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5313: Striper Assassin
Death reigns under the full moon on the streets of Philadelphia.
First, a note: the title of this book is not, repeat not, "Stripper Assassin." Note the single p. This is a somewhat important difference.
Striper is, as you may guess, an assassin. We met her briefly in Find Your Own Truth, but it is here that she truly shines. For Striper is a weretigress. Indeed, from all indications she was born a tiger and with the return of magic gained the power to become human at will, and not the reverse. This, too, is an important difference, as it bestows upon her a truly alien and frightening mindset.
Smith does an excellent job of portraying her very nonhuman thought patterns. The book is worth it for that if for nothing else. Part of it is his use of third-person present-tense, but there are other facets that are less identifiable. There is in this book a definite sense that this woman is very, very dangerous, uderstood even without being actually shown (and it is actually shown, several times).
Like the last book in the series, this one adds little to the overall arc, if there can be said to have one. Nor does it inform the reader too much about how the setting works. There's not much explanation needed for an assassin, it's a very straightforward deal. Still, I liked this story very much, and not just because it had a werecreature in it. Take a look for yourself, and I think you'll agree.
by Nyx Smith (1993)
The infamous assassin and shapeshifter known as Striper is in over her head. What she believes to be a series of assassinations targeting the leadership of a Yakuza clan turn out to be something else entirely. Striper is trapped in the sorcerous clutches of a powerful mage and a free spirit, who are using her as their instrument of vengeance.
The title character is a brutal, conscienceless killer, leaving very little room for the reader to identify or sympathize with her. Further, the protagonist's perceptions are magically distorted for over half the novel, which can be extremely confusing to a casual reader. The plot is awkward and the ending is weak. On the other hand, it contains no significant errors and it effectively demonstrates the advantages of careful preparation, stealth, and surprise.
Not the best of books, but considering it's a first effort I'll be a little forgiving. 2 out of 5.
[First a little background, not in the book.]
In 2050, a Seretech executive named Bernard Ohara stole a genetics research program from his own corporation, hired Striper to eliminate the project supervisor, and subsequently frames her for the theft. Striper confronted Ohara, but he escaped her. [These events are from the short story, Striper.]
Ohara fled Seattle. After intensive therapy recovering from his brush with death at Striper's hands, he traded his stolen research data for a seat on the board of directors of Kono-Furata-Ko (KFK) International. Ohara was appointed chief executive officer of the KFK subsidiary Exotech Entertainment, a failing simsense production studio. Ohara set up an illegal BTL production studio to generate capital, which he then used to produce a hit series of legitimate simsense features.
The first of these was called The Summoning Of Abbirleth, an hermetic-magical thriller. The key effect of the simsense, the ritual summoning of a powerful evil spirit, was conducted by the Special Projects Section under the close personal supervision of Bernard Ohara himself. Seven mages performed the actual summoning in an Exotech studio in Philadelphia's Germantown district. The spirit they summoned was far more powerful than expected. Three of the seven mages involved in the ritual were killed instantly. Three more survived, but with their magical ability completely burned out. The seventh, Adam Malik, disappeared.
Ohara compensated the three burned-out mages (Robert Neiman, Steven Jorge, Thomas Harris) by promoting them to comfortable positions of authority within Exotech and did his best to forget the incident.
Adam Malik did not forget. Nor did the shadow spirit they summoned.
Part 1: Predator
May, 2054. Striper assassinates Robert Neiman and a number of his assistants in a parking garage. She believes her target is Ryokai Naoshi, an officer of Philadelphia's Honjowara-gumi Yakuza clan. She believes she is working for a man named Adama Ho, an enforcer for a powerful Hong Kong triad. Her beliefs and perceptions are being manipulated magically by Adam Malik and Abbirleth, who are after everyone responsible for his summoning.
Police Lieutenant Kirkland interviews Ohara about the apparent professional execution of his employee. Concerned about attention from the authorities, Ohara hires a team of shadowrunners to wipe out his illegal BTL operation and its personnel.
