Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tommy's Story Continues... My 18th Christmas

December 23rd, 2057

I had been running in the shadows for more than three years.  People who didn't know me well still called me 'kid'.

It's weird how life can harden you. I had seen a lot of other runners die in the time I had been slinging magic in the shadows.  Most of them I couldn't name now.  I remember Zip because he was the first runner I had known for more than a week that died right in front of me (of course he was also pointing an assault rifle at me, so that tends to make the memory very vivid).  Grack was such an asshole its literally difficult, or maybe even impossible, to forget him.  Pepper's memory is important to me and I'll hold onto it as long as I can.

Of my first real team, only 'Angel' and myself are still alive.  I still message her every so often to see how she's doing.  (Remainder of information removed... honestly, Tommy, too much information).

It was a couple of days before international mandatory gift giving day, the corporate perversion of the sacred holiday celebrating the birth of Christ, when I had a message ping on my new pocket secretary.  The number was recognized as belonging to Sheila (a number she had given to me the last time I saw her. She changes numbers every few days).

"Happy holidays, chummer.  Want to come to a Christmas party?", Sheila's voice was the same business neutral tone she usually called with.

"A Christmas party?  Sure. When and where?"

The "party" was at the Brick Yard in an hour.  This was something of a problem as I had  moved to a house in the Bitter Lake area.  I had bought the place nice and (mostly) legally, but it was a long way from the Brick Yard.  With only an hour to go I would have to be creative to get there.  The roads were icy, the snow was its usually ash grey, and I wasn't looking forward to the trip.  I checked the app on my phone for the car service and saw it would take me an estimated 143 minutes to arrive by car. A perfect start for the evening.

I had never been late for a meeting with Sheila. Word on the street was you didn't work if you were late and I believed it.  So I pulled on my form fitting body armor with the cold weather adaptation (it keeps you really comfortable if you have the head/face covering pulled on), climbed into my insulated combat boots, grabbed my kit bag and headed out to my back yard.  I took a quick look around to make sure my neighbors weren't watching, then remembered the surveillance cameras in the neighborhood, and walked around to my garage.  I toggled the door open, walked in, and pulled an invisibility spell around myself.  I then called out to a spirit of air I had bound months ago.

The spirit appeared in my driveway, a meter from the garage door, in a swirl of wind-borne snow.  I walked out, toggled the door to start cycling closed, and conveyed my wishes to the spirit.  I pulled the head/face covering on, fumbled into a pair of goggles I carry for storms, and was soon picked up and soaring at a swift pace over the houses of my neighborhood.  For the record, a powerful air spirit can get you across Seattle in just a few minutes.  It actually takes longer by helicopter due to the air traffic regulations they fly under.  I made it to the Brick Yard with thirty-five minutes to spare.

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

I landed in the parking lot, dropped the invisibility spell, and started walking toward the front entrance.  As usual, Little Ricki was at the door.  Nearly four meters tall of muscle and chrome, Ricki could move faster than a blink thanks to some really well done cybernetic enhancements.  Ricki saw me turn the corner from the parking lot and waved me on in. I felt an attack of politeness come over me as I got close to the huge man. I checked my slivergun inside and headed to the bar.  A raggae styled Christmas carol was playing in the kitchen area, and just a hint of it made it to my ears.  I smiled in spite of myself, and waited.

Sandy walked up, big tusky smile and all, and seemed as happy as always to be at work.  She was very pregnant, and would soon be delivering triplets.  I hadn't asked but she had volunteered that information a month ago, the last time I was in.

"Mr. Gun, what can I get for you tonight?" it made me smile. Sandy was maybe a year older than me but she always treated me with the simple professional courtesy of not talking down to me for my age. I always appreciated it.

"Sirloin platter, medium rare please, Sandy. Can I get a potato with sour cream, bacon bits, and some of that Amish cheese?", she nodded and I continued. "Cool. Hot rolls, a large hot cocoa with marshmellows, and the same for you and the kids, on me."

Sandy gave me an even bigger smile, "Thank you Mr. Gun"

"Oh, Sandy" I started.  "A triple rum for the cook.  It is Christmas after all."

Sandy nodded, still smiling and took my order back to the kitchen.

Unlike most bars, I can drink a cocoa in the Brick Yard and no one gives me any drek.  Most of the folks who come here are in the business and tend to stay out of other people's affairs. The only other people in the Brick Yard that night, were a trio of orc hard cases.  They were regulars and I never saw one of them without the other two.

I ate a brilliantly cooked steak, savoring every bite even though I knew I was pressed for time.  I was just spearing into the baked potato, when Sandy came by to tell me that Sheila would see me.  I picked up my plate and my cocoa and carried it with me back to the booth Sheila usually occupied in the back far corner.  The curtain was pulled closed, so I waited.

A few seconds passed and the curtain opened to reveal four hard looking people I had never seen before.  I squeezed in next to Sheila X (the first time I've ever done that, and the first time I had ever seen anyone do that) as there wasn't anywhere else to sit.  I put my plate in front of me and cut into the last bite of my steak.

"This is the asset I was telling you about.  He is one of the best local awakened talents, and has experience with the opposition."  Sheila's tone was a bit different than I was accustomed to. It sounded like she was selling me off to these jokers.  I know my worth, and I suppose Sheila did too, but it was a bit of a reminder that most people just saw me as a young person.  Stupid, but the reality of the situation.

"We asked you for a combat mage and you bring us a kid?", the human guy across the table from me said incredulously.

"How old are you, kid?" The lady elf in the corner of the booth asked.

I finished chewing my steak, glanced at Sheila who nodded at me slightly.

"I'm exactly none of your fragging business years old.  I've seen more combat, cast more mojo, in the last year than most Marine combat mages do during a full deployment. If Sheila says I've had experience with your opposition, then the fact that I'm alive should tell you I'm more qualified than you could have hoped for.  Now cut the drek, and tell me the job." I wasn't trying to sound like anything, wasn't trying to accomplish anything other than get to the heart of the job, and at that moment I knew I was going to ask for more money, because I was clearly worth it.

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

The job was right up my alley.

Breach security on a facility owned by my least favorite mega-corp, pick up a guy for his new employers and leave.  The target had been awaiting pick-up but managed to get himself thrown into the corporate holding cells while he was suddenly under investigation.  So the job was one-half jail break, one-half corp extraction.

When the hard cases pitched their offer to me I barely kept my face straight.  They offered me more than I had ever made on one job, and I knew right off this was going to be a helluva lot harder than I had expected.  I looked them over, staring each in the eye and demanded an additional twenty percent.  They relented almost immediately and I knew right then that I was on a job that was likely to get me killed.

Two days of intelligence gathering and research by the four runners came up with some useful information.  My least favorite corp was using in-house security at this facility that held "rogue" awakened subjects.  It was a corp jail that was usually used for awakened corp kids who got out of line. It was also rumored to be a place where awakened criminals were experimented upon to determine "humane" was of stripping them of their abilities.

One hour's worth of astral jaunt over to the facility revealed some hefty spirits on patrol, hardened wards, armed guards with hell hounds (why is it always hell hounds?), force grown ivy over the detention center, and watcher spirits that floated around like little balloons on the astral winds.  The place also carried with it a sense of suffering and fear.  Most jails are like that, but facilities for the awakened are usually more so.  I suspected that the wards and mystic barriers were containing some of the astral pollution, meaning it would be difficult to do any magic within the facility itself.

I had heard of this place.  Most runners with any mojo to them had heard of this place. It was a cautionary tale to those who might strike out at the corp.  I had been hitting them for years, but I had never taken on any of their really high security facilities.  I had certainly never hit this place before, but I saw some commonalities to their astral defenses I was sure I could exploit.

I'm not going to tell you how we got in.  I'm going to claim that as a "trade secret" and leave it at that.

We were in the detention center, decked out in uniforms we had acquired for this heist, using ID's we'd also acquired specifically for the job. The elf lady turned out to be a decker with almost as much on the ball as Angel {flattery will get you nowhere Tommy, but thank you~ Angel}.  She managed to schedule veterinary appointments for the hell hounds (they needed their shots you know), which took the doggies and their handlers out of the equation.

We got in and were making our way toward the target cell when I heard screaming coming from one of the interview rooms.  I put it out of my head for a moment, and made it down to the target cell.  We got the door open with no fuss and (thankfully) no alarms.  We gathered up the target and put him in the spare uniform we had brought along.

We were on our way back down the hall when I heard that screaming hit a new level of terror and pain.  Who ever was screaming sounded young. It bothered me deep down to my core.

I was bringing up the rear of our little six pack of unauthorized persons, when a woman stepped out from the interview room.  When I saw her, I suddenly I felt very small.  It had been most of a decade since I last saw that face, but there was no doubt about it.  The woman was the same teacher who had tried to cast a spell on me. The same person who banished, and destroyed, my best childhood friend Isabellix.  As the team moved down the hall, I saw the woman slip into the restroom.  I fell a step behind the team, then used my new ID card to badge my way into the interview room.

