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Xahn Borealis
Shadowrun: Nothing Better

Something's not right. Something's not been right for a while now.
My life doesn't feel real.
I think I need a chip. They say you can never just try one.

Two weeks ago, I was real. I was just another 'runner. Mr Johnson had us recover some stolen property of his. I don't know if he expected us to believe that. I know I didn't. It was some old disc from the 40's. Contained some paydata, something to do with music. We found someone who'd heard about it, the 'thief' tried to contact him and sell it on. 'Course, he never knew we found out about him. We just crashed his party and grabbed his 'link. That led us to this dwarf hacker chick, name of Zipper. Face lured her out of the bar she was hanging in while Slip was drooling at the little robots, by grabbing her 'link and taking off, believe it or not. It actually worked too! Just a snatch and grab while she was staring at some ARO the chick she was sat with was showing her. She followed Face and tried to pull a taser but Bloom mojo'd it away from her. Then I stepped in to do my thing. They called me Smack, cos I had a helluva good one. But Face had told me how people show what they're thinking and feeling, called it 'body language'. This meant nothing to me, til I figured I could see how scared someone was. And once I knew that, I could make 'em even more scared.

You probably thinking cos I'm a troll, I'm just a big mean fragger who don't like no one. Well, I ain't. I can be nice too. So I offered this chick, all nice like, an opportunity to save on facial reconstruction surgery. All she had to do was tell us about that disc and who had it. Some slot called Kerwin Loomis. Bloom mojo'd her again to take some mojo drug that knocked her out and erased her memories. "Lees" or something. We found Loomis in this dive called the 'Cda', even though the dwarf chica said it was the 'Coda'. Slitch thinks I can't read or something? He was already running away while some gangers decided they needed a Smackdown. Heh. After they was in bits, we found Loomis and his disc in the junkyard next door. Then all hell broke loose.

First thing I heard was bullets pinging off Case's metal head as these armed goons charged us, shooting like crazy. Case's long coat billowed around him as he ran to the guy with the matching coat, his hydraulic legs working and his spurs jumping out of his shiny chrome arms, like they were eager to start slicing and dicing. Slipstream pulled her shotgun off her back and tagged one of the boys firing wildly at everything but her. I don't blame 'em. She mostly went around in this form-fitting thing with fancy lights that left nothing to the imagination. Very distracting. Heh heh. She was always on task for... 'personal' persuasion, even though Face could convince you he was your long lost grandma, and look like it too. He was pulling his big shiny expensive gun that looked like it belonged in an art gallery and telling it to do nasty things to people. Literally. He actually said, "Do nasty things to those men, would you, Silver?" "It would be my pleasure, darling," it said back between shots. The ork with the fake ganger jacket said something in mojo then, but nothing happened. He let out a grunt from the effort while Bloom cackled. No, really, she cackled. Then she waved her arms at him and something exploded which sent him flying at a pile of junk. He must have flew about 20 metres before he hit that thing, and he didn't get up, either. I jumped down behind a stack of old cars and unslung Poppy from my back to the sound of bullets whizzing nearby and thudding into the ground. Those guys with the Manhunters couldn't hit a juggernaut if it sat on their face, I tell you. They were still going, though. They must have had some good cyber, cos they kept popping up out of cover and ducking down like whack-a-mole on cram. I held Poppy at the waist and fired into the car they were hiding behind. The light anti-tank round got as far as the engine block before one of the prettiest explosions I ever saw ate the lot of them in one big gulp and spat out bits of car and little human giblets. The ghouls'd be eating well tonight, if they didn't mind their meal a little singed. The only guy left was the one with the AK, or what looked like two toy AKs, as Case had sliced it in half with his cyberspurs. The guy went for his sidearm as Case pulled his spurs back in, twirled, extended his cyberguns, and fired at his shoulders. The poor slot's arms were blown clean off as the Ex-Ex rounds destroyed his joints. He'd have passed out from the pain if Bloom hadn't mojo'd him into telling us who sent him. As he bled out into the filthy ground, he spilled his guts, along with enough blood to fill half a dozen vamps and still have enough to write your name in the snow. He worked for some corp called Shangri-La Productions. They were in the music biz, according to Slip. Unfortunately, all he knew was that Loomis had the disc, and his team was sent to get it. All this he said with a grin as his life spilled out of his sides. Gotta give Bloom credit, she was serious about this whole 'witch' thing, she had him giggling like a kid throughout. The last thing he said was, "We were to bring the disc back to Mr. Tarkasian...." before he let out one of the creepiest chuckles I ever heard. You could actually hear his lungs shuddering as they were starved of fresh blood from his heart. Finally, he collapsed, nothing left in him. Case took the disc from Loomis' body and slotted it into his metal chest's smuggling compartment for safekeeping. Loomis was just unconscious, according to Bloom. I could tell she was assensing him, because her eyes had turned that creepy all-white they did. She hadn't turned away from the man she cast her mind-control spell on, though. She gave a shudder and her eyes regained their normal colour. She must've watched his life leave his body from the astral plane. I wonder what people look like on the astral when they die?


