Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Shadowrun - Getting the Pieces (4)

Yegor nodded his head to the techno beat of The Psyons as he waited at the red light. Arclight Plasteel had the replacement gas tank that he needed for Jonesy’s bike, but they were way the fuck on the other side of the sprawl, and in a nicer area than Yegor was used to. He was already getting the occasional dirty look from some of the humans walking the streets, which he was more than happy to give right back. Fuck ‘em, he thought. He had dealt with far worse in his life.

He stretched his arms out as far as the cramped confines of his Cooper would allow. He hated the car, but it was all he had. He had priced out some better rides, but had ultimately decided that if he was going to run the shadows, he would need to put his money in other places first. Besides, he had always wanted to build his own ride. Maybe shadowrunning would give him the funds he needed to do that.

His eyes wandered as he waited. He was used to always having to keep half an eye on the people around him. Never knew when some Humanis Policlub lunatic was gonna try to separate you from your brains. That’s why he noticed the guy.

Crossing the street was a human man in his mid-forties, with his wife and kids. Yegor had seen the guy’s face before. Holy shit that’s the guy from Evo! The guy working on the genome mapping… the guy trying to help with goblinization! How about that!

The guy noticed his stare, and gave him a friendly smile and nod as they crossed the street. That was definitely NOT something that Yegor was used to. Most humans would look away or quicken their step if a troll in a black leather-and-plasteel jacket was staring at them, even if the troll was comically wedged into a subcompact. This guy was alright.

And a moment later, he was staggering and collapsing in pool of his own blood.

* * * * *

The raven-haired elf walked around to the side of the Spiral 115Ti and bent down low, looking at the nano-tech neon striping that Yegor had just installed along the undercarriage. Yegor just stared. Her hip-hugging denim shorts showcased her fit, round ass and perfectly toned legs as she examined his work. “Hmph. It’s alright, I guess.”

Yegor gritted his teeth. “You’re such a sweetheart, Melisandre.” No, she wasn’t. She was gorgeous, but she was a fucking cunt. At least, she was to him. Nothing new there.

She stood and walked around to the trunk, looking closely at the new, raked out bodywork and spoiler. This time as she bent, she gave him a perfect view straight down the neck of her cut-off t-shirt. Her perky tits stretched the shirt just snugly enough to keep Yegor from seeing the best parts.

He knew the work was perfect – he had spent an extra hour making sure of it – but she was looking for something to bitch about. When she couldn’t find anything, she just made a decidedly un-ladylike grunt.

“Whatever,” she said, with a toss of her wavy black hair. The gesture revealed a tattoo along her neck. It was one of the new ones, subtly animated, a vine with thorns and roses running down the length of her cream-skinned neck and over the front of her left shoulder, and probably beyond. Yegor would kill to see more of it, and knew that he never would. That was exactly why she was showing every possible angle of herself to the troll, and he knew it. See this? You’re never gonna get this.
She pulled a credstick from the pocket of her shorts, tossed it to him from a deliberate distance, and climbed into the car. Without another word, she started it up and rolled out of the garage.

Fuck! Why do I put up with that shit? He knew exactly why, though. Two reasons. The Pittsburgh sprawl wasn’t exactly teeming with choice ass. Melisandre was hotter than the tenth level of hell, and she knew it. And her father was connected, big time, and everyone else knew that. Which was why she was driving a Spiral while the rest of the sprawl was riding bikes and beaters, and why she could flaunt herself wherever she pleased without any fear of getting fucked with.

<Your work was impeccable, Yegor.> Aria materialized along the left-hand side of his field of vision.

Yegor looked over at her. Her appearance was different somehow. He couldn’t put his finger on it at first, but after a moment, he realized that rather than just her face appearing, her entire simulated form had appeared. She hadn’t appeared like that since he first loaded the OS. A heartbeat after that realization, he realized that her hairstyle had subtly changed. It was slightly wavier and slightly longer than it had been – more similar to Melisandre’s. She looked even hotter than she had before.

<Yeah, I know,> he answered, still disgruntled.

<Then why did Melisandre exhibit such displeasure?> Aria asked.

