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The harrowing landscape of Newark, 2055: poverty, violence, brutality, gang lords. A team of runners must free a man from the life of a slave, and maintain their honor. Honor alone distinguishes man from the ravaging dogs that fill the streets - and asthe runners soon learn, the price of honor is high.
Fade to Black
by Nyx Smith (1994)
A team of professional shadowrunners undertake an ill-fated personnel extraction. Trapped by their own ethics, the shadowrunners are drawn further and further into a shell-game of highly prized scientists and rival corporations throughout the New York-New Jersey megaplex.
Though the book opens strong and delivers its action sequences quite well, it ultimately fails to fulfill its early promise. With the single exception of Bandit, the characters are flat, static, and uninspired -- Newark itself is given more personality than the protagonists. The final disappointment of the novel is its conclusion, completely dissatisfying bordering on insipid.
A slight improvement on his last novel, Smith's Fade to Black is still worth a 2 on the Shadowrun 5-point scale.
Gordon Ito, an expediter for Fuchi Industrial Electronics' Special Administration, has a meeting with Sarabande, an influential East Coast fixer. He contracts the extraction of a former Fuchi employee, Ansell Surikov, currently working for a competitor, Maas Intertech. Considering the importance of the shadowrun, Ito specifies multiple backup teams to ensure success.
Sarabande subcontracts the run to a New Jersey-New York arranger, L.Kahn, who in turn works through a local fixer, Mr. Victor. Victor offers the contract to a local shadowrunner, Rico, who has a growing reputation for reliability and rigid ethics. Rico assembles a team for the shadowrun, Thorvin (dwarf rigger), Shank (ork mercenary), Piper (elf decker), Dok (mercenary and street doc), Filly (mercenary), and Bandit (street shaman).
Rico meets L.Kahn at a Newark nightclub, and accepts the contract. Rico insists on certain conditions -- he will not force the subject to leave against his will. Kahn refuses to make assurances. The first-level backup for the shadowrun, a mercenary company called the Executive Action Brigade (EAB) also contracted by L.Kahn, attempts to establish surveillance of Rico's team following their meeting with him. The shadowrunners detect and evade the surveillance.
Monk, an aspiring writer, meets a mysterious, alluring woman named Minx.
The second-level backup for the shadowrun is an experienced, powerful magician named Maurice. Maurice enlists the aid of an Adept named Claude Jaeger.
The shadowrunners invade Maas Intertech and successfully extract their target, Ansell Surikov. They fail to detect a locator implant, which leads Maas Intertech's security provider, Daisaka Security, to their safehouse. Daisaka attacks the runners' safehouse, but the corporate strike team is intercepted by the Executive Action Brigade. The shadowrunners escape the assault and remove Surikov's snitch implant.
Monk and Minx witness the aftermath of the fight between Daisaka and the EAB. Minx feeds off one of the casualties, like a vampire.
The shadowrunners relocate to their alternate safehouse. Ansell Surikov, their extraction target, expresses reluctance to return to Fuchi. Instead, he wants to defect to yet another biogenetics corp, Prometheus Engineering. Rico meets with Mr. Victor, who arranges a meeting with L.Kahn. Kahn is not open to re-negotiating the contract. The runners extract Surikov's wife, a woman named Marena Farris, from a Fuchi residential complex. In the mistaken belief that Surikov wishes her dead, Farris unsuccessfully attempts to kill him. According to Farris, Surikov was deliberately planted in Maas Intertech by Fuchi, as an industrial espionage agent. Farris does not wish to accompany Surikov to Prometheus, but neither wishes to return to Fuchi.
Minx infects Monk with her peculiar variety of vampirism.
