Anino

Fil-Am. Plucky Accountant. Cat Dad. TTRPG Nomad. (He/him)

I am a variety streamer frequently found on Twitch.tv. Whether it's console, PC,or tabletop gaming, my mission remains unchanged: to encourage everyone to be their most thoughtful selves and build better, inclusive communities. Join me by following me on Twitter @AninoGaming, tuning into my streams, or by making a donation through my Ko-Fi Page.

If you are looking for someone with a touch of professionalism to join your ttrpg livestreams or playtest your games and offer constructive feedback, please feel free to reach out to me via email or Twitter DMs.

Schedule

Date/Time (ET)ShowGM's Twitter
Fri. 8PMCyberpunk Red@Wandering_DM
Sat. 1PMScion@Wandering_DM
Sun. 3PMGhosts of Saltmaw@OrigamiShuriken

Highlights

Quips

Ximenez

Cyberpunk Red airs weekly at 8PM ET on the Wandering DM Twitch Channel.

Moving On

(takes place prior to Cyberpunk Red S2E9)

-- Last Year --

“You really screwed the pooch this time,” Jaime panted as he sprinted down the alleys. His sister Pyrria was just one step behind. Angry shouting in Korean echoed through the streets, no doubt their pursuers were getting frustrated with all the pedestrian traffic that slowed them down. “Bringing you into the family business might’ve been a mistake.”

“We got the money didn’t we?” she retorted, giving the rucksack a bit of a shake. “And we’re in the clear, they won’t find us here.”

With a hop, a skip, then a mighty leap, Pyrria managed to reach the bottom rung of the fire escape, then swung her bag over her shoulder before deftly climbing the ladder. She was always athletic, but working out with her boyfriend Carl over the past fifteen months added some muscle and tone to her frame, adding even more allure when it shifted her from girl-next-door to femme fatale. Her brother trended along the bad boy side of things, though he grew into it much earlier in life.

“Put your gun away,” Pyrria hissed when Jaime clambored onto the landing. “I promised to keep the shady shit away from his place.”

“How’s that working out?” Jaime smirked, tucking the pistol in the small of his back.

“Not well, clearly. But he loves me and always bails me out of trouble. They won’t think to find us here.”

Pyrria glanced around and quietly slid the window up, then crawled in. She frowned a bit as there was usually a light on somewhere in her boyfriend’s place. Pyrria used her Agent to give her some working light and went to turn on a table lamp as her brother clattered in behind her.

Pyrria’s breath hitched when the lamp illuminated the room. Jaime looked up as his eyes adjusted to the light. The apartment was small, but clean. The furniture was second hand but presentable and the walls were bare. Looking at the nearest wall Jaime saw dabs of fresh paint blended into spots where picture hooks once embedded.

“What’s wr…” Jaime asked in confusion. He paused when he saw a box on the coffee table with various odds and ends packed in a neat, organized fashion. He recognized one item on top, one of Pyrria’s favorite hoodies.

Pyrria stood there, reading a letter with her hand clasped over her mouth.

“I have to go.”

She crumpled the letter and tucked it into her pocket then fetched her agent to call a ride and left through the apartment’s door.

-----

“Man, I’m glad you decided to go with me. I tell you, hopping to a new territory by yourself isn’t easy,” Scott Colton grinned excitedly as he and his friend walked to the terminal. He was a big bear of a man, barrel-chested with wide shoulders and stood about six inches taller than his companion.

“I bet,” Carl replied. Though not as giant as Scott, Carl’s athletic frame was apparent even in his loose-fit clothes and he walked with a smooth, confident gait. He kept his gaze straight ahead, occasionally glancing around at all the other travelers milling about. He and Scotty were dressed shabbily compared to everyone else. They scrounged every last nubuck they could to buy airline tickets at the last minute.

“You’re not having second thoughts now are you? You’re making the right decision for yourself,” Colt saw the whitening on his friend’s knuckles when Carl gripped the shoulder strap of his bag real tight. They arrived just in time as the gate agents had announced they were boarding.

Scott was met with silence until their tickets to Austin were punched.

“No. I’ve been lucky ‘til now, but things would just get worse for me. I don’t want to be another wrestling cautionary tale, getting into trouble. I’d just continue to enable her if I stay.”

Scott chuckled. “You see, that’s the kind of attitude that’ll lead to big things! Well, once you learn how to play backstage politics better.”

Carl wrinkled his nose and began to reply but heard his name called out loudly. Glancing back, he saw Pyrria sprinting towards the gate.

“Carl, baby wait!” Pyrria cried out. She came to a halt when she made eye-contact and saw that it really was the end. Confused tears spilled when Carl gave her a melancholy wave and smile before heading through the gate.

-- Today --

“This is different,” Ximenez muttered to himself, idly twirling linguine with his fork.

“What’s different?” Dr. Frost asked with that typically deep intonation. He leaned in just enough to ensure the table couldn’t hear their side conversation. There wasn’t much risk of that; Nona was miming holding a bowling ball while wiggling her fingers as Rynn, R3no and Trinz shrieked in laughter.

Ximenez hid a faint smile behind a sip of water and gave Trinz a brief glance before replying.

“Nothing.”

Season 3 Prelude


“Thanks for coming on short notice. Side F/X is super hot right now, but we’re short-handed thanks to roster injuries. We need to split the team up because Fiona is needed to help fill out the higher end of the card,” Russo explained briskly. The last thing he wanted was to cause any backstage drama, but Fiona threw down an ultimatum. She wanted to go back to singles competition.

Russo was met with stony silence, and began to twiddle his thumbs nervously.. He feared making eye contact with Ximenez and revealing the real truth. Fiona refused to look in Ximenez’s eyes too, for that matter.

“What am I going to do then?” Ximenez finally asked, his mind whirling with possibilities at a thousand thoughts a minute. This was bad. He was just getting started and already the rug was being pulled out from under him, just like the time Fiona signed with NCW originally. Ximenez had matured since then, and he would not get caught off-guard again.

