Title: A Glitch
Rating: T (estimated)
Character(s): Nostalgia Critic, Nostalgia Chick, Angry Video Game Nerd.
Warnings: AU. Some mild language, implied possible death, Self-beta’d
Summary: One lesson that every Shadowrunner learns is that no mission is ever simple. The Nostalgia Critic and his companions learn this lesson the hard way.
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.
Author's Notes: More Cyberverse AU for you guys! I’m really sorry that I haven’t really been working on this too much. I’ve been kind of working on figuring everyone’s backstories (Spoony’s was the only one that I had any clear direction on, since the “soulless cyborg street samurai” was a prompt request. But, that’s only part of his story). I plan to spin off into an actual adventure sooner or later, however. Timeline wise, this story takes place roughly two years before the previous one-shot. Also, I tried to censor a bit more of my heavier swearing this time around. There will probably still be swearing, but probably not any major instances of the F-bomb. It’s not that I have a problem with profanity at times, it’s more of me trying to keep things at a T rating. Plus, the Shadowrun novels never really were heavy on swearing (as far as I know), so it fits the tone.
Also, big thanks to IHeart2896 for helping me out with a few details in this ‘verse. Definitely go check out her work! I especially recommend her TGWTG fic: “The Fellowship”, if you’re into Fantasy AUs.
He should have listened to her.
“Listen,” he remembered her saying as they waited in the shadowy booth in the corner of the pub, “I got a bad feeling about this run. I think we should pass on this deal.”
The Nostalgia Chick having doubts about a mission had been nothing new for the Critic. After all, in the two years that they had worked together, she’d had plenty of times in which she’d had concern for a mission. It was nothing to get worried about, Critic believed; just some elven superstitions that were just silly, but she refused to let go of.
Of course, that wasn’t to say that there wasn’t some reason behind her reluctance. After all, even the most successful runs weren’t without their dangers. For some shadowrunners, there was always the possibility of getting killed in battle. But, for deckers especially, there was another, far worse little hell to avoid; Intrusion Countermeasures within the Matrix, or “ice” as it was more commonly known as by deckers. Some of it was relatively harmless and easy to avoid. But there was another, known as “black ice” that was capable of physically killing any intruding entity that touched it. Even the most skilled deckers in the universe knew to run if they were spotted by any black ice.
So, Critic could understand some of his counterpart’s apprehension about undertaking a run.
“Something just doesn’t feel right about this you guys,” she continued, “I mean, why’s this guy hiring three deckers for what should be a one-man job?”
“Hey,” Critic replied, “for what the guy’s offering, I’m not gonna complain, even if it is a cakewalk. You’re just being paranoid.”
“But,” Chick countered, “You’ve heard all those stories about ‘runners disappearing on jobs lately, right? Shit’s been happening all over the world, seems like. Last one was practically a kid. They couldn’t find any trace of the contractor’s or the kid’s whereabouts. Frag, it’s like neither of them ever existed.”
“Look,” Nerd said confidently, “We don’t know if it’s a trap or not. But, if it is, we’ve got each other’s backs, and we’ll bust out of there before shit hits the fan. That’s what we’re good at, right?”
Chick silently bit her lip as she nodded. Back then, Critic had thought that that had been the end of the conversation right there. But, he realized later, he should have noticed that apprehensive light that glimmered distantly behind her eyes.
A heavy silence fell over the trio of deckers, almost in defiance of the ambient music and drunken chatter of the other patrons within the bar. However, this silence was short-lived as a very rat-like man in a dark-gray business suit approached the table.
His eyes were fixed on Chick as he calmly took an unoccupied chair, as if there were nothing unusual about a complete stranger sitting down beside them.
“So,” the man said, with a very oily, almost hissing voice, “You said that you needed about ten minutes. Well, it’s been ten minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t keep my employers waiting much longer.”
“Listen,” Nerd said, breaking both the silence and the man’s gaze on a visibly uncomfortable Chick, “What exactly makes you think that we’re going to just go along with this bullshit. I mean, you didn’t even tell us who the hell you’re working for.”
