Thursday, December 6, 2018

Aftermath, Chapter Four: Dressed to kill

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you by the court ....
~ Typical beginning of Miranda Warning, see Miranda v. Arizona


"We're lousy criminals, omae."
~ Crank, Troll shadowrunner after choosing to betray Mr. Johnson for the sake of a child's safety
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The FBI guy was standing between me and the car.  I felt like my stomach was going to turn to stone.

"It will only take a few minutes.  I just wanted to ask you about 'The Machine'."  Special Agent Anthony Johnson was all smiles and pleasantries.  If he had any clue that the wanted man he was looking for was standing in front of him, he didn't show it.

"I'm on my way to work right now.  Can we have lunch and talk about it then?  I should be able to make thirty minutes or so available." I replied.  The sound of Fey's voice coming out of my mouth was reassuring. 

The fed frowned.  "I was hoping to get this done this morning.  Are you sure you can manage thirty minutes?  Say around noon?" 

"Noon should be fine.  There is a coffee shop across from my office, they have a good lunch menu.  See you then?"  I tried to smile in a reassuring manner.  It felt very strange.

"Okay. Well, I'll be coming down from my office on 3rd.  I'll leave early and get a table." He extended his hand, an FBI business-style card between his fingers. 

"Don't take it. Grab a picture of it if you want, but do not take that card." Angel's voice was faint in my ear. 

I pulled out Fey's commlink and took a picture of the card. "Thank you." I said as I added his information to the contact list. 

"I swear I'm not contagious." he laughed.

"Don't take it personally.  I have a thing about germs." I replied. 

The car service vehicle flashed its lights, indicating it was time for me to leave.  I stepped over to the passenger door and climbed in.  "See you at noon." I smiled and waved at the FBI guy as the car backed out and sped off toward downtown.

"The FBI can trace their cards.  Microtronics that ping off the network.  It's a safety feature to help find agents if they go missing." Angel explained.  "It has been suggested that they have used this to track people whom they've given cards to, but never proven." 

"Understood.  Nice catch, Angel." I told her.  "Does my voice sound weird to you?"

"I don't know.  You sound like a woman.  I've never heard her speak.  You'll need to watch your phrasing too, so you don't arouse suspicion."  Angel paused a moment then added.  "You're also going to get more attention than you're probably used to.  People notice women built like her."

"Like Fey?" I asked. 

"You are too married, you know that Tommy?" Angel sighed.  "Yeah, wiggle your rear as little as possible.  You have to learn that short stride marching step or your hips will sway all over the place."

"Damnit, if I knew it was going to be this hard I would have just gone in invisibly." I had been shape changed into a woman for less than five hours and it was already proving to be very difficult. 

Angel laughed at me. "Going in invisibly would just cause more problems if you have to speak to someone. Honestly, it's not that hard.  Try not to do anything someone might mistake for flirting or you'll get pictures you don't want."

"Don't make me curse you." I replied.

*****

0805 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

The car stopped half a block from the office. I stepped out onto the rain slicked street and opened my new umbrella.  The acid rain was potent and the faint odors of ozone and sulfur rode in the air. Angel's advice is usually pretty good so I took short, deliberate steps as I marched down the sidewalk.

Scarcely ten meters later I felt eyes watching me.

Fey was already late for the office so I walked in to the coffee shop where I was supposedly meeting with the fed for lunch later.  The line was short as most of the working wageslaves would already be at their desks toiling away.   An app on Fey's commlink queried my order, offering suggestions based on Fey's prior history.  I selected a flavored coffee that didn't sound horrible and a bacon stuffed pastry.  Fey's diet app flashed before it suggested an extra mile of running to compensate for the added calories.

My detour bought me an additional ten minutes as I worked my way to the counter and picked up my coffee.  I felt my skin prickle as the detection spell I had woven and quickened to myself continued to detect the presence of someone who meant me harm.  I punched a number into Fey's commlink and sent a message while I took the first taste of the caramel mocha latte.... "Contact. I'm just across the street from the office."

Angel's response came nested in a coupon pop-up from the coffee shop. Plain text drifting across the 'Thank you for your purchase' and 'Get 5% off your next latte'  that read "Understood. I've got the traffic cameras."

I opened my astral sight and walked out into the rain.  The detection spell buzzed against my senses warning of several people closing on my position.  My feet found the crosswalk and I forced myself to into a short stride and did my best to act 'natural'.  People crossed and passed me on either side, one of the people coming for me quickly caught up and I felt a small hard object poke me in the back as I gained the sidewalk at the corner.

A hand lightly touched my left arm and I heard a woman's voice whisper in my ear. "Don't move, don't call for help.  You do anything stupid and I'll blow a hole in your spine."

There was something familiar about the voice, but I couldn't place it.  Fey's commlink buzzed furiously in my pocket for several seconds before falling silent.  A man walked up to me flashing a brilliant smile while my spell rang out his hostile intent.  "Fey!  So good to see you dear.  I'm heading downtown, can I give you a lift?"

The gun in my back pressed against my spine.

"Good to see you too." I smiled back and saw his friendly facade crack for a moment. "I'd love a ride, the rain is horrible today."

Two more hostile presences approached as a red luxury sedan rolled to a stop in the street near us.  The man smiled as he opened the rear passenger side door for me.  The woman behind me shoved the gun barrel into my spine again. It hurt.

"Thank you." I said as I climbed into the sedan and took my seat next to a burly ork gentleman.  His suit fit him well, but the scarred knuckles on his hands marked him as someone accustomed to violence.  The gun wielding woman slid in behind me, her weapon pressed into my ribs.  The doors closed smoothly and we pulled into traffic.

The orc ran his hands over me, finding Fey's sidearm and commlink and appropriating both.  The man who had greeted me on the street smiled back at me and took the coffee and small bag holding the pastry.  "Good night, Fey." he said.

The woman seated next to me applied a dermal patch to the back of my hand.  I turned and looked at her, seeing her face for the first time.  I recognized her.

Alexia may have mistaken my look of surprise for the effects of the tranq patch she had applied.  I bit back any comments and let my head slump forward. The prophylaxis spell I had quickened to myself almost two years earlier fought off the tranq patch for me but there was no reason to let them think I wasn't unconscious.  We drove off in silence.

Honestly, as broad daylight kidnappings go, it wasn't a bad job.

*****

I'm not certain when we arrived at their safe house. We had ridden in silence throughout the trip. My body slumped as I stayed limp in the back seat.  My kidnappers carried me out of the car, up a few short steps and into the wreckage of an old house.  I kept my eyes closed, playing the part of the drugged target as best I could.  They dropped me on a stinking mattress then stripped my clothes off.  A pair of handcuffs pinned my wrists behind me.

I heard the ork make some worrisome comments which I won't repeat here.

"Don't frag up." Alexia snapped.  "Mr. Johnson said he wanted her unharmed.  Get your kicks from your usual joygirls."

"Maybe you should watch her." The voice was from the smiling man. "If she wakes up put another patch on her."

"Sure." Alexia replied.  I heard floorboards creak as two pairs of feet walked away.

"Drekheads." Alexia muttered.

Playing the part of the unconscious victim would only get me so far.  I let my astral form slip from my body and received a jolting surprise as the room I was in was heavily warded.  The room was a sad shade of what it had once been.  There were lingering astral echoes of a baby laughing and of the love of two proud parents.  Where once a crib had stood, now a filthy and torn mattress rested on scratched and pitted flooring.  I turned and found a stain in the astral plain, a profound shock layered in brilliant anger and soul shattering sadness.  An echoing scream of suffering rang about, overlaying the gentle cooing sounds that once made this room the nursery for a welcome addition to the family.

I knew this place.  The wards on the walls, floor and ceiling had been crafted by my own hands and fixed in place with my own energies.  Pepper's anguished cries continued to echo within the room.  I felt an old pain flare within me and a raging anger blossomed back into life.  Pepper's child had died in this room, the victim of gunfire that had blown through the walls.

"Lily, Rose, I need you here please."  My call out into the astral found my spirit daughters.  They both appeared at my side a moment later.

"Father, you are well?" Lily asked.

"Yes, I'm fine." I replied.

"Your body is in a strange form.  You took on Fey's likeness?" Rose's thought voice carried a confused tone to it.

"Yes baby-girl. I'll explain another time.  First, there are things I need you two to take care of for me."  I told her.  "They've handcuffed me and believe I'm unconscious.  It's time for me to make my escape though.  Here's what we're going to do..."  I explained my plan to my spirit daughters.

"I will do violence." they said in unison.

"Thank you, girls." I hugged them there in the astral space of Pepper's old home.  "Let's do this."

Lily and Rose manifested as two young elf girls.  Alexia's hand went to her gun but she wasn't fast enough.  Both spirits cast their sleeping spells, wrapping the mana firmly around her mind and squeezing.  Alexia slumped where she sat, a thin trickle of blood betraying a nosebleed. 

Lily and Rose returned to the astral plane and the three of us drifted easily through my old wards.  We found three auras I recognized from the car ride and a fourth belonging to an elf that I had never seen before. They were gathered in the ruins of Pepper's kitchen. None of them were magically awakened.

