Crash Test

GM: Walker
Players: Varangian
Synopsis: An old comrade of Varangian's hires her to extract a travelling businessman from a hotel in the UCAS sector who was being courted as a potential contact but had broken off contact.
Date: 17 Jan 2081

It isn't often that Varangian receives mysterious, unsolicited trixmail - aside from the occasional spam that manages to defeat modern pruning algorithms - but upon returning from church one Sunday she finds this message in an inbox:

»» Iryna,

»» I know we have not spoken in some time, but I hope you are well. Times have been hard since leaving Constantinople but work is steady. I was glad to hear that you have felt more settled in Denver.

»» If you are interested, I have some work that could use a local that I can trust. I cannot easily travel to Denver, I will not go into the details, but this work is time-sensitive. You would have to track down a person and extract them. I cannot help directly but have some contacts that could provide logistical support.

»» If you are interested, the address to a secure host is attached. We can discuss particulars there.

»» Argash

Returning home to her apartment after church, Iryna throws her jacket over a chair and gets her samovar going. While brewing herself some Turkish tea, naturally served in an earless glass, she turns her home cyberterminal on to check for messages.

"Huh," she says to herself in surprise seeing a message from her old Constantinopolitan colleague. After getting the tea done, she slips down in a chair in front of the computer and checks the message. Curious, she opens up the attachment and finds the host address.

~Wonder what the old bastard is up to…~ she thinks to herself as she goes on to access the secured host.

As the datajack connection is established and the physical world fades away to be replaced the familiar environment of her cyberterminal, the attachment containing a link to the access node takes on a new form: a flat orb of grey that eclipses anything behind it. Not a black hole or anything so showy, just a flat disc of fine static that obscures the environment behind it, only recognisable as a sphere when viewed from a different perspective.

When she accesses the node, every sensory feed is filled with the same static. White noise in her ears, static in her vision, even strange tingling across her skin and a random barrage of nonsensical scents: none of it harmful, but all quite disorienting. Her sense of balance warps too - is she falling? There's barely enough time for the thought to register before gravity reasserts itself with a jerk and she falls into a firelit darkness, landing on a surprisingly comfortable leather armchair.

Clearly Argash has a rather grim sense of humour: the host resembles a foxhole in a dark forest, though the pair of armchairs and the mahogany bar complete with an impressive range of booze give it an unusual distinction. A fire in the centre provides flickering light while smoke drifts through the forest above them. Occasional bursts of gunfire can be heard in the distance.

In the other armchair site Argash, his icon appearing in his old uniform, the 10,000 daggers insignia proudly displayed. He lifts a glass, "Good to see you Iryna."

Iryna's physical body slumps back in the chair as the digital stimuli fed through the cable plugged behind her ear takes over that of her normal senses. The light of the room eventually turns off, leaving only a faint glow from the computer terminal and the red diode over her ear visible in the darkness.

When she appears in this new world, she is rendered to resemble an old Byzantine icon, wearing a medieval suit of armour and wrapped in a cloak of imperial purple, much like how a Saint would be depicted, only female, with Iryna's real-life long brown hair. Also, without a halo. That would be downright sacrilege.

"Been a long time," she replies and leans back in the armchair, while admiring the surroundings. "Didn't imagine you'd have such exquisite tastes in digital hideouts."

The old mercenary shrugs, the hint of a grin curling the corner of his mouth. "I hear old men are allowed a degree of sentimentality," he takes a sip from his glass and chuckles, a low rough sound, "Just getting a head start." His glass is waved to take in the bar, "Drink? It's not quite like the real thing, but better than the piss the Americans make."

"You know I was never a big drinker," the Varangian says but nonetheless helps herself to the digital facsimile of some good old Turkish Raki. It's not like her fitness obsession only started when she moved to Denver. "Not a fan of bourbon, then?" she says with a chuckle, swirling around that glass of milky liquor as if checking its resolution. "I have to admit, life in America is not always as exciting as I had imagined it'd be when things started going quiet in Turkey and the Levant. Lots of sitting around, waiting for stuff to happen."

