Things are… looking up(?)

Wowowowowowowowowow.

That’s the best way to describe the past two weeks. I haven’t done a post in three weeks, I know, but it’s been… interesting. I already wrote about how I am no longer a teacher and how I am rather pleased about that due to various reasons that I have already ranted about. However, I also have a new job. This is the wowowowowowowowow part. My friend’s family helped me out and I managed to get a job, a corporate job, where I, for once, can leave the office after my shift is over and not have to worry about work in the slightest until my next shift. The corporate structure suits me way better than the teaching structure did, and I know what I have to do to advance. It’s a lot more logical than teaching where, to move up, you basically have to become a deputy head and then a headteacher. That’s right, I have officially become a wageslave and I love it! I mean, I always have been the corporate type when it came to cyberpunk, after all. Only this is reality, which is less dystopian which means that I might, possibly, maybe… actually have a future.

Speaking of which, I’ve had cyberpunk on the brain lately. I would be lying if I said that my new job had nothing to do with it, the new corporate environment has had my mind wandering during my breaks; “I could turn that into a plot device” and “I could adapt this sort of environment for my fiction” are two thoughts that have been cropping up, as well as the increased awareness of how the modern corporate world works; the insights that this is giving are wonderful and I plan to fully apply my new knowledge to my fiction, and I have definitely been thinking cyberpunk over the past week or two. I have been in a swords and sorcery fantasy mood recently, due to my D&D games being my favourite, however this rather large new development in my life may have tipped me back towards cyberpunk. Inspiration can come from any source!

One game that I have been looking at, continuing on from the cyberpunk feel, is Sindome. Sindome is a multiplayer, text based RPG with an emphasis on RP set in a cyberpunk universe that draws inspiration from cyberpunk heavy hitters, such as Blade Runner, Neuromancer, Total Recall and Judge Dredd. The game takes place in Witmore City, a typical cyberpunk city flooded with inequality, violence and corporate influence. I gave the game mechanics a quick read over and, whilst I do like my 3d interfaces, I felt like I could deal with the text-based system that the game was using. Everything looked fine and dandy… until I realised that your character is always available. When you log out, your character goes to sleep, but time doesn’t freeze. I can see how this would really help immersion, and the generic job system helps to accommodate for that, however this is a real problem for me. Some of you will know that I hate it when I have to live a game, when a game becomes like a job to maintain. I just do not have the time or energy to dedicate in such a way, nor would I want to. For me, this is a massive shame as I really loved the idea of Sindome. I really loved the setting, I loved the aesthetic, I loved the job system, I loved that it didn’t shoehorn me in to playing a certain type of character and that I could be a corp if I really wanted to. I was really looking forward to making my corporate cyber-jockey and fleshing her out, but this singular feature stopped me in my tracks. If I have a busy month of writing, work or other gaming, which is very possible with Overwatch on the horizon, my character’s rent runs down on their apartment or coffin or whatever I have used for them to sleep in, and eventually they get dumped on the street, all whilst you’re working through a busy time at work. I can’t stress how disappointed I am about this, as I would have absolutely loved to give it a shot. Maybe I’ll write something based in Whitmore City as a compromise, as the setting is great and I’d love to have a play around with it.

The other game that I mentioned is Overwatch. In the last few weeks I made the fatal mistake of watching three of the cinematic trailers and the hype train has come into the station. The cinematic trailers, not the gameplay ones, are like Pixar with teeth. They’re incredibly well done and really show case the characters well; albeit only Tracer, Winston, Reaper and Widowmaker (with a bit of Zenyatta, but all he does is get shot!). The cinematics are expertly done and, as I said, it just feels like watching Pixar with teeth. The voice acting could be a little bit better, as a lot of people have slanted Tracer’s voice as annoying, and as an English woman I can verify that nobody speaks like Tracer…) and Widowmaker sounds sort of French, but sort of not; I find it strange, at least. The hype that has built around Overwatch now has grown for me and I’m just glad I only did this a month or so before release, so I only have a month to get through before release. Oh, I cannot wait to play Overwatch. I’ve already decided on five heroes that will be my main ones: Tracer, Mei, D.Va, McCree and Mercy; however I will play all of the heroes at least once. Except maybe Bastion. How can people find Bastion fun to play? All you do is sit in a corner and occasionally left click! I’ll never understand some people…

I’ve been toying with the idea of running a Stars Without Number game, set in my own sci-fi universe too. It would be my first foray into GMing a game, though with the recent developments in my life I am really liking the idea of something cyberpunk. The main problem I have with that is that cyberpunk systems that I’ve seen are Cyberpunk 2020, which is horrendously broken, and Shadowrun which has a load about magic and fantasy races which I wouldn’t be looking at including. I know Cyberpunk 2020 better, but I think Shadowrun with house rules would be better, honestly. It would mean that I would have to learn a new system though, so there’s that. Decisions!

Finally, concerning The Old Republic, I have started to upload some videos to my Youtube channel. Nothing too fancy, just some galactic starfighter gameplay since I saw one of the other pilots that I like doing the same. It’s interesting for me to see a gsf match from another perspective, and it’s really helping me to up my game. Similarly, it’s giving some of the other members of the community a brief look into how I play and I’ve gotten a few pointers from people who are undoubtedly better at the game than me.

It’s been an exciting few weeks for me, and my future is looking up for the first time in at least a year, though really it’s looking better than it has for about three. Onwards and upwards!

A Romantic Evening

((This was something I did to explain what my character was doing in her downtime on Valentine’s Day in the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG campaign I am currently a part of. I play a very corporate mother of two))

I step out into the medical district, new waterproof cybernetics ready and raring to go. The air is thick with smog, even here in the medical district, the pollution filling my lungs as soon as I dare to draw breath in this city. It’s early afternoon, nearing two o’clock, and I haven’t eaten since I took the twins to school this morning. I hop on the next bus to the New Harbour Area and grab myself a quick bite to eat, a ready to eat meal; I’ve given up kibble since the graduation and have started buying better for the family too. Since EBM sent us over here, life has been really shitty. Compared to France, America is a real shit hole. No style, no sophistication and no appreciation of talent.

That being said, that gutter-punk who keeps my baby girl awake and jacked in to the Net has the wrong kind of appreciation for talent. H4lf_J4ck, I think his handle is; some cowboy from Northside. He has no idea what he’s fucking with, and I bet he didn’t even notice the trace I put on his connection or the tap on his messages between my daughter and himself. If I have to give the kid a scare, I will. Infect his deck with some mad virus; no black ICE, I don’t want to flatline the little shit, but enough to keep him away from my daughter. Amandine needs to be kept in check too, come to think about it; constantly out late at night with the punks of Upper Eastside. Both of my girls have pistols and have been trained in the proper and safe methods of using them, I made sure of that personally, but it’s a mother’s job to worry about her children. Night City is not safe at night, there are occurrences that even I would not walk away from in the streets and I wish that my two girls wouldn’t court with disaster so much.

I finish my lunch and take a quick detour through the Mallplex. I recently got paid and waterproofing my sockets was cheaper than I originally thought, so I have some disposable income to treat myself with. I still need to buy a wetsuit, some extra bullets and a few other bits and pieces, but that shouldn’t come to much either. I reckon I’ve earned myself some new clothing. As I make my first circuit through the Mallplex I take out my phone, dialling Julien. He’ll still be at work, but considering he’s an office drone and not some covert corporate operative like me he should be able to answer at work. I call him on his personal number.

“Salut, ma chérie?” Julien answers, though I can hear in his voice that he’s keeping the tone quiet. Perhaps his manager is close. A shame, but I will be brief.

“Salut Julien! Are you free this evening? I’d like to go somewhere nice with you before my next job pops up,” I reply, lips curling into a smile as I pass by a really nice coat. I make a mental note to try it on later.

“Ah, yes. That would be great, but I cannot speak right now. Manager is doing performance reviews so I need to be on point!” Julien responds hurriedly, causing me to chuckle quietly.

“Okay. I’ll speak with you later. Kisses.”

“I love you too,” he responds before I put the phone down. Time for some serious shopping.

I eventually make it out at 6pm, another message from Amandine to say that she won’t be home until late, as usual, and one from Isabelle saying the same sort of thing, on my phone as I wait at the bus stop. I keep the bullets hidden, along with the other ‘abnormal’ items, out of sight, only my various bags of high fashion and business clothing on show as I make my way onto the bus back to Upper Eastside, the area where my small, grimy little apartment is situated. Hopefully by the end of the month I won’t have to put up with this crap any more and I can relocate the family to the Corporate Zone. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I put myself in danger.

I step off the bus and start to make my way home. I cut through an alleyway to get home quicker, as I would like a good amount of time to make myself look my best for the night. As if right on cue, a pair of street punks step out from behind a dumpster. One is armed with a jagged looking switchblade, the other with some sort of heavy pistol.