Their auras shifted to bright surprise as two elf girls suddenly appeared in the kitchen with them.  I smiled to myself, imagining what they must have thought upon realizing that the girls were floating above the bullet riddled floor.  Mana flooded the kitchen as my spirit daughters let loose with their own little sleep spells, ripping the consciousness from the kidnappers and sending them into dreamless sleep.  They collapsed where they stood.

Rose found the keys, walked back into the old nursery and unlocked the handcuffs.  I returned to my body, shivered from a chill that had crept in and went looking for my clothes.  Lily brought me the weapons and commlinks from my would-be kidnappers, along with a small stash of drugs and stims, then turned to the next task I had set her to.

I dressed and joined Rose in stripping the armor and remaining valuables from the kidnap team.  Rose and Lily's spells had sent them into an unconscious state that they wouldn't wake from for hours.  Lily finished stripping the clothes from the ork and carried him into the back yard. She took a pair of stim patches with her. "I'll let you know when I get there Father."

"Thank you, Lily." I told her. She smiled, shimmered into the form a griffon and launched herself into the sky.  The naked ork held fast in her talons, I felt magic in the air as she wove an invisibility spell about the two of them.

"There is only one set of handcuffs, Father." Rose informed me.

"That's okay, baby-girl.  I think we'll only need the one."  I told her.

We carried the three men out into Pepper's overgrown back yard. I whispered into astral space and felt the earth elemental respond. It manifested a moment later bending its might to my request.  Ten minutes later my three captives were buried up to their chins, their arms held against their bodies by the weight of the soil and old roots the elemental had braided about them.

We stripped Alexia's armor jacket off and took her weapons.  I handcuffed her hands behind her back and stripped off her shoes.  I found a package of tranq patches in her pocket and stole those as well.  I placed one of the stim patches on Alexia's bare foot and stepped back as the stimulants hit her system.  She twitched then her eyes flew open.

"WHAT THE HELL!?!?!" She exclaimed.  She flopped about a moment before realizing she was handcuffed.  She managed to sit up and stared daggers at me as I leveled her heavy handgun at her.

"Good morning, Alexia." I smiled. "Did you have a nice nap?"  It had been months since I had last seen the young shadowrunner.  She looked at me, saw her target pointing a big gun at her and set her jaw.

"Okay, you got free." She said through clenched teeth.  "No need to pull the trigger on me. Hell, I kept that drekhead from doing things to you while you were sleeping."

"I know." I told her.  Fey's voice still sounding strange in my throat. "I wasn't sleeping and I heard him, and you."

"Going to kill me anyway, huh?"  Alexia nodded as if understanding. "I don't blame you.  Just don't leave my corpse here.  Get me to an organlegger or burn me, please. Don't the devil rats or the ghouls eat me."

"I'm going to ask you some questions, Alexia.  If you answer and tell the truth, I'm actually going to let you go.  But I AM going to question your chummers too.  I need to know some things." I pointed to Rose who stood floating in midair.  "She's with me.  Don't do anything stupid."

Alexia and I had a long fifteen minute talk.  I watched her aura for any sign of deception and found none.  I pulled the stim patch from her foot and replaced it with a tranq patch.  "Don't worry, I won't leave you here." I told her.  Her aura dimmed as the drugs took hold and dragged her down into sleep.

I was walking through Pepper's ruined living room when I heard Lily's voice.  "I am here father.  Do you wish to see?"

"Yes, Lily, thank you." I cleared a spot on the floor and sat down, focusing on Lily.  My own senses vanished and I was suddenly looking through her eyes.  She had changed form and was flying high over the ocean. Her tall angelic form unseen as she held the naked ork suspended by one ankle.  Lily used a whisper of magic and telekinesis to apply a stim patch to his foot.  He jerked for a moment before waking.  He screamed a stream of profanities as he realized his situation.

"My father has a message for you." Lily's voice pronounced.

"Yeah, what's that you fraggin' slitch?" He shouted at her.

"Your actions were dishonorable and unprofessional." Lily told him. With that, she released his ankle, letting him fall from two thousand meters over the Pacific Ocean.  There was no land anywhere in sight.  He screamed as he plummeted and found that he had time to catch his breath several times before he hit the water like a meteor.

"I believe he did not survive, Father." Lily said.

"I concur." I told her.  "Thank you, Lily.  His conduct was reprehensible.  I'll buy you ice cream when I finally come home."

"Thank you, Father. Can I have the peppermint kind?" She asked hopefully.

"You can have whatever kind you like baby-girl." I promised her.  "Go to Aria.  Tell Mommy that I'm fine and that Rose will be back soon, and please tell her and your sisters that I love them."

"Of course, Father." Lily replied. She vanished into the astral plane and I focused on my own senses, watching as Pepper's place came back into focus.

I stood, chambered a round in Alexia's heavy pistol and switched off the safety.  "Right, time to get back to work." I told myself as I walked through the kitchen and toward the back door.  Angel was right, the short steps did keep my hips from swaying.

***************

Thank you for reading my fan fiction. Tommy's stories are derived from game play and fictionalized for better reading (I hope).  If you have enjoyed these tales please do share them with others.

I also create other role playing game material under open game licenses and I am currently developing my own tabletop role playing game.  My Drip subscribers have early access to material such as sneak peeks at art, access to play test material, behind the scenes "how-to" information as well as monthly PDF releases.  Funds raised through my Drip page help pay for original art for those releases.  Please do check out the site and subscribe to support my work.














I hope you'll join me next time for Chapter five!

~ W.S. Quinton






Aftermath, Chapter Three: Cross dressing for the office

I'm not even supposed to be here today!
~ Dante, from the film "Clerks" by Kevin Smith
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Penetrating physical, real world security can be an exercise in many disciplines.  Bypassing the electronic security supplementing the physical presence is best left to capable deckmeisters and their electronic wizardry.  Getting around physical assets (read that as living breathing guards) poses an entire set of challenges unique to each site.   Never assume that one site is like another as each metahuman security officer brings his or her own challenges.

Let's forget, for just a moment, that I was planning on returning to the scene of a crime.  You might think that having been on site for months at a time that I would be intimately acquainted with the security at my former workplace.  If you think that, don't become a shadowrunner.  Assumptions like that will get you killed.  I tasked Angel to start gathering information about the target, putting out feelers and farming electronic data as if I had never heard of the place.  Taking that level of precaution saved my life.

*****

While I had been in hiding, the security team at the corp had been investigating the 'incident' that resulted in Samatha Goode's death.  The people looking into fire had taken a special interest in the fact that I had been the last to see Samantha alive.  According to Angel, they had been trying to contact me and had officially listed me as a suspect or "person of interest" in what they were calling a suspicious fire and death.  The fact that my own home had burned down the same day was sending up flags that something weird was going on and no one involved in the investigation was dumb enough to believe it was a coincidence. 

Angel had breached the company's network, installing some manner of permissions for herself that allowed her real time access to the investigation file, the user accounts for the people working on the investigation and communications concerning yours truly.  Things went from looking bad, to looking terrifyingly worse when Angel discovered communications between the corp forces, Lone Star, Knight Errant, the Seattle Metroplex Guard and the UCAS Federal Bureau of Investigations.  My old face, the tall idealized elf, had been distributed to every major law enforcement agency and security contractor in the Metroplex.  The Feds had then sent the image on to Interpol and the NAN law enforcement agencies listing me as a suspect in a homicide. They listed me as an elf magician, male, and as 'armed and dangerous'.

Of the information in the file Mr. Johnson had read to me when I was 'hired', there was no mention and no sign that it existed.


Fey was a top-notch warrior, cool under fire and had been delivering a briefing on communication protocols to the FNG's* when the fire alarm had finally sounded.  That she had worked with me had been enough to earn her a few interviews from corp-sec. Angel had pulled the audio-visual files as well as the transcripts.  I watched them, noting that Fey answered truthfully.  She didn't embellish, she didn't hesitate, she just told the truth as she knew it.  The questions that were asked of her avoided things like where we had been and what we were doing while out of the office on assignments and focused on my behavior 'at work'. 

When the investigators asked her about any associations outside of the office she had simply said, "Creep said something about him having a wife.  Other than that, only thing I know is the two of them had some kind of history."

Creep was still in the hospital, under sedation, and knew more about my past than was comfortable.  It was time to break my least favorite lunatic out of the nuthouse.

*****

February 4th, 2061
0415 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

When you're a wanted man it is a good idea to lay low.  I didn't have time for such niceties any longer.  So I paid a visit to Fey.

I flew to the address Angel provided under cover of invisibility.  Angel provided a bit of digital wizardy, and the back door to Fey's place swung open.

"Security system is spoofed.  Cameras and audio recordings are looping from the prior thirty minutes.  Make it quick." Angel's voice whispered in my ear.

I floated over the threshold and picked my way around haphazardly scattered furniture.  I found Fey laying on a narrow bed, a simsense player plugged into the datajack behind her ear.  I peeled the backing off the tranquilizer dermal patch and applied it to her forehead as gently as I could.  A moment later Fey's breathing slowed and she went limp. I opened my astral sight and watched her sleeping away with the simsense player feeding her dreams.

"She's out, switch the feed." I whispered.

The simsense player flashed a title change, then started up the new selection.  For the next twenty-four hours Fey would travel through time, having adventures with trusted companions while thwarting evil at every turn.  With any luck the simsense marathon would keep her busy even after the tranq patch wore off.