Aria didn’t ask Yegor questions often. Maybe once a day. But they never failed to throw the troll for a loop. They were never questions for which there was an easy answer. What was he supposed to tell her? That Melisandre was a racist, and that he had dealt with that sort of shit his whole life? That he desperately wanted to grab her with both hands and fuck her raw, and she knew it? That she was a spoiled bitch daughter of a monumentally powerful crime boss? That the Sixth World was fucked, and this was just one facet of it?

He sighed. <It’s complicated,> he replied.

That was the only answer he gave her.

* * * * *

The brown-skinned man carefully removed the slender diagnostic tool from Yegor’s skull. It created a bit of a tingling feeling, but no pain. The Amerindian was good.

“Done,” Injun Joe calmly declared.

Yegor’s head felt a bit weird. He had known that it would, from his past experiences having his commlink port and datajack installed. It didn’t hurt and he felt like his brain was still working normally, and those were the only two things that he gave a fuck about. Having a control rig installed had been the real point of no return in Yegor’s mind, and that line was finally behind him.

Yegor moved his neck tentatively, looking around the simple shop. There were a few tribal totems, knick-knacks and cybernetics on the shelves, but Joe was best known in the sprawl for his skill with patching bullet holes and tweaking implants. Yegor had expected the implants to be heavy, to unbalance his head in some way, but the distribution of weight in his skull felt no different. He was impressed.
“Thanks,” he said gruffly. He wasn’t usually so friendly.

Injun Joe nodded, his expression neutral. Amerindians weren’t normally a very expressive bunch, unless they were blowing the tops off of volcanoes or summoning tornados to tear down skyscrapers. This one seemed a decent sort, for a mage. His shop was even called Injun Joe’s Mojo, so he had to have a sense of humor. It was good to know one that was using his powers for good.

Or at least not doing all that other shit.

* * * * *

Yegor stared. What the fuck just happened? The blood was slowly beginning to spread from the man’s body, but he was still moving, trying to crawl out of the road. He wasn’t dead yet. His wife was screaming. His kids looked terrified and confused.

<Aria, call Lone Star.> THAT was a command Yegor never expected to give her.

There was a pause, and Aria appeared in the corner of Yegor’s vision, a concerned expression on her face. <Yegor, local communications are being actively scrambled.> Fuck.

Time seemed to slow for a moment. A battered brown GMC Bulldog pulled away from the curb nearby and squealed into the middle of the intersection. It stopped diagonally across it, blocking the flow of traffic in all directions. The two side doors of the van slid open. Two thugs with spiked hair and worn leather jackets jumped out, each with a pistol in hand. They were heading for the fallen man. Or maybe his wife and kids, Yegor couldn’t tell. Something was going down.

I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let this guy or his family get ganked. Yegor grabbed his Mossberg from the passenger seat of the Cooper, looped the lanyard over his shoulder, threw the driver’s side door open, and clambered out. <Smartgun, activate.>

The stock of the Mossberg sprang into place, the gas-vent barrel extended, the safety switched off, and the gun’s combat diagnostics appeared on the periphery of his vision. Glowing amber numbers indicated an ammo count of 20/20 and barrel temp of 22 degrees Celsius. A small text box indicated that the safety was off and the firing mode was set to semi-automatic. Red crosshairs overlaid the two thugs in the street, identifying them as armed, then a third, still behind the wheel. Then a fourth, moving in the back of the van. Shit.

Yegor screwed his face up into the most menacing scowl that he could muster. He grabbed hold of the Mossberg’s custom foregrip, seated the shock pad against his shoulder, and brought the heavy shotgun to bear. A yellow crosshair appeared in his field of view, as if projected from the shotgun like a laser sight. He had never fired the Mossberg anywhere but at the range before, but if he was lucky, the sight of a pissed-off, eight-foot-tall troll with a big-ass, heavily-modified shotgun would scare them off.

He wasn’t that lucky.

* * * * *

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Friday, March 24, 2017

SAS - Shadowrun- Putting the Pieces in Place

Everything was different, and yet everything was the same.

