It's a kind of penthouse, I guess

It’s a kind of penthouse, I guess

Date: 13th November 2177

Weather: Rainy

Mood: Bored! The last two days have just been talking! talking! talking! That might be fine for all the crusty old men I hang around with but I’m a girl, I’ve got no use for all this talking! I need to fight and kill things! I don’t know why Coyote thinks he has to be the centre of the universe all the time with his talking and negotiating and fixing things. What about me!?

Outfit: Super-short ripped-off denim shorts and a t-shirt for an old Oil Age metal band that says “Killing is my business… and business is good!” I’m lounging around at the back of the Haven conference room waiting for everyone to finish talking about remnant husks and ghost chalk dealers and blah blah blah so that we can go kill some people, and I’m wearing the t-shirt in hopes that they’ll get the hint. The only hint so far is Pops raising his eyebrows and suggesting I shouldn’t attend the meeting in my underwear. Sigh! These old men talk too much and know like absolutely nothing about fashion!

News: Some of the bigger street gangs in New Horizon seem to have decided that picking sides in a war is a good idea, so the Transcendents (the trans-humanist weirdos who look more like luggage than people) have sided with Biotechnica, of course, and the Imperfectionists have made a deal with Arasaka which apparently has some subsidiary corp that makes a profit out of selling idiocy, because it has this Japanese Zen body-improvement purity shtick going on that of course every imperfectionist is in love with. I think all street gangers just have daddy issues, because as soon as a skeezy old dude in funky samurai armour rocks up to tell them they can become all historic just by doing his bidding they all bow down and praise the laces on his faux-ancient sandals. That kind of silliness is probably also why this new group of elitist vigilantes, the Inquisitors, have hit the street and started beating up anyone with cybergear.  I wanted to go get picked on by a few of those low-tech bullies until Coyote reminded me that they like to use EMP weapons, and I don’t have any EMP baffling, and last time I got hit with an EMP pulse I had to wait a week for my nails to stop flashing. Beating up those guys would be a fashion disaster and apparently it’s “wrong” to shoot them from a kilometre away, for no reason any of my morally superior uncool uncles can explain to me. It doesn’t make any sense that I can’t shoot anyone I want when there’s a war on, does it? That war, that Arasaka’s weird old grandpa started by mistake in one of his rambling zen speeches, has spread now outside New Horizon: Militech has been blowing up Arasaka facilities in the Asian states, proving once again that when two corps go to war, they’re always looking for points to score. Someone even burned a town to the ground in the Indozone, the news says casualties about 600 people died and thousands were displaced but noone knows who did it, but with that level of incompetence (just 600??) my guess is it was Arasaka. Because of all this chaos, Orbital Industries prices for off planet travel hit an all time high, which makes Pops happy because back when there were dinosaurs and everyone thought the stars were Elvis’s sequinned vest Pops bought shares in something called “the space program” and every time there’s a war his retirement fund goes up a few nuyen. Not that he’s ever going to retire, since he’s like the leathery old dude from a noir detective novel, and those dudes don’t retire or fade away they just complain about their knees until a jealous husband puts a bullet in them. Not that I want to think about Pops making any husband jealous that is like so ewwwwww.

We crashed our way out of the Goliath research facility in two open-topped grav trucks that completely stank of goldfish meat, and were stacked full of these helpless refugee slackers we hauled out of that research prison. Pops met us outside the blast zone in the whaler grav van, which he’d been using to make a diversion to distract Goliath security, and which he’d somehow damaged on some private mission of his over the past few days. We had to get out fast so it was a hairy ride, standing in amongst all the refugees keeping my eyes open for pursuit and trying to keep everyone in the truck calm but we did it and made it all the way back to the old hospital where Lima iced me and Pops minced Lima. Pops has been running around the gutters and homeless shelters of New Horizon dragging together every freak, loser and waste of data that he can find to rope into this new community he wants to build, and until he can find somewhere permanent to station them he wants to keep them in the old hospital, which he has renamed “Haven” and started setting up as a secure site. He’s got help from a bunch of other gangers and feudalist wannabes, and the place is looking semi-organized, but when we rocked up there and me and Coyote saw the circus show he’s got working with him we were both rolling eyes (not that Coyote could see that through my helmet). We both told Pops we’d support his little imperial project but I can’t see myself fitting in with these people – they’ve got Imperfectionists and Transcendentalists and Neon Krishnas and Retroists and Futurists and Evangelistas who are these weird razor-gang girls who all get bioware so they can look like the same Oil Age desperate housewife and then there’s homeless hobos and outcasts from every gang on earth and even a Vampire, sucking down on fake blood and sweating like a parasitic pig in the muggy New Horizon summer.

