Baby's First Steps

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« on: <08-27-15/1217:57> »
I'm new to the Shadowrun world, and writing too. Well, at least sharing it. I've been using games/runs as writing exercises for a bit now, so this is based off of a group that started playing at the beginning of summer. A friend suggested I share it here, but writing for fun and actually sharing it is a totally different, nerve wracking experience for me so it took a while. Any criticism is totally appreciated though, especially since the setting is as robust as the ruleset

Gotta Walk Before You Can Run

   Dec 27th 2074
   5:13 PM

   “The holidays are so fragged,” an ork slurred over his beer. He swayed on his stool, and Finn wondered if he should help him get home.
   Forget it, home’s probably worse than here. Instead he raised his glass and drank.
   It’d been a few months since he had tried to get into the running game, and all he had to show for it were a couple of two bit hack jobs. And if nothing came through soon, he’d be moving in right next to his new chummer full time.
   He took another drink when his comm lit up. It was Harry.
   “This better be good,” he answered.
   “Is that any way greet an old friend?” He asked, feigning hurt.
   “Get to the point, I’m busy.” He said, signaling the bartender for another.
   “Fine. You still looking for work? Because I’ve been looking out for you, and think I’ve got something.” He thought about the last job Harry had sent him on, then looked at the ork slumped on the bar and decided he was fragged either way.
   “What you got?”
   “Friend of a friend sort of deal, but don’t hang up! This is good, you’ll want to at least hear them out.”
   “Alright, give them my comm info.” He turned on the bar, and walked out into the cool evening air. The sun had already set, leaving the neon lights to bathe the streets with their garish colors. Before he even got to his bike, the display on his Erika was lighting up again.
   “Hoi, who’s this?” The voice on the other end came through loud and clear.
   “Dunno, you called me.” There was a pause, and Finn started losing his patience. Another bust, he thought.
   “Well, you’re the spellslinger, yeah?  Are you still interested in working?”
   “Yeah.” An address popped up on screen.
   “Then let’s meet. You’ll find an old lot, and we can see if it’s a good fit.”
   He disconnected, and pulled himself onto his Yamaha Growler, creaking in protest. The troll felt ridiculous on it, the dirt bike having seen better days, but it was reliable. He kicked it into life, the engine revving like a chainsaw, before he took off.
   The city was a blur as he weaved through the streets, passing cars and trucks stuck in the rush hour traffic. They lay on their horns as they were cut off or stuck behind a bus. Pedestrians scurried around them, through them, trying to go home or to the bar. A hum filled the air, whether it was the neon lights, the sound of engines, or the buzz of hundreds of voices all at once. It was home.
   When Finn finally found the lot, he was cold and stiff. Except for a couple of cars and vans, the lot was dark and empty. He slowly pulled in to a spot on his bike, stamping his feet and rubbing his arms as he continued on foot to the first van and peered into its darkened windows. Wouldn’t be the first time I was stood up.
   He heard a van door slide open behind him, and turned to see a dwarf and a human coming towards him.
   “Are you the caster?” The human asked, eyebrows raising. Not the first time for that either.
   “Yeah, you have a problem with that breeder?”
   “No, no!” He said back pedaling. “Not as long as you can do what you say.” Finn clenched his jaw, fighting the urge to show him.
   “Are you who I talked to earlier?” he asked instead.
   “No, he’s back in the van. What do we call you?” The dwarf asked.
    “I’m Cobalt Blue, and this is Sneezy. The one still in the van is Tinker.”
   “Fine, great. What’s the job?” An elf, peering through the windshield, slinked out once he saw the coast was clear.
   “Have you heard of the Halloweeners?” Tinker asked. “We were contracted to recover our Johnson’s bike when we found a pair of their Mitsuzuki Bakushins. She has a contact, and offered us some good money for them. Problem is, she thinks we were made, and that the job’s fragged. We think she’s overreacting. Either way she wanted someone else brought in if things went forward. That way if things go sideways, we’ll have the firepower to get them.”
   “So I’m an insurance policy. What’s the pay?”
   “Split evenly four ways. If we can get the two extra bikes, she has a contact that can take them for 50k. We’ve already done the legwork. We just need to go in and get them.”
   Frag me, guess I owe Harry an apology, Finn thought, trying to look passive. “I’m in.”
   “Great, let’s get moving.”

   6:02 PM

   Finn crept around the block, the sputtering of his dirt bike blending in lost in the sound of the traffic around him. He tried to blend in, look natural, as he scouted the site. The fly sized drone hiding between his hair and horns dug against his scalp as it scrambled to stay put, and he struggled not to mess with it. They said it was an extra set of eyes that they could watch from the van, but it was also a way to keep an eye on him.
   The plan was simple. He’d go in while the others were parked a few blocks away so they weren’t recognized. When he was finished, they’d meet up, and he’d take a second look from the astral plane.
   “Just remember, Cobalt spotted some plainclothes KE guards, and picked up a drone or two.”
   “I’ve got eyes on the drone, not seeing much else. Maybe some guards, but no way to confirm,” The place looked normal to him. Lots of cars, some junk, some not. Your typical impound lot. It didn’t look busy, but given the time of day, he wasn’t surprised. “What’d you screw up before?”
   “Nothing. Our contact Rev is just a little jumpy. We hacked the system, looped the surveillance feeds, and knocked out the guard to get access to the information we needed. Then keep them from digging futher, we tagged the place to look like the Halloweeners did it.”
   “Well, they know someone’s sniffing around. Passing the North entrance, on my way to you.”
   “Right, they increased the security,” Sneezy interjected. “But knowing K.E. we have a five minute window to get in and out before the drek really starts to fly. That should be more than enough to run in, grab the bikes, and haul our hoops out of there.”
   It only took a few minutes to drive from the tow yard to where the van was parked. Putting the kickstand down, he walked over to the van and slid the door open. The inside was lit with the glow from different screens as the rigger and decker ran their diagnoses and checked their gear. Sneezy sat in the driver’s seat that had been modified for a dwarf. When the door opened, he spun the seat around, pointing a gun at the door.
   “It’s just me,” Finn said, before hauling himself in. The drone on Finn’s head finally let go, flying through the open door to the rigger. He reached into the back, and started pushing guns and ammo aside to make room for his bulk.
   “Well? Don’t leave us in suspense, did you find anything else?” Cobalt Blue asked. Finn squeezed himself into the far back, occupying the space he made. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was enough.
   “No, the perimeter was quiet. Could be that it’s died down since earlier. Or they’re waiting for us inside. Won’t know more ‘til I slip into astral.”
   It only took a moment before he felt himself falling through the floor and away from his body. The world went dark around him, with specks of light appearing around him. Some were brighter, some were darker, all depending on the essence of the people in meat space. He willed himself up, normal laws of physics being inapplicable, flying his way back to the yard in a fraction of the time it took to drive. There were definitely guards. A couple dogs, a man in a tower, another in the yard with a void in his head where cyberware was implanted. He did a couple passes over the area make sure he didn’t miss anything, but with the patrols running he couldn’t get the numbers.
   He flew back, pulled himself into his body, and sat up. He paused as he readjusted to meat space, before passing on what he found.
   “If phase two works, numbers won’t matter,” Cobalt said, grinning through teeth yellowed by nicotine and soykaf. “We’re going to let the Halloweeners do the dirty work for us.”

