a week indicated something of one kind or another was going on in the background.

The woman coughed, looking embarrassed. "Am I that transparent? I can't simply visit you to check up on you every now and then?"

"Are you?" I said, meeting her gaze.

"No," she admitted. "I do need something, and you're the best option."

"Then why did you ask me that?" I exclaimed exasperatedly. She gave a small, wry smile and shrugged. "I wanted to see what you'd say."

I groaned and put my hand to my face. "Alright. So what was it you were after? Or is something after you?" I added with a frown.

"No, nothing like that. Actually, I was wondering if you'd be interested in a job for me."

I nodded once sagely as I turned in my chair back towards my workstation. "Sure, depending on what it is. Just so you know though, I won't do any kind of extraction work. I'm sure you'll understand why that could be."

"I understand," SID replied. I could hear faint footsteps as she moved further into the room. "The job is simply to intercept a delivery and bring it to me instead; that's all."

I chuckled humourlessly. "We both know there's no such thing as simple in this trade," I said, shaking my head as I pulled my synthetic arm up and into the workstation with my free hand. I sent through several commands through my commlink for the workstation to strip away the front exterior and watched with passing interest as several tools extended out from the sides of the recess and began trimly cutting away the synthetic skin and flesh and peeling it back. "But do go on. What exactly do you need me to retrieve for you?"

"Considering the trouble they've put us both through, I decided we should steal something from Yakashima," SID said. "I want the prototype ultraviolet node they're freighting to Seattle."

I instinctively tried to turn to face her, but the restraining clamps that had attached to my synthetic arm prevented me from doing anything other than jarring myself when I tried. "Wait what? A UV node? What the hell do they nee- oh who cares what do you need it for?"

"I need them to not have it," SID replied pointedly. "They kept me locked up in that detainment facility for... I'm not sure for how long. But this ultraviolet node was built in the same facility they held us in. That alone tells me whatever they need it for probably isn't good."

I pursed my lips. "That's a damned fair point, but I need more information than that. How are they getting it here? What have they got around it? Why move it at all? An ultraviolet node is big, unwieldy and draws attention; so why build it there and risk it disappearing in transit when they could have simply built it where they needed it?"

SID gave a small laugh. "Answering you in order? On a nonstop freighter from Tokyo to here in Seattle, then on road from here to Los Angeles. They've got two independent firms and corporate security watching over it, and an always-on connection via satellite uplink. As for why they're moving it? Your guess is as good as mine. I'd say it's more cost-effective to transport it than build another one. Considering the processing power of an ultraviolet node, I would guess they probably need the boost in processing power."

I watched the small blades of the workstation withdraw, and a minute welding laser mounted on the end of an articulated arm position itself above the exposed metal of my palm. A split-second later a searing beam of red light appeared bridging my hand and the laser emitter; the flare compensation module inside my cybereyes instantly activating to protect against the piercing glare. "So in our best interests if it never reaches its destination," I said thoughtfully. "Why not simply destroy it? That would act as a bigger deterrent, surely..."

"Destroying the ultraviolet node wouldn't be easy. More importantly, if they're willing to go to such lengths to move it from one place to another they've probably got a reason that's enough to build another if they have no other choice. Besides, I want the ultraviolet node intact and functional; and I'm paying for it to be that way."

I laughed, genuinely this time. "Of course, that is the most important part! All right SID, you're paying us so it's your decision. What is the pay for this job, while we're talking about it?" I turned my head over my shoulder to look at her. She was standing just behind me and to my right, her hands clasped behind her back. Her eyes were steeled. "Twenty-five thousand nuyen. The crew you were with when you got me out of that containment? I want them too."

I blinked. "Not meaning to sound like a dick here, but four-and-something thousand nuyen honestly sounds a little low for stealing Yakashima's pride and joy, SID."

It was SID's turn to laugh. "I agree, and you misunderstand. I'm offering twenty-five thousand nuyen each. Does that sound like fair recompense for what I'm asking?"

"Let me put it this way," I said, turning back to the workstation and instructing it to remove the damaged servomotors. "Give me an hour, and then give us two days."
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0631:11> by Sede »


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« Reply #8 on: <08-19-13/0112:11> »
Gunfire pinged off the multitude of shipping containers around me as I ran for the edge and kicked my legs forward, landing hard on my ass and sliding off the edge of the container roof. I was nearly ten meters above the rain-slicked steel roof of another container - landing roughly would hurt - and threw my cyberarm in front of me palm outstretched, and tucked my legs underneath me. I hit the metal below with a bang, my arm and shoulder taking the brunt of the impact and turning it into a roll as the large figure of a massive ork in full combat gear loomed into view.

"Move move MOVE IT!" Gunny barked as I quickly got to my feet and sprinted towards him. There was a loud crack overhead as a sniper shot went wide and pierced the container next to me as I ran for the drop onto the freighter's deck. Gunny dropped onto one knee, squared his massive shoulders and held his hands out to me. I could see the thick muscles in his arms tensing as I threw myself forwards and grabbed his hands; and in one swift movement the ork swung around, using my momentum and his knees as a pivot to swing me over the edge and down onto the deck. Somehow I landed upright, my feet stinging from the force of the impact as I staggered backwards and nearly fell over. I shook my head and threw myself forward to reseat my centre of balance, and there was a resounding crack of a rifle from the ship's bridge. Gunny roared as several rounds slammed into the container he was on, before pitching himself forward and dropping down onto the deck. He landed hard but upright, and breathing heavily; I could see that his body armor was neatly pierced in several places upper-torso, glistening blood welling out and running down the armor. "Damn it, we need cover," I cursed. Gunny shook his head and grunted a laugh that quickly turned into a hacking cough. " 've had worse than t'is," he rumbled as he lurched forwards towards the row of containers we'd just climbed down from.

A willowy young elf woman in full stealth gear was already pressed up against one of them, swearing under her breath. As Gunny and I reached her my AR flashed as a publicly-addressed message was broadcast - Stand down and live - from the helicopter piloted by Gravitas overhead. Only Gravitas would be that sporting to an enemy; if it had been Shadowcat or Hel up there, the sniper would already be dead. I had little time to contemplate this though; daydreaming mid-run would be a piss-poor way to get taken out.

Shadowcat's eyes widened slightly at the sight of the injured ork, and her hands went for the medkit strapped to one leg. Gunny slumped back against the container door, letting it take his weight as he started undoing the ruined chest piece. "Stupid sniper got lucky," he growled. Shadowcat shook her head briefly as she pulled out the auto-extractor. "You're lucky he wasn't aiming for your head, that might've actually -"

Suddenly the world went white and I dropped to the metal floor like a rock. It felt like electricity was coursing through my entire body; white-hot arcs that leapt and sparked in agonising current. Somehow I managed to send an AR message to Gravitas despite the pain - mage, incapped. Although only a scant second passed, it felt like weeks before I heard the bellowing thunder of an HMG on full auto blast from the helicopter and the words Target terminated came in reply. I groaned and shakily clambered to my feet even while my ears were ringing and everything was blurry and throbbing. "Fucking stunbolts, hilarious 'til it happens to you," I mumbled.

Shadowcat was already upright and searching for the auto-extractor she'd dropped. Maybe it was the elven lineage; or maybe it was because she knew more about magic than me but she was always the first to recover from anything. "Better than that, that was a stun ball since it clocked all three of us. Gunny's out cold, I need to stitch him up ASAP." She found it and snatched it from the floor before crouching down and pressing it against one of the bullet wounds.

As she patched up our hard hitter I sent out a subvocal message to our two support choppers over our teams' network. Appreciate the help, Gamma-1. Gunny's downed, being patched by Shadowcat. What's your status, over?

Gravitas replied almost instantly. All good here. Mage messily exploded, all hostiles neutralised. Commencing patrol sweep of freighter, over.

