Shredded Nerves

Content Warning: body horror, some coarse language

Another day, another damn meeting, thought Véronique Sayed as her PAD pinged her a reminder. She exited her office, and passed through the rows of designers sketching out blueprints for new cybernetics. The younger engineers were busy chatting with each other, discussing technical problems and solutions. The older ones wished her good luck. Xiran Toussaint, the bald and bearded team oddball who used to be her mentor in cybernetic-synaptic interfaces, patted her on the back. “We’ve been through worse. You’ll get us through.”

She tried to smile. “Don’t worry about me, get back to work.”

Véronique was the only member of the board of directors whose office wasn’t on the top floor of Ampère. As Chief Technical Officer, she enjoyed being shoulder to shoulder with fellow engineers and designers, but lately it just meant that these board meetings were extra arduous.  She had to cross over to Building C, walk down two long hallways, and take the lifts to the boardroom. She didn’t mind it when the board meetings were fortnightly, but in the last week they’d had eight such meetings.

When the lifts opened up at the top, she saw that half the board, the rest of the “old guard”, were standing outside the doors waiting for her. In contrast to the practically dressed technicians downstairs, they were all dressed in high quality suits of classical fashion, all reflective glasses and sharp angular waistcoats with ties under their jackets. Véronique herself favoured a similar style, but her half-shaved head, exposing the cybernetics installed into her cerebrum and brain stem, gave her a dash of modern flare.

Everyone knew today was going to be a long, hard slog. The “old guard” fell in lock step behind her to the boardroom. Inside, the “young punks,” as Véronique had nicknamed them in her head, were already sat there, waiting. They were led by Mohammed Éclancher, the Chief Marketing Officer, looking trendy in a modern one-piece mixing circular motifs with sharp triangular epaulettes. They were recent additions to the board of directors, brought on to help Ampère’s transition from strictly medical-grade cybernetics to more fashionable, discretionary, commercial ones.

“You’re five minutes late,” started Mohammed, before anyone on Véronique’s team had a chance to sit down.

“Please, please, let’s not start the hostilities this early. Can we at least pretend to get some work done before we get to that part?” Véronique willed her voice and temper to remain even.

“If you were serious about getting work done, maybe you should’ve shown up on time.”

Véronique sighed and conceded the point.

“Fine, fine, you’re right. We’ve adjourned this budgetary meeting six times now. We’re all here and I’d like to get this finally finished. Can we please get this over with?” Finally, Véronique found time to take her seat.

The board secretary, an old K3573R-model bioroid named Carol, gave a brief recap of where the board had left off, and began taking notes. It wasn’t long before the sniping began anew.

“…we estimate that development of the BS 4KVJs will take about fifteen months, and cost 1.5 billion credits.”

C’est insupportable!” interrupted Mohammed, and several of his team muttered approvingly.

“We didn’t ask for opinions yet,” said Véronique curtly, and she motioned at the speaker to continue.

“No, no,” interrupted Mohammed again, “This project is a complete disaster, we can’t fund it as is.”

Véronique took the bait. “Why not?”

“Fifteen months to release a new product? We need a rapid release cycle to build up a customer base, or else no one will recognize our name. Cybernetics Division has a new line out every six months. They’re even selling directly to chopshops and chrome parlours these days. We need to be matching that at a minimum.”

“I don’t give a shit what CD is doing. We don’t have the resources to keep that kind of pace. Even if we did, have you seen the latest cybernetic they put out? It’s barely functional, proprietary garbage that bricks after six months.”

“It doesn’t matter how good you think their product is, they posted record sales last quarter. If there are technical problems, we can patch fixes in after we’ve sold them.”

“We can’t just sell people body parts on the promise that they’ll be good eventually! People are connecting this product directly to their endocrine system! If these synthglands trigger an adrenal overdose, users could die!” Véronique was yelling now.

“Well, we can’t approve a budget for a money pit that no one is going to buy.”

“This is one of our flagship lines of cybernetics! Our reputation is built on quality. What will people think if they buy our products and they don’t work? People need limbs and organs that work, these aren’t VR-games we’re selling.”

“This project is a financial and marketing disaster. Change it, or we walk.”

“Absolutely not, get your head out of your arsehole.”

“Fine.” Mohammed looked at all the “young punks” on his side of the table. “We’re done with this meeting.” As one, they stood and walked out.

“Son of a whore! You can’t be fucking serious!”

As soon as Mohammed’s team exited the room, Carol intoned flatly “This meeting no longer meets quorum mandated by Ampère’s corporate bylaws. The meeting is adjourned.”