“Okay lady, we’re going to need to relieve you of your money and all your belongings,” one of them says, a faint sense of giddiness in his tone as he aims his pistol in my direction.

“We caught a good one this time. She looks like she’s got a lot of money,” the other whispered, thinking that I couldn’t hear him. Amateurs.

“Okay, okay. Please don’t hurt me,” I beg in heavily accented English, dropping my shopping to the ground.

“And your purse. Come on, we don’t have all day!”

“Alright, alright. Let me get it for you,” I answer, still with the same panicked expression and tone. I momentarily glance at them. They’re buying the act. Not just amateurs, but morons too. I reach inside my jacket and my combat senses flair to life. Before the two punks can react, I’ve brought my pistol out and around, aiming along the barrel to the pistol wielding one’s chest. Two shots from my silenced HK P9S sends the gin-totting one to the ground as the second one jabs his switchblade towards my gut. I sidestep the thrust, grabbing his wrist and disarming him of his weapon in a brief second. He tries to grab my gun, but I force him to the ground before he can get anywhere near, placing one shot clean through his head as I hold him pinned against the floor. I quickly holster my pistol, scoop up my shopping and make my way out of the alley before anyone can come looking.

“Bon soir,” I say with a smile as I push my way through the front door. Julien is doing some cleaning up, having taken off his suit jacket and tie.

“Bon soir. I see someone has been busy,” Julien replies, turning to me with a wide smile on his face.

“Last job paid fairly well. Saving most of it, but I figured I deserved a little treat.”

“Little?” Julien asks, eyeing my shopping bags.

“It’s all relative,” I answer playfully as he moves closer, planting a gentle kiss on my lips. I trace a finger down his chest. “Miss me?”

“Always. You’re away way more often than I’d like. What’s so important to keep you away from me and our children?”

“You know I can’t tell you. Just trust me, we’ll be better for it in the long run,” I answer, pulling him into a hug.

“I do… Anyway, you should start getting ready. We have a table booked, remember? Even if you refuse to tell me where.”

I grin, quickly plant a kiss on his cheek and weave my way past him. “I know. I’m the one who booked it,” I respond, sending a quick wink his way before getting myself ready for the evening. I sometimes wonder if there are any other netrunners like myself; not from a covert corporate operative standpoint, but from a ‘I am one hell of a charismatic son of a bitch, about to spend the night with my husband, having a romantic meal, worrying about my daughters getting involved with street trash’ angle.

We leave the apartment at about 7:30pm. I drive, as Julien has no idea where we are headed, and I wanted to keep the surprise for as long as possible. On the car journey he asks where we’re heading, but I refuse to tell him. He’s persistent, but I’m an expert on leading people on; for better or worse it’s a talent that I have. I can be a terrible wife sometimes.

We arrive at the restaurant, a fancy place in Charter Hill. We’re far from the only couple and I recognise two others from EBM with their respective partners. We chat, he asks about my next job, I tell him that it’s better that he doesn’t know, as usual. The food is great, especially considering we have been living off of kibble for the past year or so and neither EBM worker comes over to say hello; a blessing in disguise, really. We take a walk around Charter Hill after the meal.

“You say you’re going to be away for a while?” Julien asks me as we round the corner.

“Yes. It’s due to work. You know how it is,” I answer, semi-honestly at least. He turns to me.

“I’m worried. About you and our two girls,” he says suddenly, the worry evident in his features.

“Why?”

“Your work is obviously dangerous, and the girls are always up late.”

I raise an eyebrow. “They’re fifteen, coming up sixteen, Julien. The fact that they’re still in school is a miracle over here in America.”

“It shouldn’t be. Why are we even here? You seem to know more about the situation than me, despite my position in the company.” Of course, Julien out-ranks me within EBM’s corporate structure, but it’s my job to know things.

“The company wants us here. That’s why. I don’t know either, but it’s clear that they don’t want us to know. We don’t need to know, we’re disposable assets to them.”

“I’m sorry,” Julien starts, “but what of the girls? This is a crucial time for them and they need their mother around.”

“This is only temporary, trust me.” I lean in and pull him into a hug. “I hate being away from you and the girls as much as you do. Every time I leave, it hurts more than anything else, but I do it for our future. I don’t want my family to live in some crappy place in a crappy part of town eating crappy food, where every day brings danger in the form of muggers.”

A scratching sound. Speak of the devil. I turn towards the origin of the sound.

“Huh?” Julien looks at me, his worry turning into a look of perplexity, before one of horror as a group of gangers emerge from the alley to our left. My eyes are immediately scanning the environment, looking for the best cover, the best position for me to pull out my pistol and fill these guys with holes.

“All right lovebirds, you’re going to give us your valuables and we’re going to walk away,” the lead gangster almost snarls. A large scar runs down his face, a ravine amongst a desolate wasteland, his skin is cracked and his face malformed. It looks like a really bad attempt at cosmetic surgery. He turns his attention to me and grins. “Well, we might take her with us too.”

Julien steps in front of me. “I don’t think so. You’re going to walk away before I’m forced to do something we’ll both regret.”

The gangsters burst out laughing and I roll my eyes. He’s a corporate worker, so he has to deal with danger and be ready to defend himself but this is not his battlefield. “You against us five? You really think you’re capable of that?”

“You have no idea,” he replies, his voice a rehearsed, smooth tone that seems to unnerve some of the other gangsters in the wings.

“You’ve got balls, drone, I’ll give you that. Maybe I’ll remove them,” he threatens, brandishing a jagged machete. He turns his attention back to me. “Come on sweetheart, I’ll show you what a real man’s balls are like.”

His friends laugh again. I’ve had enough of this shit. I can see that my husband is about to start shooting, having a concealed pistol inside his suit jacket. I can see the gangsters preparing their weapons; one has a chain, the leader has a machete and what looks like a machine pistol at his hip, two have pistols and one has a pair of switchblades.

Once again, my combat instincts kick in. I reach into my suit jacket and pull out my HK P9S, picking out the rifle wielding ganger and firing at him as I dive behind cover. Gunfire erupts from the gangsters, but I can see that Julien has done the same as me, hunkering down behind a wall. I hear the leader shout something at the remaining three, the rifleman now a bloody mess on the floor of the alley. They appear to open fire on Julien, keeping his head down as the gang leader and the one with the switchblades advance on me, the leader firing his machine pistol into the dumpster that I’m hiding behind, keeping me suppressed as well. I wait for the two to emerge and, surely enough, the switchblade wielding gangster emerging first. I grab him and flip him over, throwing him to the ground with a hard thump.

“You’re going to pay, bitch!” the leader yells as he comes as me from behind, grabbing one of my arms and forcing me against the dumpster. I look over to see Julien dispatching one of the two with guns, but the other keeps him busy for the moment. The gangster pushes on my arm again, threatening to dislocate it at the elbow and sending my pistol to the floor. The switchblade wielding gangster makes a grab for my gun, but I hook it with my foot, dragging it away from him before he can pick it up. The gang leader pulls me around and hits me in the face, but my skinweave absorbs most of the blow. I recoil from the hit as he pulls around his machine pistol. I hear the click as he readies the weapon, shortly before unloading a full clip into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I fall to the ground to see Julien dispatching the other gang member, turning his attention to me at the sound of the gunfire. A grin, almost proud as he calmly reloads his pistol, drops to one knee and fires through, killing both gang members that were attacking me; he didn’t allow himself to get all emotional until after the fight was over. What a champ.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…” he mumbles as he sprints over to me. I can see that his suit took some bullets, but he doesn’t appear to be bleeding. I give him a thumbs up as he kneels beside me; I’m not bleeding either.

“You’re not the only one who dresses practically,” I say through deep breathing, filling my lungs with air once again. Julien stares at me, puzzled once again before drawing me into a tight hug, so tight that he threatens to wind me once again.

“I thought that was it. I thought you were dead. I heard the gunfire and…”

“Settle down, you’re going to suffocate me,” I mutter, catching my breath once more as he releases me from his grip. “And don’t worry about the girls. Who do you think taught them about fashion, and the importance of spending a bit extra for protective, but good looking clothing.”

Julien picked up my pistol and handed it to me. “You’re security, aren’t you?” he asks as he hands my silenced HK P9S back, laser sight still blinking. I turn off the laser sight and re-holster it beneath my suit jacket.

“Yeah,” I reply. A half truth.

“You could’ve just told me.”

“I didn’t want you to worry.” I look around, getting up to my feet with Julien’s help. “We can have this discussion another time. Cops will be here any minute, and I’d rather spend the rest of Valentine’s Day with you, rather than some angry police officer.

He nods and we leave the scene, getting back to the car. He drives this time, taking us home as soon as possible. Fortunately, police response times tonight are not exactly jaw-dropping and we get away from the scene with no repercussions. When we get home, the girls are absent, as usual. I slip out of my suit jacket, kick off my shoes and walk over to the bed, collapsing on it.