The face Argash pulls is enough to make his opinion of bourbon perfectly clear. He nods in agreement with her sentiment, "Same shit, different place: long periods of boredom with occasional bursts of fatal excitement." His dark eyes fix on her and a toothy smile cracks his face, "That why you're here? Denver not exciting enough for you? Not enough doors to kick down?"

"I should be asking you," Iryna replies. The stylised, Icon-like features of her face aren't really conducive to expression, though her voice should be able to convey her surprise. "You sent me here, after all, and I presume not just for admiring the texture on your mahogany table and throwing stabs at Americans. Even though those things can be fun, but I have a feeling you've got something more interesting on offer."

Argash mulls this over for a moment before eventually giving a slow nod. "There is a man I had been in contact with in Denver. I cannot get into details, but he was to do some work for me," he drains the rest of his glass and slaps in on the bar, in the distance something explodes, "Yesterday he did not make contact as expected. I suspect he might have received a better offer and while he does not know enough to be truly dangerous, it would be better for all concerned if he and I could have a friendly chat -outside- the city limits."

The explosion in the distance does get noted, though Varangian just assumes it's a deliberate choice of decor rather than something to be concerned about. Background music for an old soldier, if you will. The glass of Raki comes down on the table a moment later, although with not as much gusto. "I see. I suppose you need someone on location to find him, then? Grab him, put him in a parcel and mail him to you?"

"Essentially? Yes." Argash leans back in his chair as vehicle engines roar in the calm after the explosion. "Unharmed though, that is vital. I need to know what he knows. Ideally you would arrange it to look as though he took a business trip or the like. The fewer ripples the better, understood?" Then he sits forwards, lowering his voice, "And Iryna, be careful who you trust with this. I trust your discretion in this matter."

Iryna folds her arms over her chest as she listens. "Sounds doable," she says. "Arranging such a thing might require breaking into his Matrix database though. I'm accessing this host from a tortoise, just saying." She stops to listen to the sounds of battle in the distance, almost as if she found them just as soothing. "I can be discreet though, worry not."

"The nature of his work had him moving around a lot," Argash offers on the subject of datatrails, "I can supply account numbers which might let you back trace his spending with the right credentials. If you need additional hardware I know a local who can arrange that."

"Excellent," Iryna replies. "As you can imagine, Denver has a lot of really good deckers on hand so I haven't had to do much work on the Matrix since… well, since disabling that electronic minefield back in Lebanon, if you remember? I've got updated software ready for upload with the know-how, I just need to get hold of a deck. Think that contact of yours can lend one out for a job? Maybe there'll be some paydata in return for him."

Argash's icon glitches as he pulls a face, creating a slightly gruesome effect for a moment. "So long as that paydata does not concern me or your target, I have no concerns with that." A moment of thought follows as he thinks it over, "I suspect they will have some hardware on hand, but I would not go expecting miracles." Another crooked grin appears in the darkness as the fire dims, "As they say, you get what you pay for. I will send you the information I have, keep it offline. Anything else?"

"That's all." Iryna says. "Allah Korusun," she says, slowly lifting out of that chair until erect. Her icon after that slowly begins to fade, as if bursting at the seams displaying the pixels underneath, until eventually fading out as she disconnects from the host.

As reality reasserts itself in Iryna's mind, her apartment slowly returns around her, the lights powering back on as she moves a little. In her inbox is a new message, the sender unknown, containing a single file.

Walter Hastings is her target's name: a wandering salesman of sorts who seems to hop from corp to corp and territory to territory in and around the Denver FTZ on a fairly regular tempo. Probably a useful man to have in your pocket all things considered. A fair amount of information is provided: background, description, known haunts, the briefest of psych profiles and his known bank account information.

Waking up with a bit of twitch, Iryna sits up straight on her chair and pulls the table out of her skull. She takes the information in that file, downloads it onto a memory chip and plugs it into one vacant slot in her neck. Then, she gets up, downs the rest of her now-cold tea and prepares to head out. She checks her Cerberus pistol one extra time before heading out, then proceeds to call Patch on her way down the stairs.

The phone on the other end rings exactly once before it connects. "Yes?"

The voice is formatted somehow, there's no accent or inflection. It's like talking to a machine.

