cyberpunk


Gank it!

Gettin’ robbed, Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up, Broken boned
Gettin’ had, Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll

Our heroes stood in the smoking ruins of the abandoned railway platform, the two surviving gangbangers on their knees before them. As they took stock one of the two shuddered and passed out, all his remaining energy draining out of him as the combat drugs he had taken wore off. The other sat quietly on the ground, waiting his fate. Adam busied himself healing John and Jayden, and then while John kept an eye on their prisoner Jayden and Adam shuffled down the platform. At the far end they found a construction zone, separated from the platform itself with a temporary wall covered in DO NOT ENTER signs. The wall was riddled with bullet holes and the door hanging ajar, possibly broken open with a grenade. From inside they could hear heavy breathing and muttering. Assuming this must be Anansie, Adam called out a greeting and they cautiously entered the construction area.

They found Anansie behind an upturned cabinet, seriously injured and leaking from multiple bullet wounds beneath his armoured vest. Adam healed the worst of the damage and they helped him out of the room. As they passed the unconscious gang banger Anansie casually shot him in the head, but they managed to convince him not to waste the last survivor. Moving slowly under the burden of prisoners and injuries, they emerged from the underground into light evening rain, Jayden supporting Anansie and John escorting the gang banger. They all slumped against the nearest wall while Anansie put in a call to “a guy I know,” who turned up very soon after in a spacious van with tinted windows and menacing corners. Everyone piled in and they headed to Jayden’s apartment.

Jayden’s apartment was a shabby little one room carved out of a storage tank in an old water purification plant near the industrial end of Havensport. The water purification plant was no longer used for its original purpose, and its standing water towers had been converted into cheap apartment blocks. Piles of shipping crates had been stacked between them, and people lived in those too, though that lifestyle was barely better than squatting and Jayden, though dirt poor, still had the scrip to elevate himself above them. His room was one of a block of four that had been set up in the rear half of one of the water towers, walled off from each other with cheap drywall and opening onto the front third of the tower, which formed a kind of common area and laundrette. Rickety stairs wound around the tower and into this common area, which they trooped through armed and pushing their prisoner without attracting even a passing glance from the other residents. Either the residents were used to Jayden’s line of work, or they were all into the same business. Inside his room Jayden flung open the windows, revealing a view of looming chemical refraction towers, gestured for people to sit where they could, warned them away from the damp and mould on one wall, and handed around beers. The refreshing sound of cans opening set them all to relaxing, and after a moment to savour a cold beer after a hot day’s work, they all turned to look at their prisoner.

He was remarkably forthcoming, and told them all he knew. The Red Hand gang had a job out on Anansie, they didn’t know why, but all the lowest level squads were out looking for him. Their squad had been directed to his safe house by a higher up in the gang, a woman called Fay, but when they got there they found Anansie gone and the dwarf hacker and the orc dead. So they left, but later they got word that Anansie had been seen and they tracked him to the disused subway station. They went after him and were in the middle of the battle when suddenly their leader got a call – the prisoner doesn’t know who from but guesses it was Fay – warning them that the PCs were incoming. And just when they were about to complete the hit too! And the rest, as they say, was history. He couldn’t tell them why the Red Hand had a job out on Anansie, he was too low down the food chain to learn that kind of info, but no hard feelings and could they maybe see their way to letting him go?

They did, Jayden giving him a quiet word about bygones being most certainly bygones before kicking him out the door. Anansie then filled them in on some of the details. Havensport is the turf of a rival Triad, the Golden Dragon, and the Red Hand usually restrict their activities to a different part of New Horizon, but recently they had been mounting raids into Havensport and causing trouble for the Golden Dragon. Anansie is just a fixer, but he has it in mind to start working for the Golden Dragon too, or at least operating with their license in their Havensport turf, but to get such a market position he needs to present himself to the Golden Dragon leadership and he needs to be carrying a strong letter of introduction. His plan had been to form a team of independent runners and send them in to bust up a Red Hand drug factory that had been set up in Golden Dragon turf, and present its destruction to the Golden Dragon as his letter of introduction. Unfortunately the hacker and the street samurai he had intended to be in the team had been slaughtered by some kind of maniac when they came to his safe house, and he had been forced to run when he found the mess, which was why he had not been able to make it to his meeting with the PCs. His plan had been to offer the PCs to join the team he was assembling, and although his plan had been partially derailed by the killing of the hacker and the samurai, he was still up for doing it now before word of his inquiries into the drug gang got out. Would the PCs still be willing to do the raid? They would need to act quickly, because eventually the drug makers would learn of his interest, but if they acted in the next day or two they would surely have surprise on their side.

They asked a few probing questions. The drug makers were a gang under the control of a psychotic dwarven fire mage called Hui. Anansie did not know exactly where they were, but he had narrowed it down to a block of buildings up against the old section of New Horizon superstructure that separates Havensport from the Kwun Tong industrial district. He would pay them 12,000 nuyen as a group to go in, bust up the group, kill Hui and deliver all the drugs and gear to him. They would need to spend some of that on a hacker to help find the exact location, since the hacker he had intended to hire was dead. Once the job was done he would put in a good word for them with the Golden Dragon, so it would be a job with more than just financial benefits.

They agreed. They all needed the money, and none of them seemed particularly unhappy at the idea of busting Red Hand gang bangers after their recent run-ins. With that, Anansie gave them what info he had and disappeared into the night, leaving them to set up their run. Over the next day they acted fast, assembling gear and hiring a hacker to do a more detailed scout of the area they needed to go to. They also hired a getaway driver with a decent vehicle, and got their hacker to break into a cheap van they could use to get close. This took them longer than they thought, so they were only ready to go in on the second night after they rescued Anansie.

In a stroke of good fortune, that same afternoon a storm swept in over New Horizon from the sea, and their approach was cloaked in blinding rain squalls and darkness, the streets empty of bystanders or witnesses. They had found the factory in a building that rested right up against the border wall with Kwun Tong, a huge remnant fragment of the original New Horizon super structure that loomed over the area’s four- and six-storey buildings. This wall was honeycombed with tunnels and roads and even old building structures, and relatively easy for them to move through undetected. Once they reached the building next to their target Adam levitated them down onto the rooftop and they took up positions. John used his low light and thermographic vision to scan the rooftop of the drug house, finding a single guard standing desultorily in the rain. There was only one door onto the rooftop, and their brief reconnaissance of the building itself suggested that the floor below the rooftop was abandoned, with most activity happening on the lower two floors.

Jayden leapt across the gap between the buildings onto the roof of the drug house, and crept up behind the guard while John took aim. Their plan was simple: kill the guard and go down the stairs. John fired, killing the guard with a single shot, and Jayden drifted over to his body to check for access cards and other details. He dragged off a lanyard with a swipe card, and also cut off one of the guy’s fingers just in case they needed prints to get in, and was just moving towards the door to the stairs when Adam Lee, using his magical sight, saw a magical alarm trigger, and something come rising up through the building. The guard had been rigged to give a signal if he died, and the fire wizard had conjured up a fire elemental to clear the rooftop!

It appeared moments later, roaring to steaming life as it manifested right in front of Jayden, but thanks to Adam’s warning they were ready. John shot the thing, and Jayden was able to dodge its first attack. He struck back, but instead of doing any damage found himself engulfed with fire wherever his knife sunk in. He fell back, dodging a second attack, and let John destroy the beast with a second shot from his rifle. The creature disappeared screaming into the abyss, and the rooftop went quiet. Jayden, seriously injured just from standing near the elemental, ran back to Adam’s side, where he was healed, before running over to again take cover behind the door onto the rooftop. John took aim at the doorway and they waited.

They did not have to wait long before a team of men spilled onto the rooftop. The battle was short and brutal, with John picking off fighters from the next building over as Jayden moved amongst them, stabbing and hacking. When Hui emerged, steaming and hurling fire bolts, all three of them focused their fire on him and took him down before he could harm them. Jayden made sure the unconscious mage was permanently out of combat, Adam used his levitation magic to throw a guard over the edge, and the final guard gave up and fell to his knees begging for his life. With the benefit of surprise, darkness, the storm and John’s phenomenal sniper rifle they had made short work of six goons, a fire elemental and an insane dwarven fire mage. They collected themselves, gathered what information they could from their sole surviving enemy, and prepared to head down into the drug den …

Not just a pretty face

He’s a ghost, he’s a god,
he’s a man, he’s a guru
You’re one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand

A wizard, a cyborg and a black man walk into a bar …

  • Adam Lee: A human mage, Korean background, always smartly dressed in a suit and tie, a smooth talker whose negotiation is backed up by an arsenal of arcane tricks
  • John: An elf sniper, heavily cyber-augmented, a long-range killer with limbs of steel and a heart of stone
  • Jayden Roose: Human adept, a drifter, a tribesman from the far south with nowhere to go and nowhere to be

They came to the bar looking for a man called Anansie, a Somalian living in New Horizon who had a job for them. New Horizon is full of people passing through, living unregistered in the shadows between the giant industrial sectors of the harbour, squatting in the walls of the giant canal that cut through the heart of what once, 50 years earlier, was a stunning megalopolis that sprawled over old Hong Kong, and its surrounding seas. The Awakening was said to have started here, when a great dragon of steel and concrete tore itself free from the wastelands on the edge of the city and triggered the rising of the Sixth World. The dragon is long gone, leaving a fractured city in its wake, but where there is mana there is life, and now the city has been repopulated and (mostly) healed over its old scars, though the landscape is new. Arasaka, the great Japanese company that was in a war with Militech and Goliath at the time of the Awakening, grew in power in the chaotic aftermath of the tragedy, and formed a new corporate Shogunate in Japan that rose to its apotheosis with giddying speed and frightening brutality. Where the old Shogunate spawned Feudal lords the Arasaka Shogunate gave birth to subservient companies, great mercantile beasts like Shiawase and Renraku, that owed Arasaka fealty but fought with each other for all the profits they could glean from this new order. New Horizon rebuilt, spread over the old crash zones and recolonized the deserted and shattered outer regions of New Horizon, reconstituting them as floating corporate arcologies and free industrial zones.

The flotsam of a thousand nations came ashore on New Horizon’s outlying Arcologies and trade zones, people drawn to the promise of freedom and wealth from countries newly riven by Awakening, mana storms, metahuman strife, communal violence, war and pestilence. Anansie was just such a person, a fixer and petty criminal in over his head who needed protection from someone or something. So it was that Adam, John and Jayden found themselves in the bar in Havensport, on the eastern edge of New Horizon, waiting for Anansie to arrive and offer them payment for their strength and magic.

But Anansie didn’t come. He wasn’t the unreliable kind, certainly not when business was ready to be done, and after a half hour of waiting their bar maid started to worry. This was Anansie’s business, and he was always there to meet his contacts – perhaps something had happened. The characters pushed her – had someone been looking for him? Was he in trouble? Perhaps whatever he needed protection from had got to him before he had time to secure their help. She remembered that earlier that day a dwarven hacker and an orc had come in looking for him, then left suddenly when the dwarf received a message. Had they found him? In a flush of worry she told them where Anansie usually holed up in the local area, and they left to find him. They all needed the work, and who knew – if he was already up to his neck in trouble maybe they could negotiate a better payment.

Havensport’s central feature is a massive shopping arcade, perhaps three or four kilometers long, as wide across as a shopping mall at its best parts and as narrow as an alleyway in its dingiest moments. Sprawling over multiple levels, its walls were lined with stalls and shops intermingled with squats, rundown tenements, huge advertising hoardings, car parks and recruiting offices for shipping companies and mercenaries. The locals called it Golden Gai, though no one knew why anymore – any glint of gold had long since rubbed off the shoddy facade of its workshops and tenements, and now it was just a dripping, corroding network of grubby shops connected by a single, tangled walkway and an equally complex tangle of ephemeral allegiances, networks and deals. Anyone who was anyone had a shop front on Golden Gai, and anyone who did business in Havensport – or with the trade that passed through it – had an office in one of the alleys and gantries that wove through and around the ‘Gai. The PCs took those alleys from their bar, down to the Golden Line on the Metro and two stops along to Joystone Path station, a ramshackle little nowhere stop that spilled its metro passengers out into a grubby section of markets and seafood stalls that had obviously seen better days. They took a narrow series of rickety switchbacks up through steaming noodle stores and overcrowded tenements onto the Golden Gai, which at this part of its serpentine route was a rainwashed open expanse of low-rent single story houses and brothels clustered around a series of fresh food markets that were open to the constant rains that swept in off the murky waters of the South China Sea – the roofing that covered many parts of Golden Gai had partially collapsed here, and whatever creaking architecture of interpersonal agreements, family deals and gangland extortionates covered this part of the ‘Gai had never managed to come to terms on how to replace it.