June, 2054. Striper kills Steven Jorge at a Yakuza-controlled nightclub. As before, she believes she is being paid to assassinate a yakuza boss, Saigo Jozen. The hit is public and brutal -- seven others are killed and seventeen more injured. This far exceeds Striper's usual restraint, but because of Malik's magical control, she fails to recognize the extremity of her own actions.
With the second execution of an Exotech executive, Lieutenant Kirkland concentrates his investigation on the simsense studio. He learns about the year-old magical accident at the Germantown studio. Interviewing Ohara again, he mentions the accident and asks for personnel files on everyone associated with the Special Projects Section, which Ohara refuses to provide. Kirkland also shows Ohara pictures of the assassin, Striper, taken from a security camera at the club. He recognizes her instantly, and puts a contract out on her life.
July, 2054. Striper breaks into a high-security apartment tower and massacres Thomas Harris and his family. Still under Malik's control, she is convinced that he is yet another Yakuza boss, Tomita Haruso.
Striper becomes aware that a team of shadowrunners has been hired to kill her. She ambushes and kills them.
Part 2: Were
Lieutenant Kirkland and a forensic magician examine the site of Exotech's previous "accident". The mage determines that a powerful summoning ritual went awry, and that a Shadow spirit had gone Free. Kirkland connects the accident to Exotech's Special Projects Section, Striper's three victims, and Bernard Ohara. He guesses that the missing mage, Adam Malik, is pursuing a plan of revenge.
Striper begins to see through the web of illusion in which she is trapped. She decides to skip town, but is caught by Malik before she can make good her escape. Malik reasserts control over her.
Following the failure of the shadowrunners, Ohara's fixer contracts a professional hitman only recently returned to Philadelphia, a blade artist called Raman. By remarkable coincidence, Raman is also secretly a tiger shapeshifter. Raman uses a local contact, a powerful Cat shaman named Eliana, to locate one of Striper's safe houses. He waits in ambush for her, and attacks when she returns. During the combat, Raman and Striper are each forced to assume their animal shapes. Each shocked at encountering another of their own kind, their conflict is immediately forgotten and they form a close bond. Later, Eliana surprises Striper by revealing that she is and has been under the influence of a powerful magician.
Striper and Raman go after Malik, but the mage is able to neutralize Raman and once more reassert his control over Striper. Holding Raman hostage, Malik sends Striper after her last target, Bennari Ohashi (Bernard Ohara). Striper neutralizes Ohara's elite bodyguards and confronts him. She recognizes her victim as both Bernard Ohara and "Bennari Ohashi", which confuses her. Striper toys with her prey, and Ohara stumbles through a broken window and falls seven stories to his death.
Under political pressure to immediately conclude his investigation, Lieutenant Kirkland pins the Exotech killings on Ohara. Case closed.
Eliana kills Malik and destroys Abbirleth.
Striper and Raman leave Philadelphia together, settling in rural Maine.
Tikki (aka. Striper, Mari Tan, Fallon Sontag): Tikki is a tiger shapeshifter, or were-tiger. In her animal form, she closely resembles the largest species of tiger, Panthera tigris altaica. She has blood-red fur with black stripes. In human shape, she is a tall, attractive human woman of asian heritage. She tints her hair red and wears it cropped close except for a long forelock. She customarily paints her face red, striped with black -- her "Striper" mask. She wears red and black synthleather striped with gold or brushed steel studs. Being a shapeshifter, she is highly allergic to silver. Tikki was raised by her mother, and except for her mother and brother she has never met another tiger shapeshifter. In human form, she has a considerable reputation as an underworld enforcer and assassin. She is known to work for and against major criminal syndicates and shady corporate figures, but to refrain from casual violence against innocent bystanders. Her recent streak of brutality is out of character for her. The fact that she is a shapeshifter is a carefully guarded secret. Striper speaks English, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean. She is fond of Indonesian tobacco. Her preferred weapon is a Kang 9mm heavy pistol, but she is completely comfortable with any firearm up to and including a minigun.