“My clients wish to remain anonymous,” the man said smoothly, knitting his fingers together, “They don’t want the possibility of landing in hot water should something go wrong. Not that I’m implying that anything will go wrong, of course.”
The man laughed, an oily laugh that made the trio shiver as it ran down their spines.
“Okay, fine,” Chick said, although regretting that she now had brought the man’s attention uncomfortably back upon her “Let’s say that for a minute we decide to do this run for you. You said that we were just supposed to be picking up some account records and personal data right? So, who’s the poor slot, and why exactly are you guys bothering with something like that?”
“My clients are trying to gather information on young woman named Maria,” the man replied, “Maria Addams. She’s a programmer working over at Mitsuhama Computer Tech. We think she might have been involved in a sabotage mission a few months back.”
“Then why aren’t you having us deck the Mitsuhama’s local datacore?” Critic asked, “If you want some dirt about her in this mission, then they’d probably had it there. Why are we bothering with some personal account?”
“Well you see,” the man continued, “We believe that she probably hired someone to sabotage my client independently of Mitsuhama. You see, Ms. Addams and my client used to be close with one another. However, they’ve been a little tension lately, as you can tell. I myself don’t know the full details.”
“So, let me guess,” Critic continued, “You want us to get this data so that you and you’re client can blackmail her, right?”
“Not at all!” the man laughed again, “We simply want some solid proof as to whether or not she’s was actually involved. And, since Ms. Addams herself is reluctant to provide access to her information, we decided that it was in our best interest to hire someone to obtain the information for us. Believe me; nobody wants to see this dispute come to an end more than my client and I.”
A shudder ran down Critic’s spine as he noticed that their contractor’s eyes had not once broken away from the elven decker. Something bothered him about the way he looked at her, but he couldn’t place why. Maybe it was the fact that it seemed as if this man were incapable of blinking, or perhaps it was the intrigued, almost hungry, intensity with which he stared at her.
Or maybe it had nothing to do with his eyes; maybe it had something to do with the sly, fox-like smirk that twitched at the corners of his lips, like he had some secret that he was coyly withholding from them.
But, he tried to convince himself, this wasn’t anything too unusual from any of the other men and women they’d done business with before, so he couldn’t figure out what exactly made this creep any different from the others.
“Excuse me,” Chick said sharply to the man, “But do you think that you could possibly stop eyeing me like a pervert for a second? For a fixer, you’re really not doing a good job making either you or you’re employer look much like people we’d want to be doing business with.”
The man blinked, as if momentarily surprised that he had been caught, before once more letting out another oily, snake-like laugh that seemed to hide more about his motives than it revealed.
“Ah, forgive me for that,” the man apologized, shaking his head, “It’s just that I’m not used to being around a legendary and beautiful decker such as you. I’ve heard a lot of impressive stories about some of your previous runs. I understand that you had a very brilliant run in the Yamatetsu database last year. You were already halfway out before the ice even detected you.”
“That’s true” Chick replied coolly as she leaned back in her chair, “But sound’s like the drunken bit-brain you heard that from was probably on his fifth beer by the time he told you that story. Otherwise, you would’ve also heard that that wasn’t a solo run. These two here can back me up on this.”
“Perhaps,” the man replied, seemingly unfazed by her coolness, “But even so, you can’t deny that there was likely some brilliant maneuvering on your part. So, do you accept the offer, or don’t you? Like I said, my employer wants to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”
Another brief pause filled the air as the three deckers exchanged uncertain looks with one another. None of them wanted to admit that this guy really bothered them. He was just too smooth-talking of a guy. It seemed like he had an answer for everything. They probably could have asked him what the meaning of life was and he probably would have pulled a believable answer out of thin air and not even had to blink.
On the other hand, there was next to no way for them to prove that he was lying. Outside of the fact he seemed incredibly vague about his employer, his situation seemed somewhat believable. Granted, usually their typical employers wanted this type of data for blackmail purposes, but it wasn’t like they hadn’t dealt with this type of run before.
Eventually, it was Critic who broke the silence.