        7:06 PM   

   “Hold it,” Finn said, and jogged over to Cobalt. “I’ll go with you to make sure there’s no trouble.”
   “Thanks, but I doubt there’ll be guards here,” he said over his shoulder.
   “It’s not them I’m worried about,” Finn said, and Cobalt stopped to glare.
   “Fine. We’ll meet up with you two when I get this uploaded.” Sneezy and Tinker crossed the street leading to the tow yard, while Finn and Cobalt walked into the Heads and Tails. Tinker’s truck, Sneezy’s van, and Finn’s bike were all stashed in the parking lot.
   “Scotch,” he told the bartender, who started pouring it out. “Make that two.” Cobalt handed the second to Finn, who grabbed the tiny shot glass in his big hand and took the sip.
   “What’s your problem?” Cobalt asked, breaking the silence.
   “I have no problem if you don’t make one breeder,” he said looking down at him. “I just don’t trust you to not screw over 3 metas the first chance you get.”
   “How would I do that?”
   “Make a deal to sell us out? Or maybe cut us out? It wouldn’t be the first time a norm thought he deserved more than his Meta partners. Or maybe you’re some humanis drekhead-”
   “Fine,” he said and downed his drink, slipping into VR. “I’ll just have to prove it. So let’s see… Membership page… Cyclops Joe is the dreamiest… where have you seen the Halloweeners… Here we go.” Finn ordered another shot while he waited. Cobalt had a distant look, concentrating on his work in AR.
   “There. Should be front and center for every member logging on. Pictures of the bikes, their RFIDs, even the surveillance feed with ‘every day is Halloween’ scrolling on the ticker in the office to make them think they’re the butt of some joke. Now they know it’s there, they just think the bikes are on the other side of the yard. How’s that for a start?”
   “Let’s make sure it works first,” Finn let Cobalt lead the way out, falling in behind him as they went to the meeting point. They crossed the street, cutting through the lot across from the tow yard. Already they could hear bikes in the distance. Seconds later there was the crack of gunfire from above, followed by a second, with two drones tumbling out of the sky.
   “Looks like Tinker took care of their eyes,” Cobalt said. Seconds later they found the other two, hiding in the brush between two shipping containers. Finn crouched behind them. Cobalt still had that faraway look, seeing things they couldn’t, and tripped.
   “Get your head down!” Sneezy said, pulling him to the ground. “We don’t want them catching us before they can take the bait.” As if on cue, the sound of bikes roared louder, followed by shouting and more gunfire.
   “Those’re probably just the ones sitting around the clubhouse.” Sneezy said, drawing his gun. “Let’s hope it’s enough.”
   “Hold on, this drek is giving me all sorts of problems,” CB mumbled. “I haven’t been able to blow the compressor… frag me. I’ve got company.”
   “We only have 5 minutes before this place is crawling with pawns,” Sneezy said, as if they needed the reminder.
   “The compressor will have to wait. I need to deal with their spider.”
   “Then we need to roll. Benzine, you said you can get us through that gate?”
   “Yeah, right through it,” Finn said.
   The runners broke from cover, their feet pounding the pavement as they crossed to the northern gate. Looking through the chain link fence, he could see two dogs and a man. The first dog was way ahead, charging over to the Halloweeners that had ridden in already, but the second was hanging back behind the man. Benzine reached into his pocket and grabbed hold of an engraved lighter. He concentrated, activating the focus. He held out his other hand, muttered some phrases, and acid sprayed all over the first row of fence. Fumes from the dissolving metal drifted into the air. The dog closest to them smelled it and stopped, looking back curiously.
   Sneezy took aim as Finn started on the second layer, repeating the same process. The metal dripped and ran, opening a hole in the links.
   “We got an alarm. This is going sideways fast!” Cobalt said from behind them.
   “We still got time,” Sneezy said, firing his first shot, then his second. Tinker was through the fence, the dog had flopped over unconscious, and the guard didn’t notice.
   Finn ducked through after the elf when a small turret mounted on a small tower opened up. “Cobalt, we’ve got turrets!” Tinker yelled.
   “I’m doing what I can!” He snapped back through the fence.
   Finn launched another wave of acid at the base of the tower, the substance eating away at the metal until gravity pulled it to the ground. Another shot rang out, this time from the tower itself, and Tinker had to dance around the bullets raining from above, until he could dive for cover behind a car. Switching targets, Finn was shot, and he staggered. He shook his head, clearing it from the effects of the stun, and looked up to see the human reloading.
   Sneering, he muttered another incantation and sent burning water arcing up through the smashed window, the ball of liquid fire exploding as it slammed into the guard’s chest. Flaming droplets fell from the opening of the tower as he disappeared from view, screaming. All they could see were shadows dancing around the room as fire engulfed the man.
   “Frag me. You can counter, right? I don’t want to deal with drek like that.” Cobalt said through the comms.
   “Don’t worry about what I can do, just take care of your end of the job!”
   “This is our job! We gotta earn it, you think nuyen is free?”
   “I don’t know, do you?!” He shouted back as he joined Tinker. He was already on one of the Bakushins, trying to start it.
   “Come on! Start!” The sound of gunfire was right next to them as Sneezy fired his pistol at some guards trying to flank them.
   “What’s happening? Start the damn bike!” Finn shouted, diving for cover.
   “It’s fragged! RCC is toast, the comm isn’t responding, it’s not on the matrix! I’m going to try Rev, cover me!”
   Finn stood, water and fire coalescing around his hand until there was a roiling combination of liquid flames. He swung his arm up and over his head, lobbing up the spell over the cars splashing on the ground between the two guards. Flames blossomed, splashing on impact and burning everything it touched. One of them was scorched, and the other was thrown through the air from the force.
   Finn turned, and with another shout and a rending motion from his claw-like hand, blocked the road from the southern part of the yard with a wall of napalm. The combined elements churned, splashing flames onto anything nearby, including the watch tower.
   “Why did I even try to be non-lethal?” Sneezy asked the spell slinger when he ducked back down. Tinker, meanwhile, had replaced Sneezy at the bike.
   “Look, the brakes aren’t locked. I’ll jump in and get my truck over here, and we can load it up. How you doing there Cobalt?”
   “Just need… one… more… There! Security down. No more spider, no more cameras.”
   The gunfire was getting louder from the south, the shouts coming closer. “Come on Cobalt, we need these bikes working!” Sneezy unslung his Enfield and fired a few rounds, forcing a pair of gangers to hit the dirt.
   “Hold on, I haven’t had the time.”
   “You’ve had more than enough!” Finn shouted back. The truck smashed through the gates now withered from the acid, skidding to a stop next to the bike. Finn ran over and picked up the front end, heaving it onto the back of the truck. Sneezy laid down some more suppression fire, pegging the pair a couple times before running over to help. Between the two of them they lifted it in, and slammed the tailgate closed. Then, like clockwork, the other Bakushin’s roared to life.
   “Come on!” Tinker yelled, grabbing his Lockheed from the air, and sticking it in the back next to the motorcycle. The troll and dwarf hopped onto the pair of bikes. Immediately they had the opposite problems. Sneezy struggled to get his feet down, while Finn’s bike sagged drastically beneath him. He pulled the throttle, kicking up dirt and stones, before hauling out of the yard behind the truck and bottoming out on the curb. He saw Sneezy stop to pick up Cobalt, the pair catching up quickly before tearing past him.
   “If we get split up, you have the coords,” Tinker said over the comm, weaving through traffic and pulling onto the highway. Finn followed, cutting onto the highway. The bike skid, making a car swerve to avoid him, and making way too much of a scene. The driver he almost ran off the road screamed at him and gave him the finger. He ignored him, paying attention to the KE guard that caught up to him instead.
   “I’ve got company,” Finn said.
   “Leave it to me,” Cobalt’s voice came through into his ear. “Come on, lights, come on… Got it!” The roads cleared before them, leaving the on ramps empty. As soon as he passed, cars were pouring from onramps again. It wasn’t long before the K.E. car was lost, and CB was gloating over his comm.
   “So how about it, Benzine? Enough proof yet?”

