‘Shadowrun’ is not a misnomer. Modern-day darknesses live in the neon faux-lights and pulsating nocturnal rhythms of 21st century North America. It is in hidden places that the vulgarities and obscenities of the modern day come to ply their trade. The deals struck in midnight bars, clubs, alleys and motel rooms represent the very worst sorts of deals in a world already well versed in the languages of human slave trafficking, child prostitution, drug running and other unspeakable evils. These accords are struck coldly, and knowingly; by no mistake of tongue or underestimation of phrase do the Shadowrunners of the world conduct their business.
This trio starts its journey like so many teams before it, to wend their way through the world as best they can, doing what they have decided is what they do best. Only one thing is guaranteed them each time they accept a job: the sharp, business end of a fat credstick. With that simple lure, the Johnsons of this world have caught all the willing fish they require, humanoid beasts of burden chomping at the bit, promised promises and trusting the untrustable.
The first instance of any business relationship is always full of uncertainty. The Johnson may have allowed himself to be found, or he may have been searching for them; nobody is ever certain how they operate and that is the way of things. After catching wind of their interests, he contacted them through his proxy: a tall, thin man dressed in a black greatcoat and wearing tinted glasses to match his dark goatee, who handed the Johnson’s words down on a simple scrap of paper. On it, written in a plain, neat hand: “The Bar Silphid, One O’clock AM. In The Back.” The proxy then walked away.
It is a rainy, cold night in Chicago. The wind from the Great Lakes bites through clothes and buildings alike to find its prey on nights like this, and it cuts to the bone. A dark, bulky armored Ares Roadmaster with barred windows crunches over the broken pavement beneath scarred lampposts. The rain washes down through yellow headlights and orange streetlights, scattering a million little bulbs into the night sky. The van coughs to a stop and the engine is killed; a panel door slides open and two sets of eyes peer out, one softly organic, the other cold and steel. The undercarriage gives a slight groan and lifts up as a weight shifts itself inside the van; a boot heavy with straps greets the asphalt and grudgingly bears the great weight of its owner. A thickset, medium-height ork raises himself up through the rain and surveys the area. Cold drops beats steadily on the brim of a wide, well-worn hat, and the shoulders of a sand-colored overcoat slowly turn to mud in the rain. He is standing in the parking lot of a seedy dive bar in Southern downtown. There are few other cars parked here with him. The bar itself is a one-story, plain brick building with a sheet-metal roof; the red double doors are unguarded and a small overhang protects entrants from the elements. A faint, rhythmic music can be heard over the white noise of the falling rain. Over the doorway hangs a bright green neon sign. It reads, in false, generated calligraphy, ‘SILPHID’. There is an artist’s depiction, also in green neon, of a small green nymph gazing suggestively over the letters, forked tail between her legs. The ork stamps his foot and checks back toward his companion in the van, motioning with his head that all is clear.
A shortish elven woman hops down from the driver’s seat. She looks nervously at the ork. “Well? He’s probably already waiting for us in there. Let’s go meet him.”
Another woman still inside the van hesitates, unwilling to go out into the pouring rain. She lets out a throaty, snarling laugh. “The note didn’t say anyone was meeting us in there. For all we know, it could have meant, ‘Silphid bar. go in and get shot to fraggin’ hell.’”
The ork looks back over his shoulder at the two, reaching up calmly with one hand to adjust his hat. “Johnson wanted us dead, woulda been dead already. Let’s stick to business. Moonclaw, see if there’s anything fishy going on in there over in ghostland. Ling Fei, let’s get some eyes in the sky.”
The elf looks at him worriedly. “And then?”
Crusher’s trigger finger twitches uncontrollably several times in rapid succession. “Then, we go in.”
“Hmm. Fair enough.”
The rigger cocks her head slightly to the side and furrows her brow in concentration, and a moment later a miniature blimp drone slides from a panel on the roof of the van with a pneumatic hiss, electric turbines whining furiously against the weather as it climbs into the sky.
Still inside the van, the shaman stares hard at the other side of the bar, her eyes flashing bright green for the briefest moment.
[moonclaw casts detect enemies at force 1 with 1 spell pool die, and allocates 3 spell pool dice to spell defense for the three team members. She also makes an astral perception test of the contents of the building, looking for anything fishy or hostile signatures as well as awakened people or things in general. Ling Fei has deployed her condor drone and jumps in, piloting it to 30 feet above the bar and making a perception test and active sensor test, scanning for out of place vehicles or people, and has placed all 6 combat drones on her subscriber list. Crusher has activated his reflex trigger.]