“Well, we’ll keep you, obviously. You’re still under contract and you’re a great worker,” Russo replied, looking a little relieved that things had not escalated. Fiona’s lips creased when Russo complimented Ximenez but she remained silent, looking away from them both with her arms folded across her chest. That spoke volumes to Ximenez. He knew the injured roster was a convenient excuse. They could easily pull up some folks from Club Underground who were ready for the limelight.

“We don’t have anything right now for you so we’ll just fake you having an injury and try to repackage…”

“No.”

Fiona clawed the arms of her chair and began to rise to her feet but Russo held his hand up to stop her.


“If we’re going to break this team up, we’re going to do it right. Put us in a tag title match at Five Star Melee. We’ll put Punch and Judy over,” Ximenez continued. Fiona eyed him critically but his expression was unreadable. “It’ll give them a big boost.”

Russo followed that idea through its course.“Yeah. Yeah! Ok. That works. No sense letting your work go to waste right? We fake your injury in that match and Fiona will be free to get slotted into the Continental Champion pic...no?”

Ximenez shook his head again.

“Fiona and I should work a short feud,” Ximenez settled back into his chair and stared coolly back at Fiona. He could feel her seethe at the idea and begin to speak up, but she stopped when she saw Ximenez’s expression practically daring her to come up with a better idea.

Sorry, Fee. But I’m not getting left behind again. If I’m going down I’m doing it on my terms, Ximenez thought.

“Now there’s a thought,” Russo replied as he texted Punch and Judy to visit him asap. “What else you got, Ximenez?”

Ximenez told him.


-----

“Hey! What the hell are you doing?” Fiona yelled as Ximenez packed his gym bag. She slapped the Found Familiar tumbler out of his hand and leveled an accusatory finger at him.

Ximenez sighed and straightened up to address Fiona, ignoring the pointing finger. The rest of the folks in the locker room watched in shock at the angry outburst. “What are you talking about?”

“Your booking! I don’t want any of this and now I can’t get Russo to change his mind.”

Ximenez eye-rolled. “You can wait an extra month before your Continental Title run. What’s the rush? You don’t want to team up anymore, that’s fine. But that’s not any reason to throw everyone else in the tag team division under the bus. They worked extra hard to make us look great and help revitalize the division."

“I don’t care about that,” Fiona sneered, causing on-lookers to scowl. Realizing what she just said, she decided this was not the time or place. She turned around and stormed out of the room, yelling over her shoulder. “I should’ve never brought you in.”

Aha. There it is, Ximenez thought. A flicker of disappointment crossed his features before his expression turned blank again and he returned to packing up for the day. Another awkward moment passed before Ximenez heard someone clear their throat.

“Hey CB,” Judy said with an easy smile as she handed him his Found Familiar tumbler. Punch wasn’t too far behind. They were a beefy pair, standing a few inches taller than Ximenez and well muscled.

“Don’t listen to her. You’ve been an awesome addition to the locker room, and we’ll back you up,” Punch said, clapping a mitt-sized hand on Ximenez’s shoulder. “You’ll bounce back from this and get your chance sooner or later.”

Ximenez just nodded and slung his bag over his other shoulder.

“Sooner than you think,” he finally answered before stepping out of the locker room too.


“How would you book it?”

Carlton frowned a bit as his surfboard rocked with the waves. It was a perfect day for the beach; then again the west coast always had good weather for surfing. It was quiet out here but on the shore was a small but raucous crowd hovering around a wrestling ring. Carlton couldn’t make out who the wrestlers were, but he didn’t care. Carlton hated answering this question, so he feigned ignorance. “Book what?”

“You. How would you book Ximenez? How would you pave his way to the Grand Prix world title?”

Carlton laughed.

“C’mon. Thought exercise. How would you do it from obscurity to best in the world?”

Carlton shifted uneasily on the board and let the next wave go.

“He'd start in an indie darling promotion like...I dunno. Club Underground. Cut a scorching promo that blurs the line between kayfabe and reality. Folks connect with that realness and see that his struggle is just like theirs. They buy-in on what he's selling. Then he maybe gets called up to the main roster at NCW, build up even more momentum there.”

“How would you do that?”

“Tell a story. A real, personal story and play it out in a feud. If it connects with the fans, they won’t accept anything less than seeing Ximenez in the main event challenging for the world title.”

“That’s still not Grand Prix.”

“No. But imagine if Grand Prix’s Battle Kingdom Royale is hosted in Night City. And that smart crowd of twent thousand can just feel something special is going to happen. They've been waiting for it for so long. The clock is counting down. 3, 2,1...bzzzt. The titantron flashes and Ximenez comes out. The crowd sees their guy putting on the best and most dramatic Royale match in decades. They're too jaded to believe that Ximenez could win. But what if he did? That would mean two months later he’s in the main event at GPW’s Show of Shows. Champion vs. champion. Night City vs. the Corporation.”

His fellow surfer chuckled. “Now that’s big.”

“You asked,” Carlton replied defensively.

“Because how’re you going to make it happen if you can’t even see it?” Sting replied. It wasn't Crow Sting though. It was Surfer Sting, facepaint and all, straight out of 1989. Carlton did a doubletake when he saw the Icon right there in the ocean with him.

“Uh...what are you doing here?” Carlton looked around again, but Sting was getting ready to catch the next wave and Carlton quickly followed suit. That ended up being their last round of the day.

“You know, there’s one thing standing in your way,” Sting commented idly.

“Yeah yeah. GPW would never let their championship title be disrespected like that.”

“No, someone else.”

“Who?” Carlton asked just before he turned to face Sting, only to discover he disappeared in a flutter of crows.

And when Carlton turned back to continue to the surf shack, a massive boot connected with his chin. Onlookers winced and oooo’d with sympathy as Carlton hit the floor with a thud. Before he could recollect himself, Carlton felt claws sink into his scalp and drag him back up to his feet.

“Me,” whispered Fiona. “You want this feud, you got it. I'll kill your push personally.”

And at that, Fiona drove Carlton through the surf shop’s front window.

“Ximenez tried to dive through the window to escape! What an act of cowardism!” an onlooker proclaimed, pointing accusingly at Ximenez slumped over a window pane. Shattered glass littered inside the surf shack. After several minutes, Ximenez lifted himself off the window pane and slumped onto the ground, sitting back against the base of the shack. Blood streamed down from a dozen cuts and as his vision tinted red, Ximenez was startled out of his daze when Blanco blared over the garden speakers.