After Bloom cleaned up any traces we left with a spell that muddied the astral waters and an earth spirit to bury the bodies, we decided it was worth finding out what exactly was so important about this disc before going back to Johnson. I thought that was pretty dumb, but Slip had suggested it, and I knew she had a good head on her shoulders. Plus, I didn't want to piss her off, as she always turned a blind eye when I was staring too much and I didn't want that to change. She had to wave her hands in front of my face just to get me to pay attention to what she was saying.
"Clearly, Smack, there's more than just some misplaced music files here. This is some heavy paydata."
"You scanned it yet?" asked Case, with the tinny quality you get from a throat that consists mostly of metal.
"I don't even have anything that could read this thing, it looks older than I am."
"Maybe our good friend Zipper can help us out?" suggested Face with a grin.
"I doubt we can get her to cooperate again, Bloom's still sleeping off the drain from the fight."
I checked in on her as she snored on the futon, while a BusyBuddy cleaning drone covered in leaves turned and watched me. She'd said something about having a spirit watch over her while she slept, and I swear the thing smiled at me with a grin made of bark as it asked, "I wake the mistress?" in a voice that somehow sounded like rustling leaves and trees creaking in the wind. "Er, no thanks." It gestured at her with one of it's manipulator arms and said, "Then I watch while she sleeps." It seemed to be very happy at this as it turned back to her and stared at her unconscious form. I'll never understand magic, especially spirits. Whenever I ask anyone in the know, I always come away with the same impression: Spirits are weird. When I got back to the others, they'd apparently decided we'd go back to the hacker bar where we picked up the dwarf, Zipper. Slip thought she'd seen some old optical disc players while she was there. Again, I wasn't about to argue with those curves, er, whatever she said, but there was still a problem. "Face, won't they recognise you from before? I don't think they'll be too happy about you snatching their girl's 'link and leaving her unconscious by the door." He gave me a grin like I was the funniest thing he'd ever seen and said, "Smack, have you forgotten why they call me Face?" Oh, drek. Not this again.

I saw a lot of nasty drek growing up in Redmond. If it weren't for that and my big troll ass, I like to think I could've been an entertainer. But I got used to seeing death and blood and monsters on the street. I never got used to seeing what Face could do, though. He'd told me he got some weird bioware, something called a 'false front' with a 'chemical gland'. Just nice words for 'freaky transforming face'. He screwed up his face into a grimace until something under his flesh got squeezed just right and then I saw the grossest thing I've ever known, and not for the first time. His face swelled up like someone pumped up a water balloon, then his features pulsed like they were drinking it in. As I struggled to keep my lunch where it was, the man they called Face transformed into a complete stranger. His eyes were the same colour and when he grinned at us again, the same white teeth sparkled, but other than that, I couldn't have told him apart from Joe Chummer. "You know, Face, most normal people just use a simple latex mask," said Slip, now a little paler than before. Face just smiled at us, with those vat-grown facial muscles and perfect teeth.

I'd left Poppy behind in my van, but I kept my AZ-150 stunbaton in hand as I watched Face and Slip stagger towards the Cathode Glow like two drunk corpers in each others arms. Face surprisingly kept his arm 'round her shoulders and didn't even try to cop a feel. Some guys are just weird. I suppose with his sharp elven features and expensive clothes he could have any girl he wanted. For some reason, I felt relieved he didn't want her, as if I had a chance. Still, they played the 'drunk couple looking for danger' act for all it was worth, giggling at some unspoken joke, like they couldn't keep a straight face. At the same time, I could see Slip was checking out all the hardware, looking for something compatible with the disc. She spotted it and tagged it with an ARO over the feed me and Case were watching, and started begging Face, "Please, darling, I want it, it's so shiny!" giggling all the time. She was a good actress when she wanted to be. I could almost believe they were really enjoying this rare chance to be immature and do whatever they wanted, before going back to Corpland and being all straight and narrow again. Face said, faux-reluctantly, "Oh, all right, then, darling. How much, my good sir?" Even without Slip's AR feed, I could picture the grin he was unleashing on the bartender. Poor slot never saw it coming. Face was more than just a bioware gimmick and a fancy gun. He could talk down a bug spirit and have it lick SuperRaid-X off his shoes, and in five different languages, too. He was a much better actor than Slipstream, but then she was something special in the Matrix. Between the two of them, they could tear that place down and never have to fire a shot. Face got the disc player for 125¥. Slip tagged several little pieces of tech that would help her interface the disc player to a modern commlink, and Face managed to get them thrown in with the disc player. Slip sent an ARO to Face at that point, [Starting to draw attention, time to leave,] so he bought a round for the bar and looked at his watch. He gasped, "Darling, the match! It's starting soon!" Slip didn't bat an eyelid, not that she had any, and replied with a fake slur, "Well, let's go! 'To the Sky-crawler, Magi-co-Man'!"

Even though I knew who they were really were, I was starting to hate this fake corp couple even more. Poking their noses where they're not wanted, assuming everything's for sale, and quoting stupid trid shows like they're original and funny. Damn, they got me good. Especially when I knew full well that Slip wasn't so much as tipsy. She could drink ME under the table, and then some. She had some bioware too. One of these days, I'm gonna get me some of that. Not til I really need to, though. I've always prided myself on never having no augmenting ware or mojo in me. Not even combat drugs. Just pure 100%, all natural troll muscle, with only a small amount of headware for business. I work hard to keep my edge, not like these 'street samurai' paying top nuyen for the SOTA, thinking "game over, I win," like they don't need to put the effort in. I don't hold it against Case, 'cos he never had no choice. I'm distracted from my thoughts as Face and Slip left the bar, not even bothering to play drunk any more. Those hacker slots in there won't ever find out they've been played for a while. No shame in that, it's like saying you got pounded by a dragon. When you're beaten by the best, you don't get mad. You give credit where it's due, and try to learn something. Otherwise, you may as well go get brainfried.