        7:59 PM

   By the time Finn pulled into the condemned parking garage, the others were already there.
   “Finally! Rev should be here any time now!” Cobalt grinned. “Payday, here we come.”
   Soon after a black truck pulled up, an elven woman behind the wheel. “Well, well. Didn’t think you’d get it done, but look at that,” she said as she stepped out.
   “Bad news. Your boss’s bike didn’t start,” Tinker said.
   “What do you mean, didn’t start?”
   “Just what I said. We went to start it up, and nothing happened.”
   “Things got messy and we had to light the place up. Burned down a building, some turrets, even fragged some guards. I think that definitely warrants some hazard pay,” Cobalt said
   “You say we, but I’m the one who did it,” Finn grumbled to himself. You can burn buildings, targets, but not your team he heard Harry saying in his head.
   “Well, I don’t like renegotiating. I have no nuyen, just some bikes. But, fair being fair, let me see what I can do for you.” She walked to the bikes, lowering her voice as she switched to her comm. With a can of black spray paint she started covering up the ganger’s colors. Then, while the paint dried, she hooked up some diagnostics to the bricked motorcycle.
   They stood quietly, fidgeting while they waited for whatever was next. Finally she stood up and shook her head. “Well, I thought you might’ve used the wrong code, but looks like you were right.” She said rejoining them. “I don’t know what happened, but my boss is real glad you got it back. So glad he threw in an extra 4k nuyen for you. Know that The Ancients appreciate all you’ve done tonight.”
   “Look at that, helping one go gang against another,” Sneezy said. Cobalt let out a low whistle.
   “I know where I’ve seen this bike then, on the news-“
   “Let me stop you before you go and ruin a good thing. You haven’t seen this bike. In fact, you haven’t seen any bike.” Rev handed CB a credstick and turned away again. “Been a pleasure doing business with you.”
   They piled into Tinker’s truck, and he started driving. “Look at that easy money boys!” Cobalt Blue cheered. “We should celebrate. Gotta split this cred, and you can’t pick up your rides ‘til it cools down.”
   “I know a place,” Finn said. Hell, maybe that ork’s still there. He could probably use some holiday cheer, or at least another drink.


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« Reply #1 on: <08-30-15/1714:20> »
This is a great start, looking forward to reading more.