Yegor couldn’t describe it any other way. He had never hot-dropped into a drone before. He was seeing his garage with a hundred times the clarity of his reclining troll body. That was surreal, too – looking across the garage and seeing himself stretched out in the shop chair, looking for all the world like he was sound asleep. He could hear sounds outside if he focused his sensors toward the garage’s closed doors. He could read the fine print on his Foursquare poster from the other side of the room.

Fucking wild. And he hadn’t even done more than turn this thing’s head yet.

Time to see what it could really do.

In an instant, the Doberman sprang to its feet and raced towards the closed garage doors. It stopped and pirouetted on a dime, and then raced back towards the stairs leading to the loft above the garage. In less than three seconds, it had sprinted up the stairs, raced across the upper walkway, and sprang over the railing back down to the shop floor below.

Holy shit. What a rush. He could see his meat body breathing more heavily, as his brain interpreted the exertions of the drone. He knew that would improve with practice, but for now, he figured he should take it a bit easier.

With a thought, the Mossberg shotgun on the back of the drone swiftly rotated three hundred and sixty degrees, spinning easily in a circle. With another, he locked onto targets throughout the garage – a gas can, a toolbox, the lift controls, the upstairs bedroom doorknob. Damn, this thing was blindingly quick while he was jacked into it. He could do all these things through AR as well, but it would probably take him three times as long.

He really wanted to open up with the shotgun, but he wasn’t about to shoot up his own shop. Besides, he could see all of the smartgun diagnostics along the left-hand side of his vision. It had recognized both clips properly, was showing an accurate ammo count, and he was able to toggle the safety on and off with a thought. He was a good mechanic and a good armorer – he was sure it was functional.

With a shudder, he disconnected from the drone and dropped back into his meat body. The relocation of his psyche was jarring, as he was now looking back from the chair at the drone. Whoa. He also abruptly realized that his body was firing on all cylinders. He had heard that hot-sim was literally addicting, and now he understood why. His heart was pounding, he felt the beginning of a sweat, and he had half a hard-on.

Time to take a break! he thought. <Aria! Fire up Red Girl #4, let’s say, eleven minutes in, if you please!>

<Of course, Yegor,> Aria responded with a twinkle in her eye, as one of Yegor’s favorite porn vids popped into an AR window, queued up to a sexy redheaded human woman starting a sensual striptease.

* * * * *

Yegor had saved the best for last. He turned to the largest crate in the garage and went to work at it with his crowbar, breaking the planks off far more easily than any human could have. In moments, the crate was apart and his last toy was revealed.
The Steel Lynx looked menacing, even in its dormant state. It didn’t really look much like a cat, although there was subtle styling of the articulated wheel-arms that gave it a slightly feline appearance. But anyone looking at it would be more inclined to call it a tank than a cat. Each of the four articulated arms ended in a heavy wheel. Matte black armor plating covered every inch of the drone, and a weapon mount peeked out of the top, surrounded by another ring of armor plating. You could make the case that the Doberman was a “personal use” drone, but there was no mistaking this drone’s purpose.

Without prompting, Aria appeared off to the right of his vision and spoke. <The Ares Steel Lynx. Colloquially known as the “big cat” among rigging enthusiasts. The Steel Lynx comes pre-installed with the Small Arms Targeting, Automatics Targeting, and Longarms Targeting software suites. As a quadripedal wheeled combat drone, the Lynx is also pre-installed with Defense and Ares 2072 Combat Pilot software. A standard weapons mount is integrated into the top of the Steel Lynx. This drone has a four star rating for assault, defense, and all-purpose tactical combat use according to the 2071 UCAS Marines Tactical Force and Recon Guidebook.>

Aria paused, and with a twinkle in her eye, added, <Of course, when you’re done with it, the UCAS Marines would rate it a lot higher than that.> With a wink, she disappeared.

Yegor blinked, and then blinked again. Was she listening in when I thought that about the Doberman? Can she even do that? I thought that she was just a VI? Ah, whatever. If she did, that’s kinda cool. Yegor rolled the drone out of the remains of the crate and opened up his toolbox. Time to get to work.