I’m not going to share a bathroom with that.

But we needed somewhere to dump these rescue rejects and they need somewhere to live and Haven is offering, well, haven, so here they are and here we were, being shown the new, rebooted hospital by a proud and authoritative Pops, who’s become daddy to a hundred rejects since he failed to save his own daughter. He’s also become daddy to some kind of orphaned, armless and legless FBR thing that used to be his friend Jimmy, and after we’d settled down into the mess room here for a drink and to rest he told us about it. We all looked at him goggle-eyed and tired, but he told us it had to be done. He got into a run-in with some FBRs and in the process discovered that his old friend Jimmy had been turned into an FBR, and used in a nerve-gas attack on an uncooperative community in the Docks. Jimmy used to be a cop along with Pops, but he must be as stubbornly idealistic as Pops because Goliath got him and then after they deboned him and re-bodied him they put him to use. But when he was trying to deliver the nerve gas to this innocent community of Dock-siders he got hit by a serious EMP blast and scrambled, and Pops managed to bring him back to Haven.

We all looked even more aghast at that until Pops reminded us that FBRs are too heavy to carry, so he cut out the important bits and brought back just them: the spine, upper chest, head and stumps of the arms only. He wanted Ghost to do a ghostdive into this charming form of transhuman wreckage, and find out if there was any of Jimmy left in there, and if so … do … something …

Honestly, with friends like Pops, who needs enemies?

How to make friends and eviscerate people

How to make friends and eviscerate people

Pops took us to a secure hospital room and let us inside, where we found the bloodied, ichor-dripping shattered remnants of the core of an FBR, tossed on the floor like garbage. Everyone stood well back and I prepped my pretty blue rifle and then Ghost turned on the Jimmy, and dived inside. He sat there silently for a few seconds, and then the thing started screaming: a single monotone inhuman scream of rage and terror that cut straight to the soul and wouldn’t stop. For a moment we waited for Ghost to work his magic and make it stop and get the Jimmy talking, but the wail dragged out for a few more seconds, and someone said “Make it stop Ghost” and everyone looked around nervously at each other and the screaming kept going and Ghost was sitting there with eyelids flickering and suddenly I wasn’t sure if I should be pointing the gun at the screaming thing or Ghost. The screaming kept going and I said to everyone “Just tell me when” because I was ready to blow it away and Ghost too if he started acting weird(er!) but nobody said anything for a moment longer and it kept screaming and then Coyote stepped forward and pulled the plug calm as … well, as Coyote. Ghost blinked awake and then all the colour drained out of his face and he looked for a moment like he was trying to stop himself puking.

“Nothing to see here,” he said, looking calmly at Pops. “Just reruns from his FBR career, which was short and violent. You don’t want to see. Jimmy’s not in there, there’s nothing … human … in there. Looks like he rebelled against his owners and got … reprogrammed for a suicide mission on the community you were talking about. But it took a lot of killing before he rebelled, and then he had to kill a lot of people before he finished the mission.” He held up a chip.

“I got a copy of the reruns. It’s not scientific evidence or anything, but it looks like Goliath have worked out how to reprogram … I dunno, the human soul. At least, that’s what they did to Jimmy. Best to kill it.”

I was gonna do the deed but Pops stopped me. “Leave it Drew. We’ll keep him shut down for now, maybe later we can learn more. He can’t do anything in here.” He put a careful little stress on the ‘he’ as if he was trying to tell Ghost off for his choice of pronoun, but we were all thinking the same thing: that’s not Jimmy in there. Me and Coyote were looking at each other and I don’t ever know what poker-face Coyote is thinking but this time I think we were both on the same channel: whatever Jimmy did to that community in the Docks is gonna get done here too at some point, because the corps like to talk about economic freedom and independence but there’s nothing they hate more than people who’re truly, really independent. Once that community in the Docks decided not to buy what Goliath is selling, they got to meet insane Jimmy and sample his nerve gas menu for free. I don’t wanna be here when that particular salesman pitches up to give everyone a free sample.

