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Title: Stardust and Shrapnel

Chapter: 2/??

Rating: R

Character(s): (This Chapter) Nostalgia Critic, Donnie Dupre, Spoony, Oreo

Pairing(s): Brief Mention of past Critic/Tamara.

Warnings: Cyberpunk AU. Some language/violence.

Summary:  What began as a quest to find a missing friend may soon place the lives of The Nostalgia Critic, Spoony, Linkara and many other lives they'll encounter into the heart of a much deeper conspiracy.

Disclaimer: All characters/borrowed concepts are property of their respective owners. Therefore I do not claim to own them, nor do I mean any disrespect toward either characters and concepts, or their owners.

  The Nostalgia Critic stretched and yawned as he walked across the floor of his apartment. Although, perhaps “walk” was too graceful a term to describe something more reminiscent of a baby giraffe learning to walk for the first time.

  Loudly, he cursed to himself as he tripped over a piece of broken computer parts that had been laying upon the floor, causing him to fall face first into a clutter of empty, two week old Chinese take-out boxes.

  “Damn it,” he cursed to himself as he clambered back to his feet, wiping away some leftover bits of orange sauce that stuck to his loose-fitting tie and wrinkled white tee-shirt, "Ugh...what the hell was that? Oh, right. When's the last time I cleaned this place?"

  Without another word, he stumbled the rest of the way to the small, multi-screened computer terminal in the corner of the room. He picked up his cyberdeck, a portable keyboard/external hard-drive like device, and plugged it into the console. He figured that, while he was awake, he might as well try to look into whatever was on that datadrive that he'd picked up from the masked decker that he'd run into the previous night.

  Of course, he told himself, it wasn't likely that it was anything too amazing. It was probably just some excess data that she'd picked up, hoping to sell for a little extra money on the black market, but was otherwise useless.

  He'd probably get around to really looking at it in a moment, he thought. Besides, he had other business to attend to, he thought as he typed in a command on his keyboard.

  Within a matter of moments, the image on the centralmost screen flickered and changed, replaced with a list of names and numbers. Sighing heavily, he adjusted his glasses as he clicked on one of the names from the list.
As he waited for the call to connect, he found his eyes wandering back toward the datadrive.  He couldn't help but find himself thinking about the woman that had previously owned it

  Although their meeting had been brief, and next to no words were actually exchanged between them, he couldn't help but feel as if he knew her from somewhere.

  Sure, he reasoned, all deckers were somewhat like a dysfunctional family, even among other shadowrunners. It didn't matter what side of a run any two deckers found themselves on, at the end of the day, it was always about the thrill of opening one's mind to the mysteries of the Matrix, being free to explore it's ever shifting and growing electric horizons.

  But, he couldn't help but feel like there was something he was missing, like they'd known of each other long before their encounter on the street, like they had gone to the same high school, but had been a grade or two apart, or hung out in different social circles.

  His thoughts then reflected back on the Nerd, wondering about how his former colleague and friend was. Ever since Nerd had decided to retire and leave the city behind, he hadn't talked to him at all. Then, he thought, considering the terms they left on, he was sure that Nerd didn't really want to talk to him, much less be in the same room.

  He wondered if Nerd had also gotten the message that Chick was possibly alive. Of course he had, he reminded himself. After all, whomever had sent the note had specified that they had contacted Nerd as well.

  Part of him wished that he could have been there, just for the satisfaction of seeing the annoyed grimace on the other man's face when he said 'I told you so'. Not that he would, not at least until he had some definitive proof, anyways.

    A faint bleep sounded from the corner, forcing Critic to turn his head as the call had finished connecting. The bespectacled decker jumped in shock, nearly flying backwards over his chair as the image of a man, similar in appearance to himself but older in age, appeared on the screen.

  But, it was not the man himself that startled Critic, but rather the fact that the man seemed to be covered head to toe in what appeared to be blood and viscera. More unnerving was that the older man was patiently staring at him, as if completely okay with the fact he looked like he'd just either committed a violent murder, or was the re-animated victim of one.

  "Ggguyyahh!" Critic grimaced as he steadied himself, quickly clearing his throat as he tried to regain a sense of composure, "H-hey, Donnie."

  "Hey Critic," the man, Donnie, replied "Haven't heard from you in a while."
  "Uh..." Critic asked hesitantly, motioning toward his face, "What's with the...?"

  The older man gasped, blushing as he hurriedly grabbed a towel and began wiping at  his face.

  "Oh!" he said, "This? Just a little fake blood and gore. Yeah, the crew and I just wrapped up on filming a spoof of a 1990s horror flick. We were trying to go for a more authentic look for the time period. I guess I kinda forgot to take the makeup off once we were done."

  The two exchanged a light, awkward chuckle; the kind that usually proceeded a brief but uncomfortable silence, before Donnie continued.

