NRDB in Review 1-10-16: A Smile On Her Five-Thousand Faces, feat. @Danwarr

A Smile On Her Five-Thousand Faces on NRDB

Foreward:

At some point, all of us were drawn in by the theme of this great game.  Somewhere along the way, amidst all of the money, fame and popularity in competitive netrunner, we lost our way.

How could we not?  With so much money on the tables at even lowly game night kit events, a good netrunner player could pay the rent if their play was tight enough.  It just made sense to start breaking everything down scientifically, mathematically, and set aside all of the meaningless flavor and fluff.

I think that is what made the deck of the week so special this week, it was a return to flavor, a return to form, it took us all back to the place where we began, before Netrunner became the corrupt money-sport that it is today.

I think this proves that the time is right – I want to unveil something personal that I have been working on for a while.

***

NBN: Making News
Agenda (12)
2x Breaking News
3x Character Assassination
3x Project Beale
3x Quantum Predictive Model
1x Restructured Datapool

Asset (7)
3x Adonis Campaign ••••• •
3x Reality Threedee
1x Victoria Jenkins

Upgrade (3)
1x Ash 2X3ZB9CY ••
1x Bernice Mai
1x ChiLo City Grid

Operation (8)
3x Hedge Fund
2x Midseason Replacements
3x Sweeps Week

Barrier (6)
3x Markus 1.0 •••
3x Pachinko

Code Gate (6)
3x Enigma
3x Tollbooth

Sentry (7)
3x News Hound
3x Pup •••
1x Swordsman •

15 influence spent (max 15)
20 agenda points (between 20 and 21)
49 cards (min 45)
Cards up to Data and Destiny

tracesoflve

It was midnight when the news broke.

A double tap on Chill’s apartment door, then a manilla envelope slipped underneath, containing a new list.  A new torment.  That was how it was supposed to happen anyhow.  This week was different however; the stakes were higher and Chill was ready when the knock came.

Chill flung open the door to catch the messenger, one fist extended in a mid-knock, the other clutching the envelope. White hair and a blue track suit.  A Tenma.  The color drained from the messenger’s face, he looked like he had just seen his own clone.

‘Y-your d-delivery s-sir…’ he offered the envelope weakly, Chill pushed it back.

‘Tell your people I’m done doing their dirty work.’ His voice was cool and batmanly, he shouldn’t have expected to catch anyone in the know delivering the lists, but it pissed him off all the same.  How many weeks had he been taking these lists without coming any closer to their source?

‘I-I Just d-deliver packages s-sir.’  The messenger, seeming to get his wits back, dealt with the situation the only way he knew how – he dropped the envelope and ran like he was getting paid.  Chill stood motionless in the doorway, a delivery manifest spiraled to the ground in his wake and settled gently upon the infernal envelope.

The sender address read simply:  The Internet

Cute.

***

Chill shambled into work the next day a broken man.  There was no meaning, no grand design, no misguided intent in any of it.  He spent the entire evening studying the decklist, and it was simply the worst decklist he had ever seen.

‘This is simply the worst decklist I have ever seen’ Chill complained to anyone who would listen. At present, this was his trusted teammate Arkidents, a scholarly Asian man who had been silently reading the crumpled list while Chill ranted.

‘There are a few problems with this list as I see it’ Arkidents understated understatingly.

‘What makes you say that? Is it the lack of Astros, the Newshounds without currents, or the sub-optimal tag punishment with only 2 midseasons?’ He paced around the office while he spoke, throwing his hands up for emphasis.  What infuriated him most, was that the deck was beating him.

‘No’ Arkidents spinned in his chair thoughtfully. ‘There is something here, as if it’s been built to counter a deck that does not exist yet…’  The room suddenly felt colder.  Chill stopped the chair mid-spin and lowered himself to Arkidents.  

‘Are you saying… this deck is from the future?’

‘Precisely.’  Arkidents pushed up his glasses.  ‘A future metagame where Astroscript has been banned.’

Chill sat in silence for a while after Arkidents had left, holding the sleeved deck cupped in his hands away from him like a smelly hamster.  Chill didn’t want to live in a world without Astroscripts, was he holding the twisted herald of a dark future, or simply the mad ravings of a lunatic podcaster?

Chill stuffed the deck into a drawer and shook his head.  Whatever the truth was, he still had a job to do, and thankfully he wouldn’t be disturbed until the next asterisk.

***

‘I’ve read your articles’ she began with measured distaste.  Introductions weren’t Bernice Mai’s style.  She helped herself to his guest chair, crossing her legs, and smoothing her skirt. ‘They’re a bit shit.’

