This is a run summary for Princess’s epic matrix adventure and the origin story of the PPH. The TLDR notes can be found in the Adventure Log post: The Night of too Many *****s , courtesy of Princess.
The last of Princess’s customers stumbled out of his room in a daze. Her lipstick was smudged and her super expensive hairdo was rumpled. Her eyes had a far away look like her mind was still somewhere far away. “Oh my prince, please tell me I can come to you again,” the woman said with a flutter of her long eyelashes.
Princess smiled as he leaned against the doorway. His long black hair fell artfully across one bare shoulder as he gave his client an indulgent smile. “Of course nothing would please me more, but you’ll have to take that up with Mr. Sato.”
The woman gave him a pouty frown, somewhat less impressive due to her lipstick having been all smudged during their exuberant lovemaking. “Why do you always have to bring business into it? Don’t you know I would take you away from all this if you only asked?”
Princess gave the woman a little bow. His hair slid down like a perfect silk curtain and he had to flick it back with one artfully manicured hand. “Your offer is too kind, but my place is here. Please give my best to your husband and remind him that he is of course always welcome at our establishment.”
The woman covered her mouth with one hand as she laughed. “Oh, I will.”
After the woman left, Princess heard a beep from his comlink. He checked the message and rolled his eyes. It was from Pox and said, “Hurry up pretty boy. We’ve got a world to save.”
Princess wasn’t sure exactly what Pox had meant by that, but the strange girl had been rambling lately about something being wrong in the matrix. Princess had told her he wasn’t an expert on computers, but Pox insisted that it didn’t matter for tonight’s job.
Princess returned to his room and got dressed in a stylish black suit. The suit was more than just fashionable, it also hid a suit of discreet armor. He tied his long hair back in an elegant tail and placed a pair of fashionable matrix glasses on his nose. The glasses not only allowed him to see matrix icons, they also hid a discreet camera that Princess had used on a number of occasions to gather valuable footage.
Princess locked his room and strode purposefully down to the front area of the brother. The first floor was one big room, set up to look like something out of ancient Japan. There were pillows on the floor and low tables where guests could enjoy tea or sake while they watched beautiful geisha dance and play traditional music. One of those geisha turned her head as Princess headed for the door.
“Oh, are you going out?” she asked. Her name was Sakura and she had been at the brothel since Princess first arrived. She didn’t work the back room anymore, but she often sent customers to Princess and the two had become close friends over the years.
“Yes,” Princess said. “I have some business to take care of.”
“Nothing too dangerous I hope?” Sakura asked. “Mr. Sato would hate to see such valuable wares damaged.”
Princess shrugged. “Nothing dangerous. A friend needs my help. I think it’s got something to do with computers.”
Princess took a cab to the Renraku compound where he and several of his associates had been acting as security at the request of a woman named Mai. Just thinking about Mai made Princess smile. She was one of the few people he’d ever met with beauty and charm to match his own. Not only that, she’d been playing some sort of long con that had earned her access to the highest ranks of Renraku. So far she’d evaded Princess’s normally un-evadeable charm, but he knew with time he could change that.
The cab dropped Princess off at an unremarkable building inside the borders of Renraku’s compound. When he walked inside he found Pox and Joker waiting with Mr. Johnson. Pox was a short, slightly chubby girl with South American features. Apparently she was something called a ‘technomancer’. She scowled at Princess and crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re late.”
Princess just smiled in answer. Next to Pox stood Joker, a Native American hacker with whom Princess had worked on a number of occasions. Princess liked Joker, he was easy to get along with, and very effective when he wasn’t getting distracted by slot machines.
“We need to get started,” said the room’s fourth occupant. That was Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson wasn’t actually a Mister — she was a severe looking woman in a suit who’d given Princess and his friends several jobs over the past few months.
“Can someone please tell me what it is we’re going to do?” Princess asked.