The cat shaman concentrates at her task as her world shifts and ripples, the familiar lights of the astral plane blossoming into view. She turns her head, scanning the front of the Silphid and the surrounding parking lot. She sees only one astral form aside from her teammates, that of a drunk dwarf, his dim aura clinging to him pitifully. From his astral appearance, he seems to be suffering from a severe depressive episode and some kind of substance abuse disorder. He sits with his back to the dumpsters next to the left side of the bar, shivering in the rain. The parking lot is obscured by the dark, inorganic shapes of cars and garbage. Crusher’s serious aura, criss-crossed and cut by the surgical, unnatural lines of his cybered body, sends the usual shiver of revulsion down her spine.
She focuses her will on the building in front of her and casts a subtle detection spell, but can feel no menace directed towards her. The low-slung building sits in plain, shabby defiance of her attempts to pierce it. Her head clears of the stress of spellcasting, and she resumes her scan of the area.
Ling Fei’s electronic eyes soar above the parking lot, scanners sweeping to and fro in the visual and infrared spectra. The drone seems to be having some trouble navigating in the light squall coming off the nearby Lakes. Her cameras and proximity detectors find nothing, and she herself is put to ease when her own visual scans detect only the lone dwarf. He seems to have slipped into a comatose slumber.
The drone’s sensor package comes back with a full report, but this, too, shows nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, other than Ling Fei’s Roadmaster and the faint electrical signatures coming from the bar itself and off of a nearby highway, nothing seems out of the ordinary. The drone detects and identifies a few of the vehicles on their nocturnal journey down I-294, but they all appear to be the usual civilian models. At the very least, they are all street-legal.
The rain continues to fall. It is getting colder.
With a mental impulse Ling Fei’s consciousness leaps from her drone back into her meat body. She orders it to hold position and scan for changes. “Scopes are all clear. Seems innocent enough.”
“Hrrr. Not necessarily. I can’t detect any hostility, but I also can’t seem to penetrate the building.” The shaman brushes a bead of water from her jacket. “Could be an astral barrier. I could be inside and invisible before anyone would get suspicious.”
“Well drek. No reason to spook the man before he’s even given us our run. Let’s just fraggin’ get in the backdoor. ‘Sides, it’s slottin’ cold.” the three hurry around to the back of the bar, shoulders hunched against the freezing rain. As they pass through Moonclaw swipes her hand nonchalantly through the threshhold. [Moonclaw makes an assensing test for possible astral barriers surrounding the building and the details of who might have cast it.]
The runners move around the right side of the building, giving the dwarf and his garbage dumpster a wide berth. The red, cracked brick wall of the side of the bar runs parallel to a high chain-link fence with vertical plastic slats inserted between the links to keep out prying eyes. On the other side of the fence is a dark expanse of silty sand, muddy in the rain, and sickly brush; a building may have stood there once, but now it is the habitat of wild dogs and poisonous refuse. The wall and the fence form a sort of alley, a couple hundred feet long, filled with the types of detritus common to bars: broken glass, blood stains, used syringes and burnt out BTL chips. It is dark on this side of the building.
The ork emerges from this alley first. Turning to his left, he can see that the back of the bar is bare except for a row of metal garbage bins on the far side. The back door is a beaten, scarred metal slat on cheap plastic hinges. A single, dim, incandescent bulb provides illumination. There is no lock on this door, and it swings open easily.
The trio hustles through the entrance, out of the rain. As she enters, Moonclaw’s will reaches out into the aura of the building, assensing the enclosed area for signs of astral barriers, but can find none; in fact, there doesn’t seem to be any magical activity occurring at all, outside of the usual astral activity associated with a place used to being populated with the strong-willed.
The door swings shut behind them. Just inside this doorway lies a short, dark hall, about thirty feet long and ten feet wide, constructed of bare, cold concrete and lit by a series of flickering red fluorescent lights in the ceiling. At the end of the hall is a heavy metal door, iron rivets jutting out at regular intervals, with a rectangular metal sheet at waist height on the left side. Just in front of this door stand two gigantic men.
One would expect from their size that they are metahuman, but on closer examination, it is apparent that they are simply hyperbolic examples of illegal, black-market steroid use gone wrong. Each stands about six feet, eight inches tall, with short dark hair and creased, serious faces; Crusher sizes them up and estimates their weight to be about 250-300 pounds, each, not including what certainly must be cybered bodies; they look like they could eat football linemen for breakfast. They are wearing identical, cheap black suits, thin black ties and dark sunglasses. Their arms are crossed in exactly the same manner across their huge chests. They don’t react to the team’s entrance. It is apparent from their behavior that they are quite used to this kind of thing.
The mercenary puts on his best business face, jutting out his chin and baring his tusks. He steps in front of the two men and produces the note from his breast pocket. “We’re here on business,” the ork deadpans, looking from one man to the next. “The proxy brought us in.” The shaman stands behind his left shoulder, casually taking in the hallway, paying the thugs little attention. The rigger stands to his right, trying to catch the nearest guard’s attention.
