Adding those memories to the glow has helped clear my head, as if somehow reliving them, sorting through the details of my past allowed me to dust away the edges of my mind. I feel a renewed sense of focus and after the Renraku run put together a few shopping lists to get myself back on my feet.
Not to mention additions to my pet project.
I just got back from another run less than 24 hours since Renraku. A messy one. The short version is that Nuggler and Knife are effective team mates, focused and capable. They’re just front door people where my background in infiltration jars a little.
The long version goes like this:
Commlink from Reno:
“What the fuck did you guys do? I got heat crawling all over my place after your last job – Renraku? What were you thinking? Don’t answer that just listen – I’m going quiet for a while until this blows over, I suggest you do the same.
In the mean time I have a lead if you need work, a new fixer. Name of Professor Vandel operating out of the Imperial College. Here’s his details if you want to check the run. Oh and don’t contact me – I will contact you".
Without giving me a chance to respond he drops the call. I open comms to the others:
Knife seems to be somewhere checking out LED hair implants. Ivory is sat in some coffee shop, probably acquiring those fake SINs we need. Nuggler appears in a leotard upside down doing some training exercise.
“You guys wanted to be famous too huh?” quips Nuggler, alluding to the news reports.
“You can thank Line for that" replies K1. I grimace and push onward.
“This isn’t a social call – we might have a job. Reno wants nothing to do with us whilst the heat dies down but he gave us a lead. Should I hit it up?”. Nodding heads all round – I guess we all could use the nuyen.
Without waiting I patch us all to Professor Vandel.
“Ah yes hello” he says, “You must be the people for the job. Well let’s not hesitate – meet me at the Imperial College London, metaphysics department in the auditorium, as soon as possible”. Commlink off we all dispatch post haste.
I scope the place out half hour before the meet – old habits – but it’s just a placid university grounds. Ivory rolls up in a different floppy hat, Nuggler and Knife soon after. I join them and we head into the college, towards the auditorium.
If you could say anything for London it certainly does historical buildings with a certain class. Walking through that place was like an echo of the past, a time before the awakening when human progress was achieved in mahogany chairs on marble floors.
The auditorium is a great open space with students scrawling notes from a digital whiteboard. Towards the front is an older man, bearded and balding, Vandel himself. We head down towards him as Ivory checks out the rudimentary magical equations the students are learning.
“Ah yes please, have a seat” he says. We all sit except Nuggler who, being 8’5 lunges his foot onto a chair. The Professor apprehensively nods at this.
“Reno tells me you people can solve… particular problems?” he asks.
“We’re professionals” I reply as the seat Nuggler leans on creaks under his weight, distracted by some old sci-fi reference. Vandel seems convinced even if we aren’t and proceeds.
“I have two jobs to offer you, though they are somewhat mutually exclusive” Vandel continues, “A gang dispute if you will. On the one hand the Chimney boys, operating out of the Linewater industrial estate".
Knife nods in recognition at the name – a gang who specialisies in smuggling and chop shops – and I vaguely recall a decker named Oilslick associated with them.
“On the other a group called the Silk Bone cabal, new to the area. These upstarts have a lot of money and not a lot of sense – harmless in general" he looks more grave as he speaks again, “but these are mages”.
“There’s some sort of turf dispute over a warehouse currently in the hands of the Chimney boys – The Silk Bone’s want it. It’s up to you who you support in this… conflict. The Chimney Boys operate out of a combat biker club called Blood and Thunder, the Silk Bone’s out of New Paradise".
Vandel gives us the contact info and we exit the auditorium to discuss options.
“Dark Nuggler by the way” says Nuggler, “And you are?”.
“I’m Ivory” she replies, “I’m a mage”.
“A what now who? One of them magic people like Line?”
“I’m a decker…” I interject.
“Sure sure” says Nuggler dismissively. Ivory performs a basic illusion to show Nuggler what she means and he nods blankly. Knife speaks up;
“Should we split up to check out both options?”.
“I think that’s a good idea” I agree. Before I can continue Knife and Nuggler call ‘dibs’ on the combat biker bar leaving Ivory and I to check out the mages. Back outside the college Knife and Nuggler ride off and I give Ivory a backie to New Paradise.
