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Did You Know?
Bits and Pieces from the NR Trivia Collection
#7: The Shell Traders & Access to Kiribati

by Jens Kreutzer

One of the more sought-after Runner rares, The Shell Traders is known as a nice alternative to standard-fare bit-gainers like Score! or Newsgroup Filter, although it only works for hardware and programs. It gets really nice when you soak up Lucidrine Booster Drug bits with it during a run!

But what strange artwork (both the original and the Promo version) - and why shells? The Shell Traders is once again a direct reference to the roleplaying game Cyberpunk by R. Talsorian Games, which was used as a background for Netrunner. As can be seen in the supplement Rache Bartmoss' Guide to the 'Net (pp. 35-36), the Shell Traders are "a fast-growing group of independent netrunners operating in Kiribati", which is an island country in the Pacific formerly known as the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati is the indigenous way of spelling "Gilbert" - It's pronounced "Kiri-bahs" by the way). Today, Kiribati as a state consists of the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands.

The Guide goes on: "With the failure of the Kiribati government to regulate traffic and commerce through their national LDLs, some independent runners have set up their own shop to take advantage of the idea." This sentence, it seems, inspired the flavor text of Access to Kiribati. The name Shell Traders hints at the past of the Pacific archipelagos, when, on certain islands, seashells were used as a kind of money or ritualized gift. This tradition has to be seen as a backdrop when the Guide elaborates further:

"These guys are the master sellers of the 'Net. The security and openness that they provide bring people from all over the world to trade in their market. ... [They] run open markets on both the Gilbert Islands and the Kiritimati LDLs. They will trade for anything, but are most interested in stolen data and code. When they make a purchase (or trade... these guys are well-equipped for code-swapping), they download the contents of the files to their terminals and copy them onto disk or needle, erasing the version in the 'Net."

Kiritimati is an island belonging to the Line Islands; the name is the indigenous version of "Christmas". Because the Shell Traders send their data on disks through the mail (no, not email) or by courier, they don't have to worry about 'Net security. The card ability in Netrunner reflects the fact that the 'Traders are cheap ("install that card, at no cost"), but that you have to wait for the program in the mail - an AI Boon takes 12 turns to "reach" you if you don't help it along a bit.

The artwork of the v1.0 Shell Traders isn't much of a mystery anymore when one compares it to the black-and-white illustration on page 35 of the Guide (also in Rache Bartmoss' Brainware Blowout, p. 109). This picture shows a roughly-rendered, humanoid figure sitting in a hilly landscape of fractals, and it is subtitled "Shell Trader Sysop (with primitivist icon) awaiting a client near the Kirimati [sic] LDL". Although the humanoid is not a lay figure or mannequin used by artists like the one on the card illustration, it resembles one closely. The background designed by Mike Kimble evokes visions of Pacific islands in the ocean, whereas the original black-and-white background is rather nondescript.

Also prominent in the card illustration are the icons that seem to be floating around. The bar code in the lay figure's left hand might be representing an identity card or some sort of credit being transferred as payment, whereas the simplistic icons are once more directly taken from a Cyberpunk supplement, this time the Chromebook (vol. 1). On pages 91-92, it can be seen that the icons correspond to programs to be used by netrunners in the roleplaying game. Most of these, interestingly, don't appear in the card game, however.

These programs are (left to right, as displayed in the card artwork): Bunnies (though it sounds like Rabbit, Bunnies is a special defense program designed to thwart Vampyre II below), Fatal Attractor, Wolf (a Killer disguised as a Watchdog), Vampyre II (a D[a]emon that absorbs other programs it encounters and adds their abilities to its own), and, half obscured by the bit cost of the card, Termite (a very cheap and simple wallbreaker), of which only the lower legs are clearly discernible. Why the artist didn't include the Smarteye icon (an eyeball "wearing" a mortarboard cap) is anybody's guess.

Finally, a few words about the Promo Shell Traders artwork by David Ho: The currency symbols (dollar, yen, and cent) grouped around the futuristic polyp-like entity in the center suggest trade; the globule at the entity's lower end contains "an eye on top of a pyramid" - maybe a reference to the Data Masons flavor text. But that's stuff for another installment of Did You Know?.

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