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4 yrs ago
Current Back at the guild after a long absence. Much changed since I was gone?
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Bio

Medical student living in Scotland, a lover of beer and steak mostly - but also writing, and politics. Because why not make myself even more divisive.

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A B B Y + C U P I D
A B B Y + C U P I D







Abby used to gamble in here. She used to shop, braindance, chat with friends - but she'd withdrawn from all of that in her paranoia. It contented her enough to wander through the digital streets in her most perfect and complete form. Bereft of pain, bodily function and ageing. Ripped from mortality yet tethered to the meat and cybernetics by a plastic umbilical. She'd begrudgingly accepted that Transcendence wasn't ready for her yet and the technology hadn't advanced far enough to keep her here but even a little while each day to skirt around in paradise was enough - for now. For the time being. Oftentimes in her reflection of what life was like, she considered severing the cord. Plunging off the edge and getting stretched into binary. The thoughts haunted her still, the eternal question; if she could choose where and when to die, shouldn't it be in here? She could pretend to have transcended. There was always a glimmer of hope that she would, if she were only brave enough to make the leap. Dead in the Data Pool. The only place she felt at peace.

Her five minute warning alarm went off.

Abby grimaced. She rarely, if ever, wanted to leave at the right time. She didn't like the re-entry into her corpse. She thought of other methods too, things like loosening her headrest so that body would slip under the ice water (would it hurt, to drown in the Data Pool? Would it scare her? Would she even notice - would she even know she died?) but her parole officer and guardian angel wouldn't allow it. Unspoken agreement. He started checking her apparatus diligently each time she bought bags of ice. In the same way that she wouldn't let him slip out of her nasty metal fingers, Abby owed it to Valentine to try and keep herself in the real world for a while longer. Even if it hurt and it was exhausting.

She sat down in some small alcove and brought up a text document titled 'GoBackReasons.txt'. She had the same list on paper in her book. Valentine's name was at the top but she needed more than obligation to drag her out of the aether this time. Her fingers slipped between lines of cold, plucking the threads of data until she found the feed she wanted and flickered on the security footage for their apartment.

Valentine - for once - seemed sober. He was standing in the living room, looking at some nonsense on their holo TV setup, and occasionally checking his watch. The man who she’d entered a reverse-suicide-pact with was in a grey t-shirt and a pair of jeans - so normal, so bland, so utterly and reprehensibly generic that it actually made him stand out. Like a signature, but written in Calibri, using white ink - only on a world of colour. He was a smudge on a broken mirror in an art gallery - something grey, worn, unintentional, but in that very same way unique too.

He glanced towards the bathroom, then up at the camera. There was no way he’d know she was watching him - but he tapped his watch all the same.

420Cupid>//: I’m gonna order from the fucking noodle place, i forget the name idk where it is, you can only have some of my weed if you’re out on time

420Cupid>//: and you know the munchies make those dumplings worth it

Abby chuffed amusedly. She didn't need to type, the words flitted down the little box in her periphery unfettered by human effort.

DefaultUser>//: You look like a bracket

DefaultUser>//: You look like you're tryin to audition for the caucasian man in a couch commercial

DefaultUser>//: Want some royalty free music to leisurely put your feet up on the cushions too?

DefaultUser>//: Are you cosplaying whoever u think John is

DefaultUser>//: Is that what this is

DefaultUser>//: This is your whitesona

DefaultUser>//: Low key scared I'm gonna come out n you're gonna lift your hand up and smile at me

Valentine scowled up at the camera.

420Cupid>>//: Fuck you I'm comfy

420Cupid>>//: If you want dumplings you gotta be out on time today, and you always make me get you dumplings so I'm gonna go ahead and assume it's worth it for you

Abby checked her list. 'Noodles with the big dumplings' was written fairly high up. With one last, wistful look across the pixelated horizon, the netrunner began to log off from the Data Pool.

Sensation came back in increments. As soon as she disconnected from the digital realm, Abby was flooded with the cold of her ice bath - one wet shuddering gasp followed by multiple loud sloshes. An electrical impulse rattled down her left arm, sparked through the circuitry and pulled the silicone fibres taut. Numb, artificial fingers dragged at the plugs and tore out the wires. Pistons in her legs pulled at metal cables and pushed the body upward, rightward and out of the tub. She landed on the dusty, hair speckled bathmat with a wet thump.

There weren't enough muscles in Abby to shiver anymore so she had to get herself warm and dry as quickly as possible. Cyber was cold; all plastic and pieces with very little in the way of heating elements. Even after she'd wiped off the water with a deliberately placed bath towel on top of the toilet seat, peeled off the swimming costume and wrapped herself in a luridly coloured bath robe she still felt the deep, boneshaking chill in her chest and her stomach. Familiar wretched thoughts about how there was no cold in the Data Pool reared their ugly heads. Abby was quick to stifle them. Being cold was just as human of an experience as hunger and sweating and having indigestion. It all needed to be honoured as such.

She strolled into the living room and curled up in front of an old space heater, turning it on. She had a particular habit of lying face first, as the weight and protrusion of the Pifner surpassed the tip of her surgically altered nose. The lights from the television lit up her exposed cyber in eerie, uncertain patterns. Even with her camera flush against the floorboards she could still see a series of different feeds from different angles; she was still watching Valentine without looking. She smiled wearily.

"It's still pretty hard. Getting out's…still pretty hard," Abby acknowledged.

“Yeah, I know it is.” Valentine reached down to offer her a hot chocolate - or the synthetic, thrice reprocessed, artificially constituted version of a hot chocolate, at least. Abby made the effort. She scraped her metal face to the side, grabbing the mug, sitting upright to take careful sips. It wasn't the flavour she craved, but the warmth; and had she been more endowed with cybernetics she would have burnt her gums, tongue and throat to guzzle the entire mug.

“But, you know, I’ve been in a bit of a sentimental mood all day, and I think that’s why it occurred to me that… if… well, if I were still a doctor, and you were one of my patients, I think I would be so…” He paused, turning the volume down on the television as he sat on the sofa next-to-and-above Abby, and gently flopped the blanket she’d left for him down onto her. She bent slightly on impact, then dragged it over her shoulders.

“... I would tell all the nurses about how well you were doing. I’d make remarks on it every day, I really would. In the doctors’ mess, getting the free mess coffee - free-ish at least, still need to pay twenty quid a month for membership believe it or not - I’d tell my mates all about the next big step you’d taken, in as much as I could and still keep confidentiality. Every time you get out of the bath at all I’m proud.”

He took a sip of his coffee - not the real stuff, but for his purposes close enough.

“Every time. I know it just sounds like platitudes, but I’m not even exaggerating. I really am proud of you.”

"For you. Every time." Abby set the mug aside, sat leaning against the sofa. "Well-not just you. But if you weren't there, then I'd…dumplings alone does not a good reason make," she skirted around the truth because it didn't need to be said, there was no need to manifest it by speaking it out loud. They both knew.

Again loosely masking her words in light-hearted humour, Abby leant back against the sofa cushions. "You've tricked me again into believing something I'm not sure is real, which makes me the fool here…but I've always been a sucker for a happy fantasy." She tilted her head towards him. It's a sheer metal brick stuck to her skull, and it's only when she's tired that he could almost feel the weight of it dragging down on her neck. The headaches.

"Sobriety's one hell of a drug, huh? I'm glad you're…here. Fully. It's even harder when you're not."

Valentine swallowed, and nodded.

"Me too. I think I'm gonna… sort of, keep my head on a bit straighter for a bit. You're right, it's a good night to be sober."

Abby pulled the blanket around her, focusing in particular with her legs. Machinery took a while to heat up, so retaining as much of that heat as she could was essential to re-equilibrate her body temperature. "Did you order the food?" She asked after some silence.

Valentine smiled and nodded, flicking the channel on the holo idly, moving from scene to scene.

Abby felt it - if she hadn't been in the Pool she probably would've even felt it before he did himself.

The restlessness.

But he knew that she knew.

"One of them died, I'm afraid." He said at last, still flicking through. "Our mates from the chop shop job - the small guy. When we handed them over they were still cold, so I figure he was probably just colder than she was, and then developed a fatal arrhythmia when we weren't around to fix it."

Valentine closed his eyes, and sighed.

"The way I hear it they had someone watching them - like we told them to - and were giving CPR within a minute. Defib and everything."

A pause. Abby ruminated on a cold so fierce it can cause the heart to shiver.

"Quite proud of them actually. It's just that it didn't matter. He just died."

"He was alive when we handed them in. That's on them, not you." Abby pulled the blankets tighter, wrapped herself up in them and rested some under her head like a cushion. "They wouldn't have even had a chance if we weren't there, and the lady still survived - hell, that other lady survived too. Went out of your way to ensure that. What else were you meant to do? Preheated the van and everything…You said it yourself, he just died. Believe it this time." She didn't look his way because she didn't have to, and the hot air against her Pifner was keeping the brainfreeze at bay. Instead she frowned and replayed the last few seconds of audio again, listening carefully this time.