A while later Knife and Nuggler pull up outside Blood and Thunder. The place is adorned in heavy metal motifs with a row of bikes outside. Walking in they scan around – heavy drinking minotaurs, bar stools and bucking broncos, combat biker match beamed onto every vidscreen in the place.
“I’m home” exclaims Nuggler and they head up towards the balcony area to find Big Smoke, leader of the chimney boys. Once there a troll clad in gang leathers shouts at the on screen action;
“Yeah! Break his arms!”. Thinking they’ve found their guy they head over and try to spark up a conversation. Big Smoke gestures for them to sit instead, eyes locked onto the on screen action. Knife and Nuggler sit down to watch the game with genuine interest.
Across town Ivory and I pull up outside New Paradise and dismount. Knowing that we might be playing the sides a little here Ivory throws up a physical mask for us both hiding some of our more distinctive features, and we head in.
Inside you can tell they were going for old school elegance in their design, but it just looks tacky. There’s a bar, a big open dance floor and a glass room suspended above which likely doubles as the main office. Nobody in sight Ivory starts knocking the nearest door and a bleary eyed Troll with average tattoos stumbles out.
“Huh? Yeah?” – clearly under the influence. Commercial techno and bliss smoke drift out from down the corridor – I try to hide my distaste.
“Hello, we’re looking for Mother Dreamed" replies Ivory. The troll nods and gestures for us to follow him, leading us up a stairwell into the glass room. Inside is a portly but strikingly attractive woman, probably half cut herself, and she flashes recognition as we approach.
“You must be here from Vandel” she says addressing us. Ivory takes the lead – I don’t like dealing with mages at the best of times.
“We are” says Ivory, “We hear you have problems with the Chimney Boys”. Mother Dreamed smiles.
“They simply have something we want, and we’re willing to pay for. Specifically, a warehouse they occupy. If you can clear them out, bloody their lieutenants, we will pay well”.
“¥60K which I assume will be split…” she trails off.
“Four ways” says Ivory, “We have two more assets in the field”. Mother nods at this, slightly perplexed at their absence.
“That’s decent pay” I say, honestly impressed by the amount of money they have to throw around.
“So you’ll take the job?” she asks.
“There will be resolution within 24 hours” I reply, riding the ambiguity. She scrutinises me at that but seems happy enough, nodding and ushering us out. We head outside past several more doped up bodies in various states of disrepute to commlink the others.
Back at Blood and Thunder Knife and Nuggler are getting into the swing of things, reveling as the combat biker match wraps up. Big Smoke shakes his head in joyous disbelief at the result then turns to address them.
“How can I help you fine gentleman?” he asks.
“Vandel says you have a problem” speaks Nuggler troll to troll, “We’re here to help”.
“Awesome” Smoke continues, “We got some bloody mages harassing us, some upstart yuppies called Silk something. We gone up against them already and lost a few, we don’t want to lose anymore”.
“So you want us to clear them out?” Nuggler continues, Knife smiling at the prospect of violence. Big Smoke nods swigging his beer deeply as only a troll can;
“Wipe ‘em all out far as I care, just get them off our backs. Pay is ¥45k”. Knife jumps in;
“I was thinking we could use your services instead of just straight up nuyen”.
“What did you have in mind?” Smoke says, raising an eyebrow over his tankard.
“A Bulldog in good working order” replies Knife, “Plus ¥25k”. Big Smoke weighs this up before nodding in agreement.
“Well I like you boys” he says, “So if you do a good job we’ll hook you up”. Content at this Nuggler and Knife rise and start heading out. Nuggler turns back;
“After this can we be friends?”
“As long as you buy the next round” he laughs.
Back across town Ivory and try to commlink the others a block away from New Paradise. Knife and Nuggler pick up, lot of rowdy background noise from the bar.
“Okay we spoke to Mother Dreamed” I say, “Terms are we bloody the Chimney Boys and they give us ¥60k. I’m not sure I like these people mind you”.
“Well we spoke to Big Smoke” replies Knife, “Terms are we wipe out the Silk Bone cabal and they give us a Bulldog for the team along with ¥25k. Oh, and we really like these people”. Ivory and I look at each other before nodding in near instant agreement.