The doorman on the right snatches the paper away from Crusher, looking him levelly in the eye through his shades. It is unusual for a human to be able to do this, and it throws the ex-soldier off a little. Their hands rebound heavily, and the brassy, armored ring of cyberware colliding makes it known that these men are packing steel under their synthetic skin.
The thug glances down for a split second; his partner unfolds his arms and presses one large, meaty hand against the rectangular plate on the door behind him. It hisses pneumatically and slides sideways into the wall. “Don’t make any trouble, just follow the yellow line,” the thug intones brusquely, gesturing to an illuminated yellow path that has been inlaid into the ferro-concrete. Clearly, this bar isn’t all it appears to be one the outside.
The line leads the team through the door and into a reception area, a wide rectangular room heavy with smoke. Suede leather couches sit uninvitingly in the corners, positioned around coffee tables encrusted with cigarette ash and circular watermarks from beer bottles. Cheap wooden cornices line the ceiling, and the room is lit by an even cheaper plastic crystal chandelier, with matching light fixtures evenly spaced on the wide ends of the room. There are two heavily stocked bars to either side of the runners, their sides surrounded by cracked leather barstools, with bottles of mildly expensive whiskeys, bourbons and vodka underlit with red neon. The bartenders, both bearded dwarves, regard the trio for a moment, then go back to polishing pints and serving the few patrons leaning heavily on their glasses.
The runners find it odd that nobody has asked them to remove their weapons. The bodyguards at the front door didn’t so much as look twice at what they surely must have known was a fairly heavily armed group. Looking around at the clientèle, however, discourages any thought of armed conflict. There are a few dozen customers lounging around the room, but all of them look mean—and drunk—enough to start a brawl. They must all be shadowrunners, because each of them in turn is more heavily armed, cybered, or magicked out than the last.
The yellow line leads straight through the center of the room, through a doorway and turns left down a hallway.
Crusher looks over his shoulder at the two women standing behind him, catching Ling Fei making eyes with a nearby man in a suit. He glances to Moonclaw, who regards him with impatience. “Shall we follow the line?”
“Well, drek. Yea, let’s go.” The three adjust their clothes and holsters and make their way to the left and down the hallway. The rigger quick-steps to catch up to the thumping steps of the ork and the nearly inaudible gait of the shaman who strides beside him.
“When we get in there, let me do the talking, okay big guy?” The ork uncontrollably flexes the shoulder of his cyberarm and nods in silent agreement, allowing her to reach the door first.
The runners pass warily through the dusky receiving room and through the doorway. Looking left and right, they see that they are now standing in a long, narrow hallway lined with closed doors. Conversation can be heard vaguely over the sound of white noise being piped through speakers in the ceiling; nothing of what is being said can be made out. Following the yellow line, they see that it runs the entire length of the hallway, turns right at a pair of feet wearing glossy patent leather shoes, and ends at an open door.
The pair of feet belong to the proxy that delivered their invitation to the Silphid. They can get a better look at him now; he seems more at ease in this place than he did meeting them in public. He is human, about five feet ten inches tall, wearing a pair of black, thinly pinstriped pants under an intricate, circular metal belt buckle and a black buttoned shirt. The shirt is covered in dark red geometric shapes: circles, triangles and lines which start at the waist and grow more sparse toward the neck. They flash and reflect the light from the ceiling lights, and appear to move ever so slightly over the surface of the material, like expensive metal inlays on an undulating marble floor. He wears a heavy, black trench coat which doesn’t so much flow around him as it bends around itself in certain places; Crusher expects that it is armor plated. His hair is short, cut close to his temples and longer on top, and he wears his dark facial hair in a neatly trimmed goatee. His face is pale, and stretched taught at the cheeks; his lips are quite thin and bloodless. Small circular sunglasses cover his eyes. He nods to the runners, and gestures them to follow him as he walks through the door.
As the runners turn right through the doorway, they finally meet Mr. Johnson. He is sitting in a large, straight-backed leather chair facing a small square table set in the middle of a bright room. He is dressed as the runners imagined a Johnson would invariably dress: a plain, fashionable black suit with matching pants over black leather shoes and a starched white business shirt. He wears no jewelry or sunglasses and has no exposed cyberware, weapons or implants. Even the datajacks or skillwires usually seen on business types are absent. His hair is cut in a light part, with a hint of gray showing on his sideburns. It is impossible to guess his age more accurately than between 35 and 50.
There is someone else in the room with the Johnson. Lurking in the shadowy corner of this small room is a thing about the size and weight of an industrial refrigerator. The shape moves, and the largest troll the runners have ever seen emerges from the darkness. His appearance is designed—intentionally or unintentionally—to produce a primal, deep-rooted fear in those around him.