  "So, what about you?" he asked, "Still doing that shadowrunning, plugging your brain into a computer thing? Don't you think your getting a little old for that? I mean, you're like what; thirty-eight?"

  "Thirty two," Critic grumbled, his cheeks flushing a faint shade of scarlet, "And what about you? You're forty-two! That's not exactly a fresh fraggin spring flower either, you know."

  "Touche," Donnie said with a grin, "But, at least I don't get myself caught up in fire fights..."

  "...Unless it makes for a good film," they both said in unison,  this time following it up with a genuine laugh.

  However, that too gave way to another uncomfortable silence. This time, it was Critic's turn to break the silence.

  "Listen," he said, rubbing the back of his neck as he squirmed a bit in his chair, "I didn't exactly call you just to catch up on old times."

  The older man frowned slightly, but mostly continued cleaning the fake blood off of his face.

  "Of course not," he said "You're not nice enough of a guy to show a little concern for your step-brother."

  Critic winced, feeling himself shrink back in his chair with guilt at the faint tone of bitterness that undertoned Donnie's words. It was true, he admitted, that he probably didn't call his stepbrother nearly as much as he could have. And when he did, it was almost rarely just to chat.

  "Ha ha," Critic laughed dryly, "Look, I just need to know if you've got some info on something."

  "Why?" Donnie asked, though more curious than anything else "Shouldn't you be asking Guy about this? I mean, he's the walking encyclopedia in the family."

  "Whatever," Critic replied, "He kinda freaks me out. Besides, he's off in Seattle doing something or another. I'm too afraid to even want to know. Rob's followed him up there to make sure he isn't getting in over his head or anything."

  "Okay then," Donnie said "What do you need?"

  "I was wondering," Critic explained, "If you knew about these two doctor guys that go by the handles of Doctor Insano and Linksano?"

  The filmmaker bit his lip and folded his arms,  trying to rack his brain for any memory of ever hearing those two names before.

  "Huh," he said, "The names sound familiar. I think I heard some rumors about a couple of guys who went by those nicknames. A pair of really wacky mad-scientist guys. Apparently, they vanished a few years back, and haven't really been seen since. Other than that, I don't know anything."

  The decker frowned as an agitated sigh escaped his lips.  That really hadn't helped, he thought. For all he knew, 'vanished' could have meant that the two doctors had kicked the bucket in a violent way, and his sources hadn't been informed.

  "Gee, " Critic snarked, rolling his eyes, "Thanks for telling me what I didn't already know."

  "Shut up," Donnie glared at his younger step-brother.

  "Yeah yeah," Critic smirked, "Fuck you, too."

  The older man's glare deepened, almost becoming menacing, as if he could leap through the computer and strangle the younger man by his necktie.  Critic, although perhaps not always the first to catch on to non-verbal cues, knew well enough that he shouldn't attempt to ruffle any more feathers than necessary.

  "Nevermind," he sighed, removing his glasses and rubbing his forehead tiredly, "Look; it actually does help a little bit. Thanks."

  Donnie, although still frowning and quiet, calmed a bit as he leaned back in his chair. Critic had motioned to disconnect the call, but was suddenly stopped as the other man spoke again.

  "Doug, wait..." he said, a sense of sincere urgency evident in his voice.

  "Ooh," Critic smirked, but moved his hand away from the disconnect button, "Calling me by my real name. This must be important."

  "Haha," Donnie laughed sarcastically, "Listen; if you're planning on getting caught up in some really dangerous shit, that's not my business. But, you should really look into hiring a bodygaurd or something. Word on the street is there's been this really dangerous assassin group that's been popping up all over town."

  "Oh yeah," Critic said, "'The Apocalypse Maidens' or something. I've heard of them."

  "Then you get why I'm worried," Donnie replied, "I don't know if any of these hits are random or if there's some sort of pattern. Either way, I've got a bad feeling about all of it, and if I were you, I'd get someone to cover your back."

  Critic's expression softened as he heard his step brother's concern for him. And, admittedly, he couldn't deny that he was probably just as worried about Donnie as Donnie was him.

  "Fine," he said, "But, what about you? You got someone to cover your back?"

  "Oh," Donnie laughed, "Don't worry about me. I've got Rebecca and Karl and the rest of the crew, and they've got me. Plus, I don't think I've gotta tell you about Tamara."

  Critic's face paled, sweating at the mention of Tamara, much to the amusement of the other man.

  "Oh man," Critic replied, incredulously, "You're working with my ex-girlfriend?! Dude, that's just weird."

  "Hey," Donnie said, "There's not a rule that says just because you two broke up that things have to be awkward between me an your exes. Besides, I thought you two were on sort of okay terms by now."

  "Good point," Critic said.

  Yet another brief silence filled the space which other wise would have been filled with awkward small talk. However, this time, it was more due to Donnie being busy typing something into his computer than it was any real lack of conversation to be had.