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« Reply #2 on: <09-01-15/2250:37> »
First, let me say, I enjoyed reading this. I understand how nerve wracking it can be to have something submitted for the public to view. /me glances at the folders of unpublished short stories and unfinished materials. And I applaud you for your courage in this.

My only thought on improvement would go towards the pacing of the storytelling, nodding towards the action scene. One of my friends is a published writer and he has always told me that describing action based scenes is one of the most challenging parts of his profession. Obtaining the fine balance between detailing the action without bogging down the flow with details, he says. The raid on the impound lot seemed rather dialog heavy in comparison to the rest of the story. Nonverbal cues are just as valuable as spoken ones from my experience.

Don’t get me wrong… I do not mean any harmful things by this point, and I hope that no offense is taken. I can already see that you are a talented writer, and I like the way that you create characters that one can relate with. (Never a simple milk run is it, chummer?)

Again, let me state I enjoyed this piece and I hope that you continue to submit more. Engaging storytelling is something that most of us take for granted nowadays, and I would encourage you to foster your talents.


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« Reply #3 on: <09-13-15/1141:34> »
Thanks for the kind words! No offense taken at all, I absolutely appreciate the criticism so please feel free.

Pacing is definitely something I struggle with because I feel like I'm leaving gaps if I don't give the exact play by play, making  it sound like an instruction manual. Not writing seems like a skill that's almost as hard as writing, but I've been working to at least try and clean that up when I'm editing. (The newest part I'm trying to cut down by 300-400 words)

I've also been playing with dialogue a lot to show instead of tell, but it doesn't seem like it always works.

For the record I'll definitely keep what you said in mind for the future, but I've already got the next four segments written (this was from back in June), so it might take a little for results to show!


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« Reply #4 on: <10-03-15/1454:40> »
Jan 3rd, 2075
3:30 PM

   The sun warmed Finn despite the chill blowing down the streets. The city still nursed a hangover after trying to forget another year of drek, but today was different for him; he felt great, alive. He was finally going to make good on old promises.
   For every part of their world I frag, I’ll build ours up.
   With the run on Lincoln Towing, he’d definitely fulfilled the first part. He’d seen the burning buildings and cars plastered on trids and news feeds the following day. But truth crept in on his pride, and he realized he dodged a bullet. The pawns pinned it on the Halloweeners because of all the fire this time, but if he wanted to survive he’d need to be more cunning. So he holed up in his apartment, crafting his lodge and learning some tricks he picked up from Harry’s.
   Rounding the corner he saw the familiar line of orcs and trolls snaking down the street, headed by a group of street docs. Men and women of all ages were treated for minor injuries or illnesses, were getting crude cyberwear adjusted, or worse. Finn remembered the anxiety, huddled together, waiting for the sentence to be handed down. The hope that maybe it was just a fluke. The uncertainty of affording more than a street doc. And now, years later, the cycle continued, leaving a sour taste in his mouth. Finn cut to the front of the line, earning dirty looks, and stood off to the side until one of the volunteers noticed.
   An orc, pretty and worn, finally looked over while palpating the stomach of a middle aged orc. “It seems fine now, Mr. Roberts, but if it acts up again it might be time to bring yourself in. In the meantime eat more nutrient dense soy process, maybe even some fresh fruits or vegetables.”
   “Fine advice if you can buy them,” the patient grumbled.
   “I know, I’m sorry Mr. Roberts. Next!” While an orc brought up her wheezing son, the doctor looked over at Finn. “What do you need?”
   “Nothing, I’m just looking to make a donation. Maybe do some work if you need a hand,” he said.
   “By all means, we always need supplies,” She nudged a near-empty cart of supplies holding bandages, needles, gloves, pills, standard stuff. She handed a datapad to Finn, before turning to her patient. She bent down, asking the little family some questions before listening to the young orc’s lungs through a stethoscope.
   “I’m sorry, Mrs. Robbins,” The street doc said, standing up. “Chuck might have asthma, but I can't say without an image of his chest so you’ll need to wait in that line over there. Do you live in a place with moisture, mold? Yes? I know it’s hard, but if you can find a new place to live, you should. Things won’t get any better while you’re there, and without the mold, it could help clear up. Good luck.”
   As the family shuffled away towards the line ending at a beat up, old machine covered by a black tent, Finn handed back the datapad. The doctor looked down, and her eyebrows shot up. “You didn’t put an extra 0 here, did you?”
   “Yeah, that’s right,” he said.
   “Wo-wow! This is great. Thank you so much!You have no idea… ” A grin split her exhausted face, and her eyes got a little dewy looking down at the data pad. “What do you do? You don’t look like the typical philanthropist, not that I’d know these days.”
   “Uhm, I uh came into some money?” He stammered, uncomfortable with the gratitude.
   “Slick,” She laughed, making her look younger as some of the care slipped from her face. “So you’re a runner? I mean, I don’t care, I’ll take the help where we can get it.” He nodded while the buzz from the injured and sick hummed around them.
   “Well, you said you’re looking for work, right?” She asked, holding up a finger to the next patient, asking them to wait.
   “Yeah, I’ll do anything that could help.”
   “Blitz!” A young orc came darting through the crowd. “Introduce him to Roxy, tell her he’s a donor. I really hope to see you again. Next!”
   “Come on man, let’s go!” He hurried off, leaving Finn to catch up, as he plowed through the crowds and into the gaping maw of the underground.
   As soon as he went in, he could hear the sound of excavation. Work was never done down here. The older parts were permanently built into the basements of the old city. Wide avenues burrowing beneath the earth, hidden by the concrete and steel of the new Seattle. Further down in the fresh tunnels were braced with timber, steel, or whatever else could be found. It was dark, dank, and cramped.
   Blitz brought him through the maze, depositing him in a room with an elderly orc in her 40’s. The pair traded words quietly in Or’zet before looking at Finn.
   “So you’re the new donor?” She asked from her seat, waving him in.
   “Just trying to help,” He responded from the doorway.
   “That much nuyen buys a lot of help around here. So what are you looking for?”
   “I wasn’t looking for anything. Maybe my parents rubbed off on me more than I’d realized. They worked for ORC before getting geeked. I’m just doing what I can, in my own way.”
   “Ah, revenge,” She said.
   “Not revenge. Just trying to survive and make a difference at the same time. If that’s a problem…”
   “Not a problem. I just like knowing a little about the people that come to me,” she pushed herself to her feet. “If you're looking for work, all I have is a lead. You can follow it wherever you’d like. I don’t know who or what, it’s just a keyword: Gypsum.”
   “Well, that’s more than I had this morning,” Finn said.
   “Good.  You’ll find the contact on jackpoint. If you need me, just find Blitz.” She gestured at the small orc who gave a quick wave. “He’ll know where I am, and will bring you there. Good luck.”
   Finn nodded, and ducked out of the room. He had no idea what Gypsum could be. He thought it was some sort of rock, but that meant frag all for what the project actually was.
   He swore under his breath. It was time to call CB.

