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Preface

            Murphy’s Run is based on the Wizards of the Coast card game NetRunner, and was originally written to be posted on their site.  Back when the game was popular WotC would let writers post their own NetRunner stories.  They only ever posted one story before popularity waned, and the card game was cancelled.  Well, I had already started my story before this happened.  I based Murphy’s Run in the game universe, with some creative license, and even used the card names, character names, and at times, descriptive text from the cards.  I really wanted it to be rooted in the game to give the reader, a player of the game, a feeling for the world they were playing in.  Since this was just a work of fun, I also made it an homage to all things Sci-Fi.  This story is filled with little nods to Sci-Fi characters, movies, stories, what have you.  I challenge anyone who reads it to try and name all the references.  For a time, I considered replacing all the game references with my own, but it wouldn’t be the same.  The structure of it would be so mangled that it wouldn’t be the same.  Hence, the preface.  It’s a fun story.  Understand that you will more than likely not be able to follow a good bit of the story unless you’ve played the game, and going in now to explain some of the points would be pointless.  Enjoy it for what it is. 

            Spider Murphy disconnected from the Cerebral Access Modem and slid off his VR helmet.  His gray matter ached after spending fifteen hours jacked into Netspace.  He took a deep breath and blinked furiously, trying readjusting his eyes to the blinding light of the overhead halogen.  It was the only thing he hated about Netspace.  That’s not true.  He hated getting caught in ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics), receiving tags, and pretty much everything else that involved the Corp. 

            Spider rose from his leather upholstered gyro-chair and stretched.  His joints popped and cracked from over half a days lack of use.  He rubbed his aching butt and craned backwards trying to crack his back.  He really hadn’t done anything to deserve this kind of physical punishment.  Simple hack and slash jobs.  Rearranging files on various sites and causing general mayhem.  Nothing big.  The most he had done was transfer bits from someone else to his personal pool. 

            Bits were the street slang for money in 2032.  One bit was the basic equivalent to $500,000 credits; not a hell of a lot.   Physical currency was considered obsolete in 2014, another fabulous Corp. creation.  Everything instantly switched to a digital transfer system, from one bit pool to another.  All service’s became “pay-as-you-need”.  If you couldn’t pay for it, then you didn’t get it.  Necessities, such as power and water were rationed out on a minimal basis, but anything extra would cost. 

Bits were a vital part of every run.  Running was expensive.  Jacking in alone could cost up to 7bits, not including ICE-breaker programs and prepping.  The worst thing that could happen to a runner was to run out of bits at a crucial moment.  They could get hurt.  They could get killed.

            Spider’s sense of self-realism and definition craved physical social interaction.  A quick shower and a change of clothes, and he was off to Nostromo’s, were he was certain other runner’s would be gathered.

            Marco Beck hovered over the programmer like a Data Fog.  Big things were on the horizon.  Make or break kind of things.  The CEO’s had a crooked idea brewing in their heads, as opposed to any other kind of idea the CEO’s had, and it was Marco’s job to lay the foundation for whatever it was.  And of course, laying the foundation meant installing ICE to protect their “master plan” from data thieves and the like.  Lower level chief are never told what they’re protecting, just to do their job.  Marco had a feeling that it had to be something big because Black ICE had been approved from the word go. 

            Marco had no qualms about doing his job and everything that it entailed, but he never liked using Black ICE.  Black ICE’s only purpose was to hurt and, if possible, kill.  Data fort techs would be filtering out the broken, scattered remains of failed runner’s for weeks.  The approval of Black ICE sent chills down his spine.  Then came the word that Marco hoped, prayed would he would never hear.  Dahlia had been named Sysop for the Data fort.  Her real name was Olivia Salazar, but everyone one called her Dahlia after the ICE-breaker that bore her likeness.  She was described as “so beautiful, so dangerous”, and from what Marco had heard it was true.  The story that floated around Futokora was that she had fallen in love with a Runner who broke her heart.  Her motive was revenge.  She wanted to kill him, but any Runner would do.  Marco didn’t know if the story was true or not, and he didn’t care.  All he wanted was to steer clear of her, and that meant making sure that the ICE installed on her Data fort was secured and flawless. 

            “How’s it coming, Sid?” called Marco.  He took a deep breath and held it, waiting for Sid’s answer.

            “Well, right now I’m assembling the proper ICE to set up the Data fort.  I’ve got a lot of nasty pieces of lined up.  I’m sure she’ll like it.”  Sid smiled.  He loved his job.  He saw him self as a VR architect, installing ICE and building secure structures.  Sid clicked the keyboard and brought up the next piece of ICE.  Data Wall 2.0.

