2XS is a Shadowrun novel by Nigel Findley.
- 2XS, THE HALLUCINOGENIC CHIP OF CHOICE.
To Excess--that's how they say it on the streets, before it destroyed their minds.
Dirk Montgomery thinks he knows those streets. He's watched the change with the world, as the powers of magic grow and alter the balances of power. He thinks he understands even the deepest shadows and the darkest of hearts. He is wrong.
Now there's something out there beyond his understanding. Something foul and alien. Something that will consume even the most wary soul. Even Dirks.
Warning: Spoiler Information Below
Dirk Montgomery, a small time investigator working the Seattle shadows, gets drawn into a conspiracy of simsense abuse, corporate infighting, and military technology; all driven by the sinister machinations of a Wasp Spirit hive.
Detailed plot summaryEdit
Seattle, late November 2052.
It starts when a beautiful woman tries to kill Dirk Montgomery. Dirk's old flame, Lolita Yzerman, died because she knew too much. Dirk was framed for the murder, and Lolly's sister Jocasta was meant to kill Dirk in revenge. Case closed. But Dirk is able to convince Jocasta of his innocence, and she hires him to find her sister's assassin.
Dirk enlists the aid of a talented decker, Buddy, who produces a name: William Sutcliffe, an influential figure in the UCAS Department of Defense currently negotiating a multi-billion dollar contract with Yamatetsu corporation's Integrated Services Division (ISP). Lolita, a surveillance technician for Lone Star, was monitoring a routine line tap on Sutcliffe's telecom when she discovered a secret for which she was killed. To protect that secret, someone arranged to have both Lolita and all record of the taps eliminated.
Jocasta Yzerman isn't Dirk's only client, and Dirk wraps up an old case when he locates a corporate runaway, who died from an overdose of a new variety of "better-than-life" (BTL) illegal simsense called "2XS". The hot new vice on the streets, 2XS is a simsense technology so powerfully habituating that even a sample creates lifelong addicts, and so irreversibly damaging that a typical addict's life will be far from long. It appears to be loosely based on SPISES, a military reflex enhancement technology under development by ISP—the same technology in which Sutcliffe is interested.
ISP also happens to be the parent company of Crashcart, an emergency medical service in aggressive competition with DocWagon. Crashcart appears to be using another SPISES-derived technology in conjunction with cyber-replacement surgery to gain control over certain influential people. This discovery costs Buddy her life.
In the midst of his investigations, Dirk's sister Theresa Montgomery disappears. Theresa has a history of simsense abuse, and when Dirk learns that she may have been experimenting with 2XS, he becomes desperate to find her. Her trail leads to a free clinic operated by a quasi-religious charity organization called "The Universal Brotherhood for a Better Tomorrow" (UB). Harmless enough until Dirk discovers that Sutcliffe is a member of the UB, that Crashcart augments the clinic's medical staff, and that people who ask too many questions end up dead.
Dirk's investigation of Yamatetsu attracts the attention of an unlikely ally: the corporation's senior executive in Seattle, Jacques Barnard. In the anonymous role of a "Mr. Johnson," Barnard has employed Dirk in the past and been sufficiently impressed by him that he makes an offer of guarded assistance. He arranges a tour of ISP and a meeting with its managing director, Dr. Adrian Skyhill. The visit does nothing to allay Dirk's suspicions.
When Dirk finally learns that the UB clinic transferred his sister to ISP, he throws caution to the wind and hires a team of first-class shadowrunners (the Wrecking Crew) to help him extract her. After breaking into the compound, the horrible truth is finally revealed: ISP masks the existence of a Wasp spirit hive. Skyhill is a powerful insect shaman. 2XS was engineered to screen potential candidates to host flesh-form Wasp spirits—those most resistant to the effects of 2XS provide the best merges. Flesh-form insect spirits offer one avenue of infiltrating and controlling key organizations (Sutcliffe, for example). SPISES-derived technology implanted via Crashcart offers a technologically-based alternative.
Dirk and the Wrecking Crew destroy the hive and rescue Theresa, but not without cost. The Crew is decimated, and Dirk loses his arm. When he recovers, Dirk finds that Barnard has covered his considerable expenses and provided a cyberlimb to replace the original.
In order of appearance:
- Derek "Dirk" Montgomery: A 31 year old private investigator living and working in Auburn, Seattle, Dirk likes to think of himself as tough, competent, and capable. Dirk was raised in Renton, and spent 3 years studying computer science at the University of Washington in Seattle ("U Dub") before dropping out. His parents disapproved of this, particularly his father. They were killed by the Junk Yard Dogs street gang before reconciling. Dirk's sister Theresa did not take the loss well, and turned to simsense abuse to cope. Dirk eventually joined Lone Star, but after completing basic training decided that the police corporation wasn't the life for him after all. He joined the ranks of the SINless and became a shadowrunner, though he doesn't consider himself one. He's wanted by Lone Star for breach of contract. Dirk maintains an extensive collection of contacts, and specializes in legwork-oriented jobs: skip traces, surveillance, etcetera.