Véronique sat fuming in her office, trying to check her biometrics from her own synthgland to make sure her adrenaline levels were still within safe ranges, but she kept thinking about Mohammed’s smug face and how much she’d like to punch it. After a while, Xiran came in and asked her how the meeting went and if she were willing to give the go-ahead on the firmware updates on the latest Zenit chips. Véronique snapped and swore at Xiran and sent him scurrying from the office. After Xiran left, she wished he would come back so she could apologize, but she also wished someone else would come in with a stupid request so she could bite their head off too. Clearly, everyone in her office got the message, because no one knocked at her door for the next couple hours.

Véronique decided she’d be better off going home early today, and was just packing up her things, when her PAD started pinging. She ignored it at first, thinking it was just some of the senior engineers under Xiran sending sympathy, but the beeps and vibrations came faster and faster, until Véronique was snapped out of her poor mood by curiosity and concern. Something major has just happened.

Véronique opened her PAD and hadn’t even started checking the messages when multiple calls came in. She prioritized the one from her secretary, Julien DuPéré; he was smart and capable, and was usually on top of everything that was going on that she didn’t have time to concern herself with.

“What the hell’s going on out there?” she asked.

“It’s Guillotière South Hospital.” Véronique’s stomach dropped. That was Ampère’s flagship hospital, where they debuted their latest bionic limbs and prostheses. “They got hit by a runner attack, all virtual systems are locked down, and they’re demanding a ransom to reinstate. It’s bad.”

“How bad?”

“The ransom or the damage?”

Something in Véronique twinged. Later she would remember to be ashamed that Julien had had to ask her that.

“Forget I asked. Get in here. We need to divert everyone in the office into helping GSH get back online, even if that means we have to pay.”

I’ve wasted too much time on these damn internal disputes. This attack was throwing the childishness of her actions of this morning into sobering relief.

“Oh, and Julien? Before you come in, send me everything we have on Mr. Éclancher.” She closed the PAD call. It was going to be a long evening trying to get this mess under control, but after that she was going to have a conversation with Mohammed.

Véronique’s hopper alighted on the private lilypad outside Mohammed’s seaside villa. The hopper sat there, silent, as she put on her gloves and smoothed her jacket over her skirt, readying for the confrontation. Breathe, you can do this. She disengaged the door locks and walked out onto the pathway leading to the main house. Mohammed’s architectural sensibilities were surprisingly classical and tasteful. She had him pegged for an Art Numérique fan, after all his mid-century geometric suits that he wore, but his two floor, private dwelling was a beautifully restored Hadidist mansion. It was all elegant curves and seamless integration with nature. The walkway joined with the main building as naturally as a limb connected to the torso.

Mohammed opened the front door and greeted her on the walk in. “Véronique? What are you doing here, and at this late an hour?”

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

“Of course, of course. My NISSE didn’t recognize your hopper ID. I thought you were a burglar.”

Véronique shrugged and pretended to shiver as Mohammed led her into the house.

The inside of Mohammed’s house was a bit closer to what she had expected, a much more contemporary style, but it didn’t overpower the vintage architecture.

Mohammed offered to take her coat and gloves; Véronique simply shook her head.

“Can I get you a drink, at least?”

“Yes, coffee.” She tapped her head where the synthgland was installed. “Decaf.”

The two of them went to the kitchen. Mohammed offered Véronique a seat, but she declined, opting to stand awkwardly. They stood quietly in the kitchen; Mohammed waiting for Véronique to explain what was so important she had to come here in person, and Véronique, shifting uncomfortably, waiting while Mohammed fiddled with his retro-Vassieux vacuum brewing system. When, at last, he handed it to her, she began.

“Tonight, we’re going to have it out. Just the two of us. We’re going to get over our personal problems and start running this business like adults. I didn’t spend the last eight hours debugging hacked hospital equipment for us to waste time infighting. I don’t care if I have to stay here all night or handcuff myself to your door, but we’re solving this.”

Mohammed sighed. “Now…?”

Véronique scarcely paused.

“Let me tell you what this company means to me. I’ve worked with cybernetics all my life. I know the people who design these things, and I know the people they go into. These are real people, terrified of putting foreign tech into their bodies. Terrified of neural interface rejection. Have you been to Guillotière, seen some of the walk-ins we get?”

Mohammed shook his head. Véronique continued.