            “Oh, come on!  Will you look at this!  Can’t those chimps in marketing come up with a different name?  This isn’t just version 2.0-it’s a completely different program!”  Sid read over the subroutine interwoven in the ICE.  “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.  This one’s no good.  I’ve scanned every recorded file of forts that Dahlia’s Op’ed.  I know her method’s.  She likes to draw the runner in and trap them.  From that point on they’re all hers and she doesn’t let go until they’re dead.  Something like Data Wall 2.0’s not her thing.  All it does is force the runner to jack out.  No, she’s gonna want somethin’ more.”

            “Keep at it.  And remember, you have until Friday.”  Marco turned and headed for the door.

            “That’s only two days from now.  Hey, before you go-what happened with that Tycho Extension Project?  I heard that you fired Omni Kismet for playin’ vid games while working?” 

            “Of course I fired him for playing games on duty!  We can’t have our sysop’s idling on the job.  Remember the last time a corporation tried to extend the colony?  A runner edited the blueprints, and the airlock system failed.  Some asteroid miners spotted the bodies floating by ’bout a month ago.  I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let something like that happen on my watch.”  Marco gave Sid a watchful look then proceeded out the door.

            Spider strolled down the street with ghost like caution.  He treated every aspect of his life like a run.  He stopped momentarily to gag and choke as his lungs filled with fluid from the Enviro-Pollution Pills.  Everyone used EP pills, you had to if you wanted to breath the not-so-fresh air, but no one was used to them.  EP pills filled the users lungs with a breathable bio-liquid that filtered out the airborne contaminants and bacteria’s.  Consequently, prolonged use of EP pills gave the user cancer.  It was the Corp’s way of keeping the masses in check.  You had the choice of either enjoying the splendor of nature, what was left of it, and receiving cancer or staying at home, where they could keep their eye on you, and being a “good little Corp boy”.  2032 was a horrible place to live.  No one got used to that either. 

            Spider stopped again, at the corner of Ash and Jericho, and stared at the burnt skeleton of what used to be Gideon’s Pawnshop.  An overheated Crow chip torched his Jolly Pirate drive, the building was engulfed in red and orange in a matter of minutes.  He should’ve known better.  Jolly Pirate’s had a serious wiring flaw that had many of them recalled.  No great loss as far as Spider was concerned, though.  Gideon was a scavenger.  He took advantage of a flatlined runner’s family.  He would get a runner’s deck and hardware cheap because the next of kin didn’t know what it was worth.  Runners were the only thing that kept him in business.  Most buying in memory and out of respect of the fallen.  Spider spat at Gideon’s ghost and continued on.

            Nostromo’s was a dive that catered to Spider’s type of people.  The kind of people that lived in the heyday of the 20th century.  An era in history where times were bad, but not as bad as this.  The biggest topic of debate between Spider and his friends was which was better: Corp or Big Brother.  Spider saw his crew seated at their usual spot in the far back corner.  There were only seven of them gathered out of a possible thirty, or as Spider would soon learn twenty-nine. 

            Spider order a Neural Knot from the bar and joined his compatriots at their table.

            “Spider!” the cry was almost unanimous.  Everyone liked him.  He was one of the best.

            “How’s by all?” asked Spider.  He scanned the somewhat somber faces of the runners sitting around him.  There were the twins who the others had nicknamed Burton and Cyb after two characters from an old 20th pulp magazine.  Burton was an adrenaline addict that used running as kicker.  Cyb was his sleek sister that ran the sideboard for his more perilous runs.  They were pretty much inseparable, more Burton’s doing than Cyb’s.  She was the only female runner among their group and was thought to be quite a delightful scan by all.  For the safety of the group’s friendship, not to mention Burton’s overprotective nature, all agreed that it was best to admire her from afar.  Though, she was known to meet individually with certain members of the group at a secluded area of Netspace.  A secret that each kept to himself, thinking to be the only one. 

            Next to them was Dog, or al least that’s what he was calling himself this week.  His real name was Carlos Martinez.  Dog was notorious for getting tagged.  He’d had more meat damage done to him then anyone else and had the scars to prove it.  Most runners got their kicks from Net running, Dog was the exact opposite.  Dog loved the physical challenge of being chased by Corp security.  He was the loose cannon that everybody loved.  Primarily because he let all the other runners use him as a resource.  He enjoyed unexpected company. 

