Date: 20th November 2177
Weather: Rainy

Mood: Elated! I met the two famous Russian solos, The 55 – Lazarev and Valentine, who’s a famous sniper. Well I didn’t really meet Valentine, just gave him a happy wave from far away, but I did meet Lazarev and I nearly killed him and I got his autograph! What a day!! I didn’t get much time to fight though because everyone was already dead but I guess we beat The 55, because Lazarev surrendered to us! And then we saved his life! I tried to put the autographed empty magazine cartridge on the mantelpiece in the main room of our hideout, next to the battered FBR helmet and the photos of Pops’s family, but Pops got all grumpy and said I couldn’t, I don’t know why but he seems to really not like Lazarev talking to me …

Outfit: It was combat armour all day again but now I’m wearing my Russian Lolita dress in honour of The 55, who would have died in there if Ghost hadn’t decoded that treacherous little thermonuclear detonator. My Russian Lolita dress makes me look like a big babushka doll, and it takes about 9 layers to get out of, so I’m feeling really Russian. I was thinking to download some study chips to improve the little bit of Russian I remember from my childhood, but then I remembered study is boring so I didn’t.

News: The war has heated up some more, and some stupid corporation tried to get in Arasaka’s way but now they’re all gone, and Arasaka has a whole bunch of heavy militech bearing down on our rainy little home. The Arasaka district of New Horizon is completely shut off and anyone who didn’t make it into that district from their own apartment has either killed themselves or gone on a suicidal killing spree in their neighbourhood. There’s good money to be made there mopping up Arasaka sleeper cells, but of course we’re stuck on another one of our stupid low-rent Extreme Investigations. Am I the only girl in New Horizon who knows how to profit from a war??

So now we have some real intel about where the ghost chalk was being sold from, which is our only connection to the girl Samantha that our body-hopping LGBTIQ patron Alt wants us to find. We’ve visited enough medical facilities and research facilities now to know that there is a strong link between ghost chalk and whatever transubstantiation mumbo jumbo was going on back when Alt, Lima and Samantha were playing happy families in Peru (eeewww), and we figure that going into this Super Top Secret Ghost chalk Factory is going to give us some more leads on finding Samantha. So we spoke to Alt and of course she was all super-excited and happy for us to go get shot looking for her sister while she floats around in her latest body, so she set up some really flimsy mercenary contract and IDs that would get us half way into the facility, but not all the way because Alt never gives us everything we want, she’s like an Oracle in some old movie that’s being directed by a really sadistic guy who likes to watch his heroes suffer, but I didn’t tell her that because sometimes I think maybe she is as close to a god as humans can get and I don’t believe in much but I think it’s better not to cross people who might be gods, even if they’re sparkly transgender gods with bad taste in neon and some kind of incestuous obssession with their little sister. Anyway, halfway is good enough as the boys used to say back in my hometown, so we hopped in our whaler and headed off to the facility and that’s when Alt revealed that the pictures on our IDs weren’t our pictures because facial recognition software is really good so we have to inject ourselves with this weird temporary facial distortion nano drug that hurts like hell but blurs our faces so we won’t be recognized.

She better have a really good reward in mind when we finally find her stupid little sister.

The Facility was buried in the pit, inside some kind of weird old cluster of buildings that were all drawn together and clumped up like a huge wall around a fortress, and except for this one big canyon between them there was no way in. So we were going to have to slide in through this narrow gap in this wall made of old buildings, but it had a real forbidding look. There was a big spidery mobile gun platform clinging to one side of that canyon, lots of beady electronic sensor ports looking in every direction and a wicked cluster of guns and missile launchers pointing right at us. It was obviously there for a reason – the outer walls were scattered with burn marks and pocked with craters, like there had recently been an attack on the facility. So that spider turret was on extra alert, spying out for gangs of shifty kids in battered old vehicles looking to fight there way in. Good thing we had IDs! We beamed our data to the turret, and stabbed those needles of face distorting painbots into our necks.

I was shot by one of these in Tunguska, too

I was shot by one of these in Tunguska, too

The data worked, for now at least, and we were through, screaming and yelling as the bots crawled all over our faces and behind our eyes, like going into a cheap beauty parlour for a skin peel but the girl who works there can’t read and she uses hair bleach instead of whatever gentle acid is meant to cure pimples but never does (I tried like five times when I was a teenager and it never worked but I didn’t have enough money for cyberskin until I started killing people for a living and now my complexion is always perfect and stops bullets). I don’t think Coyote noticed though, probably because he’s had a million industrial-acid skin peels to try and treat his facial problem but they didn’t work so now he’s been stripped down to the nerves like 10 times and a face full of torture bots is just another day at the beautician for him. I guess that’s why he can’t get a job as a used car salesman for even the lowest corp, because that wrecked skin really turns off the customers, and then he has that unfocused stare of a guy who’s had his face rearranged too many times and knows too much too intimately about pain, so no one wants to go near him. Doesn’t bother me though, I’ve worked with Russian mercenaries. Coyote’s just a guy with a skin problem compared to them.

Though come to think of it, Coyote was working for a corp and had a car and benefits and everything until we met him, the car got trashed and we had to go kill people to make enough money to pay off the credit card company. I guess he just has bad luck.

We drifted past the spider turret and into the fortress, but from here things were a bit more complicated. The canyon was like a kind of tunnel, and when we were near the far side we got a message from this control room – along with a missile lock – telling us they needed to inspect our vehicle and check our papers. They didn’t sound pretty but Coyote just said sure, fine, whatever and down we went to meet them on this little platform down in the canyon. There were five or six of them, heavily armed, one was a full body replacement (FBR), they wanted us to get out of the whaler while they checked it. We went down onto the platform and stood there while they inspected our papers and our whaler, but that FBR was real scary and Ghost was getting the prickles and they all noticed he was about to have an accident in his body armour, started making jokes and trying to panic him until Coyote stepped in and made some calming jokes about our hacker being a bit of a wimp. We were all getting ready to go full auto on the FBR, but we didn’t have to; they let us back in the whaler and told us we had two hours to go do our mercenary contract. We took their two hours happily and headed into the facility.

Inside the fortress walls was this kind of empty space in the pit, a huge dark space with no husk, no lights and no people. It was so big that you could fly down into it and skirt around it without ever seeing the other side – there’s hidden spaces in New Horizon’s bowels that are bigger than old cities, and no maps or guides or even history of these spaces. We scooted around a bit before we finally found what we were looking for – this big open space with a few small clusters of buildings hiding it from the main pit, and in the middle of it a low, solid-looking building with lights on that was obviously a functioning building, the only one down here in this pit.

Only it wasn’t really functioning because somehow someone had got here before us, and they had come here with bloody murder in mind. As our whaler drifted in slow and careful over the wasteland surrounding the facility we could see movement around the building. There was smoke, dead bodies, and as we came in closer we saw someone standing in front of four kneeling figures, shooting them in the back of the head one at a time. As the last of those white-coated figures flopped to the ground the executioner looked up and saw us, and disappeared inside the building. It looked as if someone was executing scientists, and there must have been some kind of raid on the building. Up at a higher level of the building some kind of armoured personnel vehicle had been rammed into the roof, and there were thin tendrils of smoke drifting out of it. Looking at that, we saw then that there was another, much smaller spider turret clinging to the roof a little distance from that personnel carrier, and as we approached it took a shot at us, some kind of shrapnel round that blew up near us and peppered the whaler with chunks of metal. Luckily none of them hit us inside, but that one round put paid to any more dreams Ghost had about goldfish hunting with his pals. I guess even hackers have to make sacrifices as part of a mercenary career!

Now we were in a bit of trouble, so we skidded in low and fast, trying to get out of sight of the turret. We put the damaged hulk of the personnel carrier between us and the turret and came to a screaming halt down at the base of the facility but as we hit the ground we took fire from a squad on the ground, must have been the guys who were killing scientists a moment before. I don’t think there’s even a gel nail of distance between me and those boys when it comes to appreciating the obvious joys of murdering the types of men and women who would work in a place like this, but I can’t see eye to eye with anyone who’s trying to kill me, so I broke out my assault rifle and we went to work. As the whaler touched down Coyote opened the rear doors, but we were still unstrapping and weren’t fast enough, and before we could move to safer ground a grenade landed right in the middle of the open cargo area. The blast hurt us all, but it hurt me pretty bad, and we hadn’t even fired a shot! It also did a bit of damage to the inside of our whaler, knocking things around and setting off some kind of foam fire retardant, which was maybe the cover we needed as we ran out of the whaler and opened fire on those boys with the grenades. We cleaned them up pretty fast but before we had a chance to see what was going on a sniper opened fire on us, hitting Pops hard but fortunately only in his cyberleg. We all dropped down for cover, and I worked out where the sniper was but the position was way too far away to deal with – we were just going to have to do our jobs with that sniper there. We ran inside the building out of the line of fire and tried to work out what to do next. There was a pair of elevators going up but it looked pretty likely that whoever was in there knew we were coming, and going up in the elevators would be a death sentence.

That’s when Hartigan realized that whoever was shooting us probably came in through that wrecked personnel carrier, which meant it was probably armoured, and probably opened a hole inside the building that no one was guarding. We slipped around to a different part of the building, out of sight of the sniper, and climbed up some emergency exit ladders out there to the roof. From there, carefully hidden from the turret by the slope of the roof and the burning wreck, we could climb into the ruin of the personnel carrier and slide down into the upper levels of the building. It took a bit of time and they were probably starting to think we’d found a different way in by the time we got there, but whoever was inside didn’t think to come check their kamikaze doorway, and we were in.

Inside we found a scene of carnage that made me think I wasn’t the only person on this earth with an anti-scientific bent. The carrier had smashed into a room that had turned into a battlezone, but most of the dead were scientists, just a few security people. Those who hadn’t been killed when the carrier came through had been shot where they lay stunned from the blast, and the room was slick with the gore of dead scientists. At the end of the room there was a barricade that had been smashed through and led to another room with scientists in, this handful killed trying to defend themselves. Whoever had come through here had obviously had enough numbers to blow through a fair number of defenders, and then gone down the lift. We didn’t want to take the elevator, but after a bit of searching we found a kind of dumb waiter thing, a sort of access shaft that linked the different research rooms and that we could climb down. We went carefully down this to the next level, which was empty, and crawled out into another room full of dead scientists, who had been knocked down by some sort of stun grenade, mostly, and murdered where they lay. Whoever came in here had obviously done so only so that they could kill everyone in here. Now we found a computer room, though, and we wanted to search it for data, but Ghost found out real fast that actually the system had been flatlined, and rigged to blow up the building’s power supply if anyone tried to copy any of the corrupted data that was left on the server.

We were looking at some serious wetwork here. Much of the evidence of who had done it was covered up but we figured the killers couldn’t have time to disable every skullcam and digital recorder on every body. While Ghost and Coyote went looking for ways down to the next level, and trying to figure out what was going on in the building, I kept watch on the lift entrance and Pops went through the bodies, recovering a few cybereyes, some chipware and a few data recorders. It’s gruesome work pulling that gear out from dead scientists but Pops used to specialize in taking down cyberpsychotics, so I guess he’s used to this sort of icky investigative work – he went about it with grim purpose, sticking all the gooey bits into some kind of evidence bags he takes everywhere with him and I guess trying not to lick his fingers clean after each extraction. In amongst all this gore and post-operative mess, Pops managed to identify a couple of dead people from in amongst the attacking squad. They looked like they were pretty poorly armed and armoured, not really a professional kill team at all, and they didn’t have any insignia from any band that we knew about. Hardly surprising that we didn’t know them though, considering the kind of murky world we’ve found ourselves in since we got entangled with Alt, so we didn’t give them much more thought.

After a few minutes of mesmerizing autopsification, Ghost and Coyote came back with word of the layout of the building and another one of those sneaky little back elevators, so off we went.

This building was split in the middle by a large, spherical central chamber that took up several stories of the building and seemed to be accessed separately from each side, with no direct links between the sides on the upper levels. The next level down from us held the only entrance to the central chamber from this side of the building, and we were all thinking that this central chamber was the reason that the murder team had come here. We figured, then, that we’d meet them on the next level, so we went extra cautious down that next hidden conduit. I went down last, because I had got badly banged up by that first grenade and I wanted to shoot into that room from some kind of concealment.

The others piled into the room at the bottom and went straight into the attack – we were right that the squad was on the inside. There were four or five of them, but they weren’t expecting Pops’s grenade or the follow-up, and fell back into the chamber itself as soon as we attacked. Unfortunately for us the room we crawled into was just a kind of waiting room for that chamber, a big square room with racks of scientific gear, and the big round chamber itself had some serious armour on the walls so we couldn’t fire through. So we had to take cover in the room and hope for the best, but before we could get a good position Coyote got taken down by a second grenade. Pops was propped into one corner of the room, firing grenades and autofire into that chamber, and I was running across the front of the chamber and back again, going from cover to cover and firing bursts into the room when I did. Upstairs Ghost was hacking into the cybergear of the team, trying to disable them, and that’s when he discovered that one of them, their leader, who was all geared up in battle armour, had some kind of biopatch in his suit that was set up to trigger a thermonuclear explosion if he died.

A thermonuclear explosion is not what you usually find attached to a solo’s armour. This trigger was linked to a fusion power plant buried under the lab, so it had to have been set up by whoever had sent this team in. Which was weird, because if you could access the nuclear powerplant remotely, why would you bother sending in a team to kill everyone instead of just nuking them all? Anyway, we were kind of busy to wargame those tactical choices in any detail, so while we were holding that team pinned down Ghost quietly disconnected the blast signal. And then he discovered an even subtler signal – a second trigger that would go off once the wearer moved a certain distance away from the facility. But that trigger was set to a distance so close to the blast that it guaranteed the wearer and his team would die.

Whoever was in there had been sent on a suicide mission, and didn’t even know it. Which gave us a bargaining point, if we could convince them to stop shooting.

Pops managed to get another grenade on target, and all of the team but the leader were out. We were pretty exhausted too, and we were in bad shape – Pops was shot up, Coyote was down and probably bleeding out, and I was hurt from before. So it was a miracle for all of us when we heard a yell of surrender from inside the chamber. First it was in Russian but then the dude switched to New Mandarin.

“Hey guys, can’t we just stand down and sort this politely?!”

Now that was a chance for all of us. Pops gestured madly to Ghost, who went running to look after Coyote, and I slid into a position with a good angle of fire on the entrance. “Sure!” Pops yelled back. “What do you want?” The shooting went silent, and all we could hear was some poor soul inside that chamber moaning as he bled out.

“Well that’s the kind of calm I’ve been waiting to hear since I got down here,” our enemy yelled back, his Russian accent bludgeoning all the accents and tones of New Mandarin flat like a hammer on origami. “Listen, I’ve got a dead man’s switch, alright, so first of all don’t be shooting anymore.”

“No problem if the restraint is mutual, friend.”

“It surely is, I don’t have any dog in this fight. I’ve done my job down here, I don’t want to fight my way out if I don’t have to.”

Now Ghost had stabilized Coyote and was looking at the corpse of one of our victims, when he noticed that these guys were not like the dead killers we saw upstairs – they were in different armour, with the insignia of a different team on it. There had been two teams in here. Pops had also noticed, while I was busy running around in there.

“Well we’re gonna have to talk about what your job was on our way out. But here’s the thing my man – you’re wired to blow this whole place once you try to leave. So you can’t leave without letting us help you.”

“Fucking dogs! I thought this mission had a one-way feel to it! Looks like we got a problem in need of mutual effort!”

This macho banter went on for a bit longer but we were all too dog tired to keep up the posture for very long, so after a short debate about who owed what to who everyone agreed to let the recent unpleasantness slide, in the interests of getting out here alive and getting to bed as soon as possible. So our Russian conversationalist came out of hiding, hands up, and that’s when I discovered he was Lazerev, the famous “L” from Team LV – The 55! Lazerev the stormer and Valentine the sniper, a famous pair of independent solos who I’ve always wanted to meet! I was so shy when I took Lazerev’s gun and put him in cover! Little me, getting to meet the mighty 55! And Pops was even luckier, he got shot by Valentine himself and didn’t die! Not many people had that experience, especially since anyone who survives the V gets to be pummelled by the L! And here we were saving their lives! I was blushing under my armour at the chance to meet two of my long-time heroes!

Pops didn’t seem too happy about my enthusiasm though, and got all growly about keeping a careful eye on Lazerev while they searched the place and tried to figure out a way out. So there we were, Mr. Lazerev and me, sitting there amongst the smoking dead with just a gun and some crossed allegiances between us, as perfect a date as you could expect to be on, really! And all alone except for Coyote’s ugly comatose wreck, while Ghost and Pops dug around for more clues about this weird lab. What a chance encounter!

