Monday, January 29, 2018

Milk Run

There is an old saying in the shadows. Well, actually, there are several.  One you should never forget is "Milk money is still money".

October 12th, 2058

I was nineteen years old, but my tribal ID said I was twenty-two.   I didn't look my age, in fact I looked closer to thirty.  In the last few weeks I had experienced a lot of firsts: I didn't get carded walking into Dante's Inferno; I ran into some anti-tribal racism in a store I had formally enjoyed frequenting in Bellevue; and other shadowrunner professionals stopped treating me like a kid.

Funny thing about being dead, you have to make friends all over again. It can be really lonely, if you generally like people.  It can also be really confusing when you run into people you used to know and they don't recognize you.

It was evening and I was in a StufferShack(tm).  I had just picked up a chocolate bar (don't judge me, I was nineteen and still had a teenager metabolism), when I saw a familiar face walk in.  Sandy walked in with her three little squealers in tow.  They were all walking together, holding hands, and being well behaved kiddos. I smiled in spite of myself and reminded myself that I wasn't "me" anymore.

I was at the check out scanner when a pair norms walked in.  They were your garden variety street toughs.  Big, well muscled, and decked out in colors proclaiming themselves members of the "Knights of the Blood".  The KotB were a gang of humanis sympathizers and I felt myself tense up inside a bit. I'll admit, I had a bad feeling when I saw them.  Bigots are usually trouble when they flaunt their prejudice around.

"Oi! Watcher, Nick.  We got us a tusker and her litter.  Wut the world cummin' too when you can't get some chips wit' out runnin' inta tuskers?"  The taller of the two thugs let it roll out his mouth like a funny joke.

Next to the dairy case I saw Sandy pulling out a pair of milk bags.

"Na' Mickie.  That tusker ain't here.  Show her the door son, this our store.  Kick her and her pups to the curb!" The other one, "Nick" I guess, spouted.

I set my chocolate bar down on the scanner and it beeped loudly.

"Oi! Savage! Get moving too. This here is only for people!" 'Nick' again.

I turned to see Nick pull a knife and point it at me, while Mickie walked one aisle down and started toward the dairy case.  Sandy hurried her kids an aisle over and was making her way away from the ganger.   "Come on boys, just like mommy taught you" she said.

I felt a flush of anger and stepped in next to Nick and tapped him on the temple with my fingertip, "Rest now" I said.  The spell hit him like a bat and he fell to the floor limply.

One of Sandy's sons started to cry.

"Nick!" Mickie yelled  and came running back my way.  Mickie rounded the aisle and was about three meters from me when I noticed that Sandy's son wasn't crying anymore.

Suddenly, I was standing in Pepper's shattered living room two years earlier.  I remember my head jerked around and I saw Sandy holding one of the triplets in her arms as she led the other two out the door.  Mickie hit me like I was a lucky number.

I caught Mickie's fist with the back of my favorite cranium.  The spells I had running to make me healthier and tougher probably saved me from instant unconsciousness.  I hit the floor hard, and rolled over to see Mickie picking up Nick's knife.   Mickie had murder in his eyes, but I had magically enhanced speed and just the right tool for the occasion.  Nick took one step toward me, and I shot him in the knee with my trusted Viper Slivergun(tm).  At point blank range it blew Nick's leg off from about an inch above the knee.

I ran out of the StufferShack(tm) and saw Sandy hustling down to the bus stop.  I wove a spell of invisibility around myself and walked down to the stop.  I hung out there, invisible to everyone, until the bus arrived and Sandy and her boys got on.  Lone Star was showing up at the StufferShack(tm) so it was definitely time for me to go.  I made use of bipedal locomotion for the next hour, wrapped in a spell and working very hard not to walk into people.

*****

October 14th, 2058

I received a text on my new line.  Sheila had a job lined up and I needed paying work.

I walked into the Brick Yard shortly after dark.  I found my way to the bar, and took a seat.  Sandy came over and took my order.  She didn't smile at me the way she used to, not since I wasn't "me" anymore.  The food was fantastic, as always, and when she came to check on me I told her to put an order for her on me, and asked her to take a rum to the cook.  She did a double take, said "thank you" and walked off.  I saw her look back at me when she reached the kitchen door.  I made a mental note to watch out about old habits.