“Nothing like a brush with death to get the blood pumping,” I say with a smile. The adrenaline rush has ended and I find myself rather exhausted. “But also exhausting.”

Julien sits on the other side, before suddenly rolling over, his arms either side of me with a wide grin on his face. “I hope not too exhausting.” He leans in to kiss me, his hand running up the side of my body to the buttons on my shirt. A wave of heat rises through me, flushing my cheeks with red.

“Not too exhausting,” I reply with a grin.

I don’t get much sleep that night. The girls don’t even wake us when they sneak in during the early hours of the morning.

Running Away

I was asked by the GM of the Cyberpunk 2020 game I’m a part of to write a “what has Alessandra done since last session,” thing for some closure. Essentially, Alessandra Moretti was my Netrunner that I’ve been playing, but she’s decided that being a low life scum isn’t for her and has (re)joined the glorious corporate master race. I thought I’d put it up here.

My next character is also a member of the glorious corporate master race, but she’s better suited to working with criminal scum. She’s the driver/pilot for a very professional corporate security team 😉


Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Fuck. Shit.

Expletives are all that seem to rush through my mind as I leave the hospital. Seeing Vibora in the hospital, all hooked up and totally incapacitated was just too much; I thought he was joking, trying to raise my spirits as he always tried. I thought I’d turn up to see him fine, maybe with just a scratch. He always seemed to shrug off the worst the Combat Zone threw at us.

Then there was me. Always hiding. Always with my tail between my legs. I tried so hard to help. I tried so hard to be useful, to not be a burden. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I am not cut out for this world. This world, this line of work, will eat me up and spit me out. I don’t want to die in a ditch, bleeding because some punk decides that they feel like attacking me. Then there’s Calm Boi. Now there is a person who isn’t likely to win any awards for being a good employer. The pay for the jobs was trash, I was expected to do jobs way, way out of my area of expertise; I mean, come on, professional make up and hair? Managing a spoiled little brat and her spoiled little brat friends? How many netrunners have to deal with that shit? My sister said I was free, but she’s wrong. I am just bound by different shackles. Shackles made of some shitty, jagged metal. Calm Boi promises the world, but ends up trying to kill us.

Fuck. That. I want my shackles to be comfortable, maybe with fur lining. All these “free” people, preaching their anti-corporate bullshit are just immature. This is the way the world works, the way the game is played. You play by the rules, you play well; trying to bend or break the rules will just get you disqualified, fatally, but playing well nets you vast gains.

I reach my apartment building and make my way upstairs. It’s late, I’m tired, I’ll think more tomorrow. I get undressed, glancing over at the clothing that I was going to throw in the trash. I had almost forgotten about that whole episode. Having to dive into a pile of garbage to get away from a seriously fucked up situation, and Douma didn’t even give a shit to see if I was okay. Asshole. I eventually fall asleep, windows open, in nothing but my underwear. Night City is perpetually hot at this time of year.

The following morning, I catch up on the news and get dressed. I call the number that my sister provided and somehow manage to get an interview; maybe the tech team was already recruiting, or maybe my family name carries more weight than it perhaps should. I don’t really give a crap about the reasoning, I just want in to the corporate world. I was a complete fool to try and run from it, my life has been nothing but misery and fucked up situations since I left the comfortable life. Anyway, I have things to do today. I head to the mall. It’s time to go suit shopping.

I spend most of the morning walking around the shops, eventually picking out a smart, black suit, some shirts, blouses, smart shoes, the whole ensemble. Running around as a low life, I never really needed such clothing, but in the corporate world, the real world, I understand the importance of appearances better than anyone. It fits snug, keeping my curves noticeable but definitely rocking the “smart, businesslike” appearance. I grab lunch and my mind wanders. I wonder how the guys are doing. I wonder if I’m even missed. Not likely, with how useless I was. I don’t know, I’d hope to be missed by Vibora, but I don’t reckon Douma will give a shit. From this point on, Null_Point goes back to how she always used to be: a ghost who exists solely in the matrix.

A few days later, the interview goes well. They want to know of my skills and I show them what I’ve done. The cityscape I programmed seems to interest them, so perhaps a future in VR production is going to find me. I spend what feels like hours gliding through cyberspace, showing off a little bit here and there, a grim determination driving me to some of the best acts of computer manipulation I’ve ever done. In meatspace, I maintain a professional appearance, bringing back memories of my mother and father; how they raised me and my siblings to be the perfect corporate workers.

Such lessons prove incredibly useful as it takes a monumental effort to not baulk at how shitty a human being I’ve been. We were a happy family, strict but happy. My parents forged us into individuals with all the skills needed to not only survive, but excel in the corporate world and I ran away like a spoiled child. I gave such a bad example to my younger siblings, an irresponsible child squandering her future on notions of freedom. Yeah, if that’s freedom, I don’t want any part of it. I’d rather be comfortable and shackled in the corporate world than… well, uncomfortable, at risk of being mugged when I step out of my door and still shackled, but “free.”

A few days later I get a call to say that I got the job. Cybersecurity and programming are going to be my life from here on out. Null_Point becomes a ghost, Alessandra Moretti starts her journey up the corporate ladder. Not only that, but I burned a lot of bridges in my immaturity; bridges that are going to need to be rebuilt between myself and my family. I hope Vibora’s doing okay. I hope he doesn’t hate me for running away what seems like again, but it’s time to stop running; I’m just not built for that world.

Yeah, I’m going to wipe the floor with the competition with the variety of skills I’ve been expected to have as part of my previous job. I start next week, but in the meantime I have another move to organise. At least I don’t have that much stuff…

Shadowrun: Hong Kong – Final Thoughts

So, having finished Shadowrun: Hong Kong, I feel as though I should shed some new observations on the game. Now that I have completed the game once, though I will be doing another play through straight away, I must say that my opinions are not as high as they were walking into it for the first time. Please note: there will probably be minor spoilers, though I will stay away from specifics where I can! I’ll start with the good.

The music throughout was very good. Is it better than the Dragonfall or Returns soundtrack? That’s down to individual preference and it fitted the theme and locale very well. That being said, I loved the soundtrack of both the original Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall, so it’s hard to say which is better, if any. In my opinion, the music in this game is very, very good, but the previous games set a rather high bar to meet. It has at least done that.

Animations and effects also stayed better across the board. Full-auto and burst fire now feel like they really are spraying bullets everywhere with the occasional hit, as it should be. Magic effects are greatly improved from the previous games too, spells like powerbolt and manabolt feel far more magical and less… sparky. The bouncing spell mechanic is good fun as well and makes standing on dragon lines far, far more useful. I had instances where I cast aim on a character and it bounced to the whole crew.

Cybernetics have been greatly improved. Now, you need to take the cybernetics skill in order to take a lot of the more powerful cybernetic options rather than everyone being able to take whatever they want. I like this as it means that you actually need to invest in body and the cybernetics skill if you want to build a chromed up cyber-warrior rather than just every non-mage character taking all the best options. Added to that is the much larger selection of both cyberware and positions to put them, as well as extra essence given from the skill in cybernetics and you can really chrome up to the max!

There are... a lot of extra cybernetic options...

There are… a lot of extra cybernetic options…

Last but most certainly not least, possibly the best change in fact: decking. I just want to scream to the high heavens about how awesome this is. Before it was very simple, you jacked in, did some combat, activated some nodes and then jacked out. Now, when you jack in you are not automatically in combat. Combat-based IC aren’t always present, though there are usually trackers that patrol specific routes that you need to avoid.

Matrix combat is still unavoidable in the later parts of the game and trace can build quickly!

Matrix combat is still unavoidable in the latter parts of the game and trace can build quickly!

There’s a new trace mechanic which will start to increase if any IC detect your presence; while in combat with IC your trace will generally increase by 5 each turn (per IC that sees you), though if a tracker IC sees you it will increase by 20 each turn.

Avoiding tracker IC patrols is the new way to glide through the matrix without any issues

Avoiding tracker IC patrols is the new way to glide through the matrix without any issues

You get to most nodes by hacking blocker IC, which you can either force through at the cost of a large amount of trace, usually around 50+, or you can do a small minigame where you have to remember number patterns to increase your hacking time, then deduce a symbolic password as characters are periodically and very briefly revealed to you.

Sometimes there's a password option too, though most of the time it's either hack or force!

Sometimes there’s a password option too, though most of the time it’s either hack or force!

Because of this, you can largely get by in the matrix on the starting cyberdeck, though I will say now that later in the game the decking parts have actual IC and some brutally difficult tracker IC patrol webs, so don’t expect to be able to hack systems late game with a shoddy cyberdeck. I really, really love what they’ve done with the matrix portions myself; also, the music track for when you’re in the matrix is much better than the previous one. Definitely part of the soundtrack that improves upon the previous.

2015-08-25_00005

You don’t have to do all of the number sequence memorisations. Each successful one gives you more time to work out the password in the next part though.