“We’ll do it,” he said with a begrudged air of finality that suggested that he didn’t fully accept his decision, but had no other option.
The man flashed a fox-like grin as he withdrew a small, rectangular object from his briefcase and handed it to Nerd. Trying to avoid the man’s unnerving gaze, the decker pressed a button on the side of the object, summoning a glowing blue holographic screen featuring a list of numbers and letters.
“That’s the Matrix address for Mrs. Addams’ account.” The man explained, “Just copy any suspicious looking data, and don’t get caught.”
“So just suspicious data, huh?” Nerd said, as he shut off the device, “We can’t copy anything else? I mean, I’m sure there’s gotta be something in there that could sell for some extra nuyen on the black market.”
“Pretty sure that we could pick up a couple hundred for just the account info alone,” Critic added with a sly smirk on his face.
Chick, however, said nothing as she rolled her eyes, annoyed with her male companions’ lack of professionalism. If she didn’t know them better, she would have argued that it was bad form to complain about something like that in front of a fixer. That type of thing was something one did out of earshot.
The man however didn’t mind as he smiled once more, as he rested his elbows on the table, his fingers knitted together.
“So,” Critic said, “When do you want us to start?”
“Whenever you’re ready.” The man grinned.
In hindsight, Critic realized that no matter how much they thought they were ready, they never would have been ready.
It was strange, he would muse later, that for once he dreaded the cold rush of electricity as the wire connecting the datajack implanted in his brain to the cyberdeck terminal. His fingers seemed to move, as if guided by an invisible force, flew over the keyboard, typing in various lines of code that danced before his eyes in dreamlike visions.
A shock jolted through his body as he typed in the final line of code. Suddenly, he was no longer in a dimly lit, dusty, coffin-like apartment in the middle of the city. Instead, a Technicolor labyrinth of blues and greens stretched around him as far as his eyes could see. Only the faint traces of pixilation around the edges of the maze’s walls reminded him that this world was only fantasy.
Unlike in the real-world, he realized that he was no-longer alone. Something shifted in his peripheral vision as two figures materialized beside him.
One was the figure of a short-haired female cyborg clad in a shining silver bodysuit. The other figure also wore a body-suit, but kept his face hidden behind a bucket-like helmet. The figure’s red visor glowed with an angry ruby light as the man finished materializing.
“So, still using that Judge Dredd avatar, huh?” Nerd smirked, “Guess you always did have a thing for old films.”
“Funny words,” Critic returned with the same playful slyness “coming from someone dressed as a character from a 1950s film.”
“Hey, bit-brains,” Chick interrupted sharply, “Do you think that we can hurry it up here. This place is starting to give me the creeps more than normal. Who knows how long until the ice starts zeroing in on this place.”
As the Critic nodded, carefully following his two companions as they started running through the maze, he realized that this place did seem just a little more ominious than normal.
Seriously, he wondered, who the hell decided that a personal bank account needed to like an otherworldly dungeon? Most banks usually programmed their account nodes to be extremely generic in appearance, to allow clients less complicated access to their own accounts.
What was stranger, he noticed, was the complete lack of any ice slithering around on the ground. Normally, in places like these, the shining, slug-like creatures would be crawling all over the floors and walls, waiting to pick up the slightest trace of an unfamiliar electron trail from an unauthorized intruder.
But here, it was almost like being trapped in an ancient tomb, abandoned for centuries with nothing but the spirits of the dead to keep the dust company. Sure, there were some bits of black and grey ice slinking around in the corners, but none of them seemed to even acknowledge them as they passed by.
“Hey,” Nerd said, confirming the man’s fears, “You getting this weird feeling that something’s wrong here?”
“Yeah,” Chick said, slowing her pace ever so slightly, “It seems a little too quiet here. Damn, I was really hoping for a bit of a firefight.”
“Maybe,” Critic joked, trying to shake-off the uneasy feeling rising in the pit of his stomach, “We’re just getting too good at this, and they’re learning to stay the hell away from us?”
The other two did not reply as they continued to navigate their way through the labyrinth, their eyes wide and their senses steadily growing more alert as they drew closer and closer towards the heart of the dungeon.