in order of their appearance:
Tikki (Striper): female tiger shapeshifter, professional assassin
Robert Neiman (Ryokai Naoshi)*: mage, late head of Special Projects Section at Exotech Entertainment
Raman (Ripsaw): male tiger shapeshifter, professional muscle, recently from Atlanta
Bernard Xavier Ohara (Bennari Ohashi)*: CEO of Exotech Entertainment, board member of KFK international
Christie (Ingrid): joygirl, former spy for Fuchi Industrial Electronics now working for KFK
Crystal (Ivette): joygirl, former spy for Fuchi Industrial Electronics now working for KFK
Enoshi Ken: executive chief of staff for Exotech Entertainment, Ohara's aide
Bairnes: Neiman's assistant
Black Mist: Striper's fixer in Chiba, Japan
Adam Malik (Adama Ho)*: Tikki's employer, Corrupted mage allied with the Shadow free spirit Abbirleth
Silicon Ma: lodgemaster of the 999 Society and Green Circle Gang triads in Hong Kong
Neona Jaxx (Angel): young female black human decker, from Dallas by way of Miami
WHAM! Independent News crew:
- Joi Bang (JB): female Asian elf mage, reporter
- Skeeter: dwarf, cameraman, possibly mute
- Sidewipe: technician
Nigao Yorito: sarariman in KFK personnel department
Laura Stevenson: executive receptionist for Exotech Entertainment
Chey: chinese human armorer, operates a cheap Chinatown restaurant as a front business
Taffy Lee: Exotech Entertainment simsense star
Jeff Wyatt: vice president of product development for Exotech Entertainment
Lt. Brad Kirkland: Minuteman Security homicide detective investigating Robert Neiman's death
- Hammer*: ex-corp mercenary, team leader
- Mickey*: street muscle
- Dog Bite*: street muscle, demolitions expert
- Dana Giachetti: magician, pacifist
- Axle: rigger
Steven Jorge (Saigo Jozen)*: mage, deputy director of production for Exotech Entertainment
Jacklash: ork flunky working for Malik
Frédérique: Enoshi Ken's mistress
Sarabande: female spanish human fixer, her bodyguards are an elf, an ork, and an asian human
Thomas Harris (Tomita Haruso)*: mage, Exotech employee, Striper's third principal target
Armand DeCreux: official from Humanis Policlub in Europe
Horace Glick: president of Humanis Policlub's Philadelphia chapter
Doogie: decker/deckmeister in Austin
Book: decker, information trader at the Bazaar
Kidd Karney: successful decker in Reno
Dodger: legendary elf decker in Seattle
Castellano (Steel): fixer, wolf shapeshifter
Sticks*: elf flunky working for Malik
Setsuko: Enoshi Ken's wife
Torakido Buntaro: vice-chairman of the board of KFK International
Sal Maroni: tactical commander of a Flashpoint Enforcement team
Moshe Feinberg: magician, ranking Inspector for Minuteman, griffin-shaped ally spirit
Dominique: joygirl working for Sarabande
Detective-Sergeant Murphy: homicide detective for Minuteman Security Services
Theona MacFarlane: confidential assistant to Torakido
Captain Emilio Henriquez: commanding officer of Minuteman Central Division's homicide bureau
Detective-Sergeant Lisa Wu: homicide detective for Minuteman Security Services
Detective Ramirez: homicide detective for Minuteman Security Services
Detective Kyowa: homicide detective for Minuteman Security Services
Doctor Marion Liss: parazoologist
Detective Chris Shackleford: female dwarf homicide detective for Minuteman Security Services
Nanette Lemaire: Deputy Chief of Detectives for Minuteman Security Services
Duke: troll bodyguard to Fat André
Fat André: loan shark, shadow banker
Gunter: ork sergeant for Omni Police Services in Camden
Risa Liddy: talismonger
Eliana: cat shaman, powerful initiate, extremely meticulous
Osorthonoriks: Eliana's black cat familiar
Detective-Sergeant Val Pandolfini: recorder for Minuteman Police Intelligence Bureau
John Brandon Conway: fixer for megacorps and governments, brokers 12- and 15-figure deals
Gabriella Santini: News Director for WHAM! Independent News of Philadelphia
Dominick J. Rustin: retired cop
Leandra Forrester*: Exotech magician who died in the Germantown accident, Adam Malik's lover
Nickels: small-time Philadelphia fixer
Shimazu Iwao: vice-chairman of the board of KFK International
Detective-Sergeant Paul Zanardi: homicide detective for Minuteman Security Services
Abbirleth (Soul-Catcher)*: free spirit, shadow, has a pact with Adam Malik
Carson*: ork flunky for Adam Malik and Abbirleth
*these characters are dead by the end of the novel.