“No time,” Pox answered. “Just put this on.” She handed him a weird sort of hat made up of little electrical nodes and attached to a hacking deck like the one Joker usually used.
“But I don’t know how to use —” Princess began.
“That’s okay. I got this,” Pox cut him off. “Now hurry up and put it on. We have to save the world.”
Princess gave Pox an indulgent smile and reluctantly began attaching the nodes to his head, making sure not to muss his hair. Whatever this was it would almost certainly not work, but he’d learned long ago that it was better to indulge Pox than to argue with her.
The four of them sat down in a circle on the bare floor of the building. “Is everyone ready?” Mr. Johnson asked.
I still have no idea what I should be ready for, Princess thought.
“Ready,” Joker and Pox both said.
“Okay.” Mr. Johnson looked over the group one more time. “Let’s do this.”
Then Something Happened.
The whole world suddenly tilted around Princess. The floor seemed to disappear beneath him and he had the bizarre sensation of rushing through a tunnel. Then abruptly he found himself floating in a black void surrounded by monsters. The first was a clown, complete with white makeup and a brightly colored suit. The second was a vaguely humanoid shadow made up of tiny black motes. Next to the shadow floated what looked like a massive, animated music note. Next to the music note stood a figure who looked a little like Mr. Johnson, but dressed in an elaborate conductor’s outfit and wearing a mask like the phantom of the opera.
Princess looked down and was more than a little relieved to see he still looked like himself.
“What is going on?” he asked. His voice of course sounded as cool and calm as always. Long years working at the brothel had taught him impeccable self control and he would never let even a little bit of nervousness show in his voice.
“I’ve drawn you into the resonance,” Mr. Johnson said. “My companion here,” she nodded to the musical note, “has informed me that there is a corruption spreading in the resonance realms. I’ve hired you and your friends to help me investigate the source of this corruption and stop it if necessary.”
“And we need to rescue Panda,” the cloud of shadows said in Pox’s voice.
“Ah,” Princess said. “Wait, Panda the AI that looks like a whale? He’s missing?”
“Uh…” the cloud — Pox apparently — said. “No. He’s just not here. Don’t worry about it. I’ll find him.”
“Okay,” Princess said. “Well, now may be a bad time but I think I should warn you that I don’t know much about computers.”
“It doesn’t matter. The resonance realms respond to thought. Once inside you will be able to make your will reality,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Great,” Pox said. “Now that that’s settled, get in the resonance taxi and lets get going.”
Princess blinked. “Resonance …what?”
Pox rolled her eyes and snapped her fingers and a taxi appeared next to her and a taxi driver’s hat appeared on her head.
Princess rubbed his temples. He was beginning to suspect that his last customer had slipped him some sort of hallucinogenic. But in the off-chance that this was real he followed the clown, who had to be Joker, into the back seat of the taxi. Pox got into the driver’s seat and honked the horn. Mr. Johnson stood next to the musical note, which let out a chiming noise. A rift appeared in the air before it and the musical note drifted through. Pox floored the gas and the taxi leapt through the rift behind the note.
Once again Something Happened and the world around Princess changed abruptly. Suddenly he found himself drifting deep underwater. Weak, sourceless light illuminated what looked like a vast ocean. Schools of silver fish darted nearby, and in the distance he saw the ruins of an ancient city. Princess took a moment of carefully not-panicking to assess his situation. His hair drifted artfully around him and despite the lack of air his lungs weren’t burning. Obviously this wasn’t real water, or a real ocean. Still, the whole situation was rather disconcerting.
Joker honked his clown nose, releasing a weak sounding squeak and a tiny burst of bubbles, then gave the rest of the group a thumbs up. Princess noticed that Pox’s shadowy head was now covered in a diver’s helmet, which seemed really unpractical without a diving suit to connect it to.
Mr. Johnson pointed towards the city. “The corruption is coming from that direction,” she said. Her voice sounded unchanged despite the water.