-----

Ximenez sat up in his armchair, woken by the loud music filling his apartment space. His eyes focused on the source, a certain diminutive neighbor holding her agent just a few inches away from his face, swaying her hips to the music.

“Christ, Trinz! You couldn’t have come up with a more pleasant way to wake me up?” He glanced over at the clock. Just a little past eight.

“It’s so much less dangerous to wake you up this way. I have a brother you know,” Trinz replied, lowering the volume to a less jarring level. Ximenez sighed a bit, head tilted backwards to rest on the edge of the armchair. When he shook off enough grogginess, he reached a hand out to Trinz.

“A kiss and a gentle nudge would’ve worked,” Ximenez muttered. He cracked a gentle smile though when Trinz took his hand. He pulled her onto his lap and nestled in cozily. They were silent for a minute before Trinz broke it.

“You missed our usual dinner. Were you busy with something?” she asked, glancing at the TV screen, which was just static now.

“Just...had a bad work day,” Ximenez replied, resting his chin on top of her luminescent hair. His stomach growled loud enough for them both to hear.

“Merc is out for the night. Want to come over and have some of Mrs. B’s casserole?”

Ximenez looked up at Trinz and smiled wordlessly before his lips met hers for a brief kiss. He then pulled back with a tranquil face.

“What?” Trinz asked, slightly confused.

“Nothing. Just glad we have this. Casserole sounds great.”

Give & Take

(takes place after Cyberpunk Red S3E2)


"Hey buddy," came a deep voice through his agent.

Carlton had been stretched out on the couch and staring at the ceiling before Russo called. "Agent, please project the video call on the external display."

A screen slid along a track system installed on the ceiling, and came to a stop at a reasonable distance from Carlton's face without forcing him to get up. He felt a bit foolish, having teased Trinz about not needing something like this but that was before getting powerbombed through a car windshield.

"Just wanted to check in and see how you're doing. You took a nasty bump," Russo said, peering closely at the screen on his own end.

"I'm resting. Comfortably and quietly until you called," Carlton replied dryly. "Thanks for getting that medical team to me so quickly by the way."

"Hey, Hayes said that the car was gimmicked and you'd be ok. Sorry. She's been fined for it and I'll make sure that the rest of the feud goes smoothly. But..."

Carlton's eyes narrowed. "But what?"

"Fiona's made a couple of requests for the feud."

"Of course she did. Fine, what does she want?"

"You gotta change your entrance music and ring gear."

"What? Why?! Ooow..." Carlton sat up quickly and paid the price for it when his bruised muscles spasmed from pain.

"Well, she was covering the licensing of the song and said she wasn't going to continue paying the royalties. And NCW doesn't want to pay it. Also, your attire vibes too well with hers. She said that you need to change it up so it's clear you and she aren't a team."

Carlton closed his eyes for a moment, but decided to choose his battles. "Fine."

Russo blinked. "Wow, really? No push back on that?"

"I'm playing the long game. But I get to go over on the live show before our match at the next NCG event, Retribution. It only makes sense because I'm putting her over. I expect her to cooperate with my match-calling. I can turn this into a Match of the Year contender."

Russo looked back skeptically. "It takes two for that. Do you think you can get her to not just phone it in?"

"She'll realize soon enough that she can't do that if she's going to thrive as a heel. I'm going to go. I won't be at the next couple of shows, so I can sell the injury. I will book a few matches in Club Underground to test a few things. Is that cool?"

"Yeah, sure. Just make sure you don't go too crazy." Russo hung up.

"Have a good one too jerk," Carlton muttered before pulling up the usual social media outlets. He snapped a quick selfie of his bandaged chest and typed a call out.

Sore but recovering. This isn't the end; it's just the beginning and new starts need new music! Who out there has a song for me to use as entrance music? Bonus points for violins and straying for the metal/punk norms. #PickMineX

After clicking to send his request out into the universe, he stood up and stretched gingerly. Almost lunch time, he thought. I should check on Trinz and Jefe's car. Not wanting to head down there empty-handed, he made a few grilled cheese sandwiches and plucked a six pack of Jolt from the fridge before heading down to the garage.

Main Eventer

(takes place prior Cyberpunk Red S3E4)


Ximenez’s gear for the Justice Mime wasn’t all that flashy. Justice Mime’s modus operandi was stealth. Soft black shoes, gloves, black fatigues, combat belt, bulletproof vest and the stereotypical mime features: white facepaint, tear drops, a beret, and a striped black & white shirt...it was a reasonable disguise. Still, it was a look that had much more character than his current ring persona’s attire.

Carlton looked in the full length mirror, wholly unimpressed with himself. A wrestling t-shirt, torn, acid-washed jeans, and high-tops was the signature look of a slacker who put the bare amount of effort into his craft. While that brought him to the upper echelons of the wrestling world and built a fanbase, Carlton had to face facts. To get to his eventual goal...main eventing at Grand Prix Wrestling’s Show of Shows, Ximenez needs to look and act like he belongs at the very top.

He still had a few hours before the showdown, so Carlton pulled out an old fashioned steamer trunk from the closet and flipped it open. Inside was a trip down memory lane. Ring gear from his time at the wrestling school and various promotions back east before he settled on Lazy Ximenez. But underneath all of that, were neatly folded garment bags, which he pulled out carefully and laid out on the bed.

From the bags he gingerly unfurled ring gear he thought he’d never end up wearing. Quite simply, Carlton never felt like he could do enough justice to them because the attire was best left for larger than life characters. Carlton never felt like his wrestling and performances could measure up to that.

It’s now or never though.

There was no denim here. The long coats and ring pants were made of lycra, lamé and brocade fabrics that glittered even in the low light. In a word, the outfits were chaotic. Multiple patterns were cleverly laid out to blend with others and somehow worked together thanks to color theory. There were three matching sets overall with distinct themes, but one thing that remained constant was his logo: the torch with the Filipino flag’s sun at its flame. Carlton had a few little things he wanted to add to the attire, but finding a skilled enough craftsperson would have to wait. He tried on the clothes and was surprised to discover that they were a bit large on his frame.