"Yeah, I know. I don't blame us whatsoever. It's just…"

He grimaced.

"It's a shame. Life is fragile."

"I have a pacemaker in my heart. Any wobble and it goes zzzZZAP. Back in business." She rolled onto her back with a clunk and a grin. "I've got those…subdermal injectors…I've got emergency fuel supplies, I've got my own technically not trauma team doc. I've probably got some other shit in there too. Woe upon whoever tries to put me in the ground for good."

Valentine grinned down at her.

"You're goddamn right. Fucking invincible, we are. More you than me."

He shrugged, standing to get the food as the doorbell rang.

"The whole thing just has me in a sentimental sort of mood, I think. Nothing ever goes properly, not a single day without some sort of hitch or complication."

Valentine smiled wistfully, pausing at the door.

"Which is, of course, what I like about it."

"Acquired taste," Abby ruefully retorted. "Where my dumplings at?"

After getting the takeout microwaved until it was blisteringly hot Abby ate her way through the noodles at speed, primarily to get at the greasy broth and limp, soggy vegetables stuck in the bottom of the carton. She ate her dumplings in two bites each. She practically wolfed down the meal, barely taking any time to appreciate it in her desire to warm up. They watched television for a while in silence because Valentine was still working his way through his own order. It didn't take long for the fatigue, full stomach, space heater and blanket to get to her and her breathing steadied into a gentle snore before Valentine could finish up his pack of pork gyozas. There was a faint but familiar click as the light on the Pifner switched off, turning to standby mode.

As she fell asleep, Valentine let out a sigh of relief. If she slept, she was alright - that's how it always was with her.

His mind wandered. He found himself remembering the skinny young man they'd pulled out of the ice - how Abby had neglected the looting entirely, in the interest of saving the pair they'd been sent for.

He sighed again, not quite in relief, and his mind wandered further. He remembered his studies, the constant strive to learn it all and the equally constant failure to do so - he remembered finally learning that such a failure was natural, that nobody could be expected to know so much all at once. He saw images in his mind's eye - books, papers, essays, interspersed with memorising Surahs that were long, long lost to him now.

More and more often as he grew older, Valentine remembered what it had been like to be young.

After another moment lost in reverie, Valentine put his hands on his knees and hefted himself up from the couch, taking another place at the sleeping form on the floor below him, setting his dumplings down on the ground next to her - knowing full well that they'd likely be eaten before she was even fully awake - and he made a move for his bedroom.

Yahyā Al-Hakim had been careful when choosing a place to live. He wanted somewhere he could at least pretend was spacious enough for two, he wanted somewhere where the hot water and the internet worked properly, and most importantly he had wanted a bedroom without a carpet.

Without even humming to himself, he picked up the broom he always kept behind his bedroom door, and he started sweeping. A vacuum would wake Abby, which wasn't fair, but on a smooth floor the brush would work well enough.

Diligently he cleaned. Dust, a few loose hairs, loose dross from his habits - but never very much.

Yahyā understood that this was not a requirement for him. He knew it was something he was - at least in the words of the others, the majority - considered 'exempt' from, even if that was a disingenuous way to put it, but it wouldn't feel right if he didn't do it at least occasionally.

After sweeping, Yahyā took a good look at the floor - checking for spillages or stains that would require mopping.

He smiled and was satisfied that there were none.

Unrolling his mat and kneeling down on it, he remembered when his mother had taught him how to pray, out on the courtyard square in the middle of summer, just after his tenth birthday.

"Yahyā, remember, nobody can force you to do this. There is no obligation in our faith, no compulsion - we do it because it feels right. We do it because we feel we need to, because we want to, to be closer with our creator - not because a man or a woman made us do it."

He leaned down and held his face to the floor, bowing before a creator he didn't always think was listening, and didn't always even believe in. He opened his mouth and began to speak the words he had clung to in his heart the day he'd lost his arm. He said, in a whisper so loud that it echoed so every star in the sky could hear it, the names of his mother and father, the names of his wife and his son, and the word he had been taught meant God.

He made a measured, delicate plea - a statement of his hope.

He said the name of the young man who had succumbed to his injuries and his hypothermia not so long ago - and he asked his creator to look after him, to be merciful and kind to him.

He did all of this under his breath.

Quietly, he began to pray.

It took a little while, but not very long, and when he was done he rolled up his prayer mat and put it back in its usual spot in the corner.

In the living room he heard his phone go off.

A text from Eddie.

Valentine re-entered the living room to answer it, taking one more dumpling from the tray he'd left for Abby as he typed out his reply.

420Cupid>//: Always a pleasure, Eddie. We'll be there. Looking forward to it.

"Hey." He said out loud, nudging the sleeping woman with his foot. "Look alive, there's work going. Eddie wants us to meet her in the crypt."




Poised, bedecked in a padded bodysuit complete with a motorcycle helmet and utterly silent. Abby was a different beast entirely when she needed to resurface into Night City, and it had everything to do with her paranoia. She let Valentine order the drinks but wouldn't touch her own. The loud music drowned out conversation but she wasn't in the mood for talking. After a few minutes she pinged Valentine's phone with a notification.

It was a gaudy screenshot of one of those cheap mobile app games. Abby had taken a picture of her latest high score. In her mind's eye, the UI of the Pifner, she was watching the little tower defense sprites play out the feverish commands she input. They were frantically trying to pop balloons. Abby's been playing this game for months, trying to get the best score online and failing to even get close because she wouldn't hack it.

Valentine sighed, loudly, and turned back towards the petulant hacker with a bottle of beer for her. He was dressed up too - but with a decidedly different aesthetic, sporting a thick grey cotton overshirt and white tee combo, paired up with a pair of near-black chinos and the one pair of boots he actually bothered to polish. Somewhere under there a trained eye could spot a concealed vest - the sort of insurance that those in the know knew intimately.

“You haven’t even beat me yet.” He frowned, taking a sip of his own drink - a gin and tonic with a dash of lime cordial.

"Not everything can be perfect in the real world," Abby's voice crackled through the microphone in her helmet. "At least I'm doing it the hard way. When are they expecting us?"

“Very shortly, should probably make our way through in fact.”

Claire - the bartender - nodded conspicuously as he said it, and gestured in the direction of the crypt itself.

“Right. Cheers Claire.” Valentine replied nonchalantly, turning to head towards it. “What do you reckon we’re really here for, anyway? Eddie asked for both of us - which, far as I know, she doesn’t always do.”

"Maybe it'll have something to do with…popping balloons-fuckdamnit," Abby hissed as she failed the level. "Either way. We're going to find out, so finish your drink and let's get on with it."

“Fuck sake. I was trying to make it last.”


A B B Y + C U P I D
A B B Y + C U P I D







'Doctor' Straid had, to his credit, a clean and mostly sterile operating theatre. He did his best with the materials on hand to keep it all as tidy as possible; and as a result, the wild esoteric pseudoreligious paraphernalia seeped out into the rest of his parlor in a big and gaudy way. This was one of the only buildings where you'd not only find an entire taxidermied skunk wearing a cheap pair of sunglasses and a plastic cigar, it's also one of the only places where such an object fitted seamlessly into the decor. He'd managed to make wooden veneer desks look outlandish somehow with his pyramid paperweights and LED strip lights. It was carpeted, and that carpet had been through more than all of his patients combined but the pattern was so nauseatingly complex that you hardly noticed the liquor stains, cigarette burns and blood spatters. Had it not been for the tinges of modernity here and there you could've ripped this entire office space from an ancient interior decorating magazine in the seventies, given it to a spiritual conspiracy theorist and told him to go buck wild with his imagination and ignore the budget and only somewhat managed to achieve the serendipitous balance between order, chaos and novelty lava lamps that Victor Straid's office had perfected.

In essence, it was the perfect place to get high in. And whilst the Ripperdoc himself scrubbed up and grabbed his scalpel, Abby was reclined in his chair with a bong in hand.

“He’d better take care of her.” Valentine - Cupid - John mumbled darkly, fishing for an actual cigarette before he joined Abby on the bong. “God. If he knows what’s good for him.” He oathed, before muttering something in Arabic that Abby couldn’t quite catch. A slow, growing bout of laughter echoed from Abby in the office and in part down in the operating theatre.

Abby had seen this before. Cupid was lightning in the field, fast and explosive, so much so that it almost - even if only almost - surprised her he wasn’t that augmented; he kept it when he was working too, that brilliant purpose, that motive force and keen edged mind - Valentine was one hell of a doctor, and he was outstanding for keeping his head on the task.

But he wasn’t one for waiting rooms.

Yes. Abby had seen this before. She knew its name even if she at least believed she was less familiar with it herself.

Fear. Doubt. Dread.

The wolf that devoured thought.

