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  • #17804
    Jack_SpadeJack_Spade
    Keymaster

    September 4th 2078, Louisiana

    “Are you sure you want them? It’s a delicate job.”
    “They handled Texas well enough and Torrent recommends the cyborg girl highly. Quite useful to have around should my fears come true.”
    “Maybe. Still, wouldn’t a discreet strike team…”
    “No, that is not part of the game. These things have to be done right or not at all. Get on with it, you tire me.”
    “As you wish, master.”

    September 7th 2078, Seattle

    The message reached the runners late in the evening. Fall had come early to Seattle, turning the notoriously rainy climate into a miserable chilly affair. Street crime was noticably down, but car accident had gone up with the sudden cold rains.
    The message was simple:
    <<Your past performances have gotten attention: We seek to employ your help to find and rescue Dark Wave star Alex Veljanov, before he can come to harm. Please find attached an invite to the private spaces with the Helium Vola host where we can discuss details of this venture.
    Yours sincerely
    Ernst Horn.>>

    #17816
    Adamuadamu
    Participant

    Ernst Horn.

    Al didn’t like the name. Worse, he’d never heard of the guy. While Al knew from Tales that working for anonymous criminals was a mainstay of his new profession, but he’d lately had the luxury of mostly working for a select group of Johnsons whom he knew and trusted. Working for a stranger seemed like a step down in terms of both cool and risk.

    But since his cool was unassailable and risk was something he laughed at….

    The meet was virtual, though. And that could be a deal breaker. Al didn’t appreciate these silly tete-a-tetes in any circumstance, but one where he’d be violently ill the whole time hardly appealed. Normally he’d just have one of the others represent his interests and brief him afterward. The message, however, had included no cc list. So he’d have to go himself.

    And not only work for a stranger, but work with strangers. And that meant that instead of the array of stand-up co-workers he’d been lucky enough to connect with so far, he’d certainly end up with typical shadowrunners – pederasts, traitors, socialists, or some unsavory combination thereof.

    That was a whole lot of reasons to delete the message.

    But Alex Veljanov. Dark Wave was a good show, and something bad happened to him, they might have to cancel it. Plus it never hurt to start networking with his future co-stars. He popped a handful of antiemetics, slapped on his ‘trode rig and plopped onto the sofa.

    #17831
    BetaBeta
    Participant

    * Oleg: It is about time for a proper job to come along.
    * Gamma: I did take myself out of circulation for a while while my new arm was settling in. I didn’t even take calls on my usual number for a while.
    * Coleman: No cost to going to a VR meet. However I seem an odd choice for a show-business related job
    * Eliza: Maybe I caught more eyes than I had realized in Vegas? Put an impression out into the world and who knows what happens?
    * AAAAA: Not like the last job! With the rats, and the eyes, and the other eyes, and
    * Monkey: Show business might be scary, but nothing like the last job!

    Preston summoned his car, clicked a cred-stick against the table to pay for his lunch and the AR game he’d been casually playing, and headed out to meet his Americar. It pulled up soon enough — the pilot upgrade that Al had installed seemed to make it quicker when called — and he climbed in. As soon as he was buckled up, he sent the car to run a tour around downtown. While the pilot and Grid Guide were taking care of that, he lay back and sent his consciousness into hot-sim, skipping across a few grids, and then to the designated meeting host.

    #17844
    GilgaGilga
    Participant

    Upon receiving the message Rebbeca decides to do some homework and see who is he talking about. She investigates the chatter about Alex Veljanov and tries to speculate what kind of person he is, and what kind of shit he got himself into. Once done, she replies… >> Indeed, I should be more discreet… but when do you want to meet?

    #17867
    Jack_SpadeJack_Spade
    Keymaster

    It wasn’t hard to find out about Veljanov. The singer, songwriter and since last year movie star had been called one of the hottest newcomers of the year.
    His latest album “Crystal Palace” had been in the top charts for a solid six weeks, coinciding with his first appearance as the lead in Dark Wave, where he portrait a brooding vigilante/playboy out to avenge the death of his parents.
    Most interesting was the fact that he had managed to get out from his exclusive contract with Ares Entertainment and still had a career to speak off. The media circuit spoke of a hidden patron granting Veljanov protection and funding.
    There is nothing about him having vanished – only that the filming of the second season of Dark Wave was supposed to begin within the next few weeks.