The interview room was something straight out of a bad dream.

A young woman was shackled to the floor.  She was sobbing uncontrollably, laying in the fetal position, and her head was covered in a black bag.  She was wearing a filthy, once-white prison jump suit.  A circle of blood was drawn around her, a dead cat cast into the corner seemed the likely source of the crimson stain.  Blood magic?  I took a chance and looked over the cat, saw a collar, then opened my astral sight.

The kitty was definitely the source of the blood, and a source of much of the sorrow in the young woman.  She was definitely awakened, but there was damage to her aura that I hadn't seen before.  Her talent had been worn or ripped and parts of her were no longer carrying the brilliant aura of an awakened person.

The door beeped and I readied myself.

You learn some things being a magician in the shadows.  Magicians like to think their biggest threats are awakened opponents, but then when they run into common street violence they find themselves struggling to shield against bullets.  I had seen a lot of street level violence and magical mayhem in my few years.  So as that door opened and the woman who had taken Isabellix from me walked in, I acted with a cold determination born of years of running the shadows.

She was turning toward me, a quizzical expression on her face, as my gun hand came up.  I let off the three round burst from my silvergun directly into her head, splattering her brains across the wall behind her.  She dropped to the floor like a limp doll and I put three more rounds into her heart just to be certain.

I smudged the circle containing the young woman, unlocked her shackles with an app on the dead woman's phone and toggled the mic to the rest of the team.

"I'm held up, get out according to plan.  I'll meet you at rendezvous"

"What?", the elf lady.

Ghost save me from newbies, "I'll rendezvous in thirty, out"

I managed to escape the detention center through the judicious use of invisibility and the good grace of all the hell hounds being gone.  The young woman came with me, though she insisted on getting the cat's collar.  Which was weird to me, but okay.

*****

I made the rendezvous with the rest of the team just in time.  We made the meet, handed off the target, got paid, and got out without a shot fired or an eyebrow raised.  It was a smooth end to a job that almost went exactly as planned.

I had stashed the young woman at a safe house I had set up a couple of weeks prior.  I picked up some clothes for her, some food (I hadn't stocked the safe house yet), and when I got back I found her asleep on my faded couch.  I spent the night keeping an eye open for a corp hit team that never came.  I was tired and drinking my second pot of soycaf when she woke up.  We had a breakfast of real ham and eggs (I had become partial to real food by this time).

For this discussion we'll call the young woman 'Sue'. Turned out she was only a little older than me.  Sue had been in the magician's training program but wasn't really getting along with the way the corp was using her talent.  Sue had recognized the lady who was torturing her as well.  She had been a teacher when Sue first started the training program.  Sue made a point of telling me a story of a young boy who had brought a spirit with him to class the first day, and the teacher had banished the thing as the boy ran away.

I kept my face impassive as I heard my own story being told by Sue.  I found myself badly missing Isabellix, but I kept my own part in her tale to myself.  We spent the rest of Christmas, talking and watching old Christmas specials.

I'm not going into what happened after Sue was around.  Not tonight anyway, though you might ask Angel if you can find her.  In the meantime, lets go down to Redmond for the best sirloin in town, shall we?




Thursday, December 21, 2017

The shadows are no place for a boy and his dog

Like many people, I spent my eighteenth birthday in a running firefight.

In today's world a lot of people in the lower income areas of every metroplex spend days like that.  Maybe its a sad commentary on what my life had been like up to that point, but this wasn't anything new to me.

The corp goon's submachinegun was spraying rounds at me as I moved from cover to cover.  He hit me.  Actually, he hit me several times.  My spell hardened armor wasn't impressed.  Flattened and fractured bullets littered the street in a path to my final hidey-hole.  I could see the whole lot of corp-men as I stuck my head around the corner.

"Good night, goat-fraggers", I sneered.  

My sleep spell hit them with a force no one would expect to come from a teenage spell-slinger.  All six of them fell limply to the ground.  They were going to feel that in the morning, but at least they were alive.  Killing people who were just doing their job wasn't my style.  

I had a particular contempt for corp goons.  I picked my way among them, grabbing guns and gear I could fence for quick nuyen. I spent less than a minute going over them, then pulled an invisibility spell tightly around myself and ran like hell itself was after me.

An hour later I was sweating from the effort of sustaining the spell for such a long time.  I was long gone from the site of the dust up, so I dropped the spell and strode into a burger joint I had meant to check out.  

I had just placed my order and paid the kiosk for my snack, when three Lone Star patrol vehicles pulled up with their lights spinning.  The Star came out of their cars with guns out and heading toward the door.  

I pulled the same invisibility spell around myself and started moving away from the kiosk.

Three Lone Star patrol officers came in with a lot of attitude and guns up and panning through the area.  I ducked behind the third one, stepped out onto the street, and started walking as smoothly and quickly as I could.  

Two blocks and ten minutes later, I came under fire.

It was a rotor-drone and it opened up on me while I was fully invisible.  Rounds pounded on my spell hardened armor and knocked me back against the wall of the building behind me .  

I was well and truly surprised, and returned fire with perhaps a bit too much prejudice.  My power bolt spell winded me, but blasted the rotor-drone into pieces that came crashing down onto the street in flames.

I didn't wait around.

I ran down the next alleyway, checked myself for new holes and, finding none, began running the frag away.

I made it about half-way down the alley when a white Ford Americar pulled across the end of the alley and someone in the back opened up with an assault rifle.  The gunman was spraying rounds down the alley collateral damage be damned.  A round slammed into my left shoulder and spun me straight to the ground.  My armor held but the impact hurt like hell.  I whistled up to an elemental I had tagging along in the astral and sicced it on the car.  Five meters of earth and stone manifested at the end of the alley and collapsed upon the car, engulfing the vehicle and its occupants.  

I got to my feet and sprinted to the mound of earth and stone.  I took a right on the street, and headed to the transit stop another block down.  

I didn't see the second drone approach. I realized it was there when a burst of automatic weapon fire hit me square in the back.  It knocked me sprawling and I had just a moment to appreciate that this was at least the fourth time my enchantments had saved my hide.  

Rounds kept coming.

The drone was a larger version of the first.  Twin rotors, a light machinegun mounted on articulated firing points, and a hell of a lot of rounds pounding right down on me.  

I let the invisibility spell slip out of surprise.  Rolled over and got kept getting hammered by the drone.  I managed to get a good look at the thing, then called up another power bolt and blasted the damn thing out of the sky.  

Clawing my way to my feet, I emptied my pockets of those items I had lifted from the corp goons.  I then started running west.  I wove another invisibility spell around myself, and hoped against hope it would hold.  

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

I had definitely pissed someone off.

I had just crossed into Renton, when I heard a dog howl.  Now normally I like dogs.  I really do, but this sent a chill up spine.  I looked back and saw a huge mastiff, jet black, with fire blazing up between its jaws.   A hell hound was bounding after me and fifty yards behind the doggie, its handler was bringing an assault rifle to bear.

Hell-doggie wasn't fooled by my little invisibility trick.  A gout of flame hit me straight on and my armor caught fire. (I later found that I had first degree burns on my hands, forearms, face and my neck).   I realized a moment later that the dog's handler was sighting on me and I knew I was in trouble.  

The handler got his shots off as the dog closed distance.  I once again dropped my invisibility spell as I was suddenly too distracted to hold it in place and was hit dead center of my chest and thrown to the ground.  I was only dimly aware of the sound of the handler's weapon going off.  The hell-doggie bit down on my right ankle and I felt his fangs burn into my skin through my boots. I instinctively kicked at the hell hound and watched as the handler came running closer.  

"Get him" I called out.  My water elemental manifested around the hell-hound, soaking my leg and sending the dog into a panic.  That earned me a three round burst in the abdomen, and I saw a piece of the spell hardened armor weave get blown off (too much abuse, I suppose).  

The wind was knocked out of me and I knew I was done.

If I had known more about human nature back then, I wouldn't have been as surprised by what came next.

The handler brought his weapon up toward the elemental and then froze.  I know, now, that he must have been worried about hitting his dog, but back then I just thought he froze up.  

The hell hound was well and truly outclassed by the towering column of water that held it fast.  The dog was drowning, its fire was out, and it was thrashing against forces it couldn't hope to outmatch.  The dog's handler charged forward and screamed "GET OFF MY DOG DAMN YOU!" and butt-stroked the elemental.

You have to understand that fighting spirits in hand to hand combat is really a contest of willpower. That man was one of the angriest human beings I've ever seen.  He yelled and cursed, swung and battered at the column of water that was my elemental spirit servant; and he was hurting it.

I managed to get myself propped up on one elbow, and hit him with the best stun bolt spell I could muster and he staggered.  He lost his grip on the rifle, slipped on the wet plasticrete, then fell hard on his ass.  He pushed himself to a seated position, almost instantly, and pulled his knife.  