I let the invisibility spell unravel as I plucked a hair from Fey's head.  Her commlink was laying on a small table next to her bed.  I picked it up, then pressed her thumb to the screen to unlock it.  "Angel I have her comm."

"Copy that, I've taken control of her home host.  I'll have the commlink momentarily.  Go ahead and do your thing.  We'll reset the biometrics when you're ready."  Angel's voice was still softly muted in my ear.

Fey's closet opened, revealing an ordered array of work and dress attire mixed in with street wear and a selection of footwear that had to represent a dysfunctional compulsion.  I had often teased Aria about how vast her "shoe collection" was.  Seeing Fey's hoard I promised myself that I would never give my wife a hard time about it again.

"She's a shoe girl.  Huh, didn't see that coming." Angel whispered.  "Are you sure this is going to work?"

"Yeah." I whispered back. "Well, I'm pretty sure.  About ninety percent or so."

I reached in and grabbed a suit I had seen Fey wear in the office.

"No. Not that one." Angel said.

"What?"

"Not that one.  That's not something you wear after you've been grilled all week by law enforcement, and it will mean makeup work.  Pick something more office casual."  Her voice was insistent in my ear.

Three rejections later I had a black business suit and a pair of thin, flat shoes.  "Please tell me this one is okay." I said.

"Yeah, you're good." Angel replied. "Now what?"

"Now I need a shower."  I carried the outfit into Fey's bathroom, stripped out of my clothes and stuffed them into my rucksack.  I took Fey's hair and carefully recited my incantation.  I grew five centimeters, my hair and eyes changed color.  I experienced a profound sense of discomfort as my hips shifted and my body transformed from my own natural state to that of a healthy and athletic woman.  I looked in the mirror and saw a very nude Fey staring back at me.  "That's really awkward."

"Take a pic so I can run a comparison." Angel prodded.

"One tic." I held the spell, feeding it just a bit of mana as I tied the spell into a self-sustaining loop.  My body felt strange and I had a lot to do.  "Need that shower first."  The shower activated on command and I stepped into the warm jets.  I used Fey's soaps, shampoo and conditioner then stepped out, toweled off, and dressed in her business suit.

{I swear this wasn't meant to be creepy.  Using the same soaps was to help fool biometric chem-sniffers.  I didn't want to raise any flags about my scent not matching Fey. ~ T}

{I think this may have been the first time I saw you pretending to be a woman. ~ Angel}

Angel checked the selfie I sent her against the image of Fey sleeping away her simsense adventures.  "That's damn scary.  You're a ninety-nine percent match."

"Is that good enough?" I asked.

"Definitely good enough to get you into just about anything she would have access to."  she replied.

"Alright then.  Keep an eye on her and send up an alarm if she wakes up too soon."  I dumped the towels into the automat washer and heard it kick on.  "I'm leaving now."  The back door swung shut behind me as I stepped into Fey's tiny backyard.  The invisibility spell woven around and hiding me from mortal eyes and cameras alike, I flew off to meet Angel.

I got a surprise when I landed.

"We've got a problem." Angel exclaimed as I walked into the safehouse.  "FBI is watching Fey's place.  You're going to have to leave from there if its going to be believable."

"Drek." I swore. "Did they pick up our comms?"

"Doesn't look like it, as I'm not arrested and sitting in interrogation." she replied. "But they'll know something is up if she suddenly shows up at work and they didn't see her leave. They don't have any listening devices or cameras in her doss, yet."

"What about the corp?" I asked.

"Corp-sec ran an enhanced surveillance request on her.  I intercepted it and sent a notice back down the chain from their legal department advising them not to do so until authorization came down from their office.  It will be a few days before they follow up if they stick to their own operational guidelines."  Angel shook her head.  "Local law enforcement doesn't seem to have the same level of interest in her.  Not sure yet what angle they are pursuing, but they've made inquiries as to when they can interview Creep at the hospital. Could be any day that they show up with a warrant and snatch him up."

"First things first then." I turned and dumped my clothes out of my rucksack. "I'll head back to Fey's, let me in and I'll walk right out.  Help me change out the biometric data on her commlink to match my new look and then I'll fly back."

Thirty minutes later I walked out of Fey's little house. Her car service had sent me a notice on her commlink that her commuter vehicle had arrived.  A tall human man with pale anglo features, blonde hair and tired blue eyes was standing in the driveway.  He was wearing a conservatively cut suit in flat black, a cheap tie and well worn shoes.

"Allison Morgana O'Faery, I'm special agent Anthony Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Can I have a word?"  The fed smiled at me and I felt a knot form in my stomach.

*****

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Thank you for reading my fan fiction!  I hope you are enjoying Tommy's stories.
Aftermath is being released in chapters as it is a longer story.  Stick with us as Tommy tries to sort out the drek he's caused and bring a bit of 'normalcy' to his life and the lives of his loved ones.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Aftermath: Chapter Two ~ On a distant shore

I'm never doing that again....

Crank, troll shadowrunner
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The whirlpool had swept Angel into its tempest.  She struggled against the raging current, fighting for all she was worth.  I was a meter away from her when I remembered that she couldn't breath underwater. 

{How is it that of all the things you could have forgotten, you forgot I'm not a fish? ~ Angel}

{I had been able to breath underwater for more than a year at that point.  It wasn't something I thought about anymore.  Again, for the hundredth time, I'm sorry. ~ T}

My left hand found her armored jacket and I pulled myself close to her.  She started to thrash, a reflex movement against drowning, but I managed to wrap my arms around her.  Her face was a mask of confusion, fear and anger.  {At the time, I thought you had brought me there to drown me. ~ Angel}

She struggled against me.  The spells that enhanced my strength gave me the power to hold her fast as I formed the spell that would save her life.  Mana flowed into her, permeating her being.  The cybernetics in her body were like rocks in a stream, resisting the magic as it poured around them.

Oxygen began to form in her cells.

Angel continued to struggle, bubbles escaping from her mouth and nose as her body refused to allow her to hold her breath any longer.  I focused on the spell, feeding it energy and weaving its pattern into a self-sustaining loop.  Angel bit down on my shoulder, my form fitting armor saving me from her teeth. {Again, I was DROWNING. ~ Angel}

A very long two minutes passed as I continued my spell work while Angel struggled in my arms.  The spell was working, she was in no danger of drowning, but the realization of that hadn't reached her.  I finished tying the spell pattern into a self-sustaining loop, then released Angel into the tempest.

She was swept down away from me.  I stopped fighting the current and was swept after her. My feet struck the fractured stone firmament two meters from where Angel had landed, rather unceremoniously, on her posterior.  She turned to face me, her face full of confusion.

I made exaggerated gestures of swimming and pointed up.

Angel made an obscene gesture and bubbles streamed from her face as she screamed into the water.

"Yeah, she's mad." I thought.

{No drek. ~ Angel}

Angel needed a little help escaping the undertow from the whirlpools, but we made it to the surface and swam toward the island of fitted stone.  Mr. Johnson's head, still frozen in its death glare, had refused to rot.   It sat at the base of the pillar, bathed in the radiance from the totem that blazed high above.  Angel saw the head and froze.

"What the hell, Tommy?"  she said softly.  "Is that thing real?"

I nodded.  "Yes.  Meet Mr. Johnson.  The same Mr. Johnson who employed Samantha Goode and who hired me for so many fragged up jobs.  Remember the vampire attorney?  That was this guy."  I gestured toward the severed head of the dragon.  "He got mad at me, tossed me around the office a bit.  I still had time on my contract and was going to ride it out, but I made some plans in case he didn't want to play nice.  Then I received a not so subtle threat against Aria and my family."

I paused for a moment and looked at the head of the great beast.  It was easily large enough to swallow me in a single bite.  "So he had to die.  They couldn't be safe while he was alive. Samantha too, she's dead Angel."

My gaze fell upon Angel.  She had a hard look about her and was soaking wet.  "You killed Mr. Johnson.  You killed Mr. Johnson and he happened to be a dragon."

"That's right." I replied.

"And you're keeping his head here, why?"  Angel's voice carried a wary tone.

I shrugged. "He died here, the head fell into the water.  I didn't want it lying around on the bottom as that just didn't seem like a good idea, so I brought it up and put it here."

"So, it's a trophy." She said.

"No.  It's just here.  Really don't have a better place for it to be." I told her. "Think about it. If I take it back to the physical world there will be a helluva lot of questions from anyone who happens to find it.  If that person is a police contractor, I'm pinched but good."

Angel shook her head at me. "So you dumped the body here, where ever here is, and called it a day.  Ghost, Tommy.  You killed a fraggin' dragon."

"I did. I killed the Johnson who paid me more than anyone else ever had."  I didn't even try to feign regret. "He was a threat to Aria and the girls. I did my job, lived up to my end of the deal, and he tried to strong arm me.  When he didn't get what he wanted, he had Samantha drop a word in my ear about it being better for my family if I went along."

"Sounds like the mob running a protection racket.  Once you give in, you're theirs. Same thing goes for dragons I guess."  Angel said.

"My thoughts exactly.  It was dishonorable and unprofessional." I said.

"You sound like Pepper." she said.