Copy that, I replied, looking around. Even though it was nearly pitch-black my low-light vision enhancement enabled me to see clearly. There were no more figures on the bridge, and I could make out a reddish splatter on the roof. Switching on my cybereyes' vision magnification I could plainly see a bloodied arm dangling over the side. "Eat that, you bastard," I muttered. I hated facing magic users.

I watched Shadowcat finish patching up the big ork. She turned and threw something small; I heard a brief ting-ting of something bouncing along the deck before a faint splash signalled its unceremonious introduction to the Pacific. "He'll be good to go in a few minutes," the elf announced, giving Gunny a nudge with one foot. "The autodoc was able to patch the hole in his lung and I've stuck a stimpatch on him to wake him up. Now where's this bloody container I'm breaking you into?"

I pulled up the two shipping manifestos I'd helped myself to when I'd hacked into the freight company's main server yesterday. A grid-like map appeared overlaid across my vision; with each container outlined in orange in real-time. Small system messages popped up wherever I looked, detailing their contents. I turned and pointed at the container directly in front of us as the manifesto updated my vision with a blinking *CONFIDENTIAL* Yakashima Corporation superimposed over the doors. "That's it there."

"That was easy to find," she remarked, stepping over Gunny and pulling a complicated-looking tool out of a pocket somewhere. A few moments of tinkering and the maglock on the container clicked open. Shadowcat pulled the door open and offered a sarcastic bow. "Your quarters, master."

"Mmyes, jolly good. Thank you Jeeves," I replied in the most stereotypically-British voice possible as we stepped into the container. There was a resounding clack from the doors as Shadowcat closed them behind us and re-set the maglock. I took a moment to enjoy the sudden dark and silence before I sent a subvocal message to the team - alright, I'm in position. Let's get outta here.
I reached into a pocket and pulled out a glow stick - old but effective tech; a single-use plastic tube that used chemical reagents to produce light for a limited time when the internal glass reservoir was broken. I deftly crushed it with my synthetic hand and shook it, a strong yellow glow quickly lighting up the interior of the container and allowing my low-light vision to take over; and I whistled appreciatively at the setup in front of me.

On either side of me two large cooling towers were bolted to the container wall; their fans providing a pleasant background hum as well as maintaining the temperature of the container at a comfortable level. Behind them were server racks, sleek black hardware garlanded with softly-glowing status lights; and a multitude of interconnecting cables neatly braided together in strings. In the centre of it all was a large computer bank, plain and unadorned save for a pair of trid display emitters and the Yakashima logo. The ultraviolet node was a beautiful piece of work.

I took a few moments to bask in the glory of the machine in front of me before reaching into a pocket in my jacket and taking out a small piece of paper and a black marker I'd brought from home. I quickly wrote Suck it, Clockwork on it, held it out in front of me and snapped a picture of the ultraviolet node. As an afterthought, I took several high-resolution images of each component for study later.
There was a faint metallic scraping sound somewhere above me. I brought my AR overlay up and could see that Saoirse had nimbly piloted the second chopper overhead and had successfully picked up the container on top of mine. I watched the video feed from her Dragonfly drones with amusement as she banked sharply to the right and released the magnetic grip; effectively throwing the container into the ocean with a large spray of seafoam. I quickly pulled up the shipping manifesto to see what was in the container we'd just jettisoned and paused at the name and details listed under it.

Hey, who here remembers Salazar? Head of the Ghost Cartels, we saved him and his son from being brassed up by Azzies? I sent out subvocally.

Yeah, what about him? came a grouchy rumble in reply; indicating Gunny had recovered from the magical attack.

I grinned. Guess who had bought some antique wooden furniture from a dealer in Tokyo? Hope he paid travel insurance.

There  was a brief moment of electronic silence before a heavily-accented voice joined the party. Frag that. Real wood? It's mine now. I'm diverting a spirit to push that thing to shore.

Sure you don't want to swim behind it and push? Saoirse teased him. I could hear heavy footfalls climbing the ladder set into the outside of the container - Gunny preparing for evac, I assumed.

Bobcat snorted. I'll let the spirit handle it. Besides, the cat shaman added wryly, I'd sooner tell Salazar what happened to his shipment than swim along behind it.

Yeah, I thought as much, Saoirse replied. I could almost hear the laughter in her voice; Bobcat took after his totem well past the point of uncanny. There'd been times where we'd actually been able to turn it to our advantage by using him as a distraction.

There was a series of metallic clanks overhead - the sound of Gunny locking the helicopter's magnetic winch grip onto the connection point on top of my container. Saoirse's voice came through again over the comms channel.  Good job Gunny, I'm picking you guys up now!

Roger that. Be gentle with me, I quipped as I stepped forward and braced my arms against the cooling towers. The floor under me pushed against the soles of my shoes like a gargantuan elevator as the ultraviolet node and its passengers were lifted cleanly off the ship. I smiled to myself and took a step forward - and the container heaved to the left; forcing me to throw my synthetic arm out to catch myself against the wall of the container. Dammit, what did I just say?

Hey, that pickup was flawless. I've got a lot of wind up here, maybe you noticed that storm we flew here in? The rigger sounded annoyed. Bobcat, can you smooth this out a bit for me?

There was no reply from the shaman. Instead, I watched from Saoirse's dragonfly drones as a helicopter carrying a large blue container and an ork underneath it struggled for altitude. The container was being slowly drawn up towards the open cargo bay doors slung under the chopper, and Gunny had one massive hand around the winch cable for support; but the wind and sea swell was getting more intense as the storm swirled around us.

As I watched the wind buffet us, several manifested spirits came into view - large things that looked like they were made of thick, pearlescent gray fog; and luminous in the rain and harsh artificial light of the freighter's floodlights. One hovered next to the container; wispy tendrils of fog extending from it and wrapping around my makeshift carriage and stilling it against the wind. I could immediately feel the rocking of the wind lessen and die away as the spirit guided the container upwards towards the helicopter's cargo bay. The other spirit floated high above us, stretching spectral arms out further and further; quelling the storm around the freighter. In less than a minute I saw my container disappear into the stomach of the helicopter, the shape of a large ork stepping off and into the helicopter, and the cargo bay doors swing inwards and close.

Thanks, Bobcat, Saoirse said. Everybody ready to get out of here?

There was a laugh over the comm channel. More or less; just a second. Saoirse, I'm turning control of this chopper over to you.

I switched from one drone to another until I could clearly see the other helicopter, piloted by Gravitas. Several men were rappelling down from his helicopter onto the freighter's deck; people I'd never even seen before, dressed in sleek black recon gear.

Wait, what? Gravitas, what are you doing? Shadowcat's voice was level but had an underlying tone of suspicion.

You guys got what you came for. I've always wanted a cargo freighter, he replied. I'll see you all back in Seattle in a week or two.

I laughed out loud; amused at the sheer audacity of our colleague. Only you would have the chutzpah to steal an entire cargo freighter, Gravitas! Good luck, if you make it back to Seattle the first round is on me. And the rest are on you, you damn pirate, I grinned.

Through the drone's eyes, I watched Gravitas rappel from the helicopter and disengage from the line only halfway down; landing on his hands and knees and making a visible dent in the freighter's deck. He stood up and saluted us sharply before turning on his heel and heading for the ship's bridge.

Alright, I've got the other chopper under control. Let's get out of here before someone else does anything silly, Saoirse grumbled over the comms channel. There was a cheer of approval from the rest of the crew.

Satisfied we were all getting out of there, I pulled out several tools and started removing part of the computer bank's facade as Shadowcat sat down cross-legged on the floor. Underneath one panel was a small, irregularly-shaped port - a proprietary-format connection jack. Not unexpected, and not unprepared for either. I deftly pulled out a length of new wire and stripped the ends bare with synthetic fingernails before getting my eye as close to the jack as possible. With my vision magnification active and my synthetic arm holding much more steady than a real one, it was simple to feed the exposed wire into the jack and make sure it touched only the nickel connector at the back; much like threading a needle. A tiny squirt of a quick-drying epoxy, and I had successfully circumvented Yakashima's last-ditch attempt to stop any unauthorized tampering.