Back at Bloom's apartment, Slip displayed the contents of the disc for us, using the knick-knacks she'd got at the Glow to stream it in AR. She herself was in VR, her electric icon flitting around as she worked on the encryption. Bloom brewed herbal tea, thankfully not in her cauldron or test tube like all her other concoctions. Me and Case drank soykaf, hot from the dispenser. Bloom had a nice place, considering it was right in the middle of gang territory and all the appliances ran off stolen solar cells on the roof, which, this being Seattle, were currently useless. The wind generators were running fine, and Slip had rigged an small fossil fuel generator in the basement, just in case. The only reason the place wasn't covered in gang 'fiti was the "special arrangement" she had with the gang boss. She never told us what was going on there, but with all the chemistry stuff around the place, it didn't take Lofwyr to guess she was supplying them with drugs. Not a bad side business, especially for someone who only graduated from college six months ago. Finally, the auto-kettle bleeped at the same time Slip announced success. Bloom served her special blend of mojo juice or whatever it was as Slip played us some music tracks. It was all distorted and static-y. "It sounds like an old analog radio that's out of tune," I said. Everyone turned to look at me wide-eyed at that, even Slip's virtual lightning icon. "What? I used to know someone who played with old tech like that." The music was still playing and starting to get on my nerves, along with all the stares, as though it's impossible for a big dumb troll to know anything about anything. "Can you clean that up, Slip?" Face asked aloud and in AR, thankfully saying what I was about to with a few less four-letter words. Slip started fiddling with something I couldn't see in the meat and eventually the tracks started to sound like something that could be called music. I heard the singer, obviously male and also not bad either, singing phrases like, "Keep your death in you, I'm afraid of you," "I'm never coming back, never getting to the end," and "Please give me a life, again, and again, and again..." Sounded like your average Top 40 teen-sucker drek, but I still couldn't help but think it was really well made. It was still a little glitched, though, and it was empty without the sim tracks. Slip's icon faded from the ARea as her meat body sat up on the futon the possessed drone had laid out for her. Her curves were more pronounced now she wasn't sprawled out like a corpse. Unfortunately, she was now able to watch me watching her, especially with those all-around cybereyes she had, with the sensory strip wrapped around her head.

"So this is what Mr. Johnson was after? Some drek-poor quality music?"
"Where's the rest of the song? The emotive tracks?" asked Case.
"I couldn't crack the decryption. It's clever. Comes in two parts," she said as she gestured at an ARO she was displaying, "Crack the first part, you get the song, just so you know what it is. The rest is hidden in part two. Unfortunately, if you decrypt the first part without decrypting the other, it destroys the second part."
"So, we've lost the tracks? What'll we tell Johnson?" asked Bloom.
"Don't worry, I made more than one copy. Besides, there's still the original copy on the disc, right?"
"Yeah, what's up with that? Why's it on that old disc, anyway?" asked Bloom.
"This is probably the original copy of the files, which according to the data attached to these songs makes it over 20 years old..." Slip trailed off.
"I think this is JetBlack. Remember him?"
Face said, "I've heard of him, wasn't he that angsty rocker who killed himself?"
"No, I heard he was wiped by the parents of some girl who topped herself after listening to his music," said Case.
"You're both wrong," I said, "he OD'd on red mesc, everyone knows that."
"Who the fuck are you talking about?" asked Bloom. Clearly that 'calming' tea wasn't doing it's thing.
"Before your time. He was this novahot rocker who disappeared some time in the late 40's. Which makes this disc a collection of several unreleased tracks. Wonder where Loomis got it," supplied Slip.
"Not important," said Case, "We need to decide if this is worth taking to Mr. Johnson or not."
I was about to vote 'Johnson' when Slip spoke up, "I think if we can crack the decryption on the whole thing, we can get the full tracks, with no distortion and the full sim tracks, too. Probably be worth a bonus from Johnson for that."
And with that, everyone's eyes were filled with nuyen signs. And so it was decided. I, obviously, agreed with Slip also.
"Can you crack it, Slip?" asked Bloom.
"No," she said, oblivious to the looks of shock at something our Matrix queen couldn't crack, "whoever put the code together wasn't slacking. It's got some ancient encryption techniques, that much I can tell. If I were to try it now, I could probably get those tracks decrypted by... 2074. That good for anyone? That's also assuming it wasn't in two parts. I'd need to break the lock instantly on both parts and that simply can't be done. We need to find the original decryption key, if it's still around," and promptly collapsed into VR again.
"Ever if it is still around, how do we know whoever's got it will be willing to part with it?" said Face.
"Omae," said Slip's icon, "if you can't get it off them, they deserve to keep it."
"Why, thank you Slipstream," Face said, with one of his million-nuyen smiles.
"So, who's got the key?" asked Bloom, as if one of us had been holding onto it all this time, just waiting for someone to ask. We didn't even know where to start looking for it.
"I know," said Slip's smug lightning bolt avatar, who'd apparently been running a Matrix search in the time it took for Bloom to ask, "Carrion Studios."


We went with the usual plan of having Face and Slip infiltrate in disguise with me and Case, the obvious muscle, hang back in case things go sour. This time, Bloom was conscious and able to go in with them, with the aid of a little nanopaste. Face and Slip were playing the couple looking to get their little girl a record deal, while Face had made up Bloom to look like a 15 year old elf. He even managed to cover up her tasks somehow. The guy was a genius. I could never understand why he was running the shadows, instead of being some big important simstar. For all I knew, he WAS a simstar, fallen from grace. Maybe he was still recording and we were all unwitting performers in a blockbuster sim. Either way, it was all unnecessary, as this wasn't Carrion Studios. They'd went under in the 50's. This place, 'Healey Productions', had taken up place in it's crumbling corpse. Luckily for us, the janitor was an old employee of Carrion who'd stayed on when the studio started to go downhill, name of Stanley. He let us poke around in Carrion's old hard-copy records and gave us the name of the head engineer who helped JetBlack crank out his megahits: Delphia. After Face had done some legwork with his people, probably Gary Cline himself for all I knew, we found Delphia was still around in Seattle, dealing dreamchips to feed her own habit. Damn shame, cos according to Stanley, she had the hot touch. It's a slippery slope that only leads down when you get involved in those things. They say you can never 'just try one'. We'd tracked her down through Bloom's ganger contacts to a place in Redmond. Barrens meant no cops, so I brought Poppy along. Never knew when 'Mr. Tarkasian' might send some more cannon fodder. The old girl was getting hungry.