"Thank you."  A strange sense of satisfaction came over me and I smiled in spite of the deep drek I was in.

Angel's face cracked into a smile of her own. "You're crazy, chummer.  You know that, right?  You don't let other people know you killed a dragon.  That's the kind of thing you don't tell anyone."

"I have to trust someone.  I choose you." I set the rucksack Crank had handed me down next to Mr. Johnson's head. "By the way, sorry about the water.  I've sealed the magic, so you can breath underwater now."

"Will I be able to, once we leave this place?" she asked.

"You'll be able to breath underwater until someone dispels the magic." I told her.  I remembered a lie I had told Crank once and added, "Or until I die."

"Wiz.  I've never been a strong swimmer." Angel sat down on the stone and pulled her boots off.  Water poured out as she turned them up.  "Any hope for a fire?  I'm cold after the swim."

"Oh.  Yeah.  One tic."  I made a mental note to store provisions on the island at some point in the future, then sent out the mental call to the fire spirit I had bound.  It appeared at my command, a living bonfire of elemental energy.  "Best I can do right now." We sat there, basking in the warmth of the fire spirit, and talked about the trouble I had landed in.

There are so many things that follow you in life.  Your electronic trail is one of them. Purchases you make, stores you visit, the different commlink contacts you've had, social media information and all the little things that let savy tech-types know way too much about you.  Angel I talked for hours about how to clean up the electronic side of my mess.

I told her about the information Mr. Johnson had in my file.  The known associates he had named during the meeting when he made his 'employment offer'.   Angel frowned at that. "That's a lot of very specific and hard to find data.  Any idea who fished it out?"

"No.  Danny seemed well briefed on the information but I don't think he collected it.  He drove Mr. Johnson around as sort of a second aide-de-camp.  He's got a lot of cyberware in him, had access to plenty of information and sat in on several briefings." I paused a moment as I searched my memories. "Come to think of it, I don't know where Danny's office was, never emailed him either.  Weird that he was around so often but never really seemed to do much more than gofer stuff."

"Shadow gofer?" Angel's eyebrows quirked up while her smile betrayed the humor she found in the idea.

"Yeah, something like that."  Danny was loose end. "He may know something or he may just be close muscle."

"You'll need to decide on that one." Angel said.  "But there is no doubt you'll need to find out what they know about you, and clean it up, before you can have any hope of a normal life."

"What if the corp turned over my information to the FBI?" I asked.

"If they did, you're fragged chummer.  Sooner or later, they'll find you." Angel's tone was plainly apologetic.  "Sorry, but I'm not taking a run against the FBI host.  Their cyber crimes guys are way too good."

I understood that.  There were times I had been asked to face off against things I didn't dare to.  I had walked away from those jobs.  If you work in the shadows for any length of time, you learn to respect your limitations.  You also learn to accept it when people whom you respect tell you they've reached theirs.  "I hope they kept it in-house then.  Looks like I've got a run to plan against my former employer."

"Chummer, now you're talking my language."  Angel replied.

-----------------------------------

Thank you for reading my fan fiction. I hope you enjoy it! I do NOT own Shadowrun or make any claim to copyright material.  These stories are based on game play and have been fictionalized to make them (hopefully) fun to read.


I do write and develop RPG material for other games (not Shadowrun).  You can support by subscribing to my Drip page (it is like Patreon but it's owned by KickStarter).  Please do check it out and subscribe to help fund cool stuff (like art for this page).  Click on the image below, see the page.

 Click to See the page


I hope you'll join through the coming entries for "Aftermath" as Tommy's actions give rise to consequences he never imagined.  "Aftermath" is being created in chapters as it is a longer story.

Thanks again for joining me here.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Aftermath: Chapter One ~ Hiding in Shadows

February 1st, 2061

Rose and Lily watched over Aria, Jasmine and Violet while I went to ground. The family was hiding out in a safe house set up by Sheila X.  I didn't know where they were and I kept my contact limited to messages ferried back and forth by Rose.   They were as safe as the shadows could make them.

Plenty of runners have crossed their Johnson. A few had even survived to tell the story.  I didn't know of any runners who could claim to have crossed a dragon and lived.  That spoke volumes to me.

"To late now, Tommy." I told myself.

I had spent the weeks hiding in the Place of Gates. Slipping through the cracks in reality, the astral gates that lead to that far flung place, had given me a type of mobility I had never before imagined. The stones that formed the firmament upon which the plane rested had cracked in several places. These cracks into the physical reality of our world were growing wider. Mana was leeching into our own manasphere from them. Wells of power, from the vast oceans of that far flung metaplane. Power which I had tapped repeatedly in my own basement laboratory.

The ghostly image of the skyscraper sat upon several stones.  Each with strangely regular cracks that ran to a point where the central stone had been shattered into rubble.  High above the waterline, a trio of fish splashed in wispy bits of cloud stuff.  It was strange even to me.

There were whirlpools that lead to dozens of places scattered across the globe.  Beneath the other moons, vortexes of water churned about stone arcs.  I left them alone.

For the first few days I carefully fitted loose bits of stone into the crack that had led to my home.  There was nothing left for me there, and I didn't want any investigating magicians to get a lead by poking their head into the metaplanes.  With the last of the crack filled, the whirlpools above that stone vanished.  The stone adjacent to it, however, had a small crack that led someplace I knew all too well.   I forced my will against the stone, broadening the crack and bringing down a whirlpool every bit as strong as the one that had once led me home.

"Time to get the lay of the land, Tommy." I told myself.  I pushed myself through the crack, into the dim light beyond and arrived in dank ruins.

Darkness engulfed me as I forced my way into the physical world. The stench of old death and burned flesh surrounded me. Ectoplasm clung to me, evaporating into in wisps of intangible smoke.  The walk in refrigeration unit had warped in the fire and the subsequent explosion had torn a jagged hole in the wall.

Behind me, an orb of light blazed away.  Mists flowed into the ruin and droplets of ectoplasmic dew began to form on the splintered bones that littered the floor.  My booted foot came down on a charred skull.  The pronounced canine teeth of the vampire leering into the eternity of damnation I hope they found themselves in.

I was surrounded by what was left of the Reapers.

-----

Angel had wiped every trace of my old identity away.  The money I had set aside was sent to Sheila to be laundered, minus a fee to Angel for moving the money out of my accounts and making several records disappear. She was, and is to this day, an archmage of the electronic world.  {Stop it, Tommy. You'll embarrass yourself. ~ Angel} 5mps deleted by sysop ...   She had sent me a new burner commlink before I disappeared.  It was time to put it to use.

I climbed out of the rubble and powered up my new burner commlink.  A minute later it beeped as a voice call came over.

"Authenticate user," a soft machine voice said.

"Shakespeare." I replied. I took a moment to look around.  The area was deserted except for a pair of devil rats that fled when my eyes fell upon them. The commlink beeped again as a second voice call came.  I thumbed the button, hanging up the first call and taking the second.

"Where can we pick you up?" Angel's voice asked.

"I'll be with Pepper.  One hour." I replied.  I hung up, powered the device off, then removed its battery.  The Willows were dark, even with the enchantment that let me see in low light like an elf, I would have had problems making out details.  My astral sight assured me that I was alone, other than the pair of fleeing devil rats.  The web of detection spells I had fixed to myself reached out and found nothing.  No vampires, no ghouls and nothing that meant to kill me.

I almost breathed a sigh of relief.  Almost.  The air elemental appeared at my command, lifting me into the air and hurrying across the night sky toward the church and Pepper's grave.  The invisibility spell was woven about me out of old habit, leaving me virtually undetectable to all save those who might be glancing skyward into astral space.

The cold of the night bit into me, leaving me chilled as I landed on the frozen ground that entombed my old friend.  I had plenty of time before Angel arrived, so I brushed frozen bits of debris from the grave stones of Pepper and his family.

"I really stepped in this time, chummer." I said softly. "Didn't have a choice really.  They would have gone after my family."

A twinge of old guilt reared its head in my mind. "I can't lose them Pepper. I know why we didn't wait, why we didn't plan. We gave in to the rage and the hurt and it got you killed."  I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.  "But at least you're all together.  I know I keep saying I'm going to stop coming here, but that's a lie.  I miss you, Pepper.  Rest well, until we meet again."

I prayed over the graves of my friend and his family.  I prayed for their peace, for rest and for God to let them into his heaven.  I prayed for my own family.  That they would be safe from the danger I had placed them in.

The sound of tires grabbing plascrete reached my ears.

"Amen." I said.

Drifting through a graveyard like a ghost is bad manners. That being said, it really is a good idea when you don't want people knowing you're alive.  I floated, wrapped in my invisibility spell, among the graves and over to the gate.  Ratchet was sitting in the driver's seat of his cargo van, his aura tense.  Crank got out of the passenger side door, his good luck charm resting easily in his hands.  The side bay door slid open, revealing Angel waving at the gate.  She didn't see me, but she had no doubt I was there.  Crank's aura was calm.  He was alert and ready.  The spell I had fixed to him hummed through his body, spreading its charm throughout the large man and making him inhumanly fast.   Angel's aura revealed that she was anxious and irritated.