* * * * *

Yegor grunted, yanking hard on the ratchet. With a loud crack, the nut freed itself from the rusty bolt. Fucking Nomads, he thought to himself. God damn rust buckets. He cranked the ratchet a few dozen times, then slowed as it neared the end of the thread. That was the eighth and final bolt, and the junction between the engine block and the transmission was growing wider. Yegor braced an arm under the transmission, and held its hundred-plus-pound weight easily as the bolt popped off. He tossed the rusted bolt off to the side and slowly lowered that end of the transmission until it touched the ground.

The Gaz-Willies Nomad was an old line of truck, and this one was owned by a cantankerous old Irishman named Miles. Fortunately for Miles, his creds were good even if his truck was a piece of shit. Yegor had worked on it four times in the past four months. He needed to keep the creds coming in if he was going to keep spending them the way he was, and rusted-on nuts were part of the gig.

As he pawed through his junk drawer of bolts looking for replacement bolts, Aria’s voice crooned the news of the day. He had set his Browse filters to push stories with certain keywords to the front.

<The Evo Corporation announced today that one of their top research scientists, one William McCain, has made a major breakthrough in mapping the genome mutations caused by goblinization. He is confident that this will eventually lead to treatments that might lessen the pain of those undergoing the process of goblinization, and perhaps one day reverse the process entirely. The Evo Corporation went on to stress that this in no way should be viewed as an anti-orc nor anti-troll research program. At the press conference announcing the breakthrough, CEO John Stonecastle stated, “We only wish for this line of research to offer relief to our orc and troll brothers and sisters. For those that hope to return to their original human form, we may one day be able to offer that possibility. But we continue to encourage all humans and meta-humans to find comfort and confidence in their race.”>
An image of the scientist was displayed next to the scrolling text of the story. Yegor paused to take a look at the man as he picked out another bolt from the drawer. He remembered a time when he wanted nothing more than for the pain of goblinization to stop. It was a wonder that more orcs and trolls didn’t go mad from the process, both from the physical pain of the transition and from the mockery, derision, and beatings suffered from the many racists of the world.

Yegor sighed. His adolescence had felt like death by a thousand cuts. He was so grateful for his parents and his brother – if it hadn’t been for them, he was certain he wouldn’t be alive today. His father was a rock of stability, his mother was the most gentle soul he knew, and his brother had such a great sense of humor that he was the only person that could get Yegor to laugh through the pain. Even so, he would have killed to have had some sort of relief from that agony. And his brother had just gone through the same a few years ago.

Shaking his head, he sighed and plucked another bolt from the drawer that looked like it would fit. He blinked as he realized that Aria had stopped reciting the news. He looked over at her AR image. She was watching him.

As soon as he looked her way, she spoke. <Does this news trouble you, Yegor?>

Yegor blinked. He honestly didn’t know what to say, for more reasons than one. First of all, his “virtual personality assistant” was now observing his reactions to the news and asking him personal questions. Secondly, he honestly wasn’t sure how he felt about this sort of research. <Not really>, he answered uncertainly. He didn’t really know what else to say.

<Perhaps you might prefer some music while you work?> Aria asked.

She sounded concerned. She was either an amazingly well-written virtual personality, or… or what? An AI? He had no idea. Yegor looked at her image for a long moment. She waited patiently for his response, a benign expression on her beautiful holographic face.

<Yeah… yeah, good idea, let’s get some music going.>

Aria gave a dazzling smile and nodded. The heavy double bass drums of Thump, his favorite dwarven drum band, began to resonate through the garage. Yegor grinned and looked back down at the drawer. An AR overlay appeared, helpfully identifying four other bolts on top of the pile that would fit the Nomad. His smile widened as he plucked them out.

<Thanks, Aria.>

* * * * *

“These are shit. You gotta have better than this,” Yegor growled.

The dwarf made a fist, as though to punch the troll in the mouth, then grinned and relaxed it. Two-Tone was one of the more mellow dwarves that Yegor knew, and a pretty good forger. “Yeah, of course I do. Thought you were just looking for something to wave in a Star’s face if he’s giving you shit. You looking to go more hardcore?”

Yegor snorted. “I ain’t a dwarf, Tone. If I wave a license in a Star’s face, he’s gonna run it.”

The dwarf nodded at Yegor’s logic. “Yeah, suppose that’s true. You guys do have it a bit rougher than we do.” Yegor snorted again at the understatement. “Alright, how about these then?”