Rico meets with L.Kahn, refunds the advance, and resigns the contract. The runners attempt to deliver Surikov to Prometheus, but the exchange is an ambush. Most of the runners escape, but Filly is killed, as is Surikov. Returning from the the catastrophic meeting, Rico and Bandit obtain additional information from Marena Farris -- her real name is Farrah Moffit. She used to work for Fuchi's Special Administration, the department responsible for covert operations. The man the runners believed to be Ansell Surikov was an impostor. Her husband, the real Ansell Surikov, is still employed by Fuchi. If the runners extract him and deliver him to Maas Intertech, she can arrange for the manhunt by Daisaka Security to be canceled.
While continuing to evade searches by the EAB, Maurice, and Daisaka Security, the runners investigate Moffit's proposal and agree to act on it. The "real" Surikov is extracted from a Fuchi residential complex, despite intervention by the Executive Action Brigade and the death of another team member, CyberDok. The runners deliver Moffit and Surikov to Maas Intertech. Returning from the meeting, they are ambushed by Daisaka Security. Rico alone survives the attack.
Monk and Minx arrive at the scene of the ambush, and feed off the dying.
Sarabande has L.Kahn killed.
Injured and alone, Rico goes to ground. He is found by Shank and Piper, newly risen as vampires.
Ito meets with his superior in the Special Administration, Mr. Xiao. Xiao claims that Maas Intertech did not, in fact, receive the genuine Ansell Surikov, only another impostor.
Rico: Street Samurai. A Hispanic human, Rico is an icon of ethnic machismo and male pride. His attitudes toward women, though far from disrespectful, are completely different from his behavior toward men. Rico is extremely touchy, tolerating no insult however slight. He is also highly ethical, accepting total responsibility for every action and consequence. Despite his obligations as team leader, Rico is willing to sacrifice himself and his teammates on the altar of his principles. Rico has extensive cybernetic augmentations, including muscle augmentation, retractable cyberspurs, smartlink, and "Jikku cybereyes" incorporating low-light and thermographic vision modification. In the past, Rico has run in South America and the Caribbean.
Thorvin*: Dwarf Rigger. Fitting comfortably into the dwarven stereotype, Thorvin is a skilled mechanic and engineer as well as a versatile rigger. On behalf of the team, he owns and operates a heavily modified Landrover van, equipped with military-grade weapons and sensors. He also uses a helicopter and a Sikorsky-Bell micro-skimmer drone. Thorvin continually upgrades his vehicles with scavenged parts.
Shank: Ork Mercenary. A mainstay of the team, Shank supplies the heavy muscle. His combat skills are a legacy of his tour with a mercenary company called the Dragon Regiment, which fought in Aztlan. Shank has a finely developed sense of responsibility. He runs the shadows to support an extended family, his own and his sister-in-law's, whose husband was killed running in the Bronx. He also looks after his teammates. Willing to do the right thing when convenient, he still gives practical concerns precedence over moral ones.
Piper: Elf Decker. As a second-generation elf born in Japan, Piper has led a hard life. As a kawaruhito, a Metahuman, she was deported to an internment center called Jigoku-To-Shi, or "Hell City" (on Yomi island, maybe?). She escaped to the Pacific Northwest, seeking refuge in the elven nation of Tir Tairngire, but was turned away. Her abuse by Japanese society has left her with a bitter hatred of modern corporate culture, and her rejection by her elven father and the Land of Promise has instilled an ironic distrust of elvenkind, even to a degree of self-loathing. In search of meaning and purpose, she has turned to multiple religions, including Buddhism, Shinto, and the Church of the Whole Earth. Piper is an accomplished decker, dedicating her skills to various eco-terrorist causes and donating much of her shadowrunning profits to ecological charities.