And that, Dear Diary, is where I have to finish this story, because what happened next is kind of crazy and a bit special, because we found Samantha and an oil rig, and that’s a story I need to tell on a different day. Let’s finish this entry with me and Lazerev sitting there on the floor of the weird spherical chamber in that pit, giggling and swapping adventure stories while Pops and Ghost did their investigations and Coyote groaned. What a perfect ending to a fine, fine day!

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…





No, it's not Coyote before breakfast!

No, it’s not Coyote before breakfast!

Date: 12th November 2177

Weather: Rainy. Really rainy!

Mood: Bloodthirsty. Beating corrupt scientists to death with power-armoured gloves is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done, and everyone was really happy to know what we freed those people from. But I am still on a high, replaying those final moments in my head. I always thought principles were for Important People who I don’t like, and for the kind of oily, seedy suited monstrosities who talk about values and ideals during the day but visit the kinds of places I was held in during the evening, to show what they really believe in, but now I discover that besides all of that hypocrisy and lying cant it’s really possible to have principles: real, pure ideals where you kill everyone who does the things you think are wrong. Who can stand between a young woman with power armour, and her moral goals? Not a bunch of soft and squishy bio-scientists, that’s for sure …

Outfit: Power armour! We stole a suit during the hit on the train but it needed repairing, and it’s finally ready to use. Pops is off working on his crazy plan to create a community of misfits who’ll live together somewhere remote until someone loses their cool and they all kill each other, so we decided that for today’s raid I should wear the power armour. I made sure Coyote scrubbed the Arasaka logo off before I wore it, so it’s not uncool or anything, and it is great! I can move as freely as if I was in my favourite one piece, but it boosts my strength and reflexes and all my senses, and it’s almost as good for protection as my normal combat armour. We need more of this!

News: Arasaka have declared war on Goliath! We were watching the news about how the Corporate High Council has been reformed without Arasaka when it was interrupted with a special announcement that was a live feed from Arasaka, but when Arasaka say “live” they really don’t know what the word means because it was just some crusty old Japanese dude in a samurai suit going on and on about treachery and justice. I thought it was some kind of new samurai drama but Coyote told me it’s actually Arasaka’s version of a declaration of war. They moved fast too, sealed off section 43 which is where Arasaka people mostly live, and now there’s Goliath armour moving around everywhere and everyone’s getting ready for war. War! We can make a lot of money in a war!

This. Is. Arasaka!

This. Is. Arasaka!

How shall I explain the dying that was done?
Shall I say that each one did the math, and wrote
The value of his days
Against the bloody margin, in an understated hand?
They will want to know
How was the audit done?
And I shall say that it was done,
For once,
By those who knew the worth
Of what was spent that day.

– The Falcon, on wars

So, although we can make a lot of money in a war, Coyote decided we should go on some stupid pointless mission to rescue his family from some dumb prison they got themselves into. Some Russian dude who is famous for being a human trafficker came to Coyote with a video from Coyote’s family, who apparently have never seen a contraceptive implant they liked because there’s like a thousand of them, and they all managed to get themselves locked up in the same ghetto down on the docks. The docks are now off-limits from Goliath policing, but Coyote’s cousin/niece/some random chick says that they were all rounded up and forced into this weird residential block, one family per room (so Coyote’s legion is all in one room) and sometimes Goliath police come by and grab someone and take them away and they never come back. Sometimes Goliath moves a family on to a “better” home but no one ever hears from them again and now it’s pretty clear that the “better” home is a bullet. So they managed to smuggle out a video to Coyote asking him to come and help them because he was always good at “fixing” things, and now just after we spent a lot of time talking about how we need to stop doing jobs for free, and just when a war comes along and offers us lots of chances to make money doing big fat wetworks, Coyote decides we need to go burn all our money freeing his family. All four hundred of them.

After a bit of investigation though, we found a way to turn a profit. Coyote’s family are being held in some kind of housing complex that is also a Goliath facility of some kind, and it looks a lot like it’s being used for some kind of research or it’s a death camp. If we film our raid we could sell it for a big cash windfall, because there’s a war on and everyone’s interested in what Goliath did to trigger it. So we hooked up with Lin, the journalist who stumbled into our first mission together, and she agreed to come with us and film the situation in the Goliath Ghetto in exchange for an equal share of the takings. Because the ghetto is in the docks we spoke to Ghost’s goldfish hunter friends, and found out that they have a few people trapped in there too – Goliath has been casting a wide net to fill this ghetto up, which is interesting in itself – and they offered us two AV transports, capable of taking 60 people between them. We figured we could free another 20 random people, and we decided we would only free the first 20 people who promised to pay us 500 nuyen each, in either future work or cyberparts they don’t want. Ghost and Coyote did some investigating and found out that the people in this ghetto are having cheap and nasty cyberware put into them against their will by Goliath, which makes no sense at all, and we figured they would want that cyberware out so we could use it as payment for their transport.

If it all goes down smoothly, we could make a lot of money. Oh, and free Coyote’s massive extended family. And find out what Goliath is doing in the docks, where some of our friends live and we’ve noticed there’s a lot of trouble happening. So in we went.

We went in from the Pit, because there’s a way into almost everywhere in the docks from the Pit. The building we were targeting was an enormous column stretching up from the base of the docks almost to the next level. Around this enormous pillar there were habitat rings, each perhaps five stories high, spaced apart ascending the ring, and at the top – near the lowest level of New Horzion proper – a wider structure for AVs and troops. There were troops guarding this underground prison, but like all ghettos we were expecting them to be focused on keeping the Unwanted in, because no one who runs a ghetto ever expects anyone to come in and liberate the undesirables from outside, so we figured they’d be poorly armoured and unready.

We were right. We came in through some kind of sewer system that emerged under a railway line linking to the base of the tower. We managed to cut out a hole so we could emerge near the tower, but there were a squad of guards loading a train when we arrived – they had just finished loading two stretchers with people on into the train when I came out of the tunnel. They didn’t see me but when Carbon came up, his/her cyberleg banged on the rails and someone noticed, even though the train engine had fired up and it had started moving. We had to move fast to stop them before the train got in our way and they got to raise an alarm, but we are fast. I shot two dead instantly, Carbon put an arrow through the third and moved out of the way of the train, and Coyote popped up from the hole and blew away the fourth, then dropped back down as the train rolled over him. All four guards died instantly, and while we killed them Ghost hacked the train and wiped the video of our passing. He and Lin emerged from the hole, and we moved into the lift area. Ghost hacked in, and up we went. The lift opened into a corridor that ended in a guard room, with two guards inside. Ghost hacked ahead into the cameras in the guard room, so we knew what was there, and we moved up to the doors. I fired through and killed one of the guards, and as soon as I fired Carbon and Coyote charged in, guns pointed at the other. He didn’t even have time to wipe the gore off his face before they were on him, and he soon agreed to tell us everything we needed to know. Carbon cut off the other guard’s fingers to bypass fingerprint scanners, and after the first guard told us all we needed to know we locked him away in a cupboard. We moved up.

Coyote’s breeders were on a level much higher up from the security sectors, accessible by a single lift that opened into a security area with two sets of secured doors, between which a guard sat in a little bullet proof booth, and beyond which two more guards stood ready. Ghost hacked into the security system again and prepped the doors, and up we went. At the top the doors opened as we wanted, and we ran in. I managed to slide through and kill both the interior guards before they could react[1]. Carbon came through afterwards, almost as fast, and smashed through the door into the security room; Coyote tried shooting through the window but it was bullet proof. The guy inside pretended to surrender but actually tried to deploy a snub pistol embedded in his arm [idiot – working as a security guard isn’t a movie, what use is a snub pistol against us?], but Carbon saw the shift and pinned his arm to the wall with an arrow. We left him there. Carbon and I took positions in the hall, and Coyote and Ghost went on to gather his family. This took a bit of time because he has so many cousins, and lots of people wanted to pretend to be cousins, but eventually he found a few people to get everything rounded up. That’s when he found out that the Goldfish hunters’ family were six levels up, so he had to go up to get them while me and Carbon kept guard and the family milled around at the lift. Some more guards made the mistake of trying to attack the lift while we were waiting, but we gunned them down; Ghost, coming up behind them to access the control room, killed the last one himself. We all retreated to the lift and went down with Coyote, his legion of cousins, and the Fisher folk.

At the bottom some wizened old distant relative of Coyote’s mentioned that she couldn’t find Timmy. Timmy! You know, Timmy! Who Coyote had never met, nor ever heard of, like most of his extensive family of nobodies, but who we now had to rush off to rescue from wherever he was. Apparently he had been taken out of the Coyote-community a few days ago, so we had to go find him not in the residential section up above but in the secured section beyond the lift. By now alarms were going off everywhere, and we figured we didn’t have very long at all before Goliath’s best soldiers came down on us. Fortunately, they didn’t know about the access from the Pit, so they would have to come down from the AV access areas at the top, which meant multiple switch-backs between lifts that they would have to fight Ghost to control. We guessed we might have time (and who doesn’t want to fight their way out of a Goliath research complex just once?!) so we sent the Legions of Coyote off down the tunnel we had used to come up, and ran into the security/research complex at the base of the Goliath Ghetto.



Things down here were pretty simple, probably because Goliath was expecting any trouble to be ghetto dwellers breaking out, heading up, not trained soldiers breaking in and heading down. There were no guards, and we soon broke into the research complex. Finally we found the central labs. After we had rampaged through a couple of supply rooms we hit the central labs, where there were six research scientists cowering at their desks and trying to look all innocent, like they were just doing experiments on flies or something. The bodies, the graphics on big screens, and the people suspended in cryogenic units suggested something different. The room was suffused in a calm blue glow from the cryogenic units, maybe 10 of them, in each of which a real actual person was slowly metamorphosing into a monster. Something terrible was happening here, and we all wanted to know what it was. Ghost ran to access a computer terminal, yelling at one of the scientists to give him details while Coyote threatened the guy with his massive pistol; Carbon sprinted through to secure the far door.

Me, I did what Dedicated Retribution Units do after they’ve been Involuntarily Demobilized by these kinds of people. I set to work.

The first scientist was running out of the lab into the hallway, and I reacted before I knew we were in a lab; I shot him in both knees, but he wasn’t ready for the power of my rifle and had some kind of seizure when both his kneecaps blew out, falling down and twitching and frothing on the floor. I’ve seen that before and I know it means my job is done, so I moved straight into the room – in this power armour I have to take point. Because it was obviously safe Coyote and Ghost moved in behind me towards the central computer stack, the remaining five scientists all standing gape-mouthed in front of their work. The closest one had her scalpel in hand, standing just past the body of a child on a trolley, organs spread out in little dishes like some kind of Cantonese wedding party for the dead. I didn’t stop in my inward movement, slinging my rifle as I moved forward, and grabbed her by the face, lifting her over the trolley. The power armour has a huge amount of servo power, but I’m not used to its strength; as I lifted her up the boosted armour crushed her jaw and cheekbones, shattering them like a ripe melon and splattering her blood over her name badge, which I deliberately forget now because people like this do not deserve names; the body slipped out of my grip with a kind of still-desperately-kicking gasp and she fell on her experimental “subject” (funny how they use that name for people who are almost always objects), scattering organs all over the floor; somewhere there was a little dish of this child’s belongings and that too fell and scattered onto the floor, but now the scientist was twitching and spasming and gurgling on the gurney, her blood and teeth joining the child’s beads and liver and kidneys. I don’t like to leave a job half done but I thought she deserved such an ending so I left her there as I turned to the rest of the room. Things were moving too slowly – Carbon had barely reached the far door and Ghost was still plugging into the mainframe, but the remaining four scientists’ eyes were widening with slow horror as they realized the Ethics Committee had decided to do a site inspection. The nearest one tried to run to hide under a desk but he slipped on the first one’s blood and did a kind of clumsy somersault, breaking a leg as he fell. I let him slither, gasping, under the desk, thinking he had a safe moment, before I punched through the desk and grabbed him by the back of the neck. Power armour is a very serious force multiplier, but I couldn’t get him out of the desk through the hole I made – after a bit of shaking I gave up, but by now I’d broken him all apart like you see in those videos of lions and buffalo in the savannah back in the Oil Age before humans wiped out all the big predators. Now I’m the big predator and humans my prey, but I guess he didn’t get much time to make the connection while he was being rattled around like a rag doll, thinking his company would save him. The third scientist tried to scoot past me to the door after I threw his friend away like a rag doll but I punched him in the stomach as he ran (these people really should try some boosting if they’re gonna be in this line of work!) He made a kind of hydraulic “whoof” sound and went up to the ceiling, coughing a little constellation of blood all over the floor, then came crashing down. I think he was trying to say something to me after that but each time I punched him his pathetic begs just came out as soggy squelching noises, and then he stopped. There were two left now, backing away into the corner of the room and trying not to get noticed. Ghost was still busily downloading their data while Coyote watched him protectively, occasionally looking at me in this kind of disappointed way (I always disappoint Coyote, he’s constantly complaining that if I get the right coupons I can get my nails done 10% cheaper!) I guess those two scientists had figured out now that maybe if they both ran one of them might be able to beat the other one to the door, but I’m not bloodthirsty – I’m just doing retribution. So I shot them both as they ran, and tapped them a second time as they fell. Really, some people are so arrogant! Thinking I’m going to run all the way across the room just to kill them when I have so many perfectly good guns! But I guess that’s why they’re big-shot scientists in a human research facility, and I’m just a vengeful demon.

Ghost finished his download, though he was muttering it was largely incomplete (what could these people have been learning that we want to know?) and he hadn’t found Timmy, so we moved on, past the inner door of the lab. Here we entered a corridor lined with cells, in each of which was this monstrous semi-human thing, a massive warped pile of flesh and muscle, obviously bioengineered in some way out of a real human. They were screaming and yelling and slamming into the walls of their cells, but it was obviously dangerous to try and open the doors, these cells were reinforced and reinforced for a reason. We stalked down this eerie corridor, surrounded by the blast glass-muted screams of the not-yet-dead, and came to a horrifying dead end. After about eight cell doors the corridor stopped at a kind of door, with a drop into a crate. In that crate was a pile of bodies in various stages of malformation: some still fully human, dried blood around mouth and ears; some half human, their hands brutalized from trying to escape their cells; some closer to the monsters in the hallway behind, but still broken and wrecked. Timmy was nowhere to be seen, but his presence was dark and threatening in the room. He was somewhere in that pile of bodies, obviously. We took another look in the cells to see if the warped faces in there might be Timmy, yelling his name, but the figures in the cell were so broken and deranged that we couldn’t tell even if they heard us, let alone if they were once a small, slender dark-haired teenager with an Arabic mother and Spanish father, who played Virtual-Pokemon and liked spun candy and was said to have got up to some mischief with Angela from the third block that made their families break up in acrimony; he was gone, replaced with either madness or the stench of wasted death.

Then I looked at the camera, and I took a bit of the Falcon, and changed her, and made her my own, and spat her back out in the faces of the villainous scum who authorized this pit of bodies behind me. I gestured down there and said

We’re coming for you, who signed the requisition for this. You’re next in that pit. Cross the gulf between the stars, and we’ll come after you. Go into centuries of storage, and we’ll be there waiting for you, clone-new, when you re-sleeve. We are what you once dreamed of as gods, mythical agents of destiny, as inescapable as Death. We’re after you now, you creeping torturers and rapists, and you can sign all the digital requisitions you want but in the end you’re going to finish in that pit, and we won’t be merciful dragging you there.

Then we ran. And got out.

Now the whole world knows what you’re doing, Goliath, they have seen your hidden crimes. But you don’t have to worry about the whole world: You have to worry about me. I know what you did, and I don’t like it, and I’m not some fearful New Horizon mite, who can’t protect their family or doesn’t know where to go to get justice. I bend death to my will; like the Falcon said, I won’t even let Death in the tradesman’s entrance. I am the fury of a woman not just scorned but wronged, and wronged again. I have no past and no future, nothing to live for, and no reason to die quickly. I will measure my vengeance, but you can rest assured it is coming. I don’t know who Timmy was, but I know who he should have become, and I will pay you back for that, and for all the others who you ground up mercilessly for profit and power. I am the Dedicated Retribution Unit (Involuntarily Demobilized). They should have demobilized me properly when they had the chance, because now I’m coming for you.

fn1: Was there ever a better-timed Combat Sense critical? This got me to Combat Sense 8, finally … Drew is rocking …

Brief summary for the less bloodthirsty:

1. Coyote got a message from his family begging him to rescue them from some kind of ghetto in the docks

2. We decided to help them, and some goldfish hunters whose family were also in the same ghetto

3. We broke into the ghetto and slaughtered our way up

4. We rescued the necessary people, and ran down

5. One of Coyote’s family, some poor helpless Timmy kid, was taken from them to the research labs in the basement a few days ago

6. We slaughtered our way into the basement, and found that there are human experiments going on that seem to involve some kind of bioengineering to create insane super-soldiers

7. No Timmy, but lots of vengeance

8. We got out, with a video of the whole thing including the research labs; Goliath are in big trouble.

Our hacker is quite good at this!