Two-Tone pulled another small binder out of his bag, opened it up, and handed it to Yegor for his perusal. Within were another array of forged licenses. He had obviously put a fair amount of effort into these. They wouldn’t hold up against a military-grade scanner, but if Yegor got stopped by some beat cops, they would pass.

“You can sync these to my SIN?” Yegor asked.

“You got a SIN?” Two-Tone asked, surprised. When he saw the droll grimace on the troll’s face, he said, “Oh, you mean the fake one you bought before. C’mon chummer, what the hell do you take me for? Of course. All part of the service.”

Yegor nodded. “I need eight.” He began plucking licenses from the binder.

“Eight!” Two-Tone looked surprised again. “That’s gonna run you over three grand, you know. Since when are you packing so much restricted shit?”

“Since none-of-your-fucking-business, jackplug.”

“All right, Crowbar, ice it down. One for the Moss, obviously, one more for the ammo, and I’m assuming one for those bad mother drones you’ve got crouched over there. What else?”

“Grenades, radio scanner, smartlink, grey apps, and vehicles.”

The dwarf whistled through his teeth. “Damn, brother. Decided to do some running, eh?”

Yegor supposed there was no point in denying it. “I’ve been giving it some thought, yeah. I’m not gonna fuck with it if I can’t do it right.”

“Good philosophy. Get sloppy and you’ll get dead quick.”

Yegor handed the small stack of chips back to Two-Tone. “These will work. Sync ‘em up.”

Two-Tone took the stack of chips and plugged the first of them into the sim port in the side of his skull. After a few seconds, he ejected it and inserted the next. It took barely more than a minute for him to sync each of the licenses to Yegor’s fake SIM. “You’re all set, chummer.” He handed a slip of paper with an account number scrawled on it to Yegor. “Thirty-two hundred,” he said.

<Send it over,> Yegor thought to Aria.

<Transferring funds now,> Aria replied.

* * * * *

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

SAS - Steampunk Ch 2 (Scratching the Itch)

(In my eulogy, as he still doesn't know I'm putting these up here, please note I did NOT name the chapters :P)

Yegor yanked back hard on the crowbar. The shipping crate cracked open with a small burst of dust and splinters. The thumping heavy metal guitar and synthesizers of Cold Night heralded the revealing of its contents to the dull yellow light of the garage. To Yegor, there might as well have been fireworks going off in the background.

Within was a large metallic-gray dog. Its legs were neatly folded beneath it, and its mechanical eyes were closed, but its head was up as though at attention. Yegor’s HUD neatly overlaid the specifications of the drone, as a small 3D rendition of it appeared and began to slowly rotate in a second window in the periphery of his vision.

<Break it down, Aria,> he thought.

His artificial companion appeared in a third corner of his vision, and her casually sexy voice rang clearly in Yegor’s mind.

<The GM-Nissan 2072 Doberman. Colloquially known as the “dog drone” among rigging enthusiasts. The Doberman comes pre-installed with the Clearsight, Small Arms Targeting, Automatics Targeting, and Longarms Targeting software suites. As a quadripedal canine simulacrum, the Doberman is also pre-installed with Walker 2072 Pilot software. A standard weapons mount is integrated into the top of the Doberman. This drone has a three-star rating for force recon and light tactical combat use according to the 2071 UCAS Marines Tactical Force and Recon Guidebook.>

As Aria spoke, Yegor began opening several other boxes and removing their contents. An Eastman Wingspan satellite uplink. A drone datajack upgrade kit. A gas-vent shotgun barrel. An Ares Flash-Pak. A package of Evo gecko grip pads. He set them down on the workbench next to the Mossberg shotgun that Skinny Pete had just dropped off.

Heh. When I’m done with it, the UCAS Marines would rate it a lot higher than three stars.

* * * * *

“That price is orc-shit, and you know it,” Monolith said, his resonant baritone echoing his displeasure.

The dark skinned, two-headed human icon scowled darkly at him with both faces. “Kiss my ass, greenskin. You think you can find someone that can put together a cracking suite like this for less? Give it your best shot if you want, but you can’t. Take it or leave it.”