Bandit (aka. Scott Berman): Street Shaman. An urban shaman following the Raccoon totem, Bandit lives in a different world from the other runners, looking at things from a very different frame of reference. An initiate and a powerful magician, his spell repertoire is nonetheless slanted toward simple tricks and street magic. Bandit is a shadowrunner mostly because of his overwhelming curiosity, his endless interest for the kinds of interesting things that tend to be carefully guarded by the wealthy and powerful. He is a fair-minded thief; though he often helps himself to the possessions of others, he always leaves something of equal value in its place. Bandit acquires two unique foci during this shadowrun, the Mask of Sassacus and a power focus in the shape of a flute.
in order of their appearance:
Gordon Ito: expediter for Fuchi's Special Administration
Sarabande: influential fixer, Spanish human woman, extremely well-connected
Aubrey: black elf, Sarabande's aide
Zoge: former Japanese human sumotori, Sarabande's bodyguard
Rollo: ork, Sarabande's bodyguard, massively built
Victor Guevara (Mr. Victor): fixer, history nut, places a high value on respect and integrity
L.Kahn: infamous "Mr. Johnson," corporate expediter and middle-man
Evonne: ork, Shank's wife
Kefee: ork, Shank's sister-in-law
Chak: ork, Shank's nephew, 9 years old
Father John: priest of the Church of the Whole Earth
Ravage: human razorgirl, bodyguard, courier, and kick artist; walking weapon
Bobbie Jo (BJ): rigger, paraplegic, remote pilot for Executive Action Brigade
Maj. Skip Nolan: exec. officer, Executive Action Brigade
Col. Butler Yeats: commanding officer, Executive Action Brigade
Ansell Surikov: corporate researcher, expert on intracerebral design and bionetic augmentation
Monk: aspiring writer; neo-hippie complete with sandals, torn jeans, and a tie-dyed t-shirt
Minx: strange, beautiful, accident photographer, vampire
John Dokker (CyberDok)*: street doc, shadowrunner, ex-mercenary
Fillicia Antonucci (Filly)*: shadowrunner, former peace officer for Winter Systems in Bronx
Farrah Moffit (Marena Farris): corp joygirl, psychologist, wife of Ansell Surikov, 43, looks 25
Maurice: powerful mage, initiate, shadowrunner
Daniella: first of Maurice's five wives
Vera Causa: Maurice's ally spirit, willful
Claude Jaeger*: Adept, hitman, assassin, and shadowrunner
Harry the Hack: female, ex-cabbie, now tow-truck driver, blonde, beautiful, touchy, vampire
Prince: Harry's dog, red eyes
Azrael: decker, Echo Mirage veteran, hates all governments and corps
Mo Rasheen: watch supervisor for Fargo Security at Crystal Blossom Condos
Fuchi security detail for Farrah Moffit (Marena Farris):
- Steva Karris
Willy Hogan: former Fed, surveillance technician
Ms. Yin: executive assistant to Mr. Xiao
Mr. Xiao: Korean, chief of Fuchi's Special Administration
Bela: Bolivian joygirl
Michael Travis (Ansell Surikov)*: Surikov's assistant, surgically altered to be his double
Osborne: vice president for Internal Policy and Review at Maas Intertech
Cannibal*: ork mercenary, red and black facial tattoos
Goodfellow: ally and/or great-form spirit attached to Bandit
The Old Man: Bandit's mentor, a very powerful Amerindian Raven shaman
*these characters are dead by the end of the novel.
Fuchi Industrial Electronics, Tower 5
Crystal Blossom Condominiums, Fuchi corp housing (40 East 73rd St, Upper East Side)
Shiawase Compudyne (West Side Ave and 69th St)
Maas Intertech, a subsidiary of Kuze Nihon
Quick Shop parking lot
Sector 1: downtown, corporate center of Newark Sprawl.
Chimpira: street club, patrons wear masks (Springfield and Market streets)
Sector 2: includes airport, ocean terminals, piers
condemned sim theater, Jaeger's squat
runners' regular safehouse (Mott St and Raymond Blvd)
Sector 3: "Free zone. SINless territory. No passes, no badges, no restrictions."
Mr. Victor's brownstone home, garden
Main Line Mega-market
Minx' coffin hotel
Sector 4: Newark International Airport. "The heaviest security zone in the plex."