We didn't bother with any clever tricks this time, just a straight-forward fake drug deal, the sort of business you can get done in 5 minutes before grabbing some stuffers and calling it a night. Easy money. But Delphia had other plans. She didn't need any of the street drugs Bloom had cooked up, and even turned her nose up at some of the semi-magical ones. I don't know how she resisted, considering she was a chiphead. She was definitely not what I expected. Here was a dark woman with blue dreadlocks and eyes that dared you to try something. Kinda hot, in a 'I'm stronger than you think' sort of way. I couldn't even threaten her into giving up the code. Supposedly, she didn't have it but knew someone who might. Right. I'd swallowed smaller bulldrek from Azzies who 'would never dream of using blood magic.' And I'm sure that bunraku parlour down the street is full of 'perfectly willing' grrls and bois. Whatever. She still had the balls to try and get us to do something for her for nothing. I subvocally asked Slip to try and scan for the code, but she wasn't getting anything from her. We'd managed to find the one chiphead in all of Seattle who knew the slightest thing about wireless data security. She was resistant to Bloom's mojo, too. It seemed the only thing we could do to get the code out of her was to go along with what she wanted. And so, we were on our way to a meet with the Yellow Lotus Triad. I'd always tried to stay away from the syndicates, and the Triads were one of the nastiest. I'd heard that every one of their members had to undergo some sort of magical binding to make sure they never betrayed the Triad. Any time they try and go against them, the magic binding them kills them. Slowly. There's supposed to be no such thing as an ex-Triad member. Face went in alone, as he was the only one who could speak the language. As soon as he was allowed in to see the head guy, they took him through a MAD scanner to check for any weapons or cyberware. And that's when he killed the AR feed. We were blind for 20 minutes and had no idea what was happening in there. All he gave us was a quick comm, [Sorry guys, can't let you see this. Please don't ask me to explain.] I could respect that. Everyone's got a right to secrets. Don't mean I won't try and find out if I get the opportunity. He walked out after a few minutes with a small package tucked under one arm, while his gun chewed him out for leaving it alone without so much as a goodbye. He was silent and looked at us nervously, like he was waiting for our judgement. It didn't suit him. Where was the cocky elf who could shoot a smile at his executioner and be granted a full pardon and an expensive dinner by way of apology? We were about to question him, despite his digital plea, when Slip alerted us to a Lone Star patrol closing in. We managed to make it back to Bloom's place without getting spotted as we decided what to do with the package. I was getting sick of being some chiphead's delivery boy, and voted we just forget Delphia, try and fence whatever's in the package and go to Johnson before we make any real enemies.

"Delphia just thought she could get something for nothing outta us. I think she's bluffing about the code. She obviously don't know no one that's not a chip junkie."
"So what do you propose we do?" asked Case, his shiny metal face gleaming.
"We open up this package, see if it's worth anything, offload it somewhere and get this disc to Johnson, before Shangri-La sends some goons who actually know one end of a gun from the other."
"Hmmmm, it'd definitely be a good idea to check the package, see what it is we're handing over. We could probably get something out of Delphia for it."
"Mercenary is definitely the word to describe you, huh, Case?" quipped Slip.
"Hey, if there's one thing I can use, it's money, right?"
"Don't you mean food?" said Bloom.
Face joined in, "Or electricity?"
"And how do you pay for those?" Case delivered with a chrome grin. I didn't ask how he went to the bathroom. I suspected it had something to do with 'exhaust ports' or something.
"I wish I still had my ultrawideband scanner," I said, "I swear there's some sort of techno-magpie in my apartment. Normally it's just small, cheap hardware components, but it's getting greedy now."
"It'll turn up," Face reassured me, "now, what else can we do? Bloom, can you assense it?"
"Well," she said as her eyes turned white, "it's not warded against magic. Gimme a sec, I'll poke my astral nose in." And with that, she slumped onto the futon. I felt a tingle as what I knew was her astral form passed through my aura. A few seconds later, she returned to her meat body and promptly sat up.
"It's a chip. Too small and square to be anything else. Whatever's on it, I don't want to know. I could pick up a sense of suffering, as well. It creeps me out."
"You could 'pick up' suffering?" Case asked.
"Astral Sight isn't like scanning with radar or sensorsofts. Things like emotions and sensory impressions that people have felt around an object are more apparent than technical info. If you wanna know what's on that chip, you're probably gonna have to slot it. Just leave me out."
"Fine," I said, "I'll slot it." I grabbed the package, tore off the lid, and before anyone could say anything, pushed the innocuous seeming chip into my datajack under my left horn. The last thing I heard was Slip shouting, "Smack, no!" too late for me to stop. My retinal image link told me it was running a sim recording without peak controllers. That much I managed to see before the BTL program overrode my meat senses with it's illegal sim technology. It was then that I died.