“I guess it’s time to kill some mages”
Whilst Nuggler and Knife head over to meet us at New Paradise we do some legwork. I check the owner – one ‘ Duncan Lambert’ – no direct links to the gang but previous run ins with the law for human trafficking.
Ivory checks the astral and finds us being shadowed by a smoke spirit with burning sapphire eyes. Whilst she assesses whether its watching us it indicates in the direction of the club, it’s aura glowing a sickly dark green and purple.
My intuition had been right – not the kindest of places.
I head to my mirage and slide open the side casing, retrieving my Ranger SM-5.
“I’m going up that building to put eyes on the place, run a matrix sweep” I say to Ivory and head off. Up a few floors of an abandoned office building and I set up, watching the place through the rifle’s scope.
On the way over Knife stops at his stash to grab his Doberman drone Marmaduke before they eventually catch up with us. Matrix security is light and there’s no external activity since we left – everything seems steady and I report this to the team.
“We got a plan?” asks Nuggler dismounting his bike.
“Not yet” says Ivory checking the astral plane one more time. The spirit has vanished – could be a bad sign. I quickly scan for other entrances but none seem telling. Besides, the place looks calm enough.
“Front door then” says Nuggler as if it were self-evident. I head back to join the others, link our visual AR feeds and we start walking towards the club. As we approach Knife scans and finds a nearby van, decides to hold fire in case he has to jack it if we need to go really loud.
Just before we hit the entrance I stash the Ranger out of sight. Hoping we still have the element of surprise Nuggler, Ivory and I push open the front door and step into the club. Nobody visible, everything seems fine.
The fireball explodes between us and Ivory and I take a hit, only partially mitigated by her counter spell. Whilst we recover and scan for targets Knife activates Marmaduke and runs in behind us in response.
I look around and can’t see shit which means they’re using magic. Whilst I’m thinking Nuggler sprints forward and spears something invisible. A guy suddenly appears moments before he slams into the bar with such force that his spine snaps immediately – one down.
Ivory scans the astral and finds two mages with active invisibility spells nearby. With no solid way of communicating their position she casts an illusion of sparkling lights at their location – finally we have something to aim at.
Nuggler dodges something I can’t see, presumably another attack. I take the opportunity to quick draw my deputy and fire a shot at the lights but only hit air – they must have moved – then dive behind the bar for cover.
At that moment a massive sheet of ice appears and spreads out to cover the whole dance floor area – dense and potent – but the mage who cast it must’ve overcooked it and their invisibility drops as a result.
Marmaduke fires it’s assault rifle at the now visible guy who attacked Nuggler but he pivots away, diving away from the shots. Knife runs towards the mage stood across the ice barely keeping his balance, swinging his axe straight at her. She raises her arm to block but it cleaves straight through and into her head.
Knife barely has time to yank his weapon out her corpse before a chair rockets past his head, apparently thrown by Nuggler.
“LEAVE THIS PLACE” bellows Nuggler at us all.
“They’re using mind control” yells Ivory. She twists her arms through the air and a lightning bolt arcs at the adept who attacked Nuggler, tearing into his side. In response he whips out a throwing blade and lashes it at Knife – it grazes his cheek.
Knife tries to move across the ice but slips – this sheet is thick.
“God damn my robot legs” he exclaims, scrambling back to his feet. Nuggler shakes his head and seems to have recovered from the brief mind control, picking up a nearby table and throwing it at the adept’s legs. He leaps aside and it misses but the guy is still clearly in pain from Ivory’s lightning bolt.
I fan fire my deputy at him but even wounded he’s quick and I miss all three shots. Ducking back behind the bar I check the glass room above the dance floor and see three figures through the frosted glass, one that seems to be the curvaceous silhouette of Mother Dreamed.
I AR this info to Knife’s eye and Ivory’s shades for context.
“There’s the prize”.
Ivory shoots another lightning bolt into our last attacker which hits but he’s still standing and more, vaulting onto a wall and running along its length to avoid the ice sheet on the floor. He’s headed for the exit door to retreat upstairs, presumably for backup.