    The Helium Vola host turned out to be one of the more exclusive matrix venues, catering to a small cross section of rich people who like to spend their time with comics and fantasy. The high powered host is said to border on UV territory, but allows its visitors to take on the guises and abilities of super heroes.

    Becky received a reply almost immediately: <<The invite contains time and place – tonight if you can manage it.>>

    #17877
    Adamuadamu
    Participant

    A quick dip was enough to give Al the flavor of the place. He ducked out before losing his lunch. Bunch of superhero fans. Well, he figured he was the closest thing to a superhero any of them would ever meet, and if they didn’t know it then it was their loss. His ‘link’s UMS would do just fine as usual.

    The invitation gave him until tonight. He texted Silky to see if she’d ever heard of Ernst Horn. Then he started his research by watching the first season of Dark Wave again from the beginning. He congratulated himself on his work ethic as he fast-forwarded to the action and sex scenes.

    #17881
    Jack_SpadeJack_Spade
    Keymaster

    Finding Ernst Horn wasn’t difficult either: He was Veljanov’s manager and current executive producer of Dark Wave. The 52 year old human had taken on this role shortly after Alex had left Ares Entertainment.
    Al found much to his liking in the series. Alex Veljanov – an elf from birth as the tabloids said – had a lot of chemistry with the female lead and love interest, Seargent Eliza Mercer, alias Shane Vixen, constantly out to catch the masked vigilante while getting intimate with Alex’ playboy persona.

    #17885
    Adamuadamu
    Participant

    Al got Silky’s terse text about Horn’s profession and current client. Figured. Al conceded that that was what he got for never watching anything through the credits.

    This was big. This Horn guy could be his ticket. Not that he needed one, what with Tony Franciosa as a hook. But even for star material like Al, Hollywood was a tough town. He was so excited, he thought for a minute about upgrading his UMS persona to something more appropriate to the Helium Vola host. Then he remembered it was time to feed Spike and once that was done he couldn’t remember what he’d been thinking about.

    He was just about done with all the good parts of Dark Wave when it was time to make the hyperspace jump to the land of dizziness, cramps, and nausea. At least he wouldn’t feel it while in the cold-sim VR the ‘trodes provided. He told Spike to keep an eye on things, went into the head and emptied his stomach – not a big deal since all he’d had since last night was beer – and dropped back onto the sofa to see what was what and who was who.

    #17886
    BetaBeta
    Participant

    Helium Vola wasn’t especially to Preston’s taste, even less so once it turned away his attempts to join it legitimately. He was quite affronted because he thought he’d done a fair job of looking like a likely member, but apparently their screening focused on the financial as well as the fandom background. A bit of research suggested that going in uninvited was not apt to be a good long term plan either, and that he’d have to wait until his invite was valid.

    That sucked.

    Given which he returned to his body, and sent the car back home. He might as well get some solid nutrition in him to prep him for tonight, not to mention manage his caffeine levels to an appropriate point. While he was at it he did the expected research in a desultory sort of way.

    #17888
    GilgaGilga
    Participant

    >> Great, I’ll be there. She texts and returns to her training. She tries not to think about the job until she actually agrees to it.

    At the proposed time, she’ll enter the host in cold simulation.

    #17893
    Jack_SpadeJack_Spade
    Keymaster

    The agreed upon time came and the runners received access to the host.
    The first step was to customize your persona to fit into the iconography of a mid 20th century Pop-Art New York, filled with a weird mixture of Dieselpunk and old style Tomorrowland aesthetics.
    Gaudy costumes with lots of Spandex and flashy colors dominated.
    The meeting was organized at the top of the old Empire State Building which somehow had gotten a Zeppelin airport added.
    Users inside the host had a variety of movement options – from wall walking to superspeed and flight up to teleportation everything was possible.
    Secondary powers included all kinds of staple abilities like heat rays and super strength.

    Inside the airport, at a lounge with a – quite literal – fantastic view, a man waited for them, looking like a very old fashioned buttler.

    #17901
    Adamuadamu
    Participant

    Once properly in the host, it became clear that Al would not be allowed to proceed with his featureless UMS persona. But the add-ons were part of the admission price, apparently, and that had been covered by the invite.

    Trick was, he wasn’t much of a cosplayer, and he sure as hell wasn’t wearing tights. Finally he decided that the only possible superhero choice was DogDude. Being a reluctant hero of working class provenance, the persona involved no change from Al’s usual attire of brown leather bomber jacket and fatigue trousers, though a jowly hound dog was emblazoned on the front of his yellowing wifebeater. To his visage he added floppy ears and a similar, jowly appearance, rendering his face a morose combination of world-weary canine and down-on-his-luck human. His urine could create all sorts of different barriers, but he doubted he’d have much use for that unless the locals were more uppity than they looked.