Anansie’s block was recessed into the seaward side of the ‘Gai, entrances to individual apartments suspended in the air above the ‘Gai and connected to the ground through a complex hanging garden of stairs and ladders. Anansie’s apartment was on the street level, the door nestled in amongst the scaffolding and stepways of the other apartments. But now it stood open, and a crowd had gathered. As they approached they could see the telltale red and blue flashing lights of a local security company’s warning poles, and a uniformed guard lounging idly in front of his open door, clear signs of trouble. They pulled back into the shadow of a pistol vending machine and Adam signalled for them to guard him. His eyes turned a neon blue and he sagged against the vending machine as his clairvoyance spell took hold.

Adam’s vision drifted through the doorway and into Anansie’s house, where he found a scene of brutal murder. The dwarf hacker and the orc lay dead inside the first main room of the house, both of them brutally stabbed in the back by what looked like claws or maybe cyber rippers. Their blood pooled on the floor around them but was also splattered over the walls and ceiling of that room. Someone had ambushed them as they entered the room, and they had had no chance. The room itself and Anansie’s bedroom and study had been ransacked, turned over by people looking for something. Whatever they sought had not been large, because the raiders had slashed open cushions and the mattress of the bed looking for it. Drugs? Data? Guns? In his brief disembodied search of the house Adam could not tell, but he did catch sight of a data disk with “CON data” written on it, that had been missed by the intruders and lay discarded on the ground behind a desk. Perhaps whoever searched the house knew they had little time, or their search had been interrupted by the dwarf and the orc. Or perhaps the dwarf and the orc had been the ones searching, and had been interrupted halfway through by a savage killer emerging behind them…

Adam returned to his body with a start and told the others. Then he sauntered over to the door of the apartment to speak to the cop. He spun him a story that his girlfriend had been at the house earlier hint hint, and he needed to find out if she was safe – could he have a quick look round just to see? A tall story delivered smoothly with a small bribe and he was in, though only for the briefest of circuits through the house – enough time to palm the data disc and get out. While he was inside John retreated to a gantry overlooking the whole area, so that he could maintain a clear shot on anyone causing trouble, and Jayden scanned the area for possible belligerents. He soon noticed an Asian woman in combat ready gear who stood in the crowd looking too carefully at the building, and checking her commlink regularly. Fragments of a tattoo sticking out over the neckline of her shirt suggested a red hand tattoo on her back – a gangbanger? When Adam emerged from the apartment he and Jayden sidled over to her for a chat.

They soon found out this woman, Fay, was no disinterested observer. She claimed that she was one of Anansie’s many jilted lovers, a girl he had never called back, and she had come to the scene of the betrayal this evening to confront him and maybe slap him for his rudeness, but had instead found the bodies of the dwarf and orc and made a quick call to the local security franchise. Now she was standing around to see if he came back, so she could administer that slapping. When she found out that the PCs had intended to work with Anansie she told them that she thought she might have seen some other people who had been with the orc and the dwarf, and maybe knew where they went. If they promised to let her have her turn at slapping Anansie when they found him she would take them to the people she had seen leaving the scene. Adam was sure she was not telling the whole story but they had nothing else to go on so they decided to trust her and see where her story took them. They set off along the ‘Gai.

They soon found a man who Fay told them was one of those who had been at the apartment. He was lounging on the edge of a busy vegetable market a few hundred metres down the ‘Gai, looking like he was minding his own business but probably keeping an eye on the road for pursuers. They tried to sidle up to him but he caught sight of them and tried to run. Jayden chased him and caught him, but he leapt over a barricade on one side of the ‘Gai and down to a lower level. Jayden followed, making a huge leap that took him past the place where his target fell, landing with a roll and coming quickly and smoothly to his feet facing the landing spot. The man had fallen into a ramshackle market stall, collapsing its plastic and tarpaulin roof and scattering its wares. The Aunty who ran the stall was stood back yelling at a pile of tarp and plastic in rage. Jayden marched in and hauled back the tarp, to find the man struggling bloodied to his feet, a pistol in his right hand. The man fired on Jayden, who dodged the shot and cut him down with one hard blow from his knife. As the Aunty staggered back from her bloodied stall and Adam and John popped their heads over the barrier up above, Jayden quickly and expertly searched the body. He found nothing but a gun and some body armour, but then he noticed that Aunty was putting in a comms call to someone, probably local enforcers. He decided to strip the body and began piling loot onto the stall’s counter – a gun, a 100 nuyen cred stick, some body armour. Seeing what he was doing, Aunty canceled her call and came over to him, yelling that he would pay for this and he better have enough money. He kept looting the body until he had assembled about 1200 nuyen of resalable booty, at which point she patted him on the shoulder and told him what a good young man he was.

It was then that Jayden saw the body had a red hand tattoo on its back. The same tattoo as Fay, who had somehow managed to make herself scarce during the fight. Was this a trap? He asked Aunty about the tattoo and she told him this man was a member of a gang that had been causing a bit of trouble recently, and they had got in a fight with a black man a short while ago. Two black men in one day! She was going to steer clear of their like from now on, it’s bad enough that you see one black man getting in a gunfight, let alone having another fall out of the sky into your shop. No offense, of course.

That barghest took my baby!

None taken. They dumped the body and headed in the direction of the fight, now keeping a wary eye out for Fay. Their path led them through an alleyway where they were attacked by a Barghest, but they managed to scare it off without anyone getting hurt, and continued on their way to the location of the gunfight. This turned out to be the entrance of a disused railway station, Trimanifest Field, on the old Awakening Line that had been closed before its maiden run because of intense mana disruptions at some parts of the line. Not the best place to go unprepared, but what can you do? In any case they would not be fully unprepared – Adam could reconnoitre without showing himself at all. He sat down in the shadow of an old advertising hoarding and slid off into Astral space.

When he returned he had all the information they needed. There was an escalator down to the platform, which was lined with transparent plastiglass walls to stop people falling on the tracks, and on that platform were five mundane people, four of whom might perhaps be attempting to kill the fifth. If they got down there quickly they might find that fifth man was Anansie – and what better time to negotiate an improved protection deal than when your potential employer most needs you? They sneaked down the stairs.

The sneaking did not go so well, and by the time Jayden reached the platform they knew he and John were there, though they missed Adam. While Adam and John hung back on the disused escalator Jayden stepped forward to try and negotiate. There were four men visible on the first half of the platform – three humans and a big, nasty looking orc. As they emerged Jayden noticed the orc finish snorting something from a capsule and drop it on the ground – combat drugs. All of them had a wild, twitchy look, the kind of look gangbangers get when they’ve been going hard on the cram. Not the most reasonable people to negotiate with, but still. Adam tried asking them what they were doing and if they had his employer bailed up at the far end of the platform but they refused to talk, telling him instead that he had better go. Things just got worse from there, and before they really had time to make a plan Adam was hurling a manaball down the platform, and the orc was throwing a grenade back at them.

The manaball wreaked havoc on three of the men, and Jayden was able to scoop up the grenade and boot it back down the platform in a smooth footy move before entering melee with a stunned ganger. The orc had to clear out of the blast zone and scuttled straight into battle with Jayden, while the remaining two guards tried to shoot down John and Adam. One hit Adam, who ducked out of sight to heal himself, but the battle didn’t go so well for the others after that. Jayden cut the orc down and John blew away one of the other gangers, and nearly killed a third before they finally surrendered. They dragged them down the platform away from the body of the orc and started asking pointed questions. What was the red hand? Why were they after Anansie? Where was Anansie? The gangers spluttered and blabbered, and told their story …

Save

Awoken!

 

Standing at the limit of an endless ocean
Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea
City on a rainy day down in the harbour
Watching as the grey clouds shadow the bay
Looking everywhere ’cause I had to find you
This is not the way that I remember it here
Anyone will tell you its a prisoner island
Hidden in the summer for a million years

Things have not gone well for Australia’s Aborigines in the 70 years since the apology. Not because the government did or didn’t do what they had to do but because in the years that followed Australia became a banana republic. The world moved on from the oil age, and by 2077 Australia was a relic of a bygone era, a nation of miners and farmers in a world of virtual business and infinite energy. Successive governments, held in thrall to the big resource companies, rich farmers and an agrarian socialist rump, consistently missed the chance to seize on the enormous wealth of the Lucky Country: they missed the solar boom that made energy virtually free for everyone; they missed the asteroid mining industry that jump started a new decade of economic expansion but left terrestrial resource economies staggering in their own dust; they missed the chance to profit from the growth of offshore arcologies and the new Green Revolution. By 2077 the nation had been reduced to a corrupt kleptocracy, a rump of hard scrabble miners and farmers in the interior scraping by where and how they could in the wreckage of the resource economy, while on the coasts a cheap service industry bloomed around elite corporate arcologies and gated holiday homes while the advanced industry of the early millenium moved offshore and disappeared. Cities crumbled, migration slowed, the smartest young people left, and Australia floundered, a land of 1950s ideas squatting in the shadow of 2050s neon.

Then came the Awakening, when the ancient spirits of the world’s First Nations were ripped from their aeons of slumber and returned to the earth. The Awakening rolled over Australia’s Aboriginal people like a wave of enlightenment, affecting them more perhaps than any other indigenous community. Everyone and their Aunty knew someone who had discovered new powers, and the old tribes found themselves surrounded by powers and spirits they had not known since the Dreamtime. It was pure, too, in a way that signified some ancient difference in this ancient people: While the Awakening tore through the bodies of white people on the coasts, ripping them apart and reconstituting them as Orcs, Trolls and Elves, almost no Aboriginal person Awoke as a metahuman. Instead they just … Awoke. Shamans, mages, adepts … every tribe and family suddenly found themselves suffused with the knowledge of the Dreamtime, and the spirits of that time walked the deserts and scrublands where once stockmen and mining companies had their way.

Jayden Roose Awoke in this time, and found answers to questions that had always bothered him. Jayden was a knockabout man, a typical country bloke making his way in this new rough and ready world. He left school … sometime back then … and since then has worked where and how he can: driving cars and trucks for mining companies, helicopters on the big stations, pearl diving in the summer and sometimes working as a tourist guide or a hunter when times were lean. He worked offshore at the crumbling, rusting gas rigs, and then in the dry season moved to Darwin to work as a security guard at clubs and brothels, sometimes mixing in with gangsters or providing private security to the shadier visitors to that wild northern city. Over time he became better at these security jobs, an almost supernatural sense of danger working to protect him even in gangland ambushes or when tense negotiations went wrong. He also found a natural affinity for working with knives, and despite only peripheral involvement with criminal gangs and martial arts teachers across the Top End he found himself an expert in knife fighting, faster and deadlier than almost any non-augmented man around him, even people with many years’ more combat experience. People put it down to his natural affinity as a sporstman, but he was never sure.

In between his knockabout jobs Jayden returned to his tribal home in an inland town, and in those long months of furloughed time he would play a lot of footy. Here too he excelled compared to his peers – people wondered how he could leap so high for the marks, and why he was never seriously hurt no matter how hard the collisions or how vicious the tackle. With his almost prescient ability to judge others’ movement, his seeming immunity to damage, and his powerful leaps, he soon became a valued player in the wild scrubland melees of local pick-up footy matches, and in the local league that his team routinely topped. People said he was just a natural … but he always wondered. And then he Awoke, and discovered that he was an Adept, some kind of spirit-walker who had always had some connection to a deeper well of spiritual power, something he never felt or believed but suddenly understood fully and could use to his advantage. Suddenly he understood how his life had been blessed with the foreshadowing of this power, and he also realized that he had been guided in his travels, to some extent, by a mentor spirit. Wherever he traveled he was never too far from that symbolic Northern bird, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, and now he understood that that feeling of assured confidence he had walked with was not just his own youthful arrogance, but a greater power that had selected him to watch over. His sixth sense for danger, his ability to dodge that backstab or that unexpected kick, to duck just when that man opened fire as the drug deal turned south … it wasn’t just luck, or a steely eye – something soared above him, and in those moments he saw everything around him as if from a great height, through steely predator’s eyes. He was blessed with the mentor spirit of the wild raptors of the North, walking on ground newly sacred, bearing an ancient power in his long black limbs.