Sector 6: Little Asia
Church of the Whole Earth (Custer and Hawthorne)
Holy Savior Buddhist Temple
Sector 7: "Meat City" medical center
CyberDok's "Top Chrome, Vat Organics, Primo Rates"
Chapel of the Eternal Light
Sector 9: residential zone, adjacent to Sector 20 and the Passaic metroplex
Owens Park, gang turf
Sector 10: The Stacks, "heaviest commercial and industrial concentration in the Newark plex."
Aulisio's Backroom, bar (Ripley Place and 2nd St)
Sector 11: residential zone
Hillside New Jersey Transit Station
Sector 12: Port Sector
Sector 13: Dead Zone, "wasted, ghost-haunted toxic graveyard." high astral background count
runners' backup safehouse (Rahway)
Sector 15: warehouses and junkyards
Sector 17: residential zone, several corps maintain condominium complexes there.
Sector 19: Roseland and Pleasantdale, violent ghettos
Sector 20: "working-class ghetto, home to wage-slaves and the less violence-prone SINless."
safehouse in North Caldwell
Willow Brook Mall parking lot
Kuze Nihon subsidiary, Maas Intertech
Points of Interest
Nathan Yale Xavier (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).
p.18: Rico reflects on a recent shadowrun allegedly contracted by L.Kahn -- "Winter Systems had contracts for police services in Manhattan, Union City, and other places around the New York-New Jersey megaplex. The Winter Systems job had involved the kidnapping and murder of several Winter Systems execs, and, incidentally, a conspiracy that had touched practically every major corp in the megaplex." Winter Systems is named as one of three law enforcement providers for Manhattan along with Knight Errant and NYPD Inc., according to The Neo-Anarchist's Guide to North America (page 121).
p.21: Two gangs in Newark's Sector 13 are the Toxic Marauders (thrill-gang) and the Rahway Blades (go-gang).
p.28: The leader of the the Church of the Whole Earth is named John Donne IX (referring to the romantic poet of the same name). Priests of the Church wear robes of white, blue, brown, and green (the "four cardinal colors"), and are all named Father John. The Church of the Whole Earth is new religion that emerged shortly after the Awakening, a mix of urban shamanism, eco-activism, and New Age mysticism. It is also mentioned in the Magic and Religion sections of the Grimoire 1 (p.11), Grimoire 2 (p.11), and Magic in the Shadows (p.11).
p.30: "Green 4800" is an international environmentalist terrorist organization. Its local cell in Newark is called "Ground Wave". Piper works for them regularly.
p.31: The Honjowara-gumi is a yakuza clan in Newark. Their colors are red and black. They are featured in another Nyx Smith novel, Steel Rain. The clan is also prominent in Philadelphia, according to Smith's previous novel, Striper Assassin.
p.38: L.Kahn's bodyguard, Ravage, is a rare "Runner" card in Shadowrun: The Trading Card Game.
p.43: L.Kahn and Rico evaluate the security ratings of the target using expressions like "Code Orange" and "A or double-A security." There's also a brief digression concerning the Fuchi complex in Manhattan:
"The immense complex that included the five sky-raking towers of Fuchi-town in lower Manhattan had triple-A security, also called Code Red. Fuchi used everything to keep the facility secure: armed guards, electronics, magic. You didn't go up against security like that unless you had a back door or the possibility of making one -- and even then it would probably still be a suicide run."
p.46: BJ flies a CyberSpace Designs Stealth Sniper Series 53 reconnaissance drone. This drone does not appear in any sourcebooks, though statistics on other CyberSpace recce drones (Dalmatian and Wolfhound) can be found in Rigger 2 (Jon Szeto, 1997).
p.47: Background of the Executive Action Brigade (EAB):
"The Brigade had once been one of the foremost mercenary units in the western hemisphere, though under another name. Since the annexation of Mexico by Aztlan and the end of various squabbles in South America, the merc business had gotten very low-key. The Colonel had been forced to dispense with most of the air wing while turning in desperation to the corporate security field. The Brigade's lack of specialists and the Colonel's lack of contacts had made that move chancy. The transition had been rough and it still wasn't clear if the move would pan out."