The job was an easy one.  A street mage was looking for someone to teach him a snappy spell I happened to know.  Sheila X tapped me and took her thirty percent.  I made a nice bit of nuyen for a little unlicensed instruction, and everyone left happy.

Hey, its not always sneaking, stealing, and killing monsters, you know.  Sometimes you just have a job to do.

I've got to get some shopping done today.  Sandy's grandsons are being born any day now and I need to find a crib the little screamers can sleep in.  You coming?



{Dedicated to David, Happy birthday Chummer}



Friday, January 19, 2018

In deepest shadow

September 7th, 2058

I was having lunch in a cafe in Bellevue. My brown shopping bag had two books I had picked up at a lore shop around the corner. I was enjoying my over priced coffee and sandwich when a woman sat down at my table, uninvited.

I looked up to see her unfolding a synth-leather bifold.  A badge identified her as corporate police for my least favorite corp.

"Enjoy your last meal as a free man you piece of drek." she snarled.  "I'm taking you in."

I was caught off guard.  She was tall, brunette, and very pretty but the corp badge and her attitude turned my mood to barely constrained fury.  "I don't know what you're talking about lady. I'm not a corporate citizen, I'm not on your corporate territory, and I don't know who you think I am but you've got the wrong guy."

I heard the hammer of a pistol cock under the table.  "Don't drek with me.  You're Tommy Gun, AKA Thomas Gunderson, AKA Tim Guthry, AKA Tony Cannonari, AKA I don't give a drek how many other aliases.  I've got you dead bang, fragger.  You move and I'll blow your guts across the floor."  She snarled at me in an ugly way as she spoke.  Whatever she had against me it seemed personal.

"I'm not the man you're looking for" I said sagely.  The spell snaked out and wrapped around her mind.  I felt her resistance snap and her facial expression changed suddenly to confused embarrassment.  "It may be a good time for a bathroom break." I added.

"Excuse me, I think I need to use the ladies' room." She said as she rose from her seat, holstering her pistol as she did, and started walking toward the restrooms.  I rose with her, keeping my eyes on her as she walked away.  I followed for a bit, turning to keep her in sight as I made it to the door.  I pushed my way through and outside, losing line of sight on her. I ducked into the crowd and started pacing away.  I thought a tick, and wove an illusion around myself, taking on the appearance of a grey-haired ork.

I sat down at the transit stop and watched the corp cop come running out of the cafe. She cast her gaze around, desperately looking around the crowd, then turned and ran down to the corner away from me, looking both ways trying to find where I had gone.  I got onto the bus, fed a $10 UCAS bill into the script slot, and sat down.  I rode the bus for almost two hours, getting off at a random stop.

I didn't want to use the credstick tied to my fake ID in case it was being tracked, so I started walking.  When I crossed back into Bellevue I got stopped by Lone Star for the crime of being ork.  I thought I was going to get a Lone Star beat down, but they just ran my face through facial recognition, didn't find anything, and told me to be on my way.  I walked into a restaurant, had to wait twenty minutes to get a table, then sat down and waited for someone to take my order.  After ten minutes, I got up and made my way to the men's room.  Being an old ork was running me headlong into some old style racism and I really didn't want to burn up all my time dealing with other people's prejudices.  I ducked into a stall, let my spell dissolve, then focused on an image I constructed in my imagination.  Once I had it firmly fixed in my head, I wove my illusion into the image of a a golden-haired elf.  When I stepped from the stall, I caught my reflection in the mirror, focused to make a few minor cosmetic changes, then walked back out into the restaurant.

It turns out that when you are a good looking elf you don't usually have much trouble getting waited on.  I spent a few minutes eating and drinking at a sedate pace, and periodically checking the astral for signs of arcane pursuit.  There were two other magicians in the restaurant, they were sitting together and were seemingly on a date.  Their auras were excited in a romantic and sensual way.  I looked away, suddenly feeling like I was intruding. I sent a text out to Angel, asking for a meeting at the restaurant.  It took her only twenty minutes to get there and I was ordering desert when she sat down.  "Desert dear?" I asked.

"None yet, you ate dinner without me?  Asshole." Angel sounded like an annoyed girlfriend.  "Can I get a menu please?"  The waitress blushed and trotted off to fetch a menu.

"I had an unpleasant encounter today.  I would like to talk about it and get your opinion." I said.