Our hacker is quite good at this!

Date: 5th November 2177

Weather: Rainy

Mood: Confused but secretly satisfied. Boys are so confusing! When Goliath raided our hideout we were keeping a little goldfish called Bobo, but when we got the hideout back last week Bobo was gone. I remembered how Ghost used to stare at Bobo in his little bowl, and so I thought as a thank you present for all his efforts with the goldfish and the sunken whaler I should get him a replacement. I got a little fish bowl and spent some of our new stash of nuyen on a real goldfish – not a synth job but a real one with a mother and father (or whatever messed-up family arrangements goldfish have that make them into maneaters) – and put it in the bowl. I also found a little plastic replica of a skyscraper to put in the bowl, and I remembered I won a tiny Space Battleship Yamato last year at a festival so I put that in there too. The goldfish has these weird bobbly eyes that only look up, so it keeps bumping into the little plastic floating battleship, which is hilarious because it’s just like what the goldfish under New Horizon were doing to Ghost’s whaler. Cute, right!? I called the goldfish Bobo Too and took it to show to Ghost but he got that weird stern look he gets when he thinks I’m asking stupid questions about why sometimes he makes such big mistakes, and told me to take it away, and I thought maybe he didn’t want the hassle of looking after a real live (not synth!) goldfish so I told him it was a real one so it would die eventually and then I said it probably eats human meat cause that’s what the goldfish he met yesterday were into, and that’s not so much a hassle really ’cause we’re always surrounded by bodies and we could just get offcuts from Madame Chu’s Body Bank now we’re practically on wholesale business terms with her, and I told him that Bobo Too was a thank you present for his great work with the goldfish, and that’s when he started shaking and screaming at me about don’t I have any sense and can’t I just fucking google this shit goldfish don’t eat people they don’t eat people they DON’T EAT PEOPLE and then he slammed the door on me and I could hear him crying on the other side of the door, and so now I have to keep Bobo Too which I guess means I’m gonna have to go to the bodybank, though I’m not sure if Bobo Too eats human flesh because I found a bit of goo in my body armour and he didn’t seem to want to eat it so maybe I should google this stuff. Anyway I don’t understand why Ghost was so upset, I mean I know it was nice of me to get him a thank you present and Pops is always saying I should be nicer to my crew but it was just a cute little goggle-eyed goldfish that kept doing silly little impersonations of the big goldfish trying to eat Ghost’s whaler so I don’t know why he was so touched by it that he had to cry. I swear, sometimes the girl’s magazines I read don’t know anything about boys at all, because they are always talking about how boys don’t have feelings and just like sex and stuff but just giving Ghost a goldfish made him cry. Maybe boys are really just as tender as the magazines all say girls are! Anyway, now I have a cute bobbly-eyed goldfish, he’s fun to look at and so I’m kind of secretly satisfied that Ghost didn’t take him. I’m also secretly satisfied that my secret job for Goliath got our hideout back, and we made lots of money salvaging a whaler and killing the guys who tried to stop us. Today was a good day!

Outfit: Just sloppy joes really, because we’re cleaning up the hideout that I arranged to get back from Goliath, and they really messed it up so we’ve spent lots of time recently cleaning out their mess, so it’s just sports suit and hello kitty slippers until next week. I had goldfish-scale nails on but since Ghost is so touchy about these things at the moment I switched for plain blue to match my rifle.

Sometimes having a bit of a reputation is a good thing, not like when a Goliath goon noticed me, and last week I managed to get a different Goliath guy to notice me and he was very interested in paying me for some work in connection with my reputation, so in exchange for a few details stitched up I managed to convince Goliath to wipe our criminal record, give us back our hideout at Ragut’s place, and pay me 3000 Nuyen cash. Everyone was really surprised, and they’d have been even more surprised if I told them the other offers Goliath gave me that I didn’t take them up on (though maybe I might mention them to Winter next time I play baseball with him, because he might be able to oblige). Even Coyote looked vaguely impressed for a moment, and he’s a fixer so he’s not easily impressed. But 3000 Nuyen is not really that much money when you keep doing jobs for free, so we had a bit of a council of war [<-that’s what Pops calls these meetings where the boys drink too much beer and we all eat bad pizza] and decided we needed to do some actual paid work – you know, like a real team, rather than the charity outfit we’ve been running up till now.

So Coyote went out looking and found us a couple of really easy jobs we could do. Well, “easy” is relative I guess but compared to killing an FBR on a train the size of an apartment block I guess lots of kinds of work are easy. The first job was real simple: some guy he knew wanted us to track down someone called Andrew who had this weird cyberarm that “contained something he was interested in studying.” All we had to do was find this guy, who lives on the docks, and get his cyberarm. We had a cyberarm of our own (from back when we iced Lima) so all we need to do is find this dude Andrew (who was once on a tv show about freakish cyberparts or something) and convince him to swap arms. Which could be costly if he doesn’t have a quick mount for that arm, but Coyote’s guy was offering 4000 Nuyen for this arm so maybe we could arrange a cheap swap job with Madame Chu’s body bank if we really needed too.

The second job was also pretty straightforward: another guy that Coyote knows, by the name of Tofu, needs a crew to go down to the docks and find a crashed whaler, which is submerged beneath the docks in the area where the mutant goldfish are causing trouble. This whaler is said to be holding a valuable cargo, which he wants, and he’ll split the proceeds of selling it 50/50 with us. Since Ghost has some goldfish-hunting friends down in the docks we figured we could do a bit of sub-contracting, find that whaler, and get it out fairly easy. And Ghost is good at dealing with goldfish, so what could go wrong?!

Off we went to the docks!

The Case of the Mutant Arm

We knew Andrew had been on some low-grade tv show about freakish body parts so we jetted down to the broadcasting studio on the docks to ask them where he was. The broadcasting studio was in this run down crashed up apartment block that looked like it was about to sag in on itself, a real shabby place. There was an AV on the top where we landed, with two security guys, but the AV was obviously wrecked and the guys too, and when they saw me and Ghost getting out of the AV in full armour they just kind of gestured for us to go on ahead, no problems at all. We had to take this kind of ladder into the lower levels, where we got into the studio, and there was this small room packed with broadcasting gear and these scared-looking people who were looking at us like we were gonna kill them, and Coyote showed them a picture and they called over the producer and she was a bit timid but she told us what we needed to know. It’s weird everyone says that the docks are dangerous but whenever I come down here people are real timid and helpful. I guess some people are just prejudiced against poor people, because they all seem harmless and nice to me …

Anyway, the helpful but scared-looking producer lady told us that Andrew had been in an area that Goliath recently cleared out, which meant he had to move on from his home, probably to one of the areas set aside for the internally displaced. Goliath were down here in force recently, cleaning out lots of the poor and homeless and making everything all messed up, but they didn’t have the people to be able to properly empty the docks, so people would just move away and settle somewhere else, which would get all crowded and rough, then move on to a different part of the docks, so basically all that was really happening was that Goliath were forcing people out of one established part of the docks, and then they were moving off to disused and derelict parts and revitalizing them. So Andrew had joined the flow, and we would too. We thanked the nice producer lady and headed off to the area we thought he might be in. This was an area conveniently near to Madame Chu’s body bank, but it was really chaotic and confused from all the refugees. Goliath had a big force around the perimeter, with Goliath AVs overhead and lots of patrols running around, we even saw some FBRs on duty, and it was obvious that people from all around the docks were coming into this section to escape the clearances. We were going to have real difficulty finding him so we decided to visit Madam Chu – after all, he’s got a cyberarm, and she likes to keep an eye on such things. So she tells us straightaway that he came in a while back with this monstrous arm, desperate to get it removed, but he didn’t have the money so she told him to get gone. She’d be willing to swap our cyberarm and 800 nuyen in exchange for an operation to remove his arm and replace it with a cheap, semi-functional arm she has left over. That would leave us 3200 nuyen better off, minus an arm we don’t need, so we agreed and went off to find him at his last known address. He was there alright, high on military-grade painkillers and an absolute mess. His arm was this huge monstrosity of buckled metal and swollen human flesh, laced through with what looked suspiciously like goldfish scales, and hints of fins and even teeth growing out from the swelling wreck. He was obviously in a lot of pain and not happy. We took him back to Madame Chu’s and cut the deal, and she cut the arm. Seems like she doesn’t need much in the way of consent forms for work like this … She told us that a few years ago there was a new line of cyberlimbs that were meant to be built on genetic technology, some experimental technique called the MAGE, but the limbs turned out to be defective, with a high risk of cancer and sometimes problems with regrowth. It looked like Andrew might have got himself one of these arms cheap on the black market, but the genetic slip-ups had combined with his diet of mutant goldfish meat to create this monstrous arm. Once she had it off she told us it looked like he had a lot of cancer growth inside, and though she had tried to separate it all from his shoulder he probably wasn’t going to live too much longer.

Still, now he could at least wipe his arse[1]. We paid her, checked he was alive, and left him to recover. Coyote even flicked him a vial of quick heal. Who says charity doesn’t pay? It paid us!

Bobo's world ...

Bobo’s world …

Salvage and Wreckers

We did a quick run topside to get the arm back to Coyote’s guy, rest a night, and then back down to the docks. We went straight to the area where Ghost’s goldfish hunting friends were and laid out our plan – 30% cut of our share of the loot if they would help us with their equipment and goldfish expertise. We needed to get Ghost into the water in a salvage whaler, and needed the hunters to distract the fish until we found the lost whaler, then help us lift it out. They were dubious but the money convinced them, so off we went. The task was simple: they laid some baits in the water, and when the enormous goldfish had gathered they fired harpoons into one, lifted it out of the water and hung it, still struggling, in the air between two AVs. Then a third AV hovered up and a guy with a long pole cut open the fish’s belly. It’s guts fell into the water and the other goldfish went into a frenzy, leaping and swarming to get to the guts. They then started moving away, dropping the fish closer to the water to lure the goldfish, and soon the area was clear as the fish swarmed after their stricken brethren. At that point the salvage whaler hit the water and started descending, with me and Coyote hovering in our whaler up above the water, on guard duty. I was strapped to the side of the whaler, hatch open, a whole bunch of assault rifles ready just in case, and Coyote was trying to keep look out because maybe if this sunken whaler was valuable someone would come for it. Ghost started looking for signs of electronic life and after about 20 minutes he found a tiny emergency beacon, on its last batteries, beeping somewhere in the inky night. By now he was something like 100 or 200 m underwater and drifting carefully through a ghostly world of ancient skyscrapers and structures from before the Crash, all swarming with underwater life. The whaler was there, crashed on top of a jumble of collapsed buildings, and somehow the whaler was hanging on this fragile webbing of wires in between two buildings and sending out this hopeless signal. Up close Ghost could see that the windows had been smashed in, probably by goldfish, and the whole thing had sunk after it was attacked.

The goldfish hunters did their thing, attaching salvage balloons to the top of the whaler and setting them off, and then their salvage whaler started moving up, faster than the wreck, moving to the surface to try and get out before the goldfish came back.

And that was when the two AVs came out of nowhere and attacked our whaler, flying past in front of it and sending a fusillade into the hull. One bullet hit me in the arm but didn’t do any serious damage. Coyote hadn’t seen them coming, probably because he didn’t know the area very well and there are lots of tunnels and hiding places, so they got the drop on us, but Coyote got us moving up fast to try and counter their advantage. They were two rough, cheap-looking AVs, with gangbangers riding in the hold firing submachineguns from open side doors, hanging onto straps like they were on a commuter train and leering at us as they shot. I fired a short burst into the compartment of each AV and took down two men in each compartment[2] – they fell out of one, and into the other, and Coyote was already yelling at me about body banks and profit. I guess he earned that name for a reason. We then started this weird spiral dance in the air as they tried to get in a position to shoot without being shot at, but it didn’t work and I managed to kill another two guys in one AV, that then did a runner.

As all this was happening Ghost was rising steadily from the depths in his whaler, and of course this is when the goldfish returned and started banging on his whaler. He kept rising though, and the goldfish hunter tried to avoid the goldfish, but more started gathering and slowing down his rise. Before he got to the surface he managed to warn us, though mostly he was screaming incoherently about “goldfish goldfish everywhere!” and telling us self-evident stuff about how he didn’t want to die. Sometimes Ghost is too poetic for a hacker, going on about crushing darkness and being swallowed whole by the depths in his most unnecessarily dramatic voice. We managed to convince him to stop play-acting and hack into the second AV, which he did, freezing it from movement, but now the guys had closed the hull door so I couldn’t shoot them and someone was trying to get control of the AV back.

That’s when Coyote recommended I should jump through the front window of the AV. He moved the whaler close enough that I could jump easily but my rippers didn’t smash the glass and I started sliding. Ghost was too busy screaming about goldfish to pay attention to remote-hacking the AV and so the guy got control of it and tried to do a barrel roll to tip me off, but Coyote got our whaler beneath the AV just in time so I didn’t get to practice my diving, just my confused landing, and then I was sliding off the top of our whaler[3] but somehow I managed to get a grip and then Coyote dragged me in. So I strapped myself back in and now the guy in the other AV tried to ram us side on, which gave me a great opportunity to shoot through the hull – I could hear the dude on the other side screaming in terror and yelling at his friend to leave so I shot through and yelled at them to surrender or die – just as Ghost’s whaler came roaring out of the water and he regained control of the AV remotely, which pretty much sealed the deal for the two guys in there who were now unable to do anything except wait to die.

We let them live, and took their AV down to a quiet spot to wait for the salvage to come bubbling to the surface. While we waited we looted them, and they told us they had heard that Tofu had a salvage job going so they just followed us here in hopes of ambushing us when we were getting the gear out. We told them they should rethink their approach to crime, and then Coyote got the phone number of their friend. He called him up, and they had a short chat during which Coyote tried to convince this dude that he were coming to get him and he should just drive the AV to a place we told him, put it down and leave it there for us. Ghost was tracing the call while Coyote had this conversation, so he was able to finally find out where this guy and his AV were, and he was also able to ping some messages from the guy to one of his friends – he was sending a message to his friend telling him he had an AV to sell in a hurry and could his friend come pick it up immediately at exactly the place Coyote was telling him to drive it to. Ghost told Coyote that, and Coyote told the dude to not be so uncooperative, and then the dude got real chilled out and agreed to everything, even sent a cancellation message to his friend. So we drove over there and picked up that AV too. We now had two AVs and the bodies of five guys I had killed, and a couple of credit sticks from the survivors. We let the survivors go, drove the bodies to Madame Chu’s [like I said, we’re getting on wholesale terms] and then returned to the salvaged whaler, which by now the fishermen had dragged out of the water. We cut the proceeds of the body bank and the cred sticks, and put in a call to Tofu. He came down to get his gear, and once we dug through the salvage it became pretty clear that this whaler had been on a drug smuggling mission of some kind – probably about the time that the mutant goldfish scourge started, which was real unfortunate for the people driving this whaler. There used to be lots of secret smuggling routes through the waters beneath the docks but now they’re most death traps, as the crew of this whaler found out.

Which was good news for us. All up our job netted us maybe 10,000 nuyen, 7000 after our cut to the fishermen. We bumped fists, shared some booze, and went our separate ways, leaving one of the AVs for the fishermen to use. Once we totaled up all the money we’d made – my job with Goliath, the weird arm dude, and the salvage mission – we had 16,000 nuyen! So we spent 10,000 on paying off a bad debt Coyote incurred when some gangbangers smashed up his car, and then we were still 6000 clear.