However, this game definitely has some drawbacks that I would like to visit. Firstly, I’ll go with the temporary one: bugs! As the game is a new release, there are a decent number of bugs which can be really frustrating on a play through of an RPG. There were some that were merely conversational, with NPCs saying silly things, but there were others that hampered my progress through the game. Also, there are typos aplenty. I think I counted at least a dozen on my first play through.

Where's my cyberdeck? Uh... It's right on my back. Are we both blind here?

Where’s my cyberdeck? Uh… It’s right on my back. Are we both blind here?

I also did not like the crew quite as much as the crew from Dragonfall. I got a really good idea of where Dietrich, Eiger and Glory came from and really enjoyed their story arcs and Blitz was comical enough that his otherwise insufferable bravado turned into a bit of comic relief for me. However, I don’t get that same feeling with the current crew. Duncan is your non-blood related brother and comes across fairly hollow. He’s an Ork who grew up with you and had anger management problems, eventually joining Lone Star with your foster-father’s help keeping him on task and under control. I don’t feel that there is a huge amount of depth to his character. Gobbet is one of the more interesting characters, a rat shaman with a special connection to Rat, or so she says, who grew up on a cobbled together raft with a bunch of friends. She’s probably the deepest character and her character arc is certainly the most enjoyable and simultaneously dark one to play through, her voice lines are generally the most enjoyable to read and post-run conversations with her were among my favourite. Is she on par with the Dragonfall crew? Debatable, but at least it’s up there! Is0bel is insufferable for me. It’s fortunate that I often play a decker and didn’t need her that much in this play through because I do not like her character. Anti-social deckers who claim to be the best just aren’t my cup of tea, especially when their background is sort of hollow and you have to ask a different crew member to fill in the details. During her mission you find out what an over-sensitive little brat she really is, though I won’t go into the details as it would most certainly be a spoiler. I do not like Is0bel and I dread my next playthrough when I’ll be running a mage character and will need her on my team. Racter is the other interesting member of the crew, though he falls short when compared to Gobbet and the Dragonfall characters as his personal run is just an optional objective to a run you do anyway. His conversations are interesting and he definitely has mental issues, but that’s part of what makes him interesting. His dialogue is well-written, portraying what he is quite well and he manages to narrowly avoid crossing the line where he becomes insufferable. Finally, there’s Gaichu. He’s interesting to a point and his character is good, but I feel that he might just infringe upon special-snowflake territory. His character mission is short and also brings up some fairly dark themes, but I didn’t find myself as emotionally invested as I did in Gobbet’s. Definitely not the best, but certainly not the worst.

I would also like to highlight the player character and the conversational choices that you are given throughout the game, as this drawback is related to the previous one about your crew. The character you play in this one felt as if I was being shoehorned into a type of character that I do not necessarily wish to be. In Dragonfall any lines of dialogue related to your character’s background were left wide open and there were definitely some varied inferences drawn from the various lines of dialogue, allowing you to role-play as a wide range of characters. In Hong Kong, it’s very black and white; you were a street kid who got taken in by a guy and then left for a job that, three days later, put you in a corporate prison for the rest of your life up until the present. From that point onwards, it always tries to push you into that role of a shady, either gang, thug or shadowrunner criminal type, shunning the megacorporations and the type of life working for one would entail. For example, my character was a very corporate, very businesslike decker who I played through Dragonfall with no issues, however in Hong Kong the same character feels contradictory; there are so many instances where I don’t feel like that type of character is even considered. To me, this was a real disappointment, especially given that there was a very corporate looking elf portrait in the character creator, and was only reinforced throughout the game.

Mega spoilers for Dragonfall and Hong Kong in the paragraph below, as I will now be talking about the ending. Highlight the paragraph to reveal the text and do so knowing that there will be major, major spoilers here. You have been warned!

Suffice to say, I am disappointed. In Dragonfall, you find Vauclair and he talks about his plans and why he’s doing what he’s doing; he sees the dragons as manipulative and controlling and wishes to get rid of them through a biological weapon that only hurts dragons. You can, through dialogue options, talk him out of it, fight against him or even join up with him! It was a really well done sequence of dialogue and Vauclair was a great antagonist for the game; he honestly believed that what he was doing was right and for the good of the planet. Siding with him doesn’t seem like an utterly moronic idea and I did do a game where I ended up siding with him, bringing about the near extinction of metahumanity due to the dragons being responsible for keeping some eldritch horrors at bay. All through the game, however, there are hints as to this consequence, especially if you play a mage or shaman and frequently speak to Absynthe and Aljernon, and you can use this as ammunition to talk Vauclair out of it, where he realises what a blind fool he has been. In Hong Kong, however, the choice felt really stupid. You track down Qian Ya and fight her twice before she offers you a deal where you can leave and let her have the Walled City in exchange for fourteen years of good fortune, or you keep fighting and eventually shut her out. There was no real reason to accept her deal, there was no feeling of “this is a good idea” when contemplating it, unlike Vauclair who put up a very good argument for his cause. If I missed something, it must have been due to a bug because I frequently spoke to Crafty and had enough points in conjuring to cast simple buffs and perceive things on the astral plane. I read through all of her notes and made sure to pay attention to everything about the Yama Kings, but nothing seemed that relevant. I’ve heard that you can avoid some fights through conversation options, but I did not see them. However, that is not the point I wish to make. The point is that the end of the game falls flat. There is no real reason to make a deal with the demon-goddess unless your character has large amounts of selfishness and stupidity and this disappointed me after the build up was very good and Dragonfall’s ending being so solid.

Overall, would I recommend Shadowrun: Hong Kong? Yes. It’s still a solid game with a good story and decent enough characters. However, I am a little disappointed overall. I enjoy the game and have already started playing through it a second time, though looking at it as a whole I would say that it simultaneously took steps forwards and backwards.

Character Genning Mood

So, I’m in a Cyberpunk 2020 game every week and, whilst the slightly over-the-top 80s style of it isn’t my exact cup of tea, I’m enjoying it thoroughly and I love my flirty Italian Netrunner so much (she got her first kill -ever- last session. It was a learning experience).

But in case she is hospitalised or killed (hopefully not!), I will need a back up character. So I thought to myself, what sort of character am I going to play…

Inspired from one of my own characters in my own cyberpunk setting, though with modifications to fit the Cyberpunk 2020 setting and rules, I decided that a possibility is that I may go for a burned corporate operative.

Note: I haven’t proof read this. It’s coming up 3am. I need to go to bed. Badly. It’s going to get light soon and I’m a light sleeper. This is bad on so many levels, but I had to at least finish!


Nobody is safe. A message comes through to my mobile phone, a contract. Corporate worker, supposedly leaked company secrets to a rival. I don’t fucking care, they tell me to ice this guy, I ice this guy. There are no questions, no arguments; this is just how the corporate world works.

Nobody is safe.

I pocket my phone inside my jacket pocket, I wear business attire, though my clothing is threaded with kevlar. My line of work is dangerous, though I must also keep a professional appearance in the office. Corporate security is no different in that regard. We all abide by the same dress code. Inside my jacket I feel the grooves of my heavy pistol. Colt. AMT Model 2000 with armour piercing bullets. There’s enough firepower tucked under my arm to dent even the heaviest personal armour; whoever this guy is, I could probably ice this guy through a solid wall.

I trawl through our databases and find this poor bastard’s address. He lives in an apartment in the corporate zone, the building is owned by us so getting into the block shouldn’t be a problem. There will be a maglock on his door, though it’s nothing I can’t crack. This is all routine by now; if all fails, I can probably blast my way in with this hand cannon I’m sporting.

I grab my motorcycle keys and make my way to the parking garage. It’s night by now, but my work often comes in after hours, so I am no stranger to it. I put on my helmet, start her up and drive towards the block where the target lives. I park up, take off my helmet and walk through the front door. The building security are expecting me and let me in. If this keeps up, I should get home in time to see my fiancé. With a grin on my face I make my way up to the target’s apartment and get to work on the keypad.

It doesn’t take long for me to crack it and I’m in. I open the door…

WHAM!

Something hits me in the face. Felt like a rifle butt. My training kicks in and I pull my pistol, firing two shots directly in front of me. Apparently whoever ambushed me wasn’t expecting that. I see the figure, heavily armoured, stagger backwards, one hole in his stomach and one in the middle of his chest. He looks at me through his helmet’s visor and collapses to the floor, blood staining the carpet. There’s a rather effeminate scream that emanates from the target, a wiry man in a business suit. He runs into the bathroom and a second armoured figure raises a sub-machine gun and fires on full auto. I manage to avoid most of the bullets, but a sharp pain digs into my side as one wings me. Fuckers are using armour piercing ammo too.

I place a hand over the wound, blood seeping into my suit and staining my white shirt. I swing around the corner as his shooting ceases; full auto fire isn’t sustainable and I catch him reloading. I raise my pistol and fire. One bullet, straight through the visor and out the back of his head, the contents of his skull spraying against the far wall. I’m about to finish the job when I hear footsteps behind me.

