I'm sure you remember my 30 Days of D&D back in May. Well, Dungeons and Dragons isn't the only tabletop role playing game I partake of; we've regularly played World of Darkness games, we've had a couple of Fading Suns games (in one right now, actually), and most recently, we've had a few Shadowrun games.
Now Shadowrun is interesting, and a game/setting which has taken me by surprise with how inspiring it's been. Shadowrun is, to quote the 1d4chan article, is "what would happen if William Gibson and Mercedes Lackey had a love child." In a way, it's one reason I've read all the William Gibson I have just lately. In addition to his books being Goddamn awesome.
But anyway. The Shadowrun character I played last summer, following up/finishing up this spring (ish) was street named Bells. She is a character whose headspace I felt able to enter easily, naturally, and the stories I wrote about her made the GM very happy (and influenced the overall plot of the game, though I didn't realize that 'til we were winding down). So, the story I'm sharing here is a story of Bells, after the game ended.
I do not own any of the Shadowrun properties, copyright or trademarks on terminology used here, etc. It's an exercise within an existing game setting. I do hope it's enjoyable, even without the context of the game we played!
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When it happened, it was when we got close to Harmony, close enough we thought we had her. Still in LA, maybe she had friends, allies, I don't know. Johnny never told me that much. But we jacked in and went to a matrix bar and got drunk, to celebrate, and even then I should've known. You don't celebrate before, not even when you're as cocky as Johnny. But we got drunk in a matrix mockup of somebody's dream bar, and I thought 'well, here it is. I can track her down, talk to her after he's gone, explain that though I'd hurt her before, I would not anymore. Maybe she could still find her Romeo from the boat, and maybe I could find mine, and then we can live our lives.'
Of course it wasn't going to go like that.
I don't know how he knew, what I did to tip my hand, I'm so bad at people. But when I was going to do the deed, Johnny wasn't next to me at the bar anymore, and I was tar babied. It took me a hot sec to shake free, and when I surfaced in our tastefully lit, beige-decorated hotel room, it was just as his bullet was leaving the barrel. Maybe he was aiming for my heart, but he shot me in the left shoulder, the "safe" shot in action movies or spy movies. In real life, it's much worse. There's a lot of important nerves and blood vessels in your shoulder region, a lot of bones to get hung up on.
The bullet broke my collarbone, but the leather coat, happy birthday, slowed the round enough that it didn't punch out the back. It knocked me on the floor, gasping carpet-cleaner-tasting breath, but I had to breathe, I had to think, I had to figure the way out of this.
The look on his face was almost enough to make me sorry. "I thought you understood," he said, standing over me, gun dangling from his hand like he forgot it already. "I thought you knew what we were doing. I thought you agreed." Thanks to the matrix Novacoke I'd done on top of the matrix whiskey, I had enough fake chemical buffer to roll onto my back and shoot him in the guts.
I crawled away as he staggered back and plopped into the chair opposite the one I'd overturned, gun falling to the floor like a cast away toy. I stood up, pulled myself up using furniture, smearing horror movie hand prints all over the place. Johnny made a big deal about not needing to worry about money, and when I was with him neither did I. We kept credsticks in the room desk, and with my shaking gun pointing at him, my fingers rapidly going numb, I grabbed what I could, jammed them in my pockets.
The hotel door swung shut between us and auto locked and I backed down the tomb quiet hallway to the stairwell. Both our guns were silenced, no sirens followed, nobody even poked their heads from their room doors. If I took the elevator, he could make it my coffin. But I couldn't go out into the lobby like this. He didn't follow me. If he was alive. I jammed the security for the fire exits and turned my deck off.
I went out into that hot, windy LA night, blood pitter pattering from my coat sleeve and onto the pavement like rain, except it hadn't rained in months. So much blood. Fingers numb. I wanted to call Ryder, up in Seattle. If I was in Seattle, so much of this could be taken care of that easy, a single call and somebody would pick me up, get me someplace safe. Those people cared about me and look at what I did.