One particularly curious phrase, "the annexation of Mexico by Aztlan," was poorly chosen. In May, 2015, Mexico's newly elected president Francisco Pavón renamed his country Aztlan (page 38, Aztlan sourcebook). Not exactly an annexation.
p.54: Monk encounters a Neo-Anarchist evangelist preaching the virtues of "Pareto optimality". The Neo-Anarchist philosophy and Pareto optimality are described in detail by Sam Lewis in the first chapter of The Neo-Anarchist's Guide to North America (1991).
p.62: The local Urban Brawl team is the New Jersey Annihilators. The team's colors are red and black. The Annihilators are not listed with the teams in the 2052 North American Urban Brawl League on page 68 of Shadowbeat (Paul Hume, 1992). Each league is limited by the ISSV to 24 teams, but a non-League team can challenge for a League slot every two years.
Nyx Smith seems to favor the red-and-black color scheme. His characters Striper and Cannibal use it, the Honjowara-gumi mentioned earlier in this book uses it, and the Annihilators use it.
p.76: "Death clung to him, not like a leech,but as the source of his power." Claude Jaeger probably has a Sacrifice Geas, as described on page 53 of the 2nd-edition Grimoire (Sacrifice is not listed with the geasa in the 3rd-edition magic sourcebook, Magic in the Shadows -- oversight or deliberate omission?).
p.78: According to Piper, the New Jersey Consolidated Light and Power Company has the "worst matrix security systems of all the corps in the Jersey-New York megaplex."
p.121: Prometheus Engineering is described on page 124 of The Neo-Anarchist's Guide to North America.
p.122: Omni Police Services holds the public law enforcement contract for Newark.
p.132: "Azrael was reputed to be one of the few to survive Echo Mirage." The same affiliation is falsely attributed to Fastjack in the novel, Night's Pawn (Tom Dowd, 1993). Azrael may encourage the rumors to enhance his reputation, or he may be a genuine survivor of the infamous government project.
Of the original thirty-two Echo Mirage deckers, there were seven survivors, four of whom disappeared into the private sector after the unit disbanded in 2031. Michael Roper and Ken Eld founded Matrix Systems in Boston, and were killed in 2033 (Blood in the Boardroom, p.23). Buddy was an eccentric decker in Seattle until she died in 2052 (2XS). If Azrael was in fact a survivor of Echo Mirage, he would be the fourth.
p.140: Bobbie Jo has been around a while:
"The spiraling dive of the drone had brought her back in an instant to a cloudless day over Tampico over what had then been called Mexico ... Her legs, like her ride, like the whole damn government of Mexico, were broken to bits and burned almost to ashes."
Smith seems to be laboring under some misconceptions with regard to Aztlan and Mexico. Mexico became Aztlan in 2015, which would mean BJ has been a pilot for the EAB for over forty years -- too many by far. Neither was Mexico conquered or annexed by an outside power. Mexico became Aztlan through a purely political process within the Mexican government (Aztlan, p.38). Granted, there was some confusion in earlier sourcebooks as to whether it was Mexico or Aztlan who signed the Treaty of Denver in 2018, but all sources agree that Aztlan was an established power by the time it began stealing territory from Texas and California around 2035.
p.141: BJ operates a Gaz-Niki GNRD-101 Scorpion drone, a micro-crawler 30cm long and shaped like its namesake. She uses it to place an AOD (Active On Demand) tracking signal on the undercarriage of Thorvin's van. The Scorpion does not appear in Rigger 2, though other vehicles produced by Gaz-Niki are listed (the White Eagle offroad bike and the GNRD-71 Snooper security drone).
p.195: Like Seattle and London, Newark has its own Ork Underground:
"The Newark sprawl had a population of orks the equal of any city in the urban Northeast, perhaps the whole of North America, and they were always busy... Many had begun going underground shortly after the Awakening, the better to escape the oppression of fanatical humans. Their subterranean constructions had since become quite extensive. Some sections of the city were honeycombed with tunnels and passages that appeared on no official schematics. And the orks had dug deep in many places. Deeper than any rational human would care to descend."
p.202: Counterintelligence and covert operations for Fuchi Industrial Electronics, including contracted shadowruns, are usually handled by Mr. Xiao's division, Special Administration (S.A.), rather than by Miles Lanier's department of Internal Security (IntSec).