In the heart of the water elemental, the hell hound had ceased its struggles and the spirit flung the seemingly lifeless dog to the ground.  I felt a little sick.  The dog's handler dropped his knife and scampered over to the still form.  He made loud sorrowful sounds, and he ran his hands over his dog, while he cried loudly.  "Wake up, Jet.  Wake up!"

I drew in my power and put another sleep spell on him.  He fell over his animal.

Normally I like dogs.  I didn't like this hell hound, not one bit, but I'm not a monster (tell that to yourself everyday runners... it helps).  I was battered to hell and gone, but I pulled together the best healing spell I could manage.  The dog shuddered and whimpered a bit, but he lay there under his handler making small sounds and licking the man's face.

It was a touching and heartbreaking sight. 

I made it through the rest of the afternoon hiding in a sewer on the north end of Renton.  It stunk to high hell, I had to kill a dozen devil rats to keep from being eaten alive, and I was tired, bruised and battered.   

I figure the guys in the car were probably dead, the cops were fine, two drones wouldn't fly again, my armor needed to be replaced, I had lost a lot of money on the job, and saved the life of a dog I almost killed in the heat of the moment.  

Happy birthday to me.




Monday, June 26, 2017

Never work for a clown.


I was seventeen years old.

I'm not going to give you a date for this, honestly the people it involves are too scary to call any attention to this piece of ancient history.  Suffice it to say that I was seventeen and it happened in the summer.

A certain decker chummer of mine had been working steadily and building an ever bigger name for herself. 

I, however, was running through teams like Oakland.  Seriously, it was that bad. 

In all fairness it wasn't all my fault. 

I had a falling out with a certain troll when he decided to slam my favorite cranium into a wall.  The wall was softer than my cranium and I didn't die, but it hurt like all hell and I was bleeding.  Add to that the fact that there wasn't anything going on other than the team sitting and talking about how we were going to spend the next few days and how we could get in touch for work, and you can understand that I was not a happy magician.

It started with a stunbolt, (sometimes referred to as "good night chummer") that had that certain troll unconscious on the floor.  He woke up a couple of hours later, and I was fully prepared to be cordial. That certain troll woke up, sat up, and immediately became belligerent.  He reached for his hand cannon only to find it wasn't there.  That set off a string of curses and expletives I won't bother repeating. 

After several minutes of ranting, the big jerk finally seemed to calm down.  I gave him his gun back, and pointed to sack of weapons in the corner (previously rendered invisible) where the rest of his weapons were nicely stored for him.  He whipped the hand cannon up to my head and pulled the trigger.  It clicked on an empty cylinder (note this:  NEVER give a loaded weapon to someone you don't trust), and clicked on empty cylinders four more times.

I reached up and touched his wrist.  "Unprofessional, and dishonorable", was all I said.

Magic surged from my fingers into his body.  What little bit of real person, the meat part not the cyber part, died off as power coursed violently through his cells.  He jerked suddenly and blood started leaking out of the corners of his eyes, from his nose, and from under his fingertips.  He dropped to the floor of the abandoned day care center we were meeting in. He was actually dead before he hit the floor. Blood and other fluids leaked out of him in a stinky pool.  I say "leaked" because dead people leak, only the living 'bleed'. 

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

The summer wasn't starting well.  After that certain troll hit the floor, the team fell apart.  I had no interest at that time in building relationships or team building.  I just wanted to score some cash to fuel my studies.  I had grand ideas about power and glory, wealth and women. 

Come on, I was seventeen.

I was getting work, and getting my jobs done.  I was actually doing pretty well, but it seemed like folks thought I was bad luck.  Runners kept getting killed on my jobs.  Not through fault of mine, but just their own plain carelessness.  

I was ready to take a little vacation somewhere not in the Seattle Metroplex, when my comm buzzed with yet more work from Sheila X.

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

BrickYard, 2345 hours:

Mr. Johnson was an elf.  An elf with a painted face, white gloves, a tuxedo, and a beautiful sword at his belt.  He had an accent I couldn't identify and have never heard again.  He was flawlessly groomed, and spoke as if he were about to laugh at a joke.

The job was set to pay very well, and that made me a bit nervous. 

It would be real wiz if I cold tell you there was something about him that put me off, but there wasn't.  He was slick, but not oily, chill but not sub-zero, had style but not to much flash.  I listened to what he said, but I didn't quite catch what he meant in those "in between the lines" places.

So I took the job, with some shadow talent that all had solid reputations.  I had worked with one or two of them before and worked well enough.  No one seemed put out or overly stressed about the Johnson or the job. 

That should have worried me. 

I'm not going to go into details about the job itself. 

It was dangerous, there were shots and magic fired around, electrons were fighting other electrons in the matrix, a pizza delivery driver took a rocket meant for the car I was in (sorry about that chummer), and somehow a flower shop got burned to the ground before the job was over. 

What really makes the tale though, is the end. 

We shook the last of our pursuers, switched vehicles and incinerated the getaway car.  Runners were bleeding all over the place and I was making heavy use a spell to sanitize cellular samples.  Normally its used to disinfect but I use it to foil forensic evidence.  When I was certain the dump site for the getaway car was clean, I climbed into the passenger seat of the suv we were taking to the meet. 

We pulled into the abandoned lot and I got out to take up a position to cover the meet.  As I was climbing up the fire escape, I ran right into an ork setting up with a sniper rifle.  He reached for his gun and I drew in my power and hit him with the best stun bolt I could throw back then.  He fell over like a sack of flour. 

I toggled my comm but couldn't get a signal. 

I shouldered the sniper rifle, and got a real good view of the meet as it went down.

Mr. Johnson, still wearing the face paint and tux, was handing off credsticks to my guys.

I couldn't hear what was said, but everything seemed chill.

Then I heard the soft whine of rotors and new something was going down.

Half a dozen rotor drones zipped in and started firing on the meeting. 

Mr. Johnson jumped, flipped and rolled behind his Mercedes, as rotor drones poured out death into the area.  Two of my team were cut to pieces by hundreds of rounds in those first seconds.

Spells are usually hard to use against drones.  But I had a sniper rifle, and even though I hadn't been trained to use one, it seemed fairly simple.  I sighted and squeezed the trigger... nothing happened.

FRAG!

I tried everything I could think of to get that rifle to fire, but nothing worked. 

For several seconds the rotor drones fired without pause, stitching rounds all over the place.  Then, suddenly, they were flying off into the night.

A quick bit of levitation brought me to the blood soaked, broken pavement. 

My decker friend was still in the vehicle.  A bullet had gone through her shoulder, but otherwise she was fine.  Everyone one else in the vehicle was dead. 

The two street samurai out on the kill zone were dead, and Mr. Johnson was laughing his fool head off. 

I walked out to grab the credsticks and watched as Mr. Johnson stood and walked around his Mercedes, still laughing his fool head off, shaking his head at the dents and dings in the armored luxury car. 

"Not my night, I suppose", he said as his laughter died down..

"Not their night, really", I said.  I was pointing to two bodies that had been chopped up by the light machine guns the rotor drones had loosed.   "Their night really sucked!"

"It is unfortunate, but it holds true, street meat rots in the street does it not?", the fragger was smiling as he said it. 

"To true," he continued, "well, good night young sir.  Don't let the locals bite!"  Then he climbed into his car and drove away, little sparks and smoke coming from the vehicle as he vanished into the night.

My decker buddy and I had to hoof it.  The vehicle we came in was shot to hell (literally). 

Mr. Johnson, clown make up and all, had an evil sense of humor.  "Don't let the locals bite!"
We were running from ghouls until we reached the water. 

The cred went a long way toward salving my wounded sensibilities, but I made a rule that night, and I've kept it ever sense: Never work for a clown.

Take my advice on that, you'll live longer.






Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tommy's Story: more runs, fewer chummers



Starting over is never easy.

After Pepper died, I still had to live.  I know that makes all kinds of obvious sense, but when you've lost your best chummer, when you've lost that feeling of normalcy and of belonging, there doesn't feel like there is much left.

I had been a hot shot, wiz-kid shadowrunner for a little over a year.  In that time, I had worked with a handful of different teams but once I settled in with Pepper and Angel the rest had become pretty much fixed.

I hadn't really cared one way or the other about Zip, until he put an assault rifle in my face (in my experience that tends to change your opinion of someone pretty fast). When he died I didn't really care about the lose of him beyond how it affected the rest of us.

I had held a good bit of respect for Sapphire, and I may even have had a bit of a crush on her.  Her death was tragic, foolish, and a waste of a brilliant talent.

