The team (minus 1412 who has temporarily dropped off the grid to “work through some things”) meets with Tick, Tock, and Boom at RNRZ, a small club trying entirely too hard to cater to runner and runner-wannabe clientele. The trio has been lying low after severing their ties with Valefar, but more actively seeking information on Techronin. While attempting to find the fixer Techronin’s team used to use, they discovered that their team never used a fixer, picking all their own jobs. Piecing together Techronin’s comments about wanting a “Legacy,” the trio has decided the next best place to look would be to investigate the Saeder-Krupp job Techronin’s team did. The team points them towards Valerie Heldt, a retired SK Counter-Security Chief who should have been in charge of hunting Techronin’s team after the heist. They also give the team 300,000 nuyen (stolen from various assets Valefar had collected), work out a plan to get back in touch three weeks later (including a code phrase to prove it’s really them), and sends them to the Allied German States to find Heldt and see what they can learn.
The team puts together a plan to ditch their comms and get out of Seattle undetected. 42,000 nuyen later they’re in the AGS with a stolen van and putting together a plan to meet with Heldt. Another 24,000 nuyen later they’ve managed to arrange a “consultation” with Valerie Heldt in her apartment.
Shrike and Sy-Wren go in to the meet, while Banshee runs in the matrix and Copykat/Eiji wait downstairs in case things go south. They meet Valerie and her husband Bert, who fetches tea and then excuses himself to the master bedroom. Sy-Wren/Shrike present their carefully established dossier and case file from the security company they’re pretending to represent. She looks it over, asks a couple questions, and then sets down her laptop and looks at them straight.
“You do know I have spent my entire life learning to recognize and outsmart runners, right?”
There’s a small moment of blundering, and then she sits back down, pulls her laptop back out, and says “if you’re going to pay for a consultation, you might as well tell me what’s actually going on so I can actually tell you something useful.” So the team spills it out, carefully holding back details about themselves, but explaining everything they can about Valefar and Techronin that they think they can comfortably divulge. They don’t mention their connection to Talia, but they describe the device containing a clone and paint a pretty good picture of Valefar, including their suspicion that Valefar is an AI created by Techronin, and that the SK job was probably related.
Valerie loses it. “I knew it! I fucking knew it! I told those dreks and none of them believed me but I fucking knew it.” After a moment spent pacing, she turns to the party. “Okay, I’ll tell you what the SK job was, and my theory about what you’re dealing with. But it’s going to cost you.”
The party points out they already paid for the consultation. She counters that the “situation” the party paid to be consulted about was a cover story they made up and technically this is a separate but related affair. The group grudgingly offers nuyen. She declines, insisting that she wants the Aztechnology Flashdrive. Retired or not, she’s still loyal to Saeder-Krupp, and info like that could give SK an edge. The party points out that information like that is worth more than just a ‘theory’.
“The clone in the tank… she was a young girl. Probably about 16 years old. Am I right? It’s just a theory, but I’ve spent my entire life outsmarting runners, so I think you’ll find I’m pretty damn close, if not spot on.”
The team had mentioned the clone, but had very specifically not given any details about her. They become convinced that her theory is probably solid.
The team debates the ethics of giving SK (and by extension, a dragon) information about how to turn metahuman souls into energy. As they’re clearly discussing, Valerie invites any other party members who want to join the conversation up into the room, so they don’t all have to use voice comms. Sy-Wren leaves, Copykat enters, and Eiji waits just outside her apartment door.
They finally come to the conclusion that the research was incomplete anyway, and as unethical as giving it to SK may be, it could also weaken Aztechnology’s chances of doing devious things with it. They hand it over. She takes it, looks at it, holds up a finger, and starts working on her computer. A little time passes and she sets the laptop down.
Techronin’s team were elite. Some of the best runners she’d ever had to go up against. They weren’t very well known, because they didn’t want to be. They had no use for reputation, as they did their own jobs and had no intention of ever being hired. The only one who had any kind of reputation was Techronin, and that was only because he was so active on Shadowland BBS that he had a couple of friends who knew he had the skills to back up his talk.
Techronin’s team managed to break into SK and steal the HRMS prototype. Not just copy, they managed to (quite explosively) steal the physical servers that the protoype and its backup was on. So not only did they have the beginnings of HRMS, but SK completely lost the years of progress they’d put towards it.
What was HRMS, you ask? HRMS (pronounced Hermes) is SK’s Human Resource Management System. It’s not exactly secret, Saeder-Krupp openly brags about it as a selling point to try to draw in more skilled employees. HRMS is a Virtual Intelligence that actively monitors SK’s employees and tries to take care of them. Anyone living in the Arcology is watched by HRMS, who allocates vacations and mental health days to employees who need them, tracks conditions under which employees are most productive and tries to maintain them, monitors health signs to assign sick days and suggest healthy lifestyle options, and while not ever stated it no doubt helps make sure SK company secrets aren’t sold. Employees don’t have to do what HRMS suggests, but the general consensus is that it does a fantastic job of taking care of employees.
It took years to develop it so that it would be able to correctly balance employee happiness with company interest, not to mention the incredible amount of artificial intelligence required to make it monitor every facet it could of an employee’s life, while still being able to learn and start accounting for new factors as it found them relevant, while still also not being an overbearing influence on employees so they didn’t constantly feel monitored.
And again, a few years into development, Techronin and his team bust in and steal all of it.