“Okay, but what’s that?” Pox asked. She pointed to a faint light glowing a little to the right of the city.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Johnson said.
Being the curious people they were, the group headed towards the light. Princess remembered what Mr. Johnson had said about the resonance realms responding to thought. In his experience, shiny usually meant valuable. Maybe he could get something out of this strange adventure after all.
As they got closer to the light Princess felt a warm glow spreading through his chest. It was such a pretty light. Not as pretty as him obviously, but the soft blue glow made the surrounding ocean seem more like a pleasant spa pool that a nightmarish drug trip. The light seemed to be coming from a large blue orb that drifted in the gentle current.
But as they got closer to the orb Princess noticed a shadow lurking behind the light. It was massive, and it looked like it was moving closer. He squinted, then his eyes widened as he noticed the light glinting off several very pointy teeth in a gaping mouth.
“Fish!” Princess cried out. He snatched the collar of Joker’s clown costume just in time to pull him away from the snapping teeth.
The others scatter and the fish swam in a quick circle then seemed to ready itself for another charge.
“It was a trap!” Mr. Johnson said pointlessly.
“Attack!” Pox shouted. She raised one hand and flung a shadowy bolt at the fish. At the same time a giant cream pie appeared in Joker’s hand and he flung it at the evil fish’s mouth.
Princess was about to point out that pie probably wouldn’t make a very effective weapon, but when it hit the fish it exploded, sending a shock wave out through the water.
Joker glanced over his shoulder at Princess as the fish swam forward again. “What are you waiting for?” he asked as another pie appeared in his hand.
“I don’t have any weapons,” Princess complained. The pockets of his fine suit, now probably ruined with all this salt water, were empty. Even if they hadn’t been, there was no way he could have fired his pistol underwater.
“Just imagine the weapon you want,” Mr. Johnson called from behind him. “This place is shaped by thoughts, you can will whatever you want into existence.”
Whatever I want? Princess mused silently. He looked at the giant fish swimming towards him. As he reflected on it he realized he’d been in a situation not so different from this a few months back. While trying to smuggle a package the group’s boat had been attacked by a giant enemy crab. Princess had slain the crab with a well-aimed harpoon. He concentrated, imaging a harpoon gun, and trying not to get distracted by how much he would have rather been comfortable and warm back in his room at the brothel, maybe having fun with one of his more adventurous clients …
Something solid materialized in his hands. Princess looked down and saw a harpoon gun … sort of. The gun part was right, but instead of being loaded with a big wooden shaft tipped with pointy steel, the gun held a giant purple dildo.
Princess glanced at the dildo, then up at the approaching fish. Pox and Joker had worn the thing down, but it was still coming for them. Princess looked down at his harpoon gun again. Close enough. He fired the gun. The first shot went wide, nearly pegging Joker in the ah … well good thing it missed. A second dildo magically appeared after the first launched. Princess aimed more carefully this time and the dildo flew true, smacking the fish in the forehead.
Apparently exhausted by the blows it’d already taken, the fish let out a stream of angry bubbles, then shattered into a swarm of lights and disappeared, leaving only the glowing blue orb behind. Mr. Johnson approached the orb and swam a slow circle around it. “This is not the source of the corruption,” she announced. She held out one hand and the orb zipped towards her, hovering above her palm. “But,” she added. “I think it could be used to cast a rather potent mesmerize spell.”
“How can you tell?” Princess asked. He couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Johnson had done absolutely nothing to help defeat the evil fish.
Mr. Johnson shrugged. “I know things. Here,” she tossed the orb to Princess. Princess caught it and the light seemed to sink into his skin. He felt something in his mind unlock and suddenly had the feeling that if he wanted to he could call back the orb and use it to cast the spell Mr. Johnson had described.
“Let’s keep going,” Mr. Johnson said. “I think the corruption is coming from a deeper resonance realm.