The waitress strode up and handed Angel her menu, "Sweet tea, real lemon please. Can I get some organic boneless chicken wings with the honey bar-b-que on it, and I'll order something else when I find what I'm hungry for." Angel was playing up the pissy girlfriend angle pretty well.  When the waitress was a few tables away, Angel only said "Not here, elsewhere when we leave.".

We ate and acted the part of a couple with some issues going on.  I paid the tab and Angel stomped out of the restaurant ahead of me.  We waited in uncomfortable silence until the car pulled up.   Angel's car service was pricier than the one I used.  The sedan that pulled in was well appointed and comfortable.  There weren't any weird stains or smells in the interior, and it pulled away smoothly as she finished inputting our destination through her pocket secretary.  We arrived at the Salish Orroro Hotel ten minutes later.  We strode through the lobby and into the elevator banks beyond, hand in hand.  In the elevator, Angel pushed me against the wall and kissed me on the mouth. It was an act, but it was a good one.  I found it hard to concentrate, but we made it to the twentieth floor with a convincing act of two people off to use each other for their mutual satisfaction.

We made it to the room in a show of passionate kisses and some heavy petting.  That all stopped once the door to the room closed behind us.  I opened my astral sight and promptly shooed a pair of watcher spirits out of the room.  Angel, held up a single finger, unfolded a small computer from her purse and spent about a minute clicking keys before she plugged a data cord into the jack at her temple.  Five minutes later she spooled the data cable back into the unit, turned to face me and said, "We're clear".

I let the illusion slip away and stood facing Angel. "Thanks Chummer." It took all of about five minutes to tell the tale of my misadventure that afternoon.  Angel took it all in and said "She made you by facial recognition?"

"That's what I'm thinking" I said. "She seemed pissed at me, or about me, like it was personal.  I don't remember seeing her before, but I think she may have just recognized me herself."

Angel nodded, "Bad luck then Tommy. You sure you don't know her?"

I had thought about her all day and I was confident I didn't know her. "Never seen her before that I recall. Maybe she saw my face on an image file or something.  Her corp masters would have no love for me."

Angel nodded thoughtfully and I took the next step, "Angel I need to hire you to run against their system.  I need whatever they have on me gone.  Can you pull it off for me chummer?"

Angel looked me in the eye and named her price. I thought I was going to die.  People say deckers make the real money in the shadows, and they would be correct.  The price Angel quoted to me was more than I had made in any given year, much less far more than what I could lay hands on.  I didn't know what to say so I cleared my throat and tried to appear thoughtful.  Angel didn't buy it.  "Tommy, you've never had that much money, so why try the act?" Deckers also know things you wish no one knew.

"Sorry Angel, I just don't know what to say.  I can't pay it." I was genuinely sorry and horribly embarrassed.

"As it happens, there is something you can do for me that I'll take in trade." Angel said.  I listened to what she wanted, weighed my options, and agreed to her terms.  {As if you had a choice chummer~Angel}

****
No, I won't tell you what she wanted or what I gave her.  If you want to know, then I suggest you ask Angel.

{Don't ask~Angel}

****

I can't pretend to know what Angel encountered when she made her run against that corp.  I can tell you that I had been the subject of an investigation that had been going on for about two years by the corp police.  They had identified me from surveillance footage that had survived a few runs I had made against them, and eventually they identified me from my old school records.  I was well and truly found out.  I was apparently on a wanted list that circulated among the corp police.  The rap sheet listed a litany of horrific acts I had never committed along with a longer list of things I had actually done.  I was flagged a corp-cop killer which meant that if I ever got picked up by any law enforcement agency I was going to get extradited, and probably executed or "shot while attempting to escape".

Angel managed to remove my old records, wipe out my photo and replace it with a composite she put together, then she filed a report to their system indicating that I had been killed that morning when I ran out in front of a bus two blocks from where I had been spotted by one detective Olivia Raintree.  Detective Raintree was being held in the corp infirmary "for observation" as she showed signs of being mentally manipulated by magical means.  She was going to be enduring a psychiatric assessment for the next few months to determine if she was still fit for duty.

My death certificate hit the corp system from a bot that Angel had trigger it from Lone Star, and suddenly I was officially very dead.  Nice work that.