            At Dog’s left was Sandman.  Sandman was the quiet type, very calm and much like his namesake.  He was their ICE and data spy.  He was known to jack in to the Net, slide his way into Corp space, and watch and wait.  He would sit for days and observe the Corp and their actions.  Sandman filed biweekly reports on everything that the Corp did, but mainly ICE and data.  His gaunt appearance and pasty skin was a result of his extensive Netspace dwelling.

            Mr. Pinky was seated next to Sandman.  A combination name taken from characters from an ani-vid and an ultra-violent vid of the 20th.  Mr. Pinky was a contradiction unto himself.  A quick tempered practical joker that lived for the moment.  He was the one responsible for the failed Corporate Colony Expansion project that killed 17 workers six months ago.  The Futokora Solo Squad would still be looking to inflict a little meat damage to him had Dog not taken the fall.  It took three-hundred and eighty-eight zip-stitches to close the head wound that he had received; the scar ran from the top of his forehead to the back of his neck.  Though it didn’t phase Dog one bit, except for the migraine that he got from jacking in, he never missed an opportunity to point out the scar to Mr. Pinky. 

            Giger shook and twitched next to Mr. Pinky, the after effects of a bad run-in with a Cerberus ICE program.  It was his own fault, of course.  Number one rule when running: Always run well rested and with a clear head.  Stupid Giger spent half the night raging and free styling hyper-mix with his friends then decided to go on a run.  He fell asleep halfway through and slammed head first into the Cerberus.  Most of the time Net damage doesn’t cause any permanent effects, but when combined with hyper-mix it’s been known to be deadly.  Giger had his entire body tattooed in a silver and slate bio-mechanical fashion.  Also a result of raging and free styling hyper-mix.  He used to be one of the best runner’s; he was the one who taught Spider the tricks of the trade.  Now, the only time he ran was to steal bits so that he could free style some more.  It would be tragic, had everyone not seen it before. 

            Chrome sat silently next to Giger, chewing on a burnstick.  The Corp. outlawed cigarettes in 2007 and put out burnsticks as their replacements.  They were poor replacements.  Burnsticks didn’t taste anything like a cigarette and had none of the comforting pleasures, but none of that mattered.  Burnsticks were ten times as addictive and twice as expensive.  They hit the market two weeks after cigarettes had been outlawed.  By that afternoon, half the world was addicted.  In times of stress, Chrome was known to chew on three or four at once.  Even on normal days he could be found with two in his mouth.  Today was different though.  Chrome only had one burnstick, and didn’t chew it so much as grind it between his molars.  Spider knew right away that something was wrong. 

            “What’s going on?”  Spider sat down on one of the uncomfortable cold metal stools.  Cyb was the first to speak.

            “Jester’s dead.  He flatlined last night.”  Cyb took a long sip of her drink so that she didn’t have to say any more.

            “H-How?  Who was running his sideboard?”  Spider was stunned.  He’d lost friends before, but Jester…  He found the news hard to accept.  Jester was very cautious when running.  He always used a sideboard, and if he was unsure about something then he’d jack out- even if the score was sitting right in front of him.

            “Chrome was with ’em.” Said Dog, silently.  “He ran his sideboard.”  Spider looked over at Chrome who stared him in the face.  Spider sensed a feeling of resentment and hate in Chrome’s eyes and knew instantly what had happened, but asked anyway, praying that he was wrong.

            “Chrome…”  Chrome held Spider’s look for what seemed like and hour before he turned away.  Chrome pulled the gnawed burnstick from his mouth and tossed it to the floor. 

            “Yeah.  I was there.  He torched right in front of me, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.”  Chrome kept his eyes lowered, trying to find peace in the reflective rainbow on the metal table’s surface.  Spider never noticed.  He looked everywhere but in Chrome’s direction.

            “What happened?”

            “Jester had a tip that Futokora was about to install an enormous agenda.  He thought that they might install the agenda before putting up any ICE, seeing as how no one was supposed to know that it was there.”  Chrome gave a little chuckle as he remembered a past run with Jester.  “You know, like they did that one time.  Anyway, he asked me to work his sideboard just in case.  We’d done it a hundred times if we’d done it once.  I could bring out the ICEbreakers as fast as they could rezz the ice.”  Chrome pulled another burnstick out of his pocket and started chewing on it with the same exuberance that he had the one before it. 

            “I don’t know what happened.  Somehow one of the programs got trashed and he got caught in a Vacuum Link loop between a Cinderella and a Liche.  H-He tried to jack out but couldn’t.  By the time I broke the subroutines and got him out it was too late.”  Chrome tossed his second burnstick to the floor; no more used than a brand new one.

            “Who was it?” asked Spider.  His lower lip quivered, afraid of what he knew would come next.  “Who was the sysop?”