Even stooping so as not to hit the ceiling, he is easily eight feet tall. Two gigantic, clunky cyberarms protrude from shoulder sockets the size of serving plates; a chest the size of a truck fender is clad in black leather and metal combat armor, and looks solid enough to split wood on. Black armored pants cover legs which could deadlift a Buick, and steel-soled combat boots clunk loudly on the floor on size 28 feet. His combat jacket is open at the front, revealing two braces of submachine guns holstered across the chest and in the armpits like pistols. His skull is wide and flat in the front, with a wide, sloping forehead, like a neanderthal. The troll’s trademark tusks and horns have been replaced—out of aesthetic desire or necessity is hard to tell—with forged, crudely hewn cybersteel plates, roughly approximating the missing anatomy. Slow, dull yellow eyes peer out of their sockets in slightly different directions. In his right hand he loosely balances a six foot piece of steel rebar the thickness of a human forearm, at the top of which is what appears to be a gigantic, blunted axehead strapped to a pair of defused missile bodies and wrapped in black and yellow striped caution tape. Carved into the wrought metal in crude, poor English are the words, ‘ROKKIT HAMMR’.
The Johnson looks at you with plain, blue eyes, slowly tents his fingers in front of his chest, and speaks in an even-toned, nondescript voice, “Good evening. My name is Mr. Johnson. You must be the team my proxy was sent to find. I’m not going to start out our relationship by lying to you, so I’m going to tell you now that I’m not impressed. The kinds of things I need done are not for the faint of heart.” He places his hands palm down on the table, looks at each runner in turn, and continues.
“First, I need to know from you what your level of risk tolerance is, how much information you need to be given during an assignment, any issue you may take with moral turpitude, and your expected income per job and loot privileges. In short, I need to know what you will and will not do. I suggest you make your answer generous, as I am a man of some considerable privilege, and have both the means and willingness to find replacements for all of you. You may begin.”
He settles back in his chair, re-tents his fingers ever so delicately, and awaits a response.
The three stand for a moment, stunned by the proposition. The ork is the first to speak. “Risk tolerance? Sir, with all due respect, you tell me the scariest thing you can think of right now and I’ll tell you how much I want to have it dealt with. You tell me how dangerous is dangerous and I’ll tell you, yes sir, I can do that.”
The elf steps in. “What my associate is trying to say, sir, is that given the right intel we can tackle any job. And if the only intel you have is ‘I don’t have any intel’ then we can tackle that too.”
The shaman watches patiently as they speak.
The suit seems unperturbed by the group’s evasion of his original questioning. Moonclaw notices that the dark human companion places a hand on his shoulder briefly before he starts speaking.
“You should know that I am giving you the benefit of the doubt by considering doing business with you. You will, however, have to prove yourselves to me. I have a simple task for you, something that I’ve arranged many times in the past for a certain client. It does not pay well, and there are few opportunities for unforeseen compensation. If you complete this task to my satisfaction, you will find yourselves availed of my considerable talents and resources.” He takes a white letter envelope out of his jacket.
“This is an exploding opportunity. Specifically, you have exactly 48 hours to return to this place with the requested… acquisition. You should know that the timeframe for this run is unusually short for me, and I find it distasteful that I was unable to find more suitable agents for it. However, the situation demands immediate action; if you are unwilling to accept this task, then it shall go uncompleted.” An immaculately manicured hand slaps the envelope down on the tabletop and slides it forward. It bends with a weight that suggests it contains something other than just paper.
Mr. Johnson stands, concluding his business with an insultingly cavalier flourish of his jacket. “If you don’t have any questions, you may be on your way.” He waits for the runners to leave the way they came.
Ling Fei steps forward and smoothly slips the envelope into her jacket pocket, flashing her most winning smile. “We’ve got the skills you need, sir. You’ll have your package in time.” She turns and nods to her teammates, and they make their way out of the room.
Once they reach the privacy of the bar, Moonclaw turns to the other two. “We didn’t even ask what he was paying.”
Crusher scoffs. “You get the feeling like he was interested in talkin’ yen?”
“No, but now we could show up and he could give us nothing, because we never drekking agreed on anything.” She snarls slightly.
The rigger steps in, arms spread in suggestion. “But you heard what he said, this is like a gateway mission. We take a simple job, finish it without any slip-ups, and next thing you know we’ve earned his trust and we’re making big cred.” The elf tries to give the shaman a reassuring touch on the shoulder, but she responds with an impatient, alienating look and the elf withdraws her hand. Crusher looked on uneasily, worried that the dynamics of his new teammates would land them up drek creek once the lead started flying. He broke the silence.
“Look, we haven’t even had a look at the slottin’ paper yet. Why don’t we get back in the ride and take a look.” The others agree and they make their way back through the rain and into the relative safety of the Roadmaster to take a look at the meat of their first run.