Yegor growled. His icon interpreted this by making a sound like rumbling thunder. BitByte was one of the eastern seaboard’s more reputable app fences, but he was also an arrogant ass, and it was considered a breach of the unwritten rules of the Matrix to display knowledge of a contact’s real-life person when engaged in clandestine negotiations.

Two could play at that game though, and Yegor had done his homework.

“I think I can, blade-ear. I’m waiting to hear back from Giga-flex. If I do, I’ll just buy from him. I hear his shit kicks ass.” Yegor had also heard a rumor that Giga-flex would occasionally feed sales info to Lone Star in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but that didn’t matter right now. Yegor’s icon rose from the virtual table as if to exit the node.

Each of BitByte’s heads blinked. He had caught the hacker by surprise, probably both with his personal knowledge that he was an elf, and his knowledge of the Matrix fencing community. “Whoa, hang on now, hang on. Look, you wanted what, a full suite of solid user apps and twelve cracking apps each with a Jackpoint rating of three. What did you expect?”

Yegor kept Monolith on his feet. “A better fraggin price than that,” the expressionless icon boomed.

BitByte’s two heads looked at one another, an expression that Yegor interpreted as the fence giving it some thought. “Look, these are solid apps. Not the best in the ‘Trix, but they ain’t shit. I’ll give ‘em to you for twenty, but that’s it. If you can do better than that price, then I might as well plug my jack.”

That was more like it, although Yegor still could hardly believe he was dropping this kind of cred. His chiseled obsidian golem nodded. “Twenty.”

BitByte reached out over the digital table and spread his hands. Nineteen spinning cubes appeared in the air between them. They each gleamed and sparkled in a rainbow of colors, and Yegor could make out icons on each of them – a pair of crossed swords, a magnifying glass, a shield, a biohazard symbol. It was an impressive array of applications. The two-headed black man leaned back in his virtual seat, allowing the golem to look at the icons more closely.

“This’ll get you started, my man. If you ever want the really good stuff, you know how to find me.”

BitByte waited patiently as Monolith examined the merchandise. The headers all looked good – all of it looked good, in fact. Yegor wasn’t an expert coder, but he would be able to tell junkware at a glance, and this wasn’t that. It looked like the fence was as good as his word.

Monolith nodded again, and held out a hand of his own. His sculpting displayed the movement as his golem handing over a large pouch of jingling coins. His banking app interpreted it as a transfer of twenty thousand nuyen to an un-named account somewhere in Amazonia. Yegor had no doubt that it was being bounced at least a dozen times from there.

BitByte’s icon squinted with all four eyes as he examined the authenticity of the transfer. After a few moments, he nodded. “Good luck, Mono. Don’t get fried. I like repeat business.” With another nod from both heads, the icon rose from the table and abruptly vanished.

Monolith swept the spinning cubes into himself, downloading them from the remote server to his commlink. <How do they look, Aria?> he thought.

<Downloading. The applications appear to be genuine. Toolkits for analysis, browsing, command, editing, encryption, and reality filtration, each with a Jackpoint rating of four. Applications for cyber combat and defense, bio-filtration, decryption, data bomb defusal, firewall exploitation, icon repair, electronic counter-measures, source sniffing, icon masking, and trace tracking, each with a Jackpoint rating of three. Would you like me to begin installation?>
Yegor nodded, and his icon nodded in turn. <Do it,> he thought.

Aria’s eyes twinkled. <Installing.>

* * * * *

“Whoa, whoa, whoa chummah, you want what now? Three years I try to get you buyin’ from me, now you comin’ at me with this kinda order? You wearin’ a bug, esse?” The skinny Latino kid grinned toothily in Yegor’s commlink window, although his eyes betrayed that he was only half joking.

“Fuck you, Pete. You know I ain’t no nark.” Yegor growled.

“You better not be man, cuz if I come through with this for you, I’d be straight fucked if you was, man, you know what I’m sayin? Two Mossbergs and enough smoke and flashbangs to start a rave, man? I thought you had a Moss already, esse… what you tryin’ to do, hit a bank or somethin? You know they don’t carry hard cred no more, right?”

Yegor shrugged. Skinny Pete laughed.

