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Entry 8: 25.05.70>
Ono is dead.
I think it might be my fault and no one seems to give a good Goddamn. That old adage about finding out who your real friends are when it all goes sour is right; these Shadowrunners I’ve been hanging out with aren’t my friends.
They weren’t Ono’s friends. We’re a collection of assets and seems the only one shedding a tear when those assets get expended is me… Frag man. I feel hollow, empty. The emotions have passed. I only know one thing – if these guys only see me as a wheelman, a driver, then from now on, that’s all they get.
We were hit up by a Suit called Gauge who represents a PR firm called Horizon. They run marketing for a game called Perfect Shooter which is manufactured by our friends at Cross Applied Technology. We should have hit the bricks as soon as we heard the name mentioned. CAT is bad Karma for us.
But the offer was 100k each and greed made us hear the man out. Horizon had picked up some scuttlebutt that something called Dreamseed was in some way involved with the Perfect Shooter game. CAT were giving them the brush off and they didn’t like it so they needed some covert investigative work doing to find out as much as possible about Dreamseed. Should they be concerned?
Or was it just a hoax?
We bought a few copies of the game and began playing, figuring we’d need at least a working knowledge of the game if we were going to be able to fit into the sort of gaming circles muttering about Dreamseed. PS turned out to be a realistic-physics first person war-game – it does everything Unreal Tournament does but with scary accuracy. You practically have to take an in-game shower to stop the other grunts catching a waft of your BO on the wind. THAT realistic… Unable to find anything left-field about the game itself, we hit the Gamers forums and by talking the talking, I manage to get one of them to spill the beans. He Emails me a six word file: ‘Dreamseed War, Dreamseed Trickery, Dreamseed Malady,’ and an address in Seattle. Now the fancy names mean nothing to us but an address is something concrete and we resolve to follow it up.
With hindsight, we maybe shouldn’t have gone to Seattle. We leave our friends, contacts and support network behind. Hell we even leave our gear behind. We go by boat, in Ash’s little Smuggler’s Cruiser, even me – a Rigger sans vehicle. Stupidity personified. In short order, I hired a rental pick-up and we blazed to the address where we discovered two murdered twenty-somethings, a copy of the Perfect Shooter game and a letter congratulating some dude called Josh Phillips on his success in the PS Regional Tournament. Ash went fucking white man and showed us a picture of the three flatmates. The one in the middle, Ash tells us, is his long-lost Bro who Ash lost contact with while he was in the Big House a couple of years ago. Stunned, we check the corpses. Neither of them is Ash’ familia so we figure they’re the two other flatmates. Neither of them is called Josh Phillips either, so it looks like JP is an alias. Ki-rinn hits the security footage and we piece together that Ash’ brother won the PS Regional Tournament, received the congratulatory note from CAT, packed a bag, iced his flatmates and relocated to Cross premises in Seattle.
We speculate that CAT are using the PS game to train killers but there’s no catalyst to explain why console geeks should suddenly start capping their homies – at least there’s nothing in the standard game but a bit more research reveals that the tournaments run from secure servers so we can’t access or study the code for clues. You gotta have 100,000 game credits and an invite from SysAdmin to play a tournament and a few hours game play tells me you need to seriously dedicate about a month of non-stop real time play to get to that level. We need an in and opt to stake out one of the local gamers who’s holding down 100,000 credits and looks likely to play in the tournament. We’re smart and tag the eventual winner but end up spending a week in the back of the van, waiting for this kid to go Manchurian Candidate on us, without hitting the paydirt. We’re missing something and have no clue what so we change tack. Ki-rinn raids CAT files for info on Josh Phillips.
The Corp are callous – referring to the tournament winners by consignment numbers rather than by personnel records but Ki-rinn follows the trail to a secure installation in the North Cascades National Park.
We blaze but security is tight – the place is like a military installation.
Fortunately, Drifter has been keeping an ear to the ground back in San Fran and picks up an entirely separate run to drop off a consignment at this self-same depot. He gets a brief look around the inside before hooking up with us and after comparing notes, we decide to go in through the ventilation shafting while Drifter watches our back. We kit up but make a meal of the entry. It’s SNAFU and as we head inside, we know we’re leaving Drifter with no easy task – cover our tracks and beat a hasty retreat. It’s out of our hands. We have to trust the Squaddie Squad to do his bit.
