Announcing: Signal Nine

 Signal Nine, Text-Based Games  Comments Off on Announcing: Signal Nine
Oct 122019
 

The can fell into the receptacle with a heavy clunk, and as he pulled it out, its reflective surface shone with the light of the vending machine’s constantly swirling advertisements. Four hundred milliliters, one hundred Calories, eighty milligrams of caffeine, seventy milligrams of sugar, he thought, then cursed to himself. He only knew that because of the Deepsearch datachip, which told him a lot of things he didn’t particularly care about, like a second brain producing intrusive thoughts of perfectly memorized useless facts. He should’ve left the thing at his desk, but it was a pain to get back into the proper headspace if he took it out, and it wasn’t like it was classified or–

His train of thought was derailed as he turned to see a short, dark-haired woman standing extremely close to him. He glanced from side to side. He had at least a foot on her, but somehow he still felt trapped. It was something in her eyes. “Uh, can I help you?” he asked.

“Probably.” The woman tapped a spot behind her ear, where chipsockets usually were installed. “That datachip. Give it to me.”

“Uh, I really can’t, I–”

The woman grabbed him under the arms, lifted him up, and shoved him back against the vending machine. It did not seem to particularly strain her. Seriously augmented, he thought. Oh shit.

“I don’t have time to debate it with you,” she said. “You’re going to give me the chip, and you’re gonna say you never saw me. You just lost it.”

He was breathing too fast. His hands were shaking. The only thing he could control was whether he held onto his soda can, and so he gripped it with all his might. “Listen, I can’t just lose it, my supervisor would–”

She sighed and transferred her grip to his throat. His eyes widened with a sudden certainty — that the last few moments had been a series of minor fuckups on his part that were about to culminate in a very sudden escalation. He opened his mouth wide, trying to find the breath to apologize, to make it right–

And she squeezed. Hard.

* * *

She flopped onto the couch in front of the glowing screen, and smiled as its “Please wait” message gave way to the image of a pink-haired woman with a sidecut.

“Hey, sweets,” said the other woman. “Rough day?”

“Could say that,” she replied. She cracked open the can of Chroma Cola and took a long drink. “I’ve got a big payday coming, though.”

“Yeah? Who’d you kill?” asked the pink-haired woman.

She grimaced. “Don’t joke, Kris, please.” She’d never told Kris exactly what she did for a living. Easy enough to tell she got into some heavily illegal shit, but the things she had to do sometimes… yeah, that wouldn’t be a fun conversation, whenever it came out. Wouldn’t be too surprised if that ended their relationship. As a distraction, she picked up the datachip she’d scored and held it up at the screen. “It’s this. Somebody wants it pretty bad, apparently.”

“What is it? State secrets?”

“Naw, nothing that hot. Just collected data, thousands of different sources, some clever algorithms for cross-referencing and shit. All public, even. The value is in the work it took to organize all this data under one shared interface. Wanna know how many people sharing names with pre-Crash western movie stars are currently living in the Sprawl? Or whatever other random shit? This’ll tell you. Called Deepsearch or something.”

Kris, net junkie that she was, understood the implications immediately. “Ah. Solid gold for corpo types. Especially in advertising.”

“Yeah, it’s–”

She was interrupted by her door splintering open. A man strode in, nearly as wide as the door itself. He had some serious chrome — milgrade cyberarms, feet like wide steel pyramids that’d make it about impossible to knock him down. Nobody you wanted to grapple with.

Fortunately, she didn’t need to. She realized she was already on her feet, so she extended her right arm and the tip of her index finger dropped off and hung near the floor. She swung her arm, and the fingertip moved as if still attached… which it was, by an invisible monofilament wire. The monowhip passed through the goon’s thick neck like nothing. Then, thanks to those weird fucking feet, he remained standing as his head slid right off and he began spurting blood all over her living room.

She was still trying to process what the fuck just happened when a bang deafened her and she felt a slap on her side. She spun in that direction to see another, much skinnier goon emerging from her bedroom, where he’d either been waiting since she got home or had just climbed through the window. She took a step in his direction and found that her body didn’t seem interested in working any longer. She crumpled to the floor. Her vision swam as she looked down at herself, spotting the blood flowing out of the gunshot wound in her side.

“Cass!” called Kris from the vidscreen, but neither person in the room had the attention to spare for her.

“Sorry, it’s nothing personal,” said the goon. He was keeping his distance, wary of the monowhip, but he kept his gun trained on her. “It’s just… Do you know who you killed today?”

“Some stupid, stubborn fucking intern,” she growled, trying to gauge if she had the strength to roll away before she got shot.

“Yeah, a fucking intern. Who happened to be Komaziro’s youngest son.”

“Oh… fuck…” she groaned.

“Fuck indeed,” said the goon, and he fired.

* * *

He let himself out the same way he’d come in, since he wasn’t about to wade through the pool of blood at the door. He climbed down the fire escape to the street, strode up to a payphone, jammed a nuyen into the slot, and made a call. A woman picked up after one ring.