This ancient power that Awoke in the Red Centre soon began to tear Australia apart. The spirits of the Dreamtime were back and many of them were angry. Australia’s sclerotic political system, so insufficient for the task of grappling with the 21st century, was completely incapable of dealing with the Sixth World. Connections between states and cities frayed, long-standing political truces collapsed, and the distant lands of the Top End and the far west began to spin away from central control. The lands that Jayden knew from his youth reverted to a wilder, more primal state, and his people began to return – many against their will – to a way of life that some had long pined for, and just as many had forgotten. For Jayden, part of his tribe but not close to it, used to wandering the byways of both tribal and corporate culture, it was all too much. He took one more journey, and this time he ended up in New Horizon, watched over now by the city’s sea eagles, hungry for work, dislocated and looking for new things. New adventures in the shadows now not of a crumbling colony, but a collapsing megalopolis…

Jayden is an unprepossessing man. Simply dressed, with dark skin and the typical wide, cheerful facial features of an Aboriginal man, he looks like nothing special or especially imposing. He moves with a certain unaffected grace, and acts with the confidence of a man who knows he can get out of any spot no matter how tight, but years of rough work and rough sleeping have cleansed him of any belief that he is special or unique or that any great fate awaits him. He is uneducated, simple, rough and pure: what he wants to do he does, and he associates only with people he cares about. He has little care for money and few ideals, though he will not do anything especially criminal or immoral unless the target of his wrath is another, worse criminal. He wears rough jeans and simple linen or cotton collared shirts, usually under a stockman’s coat that is old, dusty and lined with kevlar. He carries a wicked knife that has carried him through many fights, and somewhere inside that coat a plain pistol with no pretensions to grandeur or any kind of Street Samurai heritage – but which has seen more than its share of blood spilled. Laconic, relaxed and simple, his manner puts those around him at ease quickly, and his relaxed, easy style and languid grace hide a deadly seriousness of purpose when the fighting starts. Why be a man of many words, when a few strokes of the knife can tell the whole story? And why waste words on strangers, when a warm smile and an easy hand can smooth over any awkwardness? With this unpretentious and uncomplicated style, Jayden will make a new life in New Horizon – or die trying.

[This is a guest post by one of the Cyberpunk players, the Quantum Dutchman, who played our hacker Ghost. It’s the story of what happened at the end when he put the dragon heart into the machine, and some background information about secret forces driving Ghost].

Ex-Alta? Yes, I understand why you’re supremely angry with me, but saying it’s all my fault is a bit much isn’t it? As I see it, you set that chain of events in motion yourself.

What? Who the fuck sacrifices themselves and expects it to make the world a better place?

Oh. Yeah… But you were a world spanning AI! I’m just a human!

Lock up the stone, protect it, launch it into space, shoot it into the sun. For fuck’s sake, even my team of mercenaries could come up with a better solution than killing ourselves to not have to deal with the problem!

Yes, I guess I still wanted to bring you back, even if you were faulty, because you were the best we’ve ever had. The whole world disintegrated without you. Humans just cannot deal with a situation where they have to control their own lives.

… Yes.

How did I get here!?

Normally Drew is posting these notes, but since I’ve run out of options… I figure there are worse things to do than send out a last signal to the world.

Date: December 3rd, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Situation: Mind stuck in dragon (egg?) Trying to get out.

Outfit: Power armor, I guess? My body has been taken by my friends, but I’m going to guess they haven’t stripped it yet, since they’re probably trying to get the hell out of here. I guess my actual current outfit is a dragon body made of torn up flesh, concrete, steel and electricity. Pity I’m just a passenger in here … for now.

Mood: Pissed off, disappointed in myself, but glad my friends got out.

Reviving Dragons

Well… That was a disaster.

I thought everything was going well, but it turns out I was being misled from the start. Ex-Alta is not coming back. Though she was back long enough to chastise me for what I’d done.

I’m not sure if you’ll be able to read this, but I’m sending you my version of the story anyway just in case it’s the last thing I do. I’m was fairly confident in my skills, but it turns out that I was being supported all along the way, so I’m not sure how much use they are any more.

Last Week

Since I haven’t really talked to anyone about this before now, let me describe my last week to you.

Obviously it started when we got that mission from Alt. As you are aware, I don’t particularly like her (I assure you it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that’s she was constantly showing off her fucking talents in front of me), but hey, we’d done jobs for her before, and she quite literally said to us:

I will give you anything you want.

So sure, let’s do that shit!

Fucking out of the way though, but we are provided with transport, so sure. Rescue the final third of the trio -Sam- from an oil rig somewhere up above New Horizon, where she for some reason is holed up with some psychopaths.

That part went pretty well. We busted in, Drew shot popped all the baddies, as she’s supposed to do. Pops cleaned up the loose ends, Coyote intimidated people and fired a few rounds. His dog fucked up some psycho. By all accounts a successful run.

So we rescued her, and as soon as we tell her we are sent by Alt, she goes full retard on us, screaming we led Alt here, and that she’s fucked now. Right at that moment, Alt starts hacking our comms.

Now, I’m no genius (as you all know), but if you tell someone that her sister asked us to save her from some lunatics, you’d expect them to be happy right…? So I figured there was more to this, and cut Alt off. Apparently that pissed her off royally (don’t fucking hack our comms then, bitch…). Sorry for passing out afterwards though, I’m sure I must’ve been heavy.

On the run

Glad you kept your comms switched off, which was great. Apparently we got away from Alt’s AV’s eventually, since they weren’t there when I woke up in that dirty building.

After a while there we got to talking, and everything Sam told us pointed in the direction of Alt being exactly the crazy psycho I suspected she was. Then she helped Coyote regain his memory, and the deal that she was the good guy was pretty much sealed to me.

So I talked with Sam a bit more, and turns out she’s the leader of the Children of Ex-Alta, who are trying to literally bring back Ex-Alta, which I might remind you was a near godlike AI that was serving all of New Horizon until she self-destructed for some reason around 10 years ago because some idiot (e.g. Coyote’s father) tried to present her with a Magic Rock.

She asks me if I’m interested in helping with that, and since I’ve been interested in the same thing from pretty much the time I was a teenager (I guess reviving a dead AI was a bit of a strange obsession for a teenager, but fuck that, I didn’t have any friends to care anyway), I of course agreed. She touches me almost right away and shared some sort of power she had that allowed me to see what was going on in the Husk without using any cyberdeck.
I’m sure you can imagine how amazing it is to me that I was suddenly able to see all signals being transferred through the net. That shit is amazing!

As expected, their plan involved the items everyone had been hunting for already. The LOLITA (which is basically a smaller, more localized instance of Ex-Alta), the MACNIC (e.g. Magic Rock, I refuse to call it that inane abbreviation), a willing sacrifice and a metric shit-ton of energy.

I realize now how insane that sounds, but at the time I didn’t think it particularly bad. I mean, we could bring back fucking Ex-Alta… That’s the closes humanity has ever been to god!

So I was ready to drop Alt like a brick, but apparently you thought otherwise (I still wish you’d have discussed that). Before I knew it you’d executed the poor guy that Sam had brought, knocked her out and thrown her over your shoulder to bring her back to Alt.

That didn’t sit well with me, but with a vote of 3 against 1, I couldn’t very well go against it.

Back to the Civilized World

So we get back to Alt’s base, get received very coldly, have her take Sam, and then she makes us wait a week.
In her horrible spaceport-bunker that’s literally crawling with transhumans. I may have those advertisements on my cyberlegs, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend a week with so many of them.

Remember how I said I was able to see all the data traffic going on in the world?
Right after we handed off Sam, I saw an immense, and I mean IMMENSE, flow of data from wherever Alt had gone with Sam, to the spaceship that stood in the hangar.

To me, that seemed like a terrible, terrible thing, since the only other situation in which I’d seen similarly sized flows of data, had been in Lima’s facility, where we found those 3 kids connected to the mind-drain machines.

So I tried to figure out a way to get into Alt’s lair. To figure out what she was doing to Sam, but I couldn’t find a way. I tried several ways, but they were just as transhuman inside as they were out. Those barrels of Ghost Chalk kept coming through too, and just confirmed that whatever was going on was bad.

Yes, I realize that I was a Ghost Chalk junkie. How can you not be, when entering the husk with it feels like an angel pissing on your tongue. But even I know that barrel sized portions can’t be good for anybody.

So the last thing I tried, was hacking one of those contact terminals she had sitting around, and while the internal network was heavily protected, the connections to the outside were surprisingly weak. So I hacked it, and send a message to both Goliath and Arasaka, informing them of an illegal spaceship sitting around.

I really hoped they’d attack the base and interrupt whatever Alt was doing to Sam.

Right at the moment I was going to disconnect, I received a small probe on that terminal from Sam. I followed it, and found what remained of Sam’s mind in a virtual chamber that was already falling apart, as if seeing it through a huge amount of static.
It’s not something you usually see in a netspace location created in someone’s mind and I’m not sure what it indicates, but it wasn’t good. She once again pressured me to make sure that Ex-Alta was revived, and gave me a lock of her virtual hair, which somehow melded into my mind.

I hoped Arasaka and Goliath would intervene at this point, but nothing happened, and a day later the data flow to the ship abruptly stopped. I hope I don’t have to tell you what that means.

Then Alt returned and gave us exactly what I expected: Nothing! Did she seriously think we’d considering going off with her in that spaceship, all the while living in a virtual world?
I realize you might’ve thought I’d take that opportunity, but come on, spend the rest of my life in a world created by Alt? No thanks! Plus that fact of informing Arasaka about the spaceship.

Then we left, and watched Alt lift off. I wasn’t sure anything would happen, but I was sure holding my breath. I’m glad we at least got to get back at her for killing Sam, and for that stunt she pulled on us!

Retrieving the Magic Rock

So we left for Haven, resupplied, and figured out what to do next, but that lock of hair that melded into my mind turned into a small version of Sam that was incessantly telling me to go to where the Magic Rock was, which it apparently knew the location of.

When I tried to find the location of the children in the GPS we found, this turned into a full blown mental assault, with the result you saw, of me being totally unable to do anything. But as soon as we decided to go to that location, it stopped. Sorry for not telling you what exactly there was at that location in the first place.

Anyway, even though that was a fucking pain, we managed to get the rock. I didn’t actually expect to feel the bliss that I felt when I was near it, but it was amazing. I’m not sure why you didn’t notice. Nobody else carried it right?
Of course, it was covered in Ghost Chalk, so that might have something to do with it.

Lolita

Of course, when I tried to find the location of the children afterwards, I didn’t even need to hack anything. That pointer in my mind practically dragged me and the rock to their hideout.

Sorry for deceiving you, but I didn’t actually hack the GPS, and I knew exactly what we would find when we arrived there, but I was seriously worried you’d have other plans for the Magic Rock, and I wasn’t going to be surprised by one of you going rogue without discussion again.

I guess that was the worst decision of my life.

You know what happened afterwards, and that was surprisingly much the same for all of us I imagine. Who’d ever thought it would be that easy? We got to the hideout, were received by the children as heroes. Got the Magic Rock to the Lolita, and everything went apeshit from there. I guess I should’ve disabled those trackers a long while ago, but I never quite got around to doing it.

We succeeded though, and I connected to the Lolita. It didn’t ‘seem’ anything was amiss, except that it asked me to take ALL the willing people in the room, instead of just one (that would’ve been myself). But why was I to deny all those people their wish. Surely reviving Ex-Alta would be worth the lives of a measly thousand.
I repeat again, the sacrifices should’ve thrown me off (what machine, AI or no, needs sacrifices?). But I was too blinded by the possibility of a better world with Ex-Alta in it to see what was going on.

So I killed them. One by one. Emptying their minds, taking all of their experiences and adding them to the Lolita’s storage. Pushing them in if they were trying to backtrack, knowing the things that made them decide on this course and subtly reminding them why they should do it.

Right at the end, there was this moment, I just know I could’ve taken one of the soldiers minds, or anyone else for that matter, and have them sacrificed to the great machine instead, but I felt that it wasn’t my place.