Grack and I never really got along.  He seemed like he was always either threatening to beat me into a bloody stump, or planning the act of beating me bloody.  We worked best together when we weren't actually together.  That said, he was hellishly dangerous with heavy and assault weapons, wasn't afraid to mix it up in a firefight, and had so much metal in him I once heard a bullet that hit him ricochet off this cyber.  Grack was a scary piece of stereotype reinforcing macho attitude, muscle, metal, and thinly veiled sociopath personality.

Angel. (file segment deleted.... play nice Tommy)

Then suddenly it was just me, knowing two reliable shadowrunners, broke as hell after burying my best chummer, and needing work.

Sheila X, didn't call me for a week.  It was probably best that she waited that long as I was in no fit mental state to do anything professionally.

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

April 1st, 2056

My pocket secretary was ringing.  I was ignoring it at first as my land lord had already called twice to remind me to pay my rent.  It was annoying as hell that I couldn't. I was picking up the hateful little device when I realized that the number was one Sheila used when she rang me up.

"Tommy?", Sheila sounded like she always did.  You would never know that anything horrible had happened just days before.

"Ms. X.  Nice of you to call me.  How can I help you today." I was trying to be upbeat.  In retrospect it was probably the dumbest way to approach such a call.

"If you want to work, come down for a meeting.  I know some people who need a specialist like you.  If you're done with what you needed to do come on down.  If you can't hold it together, don't bother."

"Ms. X, I'm chill as February. I'll be there in an hour." I was still going for upbeat.

Sheila X hung up on me and I went to grab my bag.

A little less than an hour later I was walking to the Brick House (I know, I sometimes call it the Brick Yard... too much time spent with folks calling it by two different names I guess).  Little Rickie was on the door, and I once again felt that attack of politeness coming over me.  Little Rickie waved me in.

I walked in and realized immediately that things were different.  The main room had maybe forty really hard looking folks wearing armor I hadn't seen outside of a trideo show until that point. Those armor sets were all done over in black and grey, digital imagery- hazing camouflage patterns.  They all had helmets and assault weapons, except for a handful of trolls who had honest-to-ghost assault cannons. They looked like a bad-ass bunch of mercenaries about to storm a target.

Sandy, the ork girl who seemed to always be behind the bar, waved me toward the back (where Sheila's usual booth was).  I walked around a few knots of heavily armed hard men and women, realizing that the whole place was strangely quite other than the occasional click or bump sound as someone checked a weapon.  Sheila was sitting in the booth with an elf woman across from her, standing next to the booth was an angel.

I'm not romanticizing it.  The angel was about seven feet tall, had three faces, carried a flaming sword and had wings.  (Ever since this meeting I've made a point to own a Bible.  My favorite is an Orthodox Christian Bible, some might say Eastern Orthodox, but take my advice and don't).  The angel was probably a spirit.  I told myself that the moment I saw it. As far as I know I may have been right.

You should listen closely to that last part.  After all I've done, all the magic I've wrought, all the places and metaplanes I've been to and I can't tell you positively it was a spirit.  A part of me believes it was an actual angel of God, big "G".

Anyway, I didn't realize I was staring at the angel until Sheila told me to sit down.

The job paid very well.  Well enough to keep my landlord off my case for few months, feed me well, and pay for some things I really wanted and thought I needed.  It was also dangerous as all Hell, big "H".

Ms. Johnson, the elf lady, needed a magician for a particular task.  The forty men and women with us in the bar were just her "good friends" who were out with her for a walk.

Yeah.  Right.

I was desperate for work, emotionally drained, magically capable, and available.  So I got the job.

It was basic astral recon with a side order of terror.  Go to place, check out place, poke astral whatsits in the eye, don't get killed, come back and get paid.

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

April 1st, 2056  2355 hours

I was in an old warehouse in Puyallup.  Seventeen year old me had just finished drawing out a circle in ritual materials particular to the astral jaunt I was about to undertake.

With ten of the "good friends" securing the area, the angel standing outside my circle and Ms. Johnson working a ritual in a circle of her own, I was ready to get the thing over with. Laying down in my circle, I let my astral form slip from my meat body.  It was a very freeing experience. Astral travel is quick, and in the blink of an eye I was in Bellevue, and encroaching on target.

I ran right into a ward. I remember it felt like I had rammed my head into concrete.  It really did hurt quite a lot. A few moments, and a bit of magic later, and the ward was nothing more than broken fragments of mana in the astral plane, bleeding out into nothingness.  I slipped through the building's wall and into a nightmare.

The wards had been containing the astral stench that the building hid.  Suffering and pain, the likes of which I have rarely experienced since, mixed with depraved hunger to pollute the astral in nightmarish whirls of sickening echoes. There were living people in the building and they were suffering in ways I can't explain to you.  There were also un-living people in the building.

No one had told me there would be vampires.

In the next blink I was fighting for my life and soul.  A magician was in the astral, his aura strangely dark and marked with a shifting patina of small mouths filled with fangs that seemed to shift and twirl throughout his being. When his astral form slammed into mine I felt like I would vomit (no easy trick when you don't have your stomach).

The fight took too long.  I was good in an astral tangle but I was quickly aware that this bastard was better.  He tore at my soul, ripping into it and causing me the kind of pain you only really ever hear about but hopefully never experience. I was losing, so I cheated.

Casting spells in the astral is stupid for a variety of reasons.  One of the big reasons not to cast spells while astral projecting is that it puts an inordinate strain on your body and essence/soul.  As I was firmly convinced I was about to have a soul-shredding experience (literally), I gave it everything I had and pumped the nastiest mana spell I knew into the oncoming fiend.  It staggered as the spell ripped into it, and I managed to get a second spell off into it's astral form. My spells disrupted the magician, driving him out of astral space and back to his meat body (hopefully with tons on injury).

I was about to leave.  Honestly, I wanted to get out of there badly.  But from astral space I saw the dim auras of people who were trapped in that hell-hole. One of those people was very little.

I thought about Pepper's son.  I thought about what Pepper would do if he were there in the meat.  I thought about laying that family to rest and the laughter and happiness that had been quieted.  I was hurt, but I wasn't dead, and there were children, little children, in danger.

I went looking for the magician's meat body.

I found him two floors down.  He was already up and looked as healthy and dangerous as the first time he tackled me.  There was a newly dead woman, her essence shattered into fragments and fading away, laying on the floor.

The vampire's astral form surged out of his meat body (which collapsed on the floor next to the dead woman) and came after me.  In the astral he looked like a feral, monstrous being (and was), and he was coming to kill me.

I just managed to send out the call to the one spirit I had bound to me at the time, and it arrived at my side as the vamp ripped into me.

I screamed.  I screamed from the bottom of my soul as the vamp nearly tore me in half.  My fire elemental joined the fray and I was frantically fighting to save my own ass.  I couldn't risk another spell in the condition I was in, so it was just raw astral combat.

Then the vampire tore my fire elemental into little pieces.  I'm not exaggerating.  He literally grabbed the elemental and ripped it's essence in half, then in half again.  The elemental screamed as it was destroyed.

I thought I was going to die.  I couldn't outrun the juiced up vampire, my best spirit was destroyed, I was nearly dead, and the vampire didn't have a mark on him.  So I punched him in the nose.

Astral combat is largely figurative.  Your perception of your opponent and yourself is really how you interpret the interaction.  I am firmly convinced that how others perceive the combat is just as unique as your own perception.  The injury is real though.  I hit the vampire with my best shot, and staggered him.  I was winding up for another astral haymaker when the room we were fighting in lit up like the sun was shining in the astral and in the room itself in the meat world.

I turned and looked straight into the faces of an avenging angel, and everything went dark.

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

April 2nd, 2056  0013 hours

I came to in my magic circle in the warehouse.  Ms. Johnson was finishing her ritual, and I watched as a dark, bloodstained doll was burned over a candle adorned with the sign of the cross. In the back of my perceptions, I heard a scream that hit my battered senses and made a shiver run down my spine.  That happens to me whenever I hear the cries of the damned.

Ms. Johnson and her "good friends" didn't say much.  A radio squawked somewhere, then one of the hard cases said, "Kill confirmed with one collateral casualty. Father Mitchel is conducting rites for the victim now."

Ms. Johnson only said, "God forgive us."

I stood up shakily, and broke my magic circle.  Ms. Johnson, didn't say anything else, just waved at the guy who spoke.  He handed me a cred-stick with a tidy sum on it, and walked me to the door. There was a car waiting for me outside, courtesy of Sheila X, that took me back to the Brick Yard.


That run snapped me out of it.  I was harder after that, less carefree. I was also alive, so I paid my rent and bought a couple of things I needed, then took two weeks off.

I spent some time in the church of that priest who spoke at Pepper's and his family's funerals.  It helped me grieve.

*****

That was a long one.

Lets go get a coffee and watch the hipsters pass by.









Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Pepper

March 2056

I was seventeen years old.

2056 was busy for me.  I did a lot of business those first two months and I didn't pull a single job without Pepper.