So that put a dampener on our excitement at rescuing a bunch of no-hopers from nowhere to be a burden on our limited resources. There we were feeling all successful and upbeat, and then some screaming skeleton from beyond the psych-ward went and popped our little rebellious bubble. So instead of deciding to strike out on a different path – like maybe join up with Goliath and earn a solid day’s wage killing Arasaka salarymen, like honest pros – we decided to go back to Pastafari, clean off, sleep a night, and go visit the psych ward where Alt was holding Hog, in hopes of finding out a bit more about the ghost chalk sellers that Lima was dealing with.

Because after you’ve had a run-in with a screaming hell-skull, just after you rescued a bunch of people from a nightmare lab, why wouldn’t you go digging up old ghosts?

Hog was a truck driver who was running ghost-chalk for Lima back before we put a couple of thousand bullets into Lima’s biomechanical backside, but he went missing and we found out he’d been grabbed by Goliath and put into their cyber-psychosis recovery program, only he wasn’t cyber-psychotic and our guess was that they’d grabbed him because of his connection to Lima, which meant they knew something about Lima’s weird dialectical ephemeralist sister Samantha, who we had contracted with Alt to find in our own sweet time (and at our own sweet expense!). We rescued him from the cyberpsychosis facility at great physical cost to his rehabilitation team, but while we were off destroying trains and ghettos he had been in a medically-induced coma in one of Alt’s transhumanist medical facilities, slowly recovering his sanity.

We visited him the next day, all polite and business-y and not carrying any weapons or anything, and one of Alt’s many body-subs met us there to show us to his room. I dressed up in my best psychologist’s uniform, all relaxing professional suits and neat nails, but in fact I probably should have dressed as a nurse because when we found him in the ward he was fast unconscious and hooked up to a couple of machines. I sat behind him and crooned him an inuit lullaby (well, actually I don’t know any lullabies; they were mostly revenge stories), while the medics woke him up and the Coyote gently interviewed him to find out about the ghost-chalk dealing. We were hoping to find the people who sold him the chalk, so that we could trace from them to their source, because by now we were pretty sure that the source was somewhere in Goliath or Biotechnica, and maybe they took Hog in when they discovered that they were bleeding ghost-chalk to one of Samantha’s family. Maybe.

Hog wasn’t that helpful, but he did tell us that there was some kind of little team of bandits who regularly hit ghost-chalk supply runs, and that they were given info on when and where by some old guy with two cyberlegs who liked to make his business deals with Hog at a ramen store in a well-known market in district 68. After a bit more digging Coyote managed to establish where this market was and got a pretty good idea of who this dude was – an old Hacker with a long history of getting info and passing it on to third parties for profit. So we thanked Hog for his time, left him in Alt’s tender care, and returned home to set up a meeting with this old dude.

That turned out to be as easy as an email: Coyote just found the guy with Ghost’s help, put in a message, and arranged to meet him at his favourite ramen joint a couple of days later. We rested, talked about what we wanted to know, and headed off to the market that is mostly referred to as Rain Lantern Sweep.

It would be romantic if the rain would just stop ...

It would be romantic if the rain would just stop …

Rain Lantern Sweep is a jumbled mess of outdoor stalls and dubious dealers, all clustered together in the ruins of an old mega-church on a low level of district 68. Many of the stalls were jury-rigged together from old vans and wagons but had become semi-permanent after the major corporate land-owner got lazy on rent collection, and now the area had become one of those jumbled-up free trade zones that manage to gather like mould in the lawless areas between the corporate zones. It served as an all-purpose low-cost trading area, no-questions-asked low-rent residential zone, fleshpot and server of cheap but exquisite ramen to the kind of low-paid corporate drones who lived in the stable but shabby corporate suburbs surrounding it, and although it wasn’t our favourite place to visit it had a good quality ammo dealer and retooling shop that we sometimes visited, and stopped off for shoranpo on the way home because Pops insists that Rain Lantern Sweep has the best shoranpo strip even though Ghost every time points out quite reasonably that there is a home delivery service from Mrs. Magnet’s Little Dragons that are at least 10 times better and unlikely to include any goldfish meat and you don’t have to juggle your umbrella while you try to eat them because you’re in your house not on some rain-swept street in the worst part of district 68 but Pops doesn’t listen to that because he fancies himself a detective in some Oil Age drama about robots and heroes and doves. So we kind of know our way around down here, and we managed to find the ramen place pretty quick. I came separately on my little grav bike and set up in a crepe shop a couple of stalls down, partly because I don’t want to be jammed in the van going home with a whole bunch of boys who stink of low-grade acid rain and weapons-grade garlic, and partly because the ramen shop does spicy miso ramen which is my least favourite of all the different layers of ramen, and partly because I was on guard duty and needed to be at a distance so I could step out of the crepe shop in my full moto-cross armour and gun down everyone in the ramen shop if things got nasty.