  "Hey," Donnie said after a few minutes, "I just remembered the name of this guy you might want to consider talking to. He did a little bodygaurd work for me a few months back. He's...well, let's just say that he does a good job. Not sure I can say much for his personality though. Then again, being that dangerously close to outright CIRS, I guess you don't really always know what to expect."

  Critic grimaced for a moment at the mention of the term 'CIRS'. Cybernetic Implant Rejection Syndrome, or "curse" as it was known by most shadowrrunners, wasn't a very common thing. Or rather, was considerably less common in 2525 than it had been during the earlier years of cybernetics. After all, even the most cybernetically enhanced street samurai were somewhat careful not to overload themselves, or recklessly take on upgrades that seriously drained their essence, or humanity.

  Still, he had seen a few people who had experienced it, and it wasn't a very pretty sight, to say the least. If they were lucky, the unfortunate person would simply die after the implant was rejected. Those who didn't typically ended up becoming essentially like living machines, or ended up suffering from some sort of severe psychosis.

  "I can send you the information," Donnie said, ignoring Critic's cringe, "But, you're gonna have to open up a transfer for me."

  "Right," Critic nodded as he hastily began hooking his computer to the small data storage unit implanted in his brain, "Thanks."

  His muscles tensed, reacting to the tingling surge of electricity entering his brain as the data finished downloading. He shivered, cursing under his breath as he opened his eyes again. No matter how many times that he downloaded information, or plugged himself into the Matrix, the initial shock and slight shift in consciousness always felt disorienting, as if suddenly everything seemed a distracting shade or two different from it's normal color, while smells, sounds and textures seemed either stronger or duller than normal.

  "I'll try to arrange some sort of meeting for you," Donnie said, "And, I'll try to keep you up to date if me or the others hear anything new in regards to your search. But, other than that, I don't think I can do much else at the moment. Still, if you need help, feel free to get in touch with me."

  "Sure," Critic said, distractedly as he read over the data, "I'll keep it in mind. Thanks again."
Hours later, Critic found himself standing outside of a tall apartment complex across town. Much like the area of town that he lived in, this street also seemed to be tinted with a permanent shade of rusted red and drab gray, broken only by the graffiti spray-painted here and there, while the buildings themselves seemed almost claustrophobically to one another, as if someone had tried squeeze too much into too little of a space.

  He nearly gagged as several unpleasant scents from the alleyways hit his nose at once. While in his mind he had already identified the smells as rotting garbage among other questionable things, coming from the narrow alleys between the buildings, he tried to ignore it as he he entered the building in front of him.

  The inside was not much more appealing than the outside, he noted. Although,  the muted green wallpaper that adorned the walls provided his eyes a break from the rust and brick of the street outside,  he couldn't have imagined that it would have managed to look very visually appealing when it was newer, cleaner and not peeling off the walls like the skin of a rotting fruit.

  He ignored the myriad sounds of the humans, metahumans and animals that lived in the building as he passed down the hallway where the contact that Donnie had given him supposedly lived.  Unconsciously, the decker's hand slid underneath his jacket, hovering just above the small pistol holstered to his belt.

  Admittedly, this seemed like a very foolish idea. After all, he had only come here to talk, not to start a fight. Besides, he added, he was sure that, if this guy was half the cybernetically enhanced street samurai that Donnie said he was, then he was pretty sure that even thinking about engaging in a one-on-one fight with him would probably not end well.
The guy could probably snap his spine in three different places and twist him around like a balloon animal at a kid's birthday party before the decker could even manage to bruise the other man's skin.

  Though, the other part of him reasoned, at the very least the gun might help provide a distraction, giving him time for a quick getaway if things did happen to inexplicably go south, as was sometimes the case in these types of meetings.

  Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door.  Immediately, he found himself jumping as he heard a sudden barking, like that of a dog or at least some dog-like creature, sound from the other side of the door.

  He was glad, however, that he had managed to restrain his instincts, and hadn't fired blindly as the door opened.  On the other end, he heard a muffled voice speak, calming the barking, before the door slowly swung open.

  When Donnie had given Critic the information on this potential bodyguard, the decker had drawn a certain mental image of what he expected him to look like. He had at least envisioned some six-foot-five muscular brick wall of a man, with a humorless frown, dead eyes, and enough metal on to set off security scanners.

  What he hadn't been expecting was the man that stood before him then. This man was much closer to Critic's height, though perhaps an inch or two shorter. His body was also more slender and lithe than Critic had imagined, but his shape and tone still suggested that he was a fighter, but one less focused on brute strength.  Probably a swordfighter, he guessed.

  Whatever cybernetics the man had on him were fairly well hidden underneath his clothes, with the exception of a few wires and metal plates that peeked out from underneath his clothes. That was with the exception of the shining metal-plated cybernetic right arm that had been made to look like a mimic of his normal left arm.