{You are making it sound much less difficult than it was~Angel}

I slipped back into my apartment and gathered up things I couldn't leave laying around, as well as some things I couldn't replace.  I held onto my digital library, grabbed up my real books, threw my magical gear into my rucksack, and wiped all the electronics I used in the place.  My landlord had been an okay sort, and I liked my neighbors so I didn't burn down the building.  I did sterilize every inch of the place before I walked out.

I spent the next four days in safe house I had set up for just such an emergency.

I spoke with Sheila face to face.  I was very much in the business, but who I had been had to go.  She was able to lay hands on a spell formula for a tricky shape-changing spell I needed.  It cost me half of the money I had in the world but was worth it.  It took me three weeks to master the spell's nuances.

I looked in the mirror one night, wondering when I would see my face again.

October 12th, 2058 0815 hours

I had drawn the circle the night before.  It was complicated, meant for transformational magic and incorporated elements of spell craft for health and life magics.  I had checked it over and couldn't find a problem with it, which was a relief but also made me wonder if I had missed anything. I laid out the components for the rituals I was about to utilize, grabbed my spell foci, and stepped, sky clad, into the circle.

The first incantations were uttered into an eerie stillness, the power growing quietly behind each word.  Hundred year old powdered ginseng, mixed with powdered horn of a narwhale was cast into air above me, my magic and incantation activating the magic potential in each particle so that I was slowly showered with motes of light. From a stoppered bottle I poured out water from the blood falls over my head, shoulders and chest, and from a sealed jar I took slices of gold colored apple and ate each of them.  I finished the incantation, pushed the full force of my magical might and sorcerous skill into it, and felt my body respond. I felt, better is as good a term as any, more solid.  I held the spell in place, working mana into a self-perpetuating loop to hold the spell together, and with a final shove of my magic I felt the spell seal itself into place.

I took a half hour break before I began the next spell.  Once more I stepped sky clad into my circle, made a few specific changes to it's design, then planted my palms to the floor and began the spell.  It took several minutes as I poured magic into my body.  Every muscle tightened and I struggled with the incantation at first.  My materials came in one handy formulation, a salve I had made from essential earths from China, the fat of a bear, and ashes from a living phoenix.  My joints felt the strain as mana flowed through me.  I felt the spell reach it's climax and held it firm.  I wove its mana loop together, quickening it to me permanently.

I collapsed from the strain of the casting, and lay there for most of an hour before I moved.  I got up, ate a snack of peanut butter on soycakes then got busy reordering my circle for the last casting of my day.  Sand from deserts of every continent were mixed with cinnamon oil in a glass bowl.  Once more I stepped into my circle, still wearing only the sky above me, and began my intonations.  I spread the gritty paste over every inch of my body then grabbed the small doll that had been laying at the center of the circle.  Locks of my hair stuck out from it's head, and drops of my blood stained the area where the doll's heart would be.  My breathe came harder as I was tiring quickly.  My body started to hurt. It was a small thing at first, but it intensified to point where it was hard to continue. I was able to complete my spell, pushing my magical power to its limit then locking it into place by weaving another loop of mana.

I stepped out of the circle as a young amerindian man with short, close cropped black hair.  My skin was a nice and healthy brown, and my eyes were a deep chestnut color.  My features were such that I would pass as native to the Salish Sidhe territories.  My elven ears gave some legitimacy to the narrow cant of my features. I stepped from my circle and put on the suit I had brought with me.  It didn't fit well at all. It was tight in the arms and chest, and loose in the midriff.  I resolved to get some clothing tailored to me when I could afford it.

The old strip mall I had used for my rituals burned as I strode away.

I made my way to the Brick Yard and walked around to the front.  Little Rickie was there in his fully imposing glory.  As I approached he put his hand on the cannon he called a pistol. "Watch'r chummer, I think you're in the wrong place." I was impressed I didn't piss myself.  I definitely wanted to.

"Donut delivery for Sheila X.  I'm here to pick up the glazed with sprinkles." It was a weird pass phrase to give but it was what I was instructed to say, Sheila had been very specific. Rickie nodded and pointed to the door, "No trouble or I'll have to chuck you out."  It was a weird sensation, walking in and no one recognizing me.

I made my way to the bar and claimed a chair.

*****

Sheila kept my identity to herself. She was really great about that.  For the purposes of our continuing conversations I'll still refer to myself as "Tommy 'the machine' Gun" which is what I am perhaps most notoriously known as.  I went by a lot of different names over the years.