He drew a smoke out of the carton and stuck it numbly between his lips, clicking the matte plastic jetlighter once, twice, and thrice before lighting it.

"He better take care of her," she echoed mockingly. "You hear that, Vic?"

"My feelings are shot, and my day's ruined," crackled the Ripperdoc's voice in the office. He had a bit of a smoker's croak but the all-American drawl really shone through. The radio picked up on some ambient noise in the background as he prepped. "Lemme tell you something, sweetcheeks; nobody goes back to a shit Ripperdoc. It just doesn't happen! So you can rest assured she's gonna get the best-" there was a clicking sound as Victor presumably lifted one of the cybernetics and gave a disappointed hum, "-...the best cybernetics she can afford, and it'll be the cleanest, safest procedure she's been in since somebody pulled her out of her mama's snatch."

Valentine found his gaze drawn back to Abby as she sat up to take another bong rip, lazily filling the room with smoke and steam all at once whilst Straid continued: "Repeat business and word of mouth. That's what a bit of tender love n' iodine gets you."

“We love to hear it, Straid. Don’t forget I brought you the cyber. I’d hate to see my bill get inflated for no good reason.” Valentine glanced up at the presumed location of the speaker, scowling darkly through his cigarette smoke. The Ripperdoc clicked his tongue with affirmation.

“Poor girl didn’t do anything to deserve this.” He muttered as he returned to his brooding.

"She's safe now. More than safe - she's getting upgrades. Win-win all around." Steam curled out of Abby's mouth and nostrils as she spoke.

Valentine looked up at her. He'd felt this way a million times and it was never any different.

Every single time, he had to make the conscious decision to trust her on it.

"Alright. After this we're gonna get her something to eat, find her a place to stay for the night where she won't have to worry about more Scavs, and then in the morning we're gonna figure out who she's got that we can help her get back to."

"You know," Abby mused, taking another bong rip with the sort of nonchalant urgency that triggered a little warning in the back of Valentine's mind, "you keep up that charitable demeanor and she's going to expect you relieving her of some of those pesky extra kidneys soon too."

He smirked mirthlessly up at her, and chuffed in bemusement.

Then, he took a deep breath in. He held it. He released it. He shook his head at her as she made a great show of blowing the smoke from the bong.

"You don't have the body mass for that thing you know. Green out every time. Pass it here."

"That's not the weed," she wheezed and chuckled, passing the bong over to Valentine as she reclined back in the chair.

She was right. The myriad of machinery that kept Abby going was, to the parts that were still human, disabling in all sorts of different ways. She had her good days, more often she had her difficult ones; tired in ways Valentine couldn't begin to understand, distracted and confused by all the little things whirring around in her mind, restlessness from phantom limbs that she'd given up years ago. Marijuana made it easier to slip into the fleshy exhaustion of the human scraps left in her instead of using her cybernetics as crutches.

Compared to Abby, Valentine was hardcore on the bong. He packed the bowl densely, scraped some of the dusty oils from the base of his grinder on top of it, and went straight to work.

Glowing ember and burning coal, hot enough for the glow to show on Valentine's face.

He blew smoke.

He relaxed, and smiled.

"Now, that hit the spot. Bowl is empty, all yours."

"I thought I didn't have the body mass," Abby mumbled as she refilled the bowl. Her movements were too smooth, uncannily precise and strange. It took her a while to talk. Her fingers were twitching; deliberately getting rid of something only she could see. "We should've picked up more tech," she lamented, "could've pawned it off and made a profit."

Valentine shrugged as he lazed back in the chair, drifting down into the familiar hazy glow of a cannabis high.

"I figured if anyone was gonna, you would. You know what I'm like Abby, can't help myself in the moment - and once I had her, I quite literally did not have the space left for anything else."

"Yeah, I didn't…I dunno. Keep telling myself that I was focusing on the hostages," Abby acquiesced.

He looked back at the grinder, noting that it was now half empty.

He nodded, smirking appreciatively.

"In but a second, I shall grind more. As for you my dear, you can be responsible for your own sobriety and lack thereof. Body mass is your problem." He grinned like an idiot.

"At least one of you oughta' be sober enough to deal with her," Victor grumbled.

"Yeah, thank you, Straid." Valentine snarked.

Abby looked to Valentine pointedly; at least, she turned her face in his direction. Then there was this…difference in presence, a subconscious understanding that Abby wasn't really looking at him, that there was something else going on again.

"I destroyed that guy's Pifner." Abby tilted her head back with a frown.

Valentine raised his eyebrows at her.

"Yeah?" He left it open, an obvious invitation to continue.

"Yeah, it keeps replaying. Could'a…brought the whole head in, cut around the skull, power washed the brain out and boom. Easy money." Abby put the bong down. "But I didn't. I went out of my way to get rid of it. He was freaking out over stuff only he could see and I got angry and burnt a big fucking hole in it." She sighed. "Stupid-..."

"Hey." Came Valentine, reason cutting through the weed. "It's alright. Tell me more, Abby. Why'd it make you angry?"

"...Vic', I'm turning off the mics in here."

Straid sounded busy. The whine of a drill could be heard in the speakers as he reassured Abby with a demure "you do you, toots."

After a moment longer Abby sighed and settled back into the chair somewhat, staring at the ceiling. These sorts of talks never got easier; it took a conscious effort to participate and reciprocate, to confront instead of dismissing it, deleting the footage and moving on with her life. She knew it was part of the process. She didn't have to like it. "Because I'm the only fucker who's allowed a Pifner," she seethed. "That's my fuckin' tech. Nobody else should have to-... should live like that. Nobody else knows how to handle it like I do."

She reached her hands up and applied pressure onto the metal box. She felt the pressure applied evenly across the top half of her head. "Wish I had eyesockets to rub." She chuckled. "Crazy what your body misses when you get rid of it."

Valentine nodded.

"We both know nobody can really handle it, full stop. But actually I do know how you feel - my hand hasn't felt warmth in decades now. Neither heat nor cold - and you know me. Those things are important."

"It's just impulses. Just…little things that your meat wants. People should be able to overcome that sort of thing, we ought to be better than that by now." Her hand slid up her Pifner, leaning her weight into it and rubbing down her braids.

"Why?"

"There's a girl on Straid's slab getting a brand new arm and a leg, ones that are better than what she previously had. Why does she have to worry about infection, and phantom pain, and muscle damage? Why haven't we got rid of the itching and how tired you get dragging it around everywhere? Hasn't science progressed far enough to fix it?" Her fingers curled. "If not, I want out. Slap me in the Data Pool. Back to Plan A."

He shook his head.

"She has to worry about those things because it's a fact of life. It would be in the data pool too - it would just manifest in a different way. We are both human, and this is a part of that. We haven't overcome these obstacles because the implantation of cyberware - while remarkable and often incredibly useful medically too - is fundamentally at odds with our biology."

Valentine shrugged and reached for the bong.

"In essence because we were never meant to have it. Not that I'm complaining too much - but the facts remain."

"That's a real shame for the feelings of my biology, but I'm better than my monkey ancestors." She huffed. She waited. "I do get it. I know. It's just not…not what I wanted." She lifted her hand and spread her fingers, looking hard as the light pierced the synthetic skin silicone and showed the wiring underneath. "Fine line between looking forward to the possibility of having a flesh limb again and hating the limb I've got now. Especially since the flesh limb isn't a guarantee. If I keep thinking like this I'm gonna go mad."

Valentine's wistful smile faded. He reached out and gently took her hand, his palm on the back of it, interlacing their fingers - and he gave it a gentle squeeze.

"You," he began, "are doing so much better than I think you can appreciate. A fine line, yes - but we're all mad. We're also all still monkeys, it's not even our ancestors." He gave a grim chuckle, releasing her hand and passing the bong back. It seemed that he'd had more than twice as much as her - and yet he still felt sober.

The stoner's curse.

Abby took the bong as she refilled the bowl, lit it up and inhaled. "Speak for yourself," she snickered through the smoke. The office was gradually filling with a soupy haze, and the less distinct shapes that made up Abby's body put the bong back down on the desk as she slouched back fully into the reclining chair and lapsed into a comfortable silence.

"Nah. I have a license to speak for the human condition, I'm afraid. Quite literally."

He chuckled, and retook the bong for himself. Abby was at a good state - but there was a great deal more in store for him yet.

"Speaking of uh…nasty, monkey impulses," Abby flapped a hand. It wasn't entirely sure if she was dismissing more popups or just moving for the sake of moving, "where're you taking her to eat, and why's it Ichiban Noodle Bar, aside from the fact you're getting me some beef udon and a uh…six pack of gyozas?"

Valentine chuckled again.

"Right you are Abby. I think I decided to take her there because it's cheap as fuck, and Straid is about to do everything he can to render me positively skint."