A single blue sphere of light, just a little larger than Critic’s fist, hovered calmly in the air. Otherworldly blue light bounced off of the darkened walls, bathing the chamber and its three occupants in dark shadows as the sphere spun slowly on its invisible axis.
“This must be Addams’s account data,” Critic said, examining the orb closely.
“Looks pretty encrypted,” Nerd said, “No wonder this place wasn’t guarded by any heavy ice. I guess they figured ‘what’s the fraggin’ point? If they can decode this, then they deserve to have the data’.”
Chick, however, seemed unconvinced as her eyes darted around the room, seeming to look everywhere but directly at the blue orb.
She was worried again, Critic realized much later. It was as if she could almost sense that something was seriously wrong with this run. Every single cell in her brain responsible for thought processes was telling her to abort the mission right then and there.
Why, the puzzled knit of her brow seemed to wonder, would someone make something that encrypted be that easy to find? Surely if the data was important and sensitive enough to be encrypted wouldn’t also be heavily guarded?
Why even, she wondered, was this woman’s account data encrypted in the first place? Almost all of the runs that she’d done in the past similar to this one hadn’t ever heavily encrypted data that was supposed to be easily accessible.
The only times any of them had ever run into encryption like this was only on some of their more major trips through corporation and government databases. And even then it was only when it was some seriously sensitive data that they didn’t want anyone except a very small select few reading.
“Obviously,” Nerd said, as if answering her unspoken fears, “Ms. Addams has something to hide. I think that this qualifies as ‘suspicious data’. Let’s say that we grab it, get the hell out of here and get a few drinks.”
“It looks like it might be a pretty big file, with all that encryption,” Critic said, “Chick? Do you think that you’re cyberdeck can hold that much data?”
Hesitantly, Chick nodded, her eyes reluctantly drawn back to the swirling blue ball in the center of the room. Her fingers trembled as she stepped closer to beacon. She felt like a moth being summoned by a bright flame. Wordlessly, it called to her, beckoning for her to pick it up.
“Probably,” Chick replied, not even looking at her two companions, “I’ll have to crack the encryption here if I want to even have a chance of not overloading my hard drive just trying to download this sucker.”
“How long do you think that’ll take?” Critic asked, not wanting to admit to the sudden terror that was inexplicably creeping up his spine.
Her voice and movements, seemed almost eerily robotic, as if she were in a trance, or perhaps was actually a cyborg. Of course, he wanted to write it off as her being intently focused upon her mission. But, he couldn’t help but feel his confidence start to waver ever so slightly as he allowed the ominous atmosphere weigh down upon him.
He wanted to scream, to tell them that it still wasn’t too late to turn around and go back. But, it felt as if an iron clamp had tightened around his throat, preventing all sound from escaping.
Besides, a nasty little voice in his head reasoned, there was no way that he could convince them to back out, now. It was an unwritten shadow running law that once you agreed to a contract, you were obligated to finish it, come hell or highwater. Even if any one of them wanted to back out, he wasn’t sure that any of them would be willing to listen.
“How long should that take?” Nerd asked, the hard edge in his voice masking that he too, was fighting the desire to abandon the mission.
“Only a minute,” Chick replied in a monotone that suggested that she might not have even fully heard the question asked, and was only replying on pure instinct, “You two stay on watch, in case any ice tries to do a crash and burn.”
The two male deckers held their breath as they watched their female companion gingerly poked at the orb, as if she were afraid that it would burn her if she were to touch it for more than a minute. A heavy sigh of relief escaped the trio as her fingers closed around the data.
However, whatever relief that that brought them quickly gave way to terror as an earth shattering shriek ripped from Chick’s throat, echoing off the dungeon walls. Suddenly, the calming blue light flared into a violent, furious red far more wild and dangerous than anything they’d ever encountered in the Matrix before. A high-pitched wail, similar to a tea-kettle releasing steam echoed through the air, overpowering the female decker’s screams.