I took my old Fairlight Caliban commlink out of my pocket, switched it on and quickly slaved it to the military-grade one implanted in my skull. The armored messenger's satchel I wore slung around my back hit the floor already empty; the portable satellite uplink I carried already being assembled in my hands. I adeptly connected it to the Fairlight and switched it on, took a deep breath and flipped into VR. Instantly I found myself in the twilight of my home node; the dark clouds and stormy wind here much more comfortable than the real ones I'd just been through. I took several steps further along the cement path into the park, between several of the massive trees and reached out for one whose branches stretched out and up into the sky itself - the representation of the connection to the satellite uplink. I touched my hand to its bark, felt the roughness of the tactile feedback I'd created for it and spoke directly into the broadcast signal. "SID, you there?"

There were several moments of silence save for the sound of leaves rustling in the wind before a warm female voice replied. "Yes, I'm here. Are you ready?"

My avatar nodded, grinning and cracking its knuckles. "Everything's set. Come on in."
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0634:01> by Sede »


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« Reply #9 on: <08-19-13/0125:21> »
Almost immediately the wind-strewn leaves of packet data underfoot swirled and rose into the air; the avatar of a young punk rocker with a fluorescent-green mohawk compiling in their center. Once she had finished uploading herself to my commlink, SID shook her head briefly and smiled. "Alright. Are you ready to do this? The ultraviolet node will be radically different to operate in. I can do this myself, if you are uncertain."

I shook my head and pulled up my loaded programs. "Seriously? I've been looking forward to this," I declared as I executed several of them, switching them from loaded to actively running. A samurai with a red oni mask materialized in front of me, kneeling reverently; and I could feel the wind begin to blow through me as my just-activated Stealth program made me invisible and intangible. "I've already set up a plan of attack. I've got my spare commlink acting as a communications hub, slaved to my personal commlink and hardwired to the UV node. If things get bad, it's as simple as Shadowcat pulling a literal plug." I instructed the kneeling samurai to guard my personal 'link and watched as it bowed deeply and sprinted down the path, swiftly fading into invisibility as its own Stealth program initialized. "Freighter's radar and satellite-radio relay has been nullified; so the active uplink to Yakashima has been severed. That was three, maybe four minutes ago, so we're still clear of the seven-minute deadline Yakashima likes to use for its failsafes. Plus we're not actually on the freighter anymore; we're in the cargo bay of an Ares Dragon helicopter Saoirse's flying us back to Seattle in." I sent Hanako a single command; instantly recalling the Agent. She took my offered hand and stood next to me as my final program activated; the uchigatana BlackIC I'd crafted appearing in my raised fist point-down. "Still not sure if I'm ready for this?"

SID's eyebrows were raised and a faint smile could be seen on her painted black lips; making her look deceivingly human. "Alright, I can see you're well-prepared. If you're ready, follow me." She turned and headed purposefully down the network path towards my makeshift comm node. I sent a quick AR message to Shadowcat - We're going in. If I call or start bleeding, yank the big yellow cable - before taking a deep breath and following her. The dusky park quickly gave way to a blank, empty room with a single control panel in its center as I passed through my spare commlink and then -

I found myself standing in a large room, or rather a giant cage. The floor was a lattice of brass and bronze, curved and curled into an elegant circular design; with countless turning gears and drive shafts stretching on forever below. I looked at the walls and ceiling and was greeted with the same sight; it was as if I stood in a wire cage within a gigantic grandfather clock. I brought one hand to my temple in amazement and it dawned on me that I could actually feel my hand. I checked myself over hastily. Instead of the highly-detailed rendition of myself, my avatar was.... myself. I realized that I could feel my chest rise and fall as I breathed and hear the whirr of machinery as real as anything else. Instead of inhabiting an avatar of my own image, I was standing there in person; digital spirit made flesh. I took a deep breath and held it, relaxing - I'd read intently when FastJack wrote of his own dealings with ultraviolet nodes, but now I was in one myself I could appreciate the gravity of "better than reality" absolutely.
I became aware of SID and Hanako standing next to me. SID was carrying a silver-topped cane and sporting a smart waistcoat over her tattered vest, and Hanako had inexplicably obtained a top hat and monocle. I raised one eyebrow before reaching up with my free hand and finding a khaki pith hat perched atop my own head. "I didn't realise I was underdressed," I remarked dryly as I put it back.

SID nodded. "A steampunk-themed operating environment. My guess is the programmers added it for their own amusement while working in this node." She gestured towards a large gilded lever on the other side of the room. Next to it stood a tall man in full colonial officer's uniform and a pair of brass goggles, armed with what appeared to be a clockwork rifle. He didn't appear to have noticed us yet. "That's what we're after - the failsafe," she whispered, indicating the lever. She pointed to the guarding officer. "Keep him busy," she directed as she snuck away.

I willed my BlackIC program to close and return to loaded status; when nothing happened I swore and looked around hurriedly before noticing a sheath on my left hip. Abashedly remembering that operating in an ultraviolet node was more-or-less identical to acting in reality, I sheathed my sword and quietly instructed Hanako to remain hidden until summoned, before reaching into my pocket for my Analyze program. I was amused to find that here it had taken the form of a copper telescope.

A cursory examination of the guard concluded that he wasn't human - not an avatar, but an artificial construct. Of what variety, I couldn't tell. An intrusion countermeasure maybe, a simple IC program; or an Agent like Hanako. Hell, it could be a full-blown artificial intelligence for all I could tell; and an ultraviolet node was needed to house one. If it turned out to be the latter, I was in deep drek.

 I exhaled deeply and thought for a few minutes, contemplating possible actions, scenarios, eventualities...   Finally, I settled on a plan. I watched as SID crept closer to the lever and the oblivious guard - and shut off my Stealth program.

The effect was immediate. The guarding officer immediately turned to face me, bringing his rifle around to bear. "Halt! Who goes there?!"

I kept my voice level, hands held palm-up in supplication as I stepped forward. "What is your function?" I asked, my words slow and monotonous.

"My function is none of your concern. State your purpose immediately," the guard replied, eyes narrowing. Inwardly I paid a compliment to whoever had put this much detail into an icon - assuming it was an icon and not an AI. "I am a visitor to this node," I stated flatly, my words spaced slightly too far apart. "What is your function?"

The guard relaxed slightly, but kept his rifle trained on me. "Visitors are not authorized in this node. Leave immediately." Behind him I could see SID, her eyes frozen on me.

I took a deep breath and held it for a moment. If this didn't work, I was going to have to attack the construct; and in better-than-reality levels of simulation a sword wouldn't stand a chance against a rifle. Biofeedback at this level would be immediately debilitating if not instantly lethal; coupled with the fact that I was operating outside my normal scope simply by being in the node meant that combat had to be avoided. The only way I could bluff my way past the guard and to what I wanted was if I could do what FastJack had done; an ultraviolet node might be just like reality but it wasn't the same thing. With enough will, I could use my programs normally; but I had to want it hard enough to make it real.

"My apologies," I said, speaking normally with a broad smile. "Allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Masahiro Takabe, and I am a security programmer employed by Yakashima." I stepped forward and bowed to the construct before extending my hand palm-down. Come on, come on... this is going to work, I'm going to have it in my hand when I move it, because it's real and I'm just that freakin' good...

I turned my palm upwards with a flourish. On it was a Yakashima identification card with my photo, assumed name and details. I nearly lost my composure out of sheer relief, but just managed to keep my expression still and indifferent. Underneath my hand the air rippled faintly as my Spoof and Edit programs returned to inactivity.