   5:00 PM
   Three days in, and this year was already as fragged as the last. He woke up on his couch hung over, 8 bit music still blaring from the emulator running on his comm. Already dressed, and with no reason to hang around, he dragged himself down to the café for some soykaf and scoped out jackpoint.
   He found nothing. No work, no rumors. Just a survey about his year in the shadows from some runner named Turbo he barely remembered.
   It could be worse, he thought to himself. I could still be locked up. He tried to tell himself that every once in a while to keep his spirits up. But it was hard to do when you were leashed by your proby. And hung over. And jobless.
   He had big plans, but right now they were worthless.
   For the hell of it, he dumped the list of inventory from Lincoln Towing onto a public access server. Then to pass the time he read about record losses in the AAA’s, their research and development departments bringing them down from the looks of it. Least I’m not the only one with money problems.
   He sat back, stretching and rubbing his bleary eyes. He checked the i.d. and grinned.
   “Look who it is! How ya doing hornhead?” He answered.
   “Have you seen anything about a project Gypsum while jacked in?” A gruff voice cut through the line.   
   “Yeah, that’s some old game for PS 6 isn’t it?”
   “No breeder, it’s our next job if you want it. The contact info is online.”
   “Ok, I’ll jump in and see what I can find. By the way, did you see that Tinker bailed?”
   “What, do you not check your messages? This was yesterday! He gave us a contact. Hit him and Sneezy up while I scope things out.”
   “Yeah, well just let me know what you find.”
   Things are looking up! CB sat back and cracked his knuckles.
   It didn’t take much digging. Charisma Associates was the name of the company on the file, and it came with a comm number.
   It only rang once before a voice bubbled over his comm.
   “Hi! This is Janet with HR, how can I help you today?”
   “I’m calling about a job you posted? Specifically the one related to Gyp-”
   “Oh yes! The consultant job. That’s just fantastic. Well, why don’t we meet and go over the details? Say in an hour and a half?”
   “Yeah, we can do that.”
   “Wonderful. How about at a club called Matchsticks. It’s a great place, you’ll love it. There’s no way you can’t!” Laughter tinkled through CB’s Comm. “Just tell them you’re with Charisma Associates and they’ll let you right in. I’m so looking forward to meeting you. Ciao!
   He was cracking up as soon as he disconnected.

5:30 PM
   Finn had just gotten back to his apartment when his comm lit up with a message from CB.
   “We’re a go. Sending the address now. You’ll love her.”
   He wasn’t sure what the decker meant, but that wasn't unusual. He called Sneezy first, hoping for good news. The dwarf was reliable, and that was always nice when things went sideways. Especially when they had a van full of guns.
   Unfortunately he didn’t pick up. That left the new guy.
   “H… Hello?” A voice came over his comm tentatively.
   “Is this Tinker’s omae?” Finn grabbed his keys and walked out the door.
   “Y…yeah. I know Tinker.”
   “He sent your contact, said you might be looking for work,” he said. “You still interested?”
   “Ye-” There was a thud and some scrambling on the other end. “Yes! Yes I am!”
   “Okay… Well we meet the Johnson at 7, at some place called Matchsticks.”
   “Ok, great! Thank you so much for the oppor-” Finn hung up before he could finish. By the time he made it to his dirtbike, the first raindrops were already falling.
   Things just keep getting better.


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« Reply #5 on: <10-03-15/1459:19> »

