by Brie Sheldon
The back of the van was quiet while Crunch was jacked into the ’net outside the massive black office building. Her work was fluid but frantic, like the rush of water through a broken levee. The passive security measures sensed her intrusion and activated. Ice, cold and prickling, crept around the edge of her vision in the VR. She dove deeper, her eyes moving rapidly behind her eyelids while the rest of her body twitched in response to the virtual stimulus.
The files were inside, behind that glowing green door. Those damn files! Paperwork with backgrounds on her, Brink, and Jaaz and all of their families. Ever since PeriCor got their hands on the data, the three women had been haunted by that damned Corporation. They were locked out of everything: bank accounts, stores, even the hospitals. Crunch punched through the code of the door, shattering it. The ice surrounded her in spikes as she carefully wove through a narrow opening.
“Yo, Crunch, how long is this about to take?” A voice echoed through Crunch’s earpiece.
Crunch’s response blipped up on Jaaz’s heads-up display.
OMG SRSLY I’M ON IT. ICE LIKE ANTARCTICA UP IN HERE.
Jaaz sighed loudly, and closed her eyes so she didn’t see Crunch’s storm of swears. She was trying to be patient, seriously, but it was like, way too long. She could see the security inside, and the last thing she wanted was to draw their attention. She was lucky that PeriCor was full of egotistical jerkoffs who didn’t worry so much about their security, though, because the guys inside were chumps. They had the uniforms, but they weren’t professionals. Jaaz might look a little out of place with her dreadlocks, but at least she could take someone down. These guys looked like they _might _be able to take down a twelve-year-old. Maybe.
It couldn’t be too much longer. Jaaz was there to keep Crunch on track, since Crunch sometimes got a little distracted in the ’net. Jaaz held her breath as Crunch’s
OK OK came up on-screen, and then breathed in relief when the door clicked.
Jaaz walked through the shiny metal door like she owned the place. There was a set of turnstiles ahead of her, but she needed an ID badge to get through. She bumped into a chick in a suit as she walked past and snagged her badge. Now she was _in_, and it should be easy-peasy.
The badge worked on every door and elevator except for one—the door to the server room. Damn.
“Crunch, can you get this?”
BRINK IS ON HER WAY. SHE’S GOT THIS ONE.
Jaaz cringed. I hope she doesn’t hurt anyone before I get to her. She loved Brink, but Brink dealt with locked doors only one way.
The inside of the ventilation was cramped and tight, but Brink’s body was small and flexible, so it wasn’t much trouble. The smell of re-recycled air was overpowering. She inched, stretched, and pulled her way through the metal corridors.
“Crunch, is it left or right here?”
LEFT, TWO RIGHTS.
Brink smiled and shimmied forward. Crunch was an ace hacker, but this was the biggest job they’d ever done, so she couldn’t even imagine how hard Crunch’s work was. On the other hand, Brink was a B.A. infiltrator, so this job? Chill.
The ventilation corridor opened up onto an elevator shaft. She crouched down and then propelled herself to hook onto the elevator line. She caught it easily and let herself spin. She let go, and dropped fast, air swooshing around her ears and blowing her hair into her face. Whee!
STOP HAVING SO MUCH FUN, BRINK
“Hey, it’s my life on the line here. Get it, on the line?”
Her hydraulic rig slowed her to a stop, bringing her next to the ventilation system. She swung over and climbed in, snaking through until she was over the server room. She looked down through the vent. The metal vent had wide slots that were easy to look through, and it wouldn’t take much to open it. Light peeked through the slots, almost blinding after being in the dark corridors of the ventilation. When her vision refocused, she saw a figure bent over a computer.
One woman inside. She could handle this. She had to. Her family depended on it. So much depended on it.
Brink quietly opened the vent, and dropped down without a sound. She crept up behind the woman sitting at the computer and quickly snaked her arm around the woman’s neck. The woman didn’t respond at first, which is when Brink realized that the woman was jacked in. Brink eased the pressure for a moment and the woman’s hands reflexively grabbed onto Brink’s arm. They struggled, the woman pulling on Brink’s arm and Brink’s arm tightening until the woman stopped resisting and slumped over the computer. Brink took her ID badge and went to open the door.
Brink swiped the badge, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet. The door opened with a quiet hiss. Jaaz rolled her eyes and pushed through.
“Where’s the…” Jaaz caught sight of the woman’s body and immediately turned around on Brink. “I thought we said no casualties.”
“Nothin’ casual about it. She’s just sleeping anyway.”
SRSLY GUYS DID YOU KILL SOMEONE?
Jaaz checked the woman’s pulse. The woman was still alive.
“She’s not dead.”
Jaaz carefully pushed the woman’s body to the side. She opened the compartment on her new metal arm and pulled out a wireless key. The new arm was handy—a replacement for the one lost in a serious car accident a few months earlier. This new one was stronger, more useful than her meat arm. She plugged the key into the computer and wiped her fingerprints before she turned to leave.
, I AM IN YOU
Crunch could see the code behind every lock and key PeriCor had. More than anything, she could see the data she was looking for—a shining beacon her search function had located. Unfortunately, it rested behind two big gates and two very, very angry dogs, lit up with the programming. Numbers ran over their hides like rain.