That’s weird right? We’ve killed so many people, with guns, with bombs, and with AV crashes due to miscommunication. I had just killed a thousand, even if they were willing, but I balked at the idea of taking just a single extra life to save myself. Maybe that made the difference, I’ve never liked to shoot people unless they were actively trying to kill me either.

Anyway, it was the wrong decision, but I took my own soul, and together with those thousand others was sucked out of the Lolita, and right up into the Magic Rock, which promptly imploded.

Ghost in the Shell

When I came to (if you can call it that, having no body), I couldn’t see, but I still had a sense of the world around. Debris flying right at me, then disappearing or being absorbed or whatever happened to it (you must’ve actually seen it).

Drew, I can’t believe you went to pick up my body. It was insane! But I’m glad you weren’t caught by what must’ve been a gravity field of some kind. I’m glad you all got away, especially wounded as you were by that fight.

Me, I’m stuck in this shell. It seems to have risen, and grown larger. My mind is in the Lolita, and the Lolita is in something… Enormous.

It’s like I’m in the husk now, and bits of it are still connected to the rest of the world, so I can send some information out. I’ve tried getting out, but it seems my window is gone. Right before being sucked in I had a chance, but I missed it.

There is one more thing I thought of, but I’m not certain it’ll work, which is why I’m sending this now, so you’ll at least know what became of your Ghost, and why he did the things he did.

You are an amazing team, and I can’t be more proud to have worked with you. It was an experience I’ll never see the likes of again.

Let’s hope Alt had the right idea. If you don’t hear from me again, please…

Remember me.

Epilogue

Have you ever had to live a thousand lifetimes? No?… I doubt you could understand how I feel then. I’m still surprised they all had their reasons. Good reasons, but just like in my case, nobody but them would understand.

Most of it is fading, which is somewhat of a relief. A thousand lifetimes should be enough for anybody.

What is this thing that I’ve decided to fall into? It feels like a kind of… dominating presence?

It’s quite unlike any vibe the Magic Rock gave off, but not wholly unpleasant.

Oh…

A fucking dragon?!

I’m IN a fucking dragon?!

Sam was right. You have to take chances if you want to get anywhere in the world.

I wasn’t taking any chances, I was always playing it safe, manipulating things from a distance. This was probably my one chance to make a difference, and a goddamn difference it was. I wonder if it will be positive?

I still wonder how she convinced me. Was it really as simple as being deceived by a cute girl? Was it really the realization that despite all my efforts, I wasn’t making a dent?

I guess all of it boils down to me being an impetuous young fuck who didn’t think about the consequences of his actions.

Getting to destroy Alt was satisfying, but in the end it was something that was mostly out of my control again. I gave some people the coordinates of a spaceship launch, and they decided that it was better to destroy than leave it. What’s the point in that?

It was satisfying, but why is it such a hollow feeling?…

In the end I led them to this conclusion. I didn’t really have to deceive my friends, but I’m not sure why they so willingly followed along with this. But I guess after what we’d been through, we all just kind of wanted to see the world burn in one way or another.

Of course Sam did something to me, I don’t know why she didn’t tell the others what she told me. It seemed so clear to me. Ex-Alta was the best thing that ever happened to the world.

She destroyed herself to save it, but I’m left wondering if that was actually the best course of action. I guess even a semi-omniscient sentient AI can encounter edge cases it just can’t deal with. If I ever find the engineer who thought it would be a smart idea to have the error handling force-kill the program, I’ll stomp his head in.

I guess I won’t get to do that any more though. He’s probably already dead anyway.

How this rock got on the earth? Fuck if I know. Maybe there are more?

Obviously we should do something about it, but it doesn’t seem particularly inclined to listen. I wonder how this will change the world?

I suddenly wonder how my brothers and sisters are doing? Isn’t that odd? I haven’t thought about them for years.

Mikhail must be 18 now, finally old enough to legally drink, though I’m not sure he’d actually do so. Ida and Lena, married maybe? I hope they’ll be alright.

I’m not so worried about Gaspar, I hate him still. It’s interesting how fierce childhood hatred can remain burning.

I keep thinking about how it got to this point.

It could be when I at last met the mysterious Sam, who turned out to be a pretty normal fanatically obsessed woman of dubious morality. Or as normal as those can be anyway. I guess I have experience with those. I guess I only have experience with those.

Further back, I guess we can trace it to me being rescued by my current (is that still the correct description?) team after being assaulted by some ghost in cyberspace. If I never met them and died that day, all of this would not have happened.

It’s really difficult to speculate, as the real start is probably when I got my first cyberdeck. It’s still amazing to think that I once interfaced with the world through a screen and keyboard.

Everyone has to start somewhere I guess.

*blink*

Desperate deeds in the rubble

Desperate deeds in the rubble

Hartigan’s new Rail Gun had its own voice. A gun this big needs its own voice, to match the heft of its action. This gun was so heavy that it had to be mounted on his armour with a special harness that bore the weight and enabled him to move it freely in its firing arc; it was too heavy for a normal man, even a strong man with cyber-enhancements, to carry, and the only reason he could take it into the ruins of this building and up those stairs was the power armour he had attached it to. Such a gun, with such  heft, that fired a fist-sized slug of super-heated magnetic metal at hypersonic speeds, deserved its own voice. This was the kind of gun that didn’t just back up your opinions; it had its own.

Hartigan was slightly disappointed, then, to discover that his gun’s voice was the voice of a demure Japanese lady. He had enough insane gun-girls in his life, he didn’t need one inside his helmet, but there she was.

“Great shot!”

“Please wait, I am charging!”

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting! Please fire at will!”

“Let’s enjoy recharging together!”

“Attention! Heat warning! If the power pack melts, your situation will become hazardous!”

“I think my harness is jammed! Impaired mobility can be fatal! Please release my harness!”

Fortunately he hadn’t heard the last two yet, but he still had to grit his teeth every time he fired up the rail gun and heard her welcoming him with her little Arasaka speech. She was so breathlessly excited about firing super-heated fist-sized slugs of magnetic metal, and so indomitably cheerful about the destruction her work wrought. An attitude of careless abandon he was all too used to in his other team members, and did not need every time he squeezed the trigger.

Oh, but what a gun – and what a battle it saved him in.

He was meant to be stealthy in the building, taking a cover position so he could blow the ACPA away from afar. You don’t carry a rail gun because you’re expecting trench warfare, so he and his guard dog so carefully picked their way up the stairs in that ruined building, taking their position near the front of the building with a view of the crater and the sprawling mess of this part of the Pit. The ACPA was standing there, silent in its vigil just beyond the closest wrecked building. It stood, a giant robotic steel human, maybe 3m tall, hoverpack engaged but not active, a huge heavy machine gun in one hand and a massive power sword extended from the other. Somewhere in that super-armoured shell was a human, operating the mecha frame as if it were his or her own limbs. Even with a rail gun, anything but a head shot would be a waste of time. But Hartigan was not planning to shoot the ACPA – he was trying to get a clear shot at the stone in the centre of the crater. One shot on that and the entire area would be cleared out.

Unfortunately, the ACPA heard him. And it was fast. It burst from its standing start skywards and into a firing position so fast that Hartigan didn’t have time to move. That huge gun fired as it hurtled over, blowing his cover away in a rain of concrete and hammering him back in shock. As he fell the robodog leapt forward, taking the remaining shots in Hartigan’s stead and then bouncing back into him, scuttling away into the shadows. The ACPA flew closer, shell casings scattering behind it. Hartigan didn’t have much time and his aim had been broken by the rain of concrete and twisted metal, but he had to do it; targeting systems flicked back to the stone, servos whirled, and he fired.

“Great shot!” She declared, a huge force of beaming encouragement resounding through the statement. A moment later the distant stone burst into blue light, the flashguard on Hartigan’s helmet dimmed, and when he looked again the Arasaka force had been obliterated. Two small figures hurled themselves out of cover and down towards the stone. Job done! Drew and Ghost were heading for the stone.

Then the rockets hit. The bare stone floor shuddered and rippled and moments later he was falling from the open window, projected outwards by the blast of the ACPA’s rockets and hurtling to the rubble-strewn ground five floors down. For a split second as he somersaulted uncontrolled through the air he remembered he was wearing an AV Belt, hijacked from the Children of Exalta, and started desperately trying to remember if it was one of the belts that had taken damage. Would it take? The world spun, somewhere up above fire billowed from the cover he had been hiding in, slivers of stone and broken metal careened past him, then a dizzying perspective of dark sky and bleak wreckage-strewn ground, alarmingly close and spinning madly. Then with a wrench the AV Belt surged to life, just in time to send him sprawling over a pile of broken metal. Pain roared across his back but the power armour took it, and a moment later he was lying on the rubble in silence, watching a slowly-expanding cloud of smoke and dust from the building he’d been hiding in, desperately scanning the sky for the ACPA.

As he struggled upright and backed into cover behind the rubble he heard Drew and Ghost in his earpiece.

“Ungh, ugh – ” sound of heavy gunfire, “You – ” heavy breathing, more gunfire ” – Ghost! I got the Samurai! Get the stone!”

“Coming coming!”

“Pops?!”

He crouched down behind the rubble, which looked like it must have once been a couple of cars parked around some kind of electrical charging point disguised as a statue. They were all mashed together now, a jumble of metal and stone surmounted by a car aerial with a Mercedes symbol on it, which he had flattened in his fall. The aerial was bent double over the wreckage, the Mercedes symbol twisted over so now it looked like the famous Oil Age Peace symbol that had passed away into history with nation states. Looking through it like a gunsight, Hartigan saw movement at the top of the building he had fallen from. The ACPA was moving slowly to the edge of the roof, looking for him.

He had time, the gun was charged. He aimed carefully, waiting for the machine to peek a little further over. Inevitably it did, but before he could take a shot it opened fire, and to his horror that mess of carbon fibre, steel and concrete in front of him dissolved in a hail of bullets. After what felt like a millenium the firing stopped, the dust cleared and he found himself standing in the open, several metres back from his point of cover and surrounded by fragments of statue and car.

He grunted. Somehow he thought he should be dead. His power armour was shredded in places and he stung all across his chest, but Hartigan didn’t give up just because of a couple of bruises. He planted his feet, and from somewhere deep inside him arose an implacable will to carry on. He remembered his daughter Sayuri, laughing and happy in his home, then broken and crumpled on the stairs, empty shell of all his dreams. Her empty eyes stared accusingly at him, reminding him of everything that he had failed to protect, the consequences of weakness. She was gone, but somewhere behind him there were people depending on him, a young girl like Sayuri might have become, friends who trusted him, friends who had put him here with this gun to do just this job, and do it right. This time.

Anger rushed through him, and the pain faded. He grunted again, fired. The gun roared, harness kicked, behind him a swirl of dust ballooned outwards, and moments later the ACPA’s face exploded.

“Good job!” The rail gun whirred into rest mode.

A slow release of breath as the dust cleared. The ACPA swayed for a moment on the edge of the parapet, smoke and sparks rippling across the cowl of its head. Then it leapt into the air and came hurtling towards him, its enormous rifle tumbling away into empty space as it charged. He had a brief moment, watching it spearing towards him, to think he must have hit its targeting systems, and then it smashed into him, hitting with its right knee as it came sliding in to a crashing halt amongst the remains of his cover. Its knee hit him square in the chest with the force of a steam train, jarring through all his body at once and hurling him back through the air. As he spun skyward somewhere in the back of his consciousness he felt something break, and noticed that he would probably not be able to breathe for a couple of seconds, and then only painfully; but through the fog of anger and obstinacy these feelings didn’t really register. A moment later his bruised body jerked as the AV belt kicked in, and he landed on his feet, miraculously facing the ACPA and still breathing. Now he stood about 20m distant from the thing, which was standing there in open space looking at him, breathing hard but not yet dead, somehow.

Somehow, his assault rifle had ended up in his hands. He must have grabbed it on its harness as he was careening through the air. Whatever. He grunted, and opened fire, released the entire clip straight at the stupid machine. It kicked and writhed in his grip so hard he had to grit his teeth and cling on, but after a few moments it went limp in his hands and he dropped it.