Likely because I haven’t been eating as well the past few years and I’ve lost a bit of muscle, Carlton thought.

Standing at the mirror again, Carlton closed his eyes and breathed out slowly, then looked at his reflection again. And for a flicker of a moment, he saw a Main Eventer staring back at him.

Then it was gone, for now at least. Perhaps the right entrance music would help, but he hadn’t had enough time to see what social media would come up with for him. And even then, the real test would come in Club Underground. If those fans buy in, others would follow.

One Week Only (part 1)

(takes place around Cyberpunk Red S3E6)


If Jim Ross were still alive, he’d call the man in the ring a blue chipper. And certainly, Paradox was your classic American pro wrestler: 6’3, chiseled from granite, and blond rocker hair, Paradox was a rising star in Club Underground. To top it all, he played into a heel pretty well, with a grating arrogance that he backed up with strong technical wrestling. People hated to see him win and Paradox just reveled in it.

“I told you all,” Paradox gloated and strutted around the ring, a purple silk scarf draping off his bare shoulders. He was dressed in matching short trunks and tall boots. The crowd jeered and it just fueled Paradox more. “I told you all that I will not be denied! Frazier, AR Fox, Kinshasa, Ruckus, Younger, Super Shisa...None of them could match up with me. Without a doubt, I am the hottest wrestler in the business! You should all feel privileged to see me here because before you know it I’ll be up at Night City Wrestling, challenging Roman Black for the NCW Title!”

The jeers intensified, and Paradox just smirked. “And my opponents should be honored to face a super athlete like me! In fact, I’m in a generous mood so tonight, I’m announcing the Paradox Open Challenge! That’s right, anyone out there in the back can come right down to the ring and have a dream match with the one and only...Paradox!”

Paradox tossed the microphone aside and paced around the ring, staring down the entrance. Just then, the lights cut out and a violin solo played over the speakers. Stage lights slowly dawned as the solo came to an end. After just a silent second, a full string orchestra came alive with flair as lights down the entrance ramp lit up.

The crowd began to murmur in excitement, clearly getting pumped as the music continued to build and the silhouette breezed onto the stage. As the challenger stepped forward into the light, a name slid letter by letter across the virtual screen behind him…

Ximenez.

-----

“Trinz? Are you around here?” Mrs. B called out as she shuffled into the garage.

Trinz slid out from under Jynx’s car and smiled brightly at her visitor. “Hi Mrs. B! What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to check in on one of Carlton’s shows. He said he was going to be on tonight.”

Trinz looked puzzled, but picked up a remote and led Mrs. B to the makeshift lounge section of the space by the television. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it and the only wrestling show live tonight is Club Underground.”
Trinz clicked a few buttons on the remote and the television blared with the sound of violins. Lights flashed dramatically and sure enough, her boyfriend swaggered his way onto the stage, wearing an outfit that glittered in the lights and would fit right at home with Trinz’s hair.

“I mentioned to Carlton in passing that I knew my way around a sewing machine and he asked if I could make some alterations to his new clothes. I wanted to see how it works out.”

Trinz looked closer and saw that Ximenez had a few extra patches that blended into the chaotic patterns on the lower legs. The right leg had a big wrench on it. The left side had a medical cross, a motorcycle shape, and a rifle. One other thing that was notably different was Ximenez’s bare chest. He usually wrestled in t-shirt and sometimes even a jacket but now his physique was on display.

Gone was the lazy stroll to the ring. Ximenez brought a cool but vibrant energy with him that just fed right into the crowd’s anticipation. The old Ximenez wasn’t trying. This one was poised to take over the world. Small pockets of people began to chant and soon their cries caught fire and the whole crowd began to alternate chants between “HO-LEE SHIT” and “THIS IS AWESOME.”

Mrs. B blinked. “Oh...uhm, does Carlton always get a reception like this?”

It took a moment for Trinz to answer. “Buh..uh. No?” Trinz had attended all of Ximenez’s shows except this one, but it was clear that this crowd was more pumped than even Ximenez’s debut at NCW. “I don’t like, really know too much about wrestling. Merc could probably tell you more but this looks like, real special.”

Trinz stared wide-eyed at the screen, mesmerized by her boyfriend’s outfit. Its presentation and aesthetic complemented Trinz’s own colorful tastes. Still, something did not sit right with her, aside from the fact that Carlton didn’t tell her about this show.

Her eyes flashed with a bit of excitement when she pinpointed it. The music did not quite match the look.

“The look...I can make it better. I can make it 11,” Trinz turned to Mrs. B. “Did Carlton have any other clothes he asked you to tailor?”

“Why yes. At least two more.”

“Will you let me work on them? Without telling Carlton?”

Mrs. B thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt...”


The new Ximenez debut was over; it was just a teaser where Ximenez ran in and delivered a comeuppance to Paradox to build up the real match at Club Underground’s next big show, Grave Consequences.

When Carlton finished packing up his gear, he found Jefe standing in gorilla position, watching the rest of the show. He nodded over to Carlton.

“That was great. Thanks for working with Paradox. He’ll get a good rub from a match with you. You sure about letting him go over by cheating? You’re using that finish with Fiona up in NCW…”

“Yeah. I’m building and banking on my feud after Fiona. You decided whether or not you’ll be Fiona’s manager? It’d be great to give you exposure and put more eyes on Club Underground.”

Jefe nodded. “Yeah, I think it’ll be great. I’ll work with her and keep her in -”

“Hey hey, X. Found you!” The crew and other wrestlers backstage did a double take when the NCW Tag Team Champions
Punch & Judy along with NCW's affable giant, Apollo Langston.

“Hey, we heard you were going to be here for the week. Can we talk?” Apollo asked. “You too, Jefe.”


“What’s up?” Ximenez asked, glancing at Jefe.

“Listen, We heard about what you did for Ice Dragon. That took balls. I thought you talked a big game but it’s pretty clear that you take care of your peeps, and you’ve earned our respect. We also heard about the raw deal you’re getting,” Judy explained.