It took ages to track them down. They were constantly on the move, doing jobs across the globe, and after the SK job they got real quiet. And not only that, but (Valerie gets incredibly agitated while talking about this part) but many of SK’s usual resources were intentionally withheld. She was being forced to track one of her best opponents without her full resources. Why was she denied resources? Because Techronin was actively working on the prototype of HRMS he had, and sending updates back. Not only that but (her agitation increases) the bastard was making faster progress than the development team had been. So someone higher up (hopefully not as high as his scaled majesty himself, but you never know) wanted Techronin to keep working on it. Despite the handicap, she still managed to catch up to his team, and in the ensuing fight all but two were killed. The two that got away were Techronin himself, who had only been present remotely, and a little girl that traveled with them. According to the intel, the team had done a hit on a couple at one point without knowing they had an infant, so two of the team members who were an item but had never wanted to have kids due to their lifestyle took her in as their own. She had been stashed away before the fight, and before today Heldt had always wondered what Techronin had done with her, if anything.
Some time later, full resources were restored. Techronin had made enough progress that SK wanted to reclaim it and finish it themselves instead of risking him selling it to every Megacorp on the planet. They found him, very killed him, and reclaimed HRMS, but there was no sign of the girl. Valerie wasn’t surprised, though, honestly she’d always figured he abandoned her after the rest of his team was killed, “typical runner scum, everyone for themselves.” With this information about the device and the clone, she figures she must have been wrong about that. Valerie had always suspected that he;d put something into HRMS that they’d never found.
“Everything up to this point is fact. Here’s where the theory begins.”
Techronin must have programmed a secondary routine buried deep in some corner of HRMS, that takes care of Shadowrunners instead of Saeder-Krupp employees. No, HRMS is an AI, but not a self aware one. It may be aware that it’s an AI, but it’s not self-conscious outside of certain program constraints. It can learn, but years of work were put into making sure that it stays within its constraints. So it stands to reason that Valefar is just a secondary routine tacked on top, held by the same constraints except wherever Techronin hardcoded an exception. As such, Valefar tries to take care of runners in a way similar to how HRMS takes care of employees. Now, HRMS can only take care of registered employees, so Valefar can probably only take care of what it considers “registered runners.” What it uses for those qualifications who can say, but I’m sure Techronin and his team were all “registered”, which is evidenced by the fact that the clone you found is clearly part of an elaborate scheme to help the little girl in the event of essence loss, based on everything you’ve told me.
What’s fascinating is that Valefar clearly tracks different information for runners than HRMS does for employees. HRMS has absolutely no reason to ever think about making sure employees don’t lose essence, and yet it seems Valefar has prepared against that for the little girl, and also begun taking recruiting action as evidenced by all of you being here. I couldn’t say for sure what constraints Valefar functions under, but Techronin was smart. I’m sure early on he made sure that “protecting the team” wouldn’t ever escalate in Valefar’s mind to “locking them in a box where they can never be hurt and sending them food.” That said, there’s no way Techronin could have accounted for everything. He wasn’t finished, after all, when we finally caught up with him. This elaborate cloning scheme has clearly been in motion for years, and there’s no telling what other schemes it has or will come up with. Not to mention that shadowrunners don’t live like normal metahumans, so Valefar may not treat them with the same ethics HRMS treats SK employees. There’s really no way of knowing what Valefar will escalate to. (As the team hasn’t told her about Talia, she wasn’t able to say anything about it, but the team quickly realized that “kidnapping and forced cyberimplant heart may only be a beginning”).
“Now, don’t worry. Whatever mess you’ve been dragged into I can fix, with this,” she holds up the flash drive. “Normally, combing through a system as large and complex as HRMS trying to find a hidden secondary protocol of unknown size would be a tremendous undertaking. From what you’ve said, however, Valefar not only has a copy of this information, but has actively used it, which means there is a stored copy somewhere in HRMS. If we find the stored copy – which should be easy given we have the original file – we find Valefar. And then we can delete it. So you don’t have to worry about this Valefar going rogue and escalating to crazy measures, we’ll take care of it for you.”
The party takes some time to consider this information. On the one hand, getting rid of Valefar before it can go crazy rogue AI sounds like a good idea. On the other, the team still doesn’t know where Talia is and getting rid of Valefar before finding her could lead to her disappearing forever. As the team discusses their options they banter a little more with Valerie Heldt.
During this banter, Heldt and the party come to a realization, unspoken but reached simultaneously. The realization hits both Shrike and Heldt at the same time: if Valefar could be found and removed from HRMS, it could also be found and modified. Instead of protecting runners, it could hunt them. Heldt’s eyes go wide and a vicious smile pulls up the corner of her mouth as Ryker (triggered by the sudden threat to Talia and herself) takes control. Ryker opens the door and tells Eiji “burn it down.”
Before Heldt can even open her mouth to brag about how clever an idea she’s just had, Ryker pulls a machine pistol and splatters Valerie Heldt against her back wall. In the same breath Eiji comes in, opens the bedroom door and with a single swing takes off Bert Heldt’s head before he can even turn his eyes away from the TV where he’s watching Golf (the King’s Game).
They crack open her laptop and find that she has already sent an email with the Aztechnology information and a brief explanation about Valefar being in HRMS and how it could be found and destroyed using the attachment. The team realizes that if they don’t do anything, at best Valefar is deleted before they get Talia back, and at worst someone at Saeder-Krupp realizes they could reprogram Valefar instead of deleting it.
They bail, meet up in the van, and Banshee announces she’s going to try to hack into SK, access their email database, and delete the email and Aztechnology information from all inboxes. Hopefully before anyone has seen them.
The hack attempt will be the start of the next session.