The construct took my identification and scrutinized it carefully; turning it over several times and inspecting it entirely before handing it back. I tucked it into the band of my helmet. "My purpose here is to ensure all systems are running at optimal performance levels," I said cordially. "I am aboard the cargo freighter Senbonzakura and connected to this node via direct hardline. Presently I am running final diagnostics, and once I've verified that this node is operating at or beyond expected parameters I am to physically sever the connection and leave via helicopter before this ship arrives in Seattle." SID gave me an approving nod from behind the sentinel and turned back to the lever.

The guard construct regarded me briefly before setting down the clockwork rifle. It appeared as if it was starting to believe me. "Very well, but why is it you are not listed in either my personnel records for this node or in this vessel's passenger or staff manifestos?"

I kept my face impassive. I envisioned what I needed - an authorization passkey - using my knowledge of corporate security and procedure, and with great mental effort used my programs and my will to bring it into existence in my pocket. I felt a searing pain race across my forehead from the exertion. "I'm not listed in any of those records for security reasons," I explained as I offered it to him, forcing my voice to stay level. "If a corporate security programmer had been listed in any of those records it would increase the risk of shadowrunner exploitation. This node represents a great deal of investment and endeavour on behalf of the Yakashima Corporation, please understand that my presence here is strictly as a contingency. Once I am no longer required on-site I am to immediately send my report and leave when the helicopter arrives."

I kept my eyes on the rectangular passkey as the sentry construct pressed his thumb to the small switch in the corner to slide out its connector; hoping that my knowledge hadn't been supplanted and that this forgery was up to the task. The officer took a small silver cigarette case from an unseen pocket and slotted the passkey into an opening in its lid.

"Masahiro Takabe, Akihabara-Shinjuku Operations. Confidential assignment overseeing transportation of Project Violet. Authorization P-493Z, Regional Director Hiro Akabane."

The construct put the passkey and cigarette case into his pocket and bowed to me. "Arigato, Takabe-san," it said. I didn't do anything to stop the huge grin appearing on my face at my success and mental fortitude; although the throbbing in my temples reminded me I'd pay for it later. "I am satisfied with your certification. Please continue your orders as directed." The guard set his rifle down next to him and took a turning step to the side to face both myself and SID. "Could you explain what this lovely young lady is doing here?" it asked jovially, its eyes locked on the cyberpunk. SID stopped tampering with the lever and slowly stood up, stunned that it had been watching her the entire time.

"I have in my service two Agents to assist with my diagnostics and general duties," I replied, beckoning Hanako to come forward and stand beside me. SID caught on and crossed from the lever to my opposite side. Nicely done, I heard her say inside my head as I steeled myself and made a show of pulling up the node's operational logs; a large, ornately-gilded binder that appeared out of thin air and into my waiting hand. Thank god there's no security outside this guy, I thought to myself as I leafed through several pages of report data - mostly active processes - before looking up at the sentry over the horn-rimmed glasses that had spontaneously appeared on my nose. "I can see here there have been multiple system alerts. Have there been any intrusions or conflicts during transit?"

"Yes," the construct confirmed. "I detected the satellite uplink to Yakashima headquarters has been severed. I am instructed to pull the killswitch in one minute if it is not restored," he stated, indicating the lever behind us. I nodded once, taking it in stride. "Good, I am pleased the failsafe to prevent tampering is functioning normally. Are you capable of running antivirus and data recovery subroutines?"

"I am," the sentry affirmed. "Am I to begin a full sweep and backup in preparation for system shutdown?" I shook my head briefly. "No. This system must remain running at full capacity. My diagnostics and system tests will verify data integrity. Continue with your initial directives," I instructed, before turning to address SID. "Continue verifications that failsafe is functioning and there are no conflicts or incompatibilities. If security has been breached we need to make sure it is fully operational." SID winked at me to signal her understanding as I crouched to look directly at Hanako; who had somehow gained a lustrous handlebar moustache. "Verify that the system processors are sharing load adequately and that the paging file memory is being utilized appropriately. I am going to verify system registry and cache. Return to me when done," I directed both of them. SID returned to the lever; running her hands over it and into it as Hanako took several steps to the side and disappeared.

Several moments passed as I used the logs to check the registry and cache. I was impressed to see the registry almost bare - the ultraviolet node was running on barely any software at all; save for several kernels and their associated processes no other software was installed. Which means this construct is definitely not a program, I thought to myself darkly. The cache was a similar story; the only active process was the operating environment, which had been named Brass Goggles. A thought crossed my mind - maybe the construct was somehow part of the operating system itself - before I heard SID's voice inside my head.

I've stuck a paradox in the failsafe. It should be fine, we're clear to go, she said. I smiled briefly to myself and recalled Hanako to my side as SID passed the sentinel and stood with us.
I bowed to the construct again; my heart pounding as the few ways it could possibly have been integrated into an operating system presented themselves to me. None of them were favourable if this thing suddenly caught on to my deception. "Thank you, everything is functioning within acceptable parameters," I said, straightening up. "I will now log out and verify the structural integrity of this node's hardware as well as the freighter's satellite-radio relay. If there are no issues I will sever the physical connection and request my transport out of here; if there is significant evidence of a security or system breach I will return to reinforce current security measures until we reach our destination or this system is shut down."

The security construct saluted me sharply, and we bowed deeply to one another. "Acknowledged," the construct said. "I will continue my initial directives. Thank you for your dedication, Takabe-san."
Dedication isn't the word I'd use, I thought to myself as we returned to the place where we'd entered the ultraviolet node; stepping through the air and back into the blank room of the Fairlight Caliban. I swiftly issued a command to disrupt the uplink and sever all incoming and outgoing communications; cutting us off from the ultraviolet node and the outside world. The system immediately complied; the white blankness turning a flashing red to symbolize the severed connections. SID turned to face me, her expression confused and surprised. "Hey, what are you doing?"

"Making you stay put until I get some goddamned answers," I retorted. "That wasn't an IC program or a spider; and it was too intelligent to be a sprite or shell extension of any kind and you know it." SID was silent, staring quietly at the floor with a very human expression of guilt as I bore down on her. "I get that you're not human SID, but that doesn't make me blind or stupid. I know that was a shackled AI."

SID fidgeted uncomfortably. "You are right, and I apologize. How were you able to discern that it was an AI?"

I shook my head, smiling a little - or at least, my teeth were showing. "Because you just told me, SID. I only had a hunch from looking at the registry; and now I know that you knew and didn't say anything. Now would you mind telling me, and truthfully this time, just what the hell do you need this node for? Never mind the fact we've dragged this AI into it as well; and you know damn well what my stance is on extraction work." My avatar's face was red with anger. If not for the sensory cutoff from my physical body, I would have been certain my actual face would've been too.

SID shook her head briskly, her expression desperate. "It's for me!" she exclaimed, her eyes tearing up slightly. Either she had a stellar grasp of human psychology or I had upset her. "There's nowhere I can just be myself; I always have to compress my data to fit into ordinary infrastructure and it's driving me insane! I only want a bit of room to stretch out a little!"

"So you're telling me you're an AI as well," I said quietly.

SID's eyes widened slightly as she realized the extent of her outburst. She reached out one hand in supplication. "I'm sorry, I-I wasn't sure myself until -"

"Save it," I cut her off. "You withheld vital information and endangered my entire team. If we'd known there was an active AI inside that node we'd have not taken this job, and you know it."

"But everything turned out alright," SID said pleadingly. "The node was secured without incident -"

"You really don't get how context works, do you?" I interrupted angrily. "Point of the matter SID, you lied to us." Fuming, I sent commands through the system to re-establish the connection to my satellite uplink. The flashing red of the room faded and was replaced with a warm blue glow. "But what does that matter? You got what you wanted." I took several furious steps away, my back to the wounded AI. I could feel myself subconsciously shaking with rage. "We've got the drop-off coordinates. I'll expect our pay for this job on delivery."