Well. That's how it once was. Now there's plenty of people there that never want to hear from me again. No bulletstoppers anymore for Bells. Or whoever the fuck I am now. I didn't have friends anymore. Just Johnny.
I hated LA. The hard fake glitz, the beautiful people, the magic time bomb underneath. Johnny loved it, of course, but it was all too much and Johnny loved it when things were too much. For him, it made them just right. For me, it drove me to dark corners, made me avoid eye contact, made me listen to the radio and think about calling him. I didn't call him.
I didn't pray, I don't pray, our family didn't pray, but not for the first time I wished to God it had been Mitch and me against the world. Mitch, that clumsy gearhead whose big, square fingered hands could somehow do the most delicate mechanical work imaginable, a beer to one side and Trogg rock blaring as he talked and joked and made everybody feel easy. Mitch is the one who brought me up in a chopper and let me take the controls. Mitch is the one who taught me you can break handcuffs with a seatbelt. Mitch who took me to movies.
So much would've been different it if was Mitch, so much would've been better. Fewer fear filled nights out on the wire, fewer tears, less blood. Mitch alive would've meant I'd be all "aye-aye sir" right now, cozy in my Tiger Team, doing whatever it is the Navy has their hackers do. A whole 'nother time line, a whole other life, so many lives never intersecting, never getting damaged, or not quite the same way. Not because of me.
Mitch alive would've meant Dad still alive. Johnny was the one amongst us who could reach that level of betrayal. Well. And me now, I guess. We all have our reasons, and Johnny sure didn't think he was wrong.
The after I killed the Halloweener decker, I said to Click I'd never done that before. Never killed another decker, for real, in the matrix. Sure, for practice, cold SIM and in the academy classes. I didn't explain that part, the video game difference between fragging a classmate and seeing the cooling corpse of a Weener in his ganger shithole. He told me to hold on to that feeling, the unease; he told me he didn't want to see me ending up a hard killer the way he was. Who knows if he still feels that way.
On the dark LA sidewalk, I stumbled into somebody seedy enough to give me a hand. That's the thing about the shadows, some of us are fucking scum, but we won't let a random chummer 86 it in the gutter. The street doc they brought me to shot me up with something nice and dug the bullet out while my blood dripped on the table and floor and I chatter teethed in shock and somehow still seemed capable of paying for treatment. It was one for the rumor mill, guaranteed. I don't know how we got there. Did he call a buddy with a ride? Call a taxi? Put me over his shoulder?
When I woke up I fished blood caked cred sticks out of my pockets, for the doc and the guy who got me there. No names, I didn't want names, I didn't give a name. The doc was good, let me lay low a few days, bones knitting, flesh closing. Somehow, I'd never been shot before; the pain, what it does to your body, is shocking. It figured it would be my brother who did it.
Funny that getting away from Johnny keeps me from decking as Liberty. Doesn't matter; not like Libby had friends, street cred, reputation. I'm sure it's no record to be on your fourth self before your twenty second birthday, but it just seems fucked to me.
I knew I should trade in the Renraku deck. I didn't want to, it was one of the last things Ryder did for me. It might be the push that got Ryder back in Renraku's arms, even though he told me once he'd never go back there, not after what he saw. Another weight on my conscience. Step one of shaking Johnny, if Johnny was still alive, would be a new deck, fresh from the box, and a new persona, no links to the last. No boats, nothing military. None of the SINs I'd already used. None of the selves I've already used.
But I couldn't do it. I'd lost so fucking much already, all because of Johnny. I loaded my real SIN, my Amy Glover SIN, in a comm that I turned immediately off, and I wiped the deck, but I kept the deck. It would've been one thing too many. Comms are easy to come by, by far cheaper than decks, though shitty to navigate with. When you're in survival mode, you adjust.
Except I don't know where to go from here. I'm not Amy Glover anymore, even though I guess I don't have to fear the Navy, never had to in the first place, it was Johnny all along. Could it be that easy? I could set them on his technomancing trail, explain his handiwork, his goals. Johnny caused a lot of shit all on his own, deaths, data drain, missing equipment and nuyen. In exchange, maybe they'd give me Dad's pension, Mitch's, and I wouldn't have to work or anything. But no way they could even begin to cause any static for Johnny without me, and I'm not going to play his game anymore. If Johnny's alive. I don't know what game I'm playing anymore.