Philadelphia-Camden sprawl (UCAS)
- Platinum Manor Estates: Ohara's luxury condominium complex
- Spit's: nightclub
- Club Penumbra East: modeled after the original in Seattle
- KFK Plaza: home offices of the Kono-Furata-Ko corporation, including Exotech Entertainment
- Numero Uno: basement bar
- Gingko club: yakuza-controlled nightclub in Camden district
- Matsushita Gardens: luxury apartment complex (five towers)
- Humphrey's Jack Zone: simsense arcade, decker bar
- Ardmore Royal Residence Plaza: luxury apartment complex (nine towers)
- Seven Circles Club: nightclub similar in theme to Dante's Inferno in Seattle
- Delgato Moving and Storage: waterfront shipping warehouse
- abandoned Exotech simsense studio in Germantown
- Cop Central: Minuteman Security Services home offices
- Northeast Mall
- R.Liddy, Herbs & Artifices: talismonger shop
North Carolina (CAS), Blue Ridge Mountains
- Philadelphia LTG
- Doogie's Palace (Austin LTG)
- Hassan's Arch (Rabat LTG)
- The Bazaar (private LTG): virtual black market
- Reno LTG
- Seattle LTG
Trenton, New Jersey
Points of Interest
Nyx Smith is the author of the short story Striper in the Shadowrun anthology Into The Shadows (1992); and he is the author of four Shadowrun novels: Striper Assassin (1993), Fade To Black (1994), Who Hunts The Hunter (1995), and Steel Rain (1997).
Striper is a tiger-shapeshifter (Critters, p.42; Shadowrun Companion, p.36). In animal form, a shapeshifter can regenerate from any injury short of major damage to the central nervous system. They are allergic to silver. Though shapeshifters are dual beings and thus should be able to perceive astral space, Striper never displays this ability.
Striper made a cameo appearance in Find Your Own Truth (Robert Charette, 1991), and appears again as a main character in Who Hunts The Hunter.
p.15: Prominent Philadelphia-area corporations include, "Cigna Universal, Renraku, ITT-Rand, SmithKliner, Fuchi, or Aztechnology." Also Kono-Furata-Ko International and Minuteman Security Services.
p.22: Tikki guesses that Adama Ho is a "Red Pole" (number 426), or chief enforcer of a Triad. This fits the Triad organization later outlined in the Underworld Sourcebook (Steve Kenson, 1997), so Smith did his homework. In actuality, though, "Adama Ho" is Adam Malik, a mage with no connection whatsoever to the Triads.
p.22: "Certain things he has said in private suggest ties with the Green Circle Gang, a particularly vicious arm of the infamous 999 Society, controlled by Silicon Ma out of Hong Kong. This is interesting because Tikki's mother once did some work for Silicon Ma himself." If accurate, this means the 999 Society is the top Triad in Hong Kong, and its lodgemaster Silicon Ma has been in power for a long time.
p.23: Smith outlines the Philadelphia underworld.