Her partner Punch continued. “The locker room needs new leadership. We’re good, but if we’re being honest you’re ahead of us on the curve and on the cusp of something big. You don’t have a tag team partner anymore but how about a good ole fashioned stable? With you at the head, we’re betting we can become the next NWO or Evolution.”

Ximenez paused for a moment, eyeing the four. He had to admit, if he was going to build his own promotion, these would be the three he’d start with.

Jefe smacked Ximenez on the back. “This is gold, Carlton. You guys should do it.”

Ximenez nodded. “Alright. But we should debut at Grave Consequences. Jefe, how about instead of Paradox and me, we do a 4v4 tag match?”

“Shit, would you guys really be willing to wrestle down here?”

Apollo nodded. “Yeah. Yeah! We’ll get to build some serious cred with this crowd. We’ll tear the house down.”

“I’ll take it. What are you going to call yourselves?”

Punch picked up a marker and wrote it out on the white board, then circled it for emphasis.

neXus.


(takes place before Cyberpunk Red S3E7)

"I admit you got me real good X," fumed Paradox. The ring lights spotlighted him and his hand-chosen partners for the night. "But tonight's different; you see, this isn't your Club Underground anymore. It's ours. And just like Fiona, we here don't believe in you either. No one does apparently because if they did, you'd have people begging you for a chance to be in Art of War Games! Just bring your ass and whatever nobodies you scraped up from the Forlorn Hope down here so we can show you how it's done in Club Underground!"

The boos rained down on Paradox as he continued his promo, but the anticipation built for this new main event was white hot.

Stables were a dime in professional wrestling, born out of necessity to give folks with stale gimmicks something new. The most enduring stables though, catapult its members to superstardom. Evolution. Degeneration X. NWO. The New Day. The SHIELD. The Four Horsemen.

This foursome was hungry. Any one of them could be a company ace if given the chance. But here in Night City, they had to make an opportunity for themselves. Ximenez looked at Punch, Judy, and Apollo and gave a slight grin. "Let's enjoy the ride. We're probably never going to have as much fun as this."

After fistbumps were exchanged, the producer handed Apollo a microphone and ushered him and Punch and Judy out the curtains. The crowd exploded as the familiar sounds of falling coins and epic guitar riffs signaled the arrival of Punch and Judy. It kicked up another notch when the big man Apollo Langston backed them up and made their way down to the ring.

"WHAT'S UP CLUB UNDERGROUND?! Looks like we've got a couple of haters in the ring!" boomed Apollo. The crowd ate it up immediately, leaving Ximenez to wonder why no one gave him any mic time up on the main roster. "You punks think that everything has to happen right now, but greatness takes time. It starts with a strong core and right people and tonight, it's all come together. Look alive Undergrounders because you're the very first choombas invited to join a bonafide wrestling movement! Are you with us?!"

The Undergrounders roared with approval as Apollo joined Punch & Judy at the end of the ramp and grinned at the crowd. Ximenez's voice echoed soon after.

"Undergrounders, welcome to the neXus!"

Ximenez's music began, but this time, a new video package flashed on the titantron, searing their name into the minds of the audience with an instantly iconic graphic. They immediately began to chant "This is Awesome!"

Ximenez didn't waste any time. As soon as he stepped out of the curtains he shrugged off his entrance coat and sprinted at the ring. His team followed him in and the main event brawl was on.

-----

"C'mon White, put the agent away. Or at least use your chyron. It's X's match!" Trinz said, batting White's shoulder. She was disappointed that she didn't have a chance to activate the lighting on X's attire but it'd keep for the match with Fiona. They were in their usual ringside seats for this match as they were guests of Ximenez. Guests usually sat in the cheaper seats but would get rotated to the special ringside spots when their hosts were in the ring.

"Mm just a second," White replied, pressing a few buttons. He stepped over Trinz and headed out of the arena.

"I don't appreciate my personal time getting interrupted so this better be good Connie," White said curtly as he lit up a cigar.

"Sorry, I know your friend's working his ass off out there but I got a bleeding heart case that I think you might want to hear about," Connie replied, stepping out from the otherside of the pillars.

"Yeah? That doesn't sound like a big take. What's in it for me?" White puffed.

"Not you. But here's a question for you: What would your friend X be willing to do for a legitimate shot at an NCW World Title?"

White paused and texted Trinz that he would not be coming back and to take Ximenez home without him.

"Alright, I'm listening."

Connie clapped his hands together. "Good, I had a feeling you'd see the big picture. Let's go to a private room. There's a guy I want to introduce you to."

An Unconventional Push

(takes place before S3EP7 & GM Rob Mulligan's Cyberpunk Red Session 13)


Carl had that unnerving sensation of falling that jarred him out of his sleep. He glanced at the clock and sighed. He was barely home for three minutes when someone knocked on his door.

“X? You in?” a gruff voice called out, rasping with years of cigar smoking.

It’s White, Carl thought. “Yeah yeah, it’s unlocked come in.”

White accepted the invitation and saw Carlton sprawled out uncomfortably on the couch with an ice pack under his neck. “Bad day at work?”

“Haven’t been sleeping well. I need some massage therapy.”

“I know a gal.”

“I bet you do, but I don’t have time right now. What’s with the white noise generator?

White hefted it before planting it on the coffee table and activating it.

“I’ve got something that may be of interest lined up,” White commented, scribbling a name on a piece of paper and handing it to Carl. “A certain person of interest has been scouring for freelancers to help recover their kid brother. Seems that the kid brother was at the wrong place at the wrong time and abducted by traffickers.”

Carl paused. He recognized the name and sat upright real quick. “Is this legit?”

“As legit as you,” White replied as he lit up a cigar.

“This guy’s pretty well-to-do. I mean, our crew’s pretty good but we’re not pro’s pros. He should be able to afford a better team than us,” Ximenez said. He pulled a secured luggage cart and flipped it open to take out gear and make up for the venture.

“Apparently he burned all his favors and cash just to get a good lead on his brother’s whereabouts. He doesn’t have enough liquid cash to get the right people to handle the situation. And it’s gotta be tonight. He’s got something you would value more than cash though.”

“Where do I need to go?” Carlton asked without hesitation.