Those are stories for another time though.

I bet you're wondering if this is my real face.  The one you see in front of you, right?  We know each other pretty well.  Well enough that I'm telling you my stories, but we don't know each other that well.  Maybe in a few years, if you're still around, I'll see if I can find my real face.  I know it's hidden under here somewhere.

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

Dedicated to Josh, Happy Birthday Chummer



Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tommy's Story: Ghosts of Puget Sound

August 25th, 2058

I was nineteen years old.

My first astral quest had taught me a lot.  My magical talent was stronger and I had learned the technique to "quicken" spells to make them permanent.  But with a new life to start living I was in need of work to pay my modest bills.  I sent a message to Sheila X to let her know I was available, then settled down for a long wait.

I spent the next nine days watching old twentieth century flat vid cartoons, doing some light exercise, meditating, and going a little stir crazy.


On the tenth day my phone rang.

"Tommy, can you swim?" Sheila's question struck me as oddly interesting.

"Like a fish," my answer was far more true that she could have expected.

"Great, lets talk soon."  Sheila broke the call before I could respond.

I grabbed my go bag and headed for the door.  I stopped just short of opening it, realizing I may need to take stock of what I was carrying.

Can I swim?  Its an interesting question for a fixer to ask.  Can I swim?  I emptied and repacked my bag.  It was a little heavier now and had some materials that I thought might, just might, come in handy. 

I wrapped my invisibility spell around me and ducked out of my apartment.  I just barely avoided bouncing into a woman who lived down the hall. She had a baby in one of those front carry things that makes it look like its growing out of the mom's chest.  The baby gurgled and waved at me.  I waved back, remembered I was invisible, and smiled at the little squealer.  Poor kid was in for an interesting life. 

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

I landed in the parking lot at the Brick Yard, let my invisibility spell slip away as I walked around to the front.  It was 1900 hours, the sun was up and I could hear music pounding from inside.  Little Rickie opened the door for me.  I still felt that same attack of politeness that always came over me when I saw him.

"Hey Rick.  Thanks Omae." I strode in and felt the pulse of the music hit me.  I made my way to the bar, and managed to keep myself from dancing all the way there. 

There was a band I liked at the Brick Yard that night, "Grey haired goddesses" they did covers of a lot of old songs from the twentieth.  A five woman group of vicious elves, they were hammering out their tribute to "The Sky is a Poisonous Garden" by Concrete Blonde*.  I was loving the vibe and for just a moment forgot I was there on business.

"Mr. Gun", Sandy's big tusky smile was infectious.  "Hungry? Or just here to dance?"

I smiled easily with Sandy, "I'm always hungry beautiful.  How are the kids?"

Sandy's eyes brightened a bit, "Always a handful!" she exclaimed. "I swear those three are going to be the death of me.  Or, they'll work me so skinny I'll pass for an elf."  She laughed at that.

I smiled, "Kids must be tough.  You're more hard core than I'll ever be."

"I'm tough stuff", she nodded.  "You have something in mind or shall I tell Solomon to just put something out for you?"

"Surprise me." I said. "And have him put something together for you and the kids, on me.  Triple rum for him, and I could really go for some of that lemonade you guys keep so hush-hush."

"You are always so sweet.  Thank you Mr. Gun" with that Sandy took my order back to Solomon.  I slotted my credstick for the bill, put another 50 nuyen on as a tip (hey, diapers for three HAS to be expensive), and settled in to enjoy the music while I waited.

Solomon did his usual job of amazing my taste buds.  I was finishing my meal when Sandy refilled my lemonade and nodded me to the back. I bit into the last morsel of my bourbon glazed chicken, took my ice cold lemonade and walked back toward Sheila's booth.

The curtain was open revealing Sheila X in her usual seat, and four other people sitting in the booth.  I recognized one immediately but the other three were new faces to me.  I squeezed in next to Sheila X, nodded to Angel, and kept my mouth shut.

"Angeline is acquainted." Sheila's flat emotionless tone was comfortably familiar to me. "Lance, Cole, Mel, this is Mr. Gun."

"This is 'Tommy Gun'?" the man direct across from me asked.  I later learned he went by 'Mel'.  "Come on Sheila, this kid?"