Which, of course, they did. Coyote, Pops and Ghost settled into the stall and ordered noodles and beer and tried to talk to the old man but it turns out that the dude serving ramen was some associate of the old man’s, and just randomly went to pull a shotgun from under the counter which of course Coyote saw so Coyote pulled his gun on the dude and then the old man tried to run but Pops tackled him to the rain-soaked pavement which is a really dirty, nasty place to be and then while they were struggling in the bio-sludge mud the other ramen chef just tipped the whole counter over so that noodles got thrown all over everyone, which pissed off Coyote and distracted Pops long enough for the old man to get up and put his cyberlegs to use, so then I had to step out of my half-finished strawberry-almond-cream-caramel crepe (the one with the caramel they make fresh there not from a tube such a waste) and threaten to shoot the guy as he ran towards me but instead of stopping like a sensible old man he turned and leapt into a stall that looked like it was selling unfashionable big undies for FBRs (or maybe American grandmas?) so then Pops and I had to charge off in pursuit while Ghost hacked into the security footage of the area to try and make sure no one noticed us tearing through underwear stores and bio-engineered ferret sellers and dress makers and fake Persian rug-makers and Russian doll craftsmen and also find out where this guy was going. I tried to take shots at the guy but the one time I had a clear shot at his legs I was still running and this little mini bus pulled around a corner right in front of me and my gun hit it and I ran into the barrel of my gun at full pace which nearly knocked the wind out of me! I managed to not shoot which Pops told me afterwards was good since the bus was full of orphans with cancer on a day trip to their parents’ graves or something, which sounds like exactly the kind of monotone schooltrip I would have loved to have interrupted by scenes of chaos as two useless mercenaries try to chase down a mad old man, trailing underwear and noodles, but Pops told me all the kids and their teacher were screaming and wailing like they were about to die so I guess they don’t share the same taste in comedy as me.

We kept chasing, with Ghost telling us where to go and Coyote making caustic comments about our abilities and what a great team we are, until finally the old man tried to leap over a fence, and landed straight back in the street right next to the ramen stall he’d just left – he’d managed to run himself full circle trying to escape us, and landed right in front of Coyote, who just pointed his gun in the guy’s face and told him not to play with his food.

Professionals. That’s us.

The old man got pretty talkative at that point and after apologizing for the small mix up with our noodle order (and refusing to repay me for my crepe!) he told us that the ghost-chalk was being made and shipped out of this weird research facility set up by Goliath (shock!) down in the Pit, in this area that was completely devoid of residencies and where the Husk itself was so old and abandoned that it had mutated and become somehow wild. This facility was really secure: the old man’s team considered raiding it to get the motherlode but couldn’t get through the perimeter, so instead the old man would hack some information from the corp on when deliveries were being made, and the team would raid them. The old man then sold those drugs on to Hog to deal to Lima, but then Lima forced Hog to reveal the old man to Lima, and Lima started putting the hard word on the old man to organize a raid on the facility to get a bigger load of ghost-chalk – and the old man was trying to work out how to handle that when Hog just disappeared, and he got to wipe his hands of the whole thing. At that point he gave up further ghost chalk hijacks, which is probably just as well since now that the war has started that kind of thing will be much harder to do.

Ghost did a bit of a background search on this old man and found out that there was a contract out on him for 3000 nuyen, so we decided to cash in that contract. Only things didn’t go as we expected and took a kind of comedic turn, which Coyote has forbidden me from talking about even in my diary because he says it’s too humiliating for an adult Solo to report. So instead I’m leaving that out of this entry because Coyote says when I’m famous it’s better people don’t know these things.

I don’t know when I’m going to be famous but that moment when we kicked in that dude’s door and then help him and his cousin beat each other up for a measly 1000 nuyen really is pretty sad, and it was all Ghost’s fault anyway, so I’m not going to talk about it anymore. We’re professionals, not bail bondsmen!

Anyway here we are now in the conference room at Haven, talking about a real raid again. It’s been days of talking! I just want to go whack the Goliath facility already! Why can’t a girl just have fun in a warzone, instead of listening to these old men rambling on about stuff?! Hurry up boys, my list of people to kill isn’t getting any shorter while you make contingency plans, and this war is going to end one day and by then we need to be far, far away from this rain-washed wonderland of murder, theft and waking nightmares…