    He spotted the butler then looked around to see who he’d be working with.

    #17904
    BetaBeta
    Participant
    Spoiler:
    tl;dr Preston shows up to the meet and says hi to the Johnson and Al. It seemed so much like Preston’s environment that I had to play it up a bit

    * Oleg: Ugh, like Titans of Tomorrow without hordes of Q’ri invaders to grind against.
    * Coleman: Same principles since Sun Tzu: “Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” Control if I have to engage, control the range of engagement, the end of engagement
    * Eliza: I am here to talk, not fight
    * Coleman: Best to always be prepared
    * Monkey: it is fun to play with super-powers, especially when I can frustrate people who think they are so tough
    * AAAA: Are there any of those weird triangle-face things in this host?
    * Gamma: no sign of vines, and those nul-ings would be obvious targets for the ‘heroes’ here. It is likely that they will not be a problem here-and-now.
    * Coleman: Another reason to control rules of engagement
    * Gamma: I have the skin for Pulsar saved and ready for use, it would not be hard to modify it for the rules here
    * Monkey: There are some interesting corner cases in these rules
    * Eliza: People who munchkin the rules are often unpopular in places like this
    * Coleman: If we do just talk, nobody will know what I’ve managed to finesse into the character. If we have to fight then I want every advantage I can get.

    Preston brought up an intricately crafted skin, a classic head to toe lycra suit covered in a fractal pattern somewhat reminiscent of snowflakes, eyes covered by goggles with intricate filigree around the edges, a chiseled jaw and stern lips the only skin showing. The whole thing crawled with brightness cycles, various portions going from stark white to matte black every few seconds. The overall effect was of seeing a portion of a dance too complicated to fully comprehend; there was clearly more than randomness at work, but the pattern was not at all apparent. It also made picking out the details of his form challenging, but if looked at carefully it featured a build that would do credit to a Viking — ancient warrior or modern NFL football player.

    Preston got his bearings, then walked out of the starting area until he found the inevitable trash strewn and graffiti covered dark alley — fortunately currently free of mayhem. Once in there he nudged the bright/dark cycles into synchronization briefly, becoming almost painfully bright followed by so dark that he seemed to almost pull the alley’s shadows around him, before letting the cycles loose into something more closely approximating randomness.

    * Gamma: The average brightness being fairly normal is allowing this avatar to hit peaks of bright and dark outside the general game parameters, strong enough to potentially make visual tracking difficult. The general pattern crawl should make tracking my movements difficult.
    * Coleman: Good. Now for movement.

    He drove the patterns to synchronous darkness, then teleported down the alley, coming out in equal shade. He let the patterns loosen, jogged out into the brightness outside the alley, then drove the pattern bright and teleported into a brightly lit park down the street. Moments later he teleported onto a brightly lit rooftop, and then ‘port by ‘port made his way to the Empire State Building, finishing up with a jump from the shadows under a roof-top water tank to the shadows under a tethered zeppelin.

    He muted his cycle, limited the brightness and darkness to make his less uncomfortable to look at, and then strolled across the rooftop to the lounge. Inside was someone who could only be Al, standing by the butler who must be their Johnson. He strolled over and bowed to the butler in slightly ostentatious manner, saying only “Thank you for this invitation.” He used only a bit of reverb on the stereotypically deep and testosterone drenched voice.

    * Eliza: Butler is an interesting choice, playing on the trope of command-from-beneath
    * Gamma: In Sol Defenders, the briefing before each mission is given by a butler
    * Coleman: Someone knows their symbolism. Best to be alert for subtle manipulation
    * Gamma: I’m not that hard to manipulate
    * Monkey: Hey, I’ll probably do what they want, but at least I’ll know why, and when to say ‘frag you!’

    Turning to the Al-Dog, Preston-Pulsar commented by way of identification “With teleportation there is no need for driving lessons!” and he added a wink that really was not very keeping with his character.

    #17905
    Adamuadamu
    Participant

    And neither could it really be seen behind the goggles. But it was easy enough to sense from the accompanying tensing of one side of the jaw and minute twitching of the head. Anyway, Al got the driving reference just fine. Delighted, he breathed an internal sigh of relief. At least one of his co-workers wouldn’t be a stranger – with all that that inevitably entailed – after all.