Chill didn’t have to ask what she was doing in his office, the NBN name badge and knock-off Walter Steiger heels told him her whole life story.  She was a manipulative Ice-queen who was married to her job, the kind of girl who answered the phone in bed – but god-damn could she wear a skirt suit.  Chill finished shuffling some paperwork unfazed by the bold sysop.

‘Listen sweetheart, I’ve got better things to do than play fetch with one of NBN’s data hounds, so unless you are here for an autograph you’re going to have to make an appointment.’

Bernice blinked, surprised by the rebuke.  He was every bit as arrogant as his dossier had said.  This assignment was turning out to be more interesting than she expected, she smiled conspiratorially in spite of herself.  Bernice loved a challenge.

‘As much as I love making personal visits to 2-cred bloggers, I’m here with a special, limited-time offer just for you.’  She pulled a white envelope from somewhere and pushed it across his desk without breaking her gaze.  Chill cocked an eyebrow, half surprised she was still here, and half curious, he opened it.  A blank check made out to him and signed in ink by Victoria Jenks herself.

‘Miss -‘ Chill scanned her nametag.

‘Mai.’

‘Miss Mai.’ Chill pinched his brow, he didn’t have time for this. ‘I write the truth, my integrity isn’t for sale’ he flipped the envelope onto his desk and leaned forward for emphasis ‘One deck per week, one week at a time, just the truth. Those are my rules.  Now take your credits and get out of my office.’

‘This isn’t about your stupid blog -‘ Bernice put her hands on his desk and rose to meet him.  His brazen stupidity was wearing her patience thin.  ‘You could post pictures of cats in banana suits for all we care.’

‘Then why are you still here?’

‘Your sponsorship.’ Bernice pointed her gaze down to the envelope between them.  Chill pulled the check aside to reveal two plane tickets to Minnesota.  He looked back at her, understanding finally coming over his dumb face.

‘All you have to do, is what you were going to do anyway…’

‘You want me to play Making News at Worlds.’

Bernice leaned back and turned her palms up as if awarding him an imaginary prize for finally getting a clue.  Chill thought she’d almost be cute – if she wasn’t such a smart-ass.

‘If I do this for you’ He couldn’t believe he was actually going to agree with this. He folded his arms and leaned back,  this might be the only shot he had – if it meant getting into bed with NBN, so be it.  ‘I need you to find someone for me.’

‘An all expenses paid trip to Minnesota and a blank check from the world’s most powerful media conglomeration aren’t good enough for you?’ Bernice drummed her nails on the desk in exaggerated annoyance, she had him now, everything else was just for show. ‘Fine’ she relented ‘What’s her name?’

Chill cuffed a shirt sleeve, ‘His name is Alsciende’ he rolled it back to his elbow in a practiced gesture.  ‘Think you’re good enough to find him?’

Bastard.  ‘I can find anyone.’ Bernice stepped closer to him, wondering why she was letting this arrogant jerk get under her skin. ‘Think you’re good enough to win a children’s card game?’ she shot back.

‘If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be here.’ Chill flashed her a sly grin, honed over a lifetime of irrational cockiness.

Bernice smiled back sarcastically.  It was going to be a long flight to Minnesota.

***

Chill and Bernice got out of a shabby brown Buick in Roseville about an hour before registration.  He leaned over to the passenger side and thanked them for the ride before slinging his messenger bag over a shoulder and stepping back to watch the car drive off.  The trunk was festooned with bumper stickers, Chill tried to read them all.  ‘COEXIST’, ‘Cat Momma’, ‘Republicans for Voldemort’.

The sleeves of his blazer were ripped in several places, and dirt stains peaked out on his cuffs.  He waved politely before turning and walking after Mai.  Bernice’s hair and clothes were similarly disarrayed, she was holding her cell phone up and meandering down the road as gracefully as she could manage in her shoes, she had snapped the heels off at some point.

They had both been on a bizarre American odyssey, the kind of adventures that make you grow as a person, the scope of which would have to be covered in a spin-off.  Things hadn’t gone exactly as planned.  

‘I’ve got a signal!’ Bernice punched his shoulder triumphantly ‘Let’s roll!’

‘Who says ‘let’s roll’?’

The event center was a few miles away, but things were starting to go their way – Chill nearly allowed himself to be infected by her foolish optimism.

***

Chill reclined on a bench outside of the FFG event center. Netrunner was an endurance sport, he’d already been pushing his limits for the last three days and the swiss hadn’t even started.  Bernice had been making calls and chatting nonstop to get their trip back on track. She was off doing Damon knows what, and Chill was just grateful for the silence.