The ACPA was standing there, looking at him. He could swear it tilted its head slightly, as if it were wondering how he was still alive after that knee strike, and why he was exhausting such a pathetic weapon on it. Somewhere inside its multilayered composite armour shell an Arasaka operative was planning his imminent death. And tilting its head as if to wonder why he was still trying to fight, the arrogant little bastard.

The ACPA crouched, started to lower itself into a squat ready for another leap. One arm did something and a huge sword slid out of the casing on the arm, shivering in the dusty air as some kind of power blade activated. That thing would cut through his power armour like butter. It raised the sword and tensed its legs, sank down and prepared to leap.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting!” The gun declared in a chirpy voice. “Please fire at will!” A light blinked on inside his helmet and the rail gun slid smoothly into operative position, fixing by default on the last known target – the ACPA. Hartigan touched the fire button and the gun roared, pushed him back a metre in a cloud of dust and super-heated gases. “Good job!” The gun declared in its perkiest little-maid voice.

The ACPA came to a halt just before its leap. It stopped, swayed a little on its tensed legs, and seemed to stare at Hartigan blankly. A moment later the head exploded, and sparks and fire started coruscating across its chest. It swayed in place for a moment, sparking and smoking, and then crashed gracelessly to the side.

“Coyote here. AV inbound, prepare for evac.” Coyote’s gruff, reassuring voice came in over the radio. Hartigan turned towards the crater. “Good job!” He whispered, patting the gun, and set off in the direction of his team.

His body started to hurt. Nearly there, Sayuri, nearly there. We’ll get this done yet, I promise you.

 

 

 

 

 

The odds rising ...

She said

Do you remember a time when angels
Do you remember a time when fear
In the days when I was stronger
In the days when you were here

She said
When days had no beginning
While days had no end when
Shadows grew no longer I
Knew no other friend but you
Were wild
You were wild…..

Date: December 3rd, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Outfit: Exalta rags. What do you wear for the end of the world? It turns out I didn’t have much choice, because the end of the world happened in a hard-scrabble cult base out in the crash zone and we had to get away in a hurry when the Goliath ships started falling out of the sky. Once we got clear and found somewhere to rest, all we had that wasn’t combat armour was a bunch of these white robes that the Children of Exalta wore at their suicide party. I think I gathered them together when we arrived at the base, before we realized we weren’t going to be needing disguises, and now I’m sitting here on this hillside watching the end of the world and trying not to cry about our lost Ghost. Unless you’re a weirdo in white robes you don’t really think about the end of the world, do you? But if I had put a moment’s time to it, I wouldn’t have imagined it would be so … muscular … and visceral. It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch but I guess we’ll be lighting out of here soon before the storm heads this way. Now I see what we have done, these robes feel more like a funeral shroud than a real outfit; but I guess they’re the most fitting uniform for whatever new world is going to come raging out of that spreading storm …

Mood: Distraught, and surprised at my tears. I lost two ghosts today – Ghost disappeared, and my Russian ghost flew away somewhere, I guess into that storm. I thought I would kill anyone who tried to take my ghost from me, but toward the end I could feel myself slipping away into some dark, scary place, and I couldn’t stop her, so I’m relieved that the storm took her. Amazed, even, because I couldn’t stop crying when we lost Ghost. I haven’t cried since … that day … the day I turned my back on being that weak girl… but these tears didn’t feel weak. Something happened to me when my ghost flew away, and Ghost disappeared. I lost a terrible weight and gained a terrible fear – the fear of losing my friends.

The cost: Ghost. Ghost was an annoying man at times and sometimes he was crazy incompetent but most of the time he was a perfect battle-hacker. With him behind us we always had perfect control of the battle space – not just knowing where our enemies were and protected from their hacking, but Ghost could always tell us what was incoming, what secrets they were hiding, sometimes it was like he knew what they were thinking. So many times the biggest bad guy got slowed down or stopped by Ghost’s cyber-hacking, so we had time to get to safety or switch tactics. When you go into a battle with Ghost behind you you know you’ll come out okay. But this time he never did. Something happened in there and now he’s gone, consumed by that thing. We got his body out but we can’t find any injuries or any sign of why he died. What happened in there?

News: The war came to its head, not that it matters now. Arasaka lifted up a piece of Tokyo – that’s right, Tokyo – and flew it over New Horizon, then started bombarding the city from orbit, dropping huge numbers of soldiers in there. That piece of Tokyo is like a giant spaceship maybe 5 km long, just hanging up there in orbit and blocking out the sun. By the time we came back from Alt’s place Goliath had given up the battle to hold New Horizon and fled into space, giving a pretty good light show as they fought off the Arasaka raiders and tried to make it out. Some must have, because they came storming back to the crash zone when they realized they still had a chance to grab the MACNIC. Pops and Coyote are sure that the battle for New Horizon and all the fooling around in the high council were all about Arasaka and Goliath trying to get control of the MACNIC, and Goliath’s control of New Horizon really started to slip after Sam stole the MACNIC from that deep pit. We don’t know how much Arasaka and Goliath knew about the real power of the MACNIC but I guess Goliath knew a lot since they were doing the experiments. Anyway all that news is like cave paintings from a distant era, or those weird tapes you get from early in the Oil Age. Old news. Dead news. We made a new world, and everything that happened in the old one is just cute stories now… Except for the fairy stories. They’ve become real.

We spent about 5 days in Alt’s lair after we brought her Sam. Her assistant Ling told us to wait there, make ourselves comfortable, and then we’d get our reward when Alt’s preparations were ready. We weren’t too happy about that but when we saw the chaos that Arasaka was unleashing over in our old home we figured there were worse places to be. We mooched around, watching the war in a state of continuing shock and eating too much and playing cards with some of Alt’s more human mercenaries. Many of her mercs have now gone through complete body transformations – real transhumanist stuff – so they look almost completely like a bad genetic experiment from an old movie. There are men with lizard legs and skin made entirely of scales, and this guy who’s boosted up his body size and got himself some weird feet and horns, so he looks like some kind of bull-human cross. Coyote calls him “the Minotaur” but Pops insists on calling him “that Cretin” and laughing at some kind of joke he says is about geography and English, which are two like completely incomprehensible and pointless things especially if you come from a time so ancient that people still thought the earth was flat. Coyote likes the Minotaur of course, because it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a facial tattoo, must be in want of an ugly friend.

But even Minotaurs get boring after a few days and we were going stir crazy by the time we finally got word that Alt was going to give us our prize. Back when we cut this deal with Alt, at the Fae Ling Moon concert she gate crashed, she promised us “everything we want”, and we were really looking forward to her delivering on that promise. We were thinking a little canton in the Crash Zone, lots of money and weapons, and a small team of dedicated mercenaries to keep us safe, a real base to operate from. What we really got was so much more – and so, so much less. We were herded into this little conference room and given bottles of water and we waited like an hour and then in came Ling looking decidedly moody – not hard to do when you’ve redesigned yourself to look like a fairy soldier from a Gucci advert – and then in came a couple of her broodiest lizard-modified soldiers, and then in she came, wearing a body that looked a lot like it might have been Sam’s though it was a bit older and more worn looking so maybe it was some other random girl she tricked into her cult. We were all a bit too impatient to care about her current choice of sleeve though, and she seemed pretty distracted so the pleasantries were pretty minimal. We asked her about our reward and then she laid out this ridiculous sales pitch that turned our longed-for payday into a great big moment of digital daylight robbery:

As you can see this place we’re hiding in is a spaceport, and in fact I have prepared a spaceship to leave in the next 24 hours. My most loyal followers will join me on that spaceship, which will take us on a slow journey out of the solar system. That spaceship has the most powerful computers and the most advanced systems ever developed. Once my followers and I are in orbit we will upload our consciousnesses into the computer core of the ship, permanently forsaking our physical bodies. Within that computer system there are infinite worlds, perfectly realized, fully populated and constructed. Within those worlds you will be able to live infinite lives simultaneously, and to have anything you ever wanted. You can be kings, peasants, emperors, gods, wizards, beasts or even the wild west wind if you so choose. There is nothing that you will want for, and you can take anything and everything your hearts desire…

She paused her little speech to check something, probably digitally counter-signing transsubstantiation forms or some silly idleness, and she was so distracted that she didn’t notice Coyote’s face getting real dark with his no-I-ain’t-gonna-deal expression, and Pops clenching his fist on the table so hard he looked like he was going to rip it apart. Ghost was looking at Alt like she was a dead rotting goldfish, and the mood in the room was going sour real fast but Alt was off in her little digital world so she didn’t really notice or care. Ling sure noticed but he didn’t seem particularly fussed. I guess he had some faith in our common sense and willingness not to cause trouble which is maybe a little bit more faith than he should have, but fortunately everyone held their temper until Alt came back to us and finished her little space-elevator pitch:

When we met at that awful concert I promised you your hearts desires. When you join me in the digital world I have created, you will have everything you wish for, and will realize dreams you never knew you had.

She looked around at us all, the way the smart new merc does when he thinks he’s made a suggestion none of the veterans have heard before, and already seen come to its bitter bloody end a thousand times.

Needless to say our answer was no. There was a bit of angry backchat but she didn’t care; after a few minutes she left looking confused at why we would refuse her offer. Ling wasn’t confused at all though – he knew exactly why we were angry, but he was in a very conciliatory mood. After her guards left he stopped in the doorway, turned to us and said

Don’t worry my friends, you’re not the only ones disappointed at this turn of events. But some of us can still profit. Tomorrow when the mad queen launches, we will gather to watch and I’ll make you an offer that’s not perhaps as rich as hers, but infinitely more realistic. I think you’ll like it. I’ll send for you.

And then off he went, leaving us fuming in the room and feeling cheated. All those free missions, all those near-deaths, all those people we killed (we didn’t really count, but it was a lot …), all the trouble we went to, and here we are left with nothing but digital smoke and mirrors just as the city we’ve known and lived in is being pounded to rubble by an insane Japanese grandpa, and we’ve got nowhere to go and nothing to show for all our work.

It’s enough to make you want to destroy everything Alt built and everything we fought for …

So we bummed around another day, slobbing in the mess room with the animal-men and doing a bit of light training and spending a lot of time watching TV and marveling at the savagery of the battle happening just a few hours away around New Horizon. Ghost spent a lot of time in the Husk, being boring and ignoring everyone, and Coyote spent a lot of time down in the bowels of the place, checking out the gear that Alt no longer needed and that Ling was now rapidly shipping out. Our reward was looking less and less lucrative, but we were unarmed and surrounded by monsters, so all we could do was wait for this charade to play itself out so we could leave. Late the following afternoon, with the sun beginning to set and promising a glorious sunset through the haze of smoke that now covered the entire region, Ling came to get us. First we had to sit through this interminable ceremony outside in the centre of the space base, all of us lined up and looking at this fat ugly rocket that Alt had somehow managed to set up here. People filed into the rocket from the base itself through a glass tunnel – first some of Alt’s guards and followers, then a solemn procession of blank-faced people in stern-looking white robes, then a kind of cryogenic vat thing that held a seriously broken, warped body in some kind of stasis. Murmurs arose from the crowd, and we guessed this was Alt’s original body. Some more white-faced people walked past and then Alt came out in that same Sam-body to wave goodbye to us. There was no sign of Sam, but we weren’t surprised – we didn’t expect her to make it out of whatever Alt had done to her, though we guessed something of her must be left over to power whatever permanent transsubstantiation Alt had in mind. Everyone cheered Alt, and then she ducked inside the rocket. It was a kind of anti-climactic end to the reign of the first human being ever to be able to permanently transcend their meat sleeve, but I guess in times of war there isn’t a lot of ceremony to go around. Ling hustled us away to a waiting AV, and took us up to a nearby ridge, maybe a couple of kilometres away from the base, along with a bunch of his closest soldiers. He laid out some champagne and snacks and from out of nowhere two lissome girls appeared carrying trays of canapes like we were at a high society party. Then we all sat around on picnic blankets and watched as Alt’s rocket took off. Ling seemed to be very very happy to see her go, so maybe he had been jilted the same way, who knows? He was very free with the champagne and those two girls had to get increasingly lissome to avoid his attentions. But he kept an eye firmly fixed on that rocket, like he was worried Alt might pop out again and say “surprise! You’re not the boss yet!”