"The Philadelphia-Camden sprawl is a kind of three-way split. Northern Philadelphia is the fractured territory, the Zone, constantly battled over by gangs: go-gangs and thrill gangs, ordinary street gangs, fleeting associations of skells and scum, humans and trogs, even elves. Strictly amateur stuff. South Philly belongs to the Sicilian mob. The mob does some serious biz down there, but the yakuza rule the sweetest territory, the casino sprawl over on the Camden side of the Delaware River... All of the above have interests downtown. Even the Korean Seoulpa Rings have interests downtown."
p.26: "Tiger, tiger, burning bright ... in the forests of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?" Adam Malik (Adama Ho) is (mis-) quoting The Tyger, a poem by William Blake.
p.38: The public law enforcement contract for Philadelphia is held by Minuteman Security Services, a subdivision of Helter-Shutt, Inc.
p.52: Bernard Ohara employs two bodyguards from the highly reputable Birnoth Comitatus private security firm. Among other advantages, they are equipped with cyberware guaranteeing their discretion: "When the privacy function is initiated, implanted headware blanks their memory of everything they see and hear every sixty seconds. At the end of the day, they remember nothing except accompanying Ohara into his office and then out of it again." This cyberware later appears in Man & Machine as a Data Filter.
p.53: Exotech Entertainment has a successful line of simsense productions featuring Hermetic magic: The Summoning of Abbirleth and Night of the Enchanter were blockbuster successes.
p.63: The shadowrunners' mage, Dana Giachetti, appears to have a gesture geas (Magic in the Shadows, p.32). She never casts a spell without using her hands. "Emblemology of power", she calls it.
p.66: Striper kills an ork and steals his motorcycle. Would be a throwaway incident, but it comes back to haunt her two years later in Who Hunts The Hunter. The ork's mother, Germaine Olsson, takes her revenge by arranging for Striper and her infant cub to be captured and sold to a metascience laboratory for experiments -- for Striper, a fate worse than death.
p.67: KFK may be affiliated with Philadelphia's leading yakuza clan, the Honjowara-gumi.
p.79: Bernard Ohara consistently abuses a variety of Better-Than-Life (BTL) simsense called Personafix (P-fix) BTL. P-fix BTL feeds the user an emotive track only -- it does not include an RAS override or sensory track. P-fix merely provides an emotional high, altering various personality characteristics. Taken to an extreme, they can make the user behave like an entirely different person. Ohara's P-fix BTLs boost his confidence and self-esteem to absurd levels. They have titles like The Master Corporator, Omnipower, and The Almighty!
p.83: Striper has an impressive rep, according to Minuteman Security Services' Lt. Kirkland: "She's been linked to assassinations in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and maybe a dozen other cities scattered across Japan, Korea, China, and Southeast Asia. She's done work for just about every major criminal organization with ties to East Asia and North America, the Yakuza, Triads, you name it. She's absolutely ruthless."
p.85: "You had a big blowout at one of your sites up near Germantown about a year ago. A fire, a few deaths. Some mana-types cooked up something that got a little out of hand." That would be the understatement of the year, courtesy of Lieutenant Kirkland. The accident is the key event upon which the entire novel turns, even though it takes place a year before the narrative begins (not even a Prologue? C'mon, Nyx!).
p.101: Striper disables a security camera with a device called a line-looper. "What it does is record what a security cam sees over the course of, say, a millisecond, then feeds that recording endlessly to the central monitoring station. That effectively blinds the cams to what's really passing by." A simple electronic alternative to hiring a decker.
p.126: Neona Jaxx decks into "the LTG for Reno, Nevada." Oops. Nevada ceased to exist with the Treaty of Denver in 2018. Most of the old state of Nevada became the Ute Nation.
p.129: Cameo appearance by the now-legendary decker Dodger (who also appears in Never Deal With A Dragon, Choose Your Enemies Carefully, Find Your Own Truth, and Never Trust An Elf). In his dedication, Nyx Smith credits Robert N. Charette for the loan of the character.
p.137: Striper meets another fixer with whom she has dealt often in the past, a wolf-shapeshifter named Castellano. Castellano also appears in Never Deal With A Dragon, Into the Shadows, and Who Hunts the Hunter, though his name is spelled "Castillano" in those books. Sloppy editing.