- Jocosta Yzerman: neo-ecologist and novice conjurer
- Lolita Yzerman*: surveillance technician for Lone Star
- Anwar: fixer
- Patrick Bambra: private investigator, hopeless romantic
- Quincy: technical expert
- Tony DeGianetto*: Jocasta Yzerman's most recent ex-boyfriend
- Buddy*: decker, former member of Echo Mirage
- Juli Long*: corporate runaway and simsense addict whom Dirk was hired to locate
- Naomi Takahashi*: Lone Star records technician
- Daniel Waters*: news anchorman for KOMA (ABS affiliate)
- Mark Kurtz: tenacious Lone Star investigator
- Bent Sigurdsen: medical examiner, Seattle Dept. of Health
- William Sutcliffe*: UCAS Army procurement official, probable Wasp host
- Theresa Montgomery: Dirk's sister, simsense addict
- Rosebud: dwarf ex-shadowrunner, deckmeister, uses a cranial cyberdeck
- Pud: ork ganger (Night Prowlers, Puyallup)
- Fitz*: troll ganger (Night Prowlers, Puyallup)
- Dr. Phyllis Dempsey*: black elf, MD for Crashcart and the UB Puyallup clinic, Wasp host
- Dennison Harkness: elf, CEO of Crashcart
- Jacques Barnard: mage, Senior Vice President, Yamatetsu Seattle
- Rodney Greybriar*: elf hermetic mage
- Amanda*: free city spirit, companion of Rodney Greybriar
- Dr. Adrian Skyhill*: managing director of Yamatetsu's ISP division, initiate Wasp shaman
- Beryl Hollyburn: elf, executive assistant to Dr. Skyhill
- Scott Keith*: captain, Lone Star Drug Enforcement Division (DED)
- Mariane Corbeau: Vice President of Enforcement, Lone Star Security Services
- The Wrecking Crew:
- - Argent: street samurai, ex-Fuchi military, leader of the Wrecking Crew
- - Hawk*: combat shaman (Eagle totem), ex-Sioux specforces, magician for the Wrecking Crew
- - Toshi*: Japanese elf, street samurai, gang background, muscle for the Wrecking Crew
- - Peg: decker, quadripalegic, Matrix overwatch for the Wrecking Crew
* this character dies in the course of the novel.
- Seattle Metroplex (Auburn, Tacoma, Redmond, Seattle, Bellevue, Puyallup, Fort Lewis)
- - Beaux Arts apartments, Tacoma
- - Purity, Redmond
- - Westlake Center, Seattle
- - Kingsgate, Redmond (Superdad's, UB chapterhouse)
- - Puyallup (UB chapterhouse)
- - Yamatetsu Seattle division headquarters
- - ISP complex, Ft. Lewis
Notes and analysisEdit
Nigel Findley is the author of multiple Shadowrun books. The novels 2XS (1991), Shadowplay (1993), Lone Wolf (1994), and House of the Sun (1995). Sourcebooks: Paranormal Animals of North America (1990), The Universal Brotherhood (1990), Native American Nations 1 (1991), Native American Nations 2 (1991), Neo-Anarchist's Guide to Real Life (1992), One Stage Before (1992), Tir Tairngire (1993), Corporate Shadowfiles (1993), Lone Star (1994), Paradise Lost (1994), Double Exposure (1994), and Aztlan (1995). Nigel Findley died in 1995, but remains the most prolific Shadowrun author.
This novel skirts the dark truths of the Universal Brotherhood adventure, Missing Blood, and might very easily spoil its impact on the players. If you plan on running that adventure in your campaign, keep your players away from this novel until afterward.
Dirk's first-person narrative gives the reader a lot of clues into the necessary and peculiar paranoia of the SINless. Descriptions of the barrens, the dominance of gangs within their turf, the usefulness of a diverse network of contacts, the process of obtaining telecom service and other utilities, etcetera. Life in the shadows.
The first scene in the book is so classic it's almost cliché: Beautiful woman with gun tries to kill the Hero and fails, cries on his shoulder, hires him to find the person who killed her sister. Is it the beginning of a shadowrun or a Bogart movie?
p. 12: UCAS law requires contract law enforcement agencies to notify subjects of a telecom line tap of the tap's existence within four months of the tap's removal. So via an obvious legal loophole, by maintaining a phone tap indefinitely the agency in question will never have to notify the suspect.