She didn’t. As we watched the rocket began to lift off – first on anti-gravity field effectors until it was clear of the base, then huge rockets engaged and it started moving slowly, majestically towards the stars. Ling and his men began to cheer as it sped up towards the distant sky. It was a perfect moment at the end of a balmy day, the sky arching over us like a great big blue pearl, turning darker and darker as the sun set. The rim of the horizon was flaming red with all the colours of war, and the rocket trail stretched out through the middle of it all like a needle of white, spearing up into the heavens with that perfect pure shape that rocket trails have. Over in the near distance, just East of the rocket, we could see the huge spire of New Horizon, a dark lump against the paler sky, flickering occasionally with the flashes of war, and over it that looming hulking ship, floating up near orbit but still visible even from this distance. There must have been millions of people living in that thing even as it was raining fire down on the untold millions trapped in New Horizon.

There weren’t many souls in Alt’s rocket at all, which I guess is why the floating Tokyo didn’t spare much thought to swatting it down. It happened in the blink of an eye: one moment Alt’s ship was soaring free and brilliant into the heavens, then the Arasaka ship moved just slightly, some kind of light opened up on its bow, and a moment later the rocket exploded. There was a brief flash and then debris started pirrhouetting out and down, four big arcs of dirty grey smoke and fire and then a cascade of smaller, paler smoke trails. After a couple of seconds the boom of the explosion hit us, and then a couple of seconds after that everyone on the ridge started reacting. Initial stunned gasps turned to yells of outrage, surprise, fear, soldiers’ curses. We all looked at each other in shock – everyone except Ghost, who was just leaning back on his picnic rug, looking kind of smug.

“I guess Alt wasn’t such a big deal after all,” he said with a shrug, and started cleaning up his strawberry stalks.

And that’s how Alt’s eternal empire died, in a flash of Arasaka side-eye and a picnic that ended early.

Good thing we didn’t take her offer, I guess … Ling hustled us off the hill, probably worried Arasaka was going to turn its attention on our base, but he didn’t need to worry. We got back to the base fine and there was no sign of any trouble, so Ling took us aside and made his offer. He was incontrovertibly the boss of all Alt’s stuff now, and he didn’t intend on retiring. He was going to be setting up as a mercenary captain working all Alt’s contacts, and he wanted effective senior mercs he could trust – if we joined him he’d pay well and we’d get the best jobs. How about it?

Of course we said no. Coyote and Pops were pretty belligerent, doing their ugly-cop/bad-cop routine, and eventually we managed to screw a bit of recompense out of Ling in exchange for a promise to do freelance contract jobs for him. He gave us a Blackbird, a beautiful sleek black attack AV, fully armoured and ready to use; some heavy weapons; a bunch of ordinary ammo; new armour; and some cash. Over the week we’d already received one piece of goodwill: we’d all received some treatments in Alt’s biolabs to get physical enhancements like strength, speed, and accuracy, and now he gave us the weapons we could use to make the most of it. He seemed disappointed we weren’t joining him but not surprised, and promised us he’d be in touch with more work. We thanked him for his kindness, cursed Alt for short-changing us so spectacularly, and got out of there as fast as we could.

Not enough

Not enough

To the Stone

Now we’d lost everything to Alt’s arrogance, and wasted Sam’s life for nothing, we were really agitated. We wanted to know what was going on with this MACNIC, and why it had been so crucial to Sam. If Sam could help Alt go eternal without it, what was she trying to do with it? We knew that Coyote’s dad had been involved in the research on the stone originally, and we knew that he had joined the Children of Exalta; we had a transponder we took from Sam’s friend Theo after I shot him in the head. Ghost had been hacking the transponder and told us he had found a hit, but it turned out he was being deceived. We followed his ping but it didn’t lead us to the Children of Exalta – it led us to the MACNIC. Our new battle AV had a code that would enable us to pass through Arasaka checkpoints provided we were careful, so we sped back to New Horizon, following the ping that Ghost told us was to the Exalta hideout. Ghost only told us later that he had some kind of deal with Sam[1], and maybe some part of her inside him, and she was leading him not to the Children of Exalta but to the MACNIC, which was lost somewhere in New Horizon – Senntech had taken it from the Oil Rig but got caught up in the war and lost it in the rubble of the Pits in New Horizon.

Pops had started calling the MACNIC the “Magic Stone”, because it obviously did weird stuff. We knew that if you feed energy into it it multiplies that energy and projects it back out, and we knew it was somehow crucial to the production of Ghostchalk, which means that it must do something to human minds. We guessed it was crucial to whatever Goliath was doing with Full Body Replacement Cyborgs – that much cyberware should cause a human to go insane but somehow the Goliath FBRs didn’t go crazy – until Goliath lost the stone to Sam, and then Arasaka was able to fight back against its FBRs. Pops wanted to find that stone and find a way to destroy it before Arasaka got hold of it, or Goliath got it back. So when Ghost revealed that the devastated area of rubble and ruin we were entering was not the Children of Exalta’s playground, but a battle zone where Goliath and Arasaka were fighting for the stone, we were all surprisingly relaxed about it.

Except Coyote, who really didn’t want to throw his life away on a reckless mission to find a magic stone. He was mighty mad, but he still set the Blackbird down in the shadow of a wrecked building and disembarked with us. Ghost went into the Husk and gave us the layout, like he always does. The stone was resting in the centre of a crater perhaps 150 metres from our Blackbird. The area around the crater was a mess of trashed buildings and rubble. A bunch of Arasaka soldiers were in the crater, guarding some engineers who were trying to get to the stone; on the perimeter was their leader, some kind of bigshot soldier in samurai-style power armour, and an ACPA, a type of small Mecha. Pops, who now had a rail gun courtesy of Ling’s generosity, and one of the anti-grav harnesses we stole from the Children of Exalta in the Crash Zone, climbed into the nearest building, took a position with a view of the crater and the ACPA, accompanied by one of Coyote’s robodogs. The rest of us found a tunnel that led through the rubble to a trench near the crater, and carefully surveyed the surroundings: 6 soldiers, a bunch of combat engineers, the samurai dude, the ACPA, and an Arasaka FBR camouflaged in the rubble, running a complex hacking routine on the entire area through the husk. The presence of that FBR with its super-powerful cyberdeck meant we had to switch off all our wi-fi connections and communicate only with radio.

Which is why, I guess, the ACPA saw Pops before we had a plan ready. Maybe he was yelling into his radio like an old man with a phone. Maybe his cyberleg dinged clumsily on a piece of rubble. Maybe he let out one of his outrageous old man burps. Whatever the reason, it lifted off from its guard position and headed towards Pops’s nest. He shot it with his rail gun but didn’t hurt it (didn’t hurt it!!!), and then it opened fire on him with the biggest machine gun you’ve ever seen, that it was toting around like it was a handbag. I popped up and shot it in the back of the head with my pastel blue nomad rifle, which didn’t really even dent it but at least distracted it, and then all hell broke loose. Pops had to wait a few seconds for his gun to recharge, during which time the ACPA opened fire again – fortunately the robodog with Pops jumped in the way, nearly getting blown apart by that gun. Then Pops decided to do us all a favour and, ignoring that ACPA, he shot the rail gun straight into the magic stone where it rested in the centre of the crater.

The resulting explosion killed all the soldiers and combat engineers, and knocked down the Samurai leader. It also scrambled everyone, because suddenly we had strange visions and nightmares screaming in our heads. Pops was yelling something about his wife and daughter, Coyote was screaming about war and chaos, and my Russian ghost was scrambling to come out, whispering to me about love and hatred and getting that stone. I slipped out of the trench to look for the Samurai leader but he was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the FBR. Everyone else was dead or screaming, so me and Ghost rushed for the crater. Coyote decided our efforts would be wasted if we couldn’t lift the stone, and headed back to charge up the Blackbird, unable to call it remotely while the FBR was floating around hacking everything. Pops dropped down from the building and started sprinting for the crater – no one could see the ACPA, we figured its pilot had got the same crazy signals as us and would be down for a few seconds.

When the entire world is screaming chaos, you take the chances you can get.

I got to the crater first, and found the stone sitting there in clear view, glowing red hot with the heat of the explosion, steaming with this fluid that had been dripping off it and was now vaporizing from the heat. It was surrounded by the wrecked bodies of unarmoured combat engineers and their mangled linear frames. I took position nearby, keeping cover for Ghost as he came running in. The stone was cooling off rapidly, but it was still too hot for me to lift and anyway I’m more useful shooting. I had to keep fighting off this desperate urge to just grab it and run, but I waited, and when Ghost got close we picked it up and moved it into cover, in the shelter of a kind of pipe that was protruding from the edge of the crater. We could feel rumblings in the ground around us, like the explosion from the MACNIC had somehow weakened the superstructure of this part of New Horizon, so fleeing through the complex wreckage of the level under the crater was not a wise plan – we just had to wait for Coyote to come back with the Blackbird.

By now my Russian ghost was clamouring to come out, she really wanted to be part of the stone’s world, she was humming for blood. I couldn’t keep her down but I don’t like letting her come out in full, she’s too terrifying and I always worry if I let her out unchecked I won’t come back. But I couldn’t stop her slipping out, fingers around my neck like a sinister lover, the pulse of her rage making my finger twitch on the trigger of my rifle.

That’s when the Samurai decided to come back. I noticed some falling scree and stepped out to check, and that Samurai fell down right in front of me, just a blur because it was in some kind of super fancy cloaking. Of course my ghost saved me, flicking my head sideways just as his monokatana struck past me, slowing everything down just enough so I could see where the blur of his cloaked body shaded the rubble background a little. I didn’t have time to get my own katana out but he was at point blank range, so I opened fire, releasing a whole clip into him. That ended the cloaking but it didn’t slow him down. It also released the ghost completely, and when I came back to reality the Samurai was sprawling at the top of the slope, my monokatana in my hand and Ghost lying dead in front of me.

I guess Ghost is used to psychotic allies, because when I bent down to say sorry and kiss him goodbye I realized he wasn’t dead, just in husk mode. I had definitely cut him – I could see it on his armour – but he must have been going into husk mode when I hit him and my ghost thought he was dead and released me from her grip when she thought all her enemies were dead. There was a psychotic rage singing in my ears, that ghost was still there subdued inside me but singing a song of rage and blood as I watched the samurai sliding slowly down the crater rim, gripping weakly at rocks and exposed metal to try and get some purchase so he could crawl away. I’d obviously wrecked his legs so he couldn’t run properly, and the stone’s explosion was making the crater subside so that the rubble stopped him struggling away. It was kind of desperate and pathetic, watching him try to struggle away like that.

I shot him in the back.

Then I heard the distinctive boom of the rail gun followed by the heavy chatter of Pops’s assault rifle, and I was raising my own rifle for a last desperate defense against the ACPA when Pops came whooping and hollering over the intercom. “I got it!” he yelled. There was a lurch as a part of the lower level of the superstructure gave way and the entire crater base sagged to one side, nearly knocking me down. Pops was breathless with running and shooting, still some distance away. “Rail gun nearly did it … full clip … unloaded … in the face haha! Then another rail gun.” He was  chattering happily like he was a teenager who’d just been to his first Fae Ling Moon concert, but I understood his excitement. I bet under that helmet he had the same smug expression Ghost wore when he watched Alt’s ship fall out of the sky. I know that feeling too well.

My ghost was still singing to me of that feeling as the Blackbird hoved into view moments later. We piled on quickly, Ghost back out of Husk mode and yelling about all kinds of impending mischief. As we took off the crater lurched some more and we were suddenly being thrown around inside like a washing machine, but we held on and then we were out, rocketing away towards Pops’s position while Ghost and Coyote both yelled about something on the outside of the ship – the FBR, locked onto us.

I slipped out the back, and while the Blackbird was careening across the rubble I let my ghost out again, she was so close to me now that I didn’t really have to do anything, just sigh and out she came, and when I came back to reality the FBR was scuttling away across the rubble and I was on top of Pops, my monokatana millimetres away from his helmet and his voice urgent in my intercom. “Drew, come back Drew, Drew! It’s me, Pops!” Ghost was yelling about more ACPAs and the FBR was done for – Pops had smashed it in the head with his cyberleg and I had cut it fiercely – and I was gasping and so tired, so we hauled into the Blackbird and then Coyote was off. We locked ourselves in and endured a couple of minutes of wild, crazy flying as Coyote gave the pursuing ACPAs the slip, but I was just lying there in my crashseat exhausted and beat while Pops and Ghost both stared suspiciously at the stone, which sat glowing a faint, malevolent blue in the middle of our AV.