6:45 PM
   The rain fell steadily, giving a sheen to the city. It washed away all the filth and grime and polished what was left, making things seem more than they were. The buildings were obelisks carved from granite. The roads obsidian, reflecting lights back into the night sky; the yellow from street lamps, the red and green from stop lights. Even the neon lights had their say. It was like the ground was trying to compete with the sky.  Looming above it all was the space needle, stretching towards the heavens, giving them the finger and saying frag you.
   Finn parked his bike, shaking water from his head. He looked up at the tower and snorted. If the architects could see what the future actually looked like, they'd probably be disappointed.
   “Hold it, you a member?” A man eyed him in his black biker armor dripping from the rain.
   “Nah, but you gonna stop me?” The bouncer puffed out his chest, and Finn bit his tongue. “Look I’m just here to meet someone from Charisma Associates.”
   “How many of you bastards are there? There’s a 5 Nuyen cover. Keep your head down ‘n don’t start any drek or I will stop you.”
   Finn brushed past him into the club where everything halted. Waitresses stopped to stare, patrons looked up from their drinks, until the pianist hit a discordant note. They act like they've never seen a troll before. Looking at his surroundings, it was more likely they hadn't seen anything outside their own hoops for a while.
   He spotted CB at the bar, bent over his comm with a beer in front of him. He could easily see over the partitions of green glass, hiding sallow faced business men and women as they tapped off beat fingers and got drunk after another day at the corps. The room opened beyond the dark wood of the bar, tables and patrons scattered before a small stage where the pianist played a real, acoustic piano.
   He plunked down on the stool next to the decker and waved the bartender over.
   “Whiskey,” Finn said. The bartender looked at him, then grabbed a shot glass and splashed some into it. “Come on, really?”
   “I can give you a double?” he shrugged.
   “At least a triple.”
   “Tell you what,” he ducked below the bar, and took out a pint glass.
   “That’s more like it.”
   “Yeah, well 50 Nuyen and I'll fill it.”
   “Fine,” The bartender handed him his drink, waiting while Finn transferred the credits. He looked at Cobalt, his face bathed in the glow from his comm. “You get eyes on anyone? The Johnson or the new guy?”
   “Hold on horn head, I’m on the boss! Just gimme a minute,” midi music chimed and cracked as he mashed his comm furiously, fully immersed in the emulator running one of the old games he was always talking about.
   “Really, breeder? You’re on the clock.”
   “We're not even to the interview. Relax, grab a towel, have a drink.”
   Finn turned to his whiskey, his eagerness and goodwill slipping away. In the quiet that followed, he heard something rolling across the floor, a marble or a ball bearing. He realized someone was watching them.
   “Think our rigger’s here.” He stood and picked up the whirring little drone. “Maybe we should go introduce ourselves.”
   “Hold on, hold on! These old games, frag me they’re hard. I’m out of potions, but I think I’ve got him!”
   Finn left him sitting at the bar. Looking out across the room, he could see three men staring at devices, but only one was red faced and angry.
   “Great, another one,” he muttered as he looked across the room. Even as far as humans went, he was bland. Finn wasn’t sure he’d be able to pick him out of a lineup of one.
   He walked straight to his table and set the drone down.
   “Oh… uh…” He stammered and looked around.
   “I think this is yours,” Benzine said. “You who I talked to earlier?”
   “Yeah,” he stuck his hand out awkwardly. “I’m Missing No. Pleased to meet you.”
   “Missing number?” He ignored the hand as he sat facing the door and bar.
   “Just Missing No.” He picked up the drone and slipped it back into his pocket.
   “Known Tinker for long?”
   “No, but I was led to believe you hadn’t been associates for long either.”
   “We hadn’t. You’re a rigger then?”
   “Yes, but a little new to running. You know, still trying to get my feet wet!” He gave a nervous laugh. The door opened, and a man and a woman rushed into the club with the the collars on their coats pulled up. They stood in the doorway, shaking rain from an umbrella they shared.
   “Well if we’re all lucky, they will be after tonight.” Finn watched as they shed their coats and walked to the bar while Missing No prattled on about how this was a great opportunity. As soon as they walked away with their drinks, CB put his comm down and jerked his head at the pair. He stood up, following them over. “Looks like our Johnson’s here.”
   “Aren’t you a little underdressed?” Missing No was smoothing down his own hair and straightening his suit.
   “For what?” Finn asked, taking a sip of his drink, waiting for the small talk to end.
   “For a fancy place like this, for meeting an employer!” Finn watched the couple walked towards their table, all smiles and laughter.
   “Hi! Cobalt? Cobalt Blue?” Finn snorted as he stared at the woman in the pants suit, at eye level with her since he was scrunched into the human sized chair.
   “No, I’m Cobalt,” The rigger squeezed past, slouching into a chair adjacent from Finn. Immediately his comm was back in his hands, and his feet were propped up.
   “And I’m missing No.,” the rigger stood, shaking hands with the pair of suits and returning their smiles just as eagerly. He seemed more like that them than Finn or CB. But the shadows were filled with all types.
   “Nice to meet you! My name is Janet, and this is…”
   “Harry Johnson!” He offered his hand uselessly to the mage and decker, before pulling over some chairs instead.
   “Harry is just here for support. You see, this is a special circumstance. Normally we like to keep these conversations a little more private, a little closer to home. Speaking of,” She paused to pull out a small black box, placing it on the table next to the tea light. She flipped a switch and the noise around them died. “There! Isn’t that a little more intimate?
   “So, as I was saying, I’m here representing Charisma Associates. All we’re looking for is a little information and we’re simply delighted you want to give us a hand!”
   “Well, we’re delighted to help!” Missing No. beamed, the trio smiling at each other.
   “Yeah, whatever he said,” CB kept his eyes firmly on his comm.
   “Before everyone goes and gets delighted, let's hear more about the job.” Finn glared at his partners.
   “He’s all business, but he forgot his suit!” Harry roared at his own joke.
   “We’ve heard about Project Gypsum, but only in whispers. Can you pull up the file Harry?” He obliged, showing them a spreadsheet with numbers.  “This is all that we have. A file of traffic patterns and a name, a Harrison Sinclair. Of course we have moles in Renraku, but if it’s a honey pot we don’t want to risk them. Which is where you come in.”
   “Renraku, that’s big time stuff,” Cobalt said, peeking over his comm.
   “Yeah, maybe 10 years ago!” The pair laughed, hers soft and tinkling, his a harsh bark.
   “I’m sorry, who was it you said you worked for again?” Missing No. asked, concern clouding his face.
   “Charisma Associates.” He paled, sinking into his suit. Suddenly, he didn’t look so eager.
   “What’s the comp look like?” CB leaned forward, setting his comm down.
   “40k and any resources you might require to get the job done.”
   “What kind of resources we talking?”
   “Personnel, equipment, yadda yadda yadda,” she waved her hand casually.
   “W-well, if we don’t use the assets, we'll take more pay...” Missing No. stammered. Janet fixed him with an icy stare, dropping her perky attitude.
   “Well then this is where we part ways. Jack point is blowing up, so maybe we can find someone willing to play ball and finish things.”
   “Don’t listen to the breeder, we’ll do it.” Finn said and Harry chuckled right along.
   “Wonderful.” And just like that, she was back to being bubbly and effusive. “Well, if you couldn’t tell, we like to take a different approach. Take these comms, and use them. We’re here if you have questions or need help, but if you don’t let us know, we can’t help. And believe me, we want to help!” The woman beamed as she handed burner comms out to the group
   “So, we’re agreed?” Harry asked, slapping his palm on the table. “Hah! You’ve done it again, Janet! Another round, to celebrate!”
   They took the muffling box off the table, and waved the waitress over. New drinks in hand, they tried to strike up some small talk with the runners. No one bit; even Missing No. had clammed up. So they said their good byes and bolted out into the rain.
   The door had barely closed by the time Cobalt had the comm out on the table. A cigarette dangled from his lip as he broke the device down, scattering its components across the table as he looked over each part for bugs and trackers.
   “By the way, we haven’t officially met. I’m Missing No.” CB didn’t notice the hand stretched out to him, or didn’t care.
   “Yeah, Cobalt Blue.” He put the comm back together and turned it back on. After a few more minutes he looked up at the other two. “What was that name,  Harrison Sinclair?”
   Finn had nothing to do except drink and return the dirty looks the bouncer and patrons shot them, while the pair searched the matrix for anything they could on Harrison Sinclair. They checked it all, from search engines to public record to social media.
   “Guys a ghost. All he's got on his mefeed is the minimum to sign up,” CB said, sitting back in his chair resignedly. They were alone in the sea of tables, the few patrons that had braved the cold, rainy night steering clear of the odd group of runners.
   “Maybe he doesn’t exist,” Missing No. suggested.
   “Maybe. It would prove their honeypot theory.” He waved his hand in the air, sifting through augmented reality files that Finn couldn’t see. Ah-ha. Here we go.”
   Finn waiting, tipping the last of his whiskey back. “Mind filling me in? Or do you want to leave me with my thumb up my hoop all night.”
   “You need to work on your patience, hornhead. I searched the Renraku database for their affiliates. If we can get on site and gain direct access to their system, we could find information on our mark.” CB paused before continuing. “I got three sites in Seattle. Festival Foods, Iris Firmware, and Amada Personnel. It’s just a matter of figuring out which ones the safest.”
   “Or the most lucrative,” Finn said.
   “Nuyen isn’t worth drek if we’re not around to spend it.” CB’s faraway look disappeared, turning away from AR and looking directly at Finn.
   “I just think we should get the most bang for our buck, that’s all.”
   “I’m just worried it’s more about the bang and less about the buck for you.”
   “Frag you, breeder,” he said, slamming his fist on the table. People looked over nervously, and the bouncer stared at them. Finn lowered his voice. “If this is about the first job, someone needed to make things happen.”
   “What happened last time?” Missing No. asked, looking nervous too.
   “We did our job.” Finn sat back, glaring across the table.
   “Torching half the impound lot in the process,” the decker added. Missing No. looked at the pair of them and started laughing.
   “You’re the clowns that did that? That was all over the news!” He laughed some more.
   “Watch it,” Finn growled, and CB joined him in glaring at the rigger, choking on his mirth.
   “This is getting us nowhere. I found job postings for a semiconductor engineer at Iris Firmware, and for general laborers for Festival Foods. We can get into the warehouse, but I don’t think we’ll be able to fake it as an engineer.”
   “Actually, uhm, I could get it. The engineer job I mean. But there’s no way they wouldn’t recognize me.”
   “Well, just get in the door and take a look around. Fake IBS or some drek and bail,” Finn said, shrugging.
   “Paydata comes in all different forms, big guy. I think Festival Foods is our best shot,” CB said.
   “Let’s at least check out both,” Finn said, exasperated.
   “Fine, sure, why not.  Let’s just meet up tomorrow morning and just spend all day driving around the city.”