Dirk's knowledge of Lone Star procedures and organizational structure is completely consistent with the Lone Star sourcebook (also written by Nigel D. Findley, but 2 years after this novel). Dirk makes the occasional runner's comment in that sourcebook, including an extended monologue on working a crime scene that should be required reading for wannabe shadowrunners (LS, p. 46).
Nigel seems to be making careful use of his Seattle Sourcebook; news affiliates and various locations appear in the novel exactly as described there. He also writes about Seattle's topography with the familiarity of someone who lived there.
An amusing anecdote on p. 53: "something big and tentacled had slobbered its way out of Lake Washington and onto the deck of the Route 520 bridge, the floating one connecting Bellevue and Downtown. After eating a couple of cars, the thing had slobbered its way back into the water. The traffic advisory was recommending that drivers select an alternate route. No drek. Ah, the wonders of the Awakened world."
One of the better depictions of a Matrix run (first-hand, experienced via a hitcher jack) can be found beginning on page 60.
p. 77: today's Westlake Center has by 2052 evolved into Westlake Tower, a 60-story building on the monorail line in the heart of downtown Seattle with office space starting at thirty thousand nuyen per month.
In the category of background technology, there's a throwaway reference to autocabs on p. 94. Like the "Johnny Cabs" in Total Recall, apparently, only much less cheezy.
"After flagging down one of the new autocabs, we were heading back toward Bellevue. Jocasta had jammed a credstick -- not a personalized one -- into the foul machine's maw, and pointed out our destination on a touchscreen. Then she'd settled back into the seat and withdrawn from further intercourse with anything, flesh or otherwise."
So for the guy who was asking whether cab companies might be relying on autonav and gridguide systems to the exclusion of drivers, there's your answer.
Patrick Bambra plays a minor role in the Universal Brotherhood adventure scenario, Missing Blood (MB, p. 46). The Universal Brotherhood source material was written by Nigel Findley in 1990, but the adventure was written by Chris Kybasik (author of the next shadowrun novel, Changeling, though his name changes from "Kybasik" to "Kubasik"). The events of Missing Blood would be more or less concurrent with those of 2XS, so it's not beyond the limits of possibility that he could be a participant in both plot lines.
Other elements from Missing Blood appear in 2XS—the nightclub Superdad's and the UB chapterhouse in Redmond are featured exactly as described in the adventure.
p. 109: "The Universal Brotherhood was one of the few rays of light that shone into this part of the sprawl. They gave food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and medical aid to the sick or damaged. Sounded pretty good to me. Oh sure, I'd heard rumors that they'd managed to cut themselves a sweet deal when it came to dodging taxes, but what organized religion hadn't?"—In the category of nifty little ironies, tax evasion was the official reason given when the UCAS government eventually shut down the UB.
One of the minor street gangs in Puyallup is the Night Prowlers, mostly ork and troll, leopard-pattern colors.
p. 150: Sympathetic-Parasympathetic Integrated Suprarenal Excitation System (SPISES) is designed to provide a non-invasive alternative means of reflex enhancement. Through the use of a datajack or chipjack, SPISES stimulates the body's natural energizers in a method related to the effects of better-than-life simsense. Over the long term, however, the system has the same debilitating effects of BTL abuse.
On page 154, there's a description of the pseudoscience behind wired reflexes that might prove interesting. I'm tempted to cry bulldrek from the highest available hill, but I really don't know enough biology to do so with complete confidence. You be the judge:
"With standard boosted reflexes, you've got to drop tiny little devices called 'initiators' right into the cortex of the adrenal glands -- the suprarenals -- and other glands. When you want to kick into overdrive, a neuro-electrical interface picks up the appropriate neural activity -- the 'go-code,' as it were -- and triggers control chips implanted in the brain, which then activate the initiators. Your suprarenals pour out adrenaline, and you get jazzed ... Installing standard 'wired' or boosted reflexes is an enormously invasive procedure ... Interface, control chips, and initiators, plus all the support technology, 'glue chips', and wiring to get them to hang together. It's even more invasive than skillwires or even muscle replacement -- and that's saying a lot."
p. 181: all public phones in the Seattle area have a 9 as the third digit of their LTG.
As far as I can tell, this novel is the first mention of Yamatetsu. There's a quick profile of the megacorp on pages 187-188. Findley will write the Corporate Shadowfiles sourcebook a year after 2XS, expanding upon it. The novel does establish that Yamatetsu is a monster megacorp, but one with a very low profile. As Dirk puts it, "Yamatetsu appeared to be almost twice as large as Mitsuhama. And I'd never even heard of it before a couple of days ago. That was terrifying."
p. 235: Dirk's personal telecom LTG number is 1206 (87-6603). This jibes with the Seattle Sourcebook—all the LTG numbers listed for Auburn start with the prefix 1206.
p. 252: Jocasta is reading The Neo-Anarchist's Guide To North America. Dirk calls it "pleasant light reading."
p. 253: Manga fans will be pleased to know that the art has survived through 2052 more or less unchanged.