I drifted over the gate, landing three meters from Crank's reach.  The invisibility spell slipped away as I let it dissipate, revealing me to my old chummers.  My real face, red hair and all, appeared out of the mist in front of them.  I like to think that it must have looked cool.

{Damnit, Tommy, you almost got shot by Crank and you scared the drek out of all of us! ~ Angel}

Crank's gun came up instantly.

"Chummer, I almost killed you!" The big man shouted to me.

"Thanks for not killing me, Crank." I replied.  "Ratchet, Angel, good to see you."

"Holy, fraggin' Hell." Ratchet exclaimed. "Tommy?"

"Yeah, chummer, it's me." I replied.  "Sorry for all the false faces.  My shadows have been pretty dark lately."

"Yeah, yeah. We get it.  Get in the damn van, Tommy!" Angel said sternly. "You don't need to be out here where anyone can see you."

Crank lowered his good luck charm and I hurried into the van. Crank was in and closing his door before the side door had fully closed. "Go, Ratchet.  Take the long way, the really long way." Angel said.

I smiled at her.  "Good to see you."

She punched me in the teeth.  {You had it coming. ~ Angel}

"WHAT. THE. FRAG. HAVE YOU DONE!?!" Angel screamed at me.  "The police contractors are actually INVESTIGATING your disappearance.  The fire at your house?  Oh, that was ARSON.  Maybe you've heard of that? The feds have taken over Tommy.  Ever heard of the 'F' 'B' fraggin' 'I'?!?!  Well they're looking for your hoop too. People are floating words like "terrorist" in front of your old name."

I tasted blood from the tear in my lip.  "Yeah, I get that.  You want to know what I did?  Really?"  I looked over my shoulder at Crank who was staring back at me.  Ratchet was jacked into the van, but I had no doubt he could see me better than anyone.  "Think long about this one, chummers.  Do you REALLY want to know something that has the feds looking for the old me?"

There was a moment of pregnant silence.

"Don't know what you're talking about, omae." Crank sighed.  He turned to face the windshield. "We're just picking up an old chummer we haven't seen in ages.  I don't know nothing about what she's talking about."

"Yeah, what Crank said." Ratchet's voice came over the van's sound system.

I turned to face a furious Angel.  "I'll tell you, if you really want to know.  Just be aware, it was enough that I sent Aria and the kids away.  If it's that bad, you have to ask yourself  'do I want in?'".

She fumed, her face twisting with the fire of her temper. "Do I want in?"  She took a ragged breath. "I AM IN!  Who do you think has her digital hoop in the middle of this?"

"Before this gets uglier." Crank interrupted.  "Tommy, Sheila told me to give you this."  He handed a worn old rucksack over to me.  "I didn't look in it."

"Thanks, Crank." I told him. "Okay, Angel.  I'll tell you.  Crank, Ratchet, do you guys want to know?"

The van screeched to a halt, slamming my favorite cranium against the interior of the van.

"No." Ratchet's voice came over the speakers again. "No.  Get out of the van, Tommy.  You need wheels, let me know.  I don't want any of this mojo being discussed in my ride and I don't want to hear about it later.  Call me when you have work."

Crank frowned. "Let me know if you need me, Tommy.  Or if you want to hang out and have a steak and some beers.  But this,"  he trailed off.  "No, thank you anyway. I don't need the feds on my case."

I rubbed my head and nodded to Crank. "I understand chummers.  This heat will die down.  My old ID was solid.  Still, it's a good idea to lay low."  I swung my boots onto the slick street.  "Come on, Angel.  We'll talk."

We flew back to the Willows, disappeared into the old burned out ruins, and vanished from the world.

Angel almost drowned.

______________________


Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  I do NOT own Shadowrun or make any claim to copyright material.  These stories are based on game play and have been fictionalized to make them (hopefully) fun to read.

This fan fiction blog is written for fun and as a writing exercise.  I hope you enjoy it!

I do write and develop RPG material for other games (not Shadowrun).  You can support by subscribing to my Drip page (it is like Patreon but it's owned by KickStarter).

 Click to See the page


I hope you'll join through the coming entries for "Aftermath" as Tommy's actions give rise to consequences he never imagined.  "Aftermath" is being created in chapters as it is a longer story.

Thanks again for joining me here.















Monday, November 19, 2018

The Art of War, Part Six: All warfare is based upon deception

Never deal with a dragon,
Famous street proverb
_____________________

January 17th, 2061

0820 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

The elevator ride up gave me time to simmer in a sea of emotions.  Fear fought with anger as I mulled over the events of my last 'meeting' in Samatha's office.   I hardened my resolve, stoked my anger to quench my fear, and marched out of the elevator to confront Samantha's assistant.

"Good morning, Machine." She smiled at me. "She says you are to come right in."

"Right." I marched past her to Samantha's office door.

"Enter." the voice from the speaker sounded before I could knock.  The door opened and I stepped through without breaking stride.

Samantha Goode, Control, was alone in her office.

"Please, have a seat." she said.

I sat down across from her and took in her office.  It had been repaired, remodeled and cleaned since my last visit. "I see you cleaned up the place."

"Mr. Johnson wants that stone, Machine."  Samantha was beautiful.  One of those examples of elfin grace and otherworldly loveliness that poets write about.  She was also a frighteningly powerful magician.  I had seen her conceal the approach of an aircraft so well that I hadn't even become aware of it until the dust it kicked up gave away its landing.  At that moment, she looked tired and more than a little angry.

"I don't care." I replied.

"Machine, Tommy, I want you to give him the stone. I'll be very grateful if you do."  She looked over at the window that made up her wall.  It overlooked downtown Seattle and was a fantastic view.  "I'm authorized to pay out bonuses.  Did you know that?  Even with your contract I can make that happen.  I have access to knowledge I think you would find most useful.  I'm sure I can express my gratitude in many ways."

"Should have tried this tactic before beating me up." I said.  I paused, thinking furiously over what my next move would be.

"Yes. Alas, dragons are not known for their patience when confronted with a prize they have long sought.  I'm certain Mr. Johnson regrets your discomfort."  Samantha sounded almost sincere.  "Tommy, don't be a fool.  It will be far better for you, and your family, if you just give him the rock."

There it was.  Thinly veiled, not at all subtle, and right to my face.  Samantha was most likely watching my aura as it betrayed the anger that bloomed in me. Physically, visibly, I held my composure.  "Call him, I'll take him to the Place of Gates and we'll take care of business there.  Just the two of us, Samantha.  You aren't welcome in my home."

"You expect him to go in alone?" Samantha's eyebrows arched in surprise.

"Come on. You and I both know he's practically immortal." I let frustration eek into my voice and my expression. "He's got no reason more reason to be afraid of me than you do.  You're both far more powerful than I am, or are likely to become."

"We're not fools, Tommy.  If you try anything, you'll not live long enough to regret it."  Samantha's voice was the same calm professional tone I was accustomed to.  She was a frightening woman, capable of ordering people to be killed and equally capable of ordering her own people to their deaths.

"Call him.  I'm sure he isn't worried."  I leaned forward and gave her my best hate-filled stare.

Samantha rolled her eyes at my efforts and hit a button on the commlink built into her own desk.  "Sir, he's agreeable but on certain terms.  He wants you to come alone with him to the 'Place' for the exchange."

There was a pregnant silence before a familiar, deep baritone replied. "Excellent. I'll have my car pulled around up front, have him meet me immediately."

"Of course, sir." Samantha replied.  The connection broke and Samantha stared at me pointedly. "I believe you know the way."

"I do." I rose and turned toward the door. "Oh, Samantha?"

"What is it, Machine?" she asked.  Over my shoulder I saw that she had turned her attention to the display on her desk.

"You never should have mentioned my family." My left hand was already extended, the fingers crooked in a gesture of offensive power.  Samantha's eyes went wide and her hands came up in warding gesture that would certainly have broken any spell I sent her way.

In my right hand my viper slivergun made three soft 'pfftt' sounds.  Samantha Goode's head snapped back, half of her skull blown away, her brains splattered across the wall behind her.  I opened my astral sight and saw that her life and considerable magical power had vanished.  I put three more rounds into her chest, just to be certain.

I hurried over to her side, and ripped the health monitor from her left wrist.  It hadn't had time to register anything more than a sudden spike in her blood pressure. "Dishonorable and unprofessional. You should have known better." I took her right hand and thumbed the 'do not disturb' button on her desk control panel.

Samantha Goode had been a beautiful and powerful woman.  The caseless flechette rounds had done away with her beauty, power and her life.   I took my old burner phone out of my pocket and dropped it into her lap.  I holstered my viper,  cast a quick charm to clear the air of the stench of cordite, then wiped away my astral signature from the rooms astral space.

As I headed toward the door Samantha's corpse slid from her chair to land lifelessly on the floor.  I walked out, my face a composed and emotionless mask.  To Samatha's assistant I said, "She asked that she not be disturbed. Something about a divination she needed to perform."

"Oh, thank you Machine." she replied with a bright smile.

I walked in the elevator, commanded it to take me to the lobby.  I reached out to Rose and Lily, our mental and spiritual connection making the communication as easy as if they were in the same room.  "Girls. Rapture." I felt a jolt of surprise from both of them.

"Yes, father." their voices came back to me in unison.  I just hoped it wasn't the last time I would ever hear them.

