Part Two

Toxik added the final touches to the icebreaker she had been working on in her spare time. Her PICU display glowed a bright green in the dark, updating her with new information.
Huh, a bunch of runners broke into Chrome+ a few days ago. Nilianos have announced that they will be upgrading border security between the Inner and Outer Verd. Great. More Lacra. She thought for a moment. There was likely more to this. Nilianos was well known for holding grudges and merely upgrading security seemed less of a reaction than she was used to from them. Toxik contacted a close friend that she’d known for years.
“Hey Wire, what have you got for me on Nilianos? News says that they’re upgrading border security as a response to the Chrome+ break-in. I don’t buy it. What else are they doing?”
“Nice to talk to you too, sheesh. I know that I’ve got connections, Tox, but it’s alright for you to call for other reasons from time to time,” came the reply.
“Look Wire I’ll make it up to you someday soon, I swear. I’ll buy you a drink or something. I just need to-wait; can I hear other people with you? You know that I don’t like others listening in.” Toxik was always very cautious given her reputation as a decker. Even if the Corps didn’t track her down, she might always get sold out by one of the senties in the Outer if there was enough Ess in it for them.
“Nah, Tox. I’ve got you connected directly to my ear implants and PICU is modded so I’m not speaking out loud. Nobody is privy to this but us.”
“Good. Now do you have anything on what Nilcorp is doing?”
“Well, let me take a look. Got a rumour going around that they’re sending Lacra patrols into D3 soon. Not sure how accurate.”
“Damn it. They’re already on the hunt for me as well, but they must be real pissed off to send Lacra squads out here. It’s a risk with all the gangs and other violent-types. You’ve either gotta have the Lacra defend themselves or risk losing them to a cybered-up gang who want some scrap metal. Last time I encountered a Lacra patrol was in an empty warehouse in Manu. Me and sis barely got out alive.”
“True, they wouldn’t risk it normally. Maybe there’s another motive?” Asked Wire.
“That’s what I think. I’ll let you know if I come up with any ideas.”
”Okay, Tox. Been nice chatting with you, stay safe.”
“Until next time, Wire.” Toxik turned off the external display of her PICU and sighed.

I’ve gotta clear my head. She stood up, surrounded by old electronics and broken parts. Her hideout wasn’t a particularly welcoming place to stay, but she spent minimal time here anyway. Plus, time in the Inverd wasn’t really spent here, at least from her point of view. Meatspace was a necessity, not a choice. She’d considered paying for a full mental upload to the Inverd, but always decided it wasn’t worth the daily risk of being destroyed simply by being ejected. She headed outside into the dirty street, a dull pink neon the only light to guide her way. A few streets further she could hear the music of her destination pulsing and pounding. The Grid was her easy escape, however brief, when she could afford it. Clubs were not common, but there were enough of them that everybody had heard of them. At 3 Ess a drink it wasn’t unreasonable, but drinking wasn’t why she was headed there tonight. For those with a PICU, the possibilities were far greater for experiences that could not be replicated in meatspace. Machines called Phorics could be used with PICU to activate certain nerves in the brain and cause instant gratification in their users. The machines were set up in the back of The Grid and they were expensive to use. Toxik tried not to indulge herself too often with Phorics, as she knew people could easily become addicted to them, but when she had to unwind, she found them useful. She walked inside the venue, its contrasted glowing lights and otherworldly atmosphere already pervading her consciousness. She paid the figure behind the waist-high counter, unable to see many details of their appearance in the dim lighting. Most people who worked in these places preferred it that way. After all, anonymity was an escape too. Especially in a world where everyone has a System Identification Number. She made her way through the smoke to the back of The Grid, meeting a room filled with people strewn out along benches and plugged into machines. She found a vacant Phoric and slumped down onto the bench. Inspecting one of the wires she was about to plug into the side of her head, Toxik reflected on the possibility of someone tampering with them. As if reassuring herself, she looked over her shoulder and saw the beefy, yet androgenous security guard nearby. Not likely. She reached into her bag, finding several orbs of Essence. The machine sprung to life quickly as she pushed them into its side, merging their energy with the device.
As if being hit by lightning, her body jolted. The room she was in fell away, instantly just a distant memory. She concentrated, trying to compensate for the mental dissonance of being lucid yet not experiencing anything sensory. Phorics were dangerous to use alone. Not because of their addictive properties, but because your body was helpless while you drifted through their virtual world. Toxik was used to this life though. She knew that any day she could be unceremoniously killed by Lacra, or gang members, or anyone desperate enough to steal. No warning would come; there wouldn’t be any meaning in it. She’d seen it happen a lot. One moment your friend is there, minding their own business. The next, a Lacra ghostblade separates their upper torso from their lower. You don’t have time to mourn; you don’t even have time to think. Then it’s about survival. She knew that in The Verd, life was cheap. Dozens or maybe even hundreds of people died every day. There was a kind of peace and freedom in not letting that bother her too much. So she drifted through the initial stages of the Phoric. When she concentrated she could focus the scene, the dream, whatever it is, to whatever she wanted. She’d spent many hours drifting through her imagination. Some days she was rich, able to afford anything at all. Other days, she was visited by her favourite fictional lover. But today, she was looking for something different. She remembered her father clearly. He was a tall man, with a shock of white around his temples contrasting to his otherwise black hair. She imagined him as he’d looked only a few days before his death. But when she imagined herself, she was not the same. Toxik imagined herself as a little girl, only four. She’d lived in the Outer Verd all her life, so the backdrop was a dirty landscape of cracked earth and broken machines. She’d always contemplated whether she should try changing the place, but decided in the end that there was no point in removing it too far from reality. She kept the Outer Verd as her home and that was the reality. Time drifted away as the four-year-old Toxik spoke with her father about many things: why he was so much taller than her, what she would look like when she was older, how he and her mother first met. All of this was memory, of course. But reliving memory was still her favourite kind of experience.

Part Two

Cyberpunk: The Verd Dungeonmasterstack