Money! I feel like a real mercenary again, actually killing people for money rather than a mission! It’s kind of refreshing, and if we do another couple of jobs like that we might have some space to breath. Which, Ghost kept telling us all the way home, is a real important thing …

I don’t know what we’re doing next though. I have to go on a mission to the crash zone or the scary guys are going to come to take back my precious gown, and Pops has started talking about setting up some kind of gang and territory of our own, which sounds like more unpaid labour to me but probably a good idea in the long run. The war between Goliath and Arasaka is starting to heat up so it might be a good time to get out of New Horizon for a while. Or maybe we could stay where the heat is, and see how much money we can make running freelance in the middle of it all … we’ll see. But for now I’m off to watch Bobo Too bumping his stupid little head into that little floating ship…

fn1: On the approximately 1 in 6 occasions when his arm worked – it was a real cheap arm.

fn2: This session we initiated the rules on lackeys

fn3: Not the best time to roll three fumbles in a row

Brief summary for lazy readers (or people who can’t stand Drew’s voice)

  • Drew did a secret thing for Goliath and got back the group’s hideout
  • We needed money so Coyote found us two jobs
  • Job 1 was easy: we went to the docks to find a guy with a mutant cyberarm, for 4000 nuyen
  • We found him, he was desperate to get rid of his arm, so we arranged to get it swapped for a dodgy cyberarm with Madame Chu’s Body Bank
  • He was happy, we were happy, Coyote’s contact was happy
  • Job 2 was a salvage job which meant dealing with mutant goldfish under the docks
  • We got help from Ghost’s goldfish-hunting friends
  • While we were raising the salvage, we were attacked by a gang in AVs
  • We killed them but Drew did some high-risk acrobatics that nearly got her killed and Ghost got attacked by goldfish again underwater
  • We managed to capture some of the gangbangers, who turned out just to be opportunists; we stole their stuff and banked the bodies of their dead


Because it was there

Because it was there

[Faustus’s note: this is another enormous adventure, that unfolded over 2 sessions. I’m going to give Drew’s overview here and try put a few fragments of other moments in other posts. This battle was so epic that it’s impossible to summarize in any reasonable blog format. Scroll to the end for a brief summary of events (culled from my EIGHTEEN pages of notes)].

Date: 22nd October, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Mood: Satisfied. We went in and did our job almost perfectly, and I got a really high kill rate and my Ghost came back, but this time it felt like it was a he not a she, and it was kind of angry, and I think it didn’t like it when I killed the FBR, but I killed an FBR so I don’t care what anyone thinks. Even my Russian Ghost. Which I’m a bit worried about, because it’s inside me and it comes out to help me but it seems to be angry. What is it? What did I buy? Anyway, I got it under control so it’s okay … right, dear diary?

Outfit: Hospital gown. I am getting my cyberware repaired because an EMP destroyed my eyes and half of my neuralware, and my contraceptive implant which apparently is electrical which is news to me because I thought all that stuff was chemical. So here I am in a hospital bed barely able to see, narrating this part of my story in a whisper to you, dear diary. But I’ll only be here a few days and I’m taking lots of pictures of the eye patch … I guess I’ll be able to see them properly once the repairs are done.

After we raided the topside mental asylum and liberated Hog, we owed a favour to some American dude called Blacklist. So it was time to deliver on that favour. We got a two week break before we got our job, and during that two weeks we mostly just recovered and bought some new stuff. Coyote spent a bit of time stalking the markets on the docks and came back with this old-fashioned grenade launcher thing that Pops calls Betsy, because Pops gives names to every technological item more advanced than his pacemaker (our espresso machine is called Angela). Coyote couldn’t buy me a decent sniper rifle because he’s too ugly to trust, but he made up for it by modifying this old Nomad Bolt Action rifle I have, to make it electrothermal. It’s my little personalized railgun, it doesn’t have a name or a gender but it’s really bad news if you meet it. It’s also pastel blue, so it goes with most of my outfits. I took it with me on our mission.

Our mission was pretty simple. There was a train, a Titan train, returning from the Indo Zone carrying gear for Arasaka. Blacklist wants something on the train. The train is a 10 storey high, kilometre long monster straight out of hell, and we have to break into it, steal the cargo, and get out. There are three teams: one to shut down comms across the whole train line, one to destroy the engines and stop the train, and one to extract the cargo. We got the extraction team, which is a mixture of us and a bunch of Blacklist’s American dudes, who are all flakes. The extraction was supposed to be simple: once the train stops we land on the roof, put down laser cutters, cut a big hole that falls to the bottom of the carriage, drop in on special zip lines, make sure anyone in the area is dead. Then some engineers put EMP charges on the crate, we all clear the area, the charges go off, they attach magnets, and the crate is lifted up out of the hold to a waiting AV. Then we all zip-line up, get into an extraction AV, and leave. The tunnel the train is in is tight but there’s an area where it comes out into a larger set of caverns, and that’s where we do the hit, coming down a kind of dropshaft that is maybe ventilation for the whole thing. Blacklist isn’t there but his main man, Winter, tells us this is a routine repatriation train and we shouldn’t expect trouble.

Of course he was wrong. But that’s why he wanted us, right?

Before we went in we had a one day long lockup in Blacklist’s base, preparing gear and getting familiar with each other. I spent the time introducing myself to the other Solos and their teams, memorizing who was doing what and what they can do, and making sure everyone knew my job. Coyote and Ghost spent it preparing equipment and vaping, but Pops spent it picking fights with younger men, and he even found the brother of that dude that Coyote murdered back when we first met. Understandably the big brother was upset about that but he somehow got the idea that Pops did the killing, even though a cyber chainsaw is completely not Pops’s style (he’d have used a baseball bat or some other oil age anachronism) and anyway it was Coyote who got all blood-happy on that job. So I broke up the fight and of course now it’s me and Pops that are in this punk’s sights, and Coyote is saying it’s not his problem, even though Pops is telling him to clean it up. But it’s pretty obvious that at some point on this train job this older brother is gonna turn vengeful when we least need it. I guess I just have to put a bullet in his head, but Pops told me to time it carefully, and frankly I didn’t want to do it – I’ve never shot a member of my own team before and it doesn’t feel right.

Human relations! What a burner! Anyway, then the job started.

First we got to see feed of the other teams while we waited in the AV to do the extraction. The engineering team was all buzzing bikes and crazy angles, but the control team were much nastier. They spent hours crawling through tunnels and air ducts into the control room, and managed to drop down into this room that had a thin wall between it and the control area. Switch to infrared and they can see everyone in the control area, and they pop them all in a couple of seconds of controlled shooting, then blast through the wall and clear out the room. Very professional. Then it was time for us to jump, and down we went …

The train was an amazing monster of steel and carbon, it really was the height of an apartment block! It stopped about a kilometre outside of this narrow tube tunnel, in a wider tunnel that had room above the train but still not much room each side of it. Even the tunnel was staggering, like half a kilometre high maybe and criss-crossed with access tunnels and maintenance shafts that have their own little maintenance and security transport trains in them that are the size of a normal metro train carriage. The Titan came screaming out of the narrower tunnel a kilometre away and it was throwing up this great cloud of smoke and sparks as it slowed down, brakes on full. The gigantic wheels were all locked up and the carbon fiber body was melting and catching fire from the heat on the tracks. The tracks are enormous, more like two roads more than rails, and they were being torn up by the train as it braked. It was like coming out of that tunnel it was doing an atmospheric reentry, and burning from the rails up. Spikes of metal the size of cars were being thrown up from the rails, red hot from the friction, and we could feel the noise of it stopping from half a kilometre up through the baffles on our AV. We all watched in awe as this dragon the size of a city came roaring out of that tunnel into our battle zone, screaming like an army of demons and burning up in its own rage, until it came to a kind of shaking, flaming halt just a bit past the target point. Then we dropped like a stone, the entry was hard, and the AV came to a hard stop maybe 10 metres above the train, and we were all tumbling out before we even had time to get nervous. It wasn’t hard to land on the roof – there was nowhere else in sight – and we landed right on spot, setting our laser cutters and yelling “clear!” well within our timing. We all stepped back and looked away as they burst into life, and 3 seconds later there was this huge bang, then a second bang, and a big cloud of steam and super-heated chemicals washed over us. We turned back to look and a huge section of the middle of the train roof, maybe 30 metres in radius, was gone. The edges of the hole it fell from were glowing red hot from the laser cutters for a depth of half a metre but we didn’t have time to let them cool – we latched on our zip lines just outside the hot zone and then took running leaps in – me and Pops first, with Coyote and then Winter’s team members behind. Ghost stayed on top to hack anything that interfered with us, and above us the AV was already getting up out of fire range, to hover there in place with two other AVs – the extraction AV and this giant insect-like cargo AV that was going to lift the target crate out.

We fell straight through that hole into this steaming, clammy pit of hell, and nothing in there was what we were told. The carriage was 10 stories high like they said but it had been divided into mezzanine levels, all of them kind of looking down onto the cargo hold. The biggest crates were stocked in the middle on the ground floor, but these mezzanines also had cargo stacked in them. Near the top though, right where we had cut through, they also had people – soldiers – sitting on guard duty in seats like a normal train. Our laser cutters had sliced through some of these seats and the guards in them, and had made holes in all the mezzanine levels. The ceiling then fell through, crushing anyone between it and the floor and bringing all the flooring of the mezzanines with it. That ceiling and the mess it took down with it had landed on the cargo hold 10 stories down, crushing a bunch of crates and shattering, and was maybe a metre high and broken apart – perfect cover for us. Most of the soldiers in the room had either been cut in half or crushed, but there were a few who were still alive and starting to struggle out of their harnesses. Some were already out and opening fire on us as we went down – I killed one during the descent, perfect head shot with my new rifle, but there were more down in the basement level. Pops dropped a burner grenade on them and I shot one, and they kind of broke down and hid in cover quick, I think one was stripping his armour off to get out of the flames, haha.

So much for “there shouldn’t be any resistance.” Winter needs to get better spies, or is it just that these Americans can’t do anything right?



We hit the deck and took cover, while up above Winter’s team started trying to clean up the guards on the higher levels and set up some machine gun nests. We had barely reached our cover when Ghost contacted us to tell us there were more men coming down corridors on the edge of the carriage. These corridors had doors entering the carriage in its middle, not far from us, and there were maybe five guys in each, we weren’t sure. Pops put a burner grenade on each door, one was really good and destroyed the door but the other one was a bit late. At the same time Coyote unloaded his entire kalashnikov cartridge on them, and that got them real scared. Five men were coming through then, but when the grenade and the gunfire hit two of them ducked back and one leapt into the room, shotgun in one hand, trying to pull the pin on a grenade with his mouth. I took him in the head as he came in, and hit the grenade, blew him up and made sure he wasn’t going anywhere. So there were two guys burning behind that door and two unhurt, and these guys were serious Arasaka soldiers, in some kind of cyber-enhanced full body armour with good gear and tactics. We were crouched behind cover when they opened fire on us from behind the wall, using infrared for targeting, and me and Pops were okay but the fire was so heavy it completely shredded our cover – we had to move. While we moved Coyote laid down a grenade, that kind of helped, but we were feeling pretty worried when one of Winter’s teams came down, loading suppressing fire and grenades down on those dudes. Somehow one of them got a shot off and one of Winter’s guys went limp but the other two finished the job. That got us a bit of a breather – until the cargo crate came hurtling out of the darkness and nearly smashed us all down!

While we were killing all the resistance we weren’t meant to meet, Ghost was busy hacking into systems, trying to work out what was going on in the rest of the train. He locked the doors to the carriage so no more troops could come in, then identified some kind of signal traveling down the train. He followed it to see if it was a warning, and found it was targeted at a specific cargo crate, and seemed to be intended to activate something. Going inside the crate he found a functioning cyborg activated, and entered its video feed. This was bad news – the feed activated just long enough for him to get jerky vision of a full body replacement (FBR) cybersoldier getting out of some kind of storage harness, stepping forward and smashing its fist through the chest of whatever cyborg Ghost had hacked. The cyborg died and the feed cut off, so Ghost tried another, and saw the same thing. Some kind of signal had caused the FBRs to attack each other in that crate – that crate, it turned out, was the crate that Winter wanted. Ghost told him what was going on and Winter started screaming for action, telling his engineers to come in and ordering Ghost to get the crate under the access hole fast. Ghost obliged, and accessed this kind of automated loading system on the train that moved crates around on their levels. He did it super fast, so he didn’t have time for finesse; the crate came hurtling out of the darkness and came to a screaming halt right under the hole. Engineers threw some EMPs on the crate, and we all had a couple of moments to get as far away as possible before they went off. I got that horrible tingle in my eyes that happens when an EMP goes off near me but I was just out of range, but the Arasaka marines who were coming out the other entry way were not so lucky – it hit all of them and fried their armour and they dropped on the spot. Then everything went real quiet, and the engineers came down and put magnets on the crate, then started lifting it up into the air. While it was being hoisted up I broke cover and started putting down those stunned Arasaka dudes, because hey, they’re Arasaka and plus I didn’t know how long an EMP would fry their special armour. Coyote was already starting to loot what he could from the bodies – we were all looking at that armour with a greedy eye, I think, but I am not going to wear anything that has a stupid Arasaka logo on it, so I kept my eyes on the job. I don’t count coups de grace, but outside of them I killed three men with five shots during that engagement – one of them an Arasaka marine. A good couple of seconds’ work!

I am NOT wearing this armour!

I am NOT wearing this armour!

But things didn’t go so smoothly with that crate and whatever was inside it. It was nearly at the hole, being dragged up towards the cargo AV, when everyone heard a massive bang inside the crate. The cargo AV stopped lifting it, and it hung there in the air at the centre of the wrecked carriage, these big bangs coming out from inside it, and it was slowly rocking in the air from the ferocity of the bangs. We all stared up at the crate, everyone thinking the same thing: FBRs inside, trying to get out – and us trapped on the ground floor …[1]

We didn’t have time to care though. We’d had a few moments to gather our wits (well – everyone else did. I was walking through the rubble shooting paralyzed Arasaka dudes in the head). But now Ghost contacted everyone again to tell them that more soldiers were coming from the end of the carriage. They must have regrouped there or something, because they hadn’t come through the doors, which Ghost was now lowering so that the engineering team, led by a Solo called Carbon[2], could get through. They were coming through on multiple levels: 10 troops on the ground floor and another six coming through doors on each side of a higher level. These weren’t Arasaka monsters but still, more than 15 guys with automatic weapons is kind of nasty, not my idea of the best way to rob a train. This Winter guy probably needs to improve his methods, because in the next 30 seconds a lot of his guys got slaughtered …

So thanks to Ghost we had time to prepare. Me and Pops took cover, and Coyote kept looting. Pops laid down grenades while I put out headshots, and up above Carbon was firing these exploding arrows that do really nasty things. Ghost joined in, using the automated cargo-loading system to shift crates fast, in order to knock people off of balconies or crush them, but he was distracted by one of the soldiers, who was some kind of weekend hacker and kept using his hacking to try and shut Ghost out of the train’s systems. Our hacker oscillates between incompetent and glorious, and this was one of those days when he was glorious, so he shut out the stupid soldier and crushed some guys (who were on fire anyway, because Pops was being a grenade master even though his eyesight is fading and his hands shake), Pops went to work with the grenades, some of Winter’s team were doing heavy machine gun cover, and Carbon was doing the Robin Hood thing with incendiary arrows. While we were fighting these guys, the engineers were trying to fix EMP grenades onto the crate to try and calm whatever was inside. One got shot down by the incoming troops before Carbon could pacify them, but the other one got an EMP grenade on. We all cleared the area but this one guy got shot down as he was fleeing, one of those stupid Arasaka guys got him in the leg, and so I had to run back and grab him even though the EMP was set. I ran as fast as I could but he was too heavy and too badly hurt, and we both got caught as the EMP went off. My eyes went haywire, but he was worse off – his neural processor and nerve boosting was connected to his muscle system, and he had a nose filter that went wild, so first of all he couldn’t breathe and then he was kicking and spasming. I was blind and my eyes were going crazy but my legs were still working so I just kept dragging him out of the zone, because I had a real fear that that crate was going to fall.

And that was when my Russian Ghost started to come out. Just like when me and Pops were under pressure at Lima’s place, it started to rouse. I tried to fight it, but I was fried. Exhausted after all that fighting, I’d taken hits to both my legs during the second push by those 16 guys, and now my eyes, a bunch of my fashion cyberware, and probably some stuff deep inside of me was wrecked, just so I could save this spasming guy who I was pretty sure was soiling himself because his body was completely wrecked. The Russian Ghost knows when to come out, and now was a pretty bad time. But I wanted to get out of here, not run off into the shadows on the whim of some insane cyberware, so I thought I should try and fight it down.

