Because of reasons, Drew and Pops don't pay their hotel bills

Because of reasons, Drew and Pops don’t pay their hotel bills

I don’t know what you’re doing here
When there’s murder on the street
I appreciate your concern
But don’t waste your time on me
I’m ashes on the water now
Somewhere far away

Dedicated Retribution Unit 471 (Involuntarily Demobilized), known colloquially as the Druid, is my character for an upcoming cyberpunk campaign. The Druid (who introduces herself as “Drew”) is a Solo on the path to recovery from a serious period of cyber-psychosis, who has formed a deep and tortured relationship with an ex-cop called John Hartigan. As a Solo she specializes in rifles and handguns, but her real fascination is cyberware:a fatal obsession that has seen her humanity degraded to the point that she has little remaining human warmth, or sense of her own worth. But this is during a state of recovery: during a particularly unfortunate corporate expedition she probably went cyber-psychotic, and was only saved for experimental purposes. Only Hartigan’s misguided mission to honour his dead daughter gives her any social connection at all.

The Tunguska Extraction

Don’t be surprised when daylight comes
To find that memory prick your thumbs
You’ll tell them where we run to hide
I’m already dead
It’s a matter of time

Things went wrong for the Druid in Tunguska. At the time she was working for a small New Horizon corp, a simple riflewoman in a squad sent to extract a geophysicist from some second-rate Russian mining interest. They spent a few days preparing in Vladivostok and the Druid, over-estimating her long-forgotten Russian, went cruising the fleshpots of the harbour looking for new cyberware to add to her increasingly humanity-rending collection. Some shady guy on the docks sold her what she thought was a simple adrenal boost, but either she misunderstood his explanations or he lied, because it wasn’t…

The Druid near the end

The Druid near the end

Unfortunately the extraction went badly wrong. Near the mining complex a Siberian separatist uprising had broken out, but the Druid’s corporation had not been notified by their informants. The team hit the complex well, secured their target, and were on their way out without major incident when the corporate troops detached to suppress the separatist movement turned up to support their colleagues at the complex. With reinforcements the raid went wrong very quickly, and the team soon realized they were trapped and facing extinction. The team leader selected an escape strategy that would require a small team to stay behind and hold a blockhouse while the rest fled, meaning certain suicide for the team; the Druid was selected for this team. During the blockhouse raid the Druid activated her contraband Russian implants, and … something happened… from that point she remembered nothing until she woke up in  a high security hospital, being questioned by a polite but persistent doctor. Accounts and video footage obtained by this mysterious doctor suggested that her team had bought the squad enough time, and the mission had been a success. While no news on the fate of the others in her suicide squad was available, she had somehow survived, and the video footage suggested she had done so in a brutal and disturbing way. The doctor told her that her new cyberware had induced psychosis but that they had a new treatment to reverse the process, and they wanted to try it on her. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t tell her who he worked for, and before she could agree or disagree he revealed that the treatment would require removing all her cyberware. She killed him and fled the facility, taking all her cyberware with her.

Drew and Pops

Tell me I’m mad
How should I know
Tell me I’m mad
I have been here for so long
Help me paint a picture
They say it’s a lie
Tell me I’m mad
You’re a fine one to decide

The company – the Druid did not know who they were, but assumed they were her own employer – sent a freelancer after her, an ex-cop called John Hartigan. Given explicit instructions to bring her alive to their facilities, rather than kill her, he was forced to confront and capture her in her capsule hotel. However, somehow during this confrontation she managed to convince him that she was not cyberpsychotic, and that he was being misled. Hartigan is highly skilled at killing cyberpsychotics but has no cyberpsyche training, and is in no position to judge her state of humanity – probably the real reason he made this judgment is that Drew reminded him of his recently deceased daughter, and triggered a protective instinct from a misplaced sense of guilt. He broke his contract and the two fled, entering the world of the street to escape her pursuers. Since they fled, Drew and Pops (as she calls him) live in a complex world of flight, risk and temporary roughhouse jobs for money. She is driven by simple motives, to escape from the people chasing her, because she thinks they want to experiment on her psyche, and also because although she can no longer activate that mysterious Russian cyberware she can’t find any evidence of its surgical removal – she wants to get it back, so she can again experience whatever joy it was that led her through slaughter and terror to escape from that blockhouse. In the meantime she will help Pops find the people who killed his daughter, and kill all of them – horribly but dispassionately. Dispassionately, because the Druid has no feelings except lust for more cyberware, and a desire for the world to slow down to how it was when that Russian ‘ware boosted her. She can often be heard muttering “too fast, too fast!” to herself, as she tries to cope with the mundane pace of a busy world. If it doesn’t slow down …