"That's another impulse! He's the lion. It's his natural instinct to…to fuck other people over." Abby gesticulated with her newfound intellectualism. "You're goddamn right. We're all just filthy fucking animals."

"We are. But oh, don't get it twisted love, I am still an advocate of controlling one's impulses where it is possible and beneficial to do so. As a species we only grew to dominate earth because we were willing to cooperate - no, actually, not even cooperate, because we were willing to be genuinely altruistic."

The bong bubbled for a moment.

He paused, and spoke through smoke.

"Lions still have a pride. A group. Something they express genuine loyalty to, even if their basic cognition doesn't understand the concept of sacrifice for it. Straid has…" he paused.

He withdrew the bowl and finished the hit.

"Straid has clients at best. You might be the closest thing he has to a real friend, and he won't even give you a discount."

Abby started to giggle. "Hey, hey Victor, where's your pride?" She called out.

The radios clicked back on. "Not far from wherever I left my dignity," he crooned. It had the desired effect as the cyberaddict melted into her own amused little chuckles. "I'm almost done here Cupid, you got any clothes for her or am I just wrapping her back up in this sheet?"

"Yeah. I popped out just after she went under the general. Nothing special but it is what it is. We'll wrap her back up for now, let her wake up on her own, and make sure she knows they're for her." He replied. "I'm sure she'd prefer to put her own underwear on. Rather not be touched, and the like."

"You're the boss. Just send the rest of the eddies in and we're all kosher." the sound of clattering, running taps, movement and general business accompanied Straid's parting words. Abby remained slouched and smiling for a while longer before sloping up to her feet, staring at nothing in particular.

"I better head out," she decided. "Gotta get rid of the van…"

"You're not driving," Straid drawled as the office doors hissed open. "Christ almighty, I can't see three feet in here! What've you rascals done to my office?" That was the worst part; he sounded good-natured, light-hearted and easygoing. The glint of his shades hid the bloodshot, tired eyes beneath. He had suspenders on, a bombastic pink leather jacket, yellow tie and flare cut jeans. In a smooth, practiced motion he slicked some hair over his bald spot.

"I can't leave a hacked van inna-"

"You're not driving," Straid repeated - firm, decisive, indifferent to her excuses. He sauntered past Valentine, pushed his chair away from his desk, pulled out a sleek glass panel and tapped away as an invoice screen popped up. "You can watch your Jason what'shisface films-"

"Jason Islington," Abby corrected him.

"-yeah, him. Watch a couple those, eat your way through my mini fridge and wait for Cupid to pick you up." He slid the pad over to Valentine.

"You use the cyber I brought?" Valentine asked, before paying.

"You think I'd waste my own stock on some choom I'm never gonna see again?" Straid flashed his signature smile.

Valentine eyed him.

"Good man. That's what I pay for."

He tapped the pad, holding the eye contact, returning his own signature smile.

"Feel free to enjoy the rest of the weed, Abby. Straid can have some if he likes, since he's been such a gracious host and opened his fridge to us." Valentine mused, grabbing his backpack and wandering over to the spot he knew would have a cold beer for him.

Wordlessly past that point, he grabbed one, opened it on the edge of Straid's desk, took a swig, and left.




A B B Y + C U P I D
A B B Y + C U P I D




Collab with @stitches



Valentine stood, hunched over his rifle, listening closely to the scavs behind the door. He could hear at least three of them talking, plus some footsteps further out in the shitty apartment they were holed up in - bare minimum, that made four of them, and if you could see four, you should assume there were eight, and prepare for twelve.

They weren’t prepared for twelve - but between them Abby and Valentine still stood a pretty good chance, and they retained the element of surprise. He patted himself down, sorting through his chest rig in his head - five spare magazines for the rifle, three spare for the pistol, aid kit from the fidelis bag he’d left in Abby’s van, zip ties, two stims and two airhypos, and lastly the dump pouch. It always felt incomplete - but without the map and compass he’d trained with it probably always would.

“Remember, we have two principals to protect - little guy with long hair, and a big girl with a shaved head. Both have Valentino tattoos and plenty of chrome - hopefully, they still do. They take priority just as soon as we make the scene safe.” He looked up at Abby, sleek Pifner pointed somewhere she wasn’t looking, her own chrome matte in the darkness. She nodded; always a little bit within the digisphere of their immediate surroundings; listening but not responding. Her silicone fingers hooked around the rim of her helmet, pulling it over her face and fixing her gloves.

It wasn’t like the Valentinos to go off on their own and get vulnerable without backup - but then again, Valentine seemed to spend much of his time around atypical sorts from their gang. Andreas had gotten in touch a day ago, let him know that a couple of their own had gone missing and were probably in trouble; tracing them wasn’t too hard, especially with the Valentinos putting everything to the side to get them back - but the Scavs were a problem, and there was no guarantee that the principals were still alive.

“Ready when you are. Give me a warning, then hack the door.”

Abby lifted her hand and turned her head in Valentine's direction. "Three, two, one, go-"

The door hissed open and Valentine ducked in first, rifle up and sights aligned. He was right, there were more than four.

The three who'd been talking got a split second to turn their heads before they were punctured neatly through the centre of them. Cupid flicked his rifle to fully automatic as the two who'd been pacing in the corner - probably eyeing eachother's cyber - realised just what was happening and went for their weapons.

The element of surprise and violence of action were the prayers and mantras that special forces lived by - and while Cupid had never really been properly special forces, he'd certainly gotten blasted drunk with them enough to remember.

Centre mass. Three shots. Each.

He could feel every vein in his body, every artery, stretching and recoiling under the pulse pressure of his excited, howling heart. Ears ringing, mind racing, hands still and silent and ready.

Cupid advanced into the room, moving straight to cover behind one of the load bearing pillars in the centre of the wide open kitchen-living room.

No Valentinos. But lots of doors.

"Abby, scan for scavs."

There was a door to the left of the entry hall - looked like a bathroom, thermal signature high, might be in use. "Left," Abby intoned dully as she pulled out her Heatblade and started it up. Another door across the room, to another corridor it looked like - cool air flowing from the gap at the bottom, visible both on Pifner and on Rubicon. Walk in fridge? Cyber suite? Ice room for the bodies? She started towards the cold signature first, but gave a cursory glance to the other doors. First was a little further ahead, again on the left - and it was glass, leading out to a balcony and the dirty sunshine of Night City. The other was on the right, labeled 'Dick's Room'.

There was shouting. Another three distinct voices at bare minimum. Cyber would be visible on the net - especially dirty cyber run by idiots like Scavs. Abby was uniquely experienced in fucking around with cheap, low quality equipment so the moment they got in range her fingers twitched. A UI popped up in her Pifner. She was able to connect to their augmentations and swarm them all with malware.

One by one, there were dull thumps and the shouting turned quiet.

"They're not dead," Abby elaborated offhandedly. "Go see if I got any of the hostages. I'll check their freezer."

"Keep your guard up. Not all scavs show up on the net." Cupid remarked equally offhandedly, as he drew his sidearm, flicking the safety on his rifle and swinging around to his back on its sling as he went for Dick's Room. Inside were two scavs - one sat at a terminal, twitching limply, and the other lying in bed, lost to the world on drugs.

Neither survived him.

Abby opened the door to the cold room and found that there were several, all down a long corridor. This was the sort of place that had been designed originally as very high density living space for the poor - at least seven total bedrooms, each designed to hold more than one person, all oriented around a shared communal space. Some of the bedrooms were still being used that way, but of the six that lined the corridor four of them had been turned into either people-fridges or rudimentary operating theatres.

Spotting the corridor were more disabled Scavs. Three of them. They writhed and clutched at their parts, some of them overheated and some of them knocked out with static inputs. This was where the Heatblade came in handy. There were too many doors to hide behind, too many corpses that may or may not be corpses; her blade steamed in the crisp air and buzzed as it slid through the meat and metal with ease. Abby always went for the neck when she could; she sliced through the spine and cooked the meat within.

Abby heard suppressed gunfire from behind her - Cupid, cleaning up. He was going to get whoever was left in the bathroom next, if there was anyone at all, and then join her. She started first with the operating theatres, migrating towards the familiar blips of medical equipment. If either of the hostages were in there, they wouldn't have much time at all.

She opened the first door - and found a young woman, naked on the slab, bleeding, with one arm and some of her lower left leg simply missing. The 'ripperdoc' was holding a gun and looking around blindly, pointing it at things that weren't there, illusions the malware was flooding his own Pifner with.

The woman wasn't the one they were looking for. But Valentine could save her anyway - it just had to occur to Abby that he would. She didn't need to waste a bullet here either; sprinting towards the scav she swung her blade in an arc and severed his hands off by the wrists with a sizzling zap, silencing his screaming by quickly jamming the blade into his head.

For a moment she stood and watched the crackling sparks. She flicked her radio on. "Got a lady here, first door on the left when you go in, no arm and a leg but she's breathing and bleeding," she spoke and headed out, trying the other operating rooms. She wasn't being paid to rescue that one.