“Security! Drop your weapon!” I hear from behind me. I calmly turn, hold my hands out with a friendly smile.

“I’m with the corp. They want this guy iced.”

The bastards don’t ask again. I see fingers moving for the triggers so I dart to the side, running down the corridor.

“Don’t let her escape!” I hear from behind me, a hail of gunshots forcing me to turn another corner. Fortunately, the stairs are not far and I start a rapid descent. Fortunately, these security are a different wing to our own. These guys are the amateur league by comparison.

I shoot my way through the lobby and get back to my bike. It doesn’t take long to start her up and get out of there. Someone’s after my position, or doesn’t want me taking theirs. The whole thing stinks of set-up. I need to get home. I need to tell my fiancé. We need to get the fuck out of here.

I get home and bust through the door, gun out and ready. I walk into the living room to a scene of horror. My fiancé. His corpse lies face down in a pool of blood, a gaping whole in the side of his head. I am transfixed by the scene, horror etched into my features. I notice a hand in the corner of my eye. I swing around, gun towards this new threat. Too late. My gun flies from my grip and a powerful blow connects with my arm as I block the attack. Crude. Clubs. I grab my attacker’s leading arm and pull him in closer, my knee slamming into his nose with a squelching sound. I flip him over and turn to the next threat. This one has a sword, a freakin’ monokatana. I dodge out of the way of the woman’s swings. She’s fast, but not fast enough. I am about to counter attack when my left arm is grabbed. I swing my fist into the man’s face, sending him reeling backwards, but it’s too late.

The monokatana slices clean through my left arm, severing it just below the shoulder. I scream in pain and stagger backwards. A signal goes out over the net. Trauma Team. Like it will make a difference. I feel another sharp pain as the woman shoves the monokatana through my abdomen. Everything seems to fade. The pain of the solid impacts from the clubs fade to nothing. The woman removes her monokatana from my stomach and I fall to the floor.

Nobody is safe.

I wake up to a faint beeping. My vision is blurry, but I’m in a white room. There is no pain. Am I dead? No. Hospital. The smell of medical drugs is thick in the air. I try to move. I feel groggy. A nurse walks in.

“What happened?” I manage to ask her.

“We pulled you from your house. The left arm is a replacement job; woman around your size came in for cybernetics about a week ago and sold us her original arm to help cover the costs. You’ll have to train it a little, but we think your body should adapt and accept it within a few days.

She pauses. “We managed to save you, but we couldn’t save the other.”

“My fiancé?”

She shook her head. “He was dead long before we got there. No, I mean…”

She looks me in the eyes. The situation doesn’t need words. Not any more. I had a feeling, but… Fuck it. Fuck it all…

I need to get out of here.

I wait for the nurse to leave before I stumble from my hospital bed and manage to sneak my way to the elevator. I almost fall on top of an older man in the elevator as I slam the garage button. He looks at me, though his features are all a blur to me. He gets out at the ground floor. I descend further. The parking garage is largely empty, but I look around for a cheap looking car. With my current condition I don’t think I could break into or hotwire a more expensive model. I settle on a slightly rusting sedan. I get in. I start to drive as the blurriness subsides, albeit only partially. I drive back to my house to find it taped off. Corporate investigation. I avoid driving too close. My bike is parked around the corner. I crack the locking mechanism, a subtle trick I installed for situations like this. I grab my belongings, my phone, a couple thousand in cash, some basic cosmetics, a small holdout pistol. An emergency stash I kept under my bike seat.

I hop back in the car and make my way towards a small medical clinic on the outskirts of the city. Outside of major corporate influence. I walk in and go to the receptionist.

“I need you to set me up with some cyberware and I want it off the record. I’ve got the money. Cash.”

“Please, take a seat and someone will be with you,” the receptionist replies. I nod and take a seat.

A few days of living in the shadows, surviving in the streets of the outskirts of Paris later and I’m on a smuggler ship. I’m headed to America. My former employers do not have as much pull over there as they do in Europe. Then again…

Nobody is safe.

Work Never Ends (Very Short Story)

The music of the club thumps through my ears; heavy, bass-ridden beats pound against my chest like an external heartbeat. Rhythmic. Powerful. I’m dancing amidst a mess of bodies, enslaved by the beat of the music. The air is stale, the smell of synthetic tobacco mingling with sweat, perfume and, if one had a sharp enough sense of smell, a mild mix of chemicals and pheromones. 2084 in the London night life and not much had changed; the reasons, the approaches, these were all the same, but the only thing that had changed were the methods.

The atmosphere is intoxicating. Literally intoxicating. The owners of the club had spared no expense in appealing to every sense. Chemicals course through my body, emphasising every sense, whilst my brain is re-wired to feel nothing but enjoyment. Nothing but pleasure. Even with my implants filtering out the chemicals it’s noticeable. I can feel myself letting go. I can feel the current lifting me, taking me on a sensual journey; I can feel it fuelling the ignorance.

I need to get this done, I think to myself. I am here to work. If I was not on a job I would not even be here. The excess is truly disgusting. I scan through the club, one of the few people wearing such mirror-shades indoors, in the dark, strobe laced night club. My target is employee number seven-three-oh-five-four-two of MatsuTech. An accountant, I believe. My employers were very specific in their instruction.

I lock onto his bio-signature. An eighty seven percent match, which increases to ninety eight once I filter out the chemicals in his system. It’s him.

I move in closer, navigating my way through the mass of intoxicated shells. The chemicals will work wonderfully if I can get this done without succumbing myself.

My heart rate has quickened. The ball has started rolling.

I move behind him, one hand wrapping under his arm and onto his chest with a gentle caress. I can feel his heart rate now. He’s completely gone. Perfect. I move to the music with him whilst I pull out my cyberdeck. A compact TyrCorp, model number three-seven-four-two, that attaches nicely to my forearm. Not the most powerful of decks, but the one of the most concealable. With a slight flick of the wrist I lock the deck onto my forearm and move my free hand up. The jack is in my hand. I can see the data port on the back of his neck.

Natural. All natural, I muse as I plug the data jack into the port on the back of his neck and deliberately move my hand down his back and onto his side as we continue swaying to the music together. I take a brief look around. Security has no idea.

I flick a switch and I’m in. The club melts around me, the people disappear and are replaced with the grey expanse of the systems in my target’s head. My avatar in this world is much the same as my outer shell. I have no qualms about my appearance.

The implant is a standard MatsuTech employee level storage device. Inferior to my own, but it follows the same basic architecture so I effortlessly glide to the data storage nodes, my avatar floating through cyberspace like a fish through water. The node itself is encrypted, but the protection is our own software. Software that I was trained to use; trained to crack.

It’s a simple task, overloading such a device. There are specific ports, specific data points to flood to cause the encryption to crash. A minute flaw in the system and a closely guarded secret. No doubt there are street hackers who also know this, but our employees tend not to store anything valuable in their implant, so the risk is minimal. Also, this is what happens when they do store important data. Data they should not store in personal storage implants.

So I’m in without breaking a virtual sweat. At this point it’s routine for me; firstly I need to ensure that there have been no attempts to access the files prior to my intrusion. I can quickly discern that he has accessed the files himself, but only for personal viewing. There are no traces of file transfers. In fact, he has not performed any transfers of any kind since he lifted this data. Smart, but obviously he’s not smart enough. Next I take the files and put them onto my own implant, a short transfer normally but such a file is protected. Whilst I am confident in my abilities to simply overpower any security systems that may respond, I am a professional agent, not some hot-headed street hacker. I stream the transfer between my own implant and his, exchanging data packets almost instantaneously, replacing the stolen MatsuTech files with non-essential reports and excessive paperwork, all laced with a dormant virus. Either his contacts that he was likely planning to sell this information to will detect the virus and off him, or they won’t and there’s wonderful potential for sabotage at the corporate or street level, either would serve our interests.

The transfer finishes and a security switch trips. I did everything perfectly, to the letter, handling a device that I know like the back of my hand; this should not have happened. I do not know why or what has tripped, but something has; things are changing subtly. Regardless, my work is done, there is no point in dwelling on it. I jack out.

No more than two seconds have passed in realspace by the time I am returned to my body. I quickly unplug from the back of his neck and slide my deck from my arm and into my pocket, a fluid motion as to not attract attention of surrounding clubbers or security staff.

Folly, really, considering the man turns to face me, a look of horror in his eyes visible even through his chemical-laced haze. Of course he recognises who I am, or rather what I am, and of course he recognises what I have done. He opens his mouth and starts screaming and pointing, fearfully pushing his way through the crowd. I am not about to start a fight in the middle of a nightclub in Neo-London. Not even a MatsuTech security agent can get away with that. Nightclubs are hives of street soldiers, hackers, roboticists and other lowlife scum. I am the outsider here. I am the one in danger.