I remember having a sense that things had changed between us since I gave him that sword.  I wasn't sure what Pepper was thinking, and I wasn't going to pry.  Work had been good to us.  I had more money than I had bills and I was able to grab some gear I had needed.

Shadowrunners are people too though.  Well, most of them are.  I was a seventeen year old wizard with a solid talent, and with enough sense to know that I still had a lot to learn. I was only human.

Pepper had a kid. Did I tell you that before?

Anyway, Pepper must have come to really trust me because I got an invite over to his doss for a bar-b-que.  So there I was, walking up to his place with a sack of stuffer chips and a bag of ice.  It was my first time going to his place and I wanted it to be chill.  Pepper's place was old, a bit run down, but it was clean.  A small house, with a tiny patch of grass (they call those a 'yard' for some reason), a porch and some space out back behind an old fence.  As I walked up, there was Pepper, sitting on the porch with his little boy sleeping in his arms.  It was weird.

I know people have kids.  I just never thought of Pepper as the type to reproduce. Think about my perspective: he had stabbed Zip in the brainpan when he had threatened me with a gun and decapitated a wannabe when the dude mouthed off.  Pepper was a quiet professional skilled in taking life.  It was really strange to see Pepper holding a baby on the porch.  In that entirely odd tableau the most normal thing I saw was an Ares predator pistol Pepper had sitting next to a baby bottle.

So I walked up and Pepper waved me in, and then he went and put his boy to bed.  The back of the house had about a dozen people shuffling in and out of the door to the back yard.  An honest-to-ghost grill was fired up in the back.  The smell was amazing!

I met a lot of people that were related or neighbors or neighboring relatives.  There were kids there, and wives, and Pepper was wearing an apron while he manned the grill.  I ate, talked up Pepper's cousin (a cute girl with curly black hair and green eyes), drank my very first beer (honest) and played a game that seemed to consist of throwing bags at a board with a hole in it.  The whole bar-b-que went on into the late evening.  Pepper's wife, the mother of his son, was really nice to me.  It was one of the best days of my life.  I still have an image file from that day.

So we were being people.  Which was nice.

We pulled another job a few days later.  Got away clean and got paid.

I remember on that run I ran right into a ward.  A strong one that took several minutes for me to bypass. I took note of that, and warded my own doss. Then I spoke with Pepper and offered to ward his place too. Pepper was agreeable and I set off to get the materials I would need.

It started in the baby's room and I put a lot of effort into those wards.  There was already some religious iconography in the baby's room, plus a strong emotional background presence (what some thaumaturgic scholars refer to as "background count").  It made it tough to work any magic, but once I got those wards up they held strongly.  I did the bathrooms next.  Wards on the mirrors (things can come out of mirrors folks... if you don't believe me, study the lore), walls, ceiling and floor.  I worked my way around every square inch of the place.  When it was done, I expended as much energy as I could, felt the wards lock into place, then I sat down on Pepper's couch and fell asleep.

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

I woke up to gun fire.

Years of living in the Barrens had taught me to grab cover as best I could, so I did.  I was laying in the floor as bullets blew through the walls and stitched up the wall that blocked off the kitchen. 

I heard tires squealing outside over the sound of gunfire and bullets breaking everything they touched. 

Glasses shattered in the kitchen, water ran freely over the floor, pictures and all manner of family mementoes were destroyed. 

I heard the steady report of an Ares predator returning fire as tires peeled away outside.  I jumped up and was heading for the door when a cold fear hit me. 

I didn't hear the baby crying.
*************************

We buried Pepper's wife and son in a pricy boneyard owned by the church.  We paid extra for full rights and religious magic workings to protect the bodies (sometimes ghouls dig them up).

The priest had offered condolences, and said he would pray for Pepper and the souls of his wife and child.  I thought it was nice, but Pepper didn't take any comfort in it.  Someone had murdered his family.  If Pepper had been in the house, instead of practicing kata in the back yard, he would probably have been dead too. 

The folks who did it had put a lot of firepower on the east end of the house, which is where the bedrooms were. 

We  did a lot of leg work, looking for the bastards who did it, but were coming up dry.  Of all the things to turn things around, it was Angel.  She managed to pull a video clip from a Lone Star surveillance drone that had the car we were looking for being ditched by some punks with glow in the dark faux-hawks.

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

March 15th, 2056

I was seventeen years old and I wanted to kill.

Pepper was a chummer, a real top notch guy.  He was my friend.  He had welcomed me into his life, I had eaten in his kitchen, and played with his son. 

We had been more than just bits of tough street muscle and flashy magic.  We had been people. 
Then these faux-hawk wearing bits of trash took that away, and only raw, angry street meat and raging magical energy remained.

The wannabes were just what they looked like.  Two-bit punks trying to play hard.  One of them from the fertility clinic job had squawked about what Pepper looked liked and someone had sold the rest of them his name. 

We started there.

March 15th, 2056
    
2235: Pepper was up the street, about half a block, when I walked into the squalid old building where Mitch the Snitch was hiding.  Seems he had heard Pepper had survived, so Mitch was trying very hard to be invisible.  Hiding in an old burned out tenement building was what he had come up with, but it wasn't good enough.  I crawled in over a pile of rubble, making just enough noise to seem like I was trying to be sneaky but not quite pulling it off.

Mitch pulled a gun and fired at me.  The bullet passed straight through the space where my head was.  My illusion faltered as my attention to the spell was released.  My little sleep spell hit Mitch like a hammer and he fell in a heap.  Pepper came in quietly.

It took a long time for Mitch to die.

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

March 16th, 2016

Mitch had snitched to all sorts of things before he croaked, including who he sold out Pepper to, and where we could find them. 

0400:  saw Pepper checking the action on a familiar looking AK-97, and me pulling out some expendable foci I was saving for a special occasion. Neither Pepper or I said a word until we were both ready.  I remember Pepper looked at me, his eyes were red with rage or tears, I'm not sure which.

He just nodded to me and we walked across the street to the ruins of an old pawn shop.

There was no finesse, no subtlety, and no mercy.

Powerball is a beast to cast. It will tire you out quickly, but when you need to blow down a wall and don't have a missile or grenade launcher, it is the tool for the job. The fa├žade of the old place blew inward in a hail of shattered brick.

Pepper was already moving, his AK was barking fire in short, three round bursts. He was methodical and precise. I came in right behind Pepper. I saw a fluorescent blue faux-hawk picking himself off the ground. I remember lifting my little Ares Viper slivergun and blowing his brains across the rubble.

It went just like that, a constant, steady rain of gunfire in the ruined night.  The air was choked with brick dust, and the night smelled of cordite, shit, and blood.  Faux-hawks were screaming just in time for us to silence them.  One came out of the back with a shotgun, but died before he could pull the trigger.  When Pepper's AK ran dry, he snatched that shotgun and went right back to work.

0405:  Pepper and I walked out the back of the ruin.  Only dead people lay behind us, and a trio of living but soon to be dead faux-hawks were running like all hell itself was after them.  They were right.

The shotgun Pepper had snatched had run dry pretty quickly.  The stock was sticky with blood where he had beaten a faux-hawk to death with it.  He pulled his Predator as I was reloading my slivergun.

Pepper brought his Predator up and it roared twice.  Taking one of the faux-hawks in the back and killing him quickly.  I was just bringing up the Viper when faux-hawk number two squeezed off a pair of shots.

That bastard got lucky. One round took Pepper in the throat and the other in his right eye.

I was shooting before Pepper hit the ground. 

The next thing I knew I was standing over the last two bodies.  My viper was clicking on empty and the corpses looked like they had been shredded.

Pepper was dead.

All these years later it still hurts to say that.  Pepper was dead.

I was just able to raise enough money to bury Pepper next to his wife and son.

It was the most lonely I'd been since my folks had died.

I was the only one who survived that hit.  I made damn certain all those faux-hawk wearing assholes were very well dead before I left. The ones in prison seemed to have run afoul of some angry people and were beaten to death. Damn shame that.

Revenge didn't solve anything though.  Pepper and his family were gone.

Remember that.  Revenge doesn't give you anything, but it can certainly take everything away if you let it.

I'm not going to talk about this anymore. 

Lets go grab a bite to eat.






Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Shadowrun: Blood and Honor

Late January 2056

I was seventeen years old


Sapphire had died suddenly. 

She had been at a rave in Renton with some folks she knew.  Seems she drank too much, took something she shouldn't have, then tried to drive home. 

The Lone Star accident report stated she was doing 200kph on her Yamaha Rapier when she rear ended a garbage truck.  Alcohol and "illicit substances" were suspected as contributing to her crash and subsequent demise.

Grack started working at a strip club four nights a week.  A real flesh and blood place, with pretty people dancing for paying customers.  Grack seemed happy enough, but he was still nursing that left shoulder from the bullet wounds the KE guards had given him a few weeks earlier.  He was going to be out of action for while with those holes healing up.