  However, the man's face seemed the most shocking and noticeable to Critic. A pair of pale eyes glared at him with a cold fire, peering through the long locks of dark brown hair that fell over his face, curling at the base of his neck. However, he could tell that there was something behind those eyes--a faint shine of warm liveliness and curiosity that seemed uncharacteristic of a man who was nearly a machine.

  "Who are you?!" The man demanded coldly, drawing his robotic arm back defensively as if prepared to strike. The fake arm began to whir and hum as the man waited for a response from his visitor.

  "Whoa," Critic said, holding up his hands, "Take it easy there, pal. You're Spoony, right? I just want to talk to you."

  The man, Spoony, did not move, instead continuing to glare in a manner that silently told the decker to continue quickly.

  "Look," Critic said with a weak smile, "I'm the Nostalgia Critic--well, that's the tag I go by around these parts, anyways. My step-brother, Donnie Dupre, recommended you to me. Said that you did a little work for him a while back?"

  Spoony thought for a moment before lowering his defensive stance, motioning for Critic to follow him inside the apartment.

  No sooner had Critic set foot inside the room, did he find himself once more jumping in surprise. For, at that moment, a spotted dog dashed across the room, excitedly barking as she leapt at the bearded decker, knocking him down to the ground and standing on his chest, cautiously sniffing around his face.

  "Agh!" the decker spat, struggling to push the energetic puppy off of him without being too rough, "What the hell?! Get off of me!"

  The street samurai whistled, causing the animal to climb off of the decker and go to her master. Spoony smiled as the puppy nuzzled her nose against the side of the man's leg, pouting as she looked up at him, silently demanding to be petted, to which the dark-haired man obeyed.

  "Sorry about Oreo," Spoony apologized, "She's a can be a bit excitable sometimes."

  "No kidding." Critic said as he got back to his feet, shaking himself off.

  Once more the street samurai's expression became serious as the two men stared at each other.  Critic tried to speak again, but the other man's expression made the decker feel suddenly nervous and self-conscious, that only a some high pitched squeaks and incoherent stammering were spoken in place of actual words.

  "If you're here because you're looking to put a hit out on someone," Spoony said, crossing his arms as he looked over the decker with hawk-like scrutiny, "Then you're wasting your time. I left that behind some time ago."

  "Wait," Critic explained as his voice returned, "That's not why I'm here--I'm not looking to kill anyone."

  Hastily, he began explaining everything; from his search for Chick, to the letter from a mysterious person urging him to find the scientist duo, to his conversation with Donnie about the Apocalypse Maidens.  The street samurai listened, his expression unreadable as the decker finished his tale, leaving yet another tense silence hanging in the air between the two of them.

  "So," Spoony said, "Let me get this straight. You're looking for this missing friend of yours, who you don't even know is alive or not--"

  "--She alive." Critic interrupted defensively, "I'm positive."

  "Uh-huh," Spoony nodded skeptically, " And you think that these two scientists know something about what's happened to her? Even though, these two guys also have been off the radar for at least a couple years now, and you have no idea if these guys are even anywhere in the city anymore, much less the country?"

  Critic nodded.

  "And you need me to cover your ass while you go on what could easily turn out be a wild goose case, at best and a trap set up to get you killed?"

  "Listen," Critic said "Help me or don't, it doesn't matter to me. All I know is that my friend is out there somewhere. If she's alright, I want to know. And if she's not, then I want to be there to help."

  Critic sighed, rubbing his forehead as he tried to calm himself.

  "Maybe you don't understand, but she saved my life when I first met her. And, it's my fault she ended up in this mess in the first place. I probably owe her a lot more than my life."

Spoony fell quiet, his gaze now dropped toward the couch were Oreo now rested, contentedly gnawing on a rubber tennis ball and ignoring the two humans.

   Something seemed to come over the aloof street samurai.  It was as if Critic's words had found a weak point in the man's carefully constructed mask of robotic indifference, revealing a small, momentary glimspe of the human that existed underneath.

  "No," Spoony said, "Believe it or not, I can totally understand where you're coming from. Okay--you've got yourself a bodyguard."

  Critic blinked, taken aback by the sudden change in the other man's attitude. Even Oreo seemed to be somewhat surprised and curious as she looked up, quizzically tilting her head and perking her ears.  However, the street samurai did not explain further, instead holding out his hand for the decker to shake.

  Critic put his confusion out of his mind as he took Spoony's hand, shaking in agreement on their deal. He was sure that the dark-haired young man had his reasons for accepting, and Critic, for one, didn't feel that it was his business to be questioning motives at this moment. Besides, he'd achieved what he had set out here to do, hadn't he? To find someone to help watch his back?

  "So," Spoony said, "When do we start?"


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