    And if this Johnson knew them by association or specific past jobs, then maybe the others would be past associates as well.

    But to Preston he just nodded. The Johnson had summoned them – he certainly knew who they were. But others might not, so Al wouldn’t blow Preston’s cover if discretion was desired.

    The prospect of working with people he trusted instead of a bunch of back-stabbing freaks had Al so elated that he considered ordering a virtual drink. But that would be going way too far in embracing this abomination of a fake place. And just the thought of it made him worry about his meat. Opening a window in his vision to the baby monitor he’d salvaged from a Puyallup scrapheap, he looked in on his real self and was greeted by the heartwarming and yet somewhat unappetizing sight of Spike licking dribbles of dry-heave from off his stubbly cheek and even from inside his mouth. Even knowing that the dog was probably saving him from aspirating his own sick, he instantly regretted his current choice of persona.

    #17909
    AriaAria
    Participant

    [Wednesday September 7, 2078; Helium Vola host]

    Lily was calm, or told herself she was at any rate. The odd solo jobs that she had been doing for Feather had perhaps finally matured in to something with more substance. She knew that she could not keep on relying on the hospitality of the Mechanicals forever as it would eventually draw the hunters down on them and she didn’t want that on her conscience. They had become her friends and that was a thing far too valuable to risk simply for an illusion of safety. She smiled to herself, and the meet was in a rich boys gaming host…perfect! She knew that the lure of the matrix was dangerous, it offered too much of an escape from her reality and it was hopelessly addictive, but then that was the point and she was forced to admit that the escapism it afforded her made actual reality just a little more bearable. There she could be anyone, both anonymous and glorious at the same time…

    She stepped through the host portal with a digital flash of her invitation. She had taken the time to craft her avatar so that it would blend in with those using the host…or at least she had asked Jazz for help crafting it, she was still learning the rudiments of the matrix as her creators hadn’t seen fit to embed them with her programming. Jazz would be the first to say that she wasn’t a matrix wiz either but she was Lily’s friend and that was more important… the avatar resembled Whisper, a new female solo matrix game protagonist that had caught Lily’s attention recently. It was sufficiently superhero that it fit the metaphor for the host and in many ways moved like Lily did herself in the real so there wasn’t any disconnect in the experience.

    Marvelling at the hyper reality of the hotSIM Lily began to track down the private room where their meet was to be held…

    ***

    #01

    #17932
    Jack_SpadeJack_Spade
    Keymaster

    The buttler nodded in greeting: <<Thank you for your timely arrival. I am sorry to drag you here in this masquerade, but it was the most expedient way to talk to you in private on short notice.
    My name is Ernst Horn. I am the Executive Producer of Dark Wave and manager of Alex Veljanov. My friend and star of the show has gone missing two days ago from his villa in Bellevue. It should be obvious why I can’t turn to more official sources for help. A lot of investors would become very nervous if they learned about this unsceduled absense. Both his career and those of all the people working for us are at stake.
    Your services were recommended to me from a friend in Texas, who was quite impressed with your performance under… eldritch circumstances.
    Any questions so far?>>

    #17935
    Adamuadamu
    Participant

    <<Yeah, I got a question. It’s in two parts. First, will Eliza be back in season two? That’s a dealbreaker fer ol’ Al, an’ frankly that cliffhanger in the season one finale’s got me a bit worried, what with them corrupt cops greenlightin’ her an’ all. An’ second, we gon’ git any more nekkid scenes with her? Preferably not jist topless. I think you an’ I both know that’s worth at least a twenny-point bump inna ratin’s right there, an’, if’n I may be frank, it’s also key ta this southern boy’s continued viewership..>>

    #17938
    BetaBeta
    Participant

    “Maybe another way to look at my companion’s questions is: what is the compensation? Money is great, but sometimes there can be other incentives.”

    #17943
    Jack_SpadeJack_Spade
    Keymaster

    Horn displayed a pretty large number and made it vanish again. “The compensation will be adequate to the task. As for alternative incentives: If you so desire and if you are successful there could be a position for you at the production of Dark Wave Season 2. Security or maybe even stunt work, depending on your preferences.
    As to your worries Mr. Guthrie: I can assure you, you’ll be positively surprised.”

    #17944
    Adamuadamu
    Participant

    “Well, heh heh, sounds like ol’ Al’s all in, then. Though I think you’ll find a leadin’ role ta be far more appropriate to a Thespian o’ my caliber, we can discuss that later.”

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