"Angel" was busy.  REALLY busy.  Not sure what she was doing exactly, but we couldn't get her to meet in the meat around that time.  She told me she was too busy for "the next couple of days" every time I asked her to work with me on a job.  A few days after the last "next couple of days", the word got out and went public about the Chicago Containment Zone, Bug Spirits, and all that mess.  (I do not claim the two are related, merely using this for a reference on the timeline).  I wasn't able to reach "Angel" until the April after that news went public.

Pepper was always willing to work.

We did several small jobs over the two weeks after that last frag up with Zip.

He carried the sword I had given him and treated me differently.  I first picked up on this when we did little job on a fertility clinic.

A certain Mr. Johnson had a need to make a "withdrawal" from this place that kept fertilized embryos for rich clientele.  Seems you can get your future kid frozen and make sure there are none of those pesky genetic disorders in the genome, before you decide to stick them back in to gestate the little squealers.

Mr. Johnson wanted some embryos that had been on ice for about five years.  Really just a simple heist, with the twist being the targets. 

So five little frozen embryos, all of which were very suspiciously the progeny of a certain politician and his soon to be ex-wife. 

I was learning a bit about doing leg work on a job before taking it, and this just seemed weird.  So another decker I knew did some digging for me and came up with an interesting email between the attorneys on their divorce arguing over "child support" for their future kids. 

Mr. Johnson it seems, likely worked for the Mrs. Future Ex-Wife's attorney, and it seemed it was pretty important that she be knocked up really soon.  And with soon to be ex-hubby's children (of course).

Armed with the peace of mine that we weren't going to cause any harm to the little ones (beyond getting them brought into this mess of a planet), Pepper and I took the job.

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

2105:   Pepper and I had been hiding, invisibly, in the little kitchen that served as a break room, for the last several hours.  I had used a spell lock to keep the invisibility running so I wouldn't wear my mental muscles out.  After the janitor left, we took the pass key we had swiped and simply walked into cold storage. 

We had been walking around all day since we snuck in.  We had been quiet and invisible, but it was still really hard to keep from being detected.  When people can't see you they will walk right into you if you aren't careful!

So there we were, in the cryo-storage area, looking for the little embryos that are soon to become Mr. Politico's dependents, when the lights go out.

Never a good sign when you didn't arrange it.

We stepped out just in time to see these four guys come walking down the hall.

They didn't look like doctors or staff at all.  All four were sporting Heckler-Koch sub-machineguns, ballistic vests, and faux-hawks.  They looked like basic, garden variety street muscle, and they were coming toward us.

"Dee," one whispered, "where 'da hell is tis ting we lookin' fo?"

The fourth guy, with a neon pink faux-hawk no less, spoke up (no whisper from this 'burglar'), "Damnit Gee!  Shut up!  You 'gun get us catched.  Shut yer hole or I'll gun-bugger ya!"

Charming.

They actually walked right by the cryo-storage room at first. Less than a foot from the tip of my nose in fact (which was not pleasant for me for several reasons).   I was just starting to whisper to Pepper when the four of them realized they had missed the room and started coming back. 

"I'll speak with them." Pepper said.

I dropped the invisibility, and the four of them froze in their tracks.

To be fair, it had to be unnerving to have a two meter tall street samurai and a young skinny me appear out of nowhere right in front of them. 

I was sporting my brand new form-fitting body armor with a nice insulation mod to help suppress my heat signature as well as keep me warm in the wet and cold of a Seattle January. 

Pepper was wearing armored fatigues, and heavy ballistic vest, and a ballistic mask styled in likeness of an ancient samurai armor Menpo mask.  He kept his hand on his katana.

Pink faux-hawk guy spoke up, "OI! Whatsu' doin' corpsey?  You is in 'da way. Move its or I gonna gun-bugger ya!"

Pepper took a step.  The katana sliding out in a swift arc and catching faux-hawk's neck about five centimeters below his jaw.  The blade cut through in a blink, and a thin line of red appeared on the wall to the right.

Pink faux-hawk guy's head fell on his feet and arterial blood shot straight to the ceiling tile.

The other three dropped their guns and I was pretty sure one drekked himself.

"Let this be a lesson.  You are unworthy to speak such aloud in his presence. Such disrespect will not be permitted." Pepper said it solemnly, like the chastising of a child caught swearing by a priest.  

We zip-tied those three to their dead companion and left them in the lobby. 

I was right by the way, one had shit himself.

We grabbed the future squealers, packed up the guns the street muscle brought for us (Couldn't leave dangerous weapons with them, they might have hurt themselves) and badged out the back of the clinic.

Two hours later the two of us were in the Brick House. 

Sheila had arranged the job and the meet was going down there.  Mr. Johnson showed up nice and timely, with a fist full of certified credsticks for a job well done.

Pepper didn't say a word through the whole exchange so I accepted the pay with no fuss and watched Mr. Johnson quietly leave with the cooler full of future little dependents.

Sheila X didn't ask any questions about the run, and we certainly didn't volunteer any. 

The next morning there was a brief news blurb about a break in at the fertility clinic, but nothing about us.

I had paid Pepper his half of the money and left the guns with him (I didn't know enough about guns back then to use them without endangering myself).
------------------------------------------------

I was low profile for a few days.

"You are unworthy to speak such aloud in his presence", Pepper had said. 

I knew it meant something but I wasn't sure what.

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

The shadows in Seattle were really busy that year.


I think it's time to get some actual work done.

I'm going to summon up a fire elemental for a little project I need to get started on.  That ten meter summoning circle isn't going to draw itself.











 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tommy Gun: Wiz Kid Mage (Bloody Snow, Honor, and Pepper)

January 2056:

Happy birthday to me!  I turned seventeen years old.

Sheila X had a messaged me to come down for a face to face.

At the time, I was running with an odd crew that generally worked well together.  Seems Sheila had put the word out to the team as whole, because when I made it to Brick House I saw familiar vehicles in the lot.

Little Rickie was there, same as always.  Nearly four meters of towering troll muscle, with reflexes like a hummingbird on novacoke, and a cyberarm I knew to have a meter plus of dikote (tm) coated blade hidden in its mechanism.  Every time I see Rickie, I feel an attack of politeness coming on.

Sapphire was inside already.  Two meters of lean muscle and "I'm more chill than you" attitude.  If not for the fact that she was physically adept, she would probably have had a great career as a joy-girl.  Such as those careers go anyway.  But she was an adept and a damn good one.  Gifted with a whole body awareness that made any weapon an extension of her will, a grace that made her as quiet as a creeping spider, and a situational awareness that made her seem superhuman in her reaction, she was a nightmare of an opponent in a fight.

Grack was in line waiting to get in.  Grack was an asshole.  He took great pride in being the strongest and dumbest troll he could be.  I'm not being racist about it.  He literally once told me, "I don' have to be smart.  I troll and troll strong.  Shut face or I flatten you."  Grack didn't like me, and the feeling was mutual.  He kept calling me 'kid' and offering to change my diaper, and drek like that. I had a bad feeling about Grack.  I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  But he was solid in a fight, carried a LOT of firepower, and was good at hitting what he aimed at.

Our decker was already there too.  Since she is still working in the Biz (Yes, over 20 years now), and is sharper with a deck than ever before I will just call her "Angel".  Angel was a bit younger than me, fifteen or sixteen at the time, and was real wiz with anything electronic and an archmage of the matrix in the making.  She wasn't up there with FastJack's level of skill at this time, but she was clawing to get there.  She had made some waves on her own and Sapphire was working for her as a bodyguard around this time.

The two other members of the team were Zip and Pepper.  Two Street samurai who were worlds apart in their thinking.  Zip was a self-absorbed, overly macho drek-head with a penchant for assault rifles and knife fighting.  Zip had some heavy wire in his meat bod that had destroyed most of his soul/essence (whatever you want to call it), he jumped at sudden movements, and talked to his shadow (seriously, it was creepy as hell). I don't miss him, and no one I know does either.  Pepper didn't have any wire at all.  He was an ideological successor to the ancient samurai.  Lived the life of a ronin, seeking a master worth serving and coming up cold.  Pepper once stuck his pistol under Zip's chin, when Zip had pulled a knife on a little girl who was running out of an alley.  Pepper was smart, committed, precise, and professional.  I liked him professionally, respected his abilities enough not to crack wise of his philosophy, and I miss him to this day.

The job was a big deal for us, with the potential for a huge score.

Mr. Johnson wanted an item from a particular warehouse that he didn't have rights of ownership to. The pay for this widget was surprisingly nice, which should have been a big warning flag, and my cut would have allowed me to move out of Redmond and into Pinehurst (that move had to wait a while). Johnson was good for ten percent up front money, so the team decided to pull the job and off we went.

