“Guys, something’s wrong with Casper,” the mechanic called out to the rest of his crew, worry tinging his normally gruff voice. He understood mechanical systems—pistons, pumps, and the like—no matter how ubiquitous cyberspace had become, it wasn’t his area of expertise, nor was tending to those who were lost inside its currents. Casper, their young hacker, had blood seeping from around his neural jack and spasms shook his whole body as he lay on the couch. Whatever he had run into while trying to investigate the team’s next target—a local subsidiary of a large multinational conglomerate—he wasn’t handling it well.

“Can we pull him out?” their driver asked, a normally quiet and reserved woman who could pilot almost anything on land, sea, or air. She nervously brushed a lock of hair behind her pointed ears as she looked on with concern.

Their medic shook his head, walking into the small back room and taking quick stock of the situation. “Absolutely not,” he chided, beginning a quick diagnostic of the comatose hacker’s vitals with a hand-held scanner. “Something’s got a hold of him in there; he’s not just browsing the Matrix like some passive observer. Our boy went into places you and I can’t even dream of—if we yanked the plug now he’d spend the rest of his days as a vegetable. We have to keep him comfortable until he either finds his way back on his own, or dies.”

The team’s commlinks all bleeped in unison—an incoming message. The more tech-integrated among them were able to mentally command their devices to display directly in their field of vision while the more old-fashioned reached down to glance at their screens. Letter by letter Casper was reaching out to them, the message printing with anxiety-rising slowness. Inside the Matrix time moved at the speed of thought; whatever electronic foe he was facing was taking enough of his attention that he could only spare enough attention to send each new letter after what would have felt like minutes on the inside.

Traced me. Guards coming. Hurry.

Everyone’s eyes narrowed. Their mission target was an arms manufacturer, and one not known for going easy on those performing industrial espionage. Whoever was on their way, they wouldn’t be friendly. After taking a moment to process what was about to happen, everyone sprung into action.

The mechanic joined the team’s muscle in distributing weapons to everyone who wanted them—most had some experience with burst-fire weapons but more than a few pistols and shotguns were loaded and checked. “About time for a proper dust-up” mumbled the green-skinned mercenary. He wasn’t one for logistics or lengthy information-gathering. To him, any time spent without a weapon in-hand was boring, and he hated being bored.

The driver plugged herself into the pilot seat of the armoured van that served as the team’s primary transport, subsuming her own senses in favor of the full-spectrum cameras and detectors custom-built into the heavily-modified vehicle. If it came to a quick escape, she knew she’d be able to plow through the roll-up door with almost no damage. Connected as she was, she could keep a detailed eye on everything happening around or within the large van. She opened the back hatch to facilitate a rapid embarking, hoping the team wouldn’t need it.

Sinking to a comfortable position on the floor, the magician closed her eyes and allowed her consciousness to leave her body, trying to give as much forewarning of approaching danger as possible. As the doctor and the group’s resident faceman—a genetically- and technologically-enhanced smooth-talker—made preparations to move Casper into the waiting van, the wizard’s voice seemed to come from the air itself. “Team of four, heavily armed. Drone support and at least one spirit in tow.” A pause, as if she were confirming a suspicion. “They’re headed right for us; time’s up.”

The medic signaled for the face to lower Casper back onto the couch. His unexpected patient situated for the time being, he tucked a heavy revolver into the back of his waistband and moved toward the front door; it was one of his aliases that had rented the small shop and he knew he had to be the front line of defense when it came to nosy corporate goons. The face, perking up with a new idea, sprinted into the back of the combat van.

As a heavy three-knock staccato echoed from the front door, the team’s driver could only look on with horror as the face started peeling off clothes. While the rest of the group prepared for a tense standoff—and possible combat—with corporate hit-men, their smooth-talking negotiator was stripping down to his birthday suit. With the van’s enhanced sensor package the driver was getting a front-row seat to all of the details, whether she wanted one or not.

“I’ll need everyone inside the premises to come with me,” the heavily-augmented corporate mercenary said by way of introduction when the medic opened the door. Just out of view most of the team had their firearms at the ready, some more eager than others to use them.

“You have no authority here,” the medic answered, unimpressed with the heavily-armed team at his door. “We’re not on corporate grounds and I don’t imagine the municipal cops gave you a bulk arrest warrant for whatever it is you think I’ve done. Run along back home and stop bothering me.”

With a heavy visor obscuring most of his face, only the soldier’s deepening frown was visible. “The Shiawase Decision of 2001, amended by the BRA treaty of 2042, permits corporate interests to extend beyond the physical grounds of their holdings, and includes the ongoing defense and recovery of electronic and intellectual property, even if said property has been exfiltrated from recognized corporate holdings and territories.”

“You probably say that a lot, don’t you,” the medic stalled, crossing his arms. “How about you report it was a false alarm and we can all go our separate ways?”

As the medic stood up to the collectively glowering corporate goon squad, he noticed a message come in from the team’s resident trigger-happy mercenary in the bottom corner of his vision.

Can we just kill them already?

“Fine, fine,” the medic sighed, both to his unexpected guests and to his ambitious teammate. “Come on in if you want and have a look around, but you’ll see there’s no reason to take anyone anywhere.” He stepped back from the doorway, hands spread wide.

As the corporate thugs warily entered the rented shop, the driver couldn’t have paid attention to them no matter how much she wanted to. The team’s face was squat-thrusting in the back of the van, now completely free of any shred of decency. “Time for the big show,” the man murmured to himself, as if part of some pregame ritual, “gotta get everything aired out just right.”

Gunfire rocked the confined industrial space as the third corporate heavy cleared the door. The team’s mercenary sprung up and riddled the first two with bullets as the medic dove for the reinforced couch, his heavy pistol brought to bear. Tearing her electronic eyes from the horrifying gyrations going on in the van’s back compartment, the driver deployed several automated mounted weapons and set them to free-fire.

As the third intruder stumbled backward into the small back room where Casper lay unmoving, he was hit with a powerful arcane blast from the mage who had taken over his protection. Cobalt flames licked at the man’s armour, finding the spaces between its thick plating and seeking out the soft flesh beneath.

As the final shots rang out, four corporate goons having fallen beneath the weight of the team’s heavy-weapon onslaught, the face strode proudly out of the back of the van, with all the energy and poise of a Hollywood star walking down the red carpet. “Alright, now where were we—” his voice trailed off as he took in the carnage around him.

“What the frag were you doing?” the driver’s voice came from the van’s speakers.

“Why the hell are you naked?” the medic called out.

“You know we can see your junk, right?” the mercenary asked, gesturing with his SMG

“Well if you all hadn’t taken the violent option, it would have worked,” the face harumphed, almost pouting. “You never give me time to work.”

The medic pressed again. “What was your plan here? What on god’s green Earth possessed you to strip in the middle of a gunfight?”

“I’m telling you, it would have worked.”

Rolling his eyes at the non-answer, the medic looked around the would-be headquarters. “We need to get Casper to the van and get out of here. This place is blown. And you—” he added, looking disdainfully at the face, “put on some damn clothes. We’re rolling out in five.”

This is a retelling of a story that actually took place during a Shadowrun campaign I ran, where one player was utterly convinced that, by getting naked, he could freak out armed guards who were descending on the team’s hideout. The only explanation he ever offered, both in-character and out, was “it would have worked.” Sorry man—whatever you were thinking, no it wouldn’t have.

Header image of the Shanghai skyline taken by Leslin Liu and published on Pixabay
Interstitial images painted by Lincoln Hughes