For a while, I couldn't perceive time. It was likely only a few nanoseconds, barely enough time for memories to form, but I guess a 'enhanced' sim running through your wetware tends to screw you up a bit, because it seemed like an eternity. Or no time at all. Like I said, screwed up. When I came to, I could immediately tell I was in deep drek. I saw a jail cell that must have been encrusted with filth the day it was built, it was the sort of place you didn't use the phrase 'seen better days'. The best days of this place never happened. I couldn't move a muscle, except my eyes. I guessed a paralysis drug or someone'd mojo'd me. Either way, all I could do was watch as several Aztlaner-looking humans in my same situation were slowly burned to a crisp by a materialised spirit of fire. Every now and then some Aztec priest would come in and slice off some extremity off some poor slot. The worst part was that he would use the blood to fuel a healing spell and grow the thing back. This went on for 2 hours before he plunged a ritual blade into the last man's heart, laughing maniacally without taking a breath. The tortured man screamed in the same way for almost two minutes as his life was slowly drained into the Aztec priest and into a horrible mass of blood that climbed out of the man, still screaming after death. The priest then turned to me, the only one left, with a grin that twisted his blood-spattered face into a grimace that terrified me almost as much as the spirit of blood next to him. He said something in Aztlaner Spanish to the spirit, which displayed a grin a thousand times worse than the one on the priest's face. It escaped the edges of it's face and dripped blood profusely. It opened it's mouth and I heard the same scream of the sacrificed man, still continuing without stopping, intensify. If I could have moved, I would've been climbing the walls to get away from the monster. It's bloody maw stretched half a metre across before it bit down on my legs, up to my knees. I screamed so, so much as my lower legs were ripped away from me, even though they were still there. It was eating my aura! It moved up and ate my lower torso, moving through my whole body, growing larger with every bite. Three hours later, when I was drifting in and out of consciousness from the pain, and I was half blind from the blood dripping out of my eyes, I barely managed to see the spirit look to it's master for permission, who then nodded, before the spirit plunged a claw of bloodied flesh into my heart and pulled it out. I could barely whimper as it chewed on the vital flesh and everything went dark and nothing became real.

After I died, whatever was left of me must have somehow hallucinated I was alive. I remember waking up in a room with the only light coming from a neon sign outside the window. There was an unconscious ork girl next to me on a futon like me. A weird drone with twigs poking out of joints and leaves over it's surface look up at me and said, "You wake. The mistress will know and awake, also." It looked disappointed, somehow, when it said that. A few seconds later, the young ork girl opened her eyes and sat up. She saw me and said, "Smack, you're awake! Are you alright?"
I remember saying, "Who're you? Where am I? How did I -" before I remembered the pain and the emptiness of being consumed by the blood spirit. I remember screaming in a deep, guttural voice that wasn't mine as I scrambled away from her and looked for a door to get out of the Aztlaner jail.
"Whoa, Smack, what's up, omae? You're in my apartment, remember? You slotted that BTL chip-"
"Get away from me! What's happened to my voice? What did you do to me?!"
"What are you talking about? Guys," she said over her commlink, "Smack's awake. He's going crazy, it's like he doesn't know me!"
Meanwhile, I was reliving being slowly ripped apart by a monster made of death, before I was swallowed by a dizzying blackness.

I still remember the dream. I was ambushed in a junkyard by a huge man made of metal, a girl with tusks that had branches sprouting out of her eyes and labcoat sleeves and the two most beautiful people I had ever seen, locked in a loving embrace while the woman with no eyes and a halo around her head flipped me the bird. I screamed at the lovers and they flew apart in an invisible explosion. The plant girl spat acid at the metal man, who, in turn, sliced the girl in half with one of his arms, which was now a blade, dripping with blood. I walked to the corpse of a bald, pudgy human and took the disc from his pocket, only it was now a chip. The plant girl's torso told me it gave her the creeps and I snatched it away from the beautiful elf man who was always laughing at me, laughing at the big stupid trog. I gave him a Smackdown as the beautiful woman with the halo shouted, "Smack, NO!" I ignored her as I ate the heart of the man. A huge mass of flesh and blood climbed out his eyes as his face swelled up, before it turned into the face of the Aztec priest. The priest said to me in the elf's voice, "Sorry, Smack, I can't let you see this," and pulled out my eyes. I was blind, but it was OK, I could see my image link telling me, [It's a chip. Too small and square to be anything else. Whatever's on it, you'll have to slot it.] I did so and I was back in the jail cell where someone was playing rock music, but my eyes kept glitching with static every now and then, along with the music. The woman with the halo was there, facing away from me, but still looking at me. She didn't seem to have a face. "I can see you [bzzt] watching me, you stupid troll. [bzzzt] Why can't you just let us get the code so we can decrypt the files? We can't go [bzt] back to [bzt] Johnson now." The plant girl told her to take the Laés drug in her hands and the woman disappeared. The plant girl said to me, "She won't remember a thing, and neither will you." Her grin escaped the edges of her face and dripped blood profusely. She drove a ritual blade into the heart of a dark woman with blue dreadlocks and dead eyes that dared you to try something. As her chipjack dripped blood, her eyes turned white and she said, "Takes one to know one." The drone with wooden sticks for arms dragged me away from them as it's twig fingers dug into my skinny human arm. Human? I reached up for my horns and felt the chip in my datajack and pulled it out. The jail cell disappeared with a flicker of static and revealed a small apartment with chemistry equipment, lit by a neon light outside the window. The plant-like drone watched over the corpse of the ork girl and said, "Watch the mistress. Do not wake." It pulled a beautiful silver-plated gun and said to it, "Say hello to mistress, Silver one." It replied, "My pleasure, darling," and fired an anti-tank assault cannon round into the ork girl. The wonderfully pretty explosion lit up the room and the noise-

