$Insert_Title, Episode 19: A Bad Time

"Aired" on: 2018-08-25

Cast: Madoka, Hueco, Mr. Fahrenheit, Vince, Engie


The show opens on an aboriginal man standing aside a taxi, loading in a duffel bag and a plain black, military-looking backpack. From down the street a woman's voice can be heard, "Tek! You brought everything you need?" The black woman comes into frame carrying multiple duffel bags and her own military-looking backpack. The man takes one of the bags from her, commenting that it is ridiculously heavy. After everything is loaded into the cab they both get in the back, and the man's disinterested voice can be heard, "Sea-tac, Hanger 19."

The opening credit rolls. They include Vince this week.

The show opens proper on the crew getting out of the van a little before 9AM Seattle time. Madoka isn't wearing cosplay or a wig, and is complaining about a lack of coffee. Hueco gets out of the vehicle drinking a Starbucks soycafe and offers her half of his. Mr. Fahrenheit is wearing a mask he's painted to look like a harlequin, it contains a gas mask and commlink. Engie gets out of the van, looking less tired, and carrying Kevin in addition to a couple bags.

Ahead of them is a large dual-propeller cargo plane. It seems to be relatively banged up but was at one point probably a civilian aircraft. The ramp at the read of the aircraft is down and there seems to be about ten people about. Eight of them are dressed similarly, looking somewhere between off-duty SWAT and army infantry. Two are much close to our runners, and they are the two people featured before the credits.

The two of them seem to be hanging out in and around a number of Pelican cases of varying sizes. The black woman appears to be doing some kind of inventory system, but finishes as the players begin to approach.

She calls out to the group, "Oi, this your flight?" She motions over her shoulder to the cargo plane. The party says they certainly are, and they begin to talk. The group introduces themselves in vague sense, and she casually points down the line, "So, mage, sam, sam, rigger, hacker. Got it."

Someone references Mr. Fahrenheit's lack of subtlety, to which she excitedly responds:

Queen Busty: I also hate subtlety. Queen Busty, demolitions expert. You need to know how to put up a building, or bring it down, I'm your girl. Need to crack a safe or bust a bunker, there's only one person to call and she's standing right in front of you. Oh, and I guess that's Tek over there. He's good with guns.
Queen Busty: So, do any of you happen to speak Korean?
Mr. Fahrenheit: No.
Tek: What a surprise, neither does anyone else.

Two pilots are seen doing checks around the cargo plane. They are clearly of Korean descent. Shortly after the pilots step forwards and begin to get everyone's attention. We get subtitles for them when they speak, "Does anyone speak Korean? No. Of course. Not. Get on the plane. We are leaving soon."

The korean pilots pantomime motions until all the people gathered realize to load all the crates onto the plane. Once they're all on the plane everyone boards and straps themself onto one of the two benches on either side of the plane in four-point harnesses.

As everyone is getting settled, Fahrenheit switches to Astral perception to see if he can spot anything. Nothing jumps out of the smudged noise of astral space until he sees across from his seat a perfectly clear astral body. A woman in what resembled a Japanese shrine maiden's uniform. When he switches back to regular sight, the Japanese woman sitting across from him is dressed in dark blues and blacks with tactical gear. Although Fahrenheit couldn't spot anything in particular in Astral space, he felt some kind of ambient dread. The woman gives him a nod, acknowledging their astral meeting.

One of the two pilots comes out into the main cargo area of the plane to deliver the pre-flight safety demonstration. The motions are exactly the same as on any other flight. He is speaking in Korean, which nobody understands, and has subtitles.

Pilot: There are no emergency exit at the side of the plane. If there is an emergency, the rear cargo door will likely throw you out into the ocean. If the cabin depressurizes during flight no oxygen masks will fall because this plane isn't designed for passengers. If you have your own mask, please secure it before the person next to you attempts to take it from you. Please turn off your matrix-connected devices for take-off, and please remember there is no smoking on this flight. Thank you.

Madoka notices that Tek and Busty, as well as many of the other passengers have the same commlink and asks Busty about it. The commlink is small and closely resembles if a fitbit was ruggedized for military use. Busty explains that it's a specialty commlink designed to protect equipment in the field from electronic attacks and is not designed for general commlink usage.

Fahrenheit sees that many people have gas masks (which include air tanks) on their bags, and suggest to the rest of the party to put theirs on if they have them. Engie has already fallen asleep on the plane, and so Madoka puts his gas mask on. When asked whether or not he packed one, Vince brushes off the remark by stating that his lungs are cyberware and that he is okay without a mask. The group overhears a conversation between Tek and Busty.

Tek: So the new faces had to do some kind of hacker challenge to get the job. The other two crews are just fire teams. And you and I were called in as specialists...
Busty: I guess so.
Tek: You know more than you're saying.
Busty: I don't know what you mean.