Insertion goes down sweet and we find a nice little bolthole in what we reckon is the commandant’s office. Only thing is, one too many co-incidences start to crop up as Ki-rinn confesses he once served with this commandant in the forces. The guy’s called Duke and has a reputation as a tough SOB. If he’s working for the Corp on this one, it means they’re not pissing about.
Ki-rinn’s wary about hacking the Mainframe for fear of detection but the military security protocols are so tight it means we soon give the game away while sneaking about the place. Ono got himself into a fight with the Padre so the rest of us laid down covering fire against the security response while Ki-rinn made with the relevant downloads. Exfiltrating, we’re on a high, we’ve pulled files on Josh Phillips and a couple of other tournament winners as well as hacking the Mainframe for all the Dreamseed info we can find and we’re out without casualties. That high makes us sloppy and complacent and as I pop out of the ventilation shaft, I find our escape cut off by a squad of CAT’s PS Console Soldiers. Duke has Drifter on his knees with a gun to the back of his head.
It ain’t going down like this. No way. I’ve got my boys in the shaft below me. I think we’re a team. More than a team… I think we’re like fucking brothers. I count on them backing me up and take a swing at the nearest soldier. As the shots rang out, I took a couple of hard hits and went down.
As I pass out, the only thing I know for sure is that I’ve been left high and dry. No one but Ono has followed me out and I can see he’s at gunpoint instantly as my consciousness fades.
I come round in a dilapidated cottage. Hog tied and dumped on the floor with the rest of the team. Seems like there was some sort of fight after all – we’re all bruised and battered and the Duke’s standing over us giving it the big ‘I am’, dark side monologue treatment. He wants answers. I couldn’t give a shit. I tell him some Johnson from Horizon has paid for the datasteal. He seems satisfied but he’s a sadistic bastard. Tells us we’re a real-time training mission for his Console Soldiers now. At the shot, they’ll put the skills they learned in the game hunting us down for real. He hopes we don’t escape, if only because it’ll make his expensive experiment look bad if a bunch of busted up, unarmed Shadowrunners give his boys the slip. The shot, when he fires it, slugs Drifter in the gut and Duke tosses us a bayonet to try and cut ourselves free as he leaves.
Ki-rinn and I manage to work the bayonet around where we can use it. We free the guys quick but Drifter’s in a bad way and can hardly move. We take what improvised weapons we can. Ono grabs the bayonet, I take a piece of the window frame as a makeshift club and everyone else loads up on house bricks.
We blaze, trying to break through the cordon before the Soldiers tighten the noose around us. We get the drop on three of the bastards and Ki-rinn sets out a sweet ambush. My piece of windowsill hardly cuts the mustard against a Squaddie with an automatic rifle but Ono steps into the line of fire while I’m still reliving my Senior Prom and dispatches the goon with a grimace.
Score one for the team man – I could practically see the bullets starting to rifle down the barrel when tall, dark and scary pulled his hero shit for me.
We snaffle the weapons and head back for Drifter only to run into some street-savvy looking Russian guy who seems to have tried to patch Big D’s wound up. He talks fast, tells us he’s called Sickle and has been sent in to Cas Evac us by a Decker called Lamb. Twist is, we’re IN the Perfect Shooter game and Lamb has had to hack the code to put in a back door to let him in and to let us out.
The back door is in the cellar of a farm building a couple of clicks away and we hustle on over. Half the team stay with Drifter to provide covering fire with the stolen AR’s while the rest of us head down to poke the hornets nest. Ono and I go with Sickle and the three of us watch each other’s back as the drek starts to hit the fan. Turns out Shadowrunners are a match for the Console Soldiers. We drop maybe a dozen of them as we move in with our own version of military precision. I grab one of their Hummers and use it as a mobile firing platform and provide cover. In short order, we’re through the farm, down into the cellar and out of the back door…
We wake up in a squat, in a grotty apartment in Downtown Seattle, connected by Neural Net Trodes, a shonky laptop and a Satellite Uplink to whichever CAT server was running the PS scenario we’d been abandoned in. Sickle, unsurprisingly, wasn’t with us having piggybacked in from wherever Lamb had set up her back door to the programme. Woozy, we start coming round, ripping off the trodes and clearing our fuzzy heads of the dump shock. Ono’s flat out so I hunker over to him and yank off the neural net. He gives a big sigh, his dying breath, and fucking flatlines right there in front of me.