And that was when the crate burst open. Before the EMP went off something had smashed a hole in the crate and stuck its arm out, but the EMP temporarily paralyzed it. We (except poor blasted me) were cut into a feed showing the vision of the engineer on the crate, who was investigating this arm. We saw x-ray vision of the crate, lined with FBRs, and different images of the thing that had its arm stuck out of the crate. The engineer was leaning over the edge of the crate, looking more closely at the arm, when the arm twitched, then grabbed him, smashed him into the crate and threw him to the ground like a rag doll. Then it tore its way out of the crate, and hauled itself out onto the top of the crate. It was an FBR. A full and complete Full Body Replacement, in Arasaka corporate logo.



This was kind of unexpected for us, because FBRs are meant to be the exclusive technology owned by Goliath, and Arasaka is not meant to be taking on any security role in New Horizon – they have an agreement that ensures Arasaka keeps its military assets out of New Horizon. But here it is shipping military assets it isn’t meant to have into a city it isn’t meant to be investing …

Not that we had much time to think about the geopolitical ramifications, because the FBR tore the crate apart like paper, climbed out on top, and leapt the 20 metres from the crate across to the level Carbon was on. We only had one way out – up – and this thing was in the way, so we all went to work. I was standing near Pops, blind and both my legs bleeding, but I could feel the Russian Ghost coming up inside me. I knew what was coming, so I handed him my rifle, whispered, “the Ghost is coming,” and moved away from him, falling down as I went. I could feel it coming up, rushing through me like a wave of fury with an almost human voice, yelling “Brother! My brother!” at the FBR, and clamouring at me to let it out.

I let it.

From that point on I don’t know what happened. Pops told me later. The FBR tore into Carbon’s team but Carbon stood its ground, fighting hand to hand using its capoeira when things went wrong, but before the FBR could get fully into battle Pops managed to get a good shot into its leg with my rifle, tearing the leg apart and really slowing it down. I somehow managed to leap up onto the crate and then onto the back of the FBR, and it turned around to face me while it was fighting Carbon so I started trying to punch my way through its chest, to remove the chipset that we had seen being torn out by other FBRs on Ghost’s feed. Inside me my Ghost was going crazy, yelling at its “brother” in rage and joy, and that’s all I remember from the fight. Winter’s team were shooting the FBR and laying down suppression on the ground floor to make sure no more soldiers tried to join in, and Pops was firing more shots from my rifle to try and get a second lucky hit. With me pummelling the FBR, Carbon was able to shoot arrows into its legs, and at some point it realized we were going to smash its leg and bring it down so it leapt down from the balcony and disappeared into the shadows. At this point I managed to wrestle control back from my Ghost, and collapsed to the decks. Carbon started dragging me back to the zip lines, and everyone started retreating. While we had been fighting off the FBR that crate had been lifted out into the tunnel and the waiting grasp of the cargo AV, and now the extraction AV was getting ready to lift out the soldiers; all we had to do was get on the ziplines. While Carbon helped me and Coyote started lifting out, burdened under the weight of our loot, Pops moved to help the guy I had saved from the EMP; he was starting to recover his function but still couldn’t move himself. When Pops grabbed him and latched him onto a line he whispered, “Thanks man. You gotta know, as soon as you get to the top En plans to put a bullet in you.”

And then we all lifted out, with Pops dropping a line of burner grenades behind us as he went, to stop that FBR from coming after us. Me and Carbon got to the top first, and by now my sight was slowly returning, the EMPs wearing off, and so I could see En standing near the extraction AV, rifle in hand, waiting for Pops to come up. But worse still, somehow I could see the FBR. It was creeping up out of the side of the train, it must have cut a hole or something, and it had some kind of cloaking device on so no one else could see it. I don’t know how I could see it but I could still feel the Russian Ghost inside me, raging to get at it, so maybe it was helping me[3]. The FBR was completely oblivious of me and Carbon – it had the AV in its sights, and why not? The AV was hovering just above the train roof, its main access doors open, and it was full of troops, some of them already injured, most of them just standing there panting in their full body armour, waiting for the rest of the team to come up. They couldn’t see it, they were just there, sacks of flesh and blood waiting for it to come and rip them open like birthday presents. This FBR had a radline, which is this new electromagnetic weapon that messes up cyberware, and if it hit the right part of that AV with the radline it would short the controls and bring it down. Then the FBR and all those soldiers would slide off the deck and down, and at the bottom the FBR would be free to rip them all apart. And there at the front of it all was En …

What’s not to like?

I waited. I was thinking about it. Carbon was behind me moving forward. I put in a message on our team’s private line, telling them not to get on the AV and telling Coyote to get off, but Carbon wasn’t on our private line. It was gonna get on that AV for lift out, and the FBR was gonna get on with it. I could hear Pops coming up, nearly at the top, and En was there waiting … I just needed to wait a few more seconds. But between me and the FBR there was a machine gun set up on a tripod, just in case, but it was halfway through being dismantled and recovered, and it was facing the FBR. All I had to to was step forward, grab it, and open up.

I’m not the kind of girl who shoots people on her own team. I stood there watching for a moment, everything blurry and dazed through my messed up cybereyes, and I thought I could let it all happen, but then I thought about the kind of Solo I am, what happens to my rep if I let my team be slaughtered because of some kind of stupid human relations problem between some idiot whose brother was dumb enough to throw himself on Coyote’s tender chainsaw mercy, and I decided that my rep is more important than saving Coyote from his past mistakes. And Carbon was right there with us when this monster was trying to rip our hearts out, so I can’t just let it get on that AV and get dragged down to its death. I figured up until now Pops has survived a few gunshots, so I should do what is right for a Solo.

On the open channel I said to Carbon, “don’t get on the AV, the FBR is right in front of you,” and stepped up to the gun. The FBR somehow heard that and turned to face me, dropping its cloak shield, but it was too late. I hit full auto on the machine gun at close range, and just kept squeezing. At the same moment Pops breached the hull, and he and En opened fire on each other at the same time. En missed but Pops got him right in the chest and he went down like all our targets do, limp and gone. Guys poured out of the AV and grabbed him, yelling their fear, but they all just assumed he had been taken down by the FBR. Pops, Carbon and Ghost ran for the AV, I grabbed the machine gun and ran too, Carbon dragging me along, and the FBR lay there on the train roof, twitching and thrashing, cyborg ichor spurting out of it, completely useless.

I killed an FBR. Me! I am the DRUID. Dedicated Retribution Unit. No one will demobilize me again. Not even an FBR.

The doors slammed shut in the AV and we were all off. Me and En, we sank back in the hold and collapsed, him shot in the chest and me exhausted, ghosted out, clutching the machine gun like the only lover I ever had (I have never had any lovers, unless you count men who paid someone else for the use of me). The AV was roaring out on an insane trajectory, and we could all see why on the feed. While we were playing at arcane solo games with that FBR, Arasaka security had been closing in on us, in force. They took down the control team and came roaring up the tunnel, and they were riding a wave of wrath. A wall of lead and missiles was coming down on us and it was all we could do to haul out of there. It looked a lot like we were gonna die in the hold of that AV but then someone yelled “Engineers up!” and we all felt that strange, tingling feeling you get when a serious EMP goes off near you. We were entering the exit tunnel at that time, and it turns out the engineers had mined the tunnel with a whole ring of EMPs. They went off just in time and the pursuing AVs fell out of the sky like Icarus in that old oil age music video, tumbling back down onto the distant train.

We did it! We were out. We smashed a Titan train, and came out smiling.

Nothing can stop us. Nothing. I am coming for you Arasaka, I am coming for you. Your corporate boys in their suits, with their special measures and their business plans and their smug conquerors’ joy … I’m coming for you. You aren’t going to be so smug when this little shipment of FBRs explodes in your face, when the video goes across every news channel. And that’s just the start, because after your precious corporate reputation goes down the toilet I’m going to come for your worthless souls. I’m going to collect them like Anguta, so you better start locking your doors and checking your guns. You can swim with the beasts, you can flee with the storms – it’s nothing to me. You’re mine. I will destroy you. I am the Dedicated Retribution Unit, and I will destroy you.

The short summary

  • We had to do a train heist for some American dude called Blacklist, as payment for our venture topside
  • While we were preparing for the heist, Pops discovered that the brother of a guy Coyote killed long ago is on the mission and wants to kill us. This idiot is called En
  • The train is huge
  • We hit the train, dropped in, had a big battle with some soldiers – killed them all
  • Ghost got the cargo we were looking for out into the right position to be robbed
  • The cargo contains Full Body Replacements – it appears Blacklist was trying to steal Arasaka FBRs
  • Why does Arasaka have FBRs? They’re strictly Goliath tech
  • At the same time as the cargo got into extraction position we had to deal with another 20 soldiers
  • We dealt with them
  • An FBR in the cargo was not quiescent, it broke out
  • We fought it. My Russian Ghost came back, and we beat the FBR. It fled
  • We evacuated, but a guy Pops saved told us that En was gonna put a bullet in Pops as soon as he emerged from the train
  • I got topside first and discovered the FBR creeping up, invisible under a cloaking device, to our extraction AV
  • There was a machine gun right next to me. I grabbed it and destroyed the FBR
  • At the same time, Pops hit the deck and he and En had a stand off that En lost, but En wasn’t dead – just stunned
  • We all piled onto the AV, En’s buddies rescued him
  • We got out. Mission successful.

fn1: This is actually the point where the first session of this train robbery ended!

fn2: This crazy capoeira-fightin’, exploding-bow wielding intersex maniac played by a guest player!

fn3: Actually I rolled a massive critical success, three 10s in a row, on my awareness check. This has got to be the best-placed critical awareness check in the history of role-playing because that FBR is an absolute actual monster, and there were guys on that AV we wanted dead …




Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after a headshot

Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after taking a headshot

The original Cyberpunk rulebook has a simple and nasty system of armour, which is completely broken. In this system your gun does a handful of dice of damage, between 3d6+1 for a good submachine gun to 7d10 for a high quality sniper rifle, and your armour has a stopping power (SP) that ranges from 4 for a leather jacket to about 24 or 30 for full-grade military armour. If the damage you roll exceeds the SP of your armour, you take damage, from which you can subtract your body type modifier (BTM) before you take any actual damage to your body. BTM is usually between 2 and 4, and you can take about 30 hits before you die, but you can only take 8 hits before you start having to make shock checks to stay conscious, and 12 hits before you start making death checks. These checks become progressively harder, and these wound states (in blocks of 4) come with increasing penalties to activity. This means that taking damage is a rapid death spiral, and as soon as you can you buy one of the basic, easily-accessible armour types that makes you immune to low level damage. See the example at the bottom of this post for more details.

The result of this rule is the exact kind of nihilism I decried in a post on cyberpunk some time back, which attracted a lot of negative attention. It also drains out a lot of the sense of tactical battle skills and planning that seems like it should be the essence of a fight in cyberpunk, because highly-protective armour is much more easily accessible than highly-destructive guns: for example, “Motocross Armour” (SP 24) is easy to get, but the most easily accessible gun is the FN-RAL assault rifle (Drew is a proud owner of one of these) which does 6d6+2 damage, not enough to get through the Motocross Armour + BTM, and definitely not enough to penetrate Drew’s Motocross armour + body-weave + BTM (total target: 31). So instead of dashing from cover to cover, worrying about getting hit, Drew can just stand in the middle of the room gunning people down. If she’s up against people with SMGs she can use the same tactic naked (SP12+BTM=target of 15). Under this rule system you don’t need cover, tactics or planning, you just need a good set of motocross armour and a spine of steel (or, in Drew’s case, a complete lack of any sense of self-preservation and a COOL of 9). This rule is also, I suspect, unrealistic: although this blog says that armour has outpaced guns, this highly entertaining youtube video suggests that even a normal pistol firing certain kinds of normal ammunition can go through very effective armour and still do a lot of damage (the hole from the Hungarian bullet at the end looks to me like it must be at least a Mortal-2 category of damage!) Obviously we don’t want to play in a world where the first shot kills us, but as players we want to keep at least some sense of that furtiveness and care that we assume real soldiers must engage in, especially in close-range firefights of the kind we’re regularly caught in, and we don’t want the game to degenerate to a slugfest between heavily-armoured foes at 10m.

Our house rule, that bullets that don’t penetrate armour still do one point of stun damage, completely changes the dynamic of combat. When someone lays down suppressive fire on a small area you suddenly value cover very highly, because if your dodge/escape check fails you’re looking at 1d6 points of shock damage; you can only sustain this for a few rounds before you’re out for the count. And finding cover makes fights tougher, because moving around and ducking in and out of cover reduces the number of shots you can take and increases your activity penalties. This is why Drew bought her armour-cracking gun …

Drew’s Beautiful New Gun

Realizing that we are usually outnumbered in combat, and with this new rule making force of numbers a dangerous foe, Drew decided to invest in a weapon that can even the odds rapidly. Our street dealer, Coyote, can’t buy really good guns easily (probably because he is so ugly), and so Drew hasn’t been able to get the sniper rifle she keeps asking him for, but he is also very good at modifying existing weapons. So Drew bought herself a cheap, easily-available Nomad 7.62 bolt action rifle, and Coyote modified it to fire electro-thermal (ET) shot. Neither Drew nor I know what this means, but we don’t care: it adds 50% to her damage. This mod can only be applied to non-automatic weapons with caseless ammunition[1], but it means that Drew now has a 9d6+3 damage rifle with an accuracy of +2 and a six-shot cartridge. The accuracy bonus for this gun means that if she is not moving and focuses on just the one shot she hits the head with a roll of 2 or more on a d10; if she has to perform a second action she hits on a 4 or more. Head shots do double damage after SP and BTM modifiers, which is why in our last session Drew killed 3 men with 5 shots.

This gun is also in a tasteful pastel blue. Drew tries to avoid pink when she is working with other combat teams, because she wants to be taken seriously as a riflewoman.

Tactics for breaking armour

In our last session we ended up facing off against five guys with power armour, which has an SP of at least 28, carrying fairly heavy automatic rifles (probably FN-RALs, like Drew’s) and at least one shotgun (scary!). We lucked on a very effective method for breaking down armour within the revised rules, however. This was pretty simple: Coyote used a high-rate-of-fire Kalashnikov to lay down suppressive fire when they first arrived in combat, forcing them back through the door they were entering by, and Pops dropped burner grenades on them. Burner grenades don’t do huge amounts of damage but anyone who is hit by them has to make a COOL check to stay in combat and not put out the flames, and the flames themselves continue for a few rounds, causing additional stun damage under the revised rules. Drew, of course, was laying out head shots, because a single headshot with her beautiful new gun will probably kill someone even if they have SP 30 and BTM 4, especially if it has armour piercing ammo. Once Coyote and Pops had expended their initial ammunition, Coyote switched to throwing fragmentation grenades and Pops switched to three-shot bursts with his FN-RAL, which don’t do heavy damage but are likely to wear down single opponents fast with stun damage. Meanwhile Drew continued with the head shots, aiming at individual opponents who posed the most threat.

Unfortunately Pops and Coyote are really shit at delivering grenades, so most missed, but two of our support team managed to do that job. With this tactic, Drew cleaned up the riskiest guy in the first round, a lot of damage was laid down on the enemy in the second round, and in the third round the burner grenades caused two of the remaining guys to expire; the last two went down from another fragmentation grenade after that. None of these guys were dead (except Drew’s first target), just shocked and exhausted; but Drew soon fixed that.

This tactic works because it maintains a heavy pressure of stun damage on the whole group, because no one can stand in the blast zone of three grenades while they’re on fire and being shot at without eventually giving up the ghost. Under the previous rules, everything we had thrown at them except Drew’s ET round would have done nothing. If Pops now improves his heavy weapons skill so his grenade launcher is actually effective, and we find Coyote a better suppression weapon (e.g. a mini-gun) then this tactic will be even more effective. Even power armour won’t stop us now!

Example: The original rules

Ghost has come out of his hidey-hole in our first adventure, and finds himself facing off against a squad of three gangers armed with SMGs, who are there to kill him. He has warning, and has donned a set of full combat armour that he spent much of his starting money on. He needs to get down the hallway to the lift. The three gangers fire 3-shot bursts at him, hitting him twice and delivering 1d3 shots per successful burst, for a total of 3 hits. They roll damage, but their SMGs are crumby, doing 3d6 damage, and his SP is 24, so there’s no risk he will take any damage. He walks down the hallway towards them, shooting them down one by one as the rest of the group catch up and start gunning them down with assault rifles. Ghost is a hacker.