Tek and Busty and the runners share information back and forth and discuss what the operation could be.

Hueco: Well, in any case, I'm just here to do the job and get paid.
Tek: Oh, you're getting paid?
Fahrenheit, to everyone aboard: Uh oh. Raise your hand if you're being paid for this job.

Nobody raises their hands.

Hueco: What, are you all fucking salaried or some shit?

About twelve hours later the plane touches down. It is about 11:00pm to 12:00am. As the rear ramp of the plane is lowered, a jungle backdrop is revealed dramatically, followed by a grinning Fearless standing at the foot of the ramp.

Before anyone in the group is able to make a comment, Tek shouts down to her.

Tek: Nobody told me you people were running this operation.
Fearless, grinning ear to ear: You wouldn't have gotten on the plane!
Hueco, to Fearless: What's up, gun-bunny?
Fearless, taken aback: Oh, Hueco. I... I didn't know you guys were going to be here.

Fearless welcomes everyone to the jungle and informs them that the camp for the operation is a ways out. She then has them load all of the cases into the jeeps behind her. The party attempt to ask a few questions about the operation, but she shuts them down by saying, "I don't know what's going on either, I just work here."

The caravan rolls out, and everyone in the group is already miserable in the jungle heat, even at night. An hour or two down the rough dirt road the jeeps stop and Fearless announces that it's about a kilometer hike from there, carrying all the gear. Everyone grabs what they can carry and follow Fearless through the jungle. As this is happening, Tek addresses Fearless.

Tek: You know, I'm getting real sick of being jerked around by you people.
Fearless, shrugging: I dunno, man. Sounds like a personal problem.

The group arrives at the camp, which is set up at the base of several large trees. There are several people around speaking Portuguese that switch to Aztlan Spanish when talking to the runners and others outside of their group. Fearless assigns people to tents, and moves off to set up patrol schedule for the next day since it is incredibly late.

The runners move to their large tent which contains nothing. They are sharing the tent with Busty and Tek. The ground is rough and muddy, with no privacy. As the group settles in, Madoka scans for matrix activity. She doesn't see worldwide matrix access, but sees a number of devices - one of which belongs to Manifest. Fahrenheit encourages her to go say something and have a chat.

Mr. Fahrenheit takes a couple moments to assense the camp. During this he overhears the Japanese woman's name is Makoto, and sees that she is certainly awakened. In addition he sees that one of the locally hired help as also being awakened, but as they are just a laborer they have likely not had any training. As he switches from astral sight to physical sight he feels an overwhelming, unidentifiable dread (communicated through facial expressions and a tense musical score).

Madoka makes her way over to Manifest's tent, which is a much smaller 10 by 10 tent. Madoka hovers outside the entrance and asks a couple times if Manifest was there. After a moment Manifest, sounding exhausted, invites her in. The inside of the tent has several similar hard cases of equipment as well as a single cot that Manifest is sitting on.Manifest looks up at Madoka and asks her what she needs. There is a short, tension-lifting exchange between the two where Madoka keeps asking Manifest if she's okay and telling her she needs to sleep, and Manifest not outright telling Madoka that she was asleep and wants to get back to sleep.

Madoka makes to leave, but Manifest calls her back in and has her sit down to talk. The music gets really muted and the dim lighting makes this scene come across as very serious. Manifest tells Madoka that she will be working with her squad for the actual operation, and won't be with her team. Madoka asks why her team is there.

Manifest: I don't give a fuck about your team, and I needed a hacker. You weren't my first choice. Jammer was my first choice, but he's been in prison the last month so I had to farm out to a fixer to find one. Heavens know I didn't want you for this job. But you're here now, which means you can handle the job.

Madoka is visibly uncomfortable by this, and protests her qualifications. Manifest assures her that if she completed the challenge to show up for the job then she is qualified for the operation because they are very close in difficulty.

Manifest: Don't tell your team this. You will be with my crew during the operation, not with yours. After this run is done, I want you to come and work for me. I don't want an answer now. Slag was a nice guy, but I couldn't keep him on and Hog is good at what he does but I don't need a driver for every operation. But my team needs a hacker. I'm recruiting Busty, and hopefully Tek, after this run. We can see how you get along with them.

Madoka is noncommittal, and the two talk about Madoka's current team. Manifest explains that she didn't call for the group because she didn't trust them for this kind of operation, but here they are anyways.

Manifest: I think Mr. Fahrenheit is going to get your team killed. He makes decisions that put your team at needless risk, and then he disappears when you need him. Hueco's got a good head on his shoulders, but he's too soft and he seems to let Fahrenheit make the calls when he should be the one in charge instead.