I boosted a boat from some LA personality's armada, a boat he'd taken out recently and wouldn't cycle back into his queue for months. Can't be seen using the same boat twice, I guess. He'd get it back. I left LA. I wanted-didn't want to go to Seattle. Too many ghosts, mine and others. That line of tombstones. Johnny would look for me there. If Johnny was alive. Or maybe he'd consider and then dismiss Seattle, because I wouldn't go there if I was smart.
Yeah, Seattle first. Get my bearings, figure something else out. Maybe Japan. I could feel the pull of Hong Kong, the other members of the old team. But Hong Kong was a shithole when I went, spam choked and a constant flight from the badges.
In Seattle, scrub the boat, dock it someplace safe, owner-recoverable. Find a place to stay, not too obvious. What's obvious? Docks, coffin hotels. Get a place on the edge of the Barrens, then, where the matrix maybe isn't so hot, so people'd assume I'd never live there. I can get a booster. Anybody who knows me knows I hate the Barrens, hate the lack of connectivity, but who do I have to connect with anymore? What's the next step, though, what's the plan? Running? Kind of young for retirement, especially with no real nest egg. With my rep, though...whatever my rep might be. Gotta put my ear to the ground, see if there's any residual chatter, look through the annals. The Johnny money isn't going to last forever.
Unless I do turn to the Navy. John'd be happy to see me. I should ask the AI that wears his son. It was his fucking job that reunited the Glover siblings. Don't want to put John at risk if the Navy would be a no-go. Don't want him sticking his neck out for me.
Or I could go corporate. I can comm that Renraku corp guy, see what kind of deal he can get me. That I know of, none of our corporate fuckups had anything to do with Renraku. Maybe I could telecommute, Ryder would never even know I was there. Unless his friend told him.
I could call Ryder. No I couldn't.
Sooner or later you name yourself again. Two-tiered SIN use, a level 3 to fuck around, a level 5 to live on. Those names matter less than street names, Margaret Smith and Lucy Trainer. But street names, a name to build a new rep on, make some new ones on. Aftershock, everything's still shaking. Rabbit, I'm always running. Ivory Tower, I spent so fucking long thinking I was following Johnny in something good, and I guess maybe I was, but there's no point saving a world you're willing to burn down.
Bells, I can't be Bells except that now I feel like I'll always be her.
Look up the old team? No. Shouldn't do that. I don't know how many of them know, how many have seen the video, talked to Ryder. Did I need to send that clip to Ryder, did it keep anybody safer? I'll probably never know. And I'm so tired of hiding, so tired of trying to change things, tired of trying to figure out what people will think or do. I tally up my credsticks, mine left over from running and the ones I took after I shot Johnny. Enough for what? I can survive on not a hell of a lot. But what if I want to live?
Maybe it would've been better if I'd died, stayed behind to empty my mag into Johnny just to be sure, both of us bleeding out in tastefully ostentatious obscurity. Too late now. Even if I flushed him out again, even when I flushed him out again, he'd be more ready, less likely to underestimate me so quickly again. Of course, it's in his nature to underestimate everybody. How could anybody possibly be so clever as him, handle the responsibility, know the burden he's shouldered?
It's raining in Seattle. Always raining. And of course I'm drawn to places I shouldn't go, moth to a flame, just walking around with the hood of my new expensive expansive raincoat up. Maybe in daytime, none of that scene will see me, and if they see me, maybe nobody'll recognize me. My clothes alone cost more than anything Bells ever wore here, no longer surplus chic. Hair straight and shiny in a chin length bob. Minus twenty or so pounds I really couldn't afford to lose, strung out in matrix space with my big fucking hero of a brother.