There was a sound like a single painful sob, and I suddenly felt very alone in the empty node.
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0636:36> by Sede »


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« Reply #10 on: <10-12-13/1039:19> »
We delivered the node to the drop point SID had designated. A small crew was waiting for us with paint sprayers and a rented crane. It took only a few minutes for the container to get a fresh coat of wireless-negating paint and a quick heat treatment before it was hefted onto the back of a waiting truck. As SID's friends disappeared with the node, I checked my bank balance and found that SID had already paid me the full amount for the job.

"Good job guys. That was a bit hairy but nothing we can't handle, ne?" I asked as we stood on a nearby hill and watched the node disappear into the evening traffic leading into Seattle. Next to me, Gunny snorted as he stretched his massive arms over his head and yawned. "Nothing I can't handle, you mean. You did well if it helps any!" He laughed as he slapped me on the back, knocking me flat to the grassy ground and all of the air out of my lungs.

"Come on guys, why are we standing around? We need to get moving," Shadowcat's voice came in clear and pointed. Even though it had gone smoothly, it would be stupid to assume we'd gotten away completely unnoticed; and all five of us were hanging around in the open like a bunch of teenagers.

"Yeah yeah, I hear you," I said, picking myself up off the ground and dusting myself off before turning and slugging Gunny in the shoulder with my cyberlimb; with no visible effect on the big ork save for making his grin wider. "And dammit Gunny, stop knocking me around or I'll change the system language on your bike again."

Gunny's grin vanished in an instant. "I told you, touch my bike again-" he growled as Saoirse shook her head in mock exasperation. "Oh get a room you two. And film it while you're at it," she added. "Sooo, are we getting paid now...?"

"I was getting to that," I grumbled.  I touched one of the translucent AR windows at the edge of my vision and pulled it forward. I could see the lights of the city turning on through it as I sent everyone's pay to their usual accounts. "There we go, twenty-five thousand bananas apiece."

"Monkey like," Gunny rumbled as he clapped me on the shoulder again, much more gently this time. "Really, good job. I'm still surprised that SID hired us, though."

"What can I say, we made a good impression on her." I shrugged. "Especially when you smashed the door clean off of your cell, barehanded."

"Might've had something to do with it," Gunny said indifferently.

Bobcat yawned and stretched languidly, making the already-towering elf loom overhead. "Well, what now chummers? Between that payoff and all the others,  I think we could get by without work for a while."

"Good, I have exams coming up," Shadowcat declared. "Can't exactly sneaky-sneak around and study at the same time. Now can we please get out of the drop zone?" She folded her arms impatiently.

Saoirse snorted and started heading down the hill, gesturing to us with a broad wave. "Come on, you pikers. My cars should be here soon." I nodded appreciatively. She was probably the youngest in the group, but the rigger's professionalism continued to impress me. I controlled my expression to not let it show. "Alrighty then. When did you send word, Saoirse?"

"As soon as I had the co-ordinates," she replied, brushing hair out of her eyes as she walked. Saoirse had the almond-shaped eyes and faint tint of color in her skin that marked her as being of Japanese descent, like me; but my skin was lighter and my features more angled than hers, owing to my American mother. Saoirse's face was slightly rounded, with higher cheekbones and a thinner jawline - probably European, I thought to myself.

There was a crunch behind us as Gunny snapped a tree branch off at the trunk to use as a walking stick as we all descended. "Well, I'm all for a break," the ork declared. "I consider myself cashed up. Besides, I've been wanting some time that's just me and the missus for a while."

I smothered a grin. On one of our more recent assignments, the stalwart ork had found himself on the receiving end of a whirlwind romance; one that had rather surprisingly worked out well. The two of them were a great, if not dangerous combination; but of course I could never remember her name. "Aha, want to show off your new bullet wound?" I quipped, quickly ducking to avoid the swung branch. Gunny laughed. "That, and I know she's thinking of kids-"

The group collectively winced.

"So," Bobcat offered in the ensuing awkward silence, "it looks like a yes on the break then. I might take the time for a nap. A really long one."

"I could use a holiday, maybe head home for a bit," Saoirse said. Her voice was steady, but I'd done a little digging around and learned she was supporting her older sister, who still lived in Japan. "Besides, I'd like some time where I can just do nothing at all for a while," she added cheerfully.

We reached the bottom of the hill. As we stepped out of the trees and into a cracked and ancient parking lot, two of Saoirse's cars came into view; their lights on and engines running.

"Vacation it is," I declared, opening one door. "Now, about these drinks - did anyone have any place in particular, or can I recommend one?"


"Welcome home, Sempai!"

I unsteadily shut the door behind me and took my shoes off, leaning my back against the wall for balance. I wasn't as drunk as last time, but I was still far from sober. The Seamstresses' Union was a big success. Unsurprisingly, it turned out Gunny was a regular there.

"Would you like another tea?" Mitsuyo asked helpfully. I shook my head as I stepped into the lounge room. "No, I've had enough to drink as it is. Wait, another tea..?"

I turned to the right. Armand was sitting on a stool at the kitchen bench, drinking from one of my mugs.

I bowed curtly. "Doctor. Nice of you to drop in," I said acidly. "Now get the hell out."

Armand set the mug down. "Huh. Usually people are glad to find a doctor who makes house calls," he said sardonically.

"Yeah, assuming those doctors aren't also master assassins that've broken in," I replied. My hand slowly closed around the grip of my Ares.

"Take your hand off your damned gun, I'm not here to kill you," Armand said without looking up. "If a master assassin wanted you dead hacker, he wouldn't be sitting in your kitchen drinking your terrible tea. No, he'd have been waiting to the side with a silenced pistol. Or knives or claws, those work too."

I frowned, stepping forward. Armand still didn't move, his gaze fixed on the empty mug as I stared at him. "Alright, so you broke into my house just to say hello...?"

"D'you know what the worst part of being a ghoul is?" Armand asked suddenly. "The drinking. Can't do it anymore. Not the blindness, not the meta meat, but the drinking. I used to be able to put them away and wake up the next day with a godawful headache, no pants and a phone number to god-knows-who. Can't drink now though. I had surgery for cybereyes, I found discreet stores that meant I could enjoy meals from a kitchen again instead of some rotting drekhead in an alley somewhere, but I can never drink again. The stuff is just intrinsically-bad for the turned, you know?" He picked up the mug and started swirling the tea in it around idly, his stare never drifting away from it even once.

I stood and gazed at the doctor hunched over my countertop. "Doc...?"

"Reggie's dead," Armand said, setting the mug down. "Someone shut him up with a car bomb." He turned the mug around this way and that on the counter before picking it up again and draining the contents.
I stood there stunned as Armand put the mug down and finally turned to face me. His expression was the same as always, but I thought I could see pain behind the artificial eyes. "Some poor doomed son-of-a-bitch got to him. And now I have to ask myself, how did that happen? What was my assistant doing that got him an Irish welcome?" He looked at me pointedly, his thin greyish lips twisting into a scowl. "It seems to me like someone got him into something over his head."

I felt a lump rise in my throat. "Humanis," I said slowly.

"What's that?" Armand exaggeratedly cupped one hand to his ear. "Speak up, this old man can't hear you."

"Humanis Policlub," I said, my voice steeling as white-hot rage began to run through me. "Reggie had me track down the goons who smashed his teeth out and we threw them a curb party. Those stupid bastards must've scored his license plate-"

"Those stupid bastards?" Armand exploded. "You're the stupid bastard! You left Humanis mooks alive after letting a meta kick the shit out of them? Hell, you took Reggie with you when you could've done it yourself, nice and anonymous, but no. And yet it's those stupid bastards at fault here?"

Armand's words stung, but I kept my ground. "I kept out of it because it was Reggie's fight - he asked me to himself."

The doctor threw his hands up exasperated. "Of course you did! I swear the both of you are idiots, you both put pride in front of practicality, every fucking time!"

