Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tales of RPGs Past: "At the Founding of the Troika"

I played Shadowrun off and on years ago, and remember those times fondly whenever I think of staying up until dawn, read the word "flechette," or hear someone use the phrase "jack into" under any circumstances.

Here's the backstory to a Shadowrun character I dreamed up but never got the chance to really play out: a hulking street samurai by the name of Cray.

Arliss Freeman, a two-time convict out on parole for possession of illegal simsense, sat bolt-upright on the edge of his chair in the seedy pleasure den of a smoky pool hall in Seattle Downtown. The heroine-trembling hand of an emaciated girl, with long nail-painted fingers and bangles on her wrists, crept smoothly from Arliss’s knee to his groin and behind his belt from the supplicating position she held between his legs.

The joyfully terrified twenty-something gave a girlish chirp at the feminine touch.

“So,” an exasperated voice, accented with a touch of East Coast guido, spoke fast and sharp into Arliss’s ear. “When‘re you gonna scoot out from underneath that Gemini and sit back and have a drink wit' me?”

Eyes closed and head reclining, Arliss snapped out of pre-fantasy, as no flesh had met flesh yet, and jerked away from the table. With that, one of the Siamese twins gave the other a hurt look, receiving only indignation in return, and the two promptly slid out from underneath the table.

“Thas it,” Antonne “Fat Fingers” Feneli applauded, laying a buddy-buddy hand on Freeman’s shoulder. “Now we has ourself a tripartite…” he added looking to his right at a man everyone in the house knew only as “Red.”

Arliss turned his drawn dark-flecked face to Tony, meeting the corp bookie's hazel eyes with his own glazed white orbs. He straightened out his clothing and began to scratch and adjust an obvious curly wig that sat slightly lopsided on his large and oddly shaped head.

“You mean like a troika?” Arliss asked innocently.

“Yeah, like a troika. The Troika.” Tony smiled at Red under his greasy pate.

Red yawned. When he yawned, and Red did that a lot, his face would scrunch up like a prune and then smooth out again into that countenance of homicidal apathy everyone had come to expect him by. He wore a pressed navy blue suit with gray stripes and a carnelian flower pinned to his left breast. Red’s pristinely bald head was easily his best feature.

“I don’t think Red likes it very much,” Arliss observed.

“Eeh, he likes it,” Tony waved a dismissive hand in Red’s direction, then something caught his eye. Tony whip-slapped Arliss in the face and pointed, “Look! Number one‘s just arrived—shh, shh, don’ look, don’ look, shh—okay, wait—he’s sitting down. Yup, thas ‘im boys.” Business had begun.

Red gave Tony a doubtful glare from the corners of his eyes but said nothing. He rarely did.

“Now, this here catch is a fine specimen of grade-A ork meat. Might be jus’ the kind of muscle we need to square our little network, see. The group, ah, I mean, The Troika—”

“So wait,” Arliss interrupted. “That’s what we’re calling it now?”

Tony flinched. “Of course, now listen. This fella’s name is Warren, alright? I mean that’s some serious drek! If’n you got a break-legs man, I mean ork, runnin’ around with a name like Warren, you’ve got to be some kind of badass to have his kind of rep. Look at the guy!”

“Okaaay…” Arliss, ever the contrarian, glanced back at the door. “Tone, hey, look. What about this ton-o-fun strollin’ in now?”

Tony peered over at the door while playing that he was checking out the two blonde elves in the adjacent booth.

He blanched. “Ugh, that cologne-wreck of a dwarf named Fuller. Sheesh, Arls, thas it man! You tryin’ to earn yourself an early grave? I heared he’s all mixed up in something and I don’t wanna find out what! What is with you and riggers anyway, huh? No way, man. Frag that. No way.”

Arliss shrugged.

Red tapped a single index finger against the synthwood of the table’s underside. This immediately got the attention of both his partners as they all watched the floor for some kind of development.

In walked a troll. The thing had to be seven feet. All length of bone and odd grace, he strode through the door with a purpose and scanned the pool hall denizens with a single turn of his stringy, dark red mane. He halted at one of the nearby tables and stood over it like he was looking for somebody, then turned away a moment later.

Tony watched with his mouth ajar. “I think I know about this one fellas—count him as number two, forgiving Arls’ mistake earlier,” he finished a little breathless.

Arliss scratched his wig again, transfixed.

“This’un, my brothers Troika, used to go nights in a pit fighting circuit somewhere in the Redmund Barrens. Think ‘e’s name is Crayon, er, Crayfish, something like that. Had a pretty nasty streak goin’ till some joker threw powder phosphorous into ‘is eyes, blinded him permanently like, too, so they say.”

Red grunted. The way he did it meant go on. Arliss just nodded.

Tony grinned, “Say he went east after that, joined some kind of UCAS military unit, but that story changes all the time. Others agree this mother just off’n jumped in the ocean, took passage on some frigate up to Alaska or even Japan—dunno for certain. Anyways, all stories say he learned how to shoot and handle guns real good either way. That ain’t the strangest of it, though.”

Tony waited to make sure he still had his partners’ attention.

“Stories say,” he continued, dropping to a whisper, “that somewhere along the line, Cray got messed up by some kind of magic. A magician or a dragon in the shape of a man, who knows? Made him real jumpy see, when something bad’s going down.

Jus’ look at the way he enters a room, all quiet and imposin’ at the same time. S’like he can do it and make only those people he wants to get the attention—notice him, ya know what I mean?” Tony paused, realizing the weight of that statement. “Talks to ghosts maybe, or … well, is one.”

Arliss whirled on Tony and gave him the most incredulous stare that someone with cyber eyes could manage. Tony put his hands up in front of his body and shook his head. Ignoring the other two, Red’s expression strained as his head motioned in micro palsies, indicating something away from the table.

A sucked in breath later, the troll stood over the Troika’s table from where three pairs of eyes had been goggling him earlier. He grinned sharpened teeth behind a forest of dangling bangs, and leaned down to rest his hands wide on the table as an unsettling, wet-clicking noise came from somewhere in his throat.

“Do we have business?” Cray hissed.

Arliss, Tony, and Red all looked at each other in silent agreement.

Red curtly stood and extended a hand to his seat for the troll, offering him the only needed interview with the newly founded Troika.