The docks. Club Novacoke. Not Stuffer Shack, but there's that itch for the soykaf-slushy double header. I haven't had a slushy in all my time with Johnny. Blue or red, it all seems terrible now. I'm either cold or post traumatic, no telling where the shivers are coming from. I clock days now without going VR, there are some potential ghosts I'm not ready to deal with right now, but I don't know what difference it makes. I don't want anything, or don't know what to want. Food doesn't matter much. Coffee warms me up anyway. The company of others is rarely something I want.
Except him, of course. I stay away for as long as I can, eyes to myself. Then only public stuff. I see what restaurant he likes going to. See if any ladies talk to him. Who am I kidding, not "if", "when". I wonder what happened to that other girlfriend, the one with all the boots. I'm a ghost to him now, should stay a ghost to him, though God knows how he found out I was in LA to begin with. I wonder who told him, how they knew. I barely saw the sun there. I wonder what Johnny's doing. If Johnny's alive.
I wake up with the exhaled breath of our silenced guns in my ears, the cushion of that hotel's plush carpet under my back, the smell of blood on concrete, the hot LA air trying to knock me down. I still wear those boots. Had he meant to kill me, or just teach me a lesson? If he found me again, would it be another lesson, endless lessons? I'm tired of waking up alone. I'm relieved to be waking up alone.
Another conversation with Ryder: did it matter more what you were running from, or running towards?
It was only a matter of time before I find the comm he's using, paw through his data. Normal corp life. Marketing? I guess that makes sense. Here's the bar he goes sometimes with coworkers, just a few friendly drinks. They probably don't even realize he's holding them at arm's length. Here's where he gets his suits. Socks. Shirts. When I know he's not there at the store, I go in and buy one of those shirts of my own, to have and remember. I don't buy his cologne, that would be taking it too far. This is the car he drives. This is what he watches late at night when he can't sleep, and when he's working through an expensive bottle of whiskey. Alone. Am I happy or am I sad, if he's alone? Sad. Relieved. Is he waiting for me? Even more sad, kicked dog, guilt in the pit of my stomach sad.
I know better than to look up anybody else. I do anyway. Click and his kid, still free range. Kiddo should be in school, he's getting to that age. I tally my Johnny money, running ever lower. I poke around in Click's life more, see if he has accounts of any kind, in his name or the kid's. Would he have been out of it by now, if I'd stuck around, if we'd stuck it through, kept getting jobs after Johnny fucked off to LA? Is Goldberg still around? I take one of my credsticks, try to make sure it's blood free, definitely fingerprint free, load it up with 10k, go to some food delivery place, and have them take dinner plus the credstick to Click's address when I know he's home. No message.
A lot less money in his pocket than most jobs, a taste of the old danger for me, maybe I can make a fucking decision. Options are: Call John and son, ask about the Navy option. Call the Renraku deck guy, swear him to secrecy, maybe I can telecommute. Would he tell Ryder? Probably. Would that be so bad? Stop it. Call Ryder. I can't. He'd take me back, he sent another radio message even after watching that damning video. I can't. He knows what I did, and somehow made it okay in his view, and I can't. I don't know if I'd do it again, do it to him to save my hide.
I idly wait for Click's commlink to blow up, see who he'll pick to make contact with, ask about the money. I dodge his new decker, not a huge deal. I've lived more in the matrix than out for a long time now. That, and the kid doesn't know what to look for to find me; I'm not actually touching anything, not messing with anything or taking anything, I just have some fingers in the pie.
Will he call Ryder? Leave a message on the "runner" comm maybe, wait for a callback. Hard to gauge what Click might do, sometimes he was far more hotheaded than others. Far, far more level at the end. A shame it took so long, but we all had our shit to work through. Have.
I watch with interest, maybe a little too long, then jack out, shut down completely. I'm not in a position to play games. Or I'm in the exact right position to play games. Any number of people can recognize me on the street who won't want or ask for an explanation. Yakuza, probably, I did owe that favor. Maybe more than one, I can't even remember now. The mob, probably happy enough to blame me for the Basement's subsequent issues. Goldberg equal parts useful and dangerous; he def demonstrated himself to be a petty little shit. I wonder if he still has his black ops bodyguards or if they went back to their units now that the operation we knew about was down. I wonder what ended up happening with the dragon. If anything ended up happening with the dragon. If there was one. In the matrix right now, I'm a blank slate. Ivory Tower. Pale, featureless. Woman shaped, but like a white paper doll cutout.