“Yeah. Tell him it’s done.” He waited for the acknowledgement, then hung up and hurried on down the street.

“Him,” of course, was Romanov, his fixer. He’d been Cass’s too, until she’d made the fuckup of all fuckups by getting a little too rough with the wrong fucking intern. And really, even if the intern had been a nobody, that was still some amateur hour shit. It’d fallen to him and his partner to clean up the mess before Romanov’s employer, whoever the fuck that might be, cleaned it up for him. Not a good position to be in.

He wasn’t best pleased himself, matter of fact. Nobody had mentioned the fucking monowhip, and now he was down a good partner. And the cops would come around and ask questions until somebody could be bothered to pay them to stop. And just for piss icing on the shit cake, that other chick on the vidscreen had probably seen his face clearly. That was something that’d have to get taken care of too, but it remained to be seen whether he could handle it himself or would have to confess the screwup to Romanov, with the chewing out that would entail.

He was brought up short as a droid emerged from an alley in front of him. Tall, armor-plated, and with a gun barrel for a right arm, there was no doubt it was somebody’s private security. But he didn’t get much time to think about it as the droid steadied itself, aimed, and fired, all in a few milliseconds.

* * *

The droid bent over the man’s corpse and searched efficiently through his possessions. It located the Deepsearch datachip quickly, and the droid straightened and slotted it into a port on its skull, not unlike the one implanted in most humans these days. It strode to the phone the dead man had used, ripped its access panel off, and ported directly into the net through it. The droid streamed the contents of the datachip directly to the cyberspace address it had been given.

As the datastream came to an end several seconds later, the droid perceived that, mundane though the data was, it had not gone unnoticed. Someone was following it. However, this was not the droid’s concern.

It was not the droid’s concern because nothing was its concern except its next directive, which was to delete its stored data and terminate its consciousness forthwith. It performed this task with its usual efficiency.

* * *

A light on his phone blinked, and he picked it up. “Yes?”

“The data has been received, Mr. Marumoto,” said a voice on the other end.

“Thank you.” Marumoto hung up, leaned back in his chair, and sighed. He was certain the droid had already deleted itself as instructed. Indeed, it did not have a choice. Now the only one left who knew anything at all about this massive clusterfuck was Romanov. And he knew Romanov, and Romanov knew him. They had a personal relationship. Even if Komaziro was a rival, Marumoto would never go after his family like that, and Romanov was smart enough and loyal enough to keep the mistake to himself. The others were replaceable, and anyway, they had been Romanov’s associates, not his. These sorts of unforeseen circumstances were exactly why it was important to maintain a certain distance.

He unwound a cable from his desk. He might as well confirm that he’d gotten all of the data intact, even if it wasn’t worth all the blood that had been spilled for it. He grimaced. This had not been a good day, but if his corporation had the Deepsearch data, at least it would not be a total loss. He reached back and, with a practiced motion, plugged the cable into the direct neural interface at the base of his skull.

His vision swirled, pixelated, and then resolved into a virtual environment that looked almost exactly like the real-world office he was still distantly aware he was sitting in. It was not a very imaginative choice, considering one could construct any environment one wanted in cyberspace, but he was the CEO, not some deck jockey. It was just useful to get his own eyes on things from time to time, especially on days like today. It would be some time before he’d want to reveal to anyone else that he had this data, just in case someone somehow pieced the whole sordid story together.

He streamed the just-received Deepsearch data onto his virtual desktop, pausing now and then to examine it. There was a database for just about everything. Published research papers. Census data. Sports teams. Concerts. Even the nutritional data for every major brand’s food and drink products. Clearly some of it was more useful than the rest, but it was all there. Megabits of data, ready to be correlated.

Toward the end, the stream froze. He waved his virtual hand, trying to get it to proceed, and the visual representation of the data restarted, stopped, then broke up into pixels. He frowned. Had the datastream been interrupted somehow? The droid couldn’t have erased itself too early, surely, but this looked like corrupted data.

Then he felt a presence. One that shouldn’t be there. How had it gotten through his corporation’s ICE? Riding the Deepsearch data itself, perhaps, and the datastream through the phone’s access point — that had been a weak point, he knew, but the data itself was mundane. No one still alive should have known what to look for, or even cared. And anyway, that connection was closed. No, whatever this was, it should not be there.

He made the gesture to exit the virtual environment, but nothing happened. With growing panic, he made the gesture a few more times, to no avail.

A voice growled in his virtual ear. “Don’t know who you are, motherfucker, but this is for Cass.”

His skull throbbed with sudden pain, sending a white flash through his vision like lightning. The pain only grew, building in waves. He might have screamed, if he was able to. Then he was aware of nothing at all.