As I walked out onto the street, Mr. Johnson's limo pulled up.  Danny got out and opened the door for me.  "Thank you." I told him as I climbed into the back of the beautiful car, to sit across from the dragon pretending to be a man.

"Machine." Mr. Johnson smiled. "So good of you to come to your senses."

"Well, I had to think of my future. The family, all that." I replied.

"Wise." His perfect teeth and stormy eyes seemed alive with satisfaction. "I understand you're getting a rather large bonus, for all the great work you've done.  Well deserved, I'd say."

"That is what I understand." I said.  A thin smile crept onto my face. We rode in silence the rest of the way, pulling up into my driveway an hour later.

I walked Mr. Johnson to my front door, thumbed the biometric scanner and stepped in as door swung wide for me.  "Please do come in."

Mr. Johnson stepped in to my house while Danny stood outside near the limo.  "It's far quieter than I would expect.  Particularly with two infants about."  Mr. Johnson commented.

"Aria must have taken the girls somewhere."  I replied.

"I see.  It's a smaller house than I expected.  Somehow I thought you would have put your pay into grander accommodations."  The dragon looked about, his human eyes taking in my home with analytical eyes.

"It serves my needs, and I'm comfortable here." I told him. "Shall we get this over with?"

I walked into the kitchen, and opened the door to the stairs that lead to my basement. "Yes, I sense there is power below us.  You seem far more resourceful than I gave you credit for." Mr. Johnson's eyes narrowed at me. "You do realize that even with the power of your sanctum, you are no match for me."

"I know." I replied.  "Doesn't mean I have to like it, but its true."  I walked down into my basement.  Mr. Johnson, the dragon disguised as a man, followed.

My safe was open, and empty.  The girls had followed my orders, it seemed.  I gestured to the circle I had carved into the basement floor. "I'm certain you can see the font of the power here." I stepped into the circle and sat myself on the cold floor. "If you wouldn't mind?" I gestured to a space within the circle across from me.

I reached into my pocket and wrapped my hand around the small piece of chipped stone.  Power hummed through my body and I opened myself to the astral and watched as mists began to flow from the orb of light into my basement.  "The way will open shortly." I said.

"I am ready." the dragon's thought voice rang all around me.

I floated into the blazing light before me, the dragon close behind me, to emerge in the waters surrounding the gate.  I kicked against the currents and shot upward, breaking the surface of the choppy sea.  All around, ghostly images were manifested and displacing the sea.  The water churned from whirlpools into other worlds, planes, and far flung places on Earth.  A whisper of power floated me out of the sea and onto the isle of rock.  Atop the stone spire, the totem blazed with light and warmth.

Mr. Johnson, erupted from the water turning in air as his body elongated and wings erupted behind him.  The dragon turned with profound, serpentine grace.  Gliding through the air as its thought voice carried a laugh that made my stomach weak.

"AT LAST!" It roared.

I leaped into the air, and flew toward the gate leading to the hellhole beneath Lac Assal.  Behind me, the dragon's laughter turned to a roar of rage.

"WHAT TRICKERY IS THIS!?!?!" It roared. "FOOLISH LITTLE MAGI!"

I shot through the gate, into the ancient tower beneath Lac Assal.  The dragon was close behind.  He shimmered, changing his shape and shrinking to fit through the opening.  I soared past the dais, passed a dozen boxes labeled "Cinnamon Rolls" and soared out into the darkened ruins. The flaming spirits Creep had brought into existence, had long since been vanquished by the monsters in the dark.

I flew as fast as I could, the dragon's roar behind me giving me more than enough reason to run for my life.

The dragon shot out of the tower above and behind me, twisted and shimmered in mid-air as it assumed its full draconic form then roared at me. "GIVE ME THE STONE OR DIE!"

I plummeted toward the dark waters below.  The surface was beginning to break as monstrous forms clawed for the surface, the dragon's wrath waking them from the deep.  I reigned in three meters above the water, praying it was enough to stay out of reach.  I gripped the small piece of stone like it was my only lifeline, and hardened my will against the spell I was certain was soon to come.

The dragon did not disappoint me.

The force of the spell knocked me head over heels as the force of it met my defenses.  Whatever power the small stone could lend me was just enough to keep me from falling victim to the dragon's sorcery.  The spell fell on me like a truck, struck my mystical defenses, and both mana constructs exploded in a kaleidoscope of lights and colors.  Mr. Johnson, the angriest dragon I had ever seen, dove toward me.

I'm not going to lie, I pissed a little. The dragon was larger, more powerful and faster than I.  I was smaller, and darted in close to the pillar we had just exited, flying as fast I could back toward the portal.  I reached into the Faraday pocket hidden on the breast of my form-fitting body armor and pulled out the small plastic box that Crank had given me.

I hit the button on the right and prayed I had done it right.  Below me, turning with unnatural ease, Mr. Johnson gave chase.  From the water beneath the dragon, a large hand grasped the dragon's tail.  It ignored the monster clinging to it, and surged upward after me.

A scream of fright escaped me and I darted through the entrance, and flew back through the portal and over the water.  Behind me, Mr. Johnson shook off the monster that dangled from his tail, shimmered as he once again shrunk his shape.  He flashed forward, wings catching on the entrance as he continued his transformation.  His neck elongating over the dais and the scattered boxes.

"GIVE IT TO ME!!!!" He roared.

I pointed the little plastic box toward the gate as the dragon's head forced its way over the threshold. I pressed the left button and prayed.

Inside each of the cardboard boxes a red diode light flashed as the detonator within fired a charge into the ten kilograms of military grade explosives Crank had packed in.  The explosions ripped against the stone tower and the dragon trying to squirm through it.  Stone yielded, blowing out over the churning blackened waters.

The dragon's expression of rage froze forever as the portal collapsed, severing its head just past the first segmented scales of its neck.  Its battered corpse, plummeted into the littered ruins as its head fell into the pristine waters of the Place of Gates. A horde of ravenous monstrosities fell upon the corpse. The stone archway, the portal back to that hellish cavern hidden beneath Lac Assal, collapsed.  The dragon's head and the lintel stones plunged into the waters.

I gave myself several minutes to regain my calm, then plunged into the waters.  I spent hours beneath the waves, gathering small pieces of stone from the base of several whirlpools.  I drifted into the physical world, finding strange places and one that was frighteningly familiar.  Finally, I found the dragon's severed head, grasped it by a scale and one large tooth, and dragged it to the surface.  I lay it at the base of the tower, wary for any signs of life.

"It's mine you know." I said.  "I won't give this to you."  I looked out over the sea, the phantom images of other worlds and of distant places on Earth.  It was at that moment the scope of it hit me. It was mine.


January 17th, 2061

1308 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

I walked out of my house for the last time.  Danny was still waiting with the limo.  I strode forward, a perfect smile on my face.

"Sir, will Machine be joining us?"  Danny asked.

"No.  The Machine is broken it seems." I turned and saw the smoke as it began to curl out of the garage.  "We should go.  The fire department will be here shortly. Seems there was an accident. A shame, that."

Danny opened the door for me and I slid into the limo.  I pulled Tommy "The Machine" Gunne's commlink from my pocket.  Opened a new text message to a certain decker, typed in 'Rapture' and hit the send button.  Seconds later the commlink shut down, its memory wiped and factory reset underway.

In Samantha Goode's office my old burner phone received one last call.  The small explosive charge laced with half a gram of white phosphorous detonated.  The fire in Samantha Goode's office went unnoticed for several minutes, the fire detection and suppression system having 'inexplicably' failed. Samantha's assistant noticed an odd smell and discovered Samantha's office engulfed in flames.

I rode back to the office and discovered the building surrounded by fire fighters and police contractors.

"Seems there is trouble at the office, sir." Danny said. "Will you call it day then?"

I gave Danny a stunning smile and peered at him with my stormy blue grey eyes.  "Danny, I'm feeling like a bit of air.  Take the rest of the day off.  I'll go for a walk."

"Very good sir." Danny got out of the limo and opened my door.

I stepped out onto wet street, slick with water from fire hoses and the afternoon's acid rain.  "I'll see you tomorrow Danny."  I turned and walked toward the corner coffee shop.  Behind me Danny climbed back into the limo and pulled away into the mass of traffic. I stopped and admired my reflection in the window of the coffee shop.  Mr. Johnson's face, perfect teeth and stormy eyes looked good on me.

The small stones in my pocket hummed with power as I wove the invisibility spell around me.   I vanished from sight, even as I vanished into the crowd.  It was a long walk to the famous Fairmont Olympic Hotel.

I found Angel waiting on me.  It was time for me to disappear into the shadows once more.

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Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

I hope you have enjoyed the "Art of War" story arc.  I also develop RPG material (though not for Shadowrun) as well as comic books.  You can support those efforts, as well as gain access to behind the scenes insights and subscriber content but subscribing on my Drip page. (Drip is similar to Patreon but is owned by KickStarter).

You can check out my Drip page HERE

I hope you'll join me as I continue to tell the stories of Tommy's adventures.

These tales are based upon game play and have been fictionalized to make them easier, and hopefully more fun, to read.