"As far as most Fuchi employees knew, the S.A. did not exist. It appeared on no corporate schematics delineating lines of authority, and it received its funds from diverse sources, funneled through obscure bank accounts... Villiers had set up the S.A. and charged it with counterintelligence and other covert functions. ... Technically, IntSec and the S.A. were on the same team, but ... the two organizations were as different as spies and security guards."
Fuchi's Special Administration isn't directly mentioned in any sourcebook, but may be alluded to on page 132 of Corporate Shadowfiles (Nigel Findley, 1993), in a remark by Hangfire: "Lanier's IntSec doesn't run covert ops ... A different group takes care of those. Apparently, Lanier likes it that way. I don't know exactly what division handles covert ops, or who's in charge."
p.209: Minx appears to be some variety of vampire. Her mechanism for essence drain is not blood, though, but breath. She appears to feed by inhaling the last breath of her victims (p.115). She has contacts in the city's emergency services -- tow-trucks, ambulances, etc. -- and in her guise as a photographer she feeds off of accident victims. She can transmit her virus to another person by exchanging breath with them, exhaling and inhaling (p.211). Minx's breed of vampirism provides enhanced senses (thermographic vision and augmented hearing), immunity to age, and regeneration. What vulnerabilities she shares with conventional vampires are unknown.
The real nature of this vampirism is revealed in Smith's next novel, Who Hunts The Hunter. Using an ancient magical text, the Roggoth-shoth, a powerful mage named Dr. Liron Phalen created the breed of vampire-like hunters to steal life-essence for him, energy which he needs to survive. The relationship is symbiotic, as the vampires are supposed to survive only as long as he does.
p.247: "Gray's Syndrome was one of several virulent, sexually transmitted diseases that had arisen over the last five or ten years. People said it had come with the Awakening. Elves seemed to be particularly prone, but no one was immune. Gray's was nasty, though usually not fatal, given the right medical care. It corrupted a person's appearance. Made him or her look old and sick and deformed. And it happened fast, in just days. By the time a person realized he had it, his hair could be falling out and his teeth turning black and jutting out of his mouth like the fangs of an ork. The pain was said to be horrendous. Some people were transformed practically overnight. Some people, those who couldn't afford surgical corrections, killed themselves rather than go through life looking like some simsense-inspired horror. Some people just went insane."
p.259: Bandit uses a spell to create false auras of himself and his teammates, accurate enough to deceive Maurice's ritual sending.
p.286: "At 02:44:58:21:19 or so..." Or so indeed. Give or take a microsecond. Nice decker gag.
p.293: Farrah Moffit nails the adept, Claude Jaeger, using an oral whip treated with neurotoxin (Cybertechnology, p.25). Claude calls it a "cybersnake", a term he probably borrowed from a similar piece of gear in Walter Jon Williams' HardWired (1986).
p.318: "Life is a journey. Not a series of destinations." Wisdom courtesy of Aerosmith?
About the cover: once again, the cover by Romas Kukalis looks nice enough, but does not depict any scene occurring in the novel. It appears to show Rico (what's with that haircut?) standing in the wreckage of an aircraft while a helicopter flies overhead. The closest analog in the novel would be when the Daisaka Security helicopter gunship takes out Thorvin's van on p.303.
Aftermath: Moffit and Surikov are in place with Maas Intertech, but Surikov remains a Fuchi agent. Shank and Piper survive the Daisaka Security ambush only by becoming infected with Minx's peculiar variety of vampirism. Piper passes the infection to Rico. Alone of the runners, Bandit escapes unscathed (to resurface in Who Hunts the Hunter).