Knife compresses his hydraulic legs and leaps a good fifteen feet over the ice, landing in front of the guy in the doorway, finishing him off with his axe. Confused by Nuggler’s mind controlled attack against K1 Marmaduke opens fire on Nuggler – fortunately missing its shots.
Knife grimaces and proceeds through the doorway – straight into automatic rifle fire. It’s lucky he’s primarily metal these days and he manages to duck back into the doorway with bullet wounds he can cope with for now.
Nuggler seeing this rips the metal top off the bar and heads to the doorway to use it as mobile cover. Between the fireball, mind control and automatic weapons things are getting seriously out of hand.
“Fuck this” I exclaim, heading out front where I retrieve the Ranger. Nuggler heads through the doorway and he and Knife use the top of the bar for cover from the rifle fire. Knife pokes up briefly and throws a knife nailing a guy in the shoulder who promptly drops his weapon.
Nuggler swings the bar into the head of another, smashing him in the teeth. Knife charges the staggered man and hacks him up with a combat axe. Licking his wounds, the other retreats back up the stairwell into the glass room and Ivory joins as they pursue him.
Downstairs I delicately navigate the ice to one of the booths to get a good line on the figures in the glass room suspended above me. Once there I lean the Ranger on some cover and using the AR feed from Knife’s vision aim upwards patiently at the silhouettes inside.
Nuggler kicks open the door and swings the bar horizontal for cover. An acid bolt immediately hits it dissolving it promptly – cover down. Marmaduke flies into the room and opens fire at the glass at the back, clearly registering my plan.
It’s bulletproof so its weakened but remains intact. Nuggler spots Mother Dreamed crouching in front of it and he’s off again at full pelt to shoulder charge her. At the point of connection, it’s revealed as an illusion and he barrels through thin air – straight into the weakened glass.
It smashes and he falls out of the glass room, dropping the fifteen meters onto the dance floor below. Instead of taking any damage Nuggler cracks the ice sheet in one – I guess an 8-foot troll isn’t too afraid of frozen water.
Without removing my eye from the rifle scope I shoot him a thumbs up – he’s just opened a clear line of sight for me. I watch as one of the mages fires another acid bolt at Marmaduke which melts some of its casing – it’s out of the fight for now.
Ivory heals the damage Knife took from the rifle fire earlier and he’s good as new. I pick my moment well and fire a shot turning one of the mages head to paste. Nuggler has started to sprint back upstairs at this point and Knife yells at the last visible mage;
“Where the fuck is your boss?”. She doesn’t respond so he swings his axe at her which she dodges – I shoot him straight through the chest. He falls back floored and bleeding heavily, shit. Mind controlled I am denied agency over my actions – it’s not a feeling I enjoy.
The still unseen Mother Dreamed attempts to switch the control from me to Ivory – a mistake which Ivory willfully shrugs off, instead using her time to heal Knife further and stabilise his condition.
The mage we can see takes this time to jump out of the smashed window casting levitate to cushion her fall. As she does so she turns back to look up and in her last moments is witness to a Troll barreling after her out of the window, grabbing her head to smash it full force into the floor below.
I shake my head as I regain control and exhale reflexively at the sight of the mage now smeared across the dance floor. Knife pushes himself to his feet dripping with fury and notices a red outline of a figure, rolling to swing his axe at it. It connects and the force drops Mother Dreamed’s invisibility spell.
Bad luck for her.
He goes at her like a man possessed, tearing her to shreds. It’s isn’t pretty but given she was the last one standing the combat ends and we all relax for a second. Nuggler starts to sweep the downstairs for other rooms, opening a door to a man operating on a corpse.
“Yes… hello?” he says, perplexed. It appears he’s harvesting the organs of the dead man – that would explain the negative aura of the place. Nuggler grabs the guy and Knife joins him in the room, covered in blood and still seething.
“We need to leave a message” says Nuggler, dropping the guy.
“What… I don’t… should I get a pen?” he jitters. Nuggler leaves the room whilst Knife remains axe in hand, closing the door behind him. Truth be told I don’t know what followed in that room and I don’t want to know.