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Friday, November 16, 2018

The Art of War, Part Five: Move Swiftly

"In war, move swiftly as the wind, as closely-formed as the wood.  Attack like the raging fire and be still and quiet like the mountain.
~Sun Tzu, The Art of War
___________________________________________

I hurt all over.

The dragon's roar had pummeled my whole body.  Beneath my torn and bloodied suit, my form-fitting body armor had mitigated some of the worst of the impacts. My hands and face weren't so lucky.

My healing spell was holding under the force of my will, knitting tissues back together and regenerating the subtle injuries.  The ringing in my ears dimmed, then faded away.  I looked around my office, my mind still running down the plan I had begun concocting in the elevator.

"Rose, I need you." My thought voice reach out across the distance like she was in the same room.  A blink later Rose, my first ally spirit, my oldest spirit daughter appeared next to me.

She looked like a young elf girl.  The form belying the terrific power she possesses. "Father, you are covered in blood."  There was concern in her thought voice.  It was so easy to forget she was a spirit.

"It's okay, its mine."  I started pulling off my ruined suit. "I want you to go out into the hall and elevator beyond.  Destroy any and all samples of my blood there."

"Certainly, father." She strode through my door.  I heard a startled yelp from the corridor.

The commlink on my desk chimed, the tune telling me that Aria was calling.

My tingling fingers found the answer button and Aria's face appeared in the holo, a worried expression plainly visible.  "Tommy? Honey, Rose just vanished.  Are you okay? I can't see you."

"I've had better days."  I said. "I needed her here for something, I'll send her home shortly.  How are you and the girls doing since I left?"

"Don't you change the subject on me." The tone of her voice suddenly reminded me of her mother.  I cringed.

"Sorry baby.  I'll come home early today if I can." I pulled off my blood stained shirt as quickly as I could.

"Tommy.  Let me see you."  He voice had softened a bit.  Worry was rising in her face.

Drek.  I stepped around so the holocam could capture my image. I hadn't had time to wash my face yet and I could feel the blood sticking to my upperlip and taste it in my mouth.  "Hi, honey." I said.

Aria gasped.  I saw her face tense as her emotions ran the gamut from surprise to scared, worried to enraged before settling into a tense mask, a pale imitation of her mother's own expressionless working face.  "Are you okay?" she asked.

"I'm hurt but the magic is holding. I'll be okay in a few minutes, and cleaned up once I can get to the bathroom."  I shifted from one foot to the other, suddenly very self-conscious. "I'm sorry honey, I didn't want to worry you."

"You come home, Tommy." Aria's voice was tense.  I saw tears beginning to well up in the corners of her eyes.

"Yes, ma'am." I replied. "I love you, I'll be home as soon as I can."

"I love you too. I'll get the first aid kit out."  She replied.  "Should I call mom?"

"No." I answered quickly, reflexively. "No.  I'm fine.  I may call Crank tonight though."

"Okay, I'll have the grocery delivery send ribs then." A tear escaped and ran down Aria's cheek. "You come home to me, Tommy."

"On my way as soon as I can, baby."  I told her.

My wife cut the connection, leaving me alone in the office.  I grabbed my rucksack and pulled out my 'working' clothes.  Replacing them with my bloodied suit.  My thoughts continued to pile up around the plan fomenting in my mind.  Rose drifted through my office door, materialized and sat herself on the corner of my desk.

"I have sterilized the blood samples, father. Your injuries are healing well." Her voice drifted comfortably through my mind.  "Shall I do violence upon who ever did this to you?"

"No, thank you anyway baby-girl." My own thought voice reached her and she frowned.  "I don't want you tangling with what did this.  You're too important to risk and he's far too powerful."

"I can do violence, father." Rose's reply carried a hurt tone.

"I know.  You are very powerful and I'm not making light of your abilities." I reached out and lay my hand on hers. "As strong as you are, this is more so.  I won't risk your life like that."

Rose frowned at that. "You think I could be destroyed?"

"Yes, Rose.  I think there is a good chance that this foe would defeat you and either destroy you or enslave you.  I won't have either."  I smiled up at her. "Don't worry.  I think I have a plan."

*****

January 15th, 2061
1615 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

I left my office and took the stairs to the landing pad on the 95th floor. The invisibility spell I had wrapped around myself hid me from the watchful eyes of the maintenance bots that prowled there.  I took a running start, and leapt from off the east side of the landing pad, plummeting like a stone toward the pavement below.

I reached out into the astral plane, calling for the air elemental I had bound.  I was soaring past the fiftieth floor when the elemental spirit manifested and arrested my fall.  I soared away, carried aloft by the winds to my home.  I landed in the back yard and let the invisibility spell unravel.

I closed my eyes and opened myself to Lily's senses.  She was in the twins' room, standing guard over them as they were nearing the end of an afternoon nap.  My perspective shifted suddenly as I peered through Rose's eyes and saw Aria in the kitchen, her face wrinkled up in frustration as smoke streamed up from the skillet in front of her.  She had burned something and judging from the odor Rose was smelling, it had once been bacon.

I opened my eyes and my own astral senses and peered about the yard.  I walked around the house, looking everywhere for any sign of astral surveillance.  It must have looked odd, me walking around and looking behind the shrubs and up in the tree that grew in my backyard.  I saw astral impressions of myself enjoying quiet, peaceful moments; old impressions of the prior owners and summer bar-b-ques with their extended families; spectral bloodstains marred the scene, the aftermath of my escape from the arcology; and vivid impressions of Violent and Jasmine laying in the fall leaves, giggling up at Aria, Rose and Lily.

It was beautiful.

The astral surveillance I expected wasn't there.  I was barking at shadows but told myself it was best to be careful.  The security panel chimed as it recognized my thumb and retinal patterns, unlocking my back door for me.  I walked in to the sound of Aria cursing, the smell of bacon burning, and the gentle waking noises of the twins.

"I'll get the girls." I said.  I set my rucksack down, and darted through the living room and into the twins' bedroom.  They were starting to fuss, each waking the other up with their little noises.

Lily, turned to me as I walked into the room. "Stinky material is appearing in the diapers.  Prepare yourself, father, they ate peaches earlier."

I nodded knowingly as the first hint of foul diapers reached my nose.  "Right on time then. Thank you baby-girl. Can you get new diapers for me, please."  A whisper of power and a time trusted levitation spell lifted the girls from their cribs and onto the changing table.  They were still defiling their diapers and were not amused by being moved yet.  Violet began to cry and Jasmine took up the chorus with her.  Lily laid a diaper next to each twin, then pulled out the wipes.

We did battle with a foulness the likes of which I cannot describe.

1625 hours

I tasked poor Lily with disposing of the diapers and emptying the pail.  The fact that she has since forgiven me for having her do this speaks well of her capacity for mercy.  Twins in hand, I walked into the living room. Aria was putting in a delivery order on her commlink while Rose was cleaning up the aftermath in the kitchen.

"I'm ordering in.  I burned the bacon, forgot to defrost the chicken and forgot to turn on the oven so the rolls are cold." Aria, finished keying in the order and turned to look at me.  "Well, at least you're not covered in blood anymore."

Jasmine pulled playfully at my ear while Violet's little fingers pinched my cheek. 

"I'm sorry you saw that honey. I didn't mean to worry you." I said. 

"Not now. Later." she replied.  Aria walked over and wrapped her arms around me and the twins. The scent of honeysuckle and vanilla was comfort.  Violet abandoned her efforts to pull my cheek off and grabbed two little fists full of Aria's hair.

"Now, now Violet, we don't pull mommy's hair, baby-girl." Aria told her. 

We spent the remainder of the afternoon and early evening playing with the twins.  Rose and Lily were vigilant, waiting and watching for trouble I was certain was coming.  To my surprise and relief, no one tried to kill us. 

That evening Rose and Lily stood watch over the twins while they slept.  Aria and I had a long talk in the shower.  The sound of the running water would help defeat any listening devices.  Honest.  Aria accused me of making up that excuse so I could see her naked.  While she isn't wrong about a part of that, having conversations such as we had that night, under the cover noise of running water all around you is a great way to defeat and confuse directional microphones.  You'll have to take my word for that.

*****

January 17th, 2061
0200 hours,  Seattle Metroplex local time

Crank and Ratchet arrived in a Bakery delivery truck.  Ratchet backed the vehicle up to my garage door and killed the lights.  I opened the garage, and had an earth element conceal the truck and garage from outside scrutiny.  It took us about fifteen minutes to unload the boxes into my garage.

"Angel says take this and get rid of your old burner.  Something about its protocols being old enough to rise eyebrows."  Crank said as he handed me a clear plastic back with a new (to me) commlink. 

"New burner, sub-zero." I said.  I looked up at Crank, "thanks, omae. I appreciate this."  I pushed the fist full of credsticks into his hand.

"You going to need some help with that?" he asked. 

"Yes, but where I'm putting it is, well, a bit out of the way."  I glanced over at the plain cardboard boxes.  They were labeled 'Cinnamon Rolls'. "If you don't mind the trip, I could certainly use a hand."

"Sure thing, same rate as usual though.  Thousand nuyen a day, another thousand if I get shot at." Crank's response strangely reassuring.

"Good, we've got a deal then."  I shook the big man's hand.


