14 Aug 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 19 - Commentary

Please read the chapter first.  Spoilers, sweeties.

Time for a different type of shadowrun, an extraction.  Sometimes the extraction is of someone willing to leave the corporation, in which case security may have orders to shoot the hostage.  It's a scorched Earth approach, but it may be less of a hit on the profit margin for a corporation to deny anyone the use of the extracted employee than to lose the employee and have a rival gain him.  That course on engineering economics is useful in hobbies, too, even if it means being very cynical.  Then again, Shadowrun is set in a cyberpunk dystopia; cynicism is part and parcel of the setting.

For the crew, the extraction is of an unwilling participant, one who may or may not be aware of trouble coming.  With the added deadline imposed by Fraulein Johnson, the crew has little time to set up proper escape routes, do reasonable reconnaissance, or even have a multiple entry and exit plans.  It's also personal.  In a game, breaking in and out depends on what the players prefer.  Some groups like gunplay and explosions; others prefer to remain subtle until things go bad before hauling out the heavy artillery.  The crew, though, works best through stealth, so they're going to use what they have.

The Murdered Mime is another location from the Seattle Sourcebook.  It may feel like namedropping, but the use of canon locations does two things.  First, it lets me tie the story into the published setting.  I wanted the story to be a Shadowrun tie-in.  Second, it lets me not have to come up with my own names.  One of the toughest parts of writing is coming up with a decent name for a store, restaurant, bar, or band.  For NaNoWriMo 2011, I was using my own setting, resulting in a ship called the Duchess Melisande and bars called The Penguin's Saloon and The Double Entendre.  Even in By the Numbers, I'm stretching for a decent name.  Anarchy's Cheerleaders were named after the cheerleaders in "Weird Al" Yankovic's video for "Smells Like Nirvana".  I should have gone with a DJ instead, though.  Live music is slightlier risky than a guy with a playlist of hits.

The scene at the club was based mostly on what I've seen in movies.  Loud music, friends gathering to unwind after a long work week, men and women hitting on each other, strobing lights.  The use of the 2070s electronics is an extrapolation of using smartphones today.  Can't hear someone?  Text them.  Want to be subtle when trying to get someone's attention?  Ping them.  The electronics don't replace social interaction; it just gets used to help get noticed.  Today, electronic flirting is in its infancy, being a reflection of face-to-face interaction with the awkwardness and rudeness of being faceless behind a screen.  Over sixty years, though, with commlinks, near ubiquitous wireless connections, programs to facilitate networking, and the general human desire for fellow contact, a new paradigm of dating and hooking up will evolve to take into account new ways to connect with members of the appropriate sex.

Of course, Numbers has an advantage.  First, she has an immediate goal, concrete and achievable.  Second, she has her bioware pheromones.  Joss, who is already on the prowl, doesn't stand a chance.  Numbers adds a few subtle details.  Sybrespace, another club from the first edition Seattle Sourcebook, is a known decker*/hacker hangout in the shadow of the Aztechnology Pyramid.  Aztech, as I may have mentioned previously, has a rep in the shadows of being one of the nastiest corporations around, with rumours of human sacrifice in the higher echelons.  Numbers is presenting herself as forbidden fruit, the best kind of fruit.  Joss never had a chance.

Cubicle hotels like the Rent & Rest already exist in Japan.  They're no-frills, providing a bed, a TV, and possibly wifi for travellers who don't need much more than a place to sleep.  Fast forward in the Shadowrun setting, and people outside the law can find a new purpose for them - temporary hideouts, locations for drops, and convenient places to drop off an apparently drunk mark.  Needing Joss to appear drunk is why the crew had Oswald hit him with a stun bolt instead of having Charles smack him with a stun-stick.  Bumps and bruises are harder to explain when waking up in a coffin hotel than waking up with a hangover.  Numbers' message will help reinforce the idea that Joss was drunk instead of mugged.  Again, with her pheromones going, the clerk isn't going to remember many details other than a hot, stacked redhead named Kimberly left a wink for a visitor.

With Tillman's ID modified for Oswald, the mage and the hacker play out what Joss would have done - bring Numbers inside the Evo facility to have a romp, but without the romp.  They're relying a lot on Numbers and her social abilities.  At this point, she's just oozing sex.  Everyone's distracted, and since the bioware can't distinguish between friends and foes, that includes Oz.  Once in Tillman's apartment, Oswald's experience comes to the fore.  Bra flinging 101 - no one cares where the bra goes the moment it's off.

The core mission inside Evo is to find the rep who was at the meeting earlier in the story.  Numbers, having hacked Tillman's commlink already, can use his access level to get to the employee directory and get Ms Evo's address.  She doesn't need admin access for a public database, just user rights from someone authorized, like an employee.  That's a key item for hackers to remember in-game; a hacker doesn't always need full admin access.  The higher the access, the tougher the security, and user access can still get to critical data with the right user.  From the IT side, the goal is to make sure that critical data can only be reached by the people who need access.  That balance between security and user access is why network admins caffeinate during the day and drink at night.

Ms Evo is ready.  Paranoia is a perfectly reasonable response when you know someone is after you.  The Colt M23 is from the fourth edition sourcebook, Arsenal, and is a descendant of the M-16.  Numbers does make a good point; shadowrunners are independant contractors and can take higher bids.  She wasn't going to, but placing the idea out there had Ms Evo think a bit.  Think long enough for Oswald to get off another stun bolt.

The removal of the dwarf's clothing was to deal with radio frequency ID, or RFID, trackers.  Annoying today, in the 2070s, RFIDs get attached to almost everything, including clothes.  In part, it's another security measure.  If an RFID belonging to a shirt made by an Ares subsidiary appears in an area where no one is supposed to be, security is alerted and sent to investigate.  At the same time, knowing what key personnel are wearing means that it's easier to track their movement and notice when they're not where they're supposed to be.  Ms Evo falls into the latter category.  Security might get suspicious if an RFID signal moves down a hallway when no one can be seen in it.

Oswald is taxing his magical skills.  After a stun bolt to put down the dwarf, he's casting and sustaining three invisibility spells.  He's not going to be able to do much beyond carry the bag and walk.  Magic is an equilizer in teh Sixth World, but it has a price.  There's only so much a mage can do at any given point.  Most spells do take a toll on the caster, with some exceptions**.  Oz is good at what he does, but he's at his limit.

Tomorrow, now that they have what they broke in for, Numbers and Oswald now have to get out.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Beverly Hillbillies.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Aladdin.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of /Lost in Translation/.

* First edition Shadowrun called the console cowboys deckers, after the cyberdecks they punched to break into corporate systems.
** The exceptions tend to be single sense illusions that only need to interact with the human mind of a single target.  Hot Potato, which causes the feeling that metal is too hot to hold, is such a spell.

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