I barge through the crowd towards the fire escape as I notice security starting to mobilise. By the time I reach the door there are no doubts and an automatic firearm opens up, spraying the side of the door with bullets. I shove down the bar to open it and ram it open, rounding the corner onto the fire escape as another burst escapes the door. Whilst the lowlife types inside would not openly start shooting, the security staff had no such qualms; especially knowing that I’m a corp.

I leap over the railing, dropping two stories onto the back of a truck with a heavy thud, cybernetics in my legs absorbing a lot of the impact. Regardless, I roll as I land and drop off the side of the truck. Another burst of gunfire is heard overhead, raking up my back and sending me stumbling forwards. At this range however, 9mm will not get through my under-armour, let alone both my coat, which is constructed to be resistant to pistol calibres up to fifteen metres away, and my under-armour which, when combined with the coat, can stop smaller rifle calibres at thirty metres. I run the numbers in my head and there’s no way they’re getting through.

Nevertheless, I do not stop. Whilst I may be fine if they hit my body or maybe my legs, my head remains totally exposed. I run towards the road behind the club, either they will have to exit through the fire escape as I did, or exit through the main entrance and make their way around. This should at least buy me enough time to do what I need to.

As I reach the road I slow into a calm, yet brisk walk. I make my way around the corner and onto the adjacent street, walking straight up to a taxi rank. I walk up to the front taxi, the driver casually chatting to another, though as he recognises that I require his services he makes his way over to the car and motions me towards the passenger side before getting in the driver’s side himself. I tell him my destination, which he makes a snide comment to on the basis that it is an expensive area, and sink into the chair. When we arrive I simply place my hand over the small payment terminal on the dashboard and transfer the fare through my identity implant in my hand. I make no comment about the loose change that I noticed hidden beneath the driver’s seat and get out with a smile and a thank you. If this man sympathised with lowlifers, he would likely not take too kindly to ferrying a corporate agent to her doorstep. Well, near enough; I directed him a few blocks away just in case and walked the rest of the way. Neo-London was cold at this time of the year and I place my hands in my pockets as I walk, my breath coalescing into small clouds as I walk down the quiet, residential streets.

I reach my front door and walk in to the dull, muffled sound of music and television mixing into one unpleasant sound. I remove my boots by the front door and hang my coat on the hat stand, grimacing as I notice the holes and impacts across the back, and walk into the living room where John, my husband, sits with his computer on his lap and the television on, Sky News providing ambient noise as he fervently types at his keyboard.

“Evening,” I greet hopefully.

“Evening,” he replies with a bored, slightly apathetic tone. I guess that is better than what I was expecting, considering we were meant to be meeting another couple for dinner tonight and I had to cancel literally four hours before we were meant to be there. “I put the children to bed, but Izzy is being Izzy.”

“I’ll go talk to her,” I reply in English this time, back-pedalling slowly out of the room and making my way up the stairs, following the sounds of electronic music. I knock.

“Yeah?” Isabelle answers through the door.

“Can I come in?”

She opens the door and wheels her chair back to her desk. I walk in and sit on the end of the bed.

“So, you’re still up and it’s a school night,” I muse, looking at the back of her head.

“You were out clubbing and it’s a work night.”

I sometimes hate the fact that anyone could see from a mile away that Isabelle is my daughter. Her investigatory skills are impressive. I chuckle. “Point taken, but I was out clubbing for work reasons.”

“And I’m still awake for work reasons,” she gestures at the screen of her computer. Financial data, trends, theories. “I’ll be up and ready for school in six hours, don’t worry.”

“I’m your mother, worrying about you is my job.” I usher her over and she wheels her chair towards where I sit. She has my face and hair, but her father’s eyes for sure, little emeralds amidst her fair skin tone. I shift over and pat the bed next to me. She rolls her eyes and moves from her chair to the position next to me and I wrap her in a tight hug. “Listen, I know yo-…”

I get mid sentence when all the lights go out. Her computer goes dead. I reach for my gun, still holstered under my arm. Work never ends. I have yet to explain this to the children.


This is the story that I submitted to the BBC, but alas it was not chosen. Onto the next submission, I guess!

Friday Fiction: Cyberpunk Chapter 3

It’s Friday, that means more fiction! I was going to write a longer chapter, though this part ended up being long enough, so rather than make a behemoth of a chapter, I felt that I would release this piece first (partially because I’ve been super busy today!).

As always, here is the handy little link!

Chapter 2: Cybernetics and Synthcaf

Stephanie’s morning routine was fairly simple. She made the rounds looking for work, asking around in the local dives, shops and anywhere else where she was a familiar face. As a decker, she was well supplied with work, mostly breaking into systems and selling the information gathered back to her clients. She occasionally did work improving people’s Net security, though she generally only extended that service out to friends or people that she wouldn’t sell out. Reputation was important and she was not about to get the reputation of being untrustworthy. To do so would be financial suicide.

Also, obvious betrayal of the local crime syndicates was literal suicide. If they even so much as suspected that she was working for rivals they would have her ‘removed’ from the street.

Today, however, her morning rounds were totally different. No small jobs. She was heading to the Doc’s clinic.

Doctor Miller was the local street doctor for Stephanie, a man in his 40s with cropped, greying hair and was often found wearing an old, off-white lab coat and safety goggles over emerald eyes. His clinic was not what one might expect of a professional medical clinic, however it was located outside of the corporate ring of London so it was, by comparison to the local area, a paragon of cleanliness. Stephanie made her way through the front door to find him fiddling with what looked to her like a piece of rubbish. His eyes darted up from his work as she walked in, curiously looking her over before fixing on her face.

“What brings you in here, Steph?” he asked her with a mildly disinterested tone as she walked inside, his eyes going back to the item that he was working on.

“I need a data implant,” she replied quickly, catching Miller’s attention before he could get back to tinkering with the device in his hand. He raised a curious eyebrow at her once more. “I know the model too. TyCorp OLK. I know you have one around.”

Miller put down what he was working on and stood up. He was a tall man and stood about a foot taller than Stephanie He walked over to her, arms folded with an inquisitive gaze. “And how would you know what I have lying around here, hm?” he asked as he approached her, casting his inquisitive gaze down on her.

“I’m a decker. Do I really need to explain any further?” she answered with a grin, though she was now looking quite far up at him.

There was a silence before the doctor chuckled, shaking his head and raising a hand. “Unnerving, but a valid point,” he admitted, turning around and walking back to the bench he had been sitting at. “You do know that this will not be a cheap procedure and you will be under the knife for hours, right?” he asked, going to a cabinet to the right of the bench and rummaging through its contents.

“I got you covered, Doc. Don’t worry.” she answered, raising her hands in assurance.

“You’re not an affluent member of society, Steph. I don’t believe that for a second.”

Stephanie frowned.

“Hey, I’ll have you know that I-…”

“I don’t want to hear it, Steph. I don’t trust that you’re good for the money, so I want payment up front.”

“How much…?”

“Five thousand.”

“Five thousand cred?” her eyes went wide at the prospect. “That’s robbery. I’ll give you one thousand, five hundred up front!”

The doctor shook his head. “I knew that you weren’t good for it. Now, is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Look, I really need that data implant.”

“And I need payment for services rendered. You could afford the cheapest implant, but I know you’re smart enough to know that is a bad idea.”

Stephanie went silent, staring at the ground with a frown.

“You know what?” she finally spoke out, breaking the awkward silence, “I’ll make do without. Good day, doctor.”

Before he could answer, she stormed out of the door.

“Cheap son of a bitch,” she muttered to herself as she made her way down the street, past a stand where a greasy looking, rotund, balding man was serving synthcaf. He tried to wave her over to get her to buy a cup, but she raised her hand with a smile and shook her head. She wanted to sit somewhere comfortable and buy from somebody that she actually trusted. Synthcaf was easy to make, but home-brewing recipes were often questionable at best.

She made her way through the door to Café Gille, a small café on the corner of a commercial block under the ownership of Pierre Gille, a cleanly shaven Frenchman with blue eyes and light brown hair that seemed to defy the laws of gravity, growing up rather than downwards. He wore a light blue and white chequered shirt and a pair of fashionably ripped jeans. He smiled as Stephanie walked through the front door.

“Mademoiselle Choi, always a pleasure,” he greeted her as she walked up to the counter where he was cleaning a mug. “You’re later than usual. May I ask why?”

She offered him a coy grin in response. “I don’t need to tell you, because you already know, right Monsieur Gille?”

The Frenchman returned the grin with one of his own. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, mademoiselle,” he started, placing a mug beneath a tap that extended below a cavernous gap in the metal box to his left. He flicked the switch and a dark liquid poured into the mug below. “I have no idea about a certain lady drinking a dozen too many and being helped back home by the redhead from the machine shop.”

He flicked the switch again and the liquid stopped pouring, sliding the mug over to Stephanie. She reached out to grab it and his hand shot out to divert it, grabbing her gently by the wrist.