0505 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

Crank was still cursing as he climbed into the back of the Ratchet's delivery truck.  "I swear, I'm NEVER doing that again."  He rang his fingers through his damp hair, cursing at the slime that stuck to his hands.  "This is what magicians do at home?!?! Glad I'm just street muscle."

"Magically enhanced street muscle." I corrected him. "You've got your own edge, omae."  I smiled as he glanced back toward Ratchet's sleeping form.

"Oi!" he raised his finger in front of his lips, shushing me. "Anyway, use the new burner if you need me.  You want me to ditch the other?"

"Nah, I have plans for that one." I smiled at the thought.  I think I saw Crank shiver.

"Okay, alright then." Crank fished around in his pocket and handed me a small blue plastic box with a pair of buttons and two small diode lights on it.  "Remember to hit the right button, or you'll never have time to regret it."

The tiny box seemed so small, insignificant.  There was a certain wonder to it as I contemplated just how dangerous it was.   "Will do.  Thanks, Crank."

"See you in the shadows. Don't get lit up." With that he pulled down the truck's door.  I heard him roust Ratchet, listened as its electric engine whirred to life, and watched as they pulled away. 

"Best hundred thousand nuyen I've ever spent." I said to myself. 

I closed my garage door and dismissed the earth elemental.  The twins were sleeping peacefully.  Aria was awake, sitting at the kitchen table while Rose and Lily cooked.  I smelled fresh coffee, bacon and what I suspected were biscuits. 

Aria looked up over the lip of her cup and smiled at me. "Good morning baby.  Did you get what you needed?"

"Sure did, we've got enough cinnamon rolls to last us a lifetime." She took my hand and smiled. "But that bacon smells like heaven."

"It will be done in a couple of minutes, father." Lily said.

"The eggs will take a few minutes longer. You have time to shower." Rose added.

"That sounds like a good idea." I stood and kissed Aria's cheek.  "Be right back, honey."

******

0815 hours

I walked into my office and placed my rucksack on my desk.  The old burner phone rested comfortably in my pocket.  It was a little heavier than was normal, but I wouldn't be using it anymore.  The commlink built into my desk blinked its green warning icon at me. I had a message waiting for me.

"Play message" I said.  I pulled off my coat and hung it off the corner of my chair. 

'You have, one message.  From:  Control' beep  "Machine, when you get this I want you in my office asap." Samantha's voice carried a hint of irritation in it.  The time stamp on it indicated yesterday afternoon. 

"Call Control" I said flatly.  The call feature rang twice before Samantha's secretary picked up.

"Machine, Ms. Goode wishes to see you." she said. 

"Put me through to her please." I replied. 

"Very well, sir."

There was a moment of silence before the line picked up. "Machine." Samantha said. "Come up to my office."

"Certainly." I replied. "Am I to expect to be beaten and bounced around the room again?"

"Don't be a child.  It's unbecoming."  With that she broke the connection. 

I drew the slivergun from my shoulder holster, thumbed the safety and chambered a round. "Right,  time to go to work."

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Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

I apologize for the delay in getting this latest part of "The Art of War" story arc released.  I have been working to complete the final bits of Whispers of Persephone by writing and formatting in the backer reward pieces for those backers who had their names added as characters to the book and on the obituaries for the Fallen Heroes backers.  It has been fun and very busy!

I also write and develop RPG material (not for Shadowrun though, unfortunately).  So if you are a fan of Gary's game, I release a lot of material under the OGL. I am also developing an original role playing game, which Drip members will see in play test version in 2019.  You can also support my efforts to create cool, original RPG content by subscribing to my Drip page.  Subscribers have access to behind the scenes information, first glance at coming release material, play test material, and there is also a monthly PDF release for subscribers in the $3 and higher tiers.  Check it out by going to my Drip page HERE.

I hope you'll join me next time as we conclude "The Art of War" story arc.  Strap in and hold on chummers, its going to get dark in these shadows.


Friday, October 26, 2018

The Art of War, Part Four: Fight without fighting

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."                                                              - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
_____________________________________


Molten copper scales caught the light and rasped against themselves as the dragon surged forward.

My spell enhanced reflexes, which had served me so well in the past, were not up to the task.  The dragon's hand grasped my chest. I was hurled up and backward to be pinned against the wall.  The strange scent of the creature hit me even as my astral sight was assaulted by the sheer brilliant power that held me fast.

"I said, give it to me.  NOW."  My skull rang from the force of dragon's thoughts battering their way into my mind.

"No." I gasped.

The beast growled and plumes of strange smoke surged from its flaring nostrils.

I was terrified. There is no shame in admitting fear, chummers.  Fear saves your hoop more often than your trusty sidearm.  Fear informs you of danger, triggers your reflexes, gets the adrenaline flowing and generally does heavy duty in the task of keeping you alive.  Dragons, they radiate an aura of power that generates bladder releasing terror. My fear was too real, and threatened to overwhelm me.  I looked into that maw filled with teeth that would make a shark jealous and wanted to scream.

"I'm losing my patience, ape!" The thought voice rang in my skull. "GIVE. IT. TO. ME."

"No." I managed to squeak. I saw the anger blooming in the dragon as it fought to control its terrible wrath.  My mind became quiet and clear as I saw death before me.  The great beast was stronger, faster, smarter and far more magically powerful than I would ever be. It was going to kill me with no more thought than going over a speed bump.

"Machine, hand him the stone." Samantha said firmly. I couldn't see her, but her voice carried that same clear tone of command.

"No means no, Control." I replied.

The dragon roared and my ears rang.  Blood erupted from my nose and ears, my eyes stung from the force of the air blasting past me.  I was thrown onto the leather couch near the floor to ceiling window that overlooked downtown Seattle.  It flipped backwards and I was spilled onto the immaculate floor.

"I WILL PRY IT FROM YOUR COLD DEAD HANDS!!!" the voice hit my mind and pushed my face to the cold floor.

I thrust my hand into my pocket and pulled out the small stone, light erupting from between my fingers.  My intuition screamed at me to run, my mind was numb from the shock of the telepathic assault,  but in that moment a sliver of inspiration hit me.  I was pushing myself up from the floor when a cackle escaped my throat. "Great. I've gone as crazy as Creep" I thought to myself.  I laughed anyway.  The thought crawling through my mind was too ridiculous to be real.

The dragon stopped and roared at me again.  My left eye began to bleed as the capillaries in my tear ducts ruptured from the impact.

"Pry it from MY cold dead hands?  Sure you can, but then it would never be yours, would it?" I snapped at him.  The more I thought about it the more it made sense.  The dragon could have invaded my mind and made me give it over, could have torn my arms off and pulled it from my pocket, or just had Samatha fry me in my seat then pull the charred stone off my corpse.  But he didn't and there it was.

I held the small stone in the palm of my hand, light bathing the room and my bloodied hands.  "You're going to TAKE this from me?  Waste a perfectly good asset over a piece of stone?  It's mine. It likes me.  I've claimed it and in spite of whatever you may want me to believe, I know it in my soul that this stone would never accept you if you took it."  I looked up at the dragon, its fury plainly obvious.  "If you took it, it would never be yours.  That is the trick, isn't it?  You want me to 'give' it to you.  You toss me around the office but don't kill me.  Dragon's aren't stupid, you know I can't defeat you, but I could certainly get lucky." Blood ran down my cheek, out of my ears and onto my suit. "You can't have it.  And, unless you want to terminate our contract right now, you'll get the frag out of my way.  I need to change."

I was pretty sure I had fragged up for the last time in my life at that point.  No one said anything for a very long moment.  Samantha's aura was brilliant in its naked power but the dragon's aura blazed in its wrath.

"No one defies me, little mage." his thought voice was loud, but firmly controlled.  The menace dripping from the words into my mind.

"No one steals from me." I replied.

The dragon stared at me with inhuman eyes, the gleam of its scales softening as its form shifted back to the familiar form of the most terrifying man I had ever met.  A wave of his hand collected the shreds of his clothing into a twirling mass of fabric that swarmed over this body, joining together until he once again wore the same immaculate suit he had shredded with his transformation. His eyes gradually shifted back to the stormy blue-grey, his aura becoming that of a perfectly mundane human.

He smiled at me, his thought voice once again invading my mind. "I didn't think you would understand the significance.  I underestimated you." He walked over next to Samantha and gestured toward the door.

"I'll take that as a compliment." I said as I limped out of Samantha's office.

I wove the healing spell as soon as I passed the receptionist desk, holding it fast to myself as I called the elevator. I rode the metal box to the 87th Floor, got off and started walking toward my office.  There were several weapon specialists who fell silent and stepped aside as I walked past them.  The blood on my hands and clothes were my own, I had no doubt I had left some on the carpet and the elevator floors.  Fey was waiting at my door.  When she saw me approaching, she stiffened.

"Machine?!? What the frag?" she took a step toward me but I raised my hand.

"I want a sit rep on Creep and Jazz asap.  Verify the data personally.  Take four men with you, weapons free."  I told her.

"What?" she stopped cold, confusion on her face.

"Move it." my voice was low and firm. I didn't leave room for questions in my tone.  Fey nodded and darted off, calling out names to the FNG's I had just passed in the hall.  I entered my office and locked my door behind me.

{Continued in part five}
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Thank you for reading my fan fiction!

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I hope you join me for Part five.