“Naw, naw, Big Round, he got to you man, didn’t he? Didn’t he? You gonna do some runnin’, esse?”

Yegor shrugged again. Fucker talks too much, he thought. Skinny Pete laughed again.

“Man, that’s some shit right there, bro. Aight man, I got you. Gimme a few days and I’ll get some shit together for you, aight? This gonna square us for the work on my ride, right?”

Yegor nodded. “Yeah, I’ll handle it.” The kid wanted some pimp mods done, but he was giving Yegor a pretty good break on the hardware, and Yegor didn’t mind the labor.

“Aight muchacho, I’ll get at you later. Adios.

* * * * *

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

SAS- Steampunk (Ch1)

Note: He may kill me for posting this, but it's good enough to be out there. Attend my funeral if I go MIA.

Yegor looked at the growing stack of crates neatly arranged along the wall of his garage. His excitement grew as the Ares Express loading drone forklifted the last, largest box off of the shipping truck and rolled it neatly over to the end of the stack, setting it gently adjacent to the others. The drone then rolled over to Yegor, and with a chirp, extended a thumbprint scanner to him. Yegor scanned his thumb impatiently, anxious for the drone and its unmanned truck to be gone. The moment after they left, he pulled down the heavy metal garage doors and slammed the heavy drop-bolts into place, then flipped on the old neon “PISS OFF” sign in the shop’s front window.

He wasn’t going to be taking any new work this evening.

* * * * *

“Ha! Fuck off!” Crowbar barked.

The dwarf snorted. Crowbar was one of the few people that Big Round wouldn’t punch in the jaw for saying something like that. Partly because he was trying to recruit him, and partly because he had heard what happened to the last group of punks that had tried it. That was what had first put the kid on his radar. He figured that over the next few years, the kid would either develop into something or be dead. He was surprised at how good of a mechanic he had turned into.

But that was why Big Round was still alive, and so well paid. He had a good eye for talent. He had started things off slowly with the kid – tire upgrades, neons, datajacks for his personal rides, things like that. Then he started slipping in some of his runner’s vehicles, having the kid install security glass, heavy armor, the occasional weapon mount. Surely the kid knew what the score was after that, but he still did the work, did a damn good job, and didn’t ask any questions. All traits that Big Round was looking for.

“Just think about it, kid. You’d kick ass. I’ll be by with another ride for you in a couple weeks.”

Big Round tossed the kid a certified stick with a thousand cred loaded onto it. It was a couple hundred more than the price Crowbar had quoted him, as was his custom. A little extra cash was always a good way to get someone on your side. He kickstarted the classic ’33 Harley to life. It roared throatily, drowning out even the dwarven drum music that thumped through the garage. As usual, Crowbar’s work was on point. With a brief nod to the troll, he rolled out of the garage and into the blinking lights of the Pittsburgh sprawl.

The kid would come on board. He was sure of it.

* * * * *

Yegor headed upstairs to the small bedroom overlooking the garage. Big Round’s offer was stuck in his head. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep, so he fired up a sim. Deathpocalypse 2100 was the new hotness, and he was damn good at it. There was something about being jacked in – the real world fell away, as if it didn’t exist at all. Moving at the speed of thought – and despite being a troll, Yegor could think quickly.

That was the first tumbler that clicked into place.

He quit out of his game and launched his music app. His implanted commlink clicked audibly. Fucking thing sucks, he thought. After a moment, the app launched, playing an album by Elindsia Silver. She was an elven violinist, and Yegor loved her music. Not that he’d be caught dead listening to it in the garage.

He launched his internal cred-tracking app. His balance appeared in the corner of his integrated HUD, a glowing green number in 14 point font.

<[[ $124,011 ]]>

The number still blew the young troll’s mind. There had been more, but when Bones had died and left Yegor his shop and his savings, Yegor had immediately sent thirty thousand to his parents and another ten to his brother. They had been having a hard year, and that money would make a huge difference for them. Pavel’s eyes had lit up when Yegor thumbed the creds his way. He was gonna buy a bike with it, and he wanted Yegor to put it together for him. The thought brought a smile to his face.

He synced the credstick that Big Round had given him to his account, and watched the number change.

