27 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 6 - Commentary

Please read the chapter first.  The commentary will make far more sense.

Treehugger is not a morning person.  She has an allergy to the sun, which has been pointed out a few times.  As a result, her routine is such that she sleeps through most of the day to avoid getting the sunburn from hell.  Flight trials, though, tend to make sleep difficult.

This chapter was a good place to slow things down to let the crew rest, giving me a chance to show them interacting at a more personal level.  Numbers is able to let her hair down, or turn it off since it's artificial.  Oswald reveals yet another odd skill and a hint into his background.  The news report is the official report from the police about what happened when Mr. Johnson was rescued.  A job well done might still get on the news, but the runners shouldn't appear nor should the reasons for what happened.  In the crew's case, Knight Errant has the fight listed as gang warfare.  If you can't do a run quietly, find someone else to blame it on.

In Seatlle of the 2070s, policing has been outsourced, just like in Robocop.  Several companies are in competition for the contracts, including Lone Star Security Services, based in Texas, and Knight Errant, a subsidiary of Ares Macrotechnology.  A new company will always want to show that the money spent is well worth the value, so crackdowns will occur.  Complacency has yet to settle into the firm.  This means shadowrunners will have to make sure that they cover their tracks better.  Treehugger's loaned car helps; a colour change does a lot to throw off suspicion.

The news report Numbers saw was meant to be used later.  I will point out where I missed the opportunity, but the bit that Numbers saw was meant to be foreshadowing. 

System Identification Numbers work in a similar way to American Social Security Numbers and Canadian Social Insurance Numbers, with the added fun of computer databases tracking info.  SINs tie names and faces to the database, and can be used to track comings and goings.  Most runners have fake SINs; they're too necessary to be able to get around without one, but most runners have perfectly good reasons to have burned their old ones, if they even had one to begin with.  Normally, getting a SIN isn't that fast.  Mr. Johnson runs the department that oversees the requests for them and this has the fast method of getting temporary IDs.

Bodyguard work is slow and boring.  Ideally, it stays slow and boring; it means no one is trying to slip past and cause problems.  The crew, though, has to stay alert.  Numbers can set up programs to monitor the Matrix for her, leaving her time to do research.  Oswald has similar options.  He summons two watchers, like the spirits back in Chapter 4.  Watchers have to be given very specific instructions.  They aren't smart, so anything complex results in a spirit that sits in a corner and drools.  Oswald gives his watchers simple instructions.  The results, maybe a little predictable.  The watchers followed their instructions perfectly.  Oswald should have known better.  First, the instructions didn't distinguish on who opens the door.  Second, unauthorized summoning will be detected by astral security.  Like all friends, the crew ribs Oz on his screw up.

Treehugger's errand sent her back out into the sun.  The Pacific Northwest is known for its rainforest for a reason, but cloudy days don't hamper the elf wannabe.  On the plus side, she got the number and an invitation, so it wasn't all bad.  The Humvee TH picks up is the 2070 version of GM's Humvee, which was based on the HMMWV developed for the US military.  Ares got the rights to the model the old fashioned way; it bought up GM.

Back at the apartment, Numbers is playing receptionist.  She is the carrot, turning people away gently but capable bringing in Charles to use as the big stick.  The visitor, Carter, is Mr. Johnson's second in command and not easily intimidated, though Summon Big Troll is a very impressive spell.  The scene between Tarkov and Carter allowed me to get more info into the narrative.  It also let me show why Tarkov can trust Carter with protecting his family.  The two are more than just co-workers.

Holden's a bright kid.  He's meeting real-life shadowrunners and knows enough about the difference between fact and fiction to ask questions.  There are few occupations that are accurately portrayed*.  Most jobs aren't dramatically interesting enough to sustain a TV series, not without adding drama and minimizing the duller aspects that are the core of the position.  Legal dramas never show the articling student looking through stacks of books to find precedents; instead, the series focuses on the courtroom and on the relationships between lawyers.  Thus, trid shows that show shadowrunners will display the action and not the legwork or the relationships, and since most trid studios are corporate owned, the runners will be portrayed as being on the wrong side.

Skye is a teenager, growing up in a somewhat restricted environment.  A guilded cage is still a cage.  Rebellion happens, usually in socially acceptable ways.  The blue streak in Skye's hair turned out to be symbolic of her rebellion, but wasn't initially meant as such.  If it looks like I planned it that way, I'm a better wordsmith than I thought.  Fortunately for Skye, Treehugger understands her.  The conversation between the two is meant to show the disruption of the Tarkov family's daily routine.  I wanted to show that life happens beyond my main cast, that there are other people in the world.

The shopping scene with Oswald and Numbers had a few goals.  First, it was a chance for Numbers to open up a bit.  Second, it let me show the issues of cybernetic implants, showing the Essence loss mechanic of the game.  Third, it shows what shadowrunners give up to become deniable expendable assets for hire.  I've shown in earlier chapters that Numbers has a corporate background.  More of Oswald's background comes out here, possibly corporate.  An edit might reduce the scene, but it's character building, so it'd depend on the editor.

The second last scene brings in an element of action not seen since Chapter 4.  The crew was getting too comfortable and it was time to raise the stakes again.  I also got to show how the crew could work together even when surprised.  The attackers used a multifront attack; a drone from one side, a small team through the front door, and a pair of hackers on the Matrix side.  The drone, armed with a machine gun, can force people to keep their heads down, giving the guys in front time to break in, while the hackers can suppress alerts and phone calls from the apartment.  They were also smart enough to retreat after taking three casualties.

The last scene once more shows the disruption caused by the run.  Through no fault of the crew's, the family is split up and taken into hiding.  Tarkov has someone he can trust with is family.  Again, I seemed to have given all the major characters and even some of the minor ones backstory, enough to know what they'd do.  I've discovered that the more I know the characters, the more productive I am during NaNoWriMo.  Being able to figure out reactions goes a long way into maintaining the pace needed to complete the challenge.  A non-NaNo story would take advantage of this revelation, but I would need to do a lot of pre-writing work.

Chapter 8 has been posted.  The commentary for chapter 7 will appear on Thursday.

* One exception: Radio DJ, thanks to WKRP in Cincinatti.

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