‘Eat this’ Bernice appeared from nowhere, one hand gluing her cell phone to the side of her head, the other pushing a wrapped breakfast burrito in his face.  Chill sat up and took the delicious omelette-wrap. ‘Whoever gets the best breakfast gets the best score, right?’  Bernice’s voice had a sort of half-mocking tone by default.  

‘That’s what I always say’ Chill’s mouth was already full.

‘I know, it’s in your file with all of the other dumb shit you say’ She was totally into him.  Chill didn’t know much about women, but he knew when one buys you a burrito – it’s on.

‘Hi! The flight was greaaaaaaat, thank you so much for the…’ Bernice turned to take her call, based on her customer-service tone of voice she could only be talking to a superior. When did she fix her hair?

Office politics was the one game he never cared to play, he didn’t have the stomach for it.  All he had the stomach for was this delicious breakfast burrito.  He savored it like it was his last.  Knowing that he was about to play a midseasons-pachinko deck for the next 12 hours, this burrito would probably be the last good thing about his day.

***

‘Name?’ asked the registrar without looking up.

‘Chill’

‘Last name?’

‘…84’

‘Chill84’ he looked up from his clipboard ‘Hey, you write those articles don’t you?’

‘That’s me’ Chill admitted.

‘They’re a bit shit.’

‘Always great to meet a fan.’

‘Haha, here’s a decklist form, make sure you are compliant with the new bans.’

‘New bans?’ Chill halted.  Years ago, Fantasy Flight Games had instituted a formal ban list: the NAPD MMWL.  Standard procedure for a card game company, although recently they had made a habit of adding to the list within a few days of major tournaments.

‘You haven’t heard? Oh man, they only banned the two most broken cards in the game.’ Chill gestured for him to get on with it.  In his heart, he already knew.

‘Astroscript Pilot Program and Armitage Codebusting of course.’

Arkidents’ prophecy was coming to pass.  Chill looked out to the other players in the lobby.  All around him, Near-Earth Hub players were weeping and unsleeving.  What in Lukas’s name was happening here? His mouth was dry.

‘Here… I’m already compliant’  Chill needed a drink.

***

In the early years of Netrunner, the Fantasy Flight Games event center had been enough to house the few players who could make the pilgrimage to Minnesota.  Before the 10,000 credit cash prizes and corporate sponsorships, it was just a few loyal try-hards who simply loved the game.  Netrunner had come a ways since then, and now the Fantasy Flight event center was a full convention center within a massive stadium.  

Chill and Bernice met up again between swiss rounds outside of hall J near the bronze statue of Damon Stone.  His pairs had been favorable and he’d swept his first three swiss rounds.  People didn’t know what to expect from NBN post Astro, his runner game was tight and some lucky pachinkos kept the new paparazzi Kate tag-me deck from running over him before he could score out.

Bernice was more interested in the audience than the games.  Typical tracer.

‘All of the big names are here tonight’ Bernice pointed them out as she spoke ‘There is Director Haas in the private box, that’s Marcus Chatty, The entire Watanabe Family…’

‘Akitaro Watanabe runs Jinteki’s data forts and still has time to take his kids out to the game, how does he do it?’

‘Don’t ask.’

‘Mai, I’m holding up my end of the bargain here’ Chill was suddenly serious. ‘When are you going to come through with Alsciende’s whereabouts?’  The swiss rounds had been taking their toll on his sanity, surrounded by celebrities and power executives, Chill hadn’t lost sight of his objective.

‘Don’t worry about it, we’re working on it’ She touched his shoulder reassuringly. ‘Just focus on splitting your next 3 rounds so you make the cut.’ Bernice was at her sweetest when she telling lies.  Chill had to play along for now.

***

After splitting the last round of swiss, Chill found a quiet spot and thumbed through his corp deck when it was slapped out of his hands and onto the convention center floor.

‘Nice deck nerd.’

A man in a sleeveless leather jacket and aviators with an obvious 80’s fetish stood before him.  He was flanked by a posse of similarly dressed goons, and one squirrely guy who just wanted to be included.  He took a pull from his vape pen and exhaled a cloud into Chill’s face. It was Don Dongenio, the reigning World Champion of Netrunner.

‘See you in the finals Chill 80-dork.’ smiled Don.

‘Yeah!’ mocked the squirrel-boy, before hurrying to catch up with the rest of the gang.

Netrunner players were total assholes. Someday, someone would show them that there was more to Netrunner than click-efficient plays.  That someday was today, that someone was Chill.