            “I could hear them, Spider.  I could hear them through Jester’s headset.  They told me the Data Fort was empty.  It was a test.  She was making an example out of Jester.”

            “No.” whispered Spider.  Tears began to well up in his eyes.

            “It was her, Spider.  It was Dahlia.”  The horrible truth was too much for Chrome to relive.  He rose from his seat violently.  Spider had no choice but to look at him.  Chrome towered over him, his face crimson with rage and pain. 

            “Jester’s dead and it’s all your fault!  You killed him!  It should’ve been you!”  Chrome stormed out of Nostromo’s and never looked back.  One by one the others followed, leaving Spider all alone.

            It was several hours before anyone else from Spider’s running crew stopped by his table.  They came in the form of Clockwork, Dr. Manhattan, and Peeping Tom.  Clockwork ordered a Soylent Green syntho-hol from the bar and joined the others at Spider’s table.  Soylent Green was a nostalgic drink based off an old Sci-vid from the 20th.  Spider tried it once but didn’t like it.  The taste was all wrong.  It reminded him of something, but he couldn’t place his finger on exactly what it was.  It was a very popular drink and that worried Spider.  He often wondered if they were cleverly disguising something.

            After five Neural Knots, Spider could barely acknowledge his friends’ presence.  Dr. Manhattan order an Ozone Dry and slipped it to him.  They all knew about Jesters untimely death and Chrome’s grief stricken accusation.  They were all upset by what had happened, but no one blamed Spider, not even Chrome.  He was no more responsible for Jester’s death than they were.

            “Drink up.” said Dr. Manhattan, in a low soothing voice.  “My treat.”

            “Damn.” interjected Clockwork, in between sips.  “I swear this stuff’s addictive.”

            “You gonna do it?” asked Peeping Tom.  He knew what Spider was thinking and why he had been trying to drown his sorrows.  Peeping Tom had a way of looking deep inside a person and finding out just who they were and what they were about.  It came from his countless years of Netspace spying.  He wasn’t like your average runner.  Peeping Tom was a Cyber-voyeur, who liked to spy on people personal files and their cyber-lives.  He and Spider were the only people who knew about Cyb’s extracurricular activities.  He was the one who told Spider that he wasn’t Cyb’s only Netspace friend.  The more personal a person’s  life, the deeper Peeping Tom dug.  He had over 20,000 downloaded files on various people that he monitored and kept tabs on.  There was an unspoken rule that his friends were excluded from his activities, but what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. 

            Spider took a sip of the Ozone Dry and instantly clutched his head.  Ozone Dry was known as a hangover cure that took effect in the blink of in eye, but not without a price.  The pain was gone before Spider could say that he actually felt it.  He was disoriented for a few minutes, but was back to himself in no time.  He looked up at Peeping Tom, who repeated his question.

            “So, are you gonna do it?  Are you gonna go after Dahlia?”

            “You ask me as if I had a choice.” answered Spider.  It wasn’t something that he looked forward to, and they all knew it. 

            “She’s my responsibility.  After all, I created her.” 

            Spider bought a round of drinks for his friends and then calmly, quietly left.

            Chrome wiped the tears from his eyes and stared up at the cracked and crumbling ceiling above him.  No matter what he did, he just couldn’t get Jester’s last words out of his head.  The sudden realization and desperation in his voice.  Chrome felt a piece of himself die with every remembrance.  He could see Jester’s face in his mind’s eye.  The tattoo on his right cheek of a happy face.  When he died, a drop of crimson from his bleeding eyes ran down the face of the tattoo.  His mouth continued to move, repeating his dying phrase over and over, but no sound was made.  The words.  He knew what Jester was saying, even though he was dead.  The words kept echoing through his mind. 

            “Chrome.  Help me.  Please, help me.  Don’t let me die.  Don’t let me die.  Don’t let me die.  Don’t let me die.” 

            Chrome screamed at the demon that was his mind.  He flipped table in front of him over, scattering magazines and computer parts along the floor.  He reached under the couch and pulled out a half-empty, dented, canister of compressed Plisskin Black.  Chrome fished the nose and mouth mask out of the cushions of the couch and attached it to the nozzle.  He opened the canister with a twisted of the side valve and inhaled deeply.  The drug went to work immediately, clouding Chrome’s mind.

            “Don’t let me die.  Don’t let me.  Don’t let.  Don’t.  …”

            Chrome drew one more breath of the gas and surrendered himself to its lies and inability’s.

 Jerale C

Mindseyechronicles@comcast.net

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