Ono’s dead. It’s all I can think about. I yanked out those cables and Ono expired. I tell the others but no one really seems to care. Maybe they’re stunned. Maybe they’re just cold. Maybe it’s protocol when you’ve more experience at this shit than me but they just don’t react. They’re utterly compassionless and just start touching base with contacts, making arrangements for medical care for Drifter and to get us hooked back up with our support network and away from this flat, away from anywhere that CAT and the Duke know we’ll be. Hell, Ki-rinn even starts making arrangements to move Ono’s body like it’s some troublesome slab of meat not a fallen comrade who just helped save all lives and get out of that damn programme. I’m seriously pissed at their lack of respect but I bite it back. If they’ll not give a fuck for him, I’ll have to. I call his Sensei in San Fran and break the news to him. Find out where to send the body for the appropriate funerary arrangements.
I’m a wreck man but there’s no respite. We go meet up with Sickle and give our thanks to this Lamb. Seems they have a small team all their own. There’s some Weapons Specialist called Glyph there too. Lamb reveals an element of self interest in helping us out. She needs info on Dreamseed too – for her Employer – and hoped she could trade our rescue for our datasteal. No way. I make it clear we should get Gauge to cough up first then pass a copy on to Lamb. She understands and sends Sickle and Glyph back to San Fran with us to protect her investment. I have no idea why. It’s like they’re some sort of Replacement Killers to keep us alive now that our Street Sam has bought the farm. Disgusting…
Back in San Fran, Gauge refuses to pay up. Fragging Corp lackey rolls over when his board say we don’t have enough info to justify paying out on the run. Ono’s death means less than nothing to these fools, so I tell him to ram it and walk. I feel responsible for Ono’s death. I missed his damn funeral on the road back from Seattle. Duke burnt out the rental vehicle and I had to cough up 25 large to avoid a spell in the slammer. Now this ass thinks he’s gonna stiff us for the dough. Fine, if that’s the way it’s gonna go, I’m getting out. I got into this game to make money not lose it along with people I considered my friends and my last shreds of self respect. Hell it reached a point where I’d be making more money working underneath the bonnet of a car than playing wheelman. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach as I walked out of Horizon. I killed my PAN, headed over to Kitty’s place and hit slobsville. I wanted nothing more to do with the whole sorry business.
Four or five days slipped past without me noticing. The weekend came and went and then a few hours ago Ki-rinn showed up at my lock-up. He listened to me venting steam about how sour things had gone and then gave me his ex-forces perspective on things. Life’s hard. Shit happens. People die on the battlefield. I’ve got problems of my own kid and don’t need to listen to you whine. Helpful shit like that. I think he thought he was telling me a few home truths but he just made me realise I really don’t know him at all.
I thought I could count on him – but he was so damn frosty, like the first time we met. He sees us as expendable assets I think. While we’re alive and contributing to his success we’re useful but after that… I don’t know. I really don’t know. Can I trust him to help me get out of a bad scrape alive or will he cut me loose when the going gets tough? Will any of them?
Ki-rinn did have a point about us all having our own problems though. I pulled my finger out of my ass and went to see Ash not long ago. He’s still my boy and he’s hurting about losing his Bro. He wants to go back to Seattle, partly to finish the job and force Gauge to put his hands in his pockets, partly to help Lamb and the Replacement Killers and above all to find out what happened to his brother. I can deal with that. I can relate.
Ash says he’s only be waiting for me to deal with my hurt and come back to the team to get on with it. We’ve agreed to watch each other’s back and for his sake and the sake of his brother, I’ve told him I’m back in.
Which is why I’m here, laying down this Blog as I collect my gear. Ki-rinn got Gauge to cough up half the wage and bump it to 150k so my bank balance is looking a little healthier. I have my misgivings about this but I’m going to do it. Maybe I can snag a little payback from the Duke for Ono. I’ve had a few days rest and recuperation but the cold, dead, weight in my stomach hasn’t lifted. Am I a Shadowrunner or just a kid with big ideas? Can I do this? Do I want to?