The group swam closer to the ruined city. As they drew near, Mr. Johnson and her magical music note companion tore open another gate and the group traveled through it. This time when they reached the other side they found themselves standing on a vast stone plain. The water was gone and Princess’s suit wasn’t even wet. Just in front of them was a huge stone wall barred by massive gates.
“Huh,” said Pox. “I guess we, uh, knock?”
Joker took off one shoe, pouring out an improbably amount of water and a single flopping silver fish that disappeared as soon as it hit the ground. “Go for it,” he said.
Pox approached the big gates and raised one fist to bang on the stone barrier. The resulting sound was much, much louder than it should have been, but Princess was done being surprised by the total disregard the resonance realms showed for physics.
As soon as Pox finished knocking, massive floating whale appeared above the gates, glaring down at all of them. At first Princess thought it was the wayward AI Panda, but he thought he remembered the AI being black and white, not black and red. Otherwise the name really wouldn’t have made any sense at all.
“WHO COMES?” boomed the voice of the giant whale.
“Hey!” Pox shouted. “You’re that jerk Grizzly who was hanging out with Cloud. You scared Panda away. Give him back!”
Grizzly? Princess squinted at the giant whale. Why the hell is it called Grizzly?
“YOU MUST PROVE YOU ARE WORTHY,” Grizzly answered.
“Where’s Panda?” Pox asked, apparently unimpressed by the smoldering red glow of the whale’s eyes. Princess took a cautious step back. Pox’s negotiation style tended to end in whoever she was talking to wanting to kill her. If that happened now, Princess wanted to be outside the blast radius of whatever it was the whale decided to do.
“YOU MUST PROVE YOU ARE WORTHY OF YOUR POWER,” Grizzly said.
Pox scowled at the whale. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I don’t need to prove anything. I’m totally worthy.”
The whale was silent for a long moment. “WE SHALL SEE,” it said before disappearing. Before any of them could move, the huge gates ground open, exposing a gap just wide enough for the party to walk through.
“Hah,” Pox said. “Easy.” Pox strode confidently into the city and Princess followed a little more cautiously. Easy indeed. Maybe a little too easy.
The city beyond the gates looked like the ruins of ancient Rome. That is if the streets of ancient Rome had been riddled with cracks spewing some sort of pink goo.
Princess approached one of the cracks cautiously, wary for any signs of danger. Pox approached another crack far less cautiously and crouched down next to it. “Weird,” she muttered. She reached towards the goo and scooped some up on one finger.
“Wait! Don’t —” Princess cried.
Pox licked the goo off her finger. Princess waited for her to die, or to mutate into some awful creature. After a moment she wrinkled her nose. “Tastes like strawberries. Evil strawberries.”
“That is the corruption,” Mr. Johnson said. “But it is not the source of the corruption. We must find the source.”
“Well okay then,” Princess said. “I guess we should explore. Lets try that residential district over there.”
They wandered among the houses for an hour or two, looking for anything that might lead them to the source Mr. Johnson had mentioned. After a few minutes Joker summoned up a hover board to cruise through the streets and Princess imagined himself a floating scooter. Pox and Mr. Johnson chose to float. Once they’d scoured the residential district and found nothing of note, they headed towards what looked like a factory district. Here they found several tired looking people working in what seemed to be a sprinkle factory. Other employees were applying the sprinkles to cupcakes and frosting them with the pink goo from the streets.
“Maybe that’s the source?” Joker asked.
Mr. Johnson shrugged. “We should probably send someone in to talk to them and figure out what’s going on.”