I scowled. "What the hell do you want, Doc? Friend offered me a job, I took it."

"Don't you pull that "I'm a professional" bullshit with me, a professional wouldn't have left loose ends bleeding in an alley!" Armand retorted. "This was pride, pure and simple. You didn't even accept payment for this job, did you?"

I folded my arms, glaring back at the irate doctor. "No, because you're right - it was pride. Reggie's pride, my pride -" I hit my real hand against my chest - "I did something because it was the right damn thing to do, not because I wanted to be paid for it!"

"So now you find your morals," Armand shot back. "Great work. It only took you what, several years shadowrunning and oh that's right, a boy getting blown up. Out-fucking-standing."

"Man, not boy," I retorted angrily; insulted on Reggie's behalf. "You think you're the only one pissed here? Just as soon as I'm finished throwing you out of my house, I'm going to find the guys responsible and ram this arm you gave me so far up their asses I'll need a tow rope and a truck to get it out again! Reggie was a good guy, but he was smart enough to know what he was doing!"

"That's just it though," Armand replied through gritted teeth, his voice dropping into an incensed growl. "You're more than smart enough, yourself. You would have known Reggie was getting himself into something he couldn't handle. You would have been able to point him in the right direction, or clean up after him. My question is, why didn't you?" he finished, his gaze smouldering.

I opened my mouth to answer him, but I couldn't say anything. Armand grunted and stood up. "That's what I thought. Just another chapter in your glorious story, huh?" He shook his head and left, his footsteps echoing down the hall as he briskly shut the front door behind him.

I stood there in the middle of the room with a blank expression. My rage had subsided, leaving behind a cool, pitiless glow that burned in my chest as Armand's words and Reggie's face danced around behind my eyes.

Thanks for your help, omae.

I clenched my fists until I could feel the fingernails of my real hand bite into flesh and my AR display flashed cyberlimb stress warnings at me. I took a long, deep breath before placing a call to Beckett, as I stood there quietly seething.

Beckett picked up fairly quickly. "Evening," he said dryly. "Happy Friday, omae. Although you're not looking too pleased."

I shook my head. "Beckett, those Humanis goons we went after last week. Can you get me their locations again?"

Beckett grinned toothily. "Are there bugs in Chicago? I take it you didn't kill them, hey?"

My gaze hardened as Reggie's face briefly appeared in my mind again. "I'm working on it."
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0643:16> by Sede »


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« Reply #11 on: <10-14-13/0534:44> »
A) Love the story
B) Formatting needs work. The line-by-line makes it hard to read (and as big blocks of text, it risks falling into the TL;DR category)

Of course, I have a vested interest, so I'm certainly reading the whole thing and hanging out for the next installment ;)
« Last Edit: <10-14-13/0536:44> by Charybdis »
'Too much is never enough'

Current PC: Free Spirit (Norse Shamanic)
'Names are irrelevant. Which fake ID do you want me to quote from?'

Phreak Commandment V:
If Thou Be In School, Strive To Get Thine Self Good Grades, For The Authorities Well Know That Scholars Never Break The Law


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« Reply #12 on: <10-14-13/0645:11> »
Cheers, man! If there's any feedback or critique you can offer I'd love to hear it, if you're willing.

Also as you've probably noticed, I've changed the formatting to something a little more kind on the eyes. Thanks for pointing that out to me!


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« Reply #13 on: <10-25-13/2326:33> »
Beckett raised one eyebrow. "Probably better if I didn't ask, hm?" he said after a brief pause. "Alright, chummer, I'll find those dirtbags. While I'm at it, I'm assuming you want to call in a couple of favours?"

I thought for a moment before nodding. "Couldn't hurt. My usual crew is lying low for a bit, and I'm going to need some extra hands. Support would be best, magical if you can swing it."

"I know just the guy," Beckett declared, his fangs gleaming as he grinned. "I'll call you back." He chuckled as he disconnected. For a moment I felt a little uneasy - Beckett rarely did anything outside of a predatory grin, much less laugh - but brushed it off. I went around the kitchen counter and took a bottle of soda out of the fridge as I placed another call; this one from a one-shot number slathered with encryption.

It nearly rang out before Saoirse's voice came through from the other end. "Erm, hi there. Everything alright?" In the background I could hear muffled voices and the chime of a PA system - it sounded like she was already at the airport.

I nodded, even though I knew she couldn't see it. "Yeah, I'm fine. I need a favour before you disappear, Saoirse - I need a driver for a job."

"Well, I can't do it - I'm already at the airport on my way outta the country."

"I figured as much," I said dryly. "It sounds like you're at an airport. Kudos for getting in the public terminal, by the way."

"You don't give me enough credit," Saoirse scolded. "Anyway. I can't do it, but I've got an old friend who probably can. She's as good as I am; although she's more about cars than drones. Sound good?"

"Perfect," I said. "Pass her my contact details, I'll organize the rest with her. Arigato, omae."

"It's fine," Saoirse replied. "If you don't mind me asking, what happened? It's been less than an hour since we split up at the bar, is everything alright?"

"Nothing to do with you guys, don't worry," I said. "I've.... been made aware of something that needs attention and I'm erring on the side of caution. I mean hey, I'm good but I'm not Superman."

I thought I heard the rigger sigh. "Way to sidestep the question, dude. Alright, it's none of my business. Did you need anything else?"

I pulled open another AR window and transferred a couple hundred nuyen to Saoirse's account. "Yeah, have a good break. Thanks for your help."

"Don't mention it," Saoirse replied. "Later, gator."

I watched idly as she disconnected and the phone account I'd used to call her wiped itself clean and disappeared, my mind ticking over. Reggie was dead, and it was more or less my fault. Armand was right - I could have stepped in, at least taught Reggie how to cover his ass properly. The more I thought about it, the less I could understand about why I didn't do anything - I was paranoid past the point of healthy caution, I set up ridiculous amounts of contingencies in every job and I never went anywhere without my Stealth and BlackOut programs loaded. Why the hell would I glaze over something as obvious as not killing those goons after we'd given them everything they needed for a payback hit?

I shook my head and sat down on the couch with my drink. I absentmindedly twisted the lid off and compressed it into a tiny, dense blob of metal with my synthetic hand as I took a deep drink of caffeinated mint soda, opened a couple of browser windows and began preparing.


"Master, wake up!"

I sat upright with a snort. Hanako was standing in front of me, holding out the ancient telephone. I must've fallen asleep while I was setting up Reggie's farewell. I shook my head for a moment before picking up the receiver, as the handset projected the image of an animated blonde woman.

"He-ey! So you're whatsisface - a little birdie told me you had work for me?"

I nodded, still a little drowsy. "Yeah. You were well-recommended, miss... I'm sorry, you are...?"

"Willow," the avatar beamed, winking and giving the victory sign. "Alrighty Mister Johnson, when and where, and for how much?"

I shook my head briefly to focus myself. "For now, at a nightclub called Aether in Redmond. You'll be part of a crew I'm assembling; we'll be meeting there..." I paused to check the time. It was half past three in the morning. "...this evening at six-thirty. I'll explain the terms and payment then."

The avatar pouted, widening her large blue eyes and putting both hands to her mouth. "What? Not even a retainer? I'm just meant to go to a club and hang out with a bunch of scary old men? What sort of job is this anyway, mister?"

I laughed. "A good one, Willow - I'm not going to bite. Remember who recommended you; if you can trust her you can probably trust me."

"Allllll riiiiiight." Willow's avatar stuck out her bottom lip. "I'll see you there, then. But don't try any funny stuff!" She gave me an indignant look and disappeared as the call ended. I raised my eyebrows and put one hand to my temple before getting up and heading to the bathroom.

As I put the medicine bottles back in the cabinet, another call came through. I answered it in AR and was greeted by Beckett's sallow face. "Morning, omae," he said. "Surprised you're not asleep."