It was time for a show.
Crunch tried, first, to sneak past. She squatted down onto the ground and then belly crawled halfway to the first gate. It was easy. When she got to the gate, she reached out and touched the lock with her fingertip. It burst like a supernova, light emanating from its center and spreading outward into sparkling symbols.
<The floor is lava.>
NO SRSLY, THE FLOOR IS LAVA!
Crunch twitched in the real world, her body shuddering in response to the pain she felt when she dropped into the virtual lava. In VR, she transformed. Her skin hardened and scales grew over her arms and legs, and she swam through the lava, a salamander with webbed fingers and toes. It took a while, but she managed to reach the other side, slogging through pain that threatened to break through her protection.
The next gate was harder. She poked at it, prodding the pieces of code, turning them in the air and slipping them back into place. After a minute, she had it figured out, and she punched the lock. Like the last one, it burst.
Suddenly, it was cold. She must have touched something wrong, because there it was: the ice. The dogs in front of her grew up in size, blinking one, two, three times as they turned into giant monster dogs. Spikes of ice grew into her vision, and real-her gasped in pain, cringing.
It was time to bring out the big guns.
She transformed again. This time, bigger. Badder. Better. Her scales led the way down her back to a long tail, and she spun around, a huge, massive-toothed dragon.
The dogs growled and ran at her. She twisted and swept her tail at them, nailing one in the side. The other grabbed her and tore at her code, ripping out her wings. Real-her shouted in pain, but virtual-her shook off the dog. She drew in a massive breath, pulling together all of her strength. Her real nose began to bleed.
She let out the virtual breath in a massive, shining burst of numbers and symbols, flames licking the ice and melting it from her vision and shattering the dogs into wasted piles. She stumbled forward over them and opened her giant mouth to swallow her prize: the file directory.
Crunch shook herself outside, slowly pulling herself out of the ’net. It always left her fuzzy but hyped. Now that she had the files, she could read them literally instead of having to fight down any more monsters. She skimmed them, and inside the file directory, she found something else. PeriCor had more hidden records. Bastards.
The files on her, Brink, and Jaaz were good ones, detailed, but they didn’t compare in the slightest to the files mixed in with them: death records. From what Crunch could tell, PeriCor had released chemicals into the local river… and killed thousands. What had been billed as an outbreak of a vaccine-resistant flu was instead the result of Corp negligence. Fragging hell?
If PeriCor was this soulless, they were way worse than just hunting down runners, and worse than just working with the Tricks to find Brink’s family. If they were this bad, what else would they do?
Jaaz was running, Brink alongside her. Behind them, the sound of footsteps slammed. Two security guards followed—slowly but surely. Their heads-up showed the message from Crunch.
FOUND SECRET FILES.
EVIL. GTFO NOW!
They rounded a corner and Jaaz yanked Brink to the side, narrowly avoiding the pair of suits walking straight towards them. The first suit pulled a gun and Jaaz whipped her leg around, kicking the gun out of his hand. She barreled at him, slamming him into the wall. Her strength was greater than she expected, and she heard a loud crunch. The guy’s ribcage sunk in and he choked out a gurgling breath. She jumped back and dropped him, her eyes wide.
Brink was too busy to notice. She had no trouble disarming the other guy, but now she was surrounded by two security guards and this suit, spinning around in circles, dodging and striking out. Three against one is lousy odds. She was just about to get socked, but dodged at the last second. Excited, she spun around, kicking out and clocking each of them. It knocked one guy out, but the other two were still game. She shouted at Jaaz.
“Oh em gee, Jaaz, get it together!”
Jaaz shook herself out of it, turned and immediately attacked the other suit, leaving the last security guard to Brink. She held back her strength, concentrating and taking care to just hit hard enough, and succeeded—two hits and the guy was down and out, but not dead.
“I warmed him up for ya!” Brink shouted as she jumped and kicked the security guard in the face, knocking him flat.
They paused for a second, observing the damage, but then sense caught up with them and they ran.
“We need an exit!”
Crunch hammered into the keyboard, opening doors along their path and shutting down security. All the while, her other screen showed files with lists of names, people dead because of PeriCor. It made her feel sick, but all the more determined.
She reached a roadblock in the code, and dropped the keyboard. She dove into VR, her eyes rolling back and her body going limp. Standing in front of her was an avatar of a knight, one of those old-timey guys in metal armor. He had a sword and was waving it around like it meant something. Words appeared above him.
LITTLE GIRL, I WILL GET YOU
Lightning fast, he moved towards her and struck her, again and again. Her avatar cracked, and real-her convulsed. The smart thing to do would be to pull out now. She could feel the pain welling in her brain, but she could also feel the tell-tale ping-ping of the GPS locators in Jaaz and Brink. If she went down, so did they. Worse, no one would ever know about all of those people.
She ducked low, avoiding the knight’s swing, and shoved upwards, catching him in the midsection. There was a low buzz and brrrt, and the knight began to fragment, piece by piece. His code spilled out of his torso like guts. His text displayed.