Everyone turned to Princess. Princess glanced through the window at the seriously unflattering uniforms of the factory workers and sighed. “Oh fine.” Princess concentrated, transforming his stylish suit into a very un-stylish uniform. After some discussion he made a second uniform for Joker and the two of them went inside to gather information. Princess slipped into one of the assembly lines and began applying sprinkles to cupcakes, chatting up the employees while Joker did some sort of matrix voodoo to figure out what the factory really was. The employees seemed mostly exhausted, irritated, and uninformed, but after laying on the charm like a thick layer of corrupted pink frosting, Princess was able to gather that the planetarium was the heart of the city’s operations. With a little help from the others Princess and Joker slipped back out and Joker announced that he’d managed to steal some of the sprinkles, where were actually powerful data bombs.
The group started towards the center of the city where the planetarium was located, but were soon stopped by a group of burly looking guards.
“I’m sorry,” said one of the guards. “But this is a restricted area. You cannot go any further without authorization.”
“We have authorization,” Princess said with a confident smile.
The guards exchanged a look. “I’m going to need to see your authorization,” the first one said.
Sun glasses appeared over Pox’s eyes. “That’s above your pay grade,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
Princess suppressed a groan. One of these days Pox really was going to get them all killed. Princess waited for the guards to attack, and prepared to summon forth his now trusty purple penis harpoon. But amazingly the guards exchanged another look and stepped aide, allowing them to pass.
They continued onward, walking with confidence towards the planetarium. But after a moment it became clear that whatever doubt Pox had planted in the guards’ minds had worn thin. “Stop!” someone called from behind them.
Princess glanced over his shoulder and saw several guards, as well as several civilians and factory workers, heading towards them with angry looks on their faces.
“I think,” said Mr. Johnson mildly, “that now would be a good time to run.”
They ran. And floated. And hover-boarded frantically towards the planetarium. Joker used more matrix voodoo to blast a hole in the wall of the building and they scrambled though before their pursuers could stop them.
“Oh, shit,” Princess muttered when he saw what was inside. He’d though this whole resonance realm couldn’t get any weirder, but apparently he’d been wrong. The planetarium was a giant dome, filled with planets hanging from wires connected to a complex device of metal rods. The floor of the room was badly cracked and spewing even more of the pink corruption goo than they’d seen in any one place outside. That wasn’t the weird part. The weird part was the massive pop-tart cat flying among the planets spewing a trail of rainbow from its butt.
“Uhh…” said Joker.
“That is the source of the corruption,” announced Mr. Johnson.
Pox slapped her face with one hand. “Aw man, I think I know that idiot. I told him going to that stupid protest was a bad idea. But does anyone listen to Pox. Noooo.”
The flying cat noticed them and let out an ear-splitting shriek. Suddenly the pink goo on the floor began to roll and boil. Three gelatinous forms oozed form the cracks and started towards them. Pox shot a bolt of shadows at the front-most blob of pink goo and it let out a roar of anger. Nyan cat whirled around and shot a rainbow blast at Pox, knocking her off her feet.
Joker threw a supercharged pie at one of the smaller goo monsters and caused it to explode and melt back into the floor. The third monster turned toward Joker and started chasing him so Joker ran for the scaffolding surrounding the display of floating planets. Pox got to her feet and blasted one of the goo monsters with another bolt of shadows before heading towards a big control rig that looked like it might have been designed to rotate the planets hanging from the ceiling.
Meanwhile, Princess summoned up his purple penis harpoon. He took cover behind a handy piece of decorative stonework and aimed it at the flying pop-tart cat, then hesitated. The purple dildo was impressive, but he got the feeling it was going to take something much, much bigger to destroy the pop-tart cat. He thought frantically for a moment, then remembered the glowing orb they’d retrieved from the evil fish, and the handful of sprinkles Joker had passed him. It was a little crazy but maybe, just maybe ….
Princess summoned up the glowing orb and pulled the sprinkles from his pocket, then he bent all of his will towards combining them into one ultimate weapon, something no flying rainbow pop-tart cat could ever resist. As he worked, Joker took out another one of the goo monsters by slamming a pie into its face as it tried to climb up the ladder after him. Pox wrestled with the controls for the planets, dodging more blasts from the flying cat ever few seconds.