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« Reply #6 on: <10-03-15/1501:41> »
Jan 4th 2075
9:00 A.M.
   “C’mon! Gogogo!” Blitz burst through the doors. For a kid, he was fast. And smelled terrible too. “Man, you owe me! Like, really owe me! Kids are going to be riding me for weeks after that. Just when I was getting some cred too!”
   “How’d you get out?” Finn paced himself beside the young orc as they raced through the tunnels of the underground, away from the school in the basement of an old department store.
   “I… had an accident.”
   “Funny, I was just telling someone to do something like that.”
   “Yeah, well you know why they said no? Because you have to shit your pants!” Finn didn’t ask why he didn't fake it. He didn’t think people would want that kind of proof.
   They gained the surface, and Finn helped Blitz him onto his Yamaha Growler, directing him to a garage in the barrens. Finn followed Blitz in, waiting in the doorway while Roxy finished her conversation with some orc gear heads. Cars and trucks were up on lifts, parts spewing to the ground as they were fixed or modified. Others were spaced around the empty floor space, either ready to go or ready to start work. Finn couldn’t tell which.
   “Back so soon?” Finn looked at Roxy as she walked over.
   “Yeah, well I looked into Gypsum. It turns out it’s some Renraku project run by a man named Harrison Sinclair. To get more info my decker says we should hack an affiliate’s system.”
   “I was wondering if you knew anything about Iris Firmware or Festival Foods.”
   “Iris Firmware, no,” She paused, looking at him thoughtfully. “Festival Foods, however, is a food distribution warehouse in the barrens. Over the years the company has been involved in several orcish labor disputes. Poor working conditions, long hours, minimal to no breaks, all for substandard pay.”
   “Huh. Maybe that should be the target after all.”
   “Well, Mr. Vengeance, that’s your decision and I don’t need to know anything else.”
   “Thanks Roxy.” Finn turned to leave. “Come on Blitz, I’ll give you a ride.” The pair left the garage, heading back to the dirt bike.
   “Can you actually bring me back to my house? I need to change,” Blitz asked.
   “Sure. And let me know how I can pay you back.”
   “Get me a smart gun!” Finn stopped to stare at the young orc. “Look man, I’m not a big troll, I don’t have magic, nothing. I’m just some nerd from math club.”
   “I’ll see what I can do.”