“The Badlands,” White responded as he pulled up a holographic map using his agent and pointed out an area a few hours outside of Night City. “A place called the Meat Market. Bandit camp, with a few underground bunkers.”

A flicker of doubt crossed Carl’s visage as he shrugged on a black and white striped shirt and the rest of his light armorjack.

“Our crew can handle this,” White noted when he saw a moment of worry.

“No doubt. But I don’t want to bring everyone in on this.” Carlton closed his eyes, then went to the makeshift vanity and began to put on the signature mime makeup. “The stake’s personal. I need to do this alone.”

White held his hands up. “I don’t like it. But you are an adult who can make his own decisions. At least let me arrange a ride for you.”

“Yeah ok,” Carl replied as he began to apply the black paints.

“I’ll tell them you’re taking on the job, take the burner though. It’s got the map and other relevant information you need.”

The burner agent arced through the air and Carl caught it without even looking. When he finished the makeup, he he used the burner to access the maps and memorize them.

Carl was so deep in concentration, he didn’t hear shuffling around the rest of the apartment behind him until it was too late.

“Huh. The Meat Market, I know where that is. Not exactly a vacay spot,” the unwelcomed guest said aloud as he crunched sloppily into an apple, well within Carl’s personal space.

Carl whirled around and a balisong knife snapped open with a flick of his wrist. Carl recognized the man and growled at the intrusion.

“Fucking hell, Merc! What are you doing in my apartment?”


“When you’ve got a hyperactive sister and a girlfriend who lives with an exotic menagerie, a man needs some space. You know, a quiet room.. So you headin’ to the Meat Market, yeah?”

“Don’t change the subject! How long have you been using my apartment?”

“Uh, well...ever since you started shacking up with my sister. I mean, I sleep like a bear but you two get it on, I get scarce real quick.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Carl sighed. Somehow, he managed not to smudge his “game face” when he buried it into his hands.

“Hey waitaminute, you didn’t bring Gina in here to…”

Mercutio looked around sheepishly. “Look sometimes I just want to bang Gina without an opossum audience you know?”

“No! I don’t know. Please tell me you at least washed the sheets after.”

Mercutio just coughed and Carl fell into his armchair with a grumpy flop. He was about to get comfortable but sudden realization made him pause and he eyed Merc suspiciously.

“Whoa whoa, we didn’t christen this place, chill. It was just a handful of times. Listen man, I’ll make it up to you. I know where the Meat Market is.”

“How?”

“Santino used to have us deliver custom vehicles there.”

“What?! Does Trinz know?”

“Probably not but that’s old history bro. Listen, you’re in a hurry so let me be your wheelman. I promise I won’t get in your way. You’re going to need someone who can get you and your client’s bro out in a jiffy.”

“You listened to the whole conversation and didn’t say anything? How does Trinz even put up with you?” Carl replied, chucking a throw pillow at Merc.

“Whatever man, I put up with her,” Merc batted it away easily. Carl tilted his head in skepticism, and Merc hastily admitted, “Ok fine, even I don’t believe that,” Merc admitted.

“I appreciate the offer Merc, but some folks might say that you can’t be that good of a wheelman if you got caught.”

“Ouch, bro. First off, I was caught for smuggling, not for drivin’. If I was on the road instead of the shop, I’d be like that Road Runner cartoon and leaving dust clouds in my wake,” Merc countered with his hand over his heart. Really, he did not look too offended. “Second, even Trinz would admit that I’m a way better driver than she is. She might even go as far as to say that I’m just as good at drivin’ cars as she is at souping them up. And she’s pretty fuckin’ good.”

“Alright, you can be my wheel man,” Carl said after taking a moment to decide. He pointed archly at Merc. “You better not let me down. And speaking of Trinz, I better tell her where we’re going.”

Carl smoothly rose to his feet and grabbed his gear bag before heading to the door, but Mercutio blocked his way.

“Whoa whoa, cowboy. Uh...cow mime. Mime boy?” Mercutio said, his hands raised up. “You oughta use this time to get your head in the game. You’re out of sorts already in light of shall we say, new truths that came to light. Hashing it out with Trinz to tell her she can’t come will make things worse. So tell you what, bro. You go down the fire escape and wait for me in the alley. I’ll pull up after I grab my keys and tell Trinz what we’re gonna do.”

Carl eyed Mercutio suspiciously.

“Look bro, I can call you my bro now right? You and my sis are real good together. An’ I appreciate how you look out for her. But I’ve known her for way longer. Trust me, wading your way all Batman-like into the Meat Market is gonna take all the skills you got, and then some. You gotta be Batman, bro. So shut down that chyron of yours and get into that Justice Mime Zone.”

Merc shooed Carl towards the fire escape.

Carl donned his armored beret and let Merc nudge him towards the fire escape.

Merc let out a sigh of relief when Carl was gone, then jogged down the stairs to the apartment he shared with Trinz. He found Trinz bopping along to some Shakira as she worked on stringing special LEDs through some fancy robe that probably belonged to Ximenez. She looked up from her work and sat back.

“Oh hey, Merc. You seen X? He should be done with his workout by now.”

“Oh yeah! Hey listen sis,” Merc started. “He’s been so cool with introducing me to some peeps over at NCW, I wanted to do something nice. You know, guy bonding stuff. I’m gonna take him to see the real Night City nightlife.”

“Well ok. That means I can take more time to finish this project,” Trinz replied happily. She stopped and pointed archly at Merc. “You better not get shot again. And my boyfriend better not get shot either. And you don’t tell him that I’m tinkering with his ring gear. I want it to be a surprise.”

Merc held his hands up innocently. “We’re good! I learned my lessons.”

“Sure you did. Fine. Go away for awhile.”

Mercutio turned and mimicked Trinz’s words as the door shut behind him.


Merc and Xim...er Justice Mime rode in silence for the first hour. Well, Justice Mime was silent. Merc drummed on the steering wheel to some music only he could hear. Normally, it wouldn’t bother Justice Mime, but it was rather offbeat and grated on the Mime’s quiet sensibilities, especially when between drum solos, Merc would ask Justice Mime questions.