Cupid came running, and they met in the corridor.

"They were using the bathroom to scrub cyber. Nothing belonging to our marks." He reported, advancing down the hallway with her to finish securing the site.

The next room was cold, but relatively empty. Three bath tubs filled with ice, AC turned down to fuck, and only one body - not one they recognised, but someone who was still intact, who had no visible cyber, and whose thermal signature read them as entirely deceased.
More importantly, no scavs.

"We're clear. Next."

Just as they reached for the door handle to the next freezer room, Abby felt her ICE tingle. There was a runner in there, and they were trying to hack her. She froze. She simply stopped moving as she checked to make sure nothing was compromised. This wasn't an unfamiliar sight for Valentine, but it did leave her vulnerable for those few seconds.

"Stay the fuck out! Get the fuck outta my house, Choom, or I'm gonna fuckin' eat you alive!" Came a voice from behind the door.

"If you can see him, ping the spot. Can't hack if you're dead."

Abby didn't respond, but a flickering humanoid outline cropped up in valentine's visuals behind the door.

Cupid took one deep breath, and booted the door in.

The hack ended to the beat of an automatic rifle, brought to finale with the sounds of a magazine changing.

Inside the fridge were another three bathtubs, stolen from ruins or bombed out apartments elsewhere in the city, each filled with water, ice, and a body. One empty and bloody, and two Valentinos.

All intact.

"Found our guys. Let's check the other rooms."

The rest of the flat was pretty much clear. One scav left, who'd balled themselves up and tried to hide underneath a bed that was more or less fixed to the floor - so not the most effective strategy. Abby was quick to kill him as she wandered the apartment checking for any survivors, flapping her hands as she checked any available surveillance as well as checking external feeds to the van.

"Abby," came the voice of Valentine, a little urgently, "I'm needed here, go get our marks out of the tub."

She jogged past him and back into the final room, sloshing the woman out of the ice water and dragging her to the nearest bed. Her arms whirred quietly under the strain; cyberaddicts do tire eventually but it takes more than some legwork and deadweight to sincerely hinder one with enough coordinated machinery to damn near replace the human body in its entirety. She wrapped her in the sheets, mechanically shunted her into the recovery position in an act of habit and grabbed some garish purple silk bedspread from another cramped compartment to wrap the man in.

Valentine set to work on the girl left on the operating table. The aid kit he had wasn't much but it had a couple of tourniquets that would buy him time. She was pale, blue around her lips and hands and feet and tongue, and wasn't bleeding fast - right now, that was a bad sign.

"Come to think of it, once you do, can you grab my bag from the van?"

"Yes," Abby called through the open doorway as she lugged the male mark down the corridor.

Oftentimes Abby had to make a deliberate, concerted effort to perform actions manually; just because she could turn on the TV and crank up the heating with her quickhacks after coming out of an ice bath of her own didn't mean she ought to do it for every little chore that'd require her to lift a finger. On the job, however, the world around her just seemed to crumple and give way. Doors slid open, lights turned on, cameras received interference and the back door to the van popped ajar as she sprinted out of the block. The heaters were already blasting warm air into the back by the time she'd roughly laid the first hostage inside. She closed and locked the van after slinging Valentine's kit over her shoulder and was back in a few precious seconds to much more carefully drop it off for the surgeon.

Valentine was already at work, running cold water through the hose the scavs had set up to wash bits off the ‘ware, rinsing her wounds, using the suction attached to their rudimentary table to remove debris and clear the site of bleeding.

“Ah, Abby, thank you darling.” He glanced up and muttered absent mindedly as she dropped the bag off. He took precious seconds away from his patient to unzip it and pull the trauma gear out - seconds that he more than earned back by clamping the largest arteries and preparing them for ligation, before getting a cannula in-situ and feeding her a full bag of saline, and another of blood replacement fluid. He wrapped the sphyg-band around her one good arm and checked the OLED display.

Pulse 148, BP 72/40, SpO2 83%. Unacceptable, but there was no oxygen to hand. Only one thing for it.

Valentine retrieved an airhypo and a stim injector from his rig, and jammed both into the side of her thigh on her intact leg. Blood pressure gradually started to rise, and she reflexively took a deep, agonised breath in as the drugs hit.

“Stim’ll kill the pain, hypo will… whatever the fuck those things even really do.” He muttered to himself, peeling the girl’s eyelids back. Her pupils were pinpoint - narrow as the ends of needles. Scavs had drugged her - but they’d not touch anyone else again.

Plenty of things could cause pupillary constriction like that, Valentine reasoned - plenty of things, one of which was much more common than the others.

He nodded.

It couldn’t hurt.

He went into the kit and retrieved a vial of pronaloxone - a next generation opiate antagonist drug, or NGOAD for short. This one was going through her IV, and getting followed right up with the next bag of fluids.

“Come on love.” More muttering from Valentine. “Come on.”

There was a decision to be made here. He could risk trying to preserve the limbs as much as possible - ideally pending reintegration of either her existing cyberware, or fresh parts - or he could do the smart thing and cut more out of her so he could close the wounds.

Abby did not need to make such difficult decisions, she only needed to run fast enough to keep two cold bodies from getting any colder. The female hostage was as tall as she was wide; far heavier than her male counterpart but still only capable of eliciting a pained grunt or exertion from the hacker without slowing her down too much. Her cybernetic limbs, though slender, were optimised for what they could do and she made short work of the heavy lifting, already out the door and in the van with the two hostages. Just like anything in Night City, cybernetics were just as much of a glittering veneer as they were a genuine asset. The organic shreds of her body shrieked with pain as the numb, metallic parts weighed heavy on the muscles that were left. It was a fatigue that wouldn't make her nonfunctional, not for hours if not days from now - those machines could keep going long before the fragility of the mind willed the amalgamation to slow down. Her heartbeat spiked and her shoulders shook as she sat in the driver's seat and checked the visual and audio feeds for the back of the van. Both hostages were breathing.

She didn't need to go back in. She wasted time if she did. Her Pifner lit up with panels in her mind, views of the street, of the apartment, the balcony, the operating room - and intermittently, unbidden, of recorded video footage displaying the moment she pierced that scav's Pifner with her Heatblade. She kept irritably switching that panel off and continued surveillance only for it to flicker back on again the moment she allowed her focus to falter. Seeking a more productive distraction, Abby got back on the radio. "You done yet?"

Valentine grunted back into the radio.

“Patient just woke up screaming and punched me right in the face. I love drug antidotes.” He remarked sarcastically. “Although in fairness, I did give her a stim first. I’m going to dress her wounds, pack our shit up, and come down to you as fast as.”

He drew his breath in sharply and looked back at the patient, who was scrabbling around on the surgical slab like a wild animal.

“Afternoon.” He bit his tongue as he stood up. He wasn’t about to tell Abby just how much of an asskicking that single punch had really been. “Name is Cupid, the scavs took out your cyber, we took out the scavs. I’m not here for you, but I’m going to save your life whether you like it or not. We do not have much time, and I’m going to have to carry you out, but those wounds need dressed first. Do you understand?”

Her eyes widened.

“I don’t have any cyber.”

Valentine’s heart dropped.

His hung his head - but only for a second.

“Well, that’s probably going to have to change too then. I’ll grab what I can from their stocks, and I’ll make sure you’re not left helpless when we’re done, ok? But I’ve got to finish with the wounds, and then we have got to leave. You’re awake because of stim, and an antidote to what they gave you - it won’t last, but you’re safe with us. Ok?”

She blinked, frozen in place.

“Ok.”

Valentine sprinted to one of the bedrooms and grabbed a blanket for the girl. He took care of her wounds, wrapped her up in it, and stuffed an arm and a leg from the scavs’ bathroom - that looked close enough to her proportions - into his bag.

He didn’t want to owe anyone favours, but what the fuck else was he gonna do?

“Abby, we’re on our way out. Time is eight minutes, thirty nine seconds. Ish. We might need Straid’s help with this girl. I’ll pay.”

"Are the cost of the repairs gonna outweigh how much we're making on this job?" Abby settled into the driver's seat and started to plot out the route.

“Doubt it. She didn’t have any of her own. They were just cutting her up for fun. I picked up spares, we’re gonna hope they fit - so Straid won’t charge his notorious ‘materiel fee’ at least. And I said I would pay. Your cut is safe.”

Then he dropped Andreas a text message.

420Cupid >//: Got both, plus a third victim. All stable. Bloody freezing. Taking to clinic, see you soon.

ESP4D4VRD3 >//: good shit. Scavs trouble?

420Cupid >//: Yes. We had fun.