p.148: Either the Shadow free spirit, Abbirleth; the magical artifact called the Vault of Souls; or both together derive some measure of power from the women Malik tortures to death in the name of his murdered lover, Leandra. Malik is plainly insane, and almost certainly under Abbirleth's control.
p.190: The Walking Wounded are a street gang located in Germantown. According to Kirkland, "The Walking Wounded is headquartered in London, with a few chapters in Europe and here in North America." They are listed with other South London gangs in the London Sourcebook (p.50). The gang's leader in Philadelphia is a toxic gargoyle shaman from the Smoke.
p.195: "There is something new to this world, Horatio ... Something undreamt of in your philosophy." Feinberg is paraphrasing William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Act I, Scene 5): "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
p.195: After assensing the site of the "accident" at the abandoned Exotech facility, Inspector Feinberg declares it the result of a botched summoning. The Exotech mages attempted to summon an extraordinarily powerful spirit, and it escaped their control. Feinberg characterizes the spirit as a Shadow (Magic in the Shadows, p.114). "Likely, it killed whoever summoned it. Perhaps it even possessed him. I can't be sure." The Shadow free spirit, Abbirleth, formed a Spirit Pact (MitS, p.124) with Malik and concealed its life inside him (Hidden Life power, MitS p.117).
p.214: Northeast Philly is the turf of the Death Angels gang.
p.219: Camden uses a different security provider from the rest of the Philadelphia sprawl. Omni Police Services.
p.221: The Gloucester City industrial district is the territory of the Paradise Slayers go-gang.
p.239: John Brandon Conway was mentioned in Striper as a "Mr. White", an untouchable megacorporate fixer. He is mentioned again here, in context with the events of the short story. "Conway is a fixer, one of the biggest and most elusive. He works as a middleman for multinational conglomerates, governments. His deals involve twelve- and fifteen-digit numbers." That's trillions and up. When this guy talks, people listen.
p.242: The Exotech Special Projects Section that created the title effect for the hit simsense The Summoning Of Abbirleth was composed of seven hermetic magicians. Three died in the "accident" at the Germantown studio (including Leandra Forrester), three (Neiman, Jorge, Harris) were burned out but survived, and one (Adam Malik) disappeared. The free spirit made a Pact with Adam Malik and facilitated his manipulation of Striper.
p.281: Kono-Furata-Ko International was founded by three men: Kono Koreyasu, Furata Morimoto, and Ko Akifusa. Note that Japanese list the family name first and the given name second, a practice to which Nyx Smith adheres throughout the book.
p.300: Adam Malik's enormous power comes from a unique magical object called the Vault of Souls and from the Shadow free spirit summoned by the Special Project Section. He and the spirit have very likely formed a Spirit Pact (Magic in the Shadows, p.124). Malik is certainly a Corrupted mage by this point (MitS, p.134). The nature of the Vault of Souls is never explained, though it seems to derive its power from proximity to violent death.
p.306: "Malik himself steps through the door and onto the street. Within his etheric form drifts a stygian blackness. This, Eliana knows, is the etheric form of a shadow spirit. The spirit has not only possessed the man. It has hidden its life inside him." Hidden Life is a Free Spirit power described in Magic in the Shadows on p.117. It is thought to cause mental flaws when used with a Metahuman, which Malik certainly has in abundance.
p.308: Eliana obtains the Vault of Souls. "She assenses the gems true power. Hidden at its core, an orb of orange-gold orichalcum, infused with the essence of uncounted beings .. all victims of violent death." Eliana's desire for the artifact appears to be limited to simple greed for magical power. The consequences to her remain unexplored.
A few thoughts on the cover painting by Romas: While I like the picture well enough on its own merits, it has little if anything to do with the characters or events of the book. Striper wears her hair close-cropped and tinted red, so the long brown hair of the woman on the cover is completely out of place. Her outfit is equally out of character, and the scene depicted does not occur anywhere in the novel.