“Say X, you ever play stickball as a kid? Those were fun times. Man I tell you we used to try to swipe brooms so we had good bats to play. Did they do that back East?” The drumming picked back up again and finally, the Mime lost it.

“Oh my fucking God Merc, if I answer your questions, will your stop the fucking drumming? It’s off-beat and bothersome.”

“Bro, now you’re too tense. I don’t know how you’ll be able to stealth your way around if you’re walking around with a stick up your ass,” Merc laughed, giving Mime’s shoulder a little backhanded slap.

“This is one of the worst ideas ever,” Mime muttered. “No wonder Trinz yells at you all the time.”

“Haha, gotta keep her on her toes, you know. So, I gotta ask how did you two hook up?”

The Mime shrugged. “It wasn’t overnight. You know the first time I met her was at one of the apartment get togethers about a week after I moved in. We didn’t talk much. Some douchebags came around, looking to condemn the building. R3no, White, and Trinz went out to confront them and one of them shot Trinz.”

“No way. She never told me that story.”

“Yeah. Next thing I know, I German Suplexed one of them and while I was mid-bridge, I see Trinz under the van they rolled in on, bleeding from her gunshot wound but giving me a thumbs up.”

“What the fuck?”

“Yeah. After that night, the five of us pretty much started hanging out. There were lots of little connections here and there,” Carl mused a bit, his Justice Mime persona fading a bit. “Partying for the first time at the Forlorn Hope, where she danced on top of the bar. Then at the Blue Dragon Restaurant, we got caught up in this nutty firefight and basically fought our way out from under a sushi bar.”

“Was that when you did that Rogue Panache Found Familiar Coffee vid?” Merc asked.

“That happened right after, yeah. Trinz boosted the car. After we took out IEC and bought the building we spent a lot of time together rehabbing the building and chatted a lot then. She told me about Santino. I told her about Fiona. So I guess we had that in common. When Santino came back, it rankled me a bit ‘cause for awhile it seemed like she was thinking of getting back together with her.”

Merc nodded as he guided the truck onto a faint trail and continued to speed through the desertscape. “She talked about you a lot while I was in jail. She sent me your matches and stuff.”

“Really?” Carl chuckled a bit and adjusted his beret. “I didn’t know that. I hate watching myself on video or reruns. When a bit’s done, I just forget it after and move on to the next thing. Trinz though has always been super supportive though.”

“Like attending all your shows?”

“Not just that,” Carl replied as he looked out the window. “She kept encouraging the Justice Mime thing. It was just an offhand thing I did for that IEC mission and I thought it’d be one and done thing. By the way, don’t think I forgot about the merch cut you owe me.

Then there was that time at Nonna’s café. She came to my defense fast when Nonna basically called me a bum. She’s usually one of the first people to like my social media posts. After I got powerbombed through that windshield? She was the first one there too. Sometimes at shows, I’ll glance out at her spot to see her reactions before I gauge the rest of the audience.”

Merc didn’t respond at first. The silence this time was more amiable. A few more moments later, the junktown’s lights could be spotted in the distance.

“You know, I hated that Santino was sniffin’ around Trinz. He paid well though so it’s not like I could just disappear him.”

“I get it man.”

“You do?” Merc asked, glancing over at Carl. “If I recall, you led a pretty straight life before you arrived in Night City.”

Carl shrugged. “Yeah. But I didn’t have anyone really. No responsibilities or ties, especially of the family kind. Trying to keep a family business running? Shit, Merc. The idea of failing and letting generations of my family down by being responsible for letting the shop go under? I’d never get any sleep with that kind of pressure. Can’t blame you or Trinz for doing everything you could to keep things going.”

“Sometimes though, when I’m alone with my thoughts at night? I wonder what it’d be like to have real close ties like that,” Carl added quietly.

The truck drew closer to the Meat Market’s gate.

“Hey, Justice Mime. You better hide. We’re coming up to the entrance. I’m going to slow down. You use the drop panel to exit under the truck. There’s a good amount of ground clearance. Just hang tight all super-spy like and I’ll park in the camp near a good spot for you to detach from the truck undetected. You get all…”

Merc looked around the cabin for Justice Mime, but only heard the subtle click of the drop panel securing back into place.

“This must be how Commissioner Gordon feels like.”


(takes place after GM Rob Mulligan's Cyberpunk Red Session 13)

It was nearly dawn when Merc’s truck got back to Night City. The reporter Design was the first one in the rescue carpool to get dropped off. Justice Mime held polite conversation with her throughout the ride from the Meat Market, but the last thing he wanted was his business splattered all over News54. Justice Mime made it pretty clear to Design that any involvement by Ximenez, Merc, or his clients were best forgotten. The Justice Mime graffiti splattered across the remains of the Meat Market’s outer barricade was a clear message enough. Still, it didn’t hurt to have a new ally.

“Does my brother know you’re the one who was hired to rescue me?” Steven Borden asked. He was an eleven year old kid who happened to be the current NCW champion’s sibling.

Justice Mime shook his head as he washed the mime paint off. “No, he hired a fixer to handle the job and the fixer sub-contracted me to do it. You’re pretty sharp, kid. Almost no one recognizes me through my facepaint.”

“Roman says that growing up in a three generation wrestling family makes you cynical.”

“Ha! Guess I’m not there yet. Are you going to get into the wrestling business too?”

Steven scrunched his nose. “Nah. My brother’s only a few years older than you but he’s hurting after all these years in the business. I think he wants to retire.”

Ximenez nodded as Merc pulled up to the Borden home. The neighborhood wasn’t corpo luxury, but it was clean, quiet and very private for Night City. Ximenez and Steven hopped out of the car and jogged up the stairs to the apartment building and ducked into an elevator to the top floor. Fortunately, Steven recovered his bag from the Meat Market storage and could get them past the security and into the penthouse he shared with Roman.

Ximenez low-whistled as he looked around at the furnishings. He hadn’t seen digs like this anywhere in Night City; it kind of reminded him of growing up back home. You know, when people actually had stuff.

A heavily tattooed mountain of a man sat in the living room, slumped in a BarcaLounger. The room itself was remarkably free of any wrestling trappings, apart from four different championship belts from three promotions hanging on the wall. All world titles. Roman Black was definitely a blue-chipper who had just the right look for what folks would imagine the Night City Wrestling champion would look like: Certified Bad Ass.