Example: The revised rules

Drew is lying on the ground unable to move, in plain sight, after a lunatic ganger tried to wrestle her and get her helmet off in our sixth adventure. Two men at the end of the hallway armed with assault rifles let rip on her with suppressive fire, and unable to dodge properly she takes 5 bullets. The men are using kalashnikovs, which do 5d6 damage, but Drew is wearing full combat armour plus SP12 sub-dermal armour (she’s a sensible girl!) so she has a total SP of 28. All five bullets hit her for less than 28 damage each, and she takes nothing. The GM, in a fit of rage, makes up the new rules, and so Drew takes one point of stun damage from each bullet that hit her. The GM, who is a complete bastard, also degrades her armour slightly. Drew is now in the lightly wounded category (-2 on everything) and if she takes 3 more bullets, even if they don’t penetrate, she will need to start making stun checks to stay functional.

fn1: One amusing thing about this game is that, since I’m not a gun nut at all, with no experience of any form of projectile weapons (I have never touched one, and have only even seen one in someone’s hand once), I have no clue what any of the language means, I just treat it as categories of stuff like magic items. One of our players was a conscript in his national army, and has a lot of familiarity with the various barbaric instruments of death that Drew deploys; I leave the details to him.

I'm sorry Doctor, you won't be able to leave ... that way ...

I’m sorry Doctor, you won’t be able to leave … that way …

[Faustus’s note: I wasn’t actually present for this session and wrote it up based on other players’ reports; this is why it is late and out of order with session 10. Go to the end for a summary of events]

Kill, it’s such a friendly word
Seems the only way
For reaching out again

– Old oil age rockers

Date: 8th October, 2177

Weather: Sunny!!!

Mood: Deeply satisfied. This is the first time in my life that I’ve really enjoyed close combat, usually it just seems icky and sweaty and kind of dangerous, it doesn’t have any of the elegance and clean lines of rifle-work. But there was something really powerfully satisfying about beating cyber-psychiatrists to death with an iron bar, close in where you can see the horror in their eyes and smell their fear. It’s the first time I’ve relished the smell of blood in my whole life.

Outfit: Blood-soaked boiler suit and metal bar. I was meant to be wearing a nurse’s outfit, because that would be the right outfit to wear when you’re breaking into a mental asylum, but the others insisted on going disguised as electricians, so here I am in a boiler suit. Everyone knows blood looks fetching on a nurse’s outfit, and just boring on a set of overalls … and I’m covered in a lot of blood! But as always I do what the team wants, even if it means I have to be like completely unfashionable when I’m doing my day job.

So we decided it was time to get looking for Alt’s mysterious transubstantiating sister, which means we have to bust a truck-driver out of a mental asylum. The truck driver is Hog, and he was shifting Ghostshock for Alt’s psychotic brother Lima back before we iced Lima or whatever shell of a body he was currently using. We wanted to ask Hog a bit more about the deal he had with Lima but we couldn’t because he disappeared, and Alt worked out that he had been suddenly declared cyberpsychotic and locked away in some top class rehabilitation unit topside. Of course now we know that “rehabilitation” means being reconfigured into a Full Body Replacement cybersoldier, which has got to be all kinds of scary. My guess is that is what they planned to do with me when I was held in the psych ward after Tunguska, and I have been really wanting to liberate Hog and teach those cyber-psychiatrists a few manners.

So I was happy when Coyote turned up at my apartment and told me and Pops that we were ready to roll, that he had used a tenuous contact topside to set up a van and cover as maintenance workers, and that the visas for topside had come through from Pops’s contact Blacklist. So all we needed to do was get a plan ready and head up. The good news: we were leaving as soon as possible. The bad news: we couldn’t take any weapons and even my Rippers had to come out, so we were going to be completely unarmed.

First, however, we needed to secure access to some fingerprints and an access card, which is how I got to meet Lady Zodiac.

Lady Zodiac at the club

Lady Zodiac at the club

Lady Zodiac

Pops knows a lot of pretty interesting people from his days as a cop and one of them is Lady Zodiac, a courtesan and sometime drug dealer who has a bit of a debt to Pops, which he won’t explain to me and which I try hard not to think about the details of. So he called her up and asked her if she was free this evening, and she was, and before we know it we’re outside some high class club on level 2, just below topside, and this beautiful woman is tapping on the window of Pops’s rundown little car. She was tall and pretty and perfectly dressed and she walked so gracefully and her voice was like music. I’m pretty sure she had some careful cyber enhancements to make it all perfect but they were really high class and subtle, so she exuded this sense of natural beauty that’s really rare in our plastic world. I had to sit in the passenger seat feeling small and uncouth and like I stank of gun oil while Pops carried on this conversation with his beautiful friend that was half flirting and half business. She was really sweet to him, and for a moment when I wasn’t staring at Lady Zodiac’s decolletage and imagining what I’d do if I was as beautiful as her, I had these visions of him back in the day, before he met me, handsome young cop with a family and a life and a mind of his own and goals and dreams that weren’t all attached to keeping me alive and finding the people who wrecked it all … like he was once a real person, and somehow Lady Zodiac floated through his life and he did something good for her like he did for me, and I bet he didn’t try to bed her either, at least they just seem like friends to me now, listening to her lilting voice teasing his rough looks and small car, and she’s looking at me all inquisitive like but not jealous, not that someone like her could have any reason to be jealous of a smouldering little nutcase like me, but then Pops introduced me to her, “this is my d-, ah, my friend and colleague, the Druid. You can call her Drew,” and she did that little moment of vague disfocused stare people do when they go online to check me out, and then that little doubletake when they see the video of one of my better jobs that always appears when the ‘net throws up information on me. Then she shook my hand and her skin was smooth and coloured like pearl and her eyes were this luscious blue-green like a gem and she talked to me like I mattered, then she whacked Pops on the shoulder and said that this means they’re quits but stay in touch and she really seemed like she meant it, and then she gave me a little wave, told Pops to wait five, and sashayed off into the club. Pops rolled up the window and looked at me kind of shy-like, but he didn’t say anything except “When the mark comes out you stay in the car and don’t do anything unless he starts shooting,” then he got out and went and lounged nearby.

And she was right, because five minutes later Lady Zodiac came tripping down the stairs, wearing nothing except this iridescent club lingerie, and this kind of nerdy dude was with her, holding her hand and urging her to wait. She came running across the road and she was saying something about “we can do it right here if you have the money” when she breathlessly bumped into Pops who was standing there stern in a leather jacket with this massive gun out and he dragged the guy around behind a truck and started yelling at him to turn around and stand still and was he armed and was he alone? And he was calling him by this random name even though we both knew that this guy was a technician at NaoCorps on topside called John Baylish, and he kept trying to tell Pops he was Baylish but Pops kept roughing him around and telling him to tell the truth and Lady Zodiac was squealing in this really fetching way that wasn’t actually loud enough to get attention, and Pops told her to shut up ’cause he’s from Goliath security and if she brings down any white knights that he has to kill the clean up costs will be all hers and she goes quiet with these little theatrical sobs. Then Pops start telling Baylish that he’s under arrest for a triple murder in the USA, and he don’t have any rights at all, so he better come quietly, and the dude’s like earnestly trying to tell Pops that he’s never been to the USA and he’s a New Horizon local and what is going on here? And then Pops acts all confused and tells him he better give him some ID so he can confirm that, and then he takes his fingerprints and gets the guy’s ID card and gives him a receipt on real Goliath letterhead and tells him he’ll get it back in three days or so and gives him a number and tells him to dial it every evening and give a full report of his whereabouts and he is now a person of interest in an international murder investigation.

And that’s how we got the access card and the fingerprints. Coyote worked overnight on the fingerprints and we had a bypass ready by morning. So we set off topside and I don’t think I’m ever going to see Lady Zodiac again …

So THAT's why there's so much water dripping through our roof ...

So THAT’s why there’s so much water dripping through our roof …


We went topside on the first lift the next morning, so we could get there nice and early and be out before the end of the day. Getting to topside is easy, on this three-minute long hyper elevator that you queue for for about an hour. It goes up so fast your ears pop, and you don’t see anything outside so when you arrive you don’t even know how high up you are but it must be pretty high because the first thing you see is blue sky. Then there’s this phalanx of guards and machines you have to pass through, and they check everything, with multiple scanners that must tell them everything about even what you had for breakfast. If I’d tried to smuggle in my rippers they surely would have found out, and would have sent me straight back. I followed Blacklist’s instructions, dressed nice and simple in a clean skirt and boots and simple blouse, like a good girl going to work for the nice people, and I didn’t make a fuss and I followed instructions and I must have showed my visa to like 8 different people and been through 10 different scanners, but finally we were all through. Coyote took a bit longer because they didn’t like the look of his face, which shows that people up here have got at least a bit of sense, so we had to wait for him but they let him through which was just as well because he was our contact for everything. We had an hour to kill before the van with our contacts arrived and I wanted to go shopping but Pops said no and anyway it was really early still and even some of the cafes weren’t open, so instead we just spilled out of the reception area into this park on a kind of a little rise near some office buildings, with a street going down to a little shopping zone, so we just wandered around for half an hour checking out our first and probably our only view of topside ever.

It was pretty amazing. There was lots of grass and real trees, and there was this gentle breeze that was cool and wild and you could tell it came from somewhere far away over the sea, and you could see the sky wherever you looked, and it wasn’t raining so you didn’t need an umbrella to keep off the constant foul-smelling water, and everyone was beautiful and well dressed and no one was really armed, though I saw a few police here and there who had guns, and the buildings were all clean and looked new and there was no rubbish anywhere and noone lying on the street looking sad and dirty and when you stopped and closed your eyes you couldn’t hear a single siren of any kind. Bliss.

Then our van turned up, and we set off to kill some doctors.


In the van we changed quickly into our overalls, and we dropped off the guy who’d delivered it for us near a little tram stop of some kind. Coyote took over driving, and we headed out to the asylum, which was a NaoCorps unit out near the edge of this whole zone of upmarket medical places. On the way we dropped off Ragut’s wife at one of the cheaper clinics, with a change of clothes and what we hoped was a valid insurance ticket that Alt said she’d said up for us, then we drove on to the hospital. We parked around the corner and waited while Ghost hacked into the matrix, broke into the hospital system and set up a distraction.

Unfortunately the distraction Ghost chose was kind of big. He told us later that he discovered the Husk around here was constrained, like someone had chained the remnants of the Husk to the walls of buildings and structures, so instead of trying to arrange anything elaborate he just unchained some parts of the Husk. This cyberwaffle doesn’t make any sense to me, but the effects were pretty clear: the computer systems of the entire hospital district started going crazy as the Husk started fighting to regain control of cyberspace, and security systems started failing – along with lights, power systems, and even lawn sprinklers. We gave the chaos a few minutes then drove up to the car park at the front of the asylum, got out in our coveralls as cool as could be, carrying toolkits that contained nothing more serious than a metal bar and a comms unit, and walked up to the front doors. These doors were open and there was a guy at the front reception desk but when we explained that we were there to start fixing the trouble he just waved us through. He was furiously punching buttons and talking on what looked like eight different phones, and as we talked to him we heard this big bang outside and looked around to see a patient had just fallen from up in the building. As he waved us on we heard him saying to someone on a phone, “All the window locks have deactivated and the windows on the secure level are going mad, someone just fell out. Yeah, there’s a team on the way up now to check.”

At this point Pops told me to go back to the van, keep it ready to run, and keep an eye on what was going on outside. I did what he said, but that didn’t exactly go according to plan …

So I don’t know what happened inside but they told me later when they came out. They got as far as the level Hog was on, but at that point some kind of Artificial Intelligence started cruising around cyberspace looking for the source of the Husk’s release, and it saw Ghost. He tried to fight it first but it was way too powerful and really dangerous so he had to run, and it sent guards to his physical location to get us. Pops ambushed the guards and killed them both with just his bare hands (and his cyberleg – Coyote tells me he stomped one to death with it, mostly on his groin). To add to the confusion Ghost managed to release all the locks on patient doors while he was running from the AI, and so patients started coming out on all the levels. At this point the AI started activating the hospital’s full defenses, and these big blast shields started lowering over the front doors. I was worried I’d be left out the front with no way in, and that the way out would be blocked, so I drove our van straight into the glass doors. It smashed them but didn’t go through, and I got out and inside the building just in time for the blast barriers to cut our van in half and seal the hospital shut.

This was when I turned around, iron bar in hand, and saw the first cyber-psychiatrist come running out from the hospital, hoping to leave by the main door, a few half-sedated patients shambling after him.

What could I do? I beat him to death and made sure I did it thoroughly, but there was another one coming through when I got done, and I had to corner him at the reception desk. He was throwing phones at me and screaming and crying, but I got him a nice crunching blow on one knee when he turned to run and he fell over and slipped again trying to get up over one of the desk chairs. So I dragged him back by one leg and explained to him what all the problems with his profession were while I smashed all his limbs. I had to finish up a bit quick though because then this doctor and this nurse came backing into the room, with this little gaggle of really angry-looking patients coming after them. The nurse was a big, nasty-looking man holding a hyperdermic needle of some kind, and I didn’t want that in me so I slipped around behind them under the cover of the reception desk and pushed the dude in the back, so he went forward into the patients. He looked real surprised when it happened, and he started yelling when they were grabbing him and kicking him. The doctor was even more surprised, because he turned to me and didn’t understand what I did and he said “Little missy, you aren’t a patient are you?!” And he had that condescending look in his eye that some older men get when they see me and they don’t think I’m anything more than long hair and a set of breasts and maybe something for them to put themselves in, and I hate that look so I jabbed my iron bar in his eyes and then I pushed him up against the glass and made some pretty patterns all over it. I was still grunting over my artwork when another group of nurses came in. They were all big men too, which got me thinking that they have very special requirements for the nurses in this place, and the patients don’t seem to like the nurses at all and these nurses were talking about some patients they were especially scared of but when they saw me one of them said “Uh, no way man” and they all ran out of the other door. I always thought nurses were more sensible than doctors! I didn’t bother chasing them because another doctor came in – you can tell the doctors because they have longer coats and this supercilious manner that gets your anger up before you have even cleaned your iron bar off from the last one – and he saw me and started trying to run back down the way he came but I went through those doors like a demon and I caught him just before the men’s bathroom with a sliding trip because I’m a lot faster than some unaugmented, paunchy middle-aged sadist, and I was on his back before he hit the ground. He tried crawling but the floor was really slippery and I don’t weigh that much but it’s hard to crawl when you’ve got a piece of iron smashed into your spine and then I kicked him a bit and then the door opened and this really ragged-looking group of patients came in so I left him to them and moved back to the main reception area, because Pops was calling me to catch up with them.

They had found Hog but he was strapped into this huge machine and they didn’t know what to do so they had called Alt to investigate. While Alt was doing her megadata download processing thing another six guards came at them, but Ghost managed to lock down the closet they had gone to for weapons, but then this huge dude with cyberarms came into the room to rip off the panel, but Ghost used the software he’d been given by Alt a while back, hacked into the dude’s cyberarms and shut them down. Then they managed to get to the stun guns while he was getting all confused and his friends were backing away, and started stunning them. Then they got Hog out of the machine following instructions from Alt, but they had to leave fast so we all ran up to the roof of the hospital. There were helicopters coming from somewhere, with guards in with real guns probably, but Ghost managed to hack into their systems and crash them, which probably killed quite a few topside guards but really who cares when the joy of battle’s raging through you? Though Ghost seemed to because he set down the second helicopter without damaging it, which enabled the four heavily-armed guards inside to enter the hospital and come up to our level. We were panicking and telling Ghost again how he needs to learn to consult more when Coyote activated our get-out-of-hospital-free card: he smashed a medivac insurance card Alt had given us, which calls the medivac team tied to the card. Up on topside those teams arrive fast, and we would only have to wait maybe two minutes. Unfortunately those guards emerged after a minute, and we were running madly from cover to cover while we waited for the medivac. The medivac came real fast and when it arrived it laid down some really heavy suppressive fire with its machine guns, which I guess goes to show that topside is not as peaceful as it looks if the ambulances up here are just as vicious as the ones down below. Once it set down we threw Hog in, and we all piled in after it, but those guards didn’t let up easily and they let rip a final volley into the back of the ambulance before its doors closed. That volley hit Ghost square, and tore his legs up so bad he died on us right there.

Fortunately there’s no better place on New Horizon to die than a medivac vehicle. They got him back and kept him alive at the same time as they gunned down the last guards, and then they took us on this insane hectic ride out of topside, down the centre shaft, to this unnamed and dubious building. It took maybe 8 minutes of reckless flying and during that trip none of the medics in the car asked us any questions, they just worked real fast on Hog and Ghost. Nobody asked me any questions either, except Pops raised one eyebrow at all the blood, and Coyote flicked a lump of probably brains out of my hair with this real decent big brother-little sister gesture that made feel part of a real team. Then the back doors opened and this crew of grim medical professionals unloaded Ghost and Hog and we were led into this really bland waiting room for a couple of hours and then they came out and told us that Ghost would live but without legs. Since when does a hacker need legs? He’ll probably be happy to see the back of them. We discussed recovery options for a few minutes, then Pops observed that we were all beat and I really needed a shower, and we decided to come back and talk about it when we were all better.