She turned her hand so that her palm was facing upwards. She was holding a datastick.

Pierre smiled, his pristine teeth shining between his lips.

“I knew that I hired the correct person,” he uttered, placing his other hand over hers, taking the datastick. “Your account has been credited, the synthcaf is on the house today.”

“I made the right choice, huh?” she smiled, moving her hand to finally grasp the mug, bringing it to her lips and taking a small sip.

“You made the right choice,” he reiterated, retracting his hand. “Got plans for today? Preparing for a pretty big run, I hear.”

Stephanie’s eyes shot up to his, peering at him over the rim of the mug. He raised his hands defensively. “Relax, relax. I have no interest in seeing you damaged. You’re my little ace in the hole, remember?”

Stephanie took another sip of synthcaf, a smile forming on her lips. “Is there anything that you don’t know?” she asked, a light hearted tone to her voice.

“Your idea of a perfect date.”

An awkward silence.

He chuckled and shook his head, making his way to another customer who had made her way up to the bar. She was taller than Stephanie, fair skin underneath a long, brown leather coat and pair of dark grey trousers. Her hands were smooth, almost impossibly so, complimenting a soft, well-spoken voice. She had shoulder length brown hair that was worn loose which seemed to shimmer in the light. The woman lit a cigarette, puffing smoke as she spoke in a hushed voice to Pierre. Stephanie tried to make out what the two were talking about without looking obvious. She was confident in her subtlety, but it was impossible to make out the conversation over the noise. Something did not add up.

Then it hit her.

The cigarette was genuine. She could tell from the smoke. The difference was minor, but being a smoking addict afforded her one, singular benefit: the ability to tell authentic from synthetic. This woman was corporate, that much was obvious to her. Which company did she work for though? Matsutech? KleinNet? TyCorp? NetZen? Regardless, she was dangerous. Her mere presence made her feel uncomfortable.

Pierre walked off into the back room. The woman stood still, arms folded, those perfect hands stroking the outside of her coat’s sleeves, fingers tapping rhythmically. Stephanie’s brain was working over time trying to think of the best course of action. She could hack the woman and steal her secrets, though decking in public seemed a bit too obvious. She could follow her and kill her; selling her cybernetics could earn a small fortune. She could simply chat to the woman.

Pierre came out of the back room again, holding a small box which he passed to the woman. The woman seemed to examine it for a moment before smiling, nodding as she took the box, and walking out. Probably just a servant getting some genuine article cake for breakfast for her master.

Then again, all corporate drones were effectively slaves.

“Who was that?” she asked Pierre after the woman had left the café. Long after she had left.

“Oh, another client. Ace in the hole like you.”

Stephanie raised her eyebrow as she finished her cup of synthcaf. “You put me in the same category as a corporate? Not sure if I should be flattered or offended.”

“We all have our strengths, Mademoiselle Choi.”

Stephanie sighed and got to her feet. She had a lot to do before the evening. Besides, she wanted to get to Layla’s shop earlier than that. Nobody could be expected to be business all day every day, after all.

Chapter 1: Rise and Shine

Stillness covered the small room. The only source of light came from the window, however the shutters were firmly down, allowing no more than the odd line of light to streak from one side of the room to the other, barely illuminating the room at all. It was silent, the sounds of everyday life outside drowned behind the thick window panes that separated the street from the room. It was on the third floor of a small apartment block near the outskirts of London.

A ringing sound sliced into the silence and serenity of the still room as a console lit up. A figure on the opposite side stirred to life as well, the silhouette of a woman beneath a thin, blue blanket groggily turning her head to look at the console, a mess of thick, black hair covering most of her face. Stephenie Choi was a small woman, skinny with no evidence of any physical training. She was of Korean descent with striking features, dark brown almond eyes to match her hair. The room was small, not much distance between the bed in which the woman lay and the opposite wall where the terminal was situated. She moved a hand through her hair, clearing her face somewhat as she reached for the bedside table with her other hand, fumbling about until she lay her hand on a pair of thick-rimmed, round glasses. Placing them on her face and pushing them up her nose into place she could make out what was going on a bit easier. It was a call from a friend, Layla Jansen.

With a groan she pushed herself up and to the side, sitting on the edge of her bed. Her head felt like there was a grenade going off inside her skull every second, but that was inevitable after her previous night’s exploits. She grabbed a cigarette from an open packet on the bedside table and placed it between her lips. It was synthetic, but she was not picky; nor was she rich enough to afford genuine tobacco. She got to her feet and walked over to the terminal, sitting in the seat and pressing a button to pick up the call. Onto the screen flashed the face of a fair-skinned woman with sharp blue eyes and shoulder length hair tied back into a ponytail. She grinned at the recently Stephenie, her smirk spread across Stephenie’s computer screen.

“Catch you at a bad time, Steph?” she asked cheekily, her Dutch accent ubiquitous in her voice though not intrusive.

“Go to hell, Layla,” Stephenie answered wearily, picking up a small lighter from next to the screen and lighting the cigarette that rested between her lips, taking a deep drag and blowing smoke lazily downwards.

“Now, now,” Layla replied, obviously having fun with Stephenie’s state, “is that any way to greet a friend? Also, do you always answer calls in your underwear? There’s something you’re not telling me. Am I going to start finding videos on the Net involving you and artistic methods of undressing, or worse?” she teased, her grin growing wider.

“Fuck off.”

“Grouchy.”

“You woke me up. I’m entitled to at least some hostility.”

“It’s 11am.”

A silence fell over the pair of them.

“Well, regardless, I apologise for waking you but I’m sure you’ll forgive me when you hear what I have to say,” Layla continued cheerfully, an aura of giddiness around the young Dutch woman as she reached over to the side of the screen.

“Uh huh…” Stephenie responded dismissively, taking another drag from her cigarette before placing her fingers around it, removing it from her lips and blowing smoke to the side.

“Don’t sound so disinterested or I’ll think that you’re not the right person.” With a beep, a small window popped up on screen, a file transfer request. “Don’t worry, it’s secure. You can trust me on that at least.”

Stephenie raised her eyebrow and tapped at the on-screen pop-up, accepting the file transfer. After a few brief seconds it opens into what looks like a document. Stephenie scanned the document quickly from top to bottom, her ability to absorb information was impressive to say the least. It was a message as well as attached information: maps, security systems, guard shifts. Stephenie’s eyes widened.

“What the fuck are you trying to pull, Layla?” Stephenie yelled in a mild panic. She briefly took a deep breath and calmed herself, taking another drag from her cigarette and blowing a long cloud of smoke. “Please, for the love of God, tell me that these files are clean.”

“Cleaner than the corridors of the building they were lifted from,” Layla replied with a wink before peering over Stephenie’s shoulder, “guess you wouldn’t know about that though,” she remarked upon seeing the state of Stephenie’s room through the darkness.

Stephenie sunk back into her chair, breathing a heavy sigh of relief. “I trust you on that.” She paused. “But you still haven’t told me what you’re doing with classified, corporate documents. You know what will happen if we’re caught with these, right?”

“Yeah. Matsutech will liquidate us or turn us into corporate slaves, I know the drill,” Layla muttered, waving her hand. “We just have to not get caught.” There was another silence between the two. “We were given this job through a certain ‘Mr. Turner’. Corporate, but we don’t know who. All that matters is a fat pay day at the end of it.”

“And you trust a suit to actually pay you for this run?”

“Amir trusts him enough to accept the job.”

“And you trust Amir?” Stephenie’s voice was thick with scepticism. “I can’t understand what you see in him as an agent.”

“Who’s the one who earned enough to open a shop in a semi-decent place in London?”

“Point taken.” Stephenie took another drag from her cigarette. “So why did you send it to me?”

“Because you’re the best decker in the London area.”

Stephenie laughed out loud, shaking her head. “What’s your angle, Layla? Doesn’t your crew run with Eddie?”

“Yeah, but Eddie’s addiction to stimchips was eventually the death of him. Fried his brain. Literally.”

“Not surprised.” Her voice lacked empathy as she stubbed out her cigarette in a small dish by the side of the computer monitor. Layla’s expression shifted. Stephenie bit her lip. “I’m sorry for your loss either way. Not easy when a crew member goes down, even if it is to their own habits.”

“Yeah.”

Another awkward silence followed before Stephenie spoke up. “Still haven’t answered why you came to me though. We all know that I’m definitely not the best decker in London.”

“Truthfully,” Layla started, though she paused to think over her words, causing Stephenie to raise another curious eyebrow as she lit up another cigarette and placed it between her lips. “Honestly, it’s because you’re the best in our budget. That and I trust you.”

Stephenie pulled a mirror that was attached to the side of her wardrobe towards her, gathering her hair into a messy bun as her cigarette burned slowly between her lips. She held her hair in place as she turned to face the screen again. Layla seemed to have gotten a hold of herself, which was good.