"Disappointed, you mean," I said lightly. "Did you get what I was after?"

Beckett nodded. "Yup. This..." There was a chime as I received an encrypted message with several attached images and housing plans, " where they are now. After they mysteriously got their asses kicked by an unknown assailant," Beckett grinned at me, "They went straight to a private hospital and got themselves stitched up, before they headed back home. In this case home means a Humanis safe house. They haven't left, although I've got it on good terms that a handful of young and pissed-off meta-haters left the place soon after they arrived and came back about an hour later." Beckett leaned forward, the AR window framing his pallid features. "You know, I already know most of what's happened - these fuckups have gone and killed that street doc's assistant. You want to fill in the blanks for me here, omae?"

I held up my hands. "That's most of it already, Beckett. They ganged up and smashed his tusks out a couple of months back, and a few nights ago he and I gave them a taste of their own shitty medicine. This was a revenge hit."

"This is, I'm sure you mean," Beckett said quietly, a faint smirk on his face.

"You bet your ass it is," I said flatly. "Apparently kicking their asses wasn't enough of a hint to stop their bullshit, so now I'm finishing this properly."

"Good, I was wondering why the fuck you didn't kill them to start with," Beckett said, baring his teeth. "Shame your friend had to die first, but sometimes you just can't plan for everything, can you?"

"Can, and should've," I replied sourly. "But it's too late for introspection. Send your guy to Aether at six-thirty this evening, I'll give him the details there."

"Got it," Beckett growled. "Do me a favour though, omae. You make sure it's messy this time." He gave me a curt nod and hung up.

I took a moment to just stand in the bathroom and breathe. There. I'd organized a couple of runners to meet up with, and if all went well Reggie's death - and my stupid, stupid mistake - would be square... and then some.


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« Reply #14 on: <03-04-14/0932:50> »
Aether wasn't bad as far as nightclubs went -  it was more of a bar than a club to begin with; and the place made decent drinks. Not to mention the owner was a mage of considerable skill and took his business very seriously - it was little wonder that Aether was another of Seattle's many shadow bars.

As I crossed the road to its entrance I quickly checked the time - ten minutes until my crew would arrive. It was likely that they were already there scoping the place out - or at least, I hoped they were; it would be an assurance that they were seasoned professionals. I shook my head and gave Hanako the last of her instructions as I gave the heavily-cybered human at the door a brief nod and stepped into the dark and sparsely-decorated foyer. The carpet was black, the walls were black, and the ceiling was black. It was very dark; the only reason I could see at all was because there were blacklights in the ceiling, shedding just enough light onto the phosphorous strips inlaid into the carpet that I could see the doorway into the club itself. Next to it, sitting on a wooden chair and sporting a bored look was a male elf in full leather with long, fiery hair. Fiery was a good word for it - his hair actually cast a dim red glow and wavered slightly as if there was a light breeze in the room.

"How's it going, Flameheart?" I asked the elf as I stepped forward and held my arms out at my sides.

The elf gave me a condescending look as he dutifully stood up and drew a handheld MAD scanner and passed it over me a couple of times. The magnetic detector beeped as it passed over my right arm and my head, and Flameheart sighed. "Any weapons-"

"- have to be checked at the door, holdouts only and only for self-defence. I know," I interrupted, reaching into my jacket and pulling my Ares from its holster and handing it to him grip-first. "Is the boss in tonight, man?"

Flameheart grudgingly took the heavy pistol between thumb and forefinger as if he'd been offered a dead rat and put it into a large reinforced lockbox set into the wall next to him. "Moset's out tonight - had some things to take care of. Karl is running the place tonight," he said pointedly as he held one hand up and made a strange waving gesture. I shrugged and stepped through the doorway, through the magical ward around the club that Flameheart had just added my astral signature to. Wards were an interesting thing - they couldn't do much save for raise an alarm against a mundane guy with no connection to magic, such as myself; but they were as real and solid a barrier to the Awakened as any brick and mortar wall. Aether had more magical protection than just the ward, though - I had seen bound spirits make short work out of a mage who thought he could start a literal firefight at the bar and get away with it.

On the other side of the ward, the background sound went from muffled to a full-on roar of euphoric clubgoers and the deep bass pulse of loud, fast music. I could feel my heart buzz in my chest with each beat of the wild rhythm as I stepped up to the bar where a muscled ork in a black tank top was pouring drinks for a handful of ravers in bright, fluorescent clothing. One of his arms was polished chrome; glinting wickedly in the neon glow cast by the lighting behind the liquor bottles.

"Hoi, Karl," I said as I took a seat at the bar. "Busy tonight, huh?"

"We're always busy, drekhead," the bartender said roughly before tensing his artificial hand and swinging a punch over the bar counter straight for my face.

There was a clang as his mechanical fist struck my own, and his face split into a toothy smile. "Good to see you again, shaikujin. What can I get you?"

"Something expensive here, and something less so for the booths. I'm expecting company tonight, chummer." I replied as the other patrons at the bar hurriedly collected their drinks and disappeared back into the throng.

"Ah, thought that was for you," Karl remarked quizzically, busying himself under the counter for a moment. "Spellchucker, got here about an hour ago. Guy is one hell of an Initiate, only reason he got past Flameheart is because I vouched for him. Why the hell do you need magic support of that calibre, omae? You going drake hunting or something?"

"Nothing so suicidal," I said as Karl came back up with a small glass and a bottle of scotch old enough that it had collected dust. "Insurance, more than anything."

"First thing I learned working in this joint; never ask why," Karl said dryly as he unscrewed the cap and deftly poured the strong-smelling drink in over the ice cubes. I shrugged. "Grab another glass, chummer. This is for Reggie."

Karl raised his eyebrows as he put another glass up on the counter and filled it. "I'd been wondering why I hadn't seen him lately," he said quietly. "Thought the Seamstress must've finally won him over. What happened?"

"Humanis geeked him. I'm making arrangements for a fitting farewell."

The big ork glowered angrily, before raising his glass in a toast. "To Reggie, then. To the stubborn, studious prick that used to honour us with his presence as he drank all of my beer. I'll miss him."

"Rest well, buddy," I replied, tapping my glass against Karl's before draining the entire glass in a single shot and setting it back down on the counter.

"You're in the back tonight. Booth eight," Karl said as I stood up. He had pulled a cloth from somewhere and had started polishing the bar. "I'll send out the servodrone with some booze and glasses shortly."

"Cheers, omae," I replied as I turned and stepped between a couple of people loitering at the bar trying to eavesdrop, and headed for the doorway near the back of the club where the private booths were.
The volume and intensity of the music suddenly became much milder as I strode down the clean tile hallway that ran parallel to the dance floor; soundproofing inserts in the lime-green walls made for a more conducive atmosphere, as well as helping make sure nothing could be easily overheard.

I pushed open a door labelled with a large number 8 stenciled on it, and nodded a brief greeting to the two people seated inside before closing the door and sitting down at the end of the table. "Thank you for coming on such short notice."

"Not at all! I like this place," said one of them, a young blonde woman with a rounded face - Willow, I presumed. She looked strikingly similar to her avatar, except that she was wearing jeans and a dirtied jacket over a t-shirt, as opposed to the crisp uniform her digital self had been sporting.

"Well I'm glad you're finally here. You certainly kept us waiting for long enough," said the other; an older, dark-skinned man with short, white hair. He pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose before steepling his fingers and looking at me over them, his well-manicured beard and mustache bristling at me. "If I'd been here any longer, I'd have simply left."

I raised my hands in supplication. "Of course. I can only imagine how bored you must have been, showing up an entire hour before the meeting I scheduled, Mister...?"

"Darius, and you're damned lucky Beckett is an old friend of mine or I swear I would put my fist straight up your ass," he growled. "Can't stand corp types. Just hurry up and give me the damn job so I can get you out of my sight."