The trafficked girl

Alone in the city at seventeen
With the hollow and the lonely
The drowning and the drowned
I was made to feel worthless
The wretched and the mean
Beat me up like a weapon I can’t run away from or find a way round

Drew grew up as the only daughter of an Inuit crime lord, not a particularly high calling in gangster culture, living in a traditional Inuit community inside the arctic circle in Sibera. Sheltered from the ugly world of the gangster family she inherited, she was supposed to grow up outside of the cruelty and bitterness of gangster parents who smuggled alcohol to their Inuit brethren, and Inuit children to Russian parents rendered infertile by Russia’s environmental disasters. But her parents’ crime gang fell into conflict with a larger Russian mob, and they were completely destroyed. To avoid execution they sold their own children, and before she could even properly learn Russian Drew found herself a child of a corporate family in New Horizon, the vast island arcology in the Pacific that controlled all political, economic and military activity on the Pacific rim. Here she lived a troubled life, rebelling against the world she didn’t understand, until at 16 she went into debt for a set of $500 rippers. The lure of cyberware, the exhilaration of falling away from a humanity that was always more trouble and pain than it was worth, drew her away from quiet arcology life to a world of crime and brutality. Early brushes with the law brought her into contact with a kindly older policeman who set her up as a riflewoman in a corporate squad, and over a few years her addiction to cyberware blossomed. Too much, too soon … but good for the men and women of the Tunguska team who fled while she fell into madness…

Inhuman, cold, deadly

The blue pain
Fades to a point where it doesn’t fade
It stayed
Blue
Stirred her red coat heart to this strange engine

The Druid is stranded on the edge of humanity. She has only one interest in this world, the boosted clarity of the life of cyber, but she is near the point of tipping back into cyberpscyhosis if she installs much more of it. She is a unique person on this earth, someone who came back from cyberpsychosis – but she doesn’t feel like she has come back. Her anchor to this world is Hartigan, possibly the only person who has ever shown any genuine interest in her as a person, and as a result she has a deep and ferocious loyalty to him. Through his kindness she has regained the ability to feel some kind of human connection, but it is weak and always fighting the desire to fall back into the cold and undemanding emptiness of cyber. Drew’s efforts at the Tunguska extraction have earned her a reputation. It is not enough to make her recognizable in person, but people know the name “the Druid.” If Solos hear that name they will respond with rumours of her legend:

Oh, you mean the Tunguska Rifle? I heard she died there.

or

She pulled those corporate dreks out of the fire in Tunguska, right? I heard she had to chill real deep after that

or

Yeah, she’s the Tunguska heroine. Had a friend of a friend worked with her, said she’s colder, deadlier and more barren than the steppes in winter.

Usually, the Druid just introduces herself as Drew, to avoid incredulity at the contrast between her legend and her physical form: a tall, skinny, slightly gangly girl, dressed in whatever is the latest fashion, tottering on high heels and carrying a couple of shopping bags from classic brand shops, long tangled hair and heavy make-up, all the accoutrements and seemings of harmless femininity. Inuit heritage, cyber skin, eyes and hair mean that her racial background cannot be identified or pinned down – to white people she is Asian, to Asians white. Ambiguity is at the core of her being. Anyone who speaks to her for any length of time will soon see that there is something wrong: her social skills are disjointed and robotic, she lacks any desire or ability to interact socially and behind her eyes there is no soul or deeper personality – the ghost has been nearly completely consumed by the machine. Her femininity is worn like a mask or a shield, as unnatural as the awkward conversational pieces she uses to appear like she cares. Her cyberaddiction has worn her down to a shadow of a person, a few simple impulses wrapped inside a metal-adrenal shell. In place of feelings, Drew is driven by professionalism, loyalty, and a fierce devotion to Hartigan. Beyond that is an empty predator’s will to live, a woman stripped back to animal instincts and out of touch with her soul and her body. Hartigan is the only anchor she has to this world – and she lacks the social dynamism to treat him with more than a distant contempt. The Druid’s fate is marked: she will die, in some pointless gun battle or wasted moment of sudden bravery. Until that day, she is on borrowed time. If the corporation she escaped from don’t find her, or Hartigan, some incidental enemy will; or that brittle humanity will snap, and her comrades will have to kill her. For now, Hartigan has convinced himself she is still human, the phantom of his lost daughter; but at some point he will realize he is tethered to a monster in waiting, and cut her loose. Until that day, she is a cannon on a leash … and that leash is very tenuous … would anyone team up with the Druid? — Note: all quotes at sub-chapter heads are from various songs by Marillion.

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