“You’re doing a run for a suit and I’m your budget gal? Come on, you’re earning some serious sum from that, I can tell. So why not hire someone more competent than me?” Stephenie asked curiously, reaching for a hair band.

“Didn’t I already mention the trust part? This is big with big consequences. Can’t just sign on some decker who we know nothing about as they could sell us out to Matsutech for a pay day larger than their original share.” Layla’s tone shifted from one of cheer to serious in a heartbeat. “Look. We need your skills.”

“Aren’t you a pretty hot-shot decker yourself?” Stephenie asked as she secured her messy bun loosely in place. It was not a hairstyle that she would take out of the apartment, but it did a good job keeping hair out of her face.

“Not hot enough for a corporate run. I’m more mechanical than matrix savvy,” Layla admitted, shrugging. “So, you going to do it, or not?”

Stephenie inhaled through her cigarette, removing it from her mouth and blowing smoke again. She pondered on the proposition. It was true that the run would pay well. Corporates had little experience dealing directly with runners such as Layla or herself and tended to have more money than sense. However, the risks were a lot higher than a simple street job. Getting caught by a group of thugs or a rival gang was comparably pleasant to corporate captivity.

“Fuck it. Where and when?” she finally answered, taking a drag from her cigarette. Layla smiled.

“Meet me at my machine shop this evening. You don’t know where Amir’s hideout is, right?” she replied, still smiling, her cheerful tone returning in force.

“I’m not part of his crew and I’m a decker. Of course I don’t, but I bet I could find out.” Stephenie looked mischievously at her cyberdeck, probably the most expensive item that she owned, a KleinNet V3.1. In her profession though, it paid to have a strong deck.

“No need. Just meet me later. Wouldn’t want you to wreck his security sub-routines!” Layla chuckled, shaking her head. “Well, tot ziens! Remember to turn up in something more than just underwear!”

“Yeah, whatever. Later,” Stephenie replied before turning to her wardrobe. She quickly went about getting dressed, donning a pair of brown cargo pants and a white tank top. She placed her cyberdeck into an olive green satchel which she slung across her shoulder after putting on a black leather jacket and a pair of army surplus combat boots. Finally she grabbed a black holster and strapped it to her right thigh, housing a heavy duty semi-automatic pistol. Going just about anywhere in her area of London was a death wish. The police were on the pay roll of the larger corporations and kept to the more central locations, leaving the outer areas to the jurisdiction of local gangs and crime syndicates.

She left the small room, locking the door behind her as she exited into a dirty corridor. She made her way to the end, avoiding any dubious stains on the carpet and noting down any new ones. She made her way down the stairs, paint was peeling from the walls and the carpet was shredded beyond recognition, revealing the grey concrete beneath. As she made her way into the lobby, she was stopped by a skinny man in a long, grey coat, his eyes flashing with an inhuman shine.

“Hey, Steph, you interested in some jazz? I got some jazz, fresh and ready to run,” he asked with a sly edge to his voice, flashing a small computer chip in the palm of his hand. She gazed longingly at the chip in the man’s hand for what seemed like an eternity. She really, really wanted to taste the sensations of stimchips once again. She bit her lip and hastily dug into her jacket pocket, producing a packet of synthetic cigarettes, jamming one in her mouth and shaking her head.

“I quit that shit, you know that,” she replied, lighting up the cigarette and puffing smoke. “Cleaning up like a good little citizen.”

The man eyed her for a moment, his gaze going from her face, to the cigarette, to the gun at her hip. He sighed, shaking his head as he placed the chip back into his coat pocket. “You know, those will kill you. Fuck up your lungs. It’s messy,” he argued, pointing at the cigarette in her mouth. “At least my shit won’t put you in an early grave.”

“Physically, no,” Steph responded with an irritated tone. The last thing that she needed was a dealer trying to tempt her back into being a stim junkie. “But those chips empty your brain. Turn you into a shell. Is that really living?” she mused, inhaling through the synthetic tobacco. The man shifted uneasily. “No. If I wanted to be a shell, I’d go work for one of the corps. Hell, I got the qualifications for it and it’d get me out of this shit stain of a block,” she continued, giving the man an angry glare, “but why the fuck would I want that, huh? I’d rather die alive than live dead, if you know what I mean.”

Before he could give a reply, she turned on her heel and made her way past him, lightly pushing past his shoulder on her way to the door.

Shedding Some More Light

Hooray, more light shedding. Basically, news of the hour is that I am going to split one of the novels that I was working on into a pair of novellas instead. The contrast between the first half and second half of the story means that it generally makes more sense this way. You’re going to have to trust me on that!

In other news, I am working on a second cyberpunk piece to go alongside the other one. They will largely happen in parallel with each other, but cover two very different aspects. Here is what I think will be the prologue (though that may change!) and will likely be a submission for my University’s creative writing magazine.

—————————————————————-

The lights outside the Fallen Angel hummed with energy, their light casting a dull grey tinge upon the immediate surroundings. The street was full of various types of people; street walkers, dealers and party goers to name a few.

Lexi weaved her way through the crowd, hands in the pockets of the long coat that hung loosely over her form. She fingered over the small pistol that lay at the bottom of her coat pocket as she got to the doors of the Fallen Angel, taking a peek inside before walking in herself.

The inside of the Fallen Angel was dirty, the bass of the music thumping in Lexi’s ears as she walked up to the bar. The ambient level of light was low, most coming from a mix of UV lighting and spotlights. Lexi hated dance clubs like this herself, and were it not for her current job, she would not even think of going to one.

She leaned on the edge of the counter, eyeing the patrons from behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses.

‘Lady? Hello?’ the voice of the bartender seemed to pass through one ear and out of the other. With a start, Lexi turned around to meet the curious gaze of a blonde man; hair gelled up in a most peculiar fashion. She met his expression with her own. ‘So, just going to stand there all day?’

She pulled a cheap cigar from a pocket on her coat, a tiny blade extruding from beneath her index finger to cut the end off. She smiled at the bartender as she retracted the blade and placed the cigar in her mouth. ‘Something like that.’

The bartender shook his head with a sigh, muttering quietly to himself as Lexi turned her attention back to the patrons. She raised her thumb to the end of the cigar, flipping the end back to reveal a small valve from which a small flame expelled, lighting the cigar before returning to look like normal.

She blinked idly. Minutes passed by. Occasionally her communication implant buzzed with activity, though she had mentally tuned out for the most part.

She almost coughed when she laid eyes on another woman entering the club; Asian descent, black hair with blue highlights. It was her.

‘Target has entered the Fallen Angel,’ she muttered inaudibly, sending the message across her communication network.

No response.

She watched the woman walk up to the bar next to her. She seemed tense and purchased some substances from the bartender. Drugs, Lexi assumed. The woman was mildly unkempt; she had done well to cover it up, but the evidence was still there to Lexi’s trained eyes that this woman had been running.

Lexi continued to smoke her cigar.

Her communication implant buzzed.

‘Understood. Keep us posted.’

Lexi hated her employer’s lack of detail, but she was paid enough not to care too much. She continued to lean against the bar, keeping the woman in her peripheral vision.

‘Target has entered the restrooms,’ she uttered quietly, keeping her head facing forwards as she took another drag from the cigar.

‘That’s redundant,’ her implant buzzed distinctively; a direct reply. The voice was easily identifiable as Harvey Roberts, a most detestable individual in her eyes.

Lexi remained silent.

A couple of minutes passed.

‘Target has been neutralised. Send in the clean-up crew,’ Harvey spoke in a relative monotone.

‘Taylor, you’re up. We need that woman’s cybernetics for analysis,’ their employers asserted in return.

Lexi sighed, dropping the cigar butt to the ground and stubbing it out with the heel on her knee boots. ‘Right, on it,’ she replied reluctantly. She had been told that it was likely just observation.

Then she heard a scream from the restrooms. Lexi turned her head in shock, as most patrons within earshot did. Someone had walked in on the operation. Harvey had screwed up.

Lexi rushed over to the woman to see the target lying in a pool of her own blood. Lexi walked over and felt the woman’s pulse. It was still there, and she breathed weakly, though there was no way to extract the data from her cybernetics now that half of the club was watching her.

She cursed silently to herself. ‘Simple job. Sure, whatever,’ she thought as she looked from the woman to the gathered crowd.

She wondered how to proceed.

‘Someone call a doctor or something,’ she shouted at the crowd, eyes wide and her expression one of surprise at their response to what appeared to them as an attempted murder. She was trained to blend in, so that was what she would do. Some of the crowd dispersed at the abrupt instruction, either through apathy or action, though a lot remained, gawking at the injured woman.

Lexi’s communication implant buzzed with activity over what was going on. They wanted reports, figures, anything on the situation. She was preoccupied with the crowd, but Harvey remained silent.

‘I am going to kill that man next time I see him,’ Lexi thought as she moved the body into a more natural position. She hated the lower levels of New London.