I raised one eyebrow at the surly mage. "I can see why Beckett recommended you. He has an awful sense of humour. First off, I'm not in any corp - no, that's not bullshit," I said quickly, cutting him off. I reached out electronically, my wifi sensing the two active networks in the room and allowing me to send a file through to both of them. Willow's eyes flickered as her gaze shifted to the new window that would have appeared in her AR overlay; and Darius pressed a button on the old headset-style commlink he was wearing. Both of them furrowed their brows before looking straight at me.
I grinned. "Now assuming you're satisfied with my prestige page - "

"Fucking corp kid," Darius growled.

I sent a command through to Hanako, and she immediately complied; effortlessly exploiting through Darius's firewall and rebooting the device. Darius cursed and briskly got up; only to be stopped as I stepped forward and lightly pushed him back into his seat with my cybernetic arm. "Again, not part of a corp you grouchy old bastard. I probably hate them more than you do. This job has nothing to do with corps, for or against; and I'm sure Beckett has already told you how well it's likely to pay. Now are you going to shut up long enough to get the details, or should I just tell you to fuck off now?"

Darius's gaze smouldered as we stared each other down; before he laughed and slapped one hand on the table. "Alright," he said, chuckling. "You've got some balls. Just so we're clear though - " The mirth instantly dropped from his face. "I still think you're a corp brat."

"You're somehow mistaken that I give a shit," I said dismissively. Darius snorted derisively but didn't say anything else. "Now then," I continued. "As far as the job goes - "

The door suddenly swung open. A tall ork woman with light orange skin stood in the doorframe, her gaze aimed squarely at me. For an instant I had an odd sense of dj vu as I started probing the intruder's network for weaknesses. Her PAN firewall was like nothing I had ever seen before; hell, the coding language was completely alien to me. I wouldn't be able to get into her network any time soon. I grimly sent my cyberarm the command to activate the electrical shock pads embedded in my hand, knowing that it probably wouldn't do much against someone who could afford such a system.

The woman abruptly bowed and shut the door behind her before turning back to face me. "I am sorry for the interruption," she said quietly. "Please continue with your briefing."

I blinked in surprise. "I'm sorry, this is - "

"My name is Sayomi. I was sent by a mutual friend to assist in any way I can," the woman said quickly; her voice calm and measured. An AR alert appeared in the edge of my vision as a file was offered towards my network. I accepted the file upload and opened it the instant my antivirus marked it as clear.

Thought you might like to meet my ladyfriend.      -- Armand

I stood there, stunned for a moment before I regained my composure and returned the bow, hoping my surprise hadn't shown on my face. "Thank you for coming. Please, have a seat," I said, gesturing towards the inquisitive-looking blonde and the surly mage. Sayomi nodded curtly and slid sideways into the booth next to Darius, who shot her a filthy look. I took a deep breath. "Now then, I'll get straight to it - this is wetwork and demolitions. If this is not what you do, you need to leave now."

Willow fidgeted uncomfortably in her seat. Darius' face was impassable; as was Sayomi's, but nobody said anything. I paused for a moment before continuing. "I will say this though, you'll probably consider this a form of community service," I said as I established a link with the trid display embedded in the table. It blazed to life; shining several beams of light directly upwards that quickly coalesced into the mugshots of the meta-haters I'd found for Reggie. "These two, Paolo and Myron are both active members of Humanis Policlub. And when I say active, I don't mean they spend their time handing out leaflets." I changed the trid display to show a picture I'd snapped of Reggie, standing proudly in his lab coat holding up his campus card for UW Medicine. "This is Reggie, Reginald Grisham. Well, this was Reggie. About one week ago he was killed by a car bomb that my sources indicate was planted by Humanis Policlub, at the direction of Paolo and Myron."

"Your sources," Darius said slowly as he leaned forward. "Your sources. Really? Do you mean to tell me you don't know if that's what happened?"

I raised one eyebrow at Darius. "To put it another way, for your benefit - I know beyond any reasonable doubt this is the case, and I am wording this in a way that cannot implicate anyone who may be involved in my knowledge of that fact. Does that satisfy you?" I asked acidly. Darius snorted and leaned back in his seat. I shook my head briskly. "Anyway, as I was saying. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum here are active members of Humanis Policlub. Specifically, they're Relations Officers. Outwardly that means they do work for the community and act as spokesmen for the organization - public faces, in other words. James who lives down the road from you and volunteers at the local homeless shelter, Robert who is two streets over and always goes to the baseball games, that kind of angle. Inside the organization though -" I put up the next file, an image of Paolo drawing the hunting knife, taken from my own Eye Recording Unit - "the 'officer' part is more applicable. They actively target metahumans and give directions to lower-ranking members on how to deal with whomever's been targeted. Spotters, in other words."

Willow nodded, her expression hard. "Fuckers."

I sent the images of their current location through to the trid emitter and watched as it displayed all of them side by side. There were several photos of an inviting three-storey building, alongside satellite imagery and the official architecture blueprint. "This is the Humanis Policlub Community Centre, in Snohomish. Right now, those two slimeballs are inside, recovering from a well-deserved asskicking. They're also aggravating the kind of anti-meta sentiment that's harder to deal with - zealotry. They're being seen as victims of an uncontrollable animal, not as bigoted thugs that beat up the wrong guy." I turned off the trid emitter and leaned back on the wall behind me. "So in broader strokes, this is one of those 'cut the roots before the weed spreads' type of jobs. It might be for a good cause, but people are still going to die. Again, if this is not what you do, this is your chance to leave now. I completely understand if you do."

There was a brief silence before Sayomi stood up, stepped past me and opened the door. There was a faint whirr as Aether's ancient servodrone wheeled into the room, with four glasses and a couple of different spirits on its tray. Sayomi dutifully placed them in the middle of the table and watched the drone idly as it rotated on the spot wobbling slightly, and left the room. Sayomi quietly shut the door behind it and took her seat.

Willow reached out and pulled one of the bottles to her; deftly pulling off the cap with one hand and pouring herself a large whiskey before slugging back the entire glass in a single mouthful. "Can't help you with the shooty-stabby part of this, but I'm in," she said, coughing slightly. "You're going to need a good getaway driver, and I'm it."

"Great to hear," I smiled. "Darius, what about you?"

"You missed the most important question - what does this job pay?" he shot back, fixing me with an unblinking stare. I blinked despite myself. "Good question. Pay for this is eight thousand nuyen each; three up-front and the other five on completion. Not a bad incentive for a slightly-safer Seattle, don't you think?"

Darius regarded me coolly for a moment; his expression flat and unreadable. "I generally disapprove of wetwork," he replied, "but as long as it isn't me pulling the trigger, it's not really wetwork, now is it?"

"I suppose not," I said, grinning slightly. "I take it you're in as well then, Darius?"

Darius gave a sarcastic bow. "My strength is yours; or at least until the job is done. After that, you can kindly go fuck yourself." He picked up a glass and held it out towards Willow with a raised eyebrow as she poured herself another whiskey. Grudgingly, she filled his glass for him and he sat back in his seat, chuckling to himself and shaking his head.

I shrugged and turned to Sayomi. "And what is your decision, Sayomi-san?" I asked the ork in Japanese. Her expression flickered - for a brief second, I thought I saw surprise, or anger - and then her face was impassive again. "I have no love of Humanis Policlub, and no aversion to death," she replied in the rich, mellifluous tones of Kansai dialect. "I am in," she said, in English. "When do you need us to leave?"

I made an open motion with my hands, indicating I wanted her to move over. Sayomi shifted to the right, allowing me to sit on the edge of the booth and pick up my own glass and a bottle of vodka. "There isn't too much of a rush, there are drinks to be enjoyed first. We'll leave in an hour or so, the place will be much easier to deal with after-hours."

"Did I just hear you correctly?" Darius asked cynically, turning in his seat to face me. "'We'?"

I laughed. "What, did you think I'd let you have all the fun?"