-woke me with a start. I was in Bloom's apartment, alone. There was no blood on the walls, and the plant-drone was nowhere to be seen. I quickly checked my head. Big, horns, troll-sized, empty datajack. Good. I wasn't stuck in a BTL-induced nightmare. Several facts were obvious to me: I had run a BTL without peak controllers and it had hit me hard. It was a recording of some Aztlaner torture session, featuring some poor human who had been fed to a blood spirit. The strength of the sim signals had convinced me into thinking I was him. And it was 10 days later. Someone had hooked me up to an IV as a battered-and-patched-up autodoc drone tended to me. My image link was blinking the time and date. I toggled it off and tried to access my commlink. My PAN was down. Great. I pulled the IV and asked the autodoc where the others were. It was unlikely to know what I was talking about, but worth a try.
"Please remain still. You are malnourished and dehydrated."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll grab a soykaf in a minute. Now, where is your owner?"
"User: Slipstream is unsubscribed. I have been stolen and now belong to Slipstream."
That sounded like Slip's handiwork. She always liked the hacked dogbrains to know their place. I noticed someone had brought some of my stuff from my place. Just as well. If the security was that easy to get through, I didn't think I'd be living there much longer. I'd have to find some other place with space for my auto-workshop. I got to my feet and stumbled for a second. I shook my legs to get the blood flowing again. I made it to the fridge and grabbed some micro stuffers, nuking them for a few seconds and ignoring the usual AR warning about leaving them to cook as the quick-heat agents activated. I inhaled a dwarf's weight in badly-cooked and even worse tasting 'food' in about five minutes. I then answered an even more important call in Bloom's frankly ill-equipped bathroom and looked around for the household cyberterminal. I jacked in and went VR, making sure to toggle my sim module to 'cold'. I'd had enough hot sim to last an elf's lifetime. I found my commcode in the contact list and reached my MSP's voicemail service. I disconnected before my recorded voice had said as much as, "You've reached-" and tried Bloom's comm. She sounded surprised to be receiving a call from her own dataterm.
"Hello? Who's this?"
"Hey, Bloom, it's me. Really me."
"Smack? You're alright? Shit, you had me scared, you know. All of us."
"Yeah, I'm alright. I demolished the contents of your fridge, and blocked your toilet, though."
She laughed, "That's fine, I'll call someone. Listen, we finished the job without you, you know. We just didn't know what to do. Face called a street doc who took one look at you and said, 'Brainfried'."
"I guess Johnson didn't see the need to pay a comatose runner, though, right?"
"Yeah, sorry."
"It's fine. What happened with Delphia?"
"She was not happy you slotted her chip. That was a master copy, the sort dealers buy and copy out to their customers."
"It was pretty intense, too. I'm gonna get the peak controllers reinstalled in my sim module implant. I've been feeling tweaked this whole time, too. I think I'm craving more."
"Chip truth, omae." I chuckled, weakly, despite my virtual state.
She let out a small chuckle at the bad joke. "You sure you're alright? Not gonna do anything stupid?"
'Stupid'? Oh yeah, I'm just a big stupid troll? My vision glitched like a weak signal feed, even though I was connected via hardline to the Matrix.
"Smack? You there?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. I need a drink."
She laughed again, the sadness gone from her voice. "That's more like the Smack I know. I'll get the others together, we'll hit Infinity again, yeah?"
"You're still underage, you know?"
"Whatever do you mean, Officer? My SIN says, right here, 21 years old."
"Yeah, and I'm fragging Nadja Daviar."
"Oh, you haven't heard? She announced just the other day, she's got a thing for trolls with a big mouth," she said with a giggle, nothing like the cackling witch she played on the run.
"Hey, don't get cute, kid. Just cos I've been out of the loop for a while. That reminds me. I gotta check the feeds."
"Oh, you haven't missed much. Nothing about the job, definitely."
"No? What did Johnson want the tracks for, then?"
"No idea. You missed a bit of action, too. Some third party who apparently "represented JetBlack's interests" found out we had the disc and offered us twice what Johnson was paying, and five K to stay silent."
"You didn't take it, did you?"
"Case wanted to, but I checked out this chick on the astral. She was masking, but I managed to peep her real aura. Get this: she was a vampire!"
"Whoa. Say no more. Save it for tonight."
"See you then, Smack. It's good to hear your voice. We thought you were ghoul chow."
"Yeah, me too, Bloom. Thanks for taking care of me, and thank the others, too."
"Null sheen, chum," she said, and disconnected. I jacked out and blinked as my vision did that glitchy static thing again. I saw my index finger on my left hand twitch at the same time. Huh. So that's why they twitch. 'They'. Looks like I'm one of 'them' now.
A beetlehead. Drek. Hopefully I can kick the habit before it gets bad. Who ever heard of a rigger who couldn't handle hot sim? Wait. I'd heard Turbo Bunny had managed to kick the chips recently. I'll drop her a line, see if she's got some advice.