Princess manipulated the sprinkles and the magic contained inside the glowing orb, trying really hard not to think about what was going on around him. He put the finishing touches on his device, then stepped out from behind the cover of the handy piece of decorative stonework. He struck a dramatic pose, his long dark hair drifting behind him as his eyes locked briefly with those of the crazy flying cat. His lips curled into a smile.
“Here, kitty kitty,” he said, before throwing the device towards the flying cat.
Light erupted from Princess’s outstretched fingers. There was a blinding flash, then a sparkling, flying fish appeared in the air before the cat. It’s scales glimmered with a thousand colors. As the cat stared at it, the fish began to ungulate hypnotically and music filled the room.
The fish opened it’s mouth and began to sing, “Shine bright like a diamond.”
The cat’s eyes widened and its head began to bob in time to the music.
“Shine bright like a diamond,” the fish sang.
“Da fuck?” Pox said.
The cat slow danced towards the glimmering fish, its former prey forgotten.
“Time to run!” Princess shouted at his companions, then he led by example and fled the planetarium.
They only just made it past the outer wall of the planetarium when the data bombs inside the fish exploded. Princess felt the force of the explosion against his back as the cat’s final pained yowl mingled with the last notes of the fish’s song. The whole city shook and the cracks in the ground around them split wider, the pink goo inside them sizzling and hissing as though in pain.
“We need to get out of here,” Mr. Johnson called.
Pox shot the woman an annoyed look. “Gee, you think?”
The angry guards that had chased them into the planetarium were apparently still angry and still outside the planetarium. As soon as they recovered from the rumbling blast of the explosion, they turned their eyes on Princess and his friends and gave chase.
Princess, still beaming from his stylish defeat of the overly-colorful flying cat, summoned a mighty unicorn and leapt onto its back to flee the angry mob. The others kept pace on various other modes of improbable transportation. As they neared the gates Princess glanced over his shoulder and felt his normally controlled features twitch with fear. The mob was gaining on them. There was no way they could make it out through the gates and out of the resonance realm before they were overtaken. He reached into his pocket, but he’d already used up all his magic sprinkles crafting the mighty Rihanna Fish Bomb.
Just as the guards were about to overcome them, a shadow passed over them and something let out a mighty CAW. Princess looked up and saw a black and white phoenix swooping down towards them. His mouth fell open as, rather than attacking, the phoenix scooped them all up and flew them safely to the plains outside the city gates.
“Panda!” Pox cried happily. “Where the hell were you man?”
“I had some stuff to figure out. Turns out I’m not an AI, I’m a resonance entity from the machine realm,” the phoenix said.
“Cool,” Pox said.
Princess opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. He’d just defeated a giant flying pop-tart cat with a sparkling fish bomb. Somehow the illogical nature of Panda’s name, and the improbable timing of his return no longer seemed worth questioning. The black and white phoenix flew them back through the resonance realms and when Princess next opened his eyes he found himself back in his body, his hair annoyingly rumpled by the electrode hat Pox had used to project him into the resonance.
After extracting himself from the gear and listening to Mr. Johnson’s grim musings about how they had stopped the source of the corruption but not the source of the source of the corruption, Princess wandered outside. He took a deep breath of smog-scented night air and stared up at the faint glow of the stars above him. He could just see a blue-gray smudge of dawn’s first light in the sky to the east and everywhere he looked the world was completely normal and exactly as it was supposed to be.
Princess let out a happy sigh. He was glad he’d been able to help his friends, but he’d had more than enough of their particular brand of weird for one day. His fingers wandered into his jacket pocket and he found the hidden holster holding his small pistol. He drew it out and stared at the shiny metal barrel thoughtfully. Well, maybe almost enough weird. He ran one finger over the barrel. Maybe it was time he considered upgrading his gear. His mouth curled into a slow smile. Yes. Already he could think of so many interesting uses for a weapon like the PPH.