So that, dear Diary, is how we smashed up a hospital on topside just so we could liberate a no-good drug dealing trucker from a bunch of sadistic doctors, and the first step on my road to rebalancing some of the things that have been done to me since Tunguska. I’m happy about what I did, and I’m reconsidering my opinion of close fighting, but it’s good to remember what the Falcon said about lackeys:

Kill them along the way, but count your bullets, for there are more worthy targets

I didn’t waste any bullets on those cyber-psychiatrists, but I’m listening to the Falcon’s advice, because hopefully liberating this Hog dude is going to get me one step closer to some more worthy targets. But for now anything we learn depends on his medical team, and we have a big job to do for Pops’s contact Blacklist, to repay him for the topside visas. So I gotta rest, and do a train robbery, and dream of bloody restitution. Good things come to girls who wait!

Summary of events for those who can’t bear Drew’s breathless prose:

  • The team have to go topside to liberate a contact of their sometime-employer, Alt
  • They got visas from a dude called Blacklist, to whom they owe a job
  • To get access cards to the hospital holding Hog, Pops set a trap for a staff member called Bob Baylish
  • The trap used an escort called Lady Zodiac to lure Baylish out of a nightclub where Pops could pretend to be a cop arresting him for triple murder; to prove he was not the murderer Baylish handed over his ID card and fingerprints
  • They went topside using the visas, and used the ID card and fingerprints to move around the facility
  • Ghost set a distraction, but it was an insanely big one – he freed the Husk to go crazy in cyberspace, which set all the security systems and lawn sprinklers going wild
  • They found Hog and got him out, but had to beat about 8 guards to death in the process
  • While they were doing this, Drew killed a lot of cyber-psychiatrists
  • They all fled to the roof and called in a medivac team using an insurance card Alt gave them
  • While they were loading into the medivac team some heavily-armed guards fired on them and killed Ghost
  • It’s very hard to die when you’re shot to death inside a medivac car, so Ghost survived after some work
  • He’s going to need an anti-gravity wheelchair but whatever, it’s cool
  • Time to move on to Blacklist’s job, to pay for the visas!
A good place to die

A good place to die


Bob Millet, 3rd Arasaka Free Division. I was demobilized from the Indo Zone and taking the 11:31 AM Titan train from Calcutta, just a routine repatriation train. I was demobbing with my corps buddies Alec and Milwall, and we were booked for a berth in economy on deck 4, carriage 11. That’s not very comfortable but I tell you I’ll sit on a bed of nails for 24 hours if it’ll get me out of the Indo Zone a day sooner, I’ve seen enough buddies die to know when a 12 hour journey on a 10 deck monster train is worth my while! I just didn’t expect to see my mates die on the train journey home, just an hour out of New Horizon.

And not like that.

So we were meant to be in the economy passenger class, sitting there getting pissed with each other and bumping elbows and reading magazines and trying to sleep but instead at the last minute Arasaka command told us this was some kind of special military hardware delivery, so we needed to do guard duty in carriage 4, deck 1. That’s a huge cargo wagon, and the decks are kind of a formality, more like balconies around a central open space. In our carriage there were a couple of crates in the open space but most of the cargo was on decks 2 – 8, with more guards on deck 9 and nothing on deck 10. We just had to sit in these spacious dropship-style seats on level 1 with our weapons, and up on deck 9 they could move around a bit, there was a kind of lounge, like a real guard room.

We were 10 hours into the trip when we felt the train come to a halt. Nobody raised any alarm or anything, it was just some kind of routine stop as far as we knew. But then there was this insane crash and a huge chunk of the ceiling landed next to us. It was glowing red hot all round the edges and it was about a metre thick and it came out of nowhere. After it there was this rain of burnt cargo and body parts from the upper levels. Me and my mates, we unbuckled and jumped up out of our seats to see what was going on, but we had to stay under the balconies of higher levels because of this rain of cargo that had been cut in half. The techs tell me someone cut a big hole in the roof of the train with laser cutters, but the lasers cut a big hole in anyone who was in the way on deck 9 and all the cargo in decks 7 and 8. We didn’t hear anything happening, but the techs think some kind of mute mines were used so no one knew what was going on.

Anyway once the cargo stopped falling around us me and my mates ran out into the middle of the hold with our guns out. Everyone on level 9 was completely messed up and still trying to work out what was going on, but there were these three crazy people coming right down the middle from this massive hole in the ceiling. One was carrying a grenade launcher, with a FN-FAL assault rifle strapped to his back; there was another who also had a FN-FAL assault rifle but who was carrying this insane old-fashioned bolt action rifle that had to be electro-thermal modded, or my aunt has balls; and then there was this third dude who was carrying an honest-to-god kalashnikov and had this god-almighty pistol strapped to his belt. They were rappelling down the middle of the hold, and when we came out they had already shot down the only four guys on level 9 who were in any condition to move. We moved to take up positions under cover but the one with the bolt-action rifle was super fast, and he shot Milwall through the head before he could blink. He had his helmet on and everything but that modded rifle blew his whole head off like it was a melon. Nasty. Me and Alec got under cover quickly and started shooting, but then the dude with the grenade launcher let rip. His first grenade landed right on top of us, and it was some kind of incendiary. When the flames cleared me and Alec were on fire like all over. Grenade dude didn’t even give a toss, he’d lobbed a second one down into one of the doors from the side corridors in the train, blocking it off, which was real unfortunate for us because there were some really serious Arasaka crack marines coming through the side corridors on level 1. Those guys have power armour and serious weaponry but they were blocked off by the grenade, which messed up the door into the room.

Me and Alec didn’t care about that though, because we were covered in flaming shit. Alec was down and yelling like a maniac, screaming and crying and rolling around trying to get his fire out, but I managed to keep my cool, so I ripped off the jacket and the pants before they got too serious and ducked down under cover. Somehow my helmet was unaffected so there I was, hiding behind a crate in my underwear with only my helmet for protection, and my gun out of reach in a pool of sticky fire, while my mate from a thousand Indozone missions is rolling around between two crates and I can’t reach him because that dervish with the bolt action rifle is going to air out my brainpan if I so much as twitch from behind that crate.

Fortunately there were another five Arasaka elite in the other corridor, that our friendly grenadier from the sky hadn’t shut up all fiery-like, and in they came like the dutibound salarymen they are. But the kalashnikov guy let rip on them with the whole magazine of his rifle, and they had to go back into cover. One managed to dive for cover inside the room, but the rest headed back. The one diving inside was trying to throw a grenade but that bolt-rifle maniac hit him with a single shot and blew up the grenade right in his face, took off his head and most of his shoulders even through the power armour. Then grenadier guy dropped a fire grenade on them, and then they decided to let rip with their heavy weapons through the wall. Everyone on the other side of that wall, including me, had to watch as our cover got evaporated by their heavy fire, but fortunately I was hidden behind a crate of plantains and no bullet can get through them. Rifle dude and kalashnikov guy weren’t so lucky in their choice of cover so they had to do a runner, but that kalashnikov arsehole, as he was running he got out that pistol and put a single bullet right into my mate Alec, even though Alec was still trying to put out his flaming armour. It went in his spine and came out his chest like a lung fountain, and me and Alec aren’t going to be having any more beers now – and I guess his kids are gonna have to satisfy themselves with Arasaka compo cheques in place of a daddy. That bastard could have let us alone!

Anyway now there were more people rappelling in, and the first three threw in two more grenades that took out a few more of the Arasaka elite. The ones who were left were still burning from grenadier guy’s fire grenade, and they just kind of gave out and died and the whole area was pacified. That was when I really thought my number was up, because the bolt rifle guy was coming over to finish me off – I could see his badge, it said “DRUID” in bright red, you can check the feed from what’s left of my cybereye, and that’s when I thought maybe it was THE Druid, you know, from Tunguska, and she’s got a reputation for shooting wounded men – when all hell broke loose. These guys must have had a hacker, because this train has an automated cargo moving system and suddenly that system was going crazy, all these crates moving around and stuff. Next thing I know I hear someone yell “Target incoming!” at full volume, and this huge crate comes hurtling out of the darkness at the other end of the carriage. The Druid has to go dodge, and the crate smashes into the piece of ceiling that fell down from up there, bounces over it, and hits my plantain crate at high speed. The plantain crate bounces over me but the main cargo comes to rest right above me, kind of hanging off the edge of that metre-thick disc of fallen ceiling. And there I am underneath it, my friend Alec all smeared out just past my boots, and this huge crate teetering on the edge of that disc of metal, right above me. And inside there’s all kinds of noises happening, banging and sounds of movement, I don’t know what’s in the crate but it sounds like there’s some kind of monster truck rally going on in there.

Then I’m just thinking that at some point that crate’s gonna come down, so I’m gonna have to choose to lie here and let it squish my legs, or scramble out just to have the Druid shoot me in the head, when someone yells “EMP!” and I hear the thunk of EMP mines on the crate, and there’s a big silent whoop, and my cybereyes start going apeshit, all blues and greens and crazy lcd kaleidoscopes. The crate goes dead for a moment, and somewhere near me a couple of charging Arasaka elite fall to the ground, and off in the distance I hear the bolt rifle go off again and one of those Arasaka elite does a kind of splattering sound, and then next I hear someone yell “Magnets!” and then the crate goes whooshing off into space, someone yells “Evac!” and I guess everyone must have left then because I’m still alive.

You can watch the feed if you don’t believe me. So there were 10 Arasaka elite and me and my mates down on level 1, and everyone except me died, and I don’t know how many people up on level 9, and these train robbers got away with just one crate that must be real special. I guess it must have had some kind of cybertech in it, because why else would anyone want to use EMP on it before they started lifting it out? And what else would be moving inside? That’s kind of interesting isn’t it? … Wait, what are you doing? It’s just speculation, you don’t have to … hey, man, I won’t tell anyone anything if you don’t …



Really? That's the only camera?

Really? That’s the only camera?

If you are going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance

– Inuit proverb

Drew stared, blank-eyed, at the doctor. He was watching her intently, probably thinking his expression meant something to her, but to him he was just the same as all the rest. A man, not old enough to be distinguishable by the patterns of his flab and baldness, not young enough to be noticeable for his physique or style. Just a man. The same as the one she refused to speak to yesterday? She wasn’t sure. The white coat didn’t help. In any case, she had decided to speak to this one, so she needed to appear affable.

Drew put on her affable face. He spoke.

“Let’s start with your name. It isn’t actually DRU, is it?” He pronounced her name separately by each letter. Cute.

“No. That isn’t how you say it. It’s Drew.”

“But that isn’t your actual name is it? You can’t call yourself after your unit designation.”

“How do you know my unit designation?” She arched up, suspicious. How much did these people know about her?

“It was on your lapels when we found you. ‘Dedicated Retribution Unit 471.’ But that’s not your name, just your designation.”

She sniffed. “Same thing. Anyway, everyone calls me Drew.” Threw a huffy kind of shrug at him.

“Very well Drew. But that’s not your actual name. I would like an identity by which I can refer to you, something that speaks about your place in the world. So can you tell me your name?”

Clearly, Drew thought, they must be going around in circles here. Why are people so stupid? “That is my name, and I think it tells you everything you need to know about me. I’m Drew. Nice to meet you. Who are you?” She arched an eyebrow in what she hoped was a pointed manner.

“Hmm. Let’s make a deal, okay?” She recognized daddy-talk, or big-brother-talk, like he thought he was going to con her with some false authority. Did he not know what she was? She was used to authority, she carried 35 rounds of it in a bullpup-configured light assault carbine, or 10 rounds of it in a high-powered FinnArms Stalker. Not-yet-middle-aged corporate doctors did not carry authority, they carried a badge. “You tell me your name, and I’ll tell you mine.” Smug face, like he’d just pulled the biggest con of the century.

“Drew. Pleased to meet you.” Humour! Zing! She wanted to hold out her hand for effect, but the plastic zip-ties kind of threw that out the window. Also, she was getting a little sharp here, she needed to dull it down. So probably just as well. She made sure to slur her next words. “‘N who’re you?”

As usual, her sass drew a sigh. What is it with Men Of A Certain Age not being able to handle a girl who talks back? Pindicks or something. “Drew … that’s not your name. I want to know your real name, so we have something solid here, you know?”

She sighed too. “Okay Doc. I had a real name, but it died, alright? When my friend ‘Lenie died and all I had left of her was her bracelet, I took it down to the ice. You haven’t been to the ice, right? It’s there on the shore in late spring, still there but all slushy and mashing against itself, makes this kind of grating sound. I threw ‘Lenie’s bracelet into the ice and when I said goodbye, and when I did I threw my name away too. Since then I just used whatever name was useful, but when I joined the squad they all called me Drew, so Drew it is.” She turned plaintive little girls eyes on him, just for a moment. “Can you please just call me Drew?” She asked in a small voice.

“Okay … Drew.” He sat down again. “Nice to meet you.” Brotherly wink. Sure you mean it doc, sure. “So, I want to ask you some questions, first, about what happened at Tunguska.”

“I don’t know!” She blurted, almost too quickly. “I got shot. Or something.” Slumped back, huffy. What had happened?

For the first time, the doctor turned on the screen on the wall. Grainy footage appeared. He shuffled it. Angles changed, vision cleared. There was the tower she’d been sent to. She’d been inside, level 3, but the tower she could see was a mess, level 3 up was a smoking wreck. A body hanging out of the window must have been … was that Armoured Angel, their heavy weapons guy? Were her whole team dead? Maybe not, because she could see a gaggle of corporate troops at the base of the tower, in that classic huddle of squaddies getting ready to storm a room. She didn’t remember any of this…

The doctor hit play. This was drone footage so there was no sound, but she saw the guys geeing themselves up to go in, then a charge went off and the door came open. The first guy moved to enter the door, but blew back, shot maybe. Then the screen went kind of blurry and the men started falling down. The screen paused.

“How did you do that?” the doctor asked her, sounding kind of impressed. Do what?

“I’m not there,” she pointed out reasonably. “What are you talking about?”

He rewound a little. “You’re there. Can’t you see?”

“No, it’s just kind of misty.”

“That’s blood and smoke. Here, let me slow it down.” He switched to freeze frame. Moment by moment, she watched the men’s deaths unfold. First the guy who’d been barrelling for the door, blown back by a single shot in the face. Then the man on the left of the door, vision still obscured by smoke, fell back in confusion, fell over. On his other side, the demolitions guy died in a flagrant head shot. Whatever was shooting them was carrying something small but very powerful. But the third guy went down from the thigh, looked like a lot of blood from a deep cut. The fourth guy was just starting to react, maybe, and he didn’t die, went back as if he’d been tripped, and his gun ripped away. Three more of the team went down in an arc of auto fire from that guy, one of them their heavy weapons support, hit by maybe five or six bullets in the chest and head. Now that the smoke was clearing Drew could see a kind of figure moving through the dust and smoke, small and lithe, carrying that guy’s assault rifle in one hand and rippers extending from the other. It was hard to see in blurry drone footage through smoke, but there was definitely a ghost figure in there, moving through the cadre. They fell apart behind her, like a piece of ocean-caught maguro being sliced carefully open by an expert chef.

Was that … her?

Behind her, three men burst out of the empty doorway and headed away. She recognized Jesus’s slight limp, Ragged Jerry with his shotgun, and Magnum, huge and hulking but obviously badly hurt. Magnum maybe paused to look back at her but they obviously weren’t messing around, they were lighting out for the hills.

It was her. How had she done that?

“I … ” she watched in confusion.

“Let me play it again.” The doctor hit shuffle, it went back to the start, she watched herself butcher her way through the team again. This time she definitely saw herself in that small, lithe figure, but she was moving so fast.

The Russian Gear. She’d bought it in Vladivostok before the mission. Told no one. It … itched … in her for a few days, then settled down. Of course she hid the operating scars. None of her team knew about it. But they must know now, after they saw that.

“Are they alive!?” she demanded, tearing up. Magnum had dragged her out of that shelled tank back in the Indo zone, kissed her face and cried when they got on the AV in Calcutta and saw the size of their payment. Ragged Jerry always beat her at cards and sneered, but always volunteered for her team. And Jesus, always laughing and joking and looking sidelong at the future like it was just there, waiting for him to grab it and make it stand still …

“As far as we know they got away from the zone before the response was organized. You were the only captive.” The video played on behind her, a classic tableau of last-ditch defending. Taking cover, using up ammo, charging, getting knocked down … except it all happened at breathtaking speed, and finished when she fell, exhausted, to one knee, and just sat there shattered as they smashed her in the head with their rifle butts.