The Varangian heads out of her building and walks out on the street, wrapping her jacket closer to her as the cold outside hits her. She looks up at the grey sky above and the polluted snowflakes that rain down on the dirty street. "I'm Varangian, an associate of Mr. Batulhan. I need to get hold of some hardware for a job," she says as she begins to walk down the street towards the nearest monorail station.

"Yah, sure," the strange machine-voice replies, "Let's not get all familiar, huh? Your name is Denver and I'm Patch. I don't know who gave you this number but I can do that. As a matter of fact it's your lucky day." A distorted peal of laughter sounds through the phone, "A friend of mine recently got into an accident when he tried to drive too fast… terrible thing. You ever go to the old library in the CAS sector? They've got a great old book there about road safety, 'Drones: Why Metahumans Shouldn't Drive'." A brief pause follows, "Seems it's reserved under your name. You should give it a read." With that, the line disconnects, leaving the sine wave of a dial tone as the only thing in her ears.

The dial tone does come a little sooner than expected though she's well aware that's how netizens behave. Well, at least the shady ones. Getting on the monorail, she thus heads off towards the library. Expecting an uneventful ride there, she puts on some gun review videos she recently downloaded from the Trix playing on her image link while zoning out.

Once at the library, she gives the building a look of appreciation, and goes in, hoping the guards won't bother her too much. She doesn't exactly look like a college student, after all.

The tall woman does draw a brief glance from security, but perhaps she's on the swim team or something. The book is indeed waiting for her at the desk when she asks, a rather heated polemic on the dangers of allowing potentially criminal humans behind the wheel now that autonav was a mature technology. Patch, it seems, has a sense of humour. Opening the book and flicking through reveals a key matching one of the library's lockers which contains a kitbag. Inside is an almost pristine HackerHouse Prodigy-6: apart from a couple of blood stains. A brief flick through memory reveals a limited set of utilities - not enough to satisfy a professional decker, but perhaps enough to get a script kiddy into serious trouble or to locate a wayward travelling salaryman.

Quickly, the deck finds its way down her bag before anyone can notice. Fortunately, most people in a place like this have their noses down in books. Just for looks, she does the same, taking something off a shelf, pretending to read as she connects to the deck to peruse its memory. A while later, she puts the book back in its place and heads out, giving security a little smile as they look her over once again.

Having procured her tools for the job, she ponders where to go to find a suitable jackpoint.

After some time, the brunette soon-to-be-decker decides to grab some nearby hotel that looks decent enough to supply what she needs. Basically a jackpoint and a door to lock behind her. Not too hard to find.

Once checked in at the hotel, she gets up to her room, locks the door, closes the curtains and begins to look for the point to jack in. She takes her jacket off, lies down on the bed with the deck next to her, plugs herself in and turns the computer on, connecting her consciousness once more to the vast net.

The Denver RTG and it's local nets are higher security than most others, but with the surprisingly good equipment provided by Patch it's a simple matter for Varangian to slice through the security measures around the hotel and flit nearly undetected into the broader Denver grid. A mishmash of iconography assails the senses, the grid laid out much like the city itself with several gleaming spires at its centre for each of the sectors, all with their own cultural stylings that clash and merge in the broader grid below. Neon cowboys and chrome couatls jockey for position with old-timey astronauts and wireframe cybershamans.

Varangian appears in the Denver network, looking like a bright yellow crash test dummy with happy ^_^ eyes painted on it, rather ironic choice of icon from the deck's last user considering his fate. Clearly, a speed freak into the last.

The yellow dummy, bereft of a car, sweeps through the flow of data, sending out yellow pixels lighting up the path towards the bank's host. Stopping once she finds the icon, a floating cube with a glyph resembling a Greek temple with a Yen sign over it, the yellow pixels light it up and she jumps into it

She then plops out through the door of an old marble hall with tall columns and numerous carved wooden panel booths. The dummy proceeds to creep forward to one of those booths to leech onto its data.

As the crash dummy opens the filing cabinets to locate Walter's account history, it runs into an issue: the files are contained in manila folders. Not normal manila folders though, no siree - these folders are fractal. Every time the dummy opens one there's another folder inside. It takes a bit of work, but eventually it discovers the trick: you have to stroke the spines on the folders in a soothing way to get them to open without the fractal nonsense.