***

The road through the top brackets had be grueling. Scoring naked Restructured Data Pools. Killing Darwin with Swordsman. Trashing loaded Kati’s with Character Assassination. Chill had done it all. The finals were now set. Chill versus Dongenio.

‘You sure are lucky, nerd’ Don sneered from behind his trademark Top Gun aviators with matching Iceman tank top underneath the red leather Jacket from Michael Jackon’s ‘Thriller’.

‘What is this? The 80s?’ Chill retorted, but not with his trademark level of sarcasm and wit used in the making of shitty internet memes about children’s card games.

Don laughed haughtily, ‘Let’s see how well you last in the finals against my [insert degenerate deck strategy here], dork’

Chill was exhausted. Arkidents had warned him about the grinding fatigue of playing with decks of future metas, but somehow the whole 5 hours spent play testing the deck along with the spiritually rewarding American journey to Roseville hadn’t prepared him for the physical struggle of competitive card gaming.  Also, the breakfast burrito had given him mild heartburn.

‘Ladies and Nerdbears, we are about to start the final round of this year’s World’s Android Netrunner Championship.’ The voice of LLDS, the Fantasy Flight Games developed tournament running AI, came over the stadium speaker system. ‘This year, we have a special treat to really up the excitement of this year’s Final. Fantasy Flight Games is proud to present, Android: Netrunner RealityThreeDee Edition!’

The floor of the area proceeded to open up revealing below a giant hologram field where the servers would be projected as cards were played.  Don had already taken his position on one end of the field.

‘It’s time for a Netrunner smackdown sandwich, dweeb’

Chill sauntered up to the little table at the end of the RealityThreeDee.

‘Time to Duel..I mean Netrun!,’ Don exclaimed.

‘What?’ The ends of the stage were so far apart, Chill could barely hear him.

‘I’ll Run?’ Don yelled

‘Sounds good.’

Everything was settled. The time for click-efficent plays had arrived.

***

It all came down to this. 6-6. 8 cards left in his deck.  If he could pull this off, he would have it all.  The money, the fame, the prestige.  With NBN’s money, he may never have to review a deck of the week again.  Chill fanned his cards in hand.  A Quantum Predictive Model, in remote, his single copy of Bernice Mai.

He wiped a dirty-cuff across his forehead and squinted through the stadium lights, bloodthirsty fans cheered in slow motion.  Bernice was seated in the NBN company box, her eyes locked onto him while Jackson Howard ran a hand down her thigh menacingly.  

This wasn’t the game that Chill wanted to play.

‘Install, advance, gain a credit, pass turn’

A Shkreli-esque smile grew across Don’s face.

‘Click one, Blackmail on this server’

‘No rez’ Chill stated defiantly.

‘Um…ok. I’ll access the the bottom card first.’

Chill flipped the QPM over. The RealityThreeDee was filled with the image of a giant Quantum Banana Cat.

‘DON DONGENIO IS ONCE AGAIN YOUR HEAVY WEIGHT NETRUNNER CHAMPION OF THE WORLD!!’ LLDS blared in all caps.

‘You never had a chance Chill!’ called Don ‘I’m the Champ for life!’  Don’s cheering posse rushed the stage to hoist him.

Chill tucked his deck, and turned to exit the stadium as the klaxon fanfare began. He knew who the real champion was.  Mai was going to be pissed – at least one good thing would come of this.  

***

 

Chill was boarding the megabus back to Chilo when Bernice caught up to him, her eyes burning the question into him.

Maybe he just didn’t want to end up like the rest of them.  Maybe he did it because he was at heart, still a rebellious punk lashing out at the world.  Whatever the reason, at least he hadn’t sold out.  Chill was his own man.

‘Hey, aren’t you the guy who writes those articles?’ a passenger asked.  ‘They’re a bit shit.’

‘I know.’ Chill said as the doors closed.  He had eluded her trace.

***

Epilogue:

Scoot pogs was a twisted, wiry creature, a famed Netrunner bookee who ran the underground gambling scene.  He was wearing a Union Jack t-shirt and sipping from a teacup looking mildly distressed when a pair of hulking goons with one brain cell between the two of them approached.

‘Yous saids tah bet on dah Brits dis year.’ The one who hadn’t spoke, and was probably the Teller to goon number 1’s Pen, mashed his meaty fists together in agreement.

‘Easy fellas, there’s no such thing as a sure gamble, even in Netrunner…’ Scoot put a hand up plaintively while stepping backwards.  Were there really no fire escapes nearby? That’s just unsafe.  These thoughts and several fists were among the last things to go through Scoot’s mind as he was hauled off by Tri-Maf enforcers.

Everything was going to plan, just as Alsciende had predicted.

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