That was some action I'd missed. A three-way fight, the likes of which the Urban Brawl commissioners would probably think was intense. Not to mention all the mojo slinging going on. Credit to my team, though, they saw it coming. Bloom rigged up some improvised explosives and magicked them at the grunts while Slip had pulled a ballistic shield from somewhere and took the Shangri-La shadowrunners' drones for her own nefarious purposes. Namely: gunning them down with their own Dobermans. While this was going on, she'd been busy with her shotgun, finishing off whoever hadn't been wiped by the armour-piercing shotgun rounds with her silenced pistol. Case had shown me a first-person recording of his gunplay. It was impressive. His martial arts moves were seamlessly blended with gunshots. He took down 8 flunkies in 5 seconds, 5 of them with his cyberspurs. It was the sort of thing you saw from people with wired reflexes. Face held his own as well, despite being the least combat-capable of all us. Not to put him down, but when you've got a walking tank who carries more bullets than most gangers will ever fire, it's tough to compete. Nevertheless, he kicked hoop. Silver, his personalised and intricately decorated pistol, did some of the heavy lifting, one of the advantages to having a dedicated dogbrain, while he used a concealed dartgun loaded with snake poison. Nasty. Didn't know he had that. Bloom was the talk of the team, however. She normally refused to let the spirits she summoned possess her, but as she was calling the spirits to possess the ambushing team that was working with the vampire, Risa, she realised we needed an edge to win the thing. So she called a beast spirit to possess her. I saw some of the footage that Slip and Case had recorded. It was awesome. There's no other word to describe it. This unassuming teenager before me had leapt several feet into the air at speeds you normally needed new muscles for, and tore someone's head off. And he was a dwarf with titanium laced bones, too. The part when she caught some Amerindian's arrow and stabbed him with it was fun. Now I was really regretting being temporarily braindead. Not that I'd enjoyed the experience. I filled them in on the dream I'd had, leaving out the parts that would drive a psychoanalyst crazy, or at least win him a Nobel prize. I left out the bits when I attacked them, too. People tend to react negatively when you tell them you've been dreaming of shooting them with assault cannons. They had a bigger reaction when I described the sim I'd barely lived through. Apparently, I'd nearly had a heart attack. It was only the natural hardiness I had as a troll that saved me. Seems like I owe my dad my life, now. If only I hadn't killed the scumbag. I didn't mention this small tidbit to the team, of course. We were here to forget our troubles and celebrate surviving another month in the shadows.

Johnson had thrown in a little bonus for not double-crossing him, which everyone agreed I deserved. Damn. Maybe I should pop brainbenders on runs more often. Equally split, we'd walked away with 4,500¥ each. Unfortunately, we'd managed to piss off Delphia by fencing her chip (which, incidentally, went for 7500¥), as well as "JetBlack's interests" by not instantly acquiescing to the first people to wave a credstick in front of our eyes. Don't they know how a professional is supposed to behave? Whatever. By then, we were getting close to the front of the queue to get into Infinity. Case was wearing nanopaste over his cyber and Face hand-waved me and Bloom into the club. I swear the guy had some mojo in him. Once inside, we snagged a booth with a great view of the stage. There was a JetBlack tribute act playing. We all looked at each other with a knowing grin. I spotted Mr. Johnson, otherwise known as Darius St. George, on the upper level balcony. I raised my glass to him with a wink. He smiled back and nodded, before he stepped backwards into a meeting room, the word 'Violet' floating in AR above the doorway as a small group of what were clearly shadowrunners followed him in. I didn't mention this to the others. Face had returned from the bathroom, wiping blood from his nose while his eyes seemed a little out of focus. He'd snorted his pixie dust again. Like he needed the 'improvement' to his personality. If he didn't get laid tonight, I'd be surprised. None of us minded his drug-taking, there was likely harder stuff being dealt tonight. Like BTLs. My vision flickered and my cheek twitched. Damn it. Not now. I tried to join in with the others as we forgot our troubles and drank away our worries and danced our hearts out.

While every second my life felt a little less real. I guess I need to find something better.

To be continued, chummers!
I like it. I like it a lot.
Good enough I read all of it instead of sleeping spin.gif . You seem to flux in and out of character in the beginning but by the second half you hit your grove. You also seemed to try a bit to hard to reference the official terms for things but when you just let it flow it felt very natural.
Tymeaus Jalynsfein
Awesome... I like it... Keep it going...
If this was Facebook, I'd be clicking the "Like" button now. Can't wait to see more of your work.

On a side note, is the story in some way related to an official adventure? I recently played a game where we were supposed to acquire a CD with Jet Black music. Sadly, we never finished that game.
Yeah it's based on a real adventure, On the Run I think.

Nice work I enjoyed it.
Yup, looks like it's based off "On the Run".

Very well done! When's the next installment?
Xahn Borealis
Loving the reactions here, thanks! It is based on On The Run, originally meant to be the last story Smack tells as Risa interrogates him, which is why the narrative is all wierd at the start. However, he was too much fun to introduce and just kill off, so I saved his life. (Does that make he his dad, the one he killed? eek.gif)

I'm working on the next part, Chip Truth Part 1 now. It's looking fairly open-ended so it may be weeks or days before it's finished. Maybe if there's enough demand, I can post a snippet? (Hint, hint. cool.gif)
Tymeaus Jalynsfein
QUOTE (Xahn Borealis @ Mar 20 2011, 03:23 PM) *
Loving the reactions here, thanks! It is based on On The Run, originally meant to be the last story Smack tells as Risa interrogates him, which is why the narrative is all wierd at the start. However, he was too much fun to introduce and just kill off, so I saved his life. (Does that make he his dad, the one he killed? eek.gif)

I'm working on the next part, Chip Truth Part 1 now. It's looking fairly open-ended so it may be weeks or days before it's finished. Maybe if there's enough demand, I can post a snippet? (Hint, hint. cool.gif)

Consider it Demanded... smile.gif
Xahn Borealis
Since you asked nicely...

The elf twitched as the Matrix program she craved disappeared and gave a start as the signal was interrupted. Then she screamed and clutched her head as the dumpshock hit her. Bloom took that moment to strike her nose with the grip of the pistol as hard as she could. The elf gave a choked yelp as the bridge of her nose caved under the sudden assault.
"What's the matter, bitch? Did I hurt you? Are you going to scream for me?"
"How-how did you get out?"
"Between you and me, I'm kinda magical. Now tell me, should I blow your brains out now, or burn the skin off your bones first?" Bloom gave her best angry scowl, which, due to her blood-stained tusks and the gun pressed into the elf's skull, was very effective, despite her age.