Nice comparison between varsity and bush-league shadowrunners on page 273.
The Wasp spirit hive under the Yamatetsu ISP complex is similar to the Fly nest located beneath the Universal Brotherhood chapterhouse in Redmond (Missing Blood), albeit on a larger scale. The Wasp hive is guarded by powerful astral barriers and multiple true-form Wasp spirits, including a Queen.
During their penetration of the Wasp hive, the Wrecking Crew and Lone Star troops face several insect spirits. The combat demonstrates that, while spirits may be resistant to weapons like conventional firearms (Immunity to Normal Weapons), big guns can still get the job done.
p. 309: the insect shaman, Dr. Skyhill, refers to his totem as "Ichneuman Wasp." An ichneumon is a wasp-like insect. I'm curious why he makes the distinction. You don't see "Poodle shamans" or "Doberman shamans"—the totem is simply Dog. Seems to me that by the same token, ichneumon should just be Wasp.
(Counter: Although he did misspell 'ichneumon' as 'ichneuman', those aren't 'wasp-like insects' - they are indeed wasps. The Ichneumonoidae family contains the majority of wasp species known to man. The really important aspect of family ichneumonoidae is that they are, unlike some other wasps, parasitoid: they lay their eggs in or near a living host insect, and the larvae feed on the host. This is similar to the spirit growth and reproductive process described by Findley here. Furthermore, the shaman never claims that his totem is "Ichneuman Wasp". He simply claims that the particular spirits hatching in that hive are Ichneuman (sic) wasps, which has plenty of precedent elsewhere in the canon: while Poodle and Doberman are not treated as separate totem spirits, not every individual dog spirit appears the same, and there have been plenty of cases where an individual animal spirit has resembled a particular breed. While no one may be a Doberman shaman, there are dog spirits which resemble dobermans, and all that Skyhill actually says on p. 309 is that those particular wasp spirits are ichneumon wasps. He may well be using the word to accent their parasitoid qualities; to an entomologist, the life cycle and behavior of a parasitoid wasp like an ichneumon wasp is completely different from a hive-based wasp such as a yellowjacket.)
This Wasp hive is unusual in that it is located underground. Bug City (p. 142) states that "Wasp spirits prefer to build their hives in the upper stories of buildings and other high places open to the air." Magic in the Shadows (p. 129) goes one further and states that "Wasp hives must be built in high places, open to the air." Of course, both of these products follow 2XS by several years. (Again, following the above note, it would depend on the subspecies of wasp: paper wasp or yellowjacket spirits would indeed prefer high places, while ichneumon (parasitoid) wasps are often ground-dwellers.)
Nightsky contributes the following information:
I've come across some information that might clear this up. Ichneumons are from the insect family Ichneumonidae. These wasps are harmless to people. There are over 3300 species and they are all parasites on other insects and many do bury into the ground. These wasps also range in size from microscopic to several inches in length. This would explain why the hive in the book was underground. Either this particular kind of ichneumon is the burrowing kind, or it took over another insect's hive. This could be the reason for the distinction in the book.
Dirk Montgomery is a "Prime Runner" card in Shadowrun: The Trading Card Game.
Dirk returns as the main character in House of the Sun, Nigel Findley's last Shadowrun project before his death in 1995.
Finally, I have two words about the cover picture: All Wrong. The cover allegedly depicts the Wasp Queen blasting Dirk's arm off with a Power Bolt (or some waspy equivalent), but the Queen pictured on the book cover bears little if any resemblance to the one described in the text. And it's Dirk's LEFT arm that got fried, not his right.
The events of 2XS shake up Yamatetsu a bit, according to its profile in Corporate Shadowfiles, p. 151-152. Jacques Barnard is promoted from Yamatetsu's Seattle subdivision to head the North America division, though cleaning out the hive seems to affect his health negatively. ISP is gutted and reorganized. Crashcart, though still a Yamatetsu company, ceases its aggressive campaign against DocWagon and becomes a third-rate player. Comments by Quincy and Argent make a lot more sense knowing story behind them.
By 2061, Jacques Barnard is promoted to Chief Operations Officer of Yamatetsu Corporation (Corporate Download, p. 115).
- German: 2XS
- Mason's: 5 out of 5. Excellent book. I give it a 5 out of 5 on the Shadowrun Novel Scale.
- Doug's: A (out of A, B, C, D scale) Frankly, I loved this book, and would heartily recommend it.
- Goodreads: 3.79 (as of June 2013)
- Based partially on Mason's review