The Druid is on the run and out of work, but in the towering ocean megacity of New Horizon, life without money gets real dangerous real fast. Even the desperate people who flee to the lowest deck to hide amongst the sewage and the storm swells still need money to smooth their way through the conflicting networks of crime and policing that make daily life hazardous for those without connections. If you have money you can live a normal life on the lower decks, even though the people on the upper decks have sent their chrome-killers and agents looking for you – it’s the money that keeps you hidden, buys the silence of your neighbours, gets a roof over your head and a safe place to bolt to. But paradoxically, making the money gets you noticed. The Druid needed to find a way to earn money, but her only skill is killing. She can’t work as a Solo on normal jobs though – word is out that a tall, slightly gangly pretty girl with no obvious cyberware is being hunted, and that she’s a Solo. Those kinds of Solos are pretty rare, and if she joined any job she would stand out like dogs balls. She needed occasional work where she could blend in, but do the only thing she does well – kill.
Fortunately, 22nd century life provides just such an opportunity: the armoured entourage. With the rise of New Horizon and its huge media complex, the liberalization of sex work and pornography, and the huge diversity of cyber-enhanced entertainment, a new tier of high-value, short-lived z-list star was born, young men and women who have little fame in the mainstream press but bring in huge amounts of cash for the second-level entertainment companies, whose fame is short-lived and whose fans are often dubious. This low-status, high-profit tier is populated with interactive porn stars, all-girl unit bands with some kind of niche appeal, reality show winners and losers, and a new kind of girl-next-door cam girl who makes her money by filming her daily life and selling it to sad and lonely men whose addiction to girls they’ll never have is as deep as their wallets. In New Horizon there are a lot of lonely men, a lot of socially disconnected people, and a lot of freaks. The less scrupulous media companies make a lot of money from selling these men interactive porn, and voyeuristic vision of the ordinary lives of pubescent beauties whose physical affection would no doubt earn them a long period of chemical castration.
The stars in this industry are short-lived for two reasons: their fame is only as fleeting as the illusion of illegality that their age can conjure, and their fans often turn into vicious stalkers. The obsession this industry profits from draws stalkers the way a shark attracts pilot fish, and these girls are always one fan away from disfigurement and violent early retirement. Most of these girls harbour innocent dreams of fame, because they haven’t been warned that interactive porn and lolita peep shows are a death sentence to a star career; but because of these dreams of fame they need to keep their girl next door appeal, which means no serious cyberware beyond the implants they need to ensure interactivity. They also need to go out and do the things that wannabe stars do: go shopping, go to awards, do charity work. And they inevitably draw an entourage of lower-tier stars, for whom there is no letter in the alphabet. You can see them on Deck 2 or Deck 3, swanning around the cheaper glamour districts in little squads of perfume and pouts, the star at the front and her little entourage clustered around her, acting like it all matters, trying to catch the eye of paparazzi and talent scouts. And it’s in these public spots that their stalkers will find them. The acid attack, the sudden lunging monster with the cheap rippers he bought on Deck 1 for just this final apotheotic moment of stalker sin, the enraged beat down, or just the creepy guy who won’t let her out of his sight. Every girl in this scene needs to keep her fans hooked to her, and every girl knows that some are just a bit too into her; but if her management skills aren’t just right, one day she’ll get a message from some sad dude in the lowest deck, telling her what he’s got planned.
But she can’t break her image, and if the corporation that markets her still has a use for her, it can’t let her go out in a bloody mist just quite yet, so it needs to find a bodyguard it can fit into that entourage. And that’s when the Druid steps up. She wears her humanity and her femininity like a mask, as changeable and malleable as that z-tier cam girls eyelashes. She can fit whatever fashion that inter-porn star is into this week, and she can titter harmlessly with the most vapid of all-girl units. She is just girly enough to blend in to any group of z-tier stars, and just bland enough not to interfere in their shopping and coffee. She’s also just deadly enough to deal with any slobby fan, and boosted fast enough to have his arm from his shoulder before he can get the acid vial out of his bum-pack. But most importantly of all, she doesn’t stand out. She can work alone, in amongst a group of air-headed teens who know nothing about the world of Solos, corporate extractions, wet work – no one who might think that her presence is unusual. She’s just a girl who’s been sent to keep an eye on them. So no word filters back to anyone who matters, unless she has to step out of her feminine role for the split second required to disembowel some creepy old dude with a cupboard full of used undies. At which point her job is done and she can melt away. These companies that hire these teenage inter-porn thrillers and loli-cammers are themselves just one step ahead of the law, and they certainly don’t want to be broadcasting the hazardous side of their dubious work to the authorities, so they’re more than happy to pick up bodyguard work from a reliable, invariably fatal, and extremely discreet young lady who is interested in staying out of the limelight.
And so it is that, since she hit the skids and went lower deck, the Druid has been paying her way as an armoured entourage girl. She’s not the only one, but she’s good – she has a sixth sense for trouble, and when it fails she is so fast that her ward is unlikely to even feel a bruise. The creepy paedophile who wanted to make his mark, though – he won’t be buying any more subscriptions to lolicam, and the girl he “loved” is gonna have to go back to her fans and work a little harder to make up the shortfall. But really, who’s counting? What’s one less weirdo in a world of nearly infinite isolation and sadness?