Ivory, Nuggler and I start sweeping the bodies of the fallen for useful items. I find a credstick, some narcotics and an UZI pocketing them for safe keeping. After a few minutes Knife drags the guy out he’s been torturing, still alive but missing his hands, feet and an eye, and we regroup near the bar.
The place is a mess, it’s faux stylings ruined by fire, ice, lightning, acid, blood, bullets and a particularly violent axe wielding rigger. Those of us that need it have a stiff drink before pouring the alcohol over any and every surface we can.
Knife pulls the tortured man outside and props him against a dumpster, a warning to any who would try the same against the Chimney boys. I find it a little savage and distasteful, but it will likely be as effective as we need it to be.
“Torch it” says Nuggler and we spark the fire, settling New Romance ablaze. Given that it’s still evening time and not wishing for any more attention we bolt, heading back towards Blood and Thunder.
I’ve said it before but these hatchet jobs are less my style than the last run. The only thing is we’re more effective at them than anything else as a team – my botched decking last week a testament to this fact.
We roll up at Blood and Thunder and head over to where Big Smoke and his boys are sat.
“Heeey” he yells, pretty drunk by this point, “You guys were quick!”. Nuggler nods and fist bumps the guy, they must have built a rapport and I can see why.
“You get the job done?”. Nugglers about to respond when I hack the feed of the vidscreen their watching sports on. I replay the footage of it all including the tortured guy at the end, holding nothing back.
The initial enthusiasm of Big Smoke slowly turns to apprehension as the full ramifications of what he asked us to do sink in. Like an artist finishing a painting Knife seems pleased by this, beaming with a sadistic pride.
Nuggler shrugs – we did what we were asked and we did it well. I can’t get a read on Ivory’s feelings; mages are too complex. I am evidently grouchy and my little stunt has made everybody feel uncomfortable, so I cut the feed and walk away to lean against the bar.
“You uh… well thanks I guess” says Big Smoke.
“No problem. Sorry about that bro” says Nuggler, mitigating my behaviour. Big Smoke nods and gestures for us to follow him. We head over to their warehouse, a chop shop with a few guys working on some rigs where he sorts payment.
“Here’s the ¥25k I owe you for the job. The Bulldog will take a few days but we’ll get it dropped to wherever you want if you leave your details. Cheers boys”. Nuggler fist bumps him again – probably made a good contact there – and we head out front to bail.
Once there I remain quiet and insular, unimpressed by what I consider a messy job. Knife seems pleased enough and Nuggler shows no signs of any issue. We mount up to leave – Nuggler rides off to get some food, Knife to clean off and heal up, myself to brood on tonight’s events.
Ivory, still without transport, hails a taxi.
I was a decker who made good and got out of my background, escaping the difficulties of my past with my intelligence. The violent side of my job came later when I met up with Devin who trained me so I could hold my own, but I was never front and center.
That work went to Xiang, Devin and Karin with Milly and I providing support. I’d always be deep in the network, we always had information to retrieve or something else to do. I’d killed on missions – we often went up against people who had earnt it – but it was rarely my task.
With these guys it feels different, rawer somehow. Nuggler seems completely comfortable when it all kicks off, as if each fight is a performance with him the star. Ivory’s only been with us twice but her support has proved invaluable, keeping tabs on the astral and healing up when needed.
Knife… Knife must have demons or something, I don’t know. Whatever they are he seems to have dedicated his entire being to ripping himself up and rebuilding himself for one task – murder. He’s good at it, there’s no doubt about it, but Xiang was also good at it except he never really enjoyed it.
Knife does, like he finds a type of validation in it. It’s not that I don’t trust him, he’s been nothing but focused and dedicated to the completion of each run. It’s that I don’t know if he trusts himself, seeming to have an insatiable appetite for destruction that may well consume him in turn.
I don’t know, I’ll keep watching for now. In the meantime, I’m going to work on that shopping list – ammo and ordinance, tweaks to my own systems to help me on the frontlines.
It’s true enough to say if I ever find myself toe to toe with whoever is responsible for what happened I’ll need to be ready, and in that regard training this violent is about as good as I’m going to get.
For now, this is Line signing out.