ESP4D4VRD3 >//: u scare me. see u soon, love u






C U P I D
C U P I D

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“What the fuck do you mean I’m not allowed to smoke in here?"
C H A R A C T E R P O R T R A I T
C H A R A C T E R P O R T R A I T
C H A R A C T E R S U M M A R Y
C H A R A C T E R S U M M A R Y

Yaḥyā ‘John’ Valentine-al’Hakim
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43 | | Bisexual
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Single - Divorced | Mercenary - Ex-Trauma Team Field Doctor | Unaffiliated (Formerly British Army)
P H Y S I C A L P R O F I L E
P H Y S I C A L P R O F I L E

C H A R A C T E R N O T E S
C H A R A C T E R N O T E S

C H A R A C T E R H I S T O R Y
C H A R A C T E R H I S T O R Y

Labour lasted sixteen hours and approximately thirty two minutes, proceeded naturally and without incident, baby given vitamin K with parental consent, all screening negative. Ms. Al-Hakim declined epidural anaesthesia, citing religious reasons and a desire to be 'totally there' for the process. Entonox offered and accepted once contractions had been regular for half an hour. No trauma or tears to the perineum, blood loss approximately 400ml. No evidence of retained materials or ragged membranes. Midwife and doctor in mutual agreement that there are no concerns relating to Ms. Al-Hakim or baby's health, thus due for discharge in the morning.

Birth at 0023 hours, date is 4th of March, 2035. We are glad to offer our congratulations to the parents, and a warm welcome to Baby Valentine-al-Hakim.


John Valentine - as he often goes by in English speaking communities - had been fascinated with the medical world since as long as he could remember. When his parents found him having broken into their records cabinet to look through the notes they'd requested from the hospital after he was born, he told them he was just curious - that he wanted to know how it all worked. They were as ecstatic at his reasoning as they were awkward with the explanation, and promptly enrolled him in extra classes to sate his hunger for education - a hunger that would always serve him well.

Valentine excelled in school, working through the standard British curriculum and his extra teaching with a relentless drive, matching each challenge that was thrown at him with gusto and grace. He was often disruptive - but despite that, he was well liked by the staff at Hedingham Hill Comprehensive School, and his childhood was decidedly normal. He was talented, intelligent, and charming - if boisterous and occasionally mischievous.

He had his first beer at 15, smoked his first joint in secret behind the gym at school when he was 16, and found his first girlfriend at 17. Very pleasant, and for him of course very exciting - but as far as the world was concerned it was nothing really special.

Then, at the age of 18 he enlisted in the army as part of his compulsory national service, preferring to get it out of the way rather than let the threat of it linger by deferring until after university - and, he reasoned, so he could get the army to pay his tuition fees too. It was not something he had looked forward to, and certainly not something he had expected to enjoy. No. He had expected to chafe under authority and initially adopted an approach of keeping his head down and trying to stay out of trouble - like he hadn't in school.

He surprised himself. Or rather, the army did.

Valentine had expected the officers commanding him to be pompous and arrogant, unconcerned with his or any other soldier's wellbeing, and happy to issue blatantly foolish orders at the expense of the soldiery. In part, this was why he expected to fit in poorly - since he had issues with unwarranted authority. Instead he found a cadre of competent and charismatic officers, many of whom were real deal - lead by example, put the men first, neither get into a pointless fight nor back away from a worthwhile one, those sorts of ideals.

Ideals he found he agreed with. Ideals he found he could embrace.

His career shone. Unlike most conscripts, and perhaps for lack of another cause to devote himself to, John Valentine’s two years in the army were something he relished. He put in the effort, he took on the extra training courses when they were available, and he pursued a specialty within his field. At the age of 19, John Valentine passed selection for the 181st Squadron, Royal Army Corps of Signals. This was a feat. He was by no means the youngest in this squadron - there were those who had entered it directly as volunteers rather than be conscripted - but he distinguished himself nonetheless. He would go on to serve in active duty, passing the commando course as prerequisite for field operations with the 181, and then enter combat across Britain - but never more often than in the London Combat Zones.

After his tour of duty was up, he made the difficult choice to pursue an education and qualify as a doctor, while remaining an army reservist. He would also eventually earn a commission as an officer - the first in his known family history to do so - and become Lieutenant Valentine. Addicted to the rush of combat and the cold focus of adrenaline, he took what he had learned and applied it to his medical career equally - he specialised in emergency medicine at the very same hospital he’d been born at, St. Bart’s, once the largest and greatest trauma centre in Western Europe. He met a girl, he fell in love, started dating and eventually got married. He lost an arm in the line of duty while deployed during a crisis - at this point, Captain Valentine - and accordingly was allocated a spare from Porton Down Engineering. He studied, he worked, he fought, he lived - he sat exams and failed them the first time, then failed them again, and passed only on his third try. He learned from his mistakes and took time away from the army to continue with his medical career, eventually attaining the rank of SAS Doctor - then after that, Emergency Consultant.

He had a son. Rupinder, named after his wife’s late brother - but Ruby for short.

He was happy.

But it couldn’t - no, it wouldn’t last.

Al-Hakim is a title as much as it is a name, hereditary by his generation, but once earned by one of his ancestors. It means ‘The Wise’.

His greatest failure was that he could never live up to it.

Blinded by ambition and enthralled with the idea of seeing real action again, when Trauma Team came knocking he didn’t even hesitate. He uprooted his family and shed his friends like a thin coat of skin, and moved to Night City. This is where his marriage troubles began - it’s where he started to lose his grip on his life.

Not to say he wasn’t good at his job, of course - it was probably the one part of his life where he kept up all the appearances and never once slipped up. Trauma Team were good to him, and whether it was taking on AeroDyne shifts or covering an Emergency Department for a double shift when he was meant to be resting, he did what he was told. He found common purpose in his colleagues - some of whom had similar backgrounds, and shared his ideals of medicine, healthcare, and glorious progress. He took part in the new Rubicon Programme - a sort of cybernetics trial, looking at the value of augmenting senior doctors and nurses with what essentially amounted to in-built imaging equipment. It was a resounding success.

At home, he was a resounding absence.

Thing came to a head when his AeroDyne responded to a call and essentially lost the fight. Not his first defeat, nor his first injury, but certainly his first time being taken alive. A group of Edgerunners had been planning for the Trauma Team response unit their client had paid for, and their aircraft was blown out of the sky with anti-tank weapons that had been rigged to a ballistics co-processor and a small quantum CPU. Years later he would applaud their ingenuity - but over the next two days, he would curse the fact that they’d not even been good enough to make sure they were dead.

If they had died, he wouldn’t have been taken by Scavs.

Sometimes he wonders if there are still braindances being sold of what they did to him. He wakes up in the middle of the night, clutching his throat, reliving the drowning sensation, fearing for his life.

Yasmina - his wife - gave him an ultimatum. He leaves Trauma Team, or she leaves him and takes Ruby with her.

As if Ruby even recognised him to begin with.

But he did the right thing for once. He discussed matters with the friends he’d made in the company - the corpo rats he’d used to hate, when he was infantry - and made arrangements for his departure. They were very understanding, and some strings were pulled so that he wouldn’t need to go through any more surgery before leaving. Somebody probably got in serious trouble - but they were good at finding a fall guy, and even if he did care about who it was, his marriage was more important.

It lasted a year.

Nothing changed, is the worst part. No relapsing into his old ways, no more fighting and gunplay, no more long shifts - nothing. Sometimes he wonders if it was the nightmares that finally pushed her away - if he’d become so broken that he could no longer be dealt with - but he knew the truth.

She’d given him one more chance - but it was a chance that came after the damage had been done. Dealing with him in his current state didn’t help of course - might have even been the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak - but it probably didn’t matter. He would never know how long it had been since she loved him; he would never know how long it had been since he truly ruined the best thing that had ever happened to him, and pushed away the one person who loved him the most.

The divorce was quick, and technically amicable - Ruby stayed three nights at his place, and four at his mother’s - but it was just too obvious who was to blame. When Valentine started drinking, Yasmina saw it for what it was - the start of a death spiral - and pulled Ruby out. Valentine lost his visitation rights after the first pill, then lost his apartment after he nearly burned it down after trying to cook while he was high.

He was homeless for a bit - a bit too vicious to be a victim, a bit too unstable to find a home. His cyberware started to creak and groan - no eddies means no maintenance - and he started to get truly desperate. Desperate for warmth, for food, for money, for an escape.

For what it’s worth, he never once blamed his wife. Not ever. He knew what he’d done. He hated himself more than any criminal or terrorist he’d ever been deployed against, more than any lowlife scav stealing bits from his clients’ bodies, more than- well, more than anything.

His instincts saved him - but not the ones you’d expect.

Out of everything he could have done when he found a young Valentino passed out in the gutter one night while he was stalking around and going through withdrawal, he kept the boy safe. He stayed with him, giving psychotic death glares at anyone who so much as looked at him - he even barked at a Tyger Claw. Like a dog. Less than a dog.

But he could do this - he could keep him safe. One last thing, he thought, just this one last thing.