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

From my notes on the job (its hard looking back twenty years plus and seeing the mistakes that were made... some things you only learn by surviving I guess):

1900:  Snow is deep on the ground around the warehouse except for the parking area.  Security is on the ball, with Knight  Errant sec guards sporting their environmentally adapted gear and weapons.  "Angel" was able to remotely access the security system, found a rigger in the sec system, and put him into a state of blissful ignorance with some digital magic.  (Note: With the electronic sec-systems at our control we had only the KE guards to worry about and that is where we fragged up.  We didn't take the KE guys seriously, didn't respect their professionalism, and then Zip nearly got us all killed.)

1910:  I levitated myself and Sapphire over the fence line and onto the roof.  Then levitated Zip and Pepper over. It was cold.  The snow had a thin layer of ice on top, and I just heard the soft crunch of boots breaking through that ice and snow below us.  Pepper and Zip were 15 meters in the air, being levitated to me, but were only half way through the trip.  A KE sec-guard was walking the perimeter, something we hadn't seen them do in the thirty minutes we had been watching before we kicked the party off.

He must have been good at his job, that KE guard, because when he came around the corner he saw Zip and Pepper and grabbed at his comm.

That is when Zip flipped out and opened up on him.

I don't know how many rounds Zip fired exactly.  I know he emptied his AK-97 into the sec guard with most, if not all, of the rounds striking home.  Added to that, Zip was screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs the whole time and you can understand why in seconds we had a dozen KE sec-guards slinging guns and beating feet our way.

I managed to get Zip and Pepper on the roof with Sapphire and I, while Angel sent a message over our commlinks saying she was suppressing the alarm the guards had triggered.  Zip was reloading, and swearing he was going to kill "Every slotting sec-guard in this fragged up, icebox!" (his words).  I remember I looked at him, not sure what my face looked liked but Zip shoved his AK in my face and started to say something about blowing my little magical head off, when Pepper stabbed him in the brainpan.

"Unprofessional, and dishonorable" was all Pepper ever said about it.

I had thought I might piss a little.

Grack had put the big dumb troll theme to work.  He was firing indiscriminately at sec-guards and managed to tie up about half of them in an actual, honest-to-ghost firefight on the other side of the warehouse.

Sapphire slipped into the warehouse with Pepper, and I scooted around on the roof looking for the rest of the KE guys.

I found four of them covering a fifth who was working on the KE guard Zip had shot up.  It looked like a lost cause to me.  I don't know what made me do it, but I went to work.

"Stunball" they like to call it on the streets but my teacher had called it "a little sleep spell".  Whatever you call it, the spell can put down some hostiles without killing them or making a ton of noise... which fit my bill precisely at that moment.  I pushed the spell a bit harder than normal and earned the beginning of a headache I would surely not enjoy later, but the five sec-guards all fell over into a forced slumber.

A little more levitation and twelve seconds later I was in the bloodied snow next to the downed KE guard.

Healing magic is HARD!  Even more so when you have cybernetics in the meat bod you are trying to fix up.  The KE sec-guard wasn't dead yet, but he was going to be soon if something didn't change.  So I put my all into a healing spell that would surely hurt me something awful.

The other thing about healing magic, you have to keep it up for a while to make it stick.

So I'm kneeling there, in the bloody snow, surrounded by KE sec-guards who are taking a nice little nap while gunfire is raging on the other side of the building and ghost-only-knows-what going on inside the warehouse.

A minute passed.

It felt like a year.

The KE sec-guard opened his eyes. I'm sure he was going to say something, but I really wasn't interested.  So I stuck the tranq patch from the KE first aid kit on his forehead and watched his eyes roll back.  He was unconscious super quick.

Grack was shooting up the other side of the warehouse. Angel was calling out that alarms were going out to Lone Star about the shooting. I had just landed back on top of the roof; when Pepper and Sapphire came running out of the warehouse. Zip was, thankfully, very dead.


Sapphire pitched a grenade that landed among the sec-guards fighting it out with Grack.  The grenade made a loud 'hiss' sound as whisps of gas erupted in the area.  Several of the sec-guards fell in their tracks while the ones remaining fled the gas.


I couldn't lift Zip, but I could levitate him.  So seventeen year old me, aspiring shadowrunner and hot slot wiz kid, levitated the corpse and my skinny hoop off the roof and over the fence line to our wheels.  Angel popped the door on the van, then tore off to the gate to pick up the rest of the team.

We pulled a big scoot-and-fade and made it out.

Zip didn't seem impressed.

Johnson was good to his word about the money he promised.  We made the swap under the watchful eyes of several guns pointed in both directions.

We got paid.  Sapphire got rid of Zip's body.

Grack had taken three rounds in his left shoulder, and those had to come out.  Pepper and I took him to a street doc Pepper knew. She got the bullets out for the bargain price of half of Grack's share of the money.  I was able to heal a little bit of the damage with magic. Grack had so much cyberware that it was nearly impossible to heal anything at all.

This, of course, pissed Grack off.  He went to his doss and, eventually, stopped bitching about magic not working on "hard working trolls".

Pepper had saved my life.  No bones about it.  I spent a few days thinking it over, and reading up on his philosophy.  I wanted to say thank you without causing offense, and still make it sincere.

So I called up Pepper a week later and set up a meet with him at the Brick House.  Sheila let me reserve a booth and bring my "gratitude" in without a fuss.

Pepper showed up early, as was his habit, and sat down across from me.

"Thank you for my life," I said in my very broken and terribly mispronounced Japanese.

I put a box on the table.  It was a wood, real wood, carved to look like flowers.  It had cost me a month's rent.  Pepper opened the box, saw the sake bottle inside, and nodded in a gesture I took as acceptance.

I then put a longer box on the table.  It was black and had brass fittings.

"If you would be willing, please accept this as a token of my respect"... my Japanese was bad enough back then that I think I actually said "candy" instead of "token".  But Pepper seemed to understand what I was saying.  His eyes widened a bit when he opened the box though. The katana inside had cost me almost a year's rent.  To my thinking it was well worth it as I still had my favorite cranium.

Pepper seemed to think for a long moment, then took the gift, stood and offered a deep bow.  We ate well that night.  After the two gifts and dinner, I had made hardly any money at all on that run.  I had made some, I was warm, eating well, and I had good company. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew that KE sec-guard had survived.

Pepper and I did a lot of work together over the coming months.  But those are stories for another time.

I've got a good bottle of sake I think I'll open.

 I feel like toasting to an old friend.






Friday, May 26, 2017

Tommy Gun: Wiz Kid Mage (2nd story)

October 2055

I was sixteen years old:

I had managed to catch the attention of fixer named Sheila X.  She was a fixture in the Seattle Shadow scene, operating out of a refurbished bar and grill in the Redmond Barrens.  Back then, she had a huge troll named 'Little Ricki' who manned the door, a couple of girls who tended bar and waited tables, and a Rastafarian Dwarf cook with a hell of a lot of talent.

The place is called the 'Brick Yard' but most of the shadowfolk those days called it the 'Brick House'.  Even though it is in the Barrens, the power works and the water flows.  The patrons at the Brick Yard are an odd assortment of up and coming shadow talent, runners in the biz, and the occasional nova-hot musical act.  Wannabes, upstanding citizens, and informants didn't make it past Ricki.

So one morning sixteen year old me is sitting in my shitty little doss, trying to meditate while the couple across the hall are screaming at each other over their crying baby.  My comm beeped and I had a text, from an unknown number, asking if a certain young magician might be available for a short term freelance assignment.  There was an address in Redmond and a figure that seemed pretty tempting at the time.

I made my way to the Brick Yard in broad daylight.  I spent much of my time invisible as my part of Redmond was in the middle of a gang war at that time and I didn't want to look like a good candidate for a drive by shooting. I remember Ricki was at the front door and he was the honest-to-ghost largest person I had ever seen.  He had a wiz cyberarm and a hand cannon on his hip I didn't think I could lift easily much less fire.

I dropped the spell about 10 meters away, intending to have some polite words with the large gentleman.  Ricki spun quicker than a cat on nova-coke and that big gun was suddenly pointing at my favorite cranium.  "Chummer, you almost got dead!  Don't never sneak up on me!  Never!" It came out as a growl and I was really impressed that I didn't piss myself.

Between one blink and the next Ricki holstered his cannon and waved me in, "She's expecting you."
I went in, and right politely at that.

Inside there were about a dozen people at tables. Most of them alone and facing the door I had walked through. The place smelled of foods I had not yet tasted by that time in my life, but I knew right then I wanted to try them.  It was then I made a stupid mistake, completely by reflex.  I looked into the astral.  Like I said, it was stupid.

I must have used up a lot of luck at that moment because I was the ONLY magically active person in the Brick Yard at the time.  No spirits floating around other than some watchers who shook their 'heads' disapprovingly at me.  I forced my astral sight closed (something that has always been hard for me to do, even today).

I didn't know who I was seeing or why, which just goes to show how green I was, so I sat down at the bar.  The ork girl behind the bar gave me a big, tusky smile, "Mr. Gun!  First time in and boss lady says to feed you.  What will you have?"