“D-damn it,” Chick said through clenched teeth, “That fraggin’ shit-headed son of a slitch!”
“What’s going on?” Nerd asked, his voice almost drown out by another groan from Chick.
“What, do I have to spell it out for you?!” Chick shouted, “It’s a set up! The data’s a fake!”
She winced as the now ruby light began to pulse, glowing larger and larger, threatening to consume her in its glow. The glow grew so rapidly, that it was all the two men could do but watch as she continued to scream in agony as the light engulfed her.
Soon, it grew too bright, forcing the two to shield their eyes lest they become permanently blinded.
Then, as quickly as it happened, it was over. The light had faded and nothing but the two confused men and the faint, lingering screams of their missing companion. However, neither was given time to even comment upon this before they saw something slithering in the edges of their peripheral vision.
It seemed as if the walls were bleeding with black blood as hundreds, if not thousands, of black ice units oozed from the cracks in the walls, pooling into an ever shifting mass of gleaming black liquid.
The mass shuddered as it slithered rapidly toward them. They knew that even the slightest millisecond of hesitation would allow the mass the opportunity to latch onto their avatars, wrapping around them, squeezing tighter and tighter as they crushed their lungs.
Immediately, the two made a mad dash out of the room. The mass of ice, not content to just let them escape, began chasing them. It was like a surging tidal wave as the semi-sentient collective mass lurched around the corner, crashing against the walls of the corridor.
Daring to sneak a half-second peek behind him, Critic noticed that they had managed to pull far enough ahead of the ice that they might have had a good chance of escaping if they were to act quickly.
With a brief nod toward his remaining companion, Critic began to mentally run through the processes of disconnecting his consciousness from the Matrix. Critic felt a tug in his chest as the digital cavern dissolved into nothingness, allowing reality to crash back upon him like a brick being thrown at his face.
For what felt like an eternity after he removed the plug-in from his head, it seemed like all he could do was stare at the portable terminal with an expression that would have reminded one of a fish out of water. Waves of nausea and burning regret filled his mouth with their foul-tasting bile as he tried to wrap his dazed brain around what had just happened.
He could understand the ambush run, and he could understand being chased by a massive amount of ice—these things happened all the time. What he couldn’t understand was Chick’s disappearance.
He knew that she hadn’t decked out. After all, he knew what it looked like when someone willingly decked out of the Matrix. However, what exactly happened to her, he was still not sure.
However, his bewildered silence was broken by a sharp ringing from somewhere beside him. Quickly, he recognized it as his phone and answered it, all the while he silently prayed that his brain would remember how speaking was supposed to work.
“Hello?” he answered, his voice hoarse and rasping.
“Oh thank god,” he heard Nerd’s voice echo through the receiver, “You made it out okay.”
“Of course I made it out okay,” Critic replied, “Where’s Chick? Is she okay? Did you call her, yet?”
“I got to her apartment as quick as I could after decking out,” Nerd tried to explain, “She wasn’t there.”
“Well,” Critic said, still hopeful, “Maybe she just got up and left to find one of us?”
Any hope that Critic might have had in his questions was quickly and definitely crushed like a bug under a giant’s foot as a long, heavy silence rang through the phone.
“No,” Nerd said, “I mean, the door to her apartment was busted off the hinges. It looks like someone stormed in there.”
“Was anything else messed with?” Critic said, although he feared he knew the answer, “I mean it could have been a burglary attempt that ended up with them kidnapping.”
“No,” Nerd replied, “Only the door. Whoever took her knew what they were doing there.”
Critic’s fingers felt suddenly numb, forcing him to tightly grip the phone to make sure that he did not accidentally drop it. His throat felt incredibly dry and his blood felt as if it had been replaced with ice as his subconscious allowed this information to sink in.
“Look,” Nerd said, “I don’t know what’s going on. But, considering they tried to flatline us with that black ice about five minutes ago, I’m getting the feeling that it’s probably not safe for us to be chatting like this.”
“Why?” Critic asked, “If they really wanted us dead, they’d just have had a few snipers ready to plant a few bullets in our heads before we decked out.”