It was also clear though that Roman was not having the best of things as of late. Food cartons and alcohol bottles were strewn about the tables and floors. He was passed out, only wearing a pair of boxers and socks.

“How long were you gone?” Ximenez whispered to Steven.

“About two weeks? I think,” Steven replied quietly before shaking his brother. “Roman, wake up. Roman!”

Roman’s eyes fluttered open, but it took a few blinks to register who he was looking at.

“Holy fuck, you’re home!” Roman reached over and snatched Steven in a bearhug, which Steven returned gratefully. “I never thought I’d see you again!”

They continued to exchange words quietly among themselves. Not wanting to interrupt a family moment, Ximenez wandered silently over to the wall with the belts, glancing over them wistfully. He rarely held or touched a championship belt. The few times he did hold one, he felt hollow.

“Ahem,” Roman coughed.

Ximenez tilted his down and turned it slightly to acknowledge Roman.

“So you’re responsible for breaking Stevie out of the Meat Market, huh?” Roman said, appraising Ximenez with bloodshot eyes. “If you want to pick one up, feel free.”

Ximenez tore his eyes away from them after one last glance. “In my hands, it’s just a belt. In yours, it’s a Title.”

Roman chuckled. “I suppose you’re right. When I reached out for help from someone, hell anyone, the only person to answer it was that cat, White. He told me he didn’t want cash. But he expected a favor to be paid down the line, trusting me to be a man of honor. And true to his word, he delivered. I never would have guessed it’d be you. Most of the folks in our line of work only act tough and talk a big game, but you live the gimmick. 'Fucking. Legit.' And you’re the fucking Justice Mime to boot? Shit.”

Ximenez shrugged. He always felt he was only as good as his last match. “I’d appreciate discretion; it seems a bit odd, but I prefer to keep a low profile.”

“I get it man, I get it. On your own terms. Listen, I won’t forget what you did for me and my brother. I'd hand you a briefcase of cash if I had it, but I'm tapped. Though, perhaps that's alright. You don’t seem motivated by money,” Roman said.

“It’s not the most important thing to me, no.”

“It was for me for awhile, but after Stevie getting snatched, things got brought back into perspective. I've had my time at the top of the world. It's time to start putting over the next generation. I’ve seen your work. And shit, that thing you did for Ice Dragon? You’re on fire right now. I know you’ve got to put Fiona over. That won’t kill your momentum too much but if you want to get even higher on the card you need a real good push.”

Roman plucked the NCW World Title belt from the shelf and put it over his shoulder.

“The biggest favor I can grant you is a shot at this,” Roman replied, tapping his fingers on the main plate. “I need a break from wrestling. I want to spend more time with my kid brother. He’s all I got. And I'm going to guess you have even bigger plans beyond this.”

“One step at a time,” Ximenez said, shaking his head. Roman laughed.

“You’ve got a crew. More importantly, you’ve got ‘it’. I can work with management and the bookers to make it happen. Every person they've asked me to drop the title to over the past year, I've said no. But it’s your time Ximenez,” Roman assured his guest. He extended an arm for a firm handshake.

And Ximenez shook it.

Consequences

(Prelude to Season 4)

One Week Later

“Barely a scar,” noted General Manager Russo as he looked over Ximenez. They were meeting in his office at the NCW headquarters along with the current NCW champion Roman Black, and the head booker Frederick Prince. It was just a week after that disastrous show. Ximenez got a generous week off to recover from his injury, but Russo’s tone on the call suggested that he was not particularly happy.

“Time to bring you up to date,” Russo said flatly. He leaned against the desk as Ximenez sat in an armchair. Freddie and Roman stood flanking Russo. Ximenez felt like he was put on a tribunal. It pretty much was.

“Fiona quit. She wanted her release and it looks like the GPW is going to sign her to a contract. She threatened to sue us for damages after getting hit by your girlfriend’s wrench,” Russo continued. “The rest of management is unhappy, particularly Hayes. They want blood. Unfortunately we can’t punish Fiona so that leaves you.”

Ximenez sat back in his chair, the transparent protective mask sitting on his face.

“We’re not going to fire you, but you’re suspended from the main roster. You’re going to be on “enhancement talent” duty in Club Underground, starting tomorrow. We’re also going to fine you $25,000. Your comp pass privileges are suspended and your girlfriend is banned from backstage and attending shows until that fine is paid off and she writes an apology.”

If it didn’t hurt, Ximenez would’ve snorted. Fat chance of that latter happening.

“Frankly,” Freddie added, “The others want you fired. Your girlfriend interrupting the match and assaulting a wrestler, regardless of the fact that you were legit getting brained, is a no-no. We can’t fire you though because your fandom’s actually grown since then and we’re not about to pull a Daniel Bryan thing.”

“You’ll get your push,” Roman promised. “But we gotta wait until this whole mess blows over.”

Russo scratched the back of his head. “That about covers it. You’re gonna have to bump your ass off to earn your way back to others’ good graces.”

One Month Later

The past three weeks for Ximenez were pure hell. Now usually, enhancement talent only had to take 2 or 3 matches like that a week. Ximenez had a match every single night, sometimes twice a day on top of training wrestlers during the day. Wrestlers describe matches as “getting into three car crashes” every night. That was certainly the case for enhancement talent. Their jobs were to make the popular wrestlers look great by taking a terrible, one-sided beating.

After three weeks, Ximenez lost about 20 pounds. Splotches of blue and purple mottled all over his back and chest and Ximenez was now feeling every single year of his ten year career. The ice tub usually helped him cope with the pain but just a few hours later, it was time to go out and do it all over again. Coping with the physical pain was taking the mental toll. Russo was evasive too about when Ximenez could return to the main roster. They didn’t want to fire him and risk a fan backlash. But creating conditions harsh enough to make him quit wasn’t an uncommon move.

“Ten years,” Carlton muttered aloud. “Ten years, and I’m right back where I started. Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel and head back east.”

Carlton thought it over some more and then with resolve, reached for his agent to dial Roman.