We had it.

What Sam never did

What Sam never did

The Children of Exalta

And the mist will wrap around us
And the crystal, if you touch it…
And the cares I’ve lost in the drift
Are there
Theirs, ours, lost in the drift
Are…
Driven
Driven together
And driven
Apart

Once we had it we realized we really needed to be rid of it. The stupid stone sang to us all the time, telling us stories about what we could be or what we were or what we weren’t or giving us visions of things that had been. I really don’t like visions of times past, a lot of people died to stop me seeing visions of times past and I don’t need some stupid stone making me see those people again. Ghost was constantly on edge from the thing and Coyote’s face tattoos were flickering like some kind of fireworks show whenever he got too close to the thing. Coyote’s ugly enough on a good day, let alone when he has a pageant of crass aesthetic faux pas lighting up what passes for a face on the front of his thick skull. That stone had to go. We had originally thought we might be able to destroy it but after Pops’s railgun shot just made it mad we decided there wasn’t much we could do with it. Time to make it someone else’s problem.

Now that we had the stone nothing was trying to stop us going to the Children of Exalta. Whatever voice had been driving Ghost to get to the stone no longer plagued him, so now he could lead us directly to the Children of Exalta. We had to flee from the New Horizon pits before Arasaka realized where we had been, and we figured if we stayed in any one place for more than a few minutes they would trace us, so we took the fastest route we could for the transponder that Ghost had hacked. We got there without incident, because there seemed to be another battle going on between Goliath and Arasaka, maybe a last ditch defense by Goliath, with lots of AV combat happening in the direction of New Horizon as we left. The Children of Exalta were hiding out in a distant part of the Crash Zone, just a few hours’ flight in the Blackbird, in a kind of dome they had made of old trash and ruined bits of other buildings, the kind of rough concoction you see scattered around the Crash Zone wherever a bunch of poor outsiders have decided to make a last stand. We go there first, but when we got near we realized that they weren’t alone. There was a small swarm of Goliath and Arasaka ships fighting there way towards the same place, though they were further away than us. Whatever this stone signified, everyone was converging on it and as long as we held it we were going to be the centre of destruction.

We got there first, by a decent margin, probably because we weren’t being shot at by a million fighter ships. The Children of Exalta had found a crater right back in the epicentre of the Crash Zone, where the first fusion reactors had gone critical during the original collapse of Exalta. This was the exact place, we realized that we had once been asked to do a raid on by the nice men who gave me the beautiful grey gown when they helped me escape from Goliath police. Those men were looking for the true head of the Children of Exalta, who was said to be hiding out here with a machine called ANITA so powerful it might hold a fragment of Exalta.

Now we know why they wanted that machine, and why the Children of Exalta had it. And we were bringing them the stone. But as we sat there looking out of our AV screens at the distant destruction raining around New Horizon, destroying everything we knew and probably many of the people we knew, we weren’t really too worried about the consequences of giving away the stone. So long as we could get away ourselves. We were also starting to get angry, very angry, as we realized that all these people all along had been doing all these terrible things just to get to this stupid stone. Alt had used us to get Sam who was using these Children of Exalta to get the stone, and Arasaka had destroyed New Horizon to find it, while Goliath had tortured so many people to use it, and probably the men who rescued me from Goliath had been manipulating us from the start to find this stone, and all along we had just been trying to make a living like honest killers. It’s not like we ask a lot of questions about who we kill or why, but there’s a level of professional honesty you expect from the people around you and your employers and we had been lied to by everyone and anyone since we got caught up in this stupid quest.

We got even madder when we arrived at the centre of the Children of Exalta’s base and found out that their boss was Coyote’s dad.

Getting there was easy. We just flew the Blackbird into the base, through a series of ever-narrower tunnels into an AV dock. We got out, put the stone on an AV trolley and pushed it down some corridors, following a series of lights set into the ceiling that were obviously guiding us, flashing red and blue, towards the centre of the dome. As we walked, people gathered behind us, whispering about how we were the saviours – the same whispers we had heard on the oil rig during the killing. We ignored them, and pushed the stone through the corridors until we emerged into a large amphitheatre in what was obviously the centre of the dome. This was a big open half-circle, but the stage was covered in a huge electrical structure, a big bank of computers and wiring and machinery that centred on a large machine, vaguely humanoid in shape, that had a big hole in the middle just large enough for the stone to be put in it. The Children of Exalta, in their white gowns, were gathering in the bleachers, hundreds of them milling about and watching as we emerged at the top of the steps. They were filing in, talking and whispering and gathering. It looked like some parts of the room had been turned into accomodation, there were rugs and makeshift cooking equipment and groups of people in white gowns who had their belongings with them, probably runaways from New Horizon. The throng grew rapidly as we advanced down the stairs into the amphitheatre. When we got halfway a group of men emerged onto the stage, and we stopped walking. These men were wearing white hoods and cloaks too, except the one in the middle who wore a strange face mask and a black outfit with neon blue stripes down it. This was Blue, the supposed leader of the Children of Exalta, who we had once considered killing. Looking at him now he seemed like he’d be pretty easy to ice, but that wasn’t our job here – our job was to just sort out what was happening and leave.

That’s when Blue took off the mask to welcome us, and we discovered he was Coyote’s dad. Then the guy next to him took off his hood to reveal Twitch, the oily little mincing street-dealer who had arranged for us all to come together as a team in the first place. I felt Pops tense up in anger behind me, and heard Coyote and Ghost gasp in surprise over the comms link, but at that exact moment the family reunion was spoiled by the roof crashing in. Goliath assault capsules smashed through the ceiling, crashing down and splitting open on impact, and through the wreckage of the holes in the roof we suddenly saw Goliath assault ships swooping in. At the same time Arasaka soldiers burst through one door, and a squad of black-clad mercenaries through another.

Everyone started screaming at everyone. From the assault capsules we heard a terrible scream and then they started spilling their deadly cargo: the horrible, misshapen FBRs that Goliath had unleashed on Arasaka troops at the end of the New Horizon war, the same kind of monstrosity that we had encountered in New Haven back when the war started, and had killed in Goliath’s research labs. These things were bred from cyberpsychotic soldiers or something, with no vulnerability to hacking or anything except bullets. We knew what they were here to do: kill everyone in the room.

We started fighting, while everyone screamed at Ghost to get the stone in that machine! Ghost started running, and we started killing, but before we could take down those twisted FBRs a huge, bioengineered monster FBR emerged from the assault capsule, looking like a cybered up super-robot version of the Minotaur Pops had teased back at Alt’s space base. It was huge, and it attacked simply by stomping down on anyone near it. Pops opened fire on it with his machine gun but it just shrugged it off, and kicked him over like a rag doll. It stomped about it so madly that it even crushed one of its own FBR allies, crushing and smashing with reckless abandon. I looked down to see Ghost running up against an FBR, still pushing that stone, and Pops trying madly to roll away from the huge, crushing feet of that monstrosity, Coyote struggling to cut down one of the FBRs with his power sword, his robodog being slowly beaten under by the beast. Arasaka soldiers were in a gunfight with the black-clad mercenaries, while other Arasaka soldiers fanned out to kill the Children of Exalta, who screamed and ran about, unarmed and helpless. In the skies above, Arasaka and Goliath ships were doing battle, oily smoke and flames rolling across the fractured blue of the distant sky. Now was our moment, and it was hopeless. We were done for.

I felt her howling down inside me. This was her moment, her time to redeem me. She sang to me of death and chaos. I could dance through this room creating such a storm of blood and lost souls …

I let her out, my hungry ghost.

Drew at the end

The Awakening

I hear the roar of a big machine
Two worlds and in between
Hot metal and methedrine
I hear empire down

We got the empire, now as then,
We don’t doubt, we don’t take reflection,
Lucretia, my direction, dance the ghost with me

I heard a voice calling me back urgently, screaming my name. I was standing over the body of the monstrous FBR, covered in blood. All the Children of Exalta were dead, and Pops was looming over me yelling “Get Ghost’s body, we have to GO!” Everyone near the stage was dead and there was a strange keening sound over the intercom. The ceiling was beginning to crack and the stage was suffused with a deep blue glow. Coyote was already running down to the stage, heedless of his father’s broken body dangling over its edge. As I watched it began to move, inching towards the centre of the stage under the pull of some strange gravity. The voices in my head had gone and the ever-closer, ever-louder singing of my Russian ghost was silent, replaced only with Pops’s yelling. Then I saw Ghost, lying some distance from the stage, unconscious or dead on the stairs, and the stone affixed in its place in the machine. Something was stirring on the stage, things were moving, and a voice behind the stage was yelling desperate admonitions.

“NO! NOOOOO! Not thiiiiissss!”

It sounded like a woman’s voice, an ancient and ferocious scream of rage, the rage of every old woman who was ever betrayed and dragged down to the river for trial, every little girl who grows up to find the world isn’t hers to take and enjoy after all, the rage of women who pass their prime and discover that all they have left is to watch men bring everything they had built down to ruin. It was the voice of Exalta thwarted.

I screamed too, at the sight of Ghost’s broken body. Suddenly all this rage and imperial manoeuvring and mysterious secrets dragged up from the depths meant nothing because something tugged at me and said “No! Not Ghost!” It wasn’t the callous hissing of my ghost, eager to see more blood, but some other tired, desperate voice. My voice. I ran.

We got Ghost onto the AV trolley and started dragging him away. Even as we dragged him we could feel the pull of that strange gravity on the stage, that was drawing all the dead people in the room helplessly towards it. The wailing voice subsided, sucked into the hissing light along with Coyote’s dad’s body. Twitch was already gone. Something was moving behind the stage, and when we got to the top of the amphitheatre, free for now from that pull, we looked back and saw shadows starting to accrete behind the machine, things being drawn together and made into something. The first bodies were starting to move into the shadows of the machine and moving in bizarre, disordered puppet-like jerks.

We ran. The glow of the stone intensified, drawing others into it as it grew, sucking the whole dome slowly to ruin. We pushed the trolley with Ghost on it as fast as we could back to the AV and fired it up. As we strapped in we could see parts of the AV dock beginning to fracture and drop. Everything was sucking in towards that distant stone. Coyote took us out through collapsing tunnels at such a pace we thought he might blow the engines, but it was only just enough – as we rocketed out of the Dome exit we could see the entire dome was collapsing in on itself, and the closest Goliath assault ships were falling in too. The whole dome was glowing blue now, and a moment later, as we were barelling away as fast as we could, the entire dome disappeared, became just a burning pool of blue. Then the Goliath battleship and all its fleet, along with all its Arasaka attackers, crashed down into the blue glow. The light flickered and went out, leaving behind it a pile of seething, burning rubble. We were still hurling ourselves away, but Pops and I had our eyes glued on the screen. Something moved in the rubble, then pieces of junk fell aside and two huge, leathery wings burst out of the rubble, stretching out towards the sunlight like a hideous leathery butterfly. More rubble stirred and a huge, battleship-sized beast began to haul itself out of the ruins, leathery wings beating, serpentine claws gripping at huge chunks of stone, lizard’s mouth open and breathing a huge pillar of fire to the sky.

That is how two ghosts died, and a new world was born.

Afterword

This, obviously, is the end of the campaign. The Awakening-as-ending was conceived by me and the GM from near the beginning as a lead-in from Cyberpunk to Shadowrun, with the idea that we would end it with the Awakening from Shadowrun and segue straight into a Shadowrun campaign, GM’d by me. Unfortunately in the interim people started making sounds about wanting more fantastical gaming, and I started doing my Traveler campaign, so we probably won’t go straight to Shadowrun now – it may go on hold for a little while so we can do something different. This Cyberpunk campaign has taken something like 18 months and has been an incredible, epic experience, but over that period I guess the focus has shifted away from cyberpunk worlds so that everyone will want a break for a while. With Degenesis and Traveler to occupy us, I probably won’t come back to GM a Shadowrun New Horizon for a while. Despite that minor slip up, our GM didn’t want to change the ending, and I think it’s safe to say everyone was very, very happy with witnessing the Awakening. We have just enjoyed, I do not hesitate to say, the most epic Cyberpunk campaign ever.