* * *

Kris pulled the plug from her DNI and just sat for a moment, breathing fast. Before she’d lost track of it, her construct had ended up someplace that was guarded by some very high-grade ICE, a place she’d never follow with a live connection without some serious prep work. Once it was in there, though, the construct wouldn’t need her. It’d perform its mission. The mission she’d given it in a moment of murderous rage. She’d never done anything like that before, hadn’t guessed she was even capable of it.

But now, somewhere out there, some decker’s brain was nothing but slowly cooling meat.

Her stomach flipped over and she broke out into a cold sweat. She was going to throw up. She got to her feet and stumbled over to the window and threw it open, breathing in the cool night air, which was refreshing even if it wasn’t any less foul than the stale air inside her apartment.

Her nausea began to subside, and she looked out at the hazy neon glow of the Sprawl. She hadn’t noticed the sun going down, but now the city was lit by animated advertisements projected onto the sides of blocky arcologies like hers, by the probing searchlights of hovercars coming in for landings and by flickering streetlights.

The night would still be very young at Deep Blue Ruin, she knew. That wasn’t her crowd, not by a longshot, but it had been Cass’s, so she’d been there a couple of times. She was low level corpo, cybersecurity, and the very best she could hope for was being taken as a poser who didn’t belong there, and at worst… well, better not to think about that. But she’d at least be safe, she knew. It was neutral ground. Anybody who had a beef there had to take it outside. And there would be people there who knew Cass, who would want to know what had happened to her. And she hoped that, like her, some of them would want to know why.

Because she was going to need a team.

 


 

We’re proud and very excited to announce that a Squidsoft project long in development is finally nearing completion and, in the coming months, will undergo its next phase of testing with the help of its first wave of players.

We call it Signal Nine.

We hope that the little narrative above has piqued your interest, because it represents the mood, tone, and setting of this new roleplaying game. In a retrofuture cyberpunk world, you’ll have the opportunity to play any of the roles so very briefly introduced above, and many others besides.

This is a game with a very heavy focus on roleplaying. But we have also designed it from the ground up to be accessible, and there is no obstacle to obtaining an entry level corporate or ganger character. While any character might potentially shake things up, more overtly narratively powerful roles can become available through a combination of character applications and our new karma system, which rewards players for good roleplaying and contributions to the game world.

Of course, we have also spent a great deal of effort developing solid mechanics for gameplay, including combat, crafting, health and surgery, hacking, vehicles, and much more, all with the aim of helping you tell the story of your character.

There are two sides to this world: the corporate and the underground. While the corporate world has private security and some other dynamic roles, it tends to be the more purely creative side, less engaged with the game’s mechanics — combat in particular. Most corporate roles are designed to allow players to add content to the game. Want to design ads, produce a television show, or write up the news of the day in an article, then go hang out at the local bar afterwards? Then a corporate role is for you, and in addition to contributing to the game world, it’s an excellent way to generate karma.

The underground side has the gangers, fixers, deckers, runners, and all the rest you’d expect in a cyberpunk world. These roles make heavy use of the game’s mechanics, but that is not to say you’ll be grinding for experience or points. Indeed, we’ve devised a numbersless system where your goals are what you make them. Want a shiny new piece of cyberware? Then it’s time to assemble a team, do some prep work, then hit the lab, hospital, or corporate storage facility that’ll have what you’re after. Or it might be guns, drugs, cyberdeck hardware, or something else you’re after. Your goal is never a number; it’s whatever will help you build your character in the direction you want.

Torn between these two worlds? Or just not sure why you’d ever roll up a copywriter when you could be a runner instead? Well, never fear: By creatively using your karma, you can have multiple characters, so you can be in both worlds at once. We’re excited to present the option for multiple characters for the first time in any of our games, and we hope to see players using their creative juices on both roleplaying the planning of their next heist and peaceful content creation.

We could continue to go on and on about the game’s features and we’re very excited to introduce them all to you, but for now, we’ll just tell you what you can expect next. The game still has a good bit of development left to go, but we are nearly ready to begin internal testing, where we will judge its basic playability and balance and make adjustments. Of course, we can test it ourselves all we want, and despite our best efforts, players will always find issues we don’t. It’s a law of programming! So the step after that is to begin opening the game on weekend evenings, allowing players to create temporary characters for short, self-contained scenarios that will continue to test the game’s essential systems. When the weekend sessions are over, we’ll spend the following week fixing and polishing, and resume again the next weekend.

Once we have these short tests going smoothly, the game will enter its beta phase. In this phase, the game will be running 24/7 and players will finally be able to see the Sprawl, the living city we’ve created as a playground. We’ll spend more time here making sure everything is working smoothly and paying close attention to the game’s balance. Changes will be fast and frequent until we’re satisfied with how things are running.

Then, of course, we will be in full release. You can rely on the game continuing to expand with new systems and innovations being added in live, as you’ve come to expect from us.

For now, though, we have no specific timeline, but our goal is to be able to tell you more very early in the new year. We just didn’t want to wait to announce this any longer, and we’re very much looking forward to showing you all the details about what we’ve created!