The kid woke up eventually and pulled a sword on him - but after he was disarmed and they had a moment to talk, Espadaverde (a name he had invented, thought Valentine) realised he wasn’t going to get home safe alone, and let Valentine walk him there.

Valentine got some food and a sofa. It was the first good he’d gotten since everything went to shit, and it was all he could do to not break down and cry. From there the rest is history - Andreas moved out and took Valentine with him, found him a weapon and some work - through which he eventually met Abby, too - and helped him realise he couldn’t die just yet.

What would his son think, if the story ended here?

There were ups and downs, many more of the latter - and he never kicked his newfound habits - but things were stable enough, even if the persistent thought of just quitting plagued him still. Abby had her turn to save his life too - Andreas could give him reasons, but the Valentinos weren’t a purpose.

He never told her that he’d already taken the pills when she knocked on his door. It was difficult, finding an antidote in time, especially secretly - but he did it. He had someone to live for again - someone to recover for again.

That was enough.

D E T A I L E D A P P E A R A N C E
D E T A I L E D A P P E A R A N C E

John Valentine is a tall, lithe, lean looking man. He was stockier and fuller once - but his addictions have taken a toll, even if it’s not immediately obvious that’s what it is. His skin is a pale sort of olive tan, and his hair is dark and thick. He has scars around his cyberarm - from the blast that took off the original - and smaller, white, thin scars inside his mouth, from the implements used by the Scavs. One tattoo, bearing the insignia of his old comrades, and his motto - Certa Cito, Magna Clara.

P L O T ( S ) & G O A L ( S )
P L O T ( S ) & G O A L ( S )

John Valentine is like Abby - in recovery, not always stable, and struggling almost every day. He represents the difficulty of it, and the balancing act it often requires - especially when one’s occupation is a part of one’s vices. I’m certainly hoping that there will be room for him to learn how to be on his own again, and find something to live for that isn’t as volatile as a person - but tragedy can also be art, and while I think I would prefer him to ultimately be successful (even if it ultimately means trying to step away from the life of a merc entirely), I’m certainly not counting on it. His and Abby’s story are also tied together - they live together, work together, and essentially treat eachother. It’s an interesting dynamic, even if it isn’t always healthy.







INS Roanoke
Hyperspace
Local Time: 1030






Aleks shook his head, and held up a hand in Abigail’s direction.

“No. That is a reference to our obligations towards her. Coalition Intelligence are just that - intelligent - and will see this as an anomaly in our usual naming schemes. All they need is a reason to investigate, and they will investigate - their resources available for finding Sunray are effectively limitless, and they will pursue every possible avenue towards that end.”

Aleks nodded.

“There was a man in my SRG section, famous because he had slept with three military police officers, and because he was so bad in bed they fined him. We called him Shitfuck, because he was a shit fuck.”

Seamlessly, he looked up again at the others.

“Shitfuck, or something like it, is an option.” He half-joked.

But then Aleks’ demeanour shifted - instantly and with no regard to his previous sentence, or the humour it was going for - as it so often does.

“Your highness.” He began, stiff and formal, a complete whiplash from his previous sentence that was made only worse by the awkward pause that followed it as he struggled to find a way to word his thoughts without offending the Princess. “I would not ever disrespect you by presuming that you are ignorant of history - I am certain, you are more educated on this subject than me.” Began the preamble.

Aleks paused again, glancing down at the floor, and folding his arms before he looked back up.

“The Coalition have been sworn enemies of the Empire for hundreds of years. Even just this single episode of war, it has gone on for longer than many of us here in this room have even lived, and the relative peace we had before it was truly nothing more than cold war and arms racing. Every family in the Empire has lost somebody to the Coalition.”

He remembered Jaatikar.

“I’ll just ask. Do you believe with all your heart that there is a realistic chance at lasting peace? Not another cold war, but a real peace?”
Count me in chief. I'm almost definitely gonna go with a PMC, probably a guy of mixed heritage from the UK, if that's alright?
Aleks turned to look at Gansu, eyes hard and dull, like frost on glass.

“Princess comes with orders. She is assuming direct command of the fleet, including us. Not sure where this is going from here, but we are dealed an awful hand of cards, and holiday is not even in the deck.”

He turned to look back at Abigail, preemptively resting his hand on her shoulder and squeezing - gently, but firmly - in case she tried to leave before he was going to let her. Abigail shook her shoulder a little bit but metal-polymer grips were hard to escape from once caught. She kept that same still eerie smile on her face as her eyes narrowed slightly in rapid and solemn thought.

Aleks glanced back towards Gansu and - either realising how deadly his expression was, or his mood finally levelling out - softened his gaze.

“It is understandable that this may be cause for concern. I have spoken to her, she seems reasonable and willing to learn, which is undeniably better than the worst case for leadership.”

"Like I said I'm - sure - she'll - be - wonderful," Abigail said between jerks of her shoulder, trying to free herself, "but I'm more concerned about that rookie all alone out on the ship! Poor thing's probably lost. Hey, here's an idea -" she stared Aleks dead in the eyes, her gaze cold and fierce. "Let me go. And I can go…look for her."

Aleks blinked at her rapidly, weighing up the choice in his head - keep her here, or let her go. Neither one of them seemed very much like a good something to do, both of them had the potential to lead directly to catastrophe, but…

“We must speak later.” He looked at Abi, staring her down, straight in the eyes. “Ok?”

He waited for a response before he let her go.

Abigail stared back. She wriggled a bit more, sighed then gave Aleks the most sanctimonious, pristine salute she could muster at such an awkward position. "Yes sir, Lieutenant Commander Danielsson sir," she barked back at him and clicked her heels.

The moment she was released Abigail was gone, squeezing past Gansu and rocketing down the corridors out of sight.

Aleks waited a moment.

“You little shit.” He mumbled, after a moment more. “Nevermind. She’ll be fine. Yes, bad news, Gansu.”
Ingram climbed down from the cockpit of his MAS, tossing his helmet over to a tech as they came running over to service the squadron’s machines. Spotting the medical team running towards the Coalition MAS docked in one of the Roanoke’s hangar bays, Ingram sighed. As Ingram was making his way across the hangar, a hoarse voice raised itself above the din of the Roanoke’s ‘RTB Response’ protocol teams.

“Boss!” Aleks gave a shout, beckoning him over. “We got to talk!”

Aleks didn’t look particularly happy, but it was the curt, measured, precise tension with which he moved that really made it obvious - Aleks was annoyed. Not quite enough to be angry, but more than just irritated or frustrated, and as he glanced over towards the princess as she was tended to by medical staff, it was also obvious why.

Ingram paused, looking over at his second for a moment. Ingram’s eyes narrowed, following Alek’s vision and finding the target of his frustrations, then turning back to the man. He sighed and walked over- beckoning with a shift of his head towards a more secluded corner of the hangar. Not that the hangar was in any way secluded, but out of the way of running technicians and engineers, more or less outside the din of machinery and people.

”Concerns regarding our new guest?” Ingram half asked, half stated as fact. He knew Alek’s well enough at this point to read the frustrations on his face- hence part of the reason why he dragged them off to a more private corner of the hangar. ”Speak openly- I know you’re going to anyway.”

Aleks nodded.

"We need to decide what we're doing about her, as an authority. I don't want her giving orders and circumventing chain of command, especially if she doesn't know how to do so effectively."

”Yeah, I know. Ingram sighed, shooting a look over at the medical team standing underneath the Coalition Helheimer. ”Royals can be a finicky bunch- they’re used to getting their way. I’ll talk to her, maybe she’ll listen.”

“Unfortunately for us, she is within our Chain of Command,”
Ingram added, pulling out his holopad and flicking over to a classified document. Technically not for Aleks’ eyes, but it wasn’t the first time Ingram had fudged some rules when it came to talking to Aleks. Legal jargon aside, the document more or less stated that command and control of part of the 5th fleet was being transferred- the Roanoke in particular, was being handed over to Princess Aurelia, forming their own battlegroup within the fleet. Their purpose and operations- hitherto undisclosed.

”Technically, she’s the boss now. But I understand what you mean- interrupting and giving conflicting orders during an operation is no good for anyone. It's a good way of getting us killed.”

Aleks blinked thrice in rapid, dumbfounded succession.

"Some of the others will not like this. Her highness will have serious trouble earning respect after…" Aleks searched for the word, his face twisting in frustration as he found that he lacked it, "... all of this. This is saying nothing of how her presence will affect Abigail and her situation."

Yeah, I know. The Roanoke isn’t a big ship either. As far as that situation goes, we’ll have to play by ear. I was anticipating receiving commands from a Royal, not necessarily having her on board while the orders were given.” Ingram replied, slipping his holopad back into his pocket.

Aleks rubbed his chin through his beard, shaking his head, tense as steel wire.

"Thank you for showing me the orders. I would like to come with you to speak with her, and I would like us to have a longer and serious conversation about this later on."