6:00 P.M.
   In the end the others listened to him, driving out to Bellevue to look into Iris Firmware. More bunker than building, security crawled over the grounds with drones flying overhead like guardian angels. A magic ward covered everything else, and even Finn had to admit it was bad news. So they drove back to Finn’s apartment, sketching out a rough plan to get them into Festival Foods. Given it’s history, Finn wasn’t too disappointed.
   That was until he found himself standing outside the warehouse for the second time that day, this time waiting for the second, twelve hour shift to start. It was all very reminiscent of old times.
   “Hey chummer,” he leaned forward to the orc in front of him. “How much would you make tonight?”
   “Uh, ‘bout 65 nuyen,” he responded without turning around.
   “How about I pay you a hundred instead, and you step out of line?” He turned to look at Finn who held the cred stick out.
   The orc took snatched it out of his hands. He didn’t go home though, not when hard times were  etched across his gaunt face. Instead, he walked across the street to stand in line at another warehouse.  He repeated the process with another orc, the anger at the unfairness welling in him, until he stood at the front of the crowd. He glanced behind him at Cobalt Blue, one of the few humans in line, who was fixated on his comm as usual.
   “Hey, look who it is, it’s Stretch.” The manager from his first visit was just finishing his shift. Just like old fragging times.
   “You talking to me?” He’d refused Finn work earlier in the day, when he was trying to scout the place. At the time, he settled for dropping Missing No.’s marble sized drone instead. That wouldn’t work here, though.
   “Yeah.  Didn’t I say to come back next week?”
   “Frag you, I don’t need a job next week, I need a job today.” The shift manager stopped dead.
   “No, you know what? Hey Carl!” He called to a balding, middle aged human inside. “It doesn’t look like you need a job at all.”
   The man looked up, and started towards the door. He stopped short, pulling his comm from his pocket, and ran in the opposite direction. Finn saw the device smoking in his hand.
   “I don’t have time for this.” He turned back around, and stormed to his car. “I'll sort you out in the morning!”
   “Saved your hoop again,” CB whispered without looking up. “Come back and fry him on your own time.”
   Finn fought to reign in his anger before the shift manager came back.
   “Damndest thing. Never had a comm fry like that.” He checked a clipboard he was carrying, and then looked up at Finn. “Well then, big  guy like could probably do the job of two! You ready to work?”
   “Absolutely.” The manager led him to the loading dock on the other side of the warehouse, and ran through the job. Unload one truck, load the other. Over, and over. “You got it? Same process, different directions. If there's problems, talk to your supervisor.”
   He worked, the menial, thankless task of breaking down a pallet loaded with boxes before pulling out one of the lynchpins he'd crafted earlier in his apartment, imbuing the piece of dowel with magic. He dropped it, watching it roll under a row of shelves before walking away to place the other.
   “Woah, hey, you forget where you are? Get back to work!” It was Carl again.
   “I just need the bathroom real quick,” Finn said, looking around for a place to drop the lynch pin. He was still too close, so kept walking.
   “You just got here and you’re already taking a break?”
   “No, I just need a bathroom,” he said trying to put some distance between them. “I've got IBS.”
   “Yeah?” He asked. “Well prove it.” Finn stopped and looked at him. Really? He dropped the next lynchpin before turning around. It’d have to do.
   “That's what I thought. I think it’s time to go. You’re all the same, aren't you? Lazy, bad attitudes...”
   “Come on, just give me a chance. I just needed the bathroom.” He grit his teeth, walking to the door where CB still played on his comm. He looked back into the warehouse, at the pair of lynch pins tucked away. “I’ll even take less money. I just want you to give me a job!”

        There was no flash. There was no explosion.
   The only bang was a forklift taking a corner too quickly, boxes toppling from the pallet and burying a worker beneath them.
   It looks like horn head pulled it off after all, he thought. Workers and managers milled in confusion, as he ran for the staircase to the manager’s office. He wasn’t sure how long the spells would last, but the quicker he was done the better. He took the stairs two at a time until he stood outside the manager's office.
   He went in hot to open the door, and paid the price. A mark in the shape of an ice cream cone appeared on his deck.
   “You going to do something, or should I open it?” Benzine had appeared next to him, looking over the confusion on the floor below. CB felt heat as a small ball of fire raced towards some boxes.
   “Nah, I want to be able to close it again.”
   He cleared the marks and tried again, and the locks gave. Shouts from unaffected laborers drifted up towards them, trying to organize and put out the flames.
   The office changed around him as he left the chaos behind for AR, the corporate files appearing as a buffet. Mashed potatoes, wings, ribs; a veritable feast of data in the form of classic UCAS dishes. He gave it all a cursory glance.
   Nice try, but the personnel files are with the soft serve. He walked over to the desserts, looking at the confections before him. He picked up the bowl of sprinkles and tossed them in the air, scanning them as they rained down. Each one was a different file, and he ran a search through until he found him.
   Harrison Sinclair, supervisor at Amada Personnel.
   Human, 34 years old. He found a mugshot for a company id, and both a home and work address. That’s funny, don't remember seeing that address with any other affiliates.
   Still, no personal comm code, just one for work.
   Well, I hope he doesn't mind uninvited guests.
   He transferred the data, cleaned up the security feeds, and DC’ed.
   “We’re good!” he shouted to Finn, sprinting down the stairs and out the door. He could feel the troll lumbering behind him, shaking the staircase as he followed. They pushed through the dazed workers and bolted outside.
   The day laborers crowded the open bay doors, watching the workers try and fight the fire. The whispered, some looking eager, hoping there’d be work for them after all. Some of Missing No.’s drones whirred past, like rats from a sinking ship. Benzine jumped on his dirt bike and took off. Once his drones were all accounted for, Missing No. did the same in his Americar.
   “Did he really have to start a fire?” Missing No. complained. “They'll be suspicious now.”
   “Who knows?” CB shrugged, sticking a cigarette in his mouth. With how the employees were acting and the surveillance missing, he wasn’t sure it mattered. “You hungry? I could really go for some ice cream.”