“It’s just a bad feeling I got, okay?” Nerd sighed, “And, seeing as we already had one really shitty thing happen today, I’m not about to risk anything worse happening.”
With that, the call had disconnected, leaving the Critic to once more trying to keep up with his frantically buzzing mind.
It couldn’t be true, he thought. Chick couldn’t have been missing. It didn’t make any sense. Why would they go through all the trouble just to kidnap Chick? What did they want with her? Were they even specifically after her? If they were, why did they bother even hiring either him or Nerd?
These were questions, he decided once he’d been able to compose himself again, that he’d simply figure out once they’d found out who arranged the trap, and found out were they’d taken their missing friend.
However, days and months eventually passed in sleepless nights of searching and hunting for even the slightest clue, to no avail. They had searched every corner of the Matrix and the shadows, only to have their questions met with only whispered rumors and even more complex questions.
About the only thing that they could for certain confirm was that the trap was not something that had been fabricated as a protective measure on the part of their target. In fact, Mrs. Addams wasn’t even a real person---her account had been created specifically for the purpose of luring them into the trap.
Unfortunately, any other information they could gather, such as motives and whether or not this was directly connected to any of the other disappearances that been rumored to have occurred prior to this, was strictly limited to speculation for no signs of the fixer who had arranged the run, nor his employer that could be easily found.
Stress and hopelessness beat upon the two men like waves on seashore, slowly grinding whatever optimism they might have into a fine dust. It was like trying to catch smoke in their hands. Every time some even slightest shred of hope appeared, it’d instantly slip through their fingers.
Eventually, it seemed that Nerd had had enough. It was one night, a year following the disappearance, that he decided that he was done. That night’s search for clues had led them on what essentially ended up as yet another snipe hunt.
Admittedly, in Critic’s sleep deprived and stressed-addled brain, he could barely remember what was said between the two of them that had caused the two of them to go their separate ways. All he could remember was that Nerd had been insistent that searching for Chick was a futile endeavor, and that if they were to somehow find her, she was probably dead.
Critic however, refused to even accept that as a possibility. Chick was missing, not dead—there was a difference. He knew what death looked like in the Matrix, and he knew for certain that what he’d seen happen to her avatar had not been it. He didn’t know what had happened, but he was positive that at least part of her wasn’t dead.
But, that was years ago, he sighed as he took a drink from a dusty glass on the bar before him. Although he hadn’t talked from his former companion since their argument, he had heard rumors from other shadowrunners that Nerd had retired, choosing to live a quieter life as a freelance programmer of Matrix software somewhere out east.
In a way, Critic couldn’t help but envy him. What little optimism and hope that he had had been severely crushed by Nerd’s bitter departure. He was alone in his search now. No one stood beside him to keep the quiet voices of doubt from whispering in his ears with their nasty little lies, trying to convince him to quit.
Maybe he was just stubborn, he thought, but even when the voices of doubt were no longer whispering, but loud, booming and all but holding a knife to his throat as it demanded him to quit, he could never quite find it in his heart just to quit.
Even if there was even a ninety-nine percent chance that this was all just a waste of time, there still existed that one percent chance that Chick was still alive out there, and that it was only a matter of time before he found her again. And, given that he had officially decided years ago that he must have been crazy; he was going to trust the one percent and keep fighting.
Besides, he thought, he needed to tell her that he was sorry. He needed to tell her that he was sorry that he didn’t listen to her, and ignored such an obvious trap and that if he could, he’d go back and make so that they’d never agreed to it in the first place.
So, there he was, still running the shadows, and still searching for even the slightest thing that would renew his shaky hope and shed even some dim light on this mystery that had plagued him for years.
He sighed, thinking over his previous mission. It hadn’t been related to his search (after all, he did still need to work to be able to eat and live), but it had ended up as a failure before the mission could even really begin. He had had a lead on a contract looking to hire, and had arranged to meet them at a specific time. But, so far it had been hours, and the person had not shown.
Checking his watch, Critic contemplated leaving the bar for the night. Even factoring in the hectic traffic during this time of evening, it still shouldn’t have taken them this long to show up.