<[[ $125,011 ]]>

That was the second tumbler. Watching that number roll over. He had more money now than he ever had in his life, but he had heard that shadowrunners could make that on one job.

But they could get dead, too.

Yegor was a mechanic at heart, and he thought like a mechanic. If he was going to do this, if he was even going to consider it, he’d need the tools.

Some of that would be easy. Yegor had never lived in the high-rises – all he knew was street life. He could get his hands on guns, no problem. Hell, Skinny Pete had been pushing Yegor to buy from him for years now, and he knew from Pete’s rep that the wares would be good, and wouldn’t come back to bite him through the Matrix.

But Yegor already had his Mossberg, and he had personally modded it quite a bit over the years. He never had to use it. Why would he? He took it almost everywhere, and who in his right mind was gonna fuck with an eight-foot-tall troll packing a heavy automatic shotgun?

That was all very well on the streets of Pittsburgh, where nobody knew that he wasn’t quite the badass killer that he appeared. He had blanked a few street thugs a few years back, and that had been enough. But what good would he be to a shadowrunning crew? He could hold his own in a fistfight, but that was more due to his size than any great level of skill. He was a decent shot, and could shoot very well while jacked in – hell, he was brilliant at that, if his gaming skills were anything to go off of, but…

Huh, maybe that’s it… he thought.

He shrunk his banking app and pulled up his search engine.

He mentally entered ((SECURITY DRONES)) into the search field.
His HUD flickered hesitantly for a moment as the app ran. Fuck, he thought. Then it froze, a series of blue and purple numbers streaming across his vision. The violin music also froze, holding a high-pitched, wailing note. “FUCK!! FFFUUUCCKK!!” he yelled, as he ejected the commlink from his skull.

With a loud growl, Yegor rebooted and reconnected his commlink. When the HUD flashed up again, he launched the search engine once more. The search interface eventually blinked up.

((FAIRLIGHT CALIBAN COMMLINK)) he entered. Fuck this fucking piece of junk.

* * * * *

A package arrived at the garage the next morning at 8:00 AM. Yegor hadn’t even opened the shop yet. The wonders of the modern era, Yegor thought to himself. Even the shipping business is cut-throat.

When he opened the package, he couldn’t help but stare for a moment. He had never bought anything this expensive before. The Fairlight Caliban was the most sophisticated commlink available on the market, and it showed. The link’s slick lines and gently glowing LEDs oozed style, for the people that wanted to hold it in their hand and proclaim their incredible badass-itude.

Yegor wasn’t one of those people. Actually, he kind of did want to do that, he just wasn’t fucking stupid. Carrying a piece of hardware like this in the Pittsburgh sprawl was like holding a giant neon “JACK ME!!” sign over your head. He ejected his piece-of-shit Meta Link from the I/O slot in the back of his skull, carefully seated the Caliban into it, and switched it on.

The commlink thrummed to life. He had ordered the Caliban with the Novatech Navi OS pre-installed, and a highly-rated personality VI as well. The OS appeared to be every bit as sharp as the commlink that it was installed on. A pale blue halo appeared at the top of his vision and descended, and a blue-tinted hologram of a nova-hot elven woman materialized within the descending ring.

<Hello,> the elf said, her voice low and sultry within Yegor’s mind. <I am Aria. Please allow me to be your guide. How would you like for me to address you?>

Ohh, yes, Yegor thought. I can DEFINITELY get used to this. <Call me Yegor,> he answered.

<Good morning, Yegor. I see that you are registered to a Meta Link commlink located nearby. You were last logged into this commlink fifty-five seconds ago. Your new Fairlight Caliban represents a substantial improvement over that device.>

Her virtual eyes twinkled. God damn, her voice was sexy. He could listen to her talk all day.

<I see that you have eighteen utility applications, fifty fife personal files, forty six sims, nine hundred and ninety six music files, and ten VR games installed on this device. The pre-installed applications included with Novatech Navi have been rated as superior to their counterparts that are currently installed on your Meta Link. Would you like for me to transfer your personal data and other applications to this device?>

Third tumbler. <Why yes, I would,> Yegor answered. This shit was wiz as fuck.

* * * * *

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