Bloom can do badass, too. smokin.gif

Incidentally, all the Warm Bodies, as they are known, where built with standard 400BP before I started writing Nothing Better, apart from Smack. I threw them in when I needed a team for Smack to work with. I can post them too if you like.
Raven the Trickster
12 Pages... ok, that needs a printout. God I can't wait to get an iPad. Comments will be posted after I actually get a chance to read this, but ahead of time I will say that it's nice to see some new fan fiction in the SR4 time frame.
Now that was a sweet piece of art! I feel like a bloody amateur again.


Oh, wait, I am.
Raven the Trickster
Ok, read it now.

Overall very well written. I haven't actually played the On the Run mission that this is apparently based on, but it does make for a good plotline. The pov of the main character was good and consistent, and the characters involved were well described. Some of the handles weren't all that original, but that happens in Shadowrun quite a bit I'm guessing.

I wish I could write fiction this good, but I'm better at more technical writing (which reminds me I have some more after action reports to write for my team's website).
Xahn Borealis
As for the handles, most of them just seemed obvious to me. Remember, these characters where originally built as fully functional PCs, until I commandeered them, apart from Smack. I'm curious to know what you would call them.

Smack - Troll. He works out, drives a van, carries an assault cannon called Poppy. Quite the comedian, too.
Slipstream - Your usual l33t hacker persona, wrapped up in a hot elf biker chick (No, she's not a Lesbian Elf Stripper Ninja...... much.)
Face - A face with a face. You already know about the false front. He also has a talking gun called Silver and a cybernetic secret....
Case - Full-body cyberlimb replacement. If only he could remember why.
Bloom - Teenage witch, but not like that. Grows plants to make drugs and also manufactures explosives for her eco-warrior sensibilities.
Not bad, not bad at all.
The Troll Rigger Perspective is a new one too.
Xahn Borealis
He only became a rigger when I tried to build with 400BP. It also ties in with the next installment, but you'll have to wait to see that wink.gif
Troll Rigger who develops a Black BTL problem in-game, no less.
Xahn Borealis
In-game? That sig down there is serious. I've never played RL game, PbP only.
Tymeaus Jalynsfein
QUOTE (Xahn Borealis @ Mar 26 2011, 08:04 AM) *
In-game? That sig down there is serious. I've never played RL game, PbP only.

Well, how about in-story then...
Works just as well in my mind, TJ, thanks.

My characters have thrown me for a loop a time or two. I didn't even know Nas was an addict until the scene wrote itself out. nyahnyah.gif
Xahn Borealis
Maybe being able to be objective as a player makes me a better writer...
Tymeaus Jalynsfein
QUOTE (CanRay @ Mar 26 2011, 08:26 AM) *
Works just as well in my mind, TJ, thanks.

My characters have thrown me for a loop a time or two. I didn't even know Nas was an addict until the scene wrote itself out. nyahnyah.gif

Got to love it when that happens...
I have an Ex-Mossad who can not sleep because of the nightmares about his brother. Goes on Stim Benders until he cannot function just to avoid sleeping. And then has horrible nightmares that he cannot wake up from because of his exhaustion.
Xahn Borealis
The original point of this story was to show how BTLs kill Smack, if not directly, then through their effects. By the end of the story, he would have been a twitchy wreck, not even able to lift a finger as Risa nommed his soul. But, like I said, he's too much fun. You should see the mischief he gets up to with Slipstream in the next part.
Xahn Borealis
QUOTE (CanRay @ Mar 21 2011, 06:40 AM) *
Now that was a sweet piece of art! I feel like a bloody amateur again.


Oh, wait, I am.

You're joking, right? On The Hunt and Debt of Non-Blood were part of my inspiration for this!
QUOTE (Xahn Borealis @ Mar 31 2011, 01:22 PM) *
You're joking, right? On The Hunt and Debt of Non-Blood were part of my inspiration for this!

eek.gif eek.gif eek.gif

blush.gif blush.gif blush.gif
Xahn Borealis
You're at least partially responsible for my foray into fanfic, CanRay. When they come looking for retribution, they'll take it from you.
Bring it. devil.gif
Xahn Borealis
You sure you want the wrath of the internet brought upon you? I'm considering 9th Doctor/Jackie Tyler slash fic.
Xahn Borealis
QUOTE (Xahn Borealis @ Mar 31 2011, 08:38 PM) *
You sure you want the wrath of the internet brought upon you? I'm considering 9th Doctor/Jackie Tyler slash fic.

"There's a strange man in my living room."
"I'm in my dressing gown."

"Anything could happen."

"...... Yes."
I'm currently going through On the Run, and it's working out completely different from the way you described. That may (at least partly) due to the group's composition:
  • A Gaelic fomori street-sam with tricked-out cyberarms and a claymore
  • A human Catholic spellslinger
  • A human sniper adept with Attribute and Skill boosts
  • A human speech adept with Commanding Voice and Kinesics
  • A dwarf drone-whisperer who's mastered Matrix security
  • An ork hacker who won't hack without a Taco Bell run first

Critical differences I've seen so far:
My team bribed their way into the concert by repeatedly offering vials of medical-grade novacoke. Heck, they even offered one to Nabo.

They spent a long time hassling Zipper right there in the bar, finally resorting to the face magically compelling her to talk.

By the time they got to "C-DA", the strike team was already searching. The runners barely spent a minute in the bar, and thanks to having some sniper overwatch, took down the strike-team in one Combat Turn.

They're on their way to talk to Delphia, but their motivations are different: They suspect that the disc has some super-secret data hidden behind that encryption, and they want to know what's 20+ years old and still worth hiding.
Xahn Borealis
I hope my story helps with your running of the adventure. Let me know how it goes.
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