“Back when I was a junior engineer, I was there every night, assessing the damage done to people by faulty cybernetics, trying to see what parts of them we could salvage. You haven’t felt like a monster until you have to yank a child’s eyes out because a cheaply manufactured replacement was outputting slightly too high electrical impulses, gradually frying the kid’s whole frontal lobe. And you don’t really believe yourself to be a monster until you’ve told fifty different parents the same damn thing. Until the company eventually issued a recall, and settled the class action.”

She paused, trying to regulate her emotions, and not let herself get too worked up.

“You’ve gone from start-up to start-up, and I’ve followed your work, you’ve done great. You leave the companies richer, greener, and more successful, but here, that’s not how I measure success. I measure it in years added to a person’s life from an artificial heart, and that number goes down every time we have to operate on them. We need to make money to keep ourselves afloat, but we’re not in the business of making money; we’re in the business of taking care of people’s bodies. And we can’t cut and subdivide them and say ‘that arm isn’t profitable to us anymore’ or ‘we’re no longer offering support for that spine’. That would make us butchers, and I won’t become that. So if I need to bang on your door at midnight and argue with you till morning to keep this company aligned, so be it.”

Véronique paused, one hand held behind her back, the other bracing herself on the ledge of the marble kitchen island.

“Well?” she asked. “Are you willing to work this out with me?”

Mohammed sighed. “My turn. I get where you’re coming from Véronique, so let me show you where I’m coming from. I graduated ninth of my class at Sorbonne-Garand, phenomenal by any reasonable person’s standards, but still not good enough to land a permanent gig at any of the major financial institutions. Instead, I’m down here in the trenches, managing start-up after start-up, and let me tell you, it is kill or be killed out here. I need to go from success to success because if I fuck up even once, if something I touched turns out to be anything less than solid platinum, I’m done in this industry.”

Mohammed started pacing back and forth across his wide kitchen.

“A couple months ago, I went back and looked up how the rest of my graduating class were doing, and you know what? More than half of them are swimming in poverty, amid the flotsam of stim addictions and broken families. For people like us, rich and successful as we are, there’s a line, and if we fall below that even once, we’re dead meat. And that line is nothing short of perfection. That’s why I have to make this succeed.”

The two of them stared at each other. Mohammed slumped his shoulders and looked away.

“But I’m sick of it. I’m sick of this life, sick of the rat race, sick of building my entire life around keeping above that line,” continued Mohammed. “If you’re willing to make this work as a permanent institution, a bastion that will last, I can stop worrying about when failure will finally catch up to me. It’ll be rough. As soon as the giants know we’re not interested in selling no matter the cost, they’ll start trying to kick our fort down. You seem like the kind of person that can stand up to giants, though.”

Véronique visibly relaxed and dropped both arms to her side. “Thank you,” she said.

They spent the next hour hammering out the key details while their coffees grew cold, forgotten: what they would refuse to compromise on, what they could have some wiggle room, and where they could actually make money to keep themselves afloat. Eventually, Mohammed glanced at his PAD and realized it was past 2 am, and Véronique agreed that they could put a pin in things there. He saw her to the door, they exchanged bisous, and Véronique walked back up the pathway to her hopper.

“Take me to 92 rue Paradis, please” she enunciated clearly to the hopper’s AI, knowing that it didn’t have her vocal cadence imprints or saved locations. Véronique sighed, letting out all of the tension in her body, as she leaned over, removed the Skorpios PD-01 light pistol from its uncomfortable position in the waistband of her skirt, and stowed it in the glove compartment.

Ampère: Cybernetics For Anyone

Ampère: Cybernetics for Anyone

Neutral Identity: Corp

Minimum deck size: 45 – Influence: ∞

Your deck cannot include more than 1 copy of any card.

Your deck may include up to 2 different agenda cards from each Corp faction.

Affordable, Effective, and Uncompromising.

Illustrated by Emilio Rodriguez

Hippocampic Mechanocytes

◆ Hippocampic Mechanocytes


Shaper Hardware: Cybernetic

Install cost: 0 – Influence cost: 2

When you install this hardware, place 2 power counters on it and suffer 1 meat damage.

You get +1 maximum hand size for each hosted power counter.

To outsiders, it is ironic that no one in Ampère can remember who invented these little fellows. Within the company, this is considered normal.

Illustrated by Ed Mattinian

Parhelion will be released digitally on December 9, 2022, on and as pay-what-you-want print-and-play files, and, on December 12, 2022, as physical cards via Null Signal Games’s store, our print-on-demand partners, and our authorized resellers.