As the initial download fails, the happy ^_^ eyes of the crash test dummy turn into probing @_@ spyglass eyes that survey the bank lobby. Noticing the presence of probing eyes, it proceeds to download again, hoping it'll go smoother this time, which it does. Lifting the corresponding file out, the dummy's jaw opens up and shoots out, turning into a big filing cabinet that consumes the file before closing again.

The crash test dummy, having consumed the necessary data, proceeds to terminate itself in the way crash test dummies do best - by crashing into the nearest wall. Leaping up and taking a floating posture as if seated in a car, the dummy flies away towards one of the bank's columns, but upon impact it bounces away and lands unharmed on the marble floor, its ^_^ eyes replaced with dizzy o_O ones.

But it doesn't give up, It hops up again, disengages an imaginary hand brake and steps on an invisible gas pedal, swooshing away at top speed straight into the wall and blows into pieces, its yellow head bouncing over the floor with x_x eyes before finally dissipating into yellow pixels.

A moment later, Iryna opens her eyes as meatspace is fed back into her brain, instinctively gasping for air.

Once she reorients and has a chance to go through Hastings' account records, it isn't too hard to deduce his whereabouts. The most recent transactions all point to the Staybridge Hotel: room, bar tab, massages, room service. Somebody's living it up for sure.

Iryna sits up on the bed and snatches one of the complimentary bottles of water, downing it in one go. She goes to the window in the room, peeling up the curtains with her fingers just to get a view of the city outside while she ponders how to go about this.

After having uncovered the name and location of her target, Varangian sits around in her hotel room, thinking of a plan. Then, she heads out on the street to do some shopping. After touring a couple flea markets and electronics stores, she returns to her hotel room with a card reader of the same type used in many hotels. Then, she connects it to her cyberdeck and tests it out on the spare keycard she got from the room she rented.

Iryna takes her jacket off and lies down on the bed again. She puts the deck down beside her, then closes her eyes before plugging the fiberoptic cable into her brain. Once again the crash test dummy is thrown out onto the net, easily finding its way through the local subroutine and out onto the digital streets of Denver. From there, locating the Hotel's icon does not prove a particularly challenging task either, and within the course of virtual seconds the dummy is floating in front of an icon bearing the hotel logo.

The velvet rope across the access node is a tricky beast: no matter how icons approach it always seems to get in the way. Impressive for glorified red twine. With a bit of perseverance however, the dummy manages to navigate the barrier and plunge into the node.

The host on the other side, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a richly appointed hotel lobby. Files are arranged in an enormous stack of pigeonholes that seem to correspond to different staff members and rooms. The marble pillars and floor beneath the thick rugs gleams in the golden sunlight streaming through the huge windows and a bustling set of staff programs in bellboy uniforms bustle around attending to a hundred different tasks.

The crash test dummy, after popping up in the hotel lobby, ignores the typical functions catering to the average visitors and slips off behind the counter, so to speak. It digs into the subsystem reserved for hotel staff, searching for the main lobby's device for creating room keys. Once it finds it, a huge wrench appears in its hands and it begins to bash the system until it spits out a copy of the Penthouse key, which it later picks up and slips into the slit of its mouth as if it by itself was a card reader.

As the crash dummy roots around behind the counter it attracts some attention. A little drone, no more than three feet high, balanced precariously on a single squeaky wheel with an enormous camera lens for a head peeks around the edge of the counter at the strange icon.

The crash test dummy is almost sweating at the tension over the drone's squeaky wheel echoing through the lobby. >_> Eyes darting about <_< As it jumps at the employee register. Its jaw extends once more into a filing cabinet that consumes the delicious file, then the dummy gets nerdy glasses B) and a quill pen and it goes in and signs a new name on the hotel staff - Estelle Chandler, Room Service, Intern.

After stealthily recruiting a new employee to the hotel workforce, the crash test dummy closes the file, then hops up, seating itself in an invisible car and proceeds to drive itself straight into a wall, exploding in a cartoony cloud of stars and little winged crash test dummies. After they fade away into pixels, nothing remains of the bright yellow intruder.

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