I honestly had no fraggin' idea what was going on.  But the smells from the kitchen were making my stomach growl at me for not rounding up whatever it was.  "What's good?" I asked.  I was trying for frosty cool indifference but I don't think I pulled it off.

"Everything Mr. Gun.  I'll get you a menu."

Two minutes later I was looking over a menu that would cost me a week's worth of grocery and rent money to cover a meal.  I remember I picked a sirloin (not knowing what a sirloin was), mashed potatoes, and rolls.  I was planning on skipping out on the check.  Since no one was awakened in the place other than me, I figured I would just turn invisible once I finished and never come back.

Thirty minutes and the best meal I had ever had later, the ork girl cleared my dishes and told me "Boss will see you now."

A couple of minutes later I was sliding into Sheila's booth for the first time.

The run was already a go by the time I was sitting with Sheila X.  Apparently, the team that was working the job lost their mage the night before from a slight case of death.  Sheila offered me 2k nuyen to provide astral over watch for the team for the remainder of the run (which was just for that night), but I cleverly (I thought) negotiated another sirloin platter on top of it.

That run sucked.

The team I was providing astral over watch for wandered straight into a pair of weapon focus wielding physical adepts with a grudge about twenty minutes into my astral jaunt.  A pair of spells down their foci gave them a good jolt.  They tried to disengage, and the team let them run off, but I knew if they got away there could be some serious problems.  So I killed them.

I'm not proud of that. There really wasn't any reason for it other than I was green and a bit scared.

I had an air spirit bound at the time and so I had it manifest and hide the bodies and their gear behind a dumpster.  ( I went by there the next day and stole their stuff... again, not proud of that)

When I went back to the team they were mixing it up with a security patrol that happened to have a hell hound with them.

For the record, I like dogs. I do NOT like dogs that try to kill me with fire.  Not one bit.
As I was in astral space and didn't want to blow this run off.  I stayed in astral and had a nasty fight with the doggie.  I didn't kill it. For that I'm glad. But it did manage to hurt me and I was getting tired from all the time in astral space.

Ten minutes later the team had the whatsit in hand and were fleeing the scene.  I followed until they got to their safe house, then went back to my meat body.

I sent a text to the number Sheila gave me, got a countersign back, and responded appropriately.

The next morning I collected my money and my steak platter.

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

No.  I don't know what the whatsit was, and I don't really care.

Those runners were sloppy and probably would have been killed pretty quickly if I hadn't been along.

I met them when I picked up my money.  One troll, big and dumb as a bag of rocks, tried to pull that macho "I'm a troll I'll mess you up little man" routine on me.  Didn't like him.

But Sheila seemed to like that I didn't let them provoke me, that I maintained my cool, and that I was available. Back in the mid-50's being awakened was even more rare than it is now. This was particularly true in the shadow community, and full fledged magicians (even wiz-kids like I was) were hard to come by.

It wasn't long before I was on another job.

But that is a story for later.  I feel like grabbing a steak and I know just the place.






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Beginning: A Story about Tommy

Kentucky:  Sometime in 1991

A novice gamer is introduced to the near future dystopian role-playing game that would cement his affection for gaming.  Here is the tale of those stories, written from memory, by the surviving player.

Told from a first person perspective.
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In the beginning, there was the first edition.

Everyone died

Then there came the second edition:

Character:  Thomas Michael Gunne  Alias: Tommy "The Machine" Gun
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The year was 2055, and I was 16 years old.

I was born in Seattle, UCAS to parents who weren't bright enough to hide the fact that I was an awakened child.  Don't get me wrong.  I loved my folks.  Its really a shame what happened to them.  I would have probably been a legit wage mage if only they had lived.

When I was really little, three or so, I had an imaginary friend.  Her name was Isabellix, and she was tall and pretty and glowed at night so I wouldn't be afraid of the dark.  We played great games of chase all over the house, much to my mother's chagrin, and she kept the monsters out from under my bed.

Isabellix and I played a lot.  We played checkers and with my Roshi Red Samurai action figures and we generally had a blast. My folks thought it was cute, and maybe annoying, but they didn't think anything of it.  I mean, a lot of kids have imaginary friends, right?

So when I was five, I was playing over at my cousin's place.  He was older, nine or ten I think, and he was a real jerk.  My aunt, his mom, had to run out to the stuffer for something and left us in the doss for just a little bit.  But my cousin (Jerk) decided that he was going to stuff my favorite cranium in the toilet for a bit of flushing.  He didn't seem to mind that I started drowning in the toilet from his hijinks.  I remember I was panicking and trying to scream and cry and was drowning from the water and then things started getting dark....

I woke up laying in the floor, with water and vomit all around me.  My cousin was stuck to the ceiling.  Just stuck, hanging like he had been glued up there.  He was screaming like someone had pulled his ears off.  I remember I saw Isabellix sitting next to me, which was weird because she usually went away when other kids were around, and she said "He's not nice".  I had to agree.  My cousin fell from the ceiling, banged his head against the bathtub and lay still on the floor.  My aunt must have been opening the door when he fell, because she came running in about a tick after he hit the tub and flipped out.

Scalp wounds bleed like crazy.  That fall cost my cousin sixteen stitches and a really solid concussion.  But he never tried to flush me down the toilet again, and Isabellix was always around when he was around.  It was about this time that I realized people weren't kidding, and they really couldn't see Isabellix.

When I was nine, I took that test they give you to see if you might be magically active.  I didn't want to do it, but my parents said it would be good for me and that if I did have magic it would be good for my future.  Honestly I think they thought I was insane for talking to things I was seeing that they couldn't see, and were just hoping against hope I might be a magician instead of being a lunatic.  Unfortunately for my folks, I am a magician, and the test showed that pretty definitely.  Isabellix told me before I went that I should run and hide and not take the test.  I should have listened.

So there I was, a nine year old who talked to things that most people didn't see only I had been seeing them my whole life.  I had, somehow, been astrally perceiving most of my life and had managed not to go crazy.  So my imaginary friends weren't so imaginary, and my mom developed a weird habit of looking under my bed and behind doors (I have no idea what she thought she might find).

So a few months before I turn ten, a corp recruiter shows up and offers my folks a really sweet scholarship and a career path that would have landed a cushy corporate wage mage job for me in just a few short years.  My parents were all for it and that would have been that, except it wasn't.  After the corp recruiter left things got weird over the next few days.  My folks suddenly got fired from their jobs.  Our apartment building caught fire.  When I went to my school for the first time, they said I wasn't welcome anymore.

My folks called the recruiter who swore he would look into it and not to worry.  So my folks and I were squatting at my aunt's place, and Isabellix and I were playing checkers (my cousin had gone to his room), when pizza arrived... we hadn't ordered any.

The pizza guy shot my dad, walked in and shot my mom and my aunt.  When he turned to point the gun at me Isabellix just appeared in front of me, and a moment later the "pizza guy" was a molten puddle of goop on the floor.  It was all over. My parents were dead, my aunt was dead, and my cousin had apparently died from lethal feedback from a btl he had slotted in his room.

I was alone.

When the social workers turned me over to the corporate orphanage I thought everything was going to be okay.  I was crushed that my parents were dead, but Isabellix stayed with me the whole time.

Then I went to school.

It was the first day of class and Isabellix had been telling me all morning we should leave... I  wish I had listened.

When I went to the class room Isabellix came with me and sat next to me.  The other kids stayed away from that seat and I got ready for my first day at magic school.  When the teacher came in she took one look at me, then at Isabellix, and said "No Pets allowed!"

I remember I looked at Isabellix, stood up and said, "She isn't a pet. She is my best friend."

The teacher went stone cold, then pointed a finger at me and said something I don't remember.  I know now she was trying to cast a spell on me.  But Isabellix jumped on her and the two started fighting.  I remember Isabellix screaming at me "Run Tommy!  Run!"

So I ran and I never went back.  I never saw Isabellix again.

Living on the street and hiding from the corp I was lucky to live a week. I was also lucky to make friends with a street mage, and I became his very own apprentice.  I was a real pain in his ass most of the time, but I learned as much as he could teach me.

On that night in 2055, three nights after I got pissy with my teacher for last time, I took on my first shadowrun and survived.  It wasn't much, but it was a job, and I made enough to keep me from starving for a week or two. I made a point of seeing my teacher when I could.  I really was a pain in the ass to him and he taught me a lot.  He had a heart attack and died in 2056, but he was the best person I had met since my folks died.

Turns out, my parent's misfortune was "facilitated" by my corporate recruiter.  Seems orphans become more dependent on their corp and are considered more loyal.  So they murdered my parents.  Now I take any job against that corp.  I've made a lot of money over the years hitting them.

I'm done talking about this tonight.

Lets go get a bourbon and check out the urban brawl.  This personal stuff is depressing as hell.