NO ONE DEFEATS Kn1GhT!
She took a deep breath, and blew him away as he screamed FUXXOR UZOR and fell into a million pieces. Blood trickled out of her real ear. Where the knight had been, there was a wall of code with the last door. Finally.
She opened the last door for Jaaz and Brink and the two stormed out of the building and piled into the van. Jaaz started the engine and they tore off down the street.
They could see the black SUV behind them. It was only a matter of time until it caught up. Brink dug into the dash and pulled out three pistols. Jaaz glared at her and shook her head.
Jaaz snatched one of the guns out of Brink’s hand and shoved it into her pants.
“I’m taking it, but I’m not using it.”
WILL YOU GUYS SHUT UP?
“Dude, we’re right here!”
Crunch groaned and slumped forward between the seats.
“Yeah, I know, it’s just easier.”
She held a tablet in her hands and showed it to Brink, who read off some of the text to Jaaz. The van whipped around a turn into a narrow alley and skidded on two wheels. The SUV behind them drove past, unable to turn quickly enough to catch them.
“That shit’s horrible, Crunch.” Jaaz was shaking, her knuckles white as she held onto the wheel and navigated more twisting streets.
Crunch nodded, her face set with grim determination. This changed everything. They saved themselves, but there were so many more people at risk, so many who had been hurt by PeriCor. She shared a glance with Brink and then with Jaaz, and knew they felt the same way.
“We’ve got work to do.”
Crunch is a skinny brunette with an eye for trouble. In spite of only being in her late teens, she is the number one hacker in the city. Impressive, considering hackers run by the dozen. She’s from a once-affluent family who seem oblivious to her illicit activities. Her expertise lies in virtual reality (VR) hacking, where she easily transforms and navigates through any security measure laid in front of her. Her greatest achievement yet is hacking into the city’s secure automated trial system—a crime for which she has yet to be caught.
High Concept: Curious Ace Hacker
Trouble: The ’Net is My Wonderland
I Fight in Many Forms • Sucker for a Cause • What’s Right is Right
Great (+4) Hack
Good (+3) Deceive, Will
Fair (+2) Investigate, Resources, Stealth
Average (+1) Burglary, Contacts, Empathy, Lore
Hard Limits. While in Virtual Reality, you can convert mental stress to physical stress. Consequences you take as a result of this stunt cannot be invoked or compelled by virtual opposition during the current conflict.
Break the Ice. +2 to Hack when attempting to circumvent or break locks in Virtual Reality.
Codetalker. Once per session, you can establish a virtual link with a number of characters equal to your Hack. Regardless of distance or virtual and physical barriers, you can communicate with these characters via electronic code. The effects of this stunt last for one scene.
Physical □□ Mental □□□□
Crunch’s skill list includes Hack, a new skill designed for use with the Silicon City Quick Start Adventure. Head over to "New Skill: Hack" later this issue to read more about how the Hack skill can be used in play.
Brink is an ex-Olympic gymnast on the run from the mob, the Tricks. When Brink was up for the Olympics, the Tricks tried to bribe her to throw the competition. She instead turned them in to the cops, and ever since then, she and her family have been hiding out, trying to keep away. Brink is an expert at sneaking in and out of everywhere, from clubs to mansions to military complexes. Petite and flexible, she has no trouble fitting into ventilation shafts and windows. She never hesitates to do what is necessary to protect her family.
High Concept: Bad Ass Gymnast
Trouble: Family is Everything
Expert at the Old In-’n-Out • No One Keeps Secrets from Me • Always Help a Chum in Need
Great (+4) Burglary
Good (+3) Athletics, Stealth
Fair (+2) Investigate, Notice, Physique
Average (+1) Deceive, Fight, Provoke, Shoot
Grapple. You can use Athletics instead of Fight to Attack when you engage in close-quarters grappling with an opponent.
Just Dropping In. You always go first in conflicts, provided you find a way to enter the scene without drawing attention to yourself.
Hard to Hit. +2 to Defend with Athletics when you’re outnumbered.
Physical □□□ Mental □□
Jaaz is the moral center of every group she’s been a part of. From her family, some of whom threw out their respect for law a long time ago, to her crew, who do bad things to make things right, she’s always keeping someone in check. She’s big and muscular with dreadlocks and a metal right arm, which she still has to pay off. She tries to get her money honestly. So far, nothing has made her cross the line to kill—but Jaaz knows that sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.
High Concept: Cybernetic Bouncer
Trouble: Part-Time Pacifist
I Don’t Trust Authority • Weakness for the Weak • Still One of the Good Guys
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Athletics, Physique
Fair (+2) Investigate, Notice, Shoot
Average (+1) Burglary, Drive, Stealth, Will
Don’t Know My Own Strength. Once per session, you can use your Physique rating as a free invoke when you attack with Fight. If your attack inflicts a consequence, take a point of Mental Stress.
Big Woman, Big Heart. Use Physique instead of Rapport on any create advantage rolls that involve roughhousing, kid juggling, or other physical acts of affection.
Robotic Arm. Once per session, you can pull a piece of advanced electronic equipment you need from your robotic arm.
Physical □□□□ Mental □□□