Just as he was starting to leave, a figure tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned, he found himself looking down at a rather short woman with blonde hair. Unfortunately, he knew that this was not his contractor, but rather one of the waitresses from the bar.
“You’re Mr. Critic,” the girl asked breathlessly, “right?”
“Yes,” Critic replied, raising a cautious eyebrow. He wondered what could possibly provoke the waitress to come up and talk to him. She didn’t seem to be asking if he needed anything, and he was pretty sure that he wasn’t drunk enough to warrant being asked to leave.
The waitress pulled a dirty-looking envelope from out of the pocket of her apron and handed it to the confused decker.
“Someone told me to give this to you.” The waitress explained, “They didn’t tell me who they were or what was in it though. They just said that it was important and that you might want to read it. Don’t know why they had to bother me, though. If they really wanted to say something, they could have just told you themselves. But, no—they just had to come interrupt me. It’s not like I’m doing anything like trying to make a living over here waiting on a bunch of drunken bit-heads.”
But, the waitress’ rant was ignored as he opened the envelope. A small object, about the size of a greeting card, tumbled into the palm of his hand. Carefully, he examined the object, flipping it over in his fingers.
It didn’t seem like anything remarkable, he noted. That was until his eyes spotted the text upon the reverse side of the card. The text was typed, and didn’t have any markings that could indicate who had written it. However, it was what was written in the message that had gotten his attention:
I know that you don’t know me, and that we’ve never met before. Let’s just say that we have a few mutual friends. I’m sorry that I couldn’t tell you either you or your friend, the Nerd, this in person. I don’t want to risk being possibly found. All I can say is that Chick is alive. Don’t ask me how I know this, or where she is, just trust that everything I say is true.
There are a couple of street doctors who go by the names Doctor Insano and Doctor Linksano: Find them, they may be able to tell you more about what you want to know.
At that moment, two conflicted feelings. On one hand, he was skeptical of whoever had sent him this mysterious letter. After all, it was because someone lied to them that he was even in this mess in the first place.
Perhaps it was just that after nearly years of searching with no real actual leads, but part of him actually wanted to believe that everything he was reading was true. He wanted to believe that Chick was alive, and that his search wasn’t in vain. He wanted to believe that these doctors—Linksano and Insano, whoever they were—really existed, and that they truly did have the answers he was looking for.
Be careful, logic and experience tried to warned him, you may not really want to know the answers, if there are any. After all, the sender refused to let you know who they were. That says one of two things: they’re in some serious shit with somebody, which means that Chick probably is too. Or it’s another trap.
Either way, he reasoned, he wasn’t going to be any closer to figuring any of this out by wasting away in this rundown little pub.
A fire of renewed energy burnt in his heart, illuminating the dank and dreary world with a positive light, making him feel as if the past two years of weary late nights and frustratingly bad and fruitless leads had never happened. His feet moved as if they were possessed by the spirit of Hermes as they flew with incredible swiftness out of the bar, not caring that he disrupted many a patron that happened to be in his way, and leaving the waitress who delivered the note to stare after him in annoyance and confusion.
If there was a mystery to be unraveled, he told himself, then it would finally be resolved soon.
It was only a matter of time.
Note 1: I know that in the current Shadowrun timeline, deckers are currently called ‘hackers’ and that their methods of accessing the Matrix are different than what I have described (basically, I was going off of the older editions, since those were what I was familiar with at the time of planning. Plus, I always thought that the older version sounded a lot cooler.) Since my AU is set in 2525 (yeah, I know, real original), as opposed to the main Shadowrun timeline in 2073, I imagine that there was some event that occurred during that span of time in which people either had to go back to a more modified version of the older one, or that that just started coming back into popularity again.
Note 2: I deliberately didn’t specify who sent the note to Critic, mostly because even I don’t really know for sure yet. At the moment, I have about two or three possibilities who could work, but I’ll probably wait until I actually try to develop this plotline further in a spin-off before revealing anything. This is probably also why I didn’t really quite resolve anything in this one shot, although I should have.