”Only if you play nice.” Ingram responded, his head turning to shoot a glance at the subject of their discussion- still in the middle of her impromptu medical examination. The last thing any of us need is conflict on the ship as well as off it.”

The Savolax sniper inhaled sharply, then exhaled slowly, gradually relaxing, resting his hands on his hips. It was one of the more unusual things about Deadeye - how quickly he went from genuine slaughter and extreme violence to chill calm - but it was better than seeing him angry.

"How do you feel about this?" He asked Ingram after a moment.

Ingram was silent for a moment, his mind in quiet contemplation despite the din of the maintenance crews running by them. He pulled a flash out of his pocket and took a swig out of it, his face scrunching for a moment before offering it to Aleks. It was a Gansu-Special, some concoction that Gansu had invented some time ago. Capable of putting an adult man on the ground in moments, it was a favorite of the 7th.

”I think she means well- for a Royal anyway.” Ingram admitted, ”Even if it wasn’t ideal, necessary or even warranted, the point was that she was trying to shield and cover a damaged squadmate. That’s more than can be said about most nobility.”

”She has a lot to learn, but at least she’s not arrogant about it. She’s malleable. When to interfere and when to do as you’re told can be taught. The instinct cannot. Rookie mistake with the tactical situation as it was, but mistakes can be fixed, and we can keep tactical control away from her easily enough. There are worse Royals to be working under by far.” Ingram pointed out.

”Do I like that we’re in this situation? No, absolutely not. It's hard enough keeping everyone alive without having to worry about the whims of a Royal to boot.”

”But we’ll figure a way through it- we always do.” Ingram concluded with a short sigh, ”And if worse comes to worst? Well, at least I can’t hear you tell me ‘I told you so’ when I’m 6 feet under.”

Aleks nodded solemnly.

“You are mistaken; if we share a grave, that’s all you will hear. Alright, let’s go speak to her highness, I will probably be quiet and let you do the talking - if I have anything to say, I will make sure to be diplomatic.”
Abigail slouched in her chair, fingers pressing against the side of her face as she held herself upright. It wasn't that she was exhausted, just really uncomfortable; the lurch of the Krakono did nothing for her remnants of nausea and even less for the thumping headache that accompanied it. Her HUD told her it was a delightful thirty two degrees Celsius in the cockpit and she was sweating like a hog in her EVA suit. She'd been tossed around like a leaf in a storm drain and the effects were making themselves increasingly apparent.

But they weren't far now. They couldn't be far now. Even without the Full Echo, each cacophonous bounce of the Krakono crossed more distance than any foot patrol could ever hope to in twice as much time due to sheer size alone. The issue remained that Jakunta's singular attack had the unintentional side effect of alerting everything remotely nearby of their presence, and given the terse silence on the Comms, Abigail couldn't shake the feeling Jakunta was very much aware of this as he forced his metal demon to tear through the jungle at a breakneck pace.

Her gaze slipped through the smart AI sensors again as she watched the designated Helmheimr follow them, lost in thought - then her eyes narrowed and she immediately slammed onto the Comms:

"STOP MOVING-!"

Whatever it was, it tore through the trees like toothpicks. A gargantuan leathery belly slammed into the Krakono. The Kolibri's boosters flashed into life so fast that the MAS skidded clean off the Krakono's chassis and into the dirt as Abigail scrabbled underneath the Krakono, away from the line of fire but very much in range of what appeared to be a grotesquely large male Riverdrake that clearly took the cannon blast as a threat to its territory. This creature was just as, if not larger than the Krakono; in the chaos, the munitions fire and the thumping of the heavy MAS its approach was masked until it was too late.

"Can you shake it off?!" Abigail cried out in horror, grabbing her heat knife and trying to take a slash at the monster's hind leg - in vain.

"No," grunted Jakunta through gritted teeth. The Krakono whined in protest as the hydraulics shuddered under the weight of the Riverdrake, stuck in an even struggle to remain upright. If the drake knocked over the Krakono here of all places, Jakunta wouldn't have the time to right himself before the Coalition descended upon them and picked them all off.

Almost instantly, Jakhunta's radio crackled with a split second burst of static.

"Grizz, this is Deadeye, right turn now!" Aleksanderin's voice cut through the static as the remainder of the 7th drew within range, and the engagement began in earnest. The Yeoman was in the midst of a mad charge straight at the entangled Krakono and riverdrake, bayonet affixed and raised, rails on the longbow charging. All Jak had to do was pivot so that the drake was the first thing the Savolax would run into. The Krakono creaked as its great body heaved to the side, one gargantuan leg thumping into the ground to steady itself.

At the apex of the Krakono’s turn, just as it came to a great creaking halt, Aleks activated his flight engines and completed the charge.

The drake gave a screeching reptilian roar as its side was punctured by a shard of forged savonite-titanium the size of a sports car, and it turned with shocking speed and deliberacy to face the new threat, raking its claws across the front of the Yeoman as Aleks danced backwards out of its reach, with timing so tight it was up for debate whether he’d done it just right or half a second too late. Flakes and ribbons of armour fell to the forest floor as the bayonet flicked a streak of xenobiological matter across the field - he was outsized, and at this range outgunned, but their first collision had left the lizard worse for wear, and that was an advantage Aleks knew to push.

Aleks grinned in the cockpit, regarding his prey as it drew back and up, protecting its new injury and sizing him up in return.

The jungle buzzed with Savolax as his speakers came on.

”You don’t look delicious.” He taunted it. ”Not delicious at all.”

"Deadeye, please confirm: did you just chat shit to the wildlife?" Abigail asked in the encrypted channel. The Kolibri scrambled to make distance from the melee and circled the Helmheimr, autocannon raised and smart targeting engaged for any coalition surprises.

Crack. Louder than thunder. The longbow discharged from the hip, a spear of Savonite disappearing deep into the creature’s thorax. It squealed and screeched, lunging for Aleks as he leapt backwards, drawing it away from the Krakono for a moment.

“Affirm that Pipsqueak.” He confirmed, shouldering his rifle and placing another round in the creature, this time puncturing its thick skull. “It would probably taste like chicken, but not in a good way.”

"No talking!" Barked Jakunta. The Krakono lurched forward when the Riverdrake let go of the chassis, stumbled, crashed into a tree that covered it in detritus and continued a slow thunderous charge through the jungle.

Aleks frowned. Jakunta didn't give him orders, but Jakunta was right. That bothered him.

He took it out on the riverdrake, which was grabbing frantically at its new head injury, writhing about on the floor.

Two more bayonet jabs and a stomp to the head and Aleks was satisfied that the drake was dead - and then he started looking for coalition targets.

"7th this is Deadeye, ignore wildlife where possible, leave them to the Coalition."

"Understood. Deadeye, are you going to help me cover Sunray on the ground or find a new position to fire from?" Abigail asked.

"Pips, Deadeye here, I'll stay on your six for now, engage targets as I-" he broke off for a moment as another big lizard tried to bite a chunk out of him and got a mouthful of bayonet and railgun, "- follow you."

Abigail had the Kolibri keep pace with Aurelia to cover the princess' left flank as the Krakono picked up momentum. Suddenly aware that the princess hadn't received an update in a while, she swapped channels. "Sunray, follow Grizzly - I'm right here to back you up. Don't worry about the lizards, just keep moving where you can," Abigail reassured the princess as the Kolibri jogged beside the Helmheimr in the wake of whatever the Krakono smashed to pieces during its race back to the Roanoke. She swapped to the encrypted channel. "Boss, you're in the air - can you detect any Coalition units nearby? They're bound to be closing in by now."

There was a crackling boom of sound as the Sparrowhawk whizzed by, strafing a pair of drakes that got a bit too close to Sunray and the Pips, disappearing back into the thicket of trees as he continued on his path. His voice crackled in moments later, a bit distorted from all of the disruptions.

“They’re closing in on us alright, I’m picking up patrols all over us, closest at 3 and 8 o’clock, 10 klicks out. Make a break for the clearing, the Roanoke’s guns can cover us once we get in range.”

"Well, somebody's gotta tell her - and since I've been playing mouthpiece this entire time it's going to be me." Abigail clicked back into the public Comms just as Aleks kicked a smaller, runty Riverdrake away from the Kolibri's broken landing strut. "Sunray? It's Pips. There's Coalition patrols closing in on our location as we speak - a lot of them. You've got Deadeye right behind you, I'm on your left, and Boss in the sky. We're almost at our ship." Abigail turned the volume down in her cockpit so the little pinging alarm about the structural damage she was inflicting on the landing strut didn't distract the princess. "It'll have more than enough firepower to deal with them but I don't want you getting caught in the crossfire. The moment the hangar doors open, you run in first. Trust me on this - we'll be right behind you." She hesitated a little, eyeing her MAS's condition on the HUD. "None of us want to stick around for longer than we need to."
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