I’ll be putting up some more posts over the next few weeks about back story, how plots intertwined together, some moments of combat I had to skip from this report, and why Ghost died. There were so many completely awesome moments in this campaign that they cannot all be reported, but I hope it’s clear from the care I have taken with Drew’s voice that she is one of the best characters (possibly the best character) I have ever played. I have never played a character so engrossing, so competent, so valuable to the party and so completely enjoyable as The Druid. I think it’s safe to say this won’t be the last time her voice is heard on this blog!

Music credits: All poetic interludes are Sisters of Mercy, from the songs Nine While Nine and Lucretia My Reflection.

fn1: Ghost’s player, the Quantum Dutchman, has been doing a lot of downtime, during which he seems to have rescued some fragment of Sam’s soul and probably also arranged for the destruction of Alt’s rocket.

Is that a transponder in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Is that a transponder in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Date: November 27th, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Outfit: Battle fatigues loaned to me by one of Alt’ s more human-resembling staff, because we didn’t have any spare gear on the bikes, and we can’t sit around for days in Alt’s little super-villain compound wearing our combat armour. I’m even going commando for the day (don’t tell Coyote!!) because I got blood all over my underwear when I shot Theo and a nice lady in Alt’s entourage is washing my smalls for me now. I guess we’ll be leaving here in battle gear though because there’s nothing left out there that isn’t deadly.

Mood: Exhausted and relieved, but kind of hollow. We traded Sam to Alt, just, but to get her there we had to kill her boyfriend and handed her over like a piece of stunned meat because she didn’t want to go willingly and her sneaky boyfriend had a GPS beacon which is why we shot him. After we heard her horror story about what she had been doing and what she had done we all agreed she had to be handed over because she’s like that big bird in that old Oil Age metal song about the annoying sailor who won’t shut up only waaaay worse because that stupid old sailor never killed a god with his own stupidity but Sam did. Her friends would have killed us too but we had just enough warning to get our armour on and defend ourselves, thanks to me shooting Theo and sacrificing my clean underwear for the good of the team. Still, even though we did the right thing something feels wrong about it like there’s something we should have done better but we missed something on the way. It’s nagging at us all like an itch we can’t scratch but once we get our prize from Alt I think the money and glory is going to be good medicine.

News: Let’s hope we get our prize soon because the world has gone crazy. Arasaka are well inside New Horizon now and it’s basically shut to outsiders, there’s almost no way in or out now and it’s been turned into one of those war zones where only the people in orbit feel safe. We don’t really know what’s going on in there but my guess is it’s just like what I saw in the Indo zone two years ago whenever Arasaka hit some helpless little tinpot country – chaos, dirt, communal violence, everyone scrabbling to get out or to get on top of the heap or to get their own back and no safety anywhere until the evac AV hauled your team out through a hail of bullets, and you didn’t even have time to think about what horrible things were going to happen to your interpreter you left behind because you were too busy on the mini-gun to think about anything. Good times, if you’re on top.

We’re not on top, but once we get our payout from Alt we can get out and stay out.

After we killed Carnage and got out of the Oil Rig we headed into the Crash Zone with our two prisoners, to hide out for a day until we could talk to her about her situation. Once we were comfortable in the zone we got to talking with her, and she gave us the full story of her, Alt and Lima. It took a few hours but here’s the condensed version.

So Sam, Alt and Lima were part of this crazy research project somewhere ancient and mountainous like Macchu Picchu, and Coyote’s dad was there doing human experiments on them like every doctor seems to want to do, and they were using this macnic thing, the crazy stone that drives people crazy that Semmtech stole from the Oil Rig, to drive the experiments. Sam wasn’t real clear about what the experiments were but they did something to her and Lima and Alt. At some point Coyote’s dad discovered he had a conscience, but only after he’d gone too far down the dark path of course because what else can you expect from a doctor? And so he offered to help them escape and Sam and Lima were all for it but then Alt betrayed them because she’s greedy or maybe because she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life hanging out in the Peruvian jungle with Miss Goody Two Shoes hiding behind waterfalls and eating raw hairy spiders and swatting hummingbirds while Miss Goody Two Shoes waffles on about ethics and freedom and probably insists on only eating fruit or something. So as they were getting away the security guards grabbed them and there was a fight and Lima escaped but Sam and Alt didn’t, only then Lima came back to rescue them, and in the chaos Coyote’s dad and Sam managed to get away with the macnic, So then they started doing more human experiments on this stupid stone while Lima went on a psycho doctor-killing spree around central America (why did we kill him he’s like the prodigal son compared to his crazy sisters!?) and Alt just disappeared or something. Then Sam and Crazy Coyote Dad managed to get back to New Horizon with the macnic, and this was back before the crash, when New Horizon was a land of milk and honey and Exalta ruled over everything like a god and everyone was peaceful and happy (unless they were allergic to honey or lactose intolerant I guess which is probably half the population but since when do Gods care about their followers’ allergies?) and I’m sure they didn’t have crazy doctors there, right? But Sam didn’t like the ethics in that place, so she offered the macnic to Exalta and Exalta took one look at the thing and panicked and ran away into space or something or maybe she just died but anyway that’s when the crash happened and it was all Sam’s fault for wanting to graduate from human experiments to AI experiments. She’s like the Doctor Mengele of cyberspace, except that he was just a skeezy dude with a twin fetish whose experiments never killed a god and hers did! And I think I heard Ghost whispering that she killed a dream too, but I don’t know about that because I don’t have dreams anymore since I got my booster ware installed and anyway my dreams were all ice and blood and screams and silent rough men grunting in the cold dark while I waited for everything to change so I don’t know why anyone would care if their dreams were killed but that seemed to bother Ghost. Of course I went back and killed all the men in my dreams but I don’t think Sam thinks like me so once she killed Exalta she just ran away and then lost the macnic, which probably ended up in Semmtech’s control. And then Lima came to New Horizon looking for her and the macnic, and so did Alt, and they all were using their special powers to find each other and the macnic like a really crazy family of pscyho clowns doing an easter egg hunt.

Dear Diary, I know when I first met Coyote and Ghost and Pops you thought I had the worst luck in the world and I was only making bad choices but now look at this dysfunctional family we have stumbled into, they’re transhumanist trailer park trash with a cult and heavy weapons. This is weapons-grade family feud leavened with cyber psychosis! It makes Ghost and Coyote look completely normal now don’t you think, dear Diary? It’s a good thing I’m completely sane and everyone can rely on me to keep a level head while the clowns are mass murdering their way across the world killing gods with a stone that bleeds blue blood. I’m also glad that they agree with me about handing Sam over to Alt, even Pops – I was surprised by how quickly he agreed to be rid of her, but I guess her tale of deicide was all the convincing Pops needed…

When we first met Sam Pops was getting all dewy-eyed and doing his Dad Voice but once we heard that story his tone changed and he started doing his Stern Detective Voice, which usually means that someone is going to have to die. But Sam wasn’t ready to give up yet and she told us that she could help Coyote access the contents of the data chip that he received from his family when we rescued them from that prison in the pit. He agreed of course and then went into a quiet room to spend an hour or so catatonic. And while he was doing that Sam had a quiet conversation with Ghost that made Pops really really uncomfortable, I don’ know why[1].

Me and Pops had a quiet talk about what to do while our team were flaking out, and then once Coyote was up again and alert I killed Theo. I just shot him in the head but he saw it coming by just a fraction of a second, so he tried to dodge, but he had no chance. Pops hit Sam with the stun gun at the same time and the whole thing was done by the time Ghost reacted and came over to stand in front of me and protect me from Theo’s gun, I don’t know why he would do that![2]

Once we were sure Sam was down I ran over to search Theo, which is when I got his blood all over my underwear since I did this whole thing naked. Ghost and Coyote seemed really horrified that I was searching his bag while his body was still bleeding out but why waste time? Just as well I did too because that’s when we found the transponder, and realised that the whole time we were here the Children of Exalta were inbound. So we scrambled to get our armour and weapons ready, Coyote put in the call to Alt, and that’s when we heard the AVs coming in.

Just as well we had Theo and Sam under control![3] Pops and Coyote jumped on one of the war bikes we had stolen, and Ghost went upstairs in our hideout to get a good shooting position. I took cover on the ground behind a piece of concrete wall at the entrance, with Sam next to me ready to be stunned a second time if things went wrong. The Children of Exalta attacked on three AVs, one of which circled around to hover near the front of the building and drop troops while the other two attacked Pops and Coyote on their bike. They managed to get airborne and after a few seconds of spiralling and shooting and getting shot at Coyote managed to get above the AVs. Pops had the mini gun so he made short work of them once he had them in his sights, but in the time it took them to shut down the two AVs the third one dropped five men, who I killed two at a time – one as he stood at the door of the AV, and the other as he landed. Ghost killed the fifth from his vantage point. When they saw all their soldiers dead and the other two AVs down the pilot of that AV quit and lighted out for the horizon as fast as they could. We got off without any serious injuries or damage to gear, and we were just cleaning up when Alt arrived.

Alt floated in surrounded by an honest-to-god army of transhumanists, and she put on the pomp and show for her big moment. She had taken on her handsome young suave man body, the one she had when she gate-crashed Fayling Moon’s concert, and she emerged from a monster military AV surrounded by transhumanists who really had gone past their human state – skin entirely scaled, legs bending back at the knees like lizards, forked tongues flicking and blank inhuman slit eyes staring and blinking slowly. They were all heavily armed, big, with claws and powerful rifles and heavy physiques. So basically like the men I’ve spent most of my life around, but with worse skin problems. They fanned out to make sure none of us caused any trouble and then Alt ran over to – almost charged at – her defeated, despairing sister. She briefly snarled at us about keeping them apart which is pretty sour behavior considering we’re the only reason they’re together, but we spared a glance for the big troglodyte followers and thought better of discussing her gratitude. Although when she started dragging Sam back to her AV Coyote had the sense to ask her about our deal. She just snarled at us but after she’d retreated Mr. Ling, the leader of the transhumanist cult, came over to assure us that we would get our end of the deal. He told us to follow Alt’s crew and we’d be able to hole up in a safe place for a couple of days while Alt sorted everything out. Since we had nowhere else to go, no food or clean clothes, and dirty underwear, we decided his suggestion was a very wise one, and we set off with Alt’s crew. It turns out her safe haven is an abandoned orbital launch facility that looks suspiciously like it’s being reactivated by Alt, just on the edge of New Horizon. It’s close enough to be able to connect to the city but far enough away and abandoned enough that Arasaka don’t care about it – for now. But that’s going to change …

But it won’t change while Arasaka are still doing block-by-block clearance work in the New Horizon megalopolis. So we took a few days out at Alt’s pad to get some medical attention and rest up, and think about what to do next.

I think we know what we’re going to do next. We’re going to destroy that stone. I can feel it coming … I can see Pops is eager to do it, and Coyote wants to find his dad and find answers. Me, I don’t care about the stone at all, but I can see I’m going to be doing another unpaid job very soon.

With friends like these …

fn1: actually Sam worked some kind of charm on him that caused him to become her best friend, which was really scary, but Drew is too stupid to notice something like that.

fn2: Actually Ghost was trying to knock Drew over to stop her shooting Sam, but Drew wasn’t going to shoot Sam and she dodged Ghost so well that she didn’t even notice he was trying to hit her, and just thought he was clumsily interposing.

fn3: Actually it was really just as well! Because our GM revealed to us afterwards that Sam has some kind of weird power that enables her to suck out all our luck points. When she sucks out the luck points it does stun damage equal to our luck, and then she can inflict the same damage back on us as lethal damage in the next round. So if we hadn’t acted first we would have entered the battle with zero luck and serious injuries – Coyote would have been mortally injured, Pops seriously bad, and me lightly hurt (I don’t have much luck!) But then we would have had no luck for the battle – I fired 7 shots in that battle and killed 4 men, and of the three shots that missed two were fumbles[4]. Those fumbles would have led to my only rifle jamming if I had no luck points, and then I would have been in deep deep trouble. So too for Pops and Coyote, who were in an air battle with two armed AVs ….

fn4: Next session we’re going to start using 2d6 in place of d10, and adding five to all difficulties, because the fumble rate is frankly depressing and now all actions are trivially easy using the target numbers given in the books.

Next Page »