“I don’t know how I did that,” she said slowly. Looked at him. “Do you?” Don’t mention the Russians…

“No,” said the doctor, handing her a tissue and sitting down. “But here’s the thing, Drew … it’s not possible that you can hold the cyberware required to do that, and still be human. We’ve done the tests, and we have a clear diagnosis of cyberpsychosis.” He sat back, steepling his fingers like he thought this was something she might be scared of.

“Really?” She said in a small voice. She’d always cut it fine, but always thought she was staying the human side of … that. She wasn’t scared of cyberpsychosis, but she was definitely scared of what the corporations did about it. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, we are.” He sighed and did that Concerned Uncle voice that men did when they thought she couldn’t understand the gravity of simple words, and needed to be patronized. “So we don’t have many choices here, Drew. You know what happens to cyberpsychotics. But we have a treatment we are going to try on you. It’ll stop your psychosis, but we’ll have to remove all your cyberware.”

She didn’t react, looked at him calmly. Her affable face fell off, replaced with … nothing. Take her cyberware? Make her … meat? She wasn’t ever going to go back to … meat. ‘Lenie had been … meat. Back when Drew was … meat. She was not going back to that. Cattle, like she and ‘Lenie had been. She had gone from sheep to wolf. They weren’t sending her back to that.

She watched coldly as he stood up from behind the desk, so sure of his diagnosis and his corporate power. “We’ll talk again tomorrow Drew,” he said affably, “See what kind of agreement we can come to about removing your cyberware. You can’t go on with this much boosting and hope to stay human. We have to take it out.” He walked to the door, seemingly incapable of noticing the gravity of the cold stare Drew was giving him. “See you tomorrow.”

Drew knew all about Men Of A Certain Age and their feelings about how much say women should have over their own bodies. She had seen it all before, and vowed never to see it again. She watched him walk out of the door, watched as it slid shut behind him, and as she waited for the guards to come, she started calculating.

Time passed.

How do you count the passage of time when you are in an empty space? Drew sat in a tiny white cell, with a bed and a separate toilet, and waited to be dragged down a pristine white tiled hallway to another pristine white, tiled room. She had a small cot with white sheets, a tiny window she couldn’t reach, no books or screens or vids. All she could do was wait. And think.

Drew was not good at thinking. She had never counted thinking to be a particularly useful talent. Running, fighting, hiding, knowing when to give in – they were useful talents. Thinking just made you angry, so Drew didn’t usually think – she acted. But in this white room she very quickly realized action was not where it was at.

They were drugging her. Something in the food, she realized when they came to get her on the second day and she could barely fight them at all.

But she also realized there were no cameras in her little toilet (or maybe she assumed it). So after she ate she rushed in there and puked it up. She drank toilet water instead of what they gave her, and acted sluggish when they came for her. They’d put something on her cyberware that made her eyes fuzzy and slowed her boosting, but something was wrong with some part of it, because her rippers still worked. Just a bit – they didn’t come out fast and it was a lot of concentration, but she could get them out maybe one inch, which was enough to touch her zip-ties. She had noticed that there was maybe a two minute gap between when the guards dropped her trussed and sluggish into the doctor’s room, and when he arrived. And yesterday she noted 12 seconds – count them, 12 – between when he arrived and the door automatically locked.

She could feel that Russian ghost stirring in her. It was beyond the control of whatever they had stuck on her or in her to stop her cyberware. That Russian ghost was uncoiling, seething through her, demanding action.

She wasn’t resisting. They wanted her cyberware. They were going to get it.

It was the same formula the next day. Now was her third day without food, but what girl doesn’t go without food? Drew figured she had a few hours of action before she wore out, provided her Russian ghost didn’t sputter and die too soon. The guards came for her, assumed she was too deadbeat to resist, slapped her in zip ties and dragged her down the pristine white corridor. They dumped her in the chair – the one on her right took the time to give her a good feel, as he had done yesterday, while the one on her left, no doubt a good family man, looked the other way – and then left. This gave her two minutes to draw out her rippers and saw through the zip ties. They gave in in time, but she didn’t have confidence that she could secretly slice through her ankle shackles, and anyway the effort of pushing the rippers out against the cyberlock was really starting to drain her. So she waited, breathing calmly to recover her strength and trying to make contact with the Russian ghost.

She found it just as the doctor walked in. Twelve seconds is a lot of time for her Russian ghost, but she had no time to waste so she leapt over the desk and gouged his eyes out, then ducked into the hall. One last effort to push out the rippers and sever the leg shackles, then down the hallway looking for her captors. She found them in a room in the opposite direction from her cell, running into the hallway carrying electric batons. From behind her she could hear the faint screams of her blinded doctor, which maybe had alerted her two guards (if they hadn’t seen the CCTV). She was flat against the wall when they came out, and Family Man didn’t know what hit him. The other guy spent a little bit of time acquainting himself with exactly what had hit him, but she didn’t have time for the details, not here and now. Having done the best she could, she moved on, keys in hand, cyberlock removed.

She got out. It was fun, mostly, though she was hungry and strung out. Her one regret was that cyberpsych. She had been forced to leave him alive, but blinded. No time to go back.

The rest of his profession would have to make up for it.

She never found out who was holding her, though she assumes now it was Arasaka. They were probably looking at turning a nice profit from all her cyberware, and now that she knows what Arasaka is up to she thinks maybe she would have been an experimental prototype for the Full Body Replacement (FBR) troops parading around New Horizon now. No matter, she’s free, and she’s not going back into “treatment.” Let them try and take her …


Footnote1: This is the story of Drew’s transition from corporate soldier to renegade solo, after she was captured in a suicidal defense of her troop at the Tunguska intervention.

Footnote2: I have no idea if the opening proverb is actually an Inuit proverb – it’s just a google search result – but it suits the story so I’m running with it.


How did it come to this?

How did it come to this?

Date: 6th October, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Mood: Inconsolable. One day I will be powerful enough to come out from under these shadows, and destroy the people who have made me beg and cower. When that day comes the list of people I have to shoot will be long and detailed, and I am going to need a lot of ammunition. I am stocking up.

Outfit: I guess every cloud has a silver lining, and today I’m wearing this beautiful silk gown that the Dubious Mr. Smith gave me. It’s this beautiful pale shell colour with simple geometric patterns crushed into the fabric, I think it may have cost him more money than I have ever seen or owned, but he just tossed it to me so I wouldn’t drip on the carpet. I guess before I kill him I should thank him for the gift…

There’s something oddly calming about reading the Falcon’s war diaries. It’s not just the detailed and intelligent tactics she uses, or her clear thinking under pressure; unlike the other Dialectical Ephemeralists, who spend a lot of time talking about irrelevant philosophical and political stuff that no modern girl cares about, the Falcon burns with this white-hot and pure anger that reaches straight into the heart of any girl who has had to fight her way up. Like me. I don’t know what happened to the Falcon, though I guess like most heavily-armed chicks she died in a messy puddle, but somehow her writing reaches out to me across two oceans and some untold distance in time, and I feel like she’s sitting next to me in this bath, whispering sweet nothings in my ear. Now when I’m exhausted from the crab-bucket politics of this petty world, I find it strangely relaxing to read one of her war diaries, as if she had come alive from the chip and straight into my head to tell me it’s all gonna be okay, just like her I can rampage across a continent getting even with anyone who pushed me down, and being cool while I do it.

For example, after today’s chaos, being pushed around like a pawn in a game of Battleship (whatever that is), I needed a really long bath to let all this exhaustion seep out of me, but it’s no longer enough – I’m wired on my anger at the way I’m being pushed around by these great powers. So I open my little reading screen and pick up one of her war diaries, and like magic she has this to say about the powers she was up against over there in the Andes:

They are what we once dreamed of as gods, mythical agents of destiny, as inescapable as Death, that poor old peasant labourer, bent over his scythe, no longer is. Poor Death, no match for the mighty altered carbon technologies of data storage and retrieval arrayed against him. Once we lived in terror of his arrival. Now we flirt outrageously with his sombre dignity, and beings like these won’t even let him in the tradesman’s entrance.

Did she know I was here in this bath, close to tears because of the sheer stupid challenge of bouncing around between these people who can crush me with a word? How is it that every time I read something the Falcon has written, I feel she is speaking directly to me? I guess that’s why she’s a revolutionary hero, and I’m a battered girl in the bathtub of a repair shop in New Horizon.

That’s going to change one day, dear diary, and the events of today and going to be replayed in excruciating, painful detail on the flesh of every person who was part of them.

So today our epic fail continued. Ghost came up from his hack long enough to tell us he’d been followed by a Goliath security system and a Goliath SWAT team was inbound, then dived back into the Husk to try to lay a false trail that would give the impression we had been used as a relay for some other hacker, and were just victims of an unfortunate hack. With Goliath inbound Pops had to make himself scarce because his short temper had, as usual, pissed off some dude somewhere who can do stuff, plus we had this whole array of highly illegal weaponry that we needed to get out stat, so me and Coyote ran upstairs to pack it all into the AV while Pops set fire to all the remnants of Lima’s search that we had painstakingly laid out in one of our container rooms. Good thing we took photos. I dragged Rice with us, and my armour, and me and Coyote started packing all our illegal guns, explosives, drugs and ammunition into the van. Ragut was trying to push this enormous crate in front of the doors to ensure we could get out, while his wife was waiting outside on an AV bike, ready to go. I told Tail to shut off all power to the door and ordered Ragut to leave – why waste time on that stuff? He left in a hurry and for once Tail did his job. Then I realized things would go a lot faster if Rice helped Ghost, so I turned on his cyberdeck and let him loose with the warning that I’d blow his brains out if he betrayed us (and Goliath would probably do it first).

Of course Ghost couldn’t tell us till later, but he was in a massive Husk dive on our behalf, trying to make up for his mistake. Rice tried to help him but got promptly fried by ICE, and went unconscious on me, so I threw him in the van with the other contraband.  First Ghost laid a track to Rice’s hideout, trying to make it look like someone had used us as a relay. Unfortunately the Goliath ICE was on his tail fast, so he had to go further afield, and he decided to hit a convenience store associated with Arasaka. He got in but there was nothing there, so from there he went deeper, towards some servers. Here he alerted Arasaka ICE (he’s a real light-footed guy, our hacker), but by now Goliath had got in and so the two ICE programs started fighting each other. Ghost slipped out and broadcast the news that Goliath and Arasaka were going to war digitally, using the same bulletin board where he previously posted up his own address (why he did that I don’t know). Then he disconnected.

While all that was going on me and Coyote finished packing the van. He jumped in the van and off it went, out the door and into space before Goliath arrived, leaving me up top. Then Pops came up, covered in soot from setting fire to the Lima-relics, and moments later the building sprinkler system started spraying water all over us. I saw a chance here and called Goliath fire services, confirmed we had a valid contract with them (Ragut is a sensible man) and got them to send a unit. While I was doing this Pops revealed that he had not put his highly illegal new assault rifle in the van, and definitely could not be around when Goliath arrived.

Great. Dementia? Maybe. I put Pops on my AV bike and told him to get gone, I’ll handle it. I made sure my bike helmet was programmed to the girliest, floralist style I have before I gave it to him (Pops always insists on wearing a helmet, the old grump!) Off he went, leaving me and Ghost, who had just emerged soaking wet from down below. My plan was to do the innocent truthful thing, which would probably not work since Ghost will likely mess it up[1], but we don’t have much choice here and I am not abandoning our hideout to Goliath. Sometimes a girl has to draw a line, and the loss of my full wardrobe is where I put that line.

After a few minutes we heard the first thrum of AVs. At this point Ghost decided to jump in the whaler and strip off, though why I’m not sure. I went outside to meet the AVs, and of course it wasn’t the fire unit but a whole team of heavily armed SWAT dudes (quelle surprise, as the yanks would say). They had 3 miniguns on me instantly and I was down on my belly like a civilian protester in no time, waiting to be cuffed. Shock. Once the armoured dudes were down and onto me I managed to point out that they weren’t the fire brigade, but they weren’t listening. They soon found Ghost and dragged him out too (naked, for some reason). Then the fire brigade turned up, sowing confusion through the ranks. Everything would have worked out here, with the Goliath guys deciding it was a false alarm and just a genuine fire, except that one of them recognized me.

“Is that … the DRUID?” he asked, and two of his mates poo-pooed him but another checked me out and realized it was me.

Typical. Some thuggish trooper in the Indo zone with a rep less than mine uses it to get laid for free in every bar from here to Sao Paulo. My rep gets me entangled with Goliath. I swear, one day …

Quite reasonably, this idiot cop said “What’s the Dedicated Retribution Unit doing working as a mechanic in a repair shop down here?” They dragged us in. Waited a few minutes to call in a secure prison AV, then threw me and Ghost in the back and headed off for downtown Goliath.

We all know what waits for me in Goliath Security. Either they hand me over to Arasaka and cash in my contract (15k now!) or, more likely, they take one look at my history of cyberpsychosis and send me to one of their shadow cyberpsychosis treatment units, where I will be remade into a full body replacement, to spend the rest of my life on the verge of cyberpsychosis while I stomp around in a clumsy mecha body that’s straight out of some Oil Age Japanese nightmare.

At this point I started thinking of ways to go down hard, but also wondering if I could still talk my way out of this. But it turned out not to matter, because we were stopped en route. The back of the van opens and these dudes in suits check us out. Some forms are swapped, hands are shaken, dudish words exchanged, and then we are uncuffed and put in the back of this big expensive AV. And off we go, no words of explanation proferred. Me and Ghost are just going along with it, because what else can you do when the powers above decide that your time has come? They took us to some kind of super-expensive hotel, and then there was a long, long elevator ride, and then we were let out into this exquisite hotel suite. There were a couple of guys waiting for us here, some man who introduced himself as Mr. Smith, and then a hacker and some super-slick corporate executive. I know when my number’s up, but I’m not going down in a set of wet coveralls: when Mr. Smith asked if I wanted anything that’s when I said I wanted dry clothes and got this splendid robe. Ghost of course just flopped down and got oily water all over their amazing couch. Men!

Conversation with the Dubious Mr. Smith was short and irritable. Basically it turns out Alt wanted us out from that Goliath trap, and these guys were the only ones who could organize it in short order. But they want something in return of course, and that something is a tough challenge. Apparently some guy called Elvis was the true head of the Church of Exalta, and he was last seen in the Crash Zone with a thing called ANITA. ANITA is a computer of some kind that is powerful enough to host a shard of the lost Exalta, which makes it an enormously valuable find. Unfortunately the Crash Zone is an irradiated hell hole, and they don’t want to send their guys there on such a fickle lead. Enter Expendable Drew, stage left. They liberated me from cyberpsychosis so that I can go die of radiation poisoning.

Sounds like a deal. I checked some specifics, thanked them, and hit the street. A car took us back to Rastafari, where Pops and Coyote were waiting for us. It turns out that they had been following the Goliath AVs, and Pops was considering a straight-out raid, kill the drivers and steal the girl type stuff, but Coyote convinced him to back down and put in a call to Alt. She agreed to liberate us but wanted to do it at arm’s length, hence the involvement of the Dubious Mr. Smith.

Over beers, while we were cooling down and Ghost was telling us about his hack, he also revealed that Alt had contacted him while we were in the Goliath prison van, but he told her to call him back later.

That’s when I decided to take my bath and read some Falcon. Sometimes you have to know when to withdraw and nurse your wounds.

Dialectical ephemeralism, you can take it or leave it, it’s nonsense. The Falcon though, she speaks to me. We’re separated by time and space, and she doesn’t know mandarin or Russian, but it doesn’t matter, we speak the same language: the language of angry outsiders. These people are going to pay.

The Falcon is right about many things, but sometimes she is too fatalistic. She once wrote:

The enemy you cannot kill. You can only drive it back damaged into the depths and teach your children to watch the waves for its return.

But about this she is wrong: she never met the DRUID. When the time is right, I’m going to let Death back in through the tradesman’s door, and me and Death, we’re going to get real close, we’re going to go on a little dance through the mansions of the rich and famous, righting wrongs and repaying old debts. Then these people will know why I’m called the DRUID: Dedicated Retribution Unit (Involuntarily Demobilized).

They should have demobilized me properly when they had the chance.

fn1: Sure it’ll be Ghost who messes it up, not Drew who has Persuasion and fast talk 2, Empathy 3…