The mood lightens when Madoka asks whether Dickwinter was a real person or not. Manifest admits to not knowing anything about the challenge they were issued, but confirms that Gregory Dickwinter is a real person with a stupid last name. Madoka expresses concern over her safety in the larger tent. Manifest tells her that if anyone in the camp tried anything they would lose their hands, but lets Madoka stay in her tent anyways.

The rest of the group settles in for the night on the ground of their tent. Vince lets Hueco and Fahrenheit know that his sleep regulator reduces the amount of time he needs to rest because this is a piece of cyberware that requires exposition as it is basically impossible to convey visually.

After a brief fade to black we get a shot looking directly up at an intricately carved stone ceiling. The camera pans to the side to see a figure garbed in ancient aztec ritualistic clothes. The camera cuts to looking straight down on Mr. Fahrenheit's face, pale and sweaty, breathing ragged. He looks around seeing a number of other figures, garbed in more modern clothes, and finally sees a woman of Aztlan descent staring down at him. He attempts to speak but his lungs ache and he sputters blood. He looks down, realizing that he is naked on cold stone and that he has been disemboweled. His innards have been dragged from his lower torso into a ceramic bowl next to him. His head drops back and the camera slowly pulls away from him as the scene fades to black.

Fahrenheit wakes up with a bloodcurdling scream, jolting up in the dirt grasping at his stomach. He is breathing heavily as he looks around to see Tek across from him with a Colt M23 readied and aimed at him and Hueco with an AK-97 beside him. Fearless bursts into the tent with her Ruger Super Warhawk drawn and aimed near Mr. Fahrenheit.

Fearless: The fuck?
Mr. Fahrenheit, panting: Oh. Everything's alright. I shouldn't have eaten cheese before bed.

Fearless leaves, and Tek lowers his gun. Hueco asks if Fahrenheit is okay, and Fahrenheit assures him everything is fine and he is going to go get coffee. As he exits the tent, Busty can be seen opening one of the larger legally-distinct Pelican cases and pulling out an Aztechnology Stinger (a single-tube rocket/missile launcher) and checking it before putting it away and locking the case.

Hueco and Tek get sent on patrol shortly after. Hueco takes the chance to ask Tek about his history with Manifest and Fearless.

Tek: After I left the military, I didn't really have anything. I didn't have any skills. I didn't know how to do anything else, so I started looking for jobs where the skills I had were applicable. I crossed paths with them around then.
Tek: Anything you need they can get. SINs, guns, whatever. Free, or at the very least cheaper than they should be. They don't tell you that you owe them, but you do. If you don't show up when they call, all those resources you gained through them dry up fast.
Tek: Trading favors is fine with me. It's that they're not up front about the way they do business that bothers me. It's manipulative. If they've done things for you before now, you're not getting paid for this job because as far as they're concerned you've already been paid.

Back at the camp, Vince is seen looking terrified of the entire situation. The show ends on brief flashbacks of Vince's vaguely traumatic backstory in which it appears he killed someone and hates himself for it.

Post Session Notes

I love putting my players in situations where there are no easy choices, all their choices have consequences, and they don't get to not make a choice. My players ended the session incredibly excited and invested in what is going on and it feels great that they are on board with this. I have a bunch of ideas for additional scenes.

Manifest is intentionally keeping everyone at the camp in the dark as to the timeline of the run. The closest she gets is telling Madoka that they will be here for a couple of days. I can drag this whole situation out as long as I want because the players don't have the power to leave the camp as they don't know where they are, can't access the matrix, and the only person who can get them out is Manifest.

There are several threads going on at once:

  • Fahrenheit is dealing with some Definitely Magic Bullshit(tm) suspected to be related to Aztlan. He has not told anyone.
  • Madoka feels uncomfortable due to relationship anxiety, and is now trapped in close proximity to Manifest.
  • Manifest is trying to poach Madoka. She is also making attempts to directly undermine the implicit leadership of the party.
  • The runners realize they are now in what amounts to a war zone, and realize that they are going to have to kill someone to get out of this situation. This digs into a lot of the party's aversion to violence and harm.
  • The runners as a whole are feeling their agency being stripped away from them, and there are antagonistic threads being drawn between the payer characters and Manifest's team by other NPCs.

A lot of the inspiration for this kind of run comes from listening to people talk about a bunch of Vietnam war films as well as re-reading Blades in the Dark. Closed environment where the players must make hard choices where there are no clear answers. You can't run away from your problems, you have to learn how to deal with them in some way or another.

The tension and stress I can feel after and during every scene where the screws get just that next bit tighter. It's palpable and feels so fucking good. I plan on focusing on the threads already set, and just push the characters until I start to feel a crack, and then move into the actual operation where they have to deal with everything that comes along with that.

This post was a lot, which is why it took so fucking long.