Ghost save me from ignorance.  "You can call me 'Mr. Gun'." I said it flatly and as emotionless as I could muster.  I was accustomed to people being surprised by my age, but it was still a stupid thing for professionals to worry about. 

"Mel, zip it" Angel let a little attitude into her voice.  "I've worked with him, he's frosty."

I looked to Angel and noticed that the other three were doing the same. It seemed that Angel was in charge, which was just fine to me. 

"Tommy, Mr. Johnson put us on a job and I need you on the team." Angel was straight to the point. She had my attention.  "There is an item in the Puget Sound.  An item that has been down there for a few years.  An item we're going to get but it would be far easier, far safer, if you were along." 

"What can you tell me about the whats-it?" I asked.

"Nothing"

My eyes went up a bit.  "What does this trip pay?"

She told me.  I was not impressed. I thought about it for a long moment.  Angel was top talent and we had worked well together in the past. I didn't like the figure she was throwing at me, but she was sending her people into the sound.  She was right too, she definitely wanted me on this job.   I negotiated another ten percent out of her for appearance sake in front of her team, and we set up a meeting time and contact protocols.  {Thanks for this one Tommy~ Angel}

"I can lay hands on some scuba gear if you don't have any," Angel offered.

"No thanks. I'm good." I had that covered.

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

August 28th, 2058  2335 hours

We were heading north on Seaview Avenue and had just passed the Seattle Sailing Club's gated entrance.  The signs said we were approaching Golden Gardens Park soon but we had other plans.  Angel was driving, which scared me drekless {damnit Tommy!}.  She pulled off Seaview by the most expedient method of hoping the curb, mowing down some bushes with the bumper, and {deleted*}.  

{We safely disembarked the vehicle and commenced this successful run with style ~ Tommy if you make fun of my driving one more time I swear I'll subscribe you to every porn site on the matrix!}


... crossed the darkened highway, and climbed down to the water.  I stripped down to my cold weather adapted form fitting armor then took a moment to stretch a bit. 

Mel laughed at that. "Whatsa' matter 'Mr. Gun', afraid a mermaid going to shoot you?" 

Idiot.  "No, if a mermaid shows up the last thing I'm worried about is gunfire. Last thing you should worry about too." I was going into the water with three runners I didn't know.  Angel had a small aqua drone, about the size of a dinner plate, that she was going to guide down with us.  Mel, Lance, and Cole were pulling scuba tanks and spear guns out of the large duffle bags they had carried down.  I had a surplus web belt with a few pouches attached, a knife (never go diving without a knife chummer), and kept my reinforced search and rescue boots on.  I taped on a throat microphone (I had a guy I knew adapt it to work underwater the previous day), pulled my armor's hood on, and stepped into the water. 

My three compatriots were just about ready to step into cold dark waters of Puget Sound when I called out into the astral for some help I had waiting.  Two large water elementals manifested as towering water spouts.  Three shadowrunners blinked back their surprise, while I dived under.  So you know, Puget sound is cold at night.  Even in August its a chilly, polluted, dark body of foreboding water.  Think I'm being dramatic?  You jump in the sound after sundown and we'll see if you come up again chummer.

I swam out, surfaced about fifty meters from the bank and saw the rest of the team submerge.  I waited, about five meters down, until they caught up.  They were navigating by gps apps built into their diving masks.  A soft glow came from around the edges of their masks that each of them look like some sort of weird cyclopean seal. 

If you're wondering how I could see so well close to midnight and fifteen meters underwater then you're paying attention.  Good for you.  Months prior I had devised a spell, with help from an elemental I had summoned, that let me see underwater.  The spell was not quite what I expected.  I could see fine underwater in any lighting condition, but I couldn't "see" the water itself.  That particular flaw in the spell design made it look like things were floating in air.  The spell was a detection or divination spell which tricked my eyes into relaying what it was detecting. Lighting isn't an issue with this spell at all.  Honestly, it would be a great spell for lifeguards, if magicians took jobs as lifeguards.  I had quickened a casting of it shortly after I mastered the technique.  It was just too useful to not have it running. Down side though, I can't see rain or snow, which can be a pain in the ass.  I also had a medical spell I had permanently enhanced myself with, which oxygenated my blood.  That clever little enchantment makes me very resistant to airborne toxins and gases, and enables me to breath underwater.  Which is just really cool.

I had a clear line of site, other than through the