The joke's still there for me, of course, as it's understood that any tower can be a bell tower. I'm a danger to myself and others.
There's an option I hadn't considered, look up Dr. Cousteau, debrief him on the Theodore Basker situation, and check myself in to a nice padded room. The right meds and I'd never worry about anything again.
I make popcorn, watch a movie, drink some soda like a normal person. Okay. Whiskey and cola. Wearing the dress shirt I bought. I keep from jacking in until probably 3 AM, and when I do, I do things doublequiet, keep it sleazed, and look for runners. It's both harder and easier than I thought it would be, to find groups operating. I look for smartlinks, weapons, vehicles. I look at banks and highway exits and gangs.
I wonder if those Ancients remember the Shadowrunners they bought donuts for that one time.
There's any number of ways a run can go bad, and when it does, you take help where you can get it. I watch, young teams, seasoned teams. I make up stories in my head about where they met, how long they've been running, who their Johnsons are. Nine times out of ten, I jack out and reboot without doing anything. Not sure their decker or whoever even noticed another set of eyes. That tenth time, though.
They're a midrange team, five people, starting to build good cred, have good equipment. Well. Their decker's deck isn't so hot, but you work with what you have. I had far too many days on a Microdeck Summit, it's just the way the world works. Get your chops with shit equipment, it's that much easier when you have something more tuned up.
They're in a hotel, middle of the road chain, definitely not nice enough that Johnny would've stayed there. It has its own host, but that I can tell, the stuff is all cut rate programmed, no spider on site. By the chatter seems they're stealing a shit load of drugs and drug money. I flick through their records for the Johnson, don't recognize the name but that's not a surprise. The room lock was no big deal for their hacker, their gun wielding duo has silencers and gel rounds, have the enforcers knocked out and zip tied in not too much time. Good room insertion, really, and they're bagging product, pocketing cred sticks, checking weapons. Problem is, there's two people holed up in the bathroom they don't know about yet. Problem is, something they did tripped a silent alarm in the hotel, and security is on its way up the elevator. Or somebody is, not fucking around, automatic rifles, body armor, full masks even.
Decision time. People in the room are the immediate threat, people in the elevator are the end of the road. Fuck it, who needs to make a decision? "Check the bathroom," I message the decker, direct-to-AR middle of the screen action.
Then I have a look at the elevator. I could just send it to the top floor and leave it. Lock the doors for ten minutes, twenty. Safest for everybody. They get antsy, start shouting on comms when they don't stop at twelve. Rookie in the security office doesn't know what to do, just keeps apologizing, cycling through the camera views. Then he hits the panic button for Knight Errant.
Back in the room, the bathroom has also been breach and cleared. One of the team is getting ministered to by their sawbones, maybe magic got thrown around. One from the bathroom is in the zip tied pile, the other never left the tub. That'll make it easy for housekeeping, anyway.
"Errant inbound," I message the decker. Who doesn't know what to do, doesn't know what the fuck is going on.
"We gotta boogie," he says to the rest of the team. Their network is just a string of numbers, maybe it's some kind of reference, private joke. Maybe they thought it'd be easier to keep secure that way, who knows. "Errant on the way."
"How do you know?" One of their gunners is in the bathroom, rifling pockets on the body.
"I just...." he trailed off, looked at the expectant faces around him. "Not now. We have to move."
They roll up and head out. Go down the stairs, good lads, bust through the fire door, not giving a shit about that alarm. I don't know where their vehicles are, how they got there, but once they're in the street and KE is still three blocks away, I cycle away, jack out, shut down. Finish my whiskey, dig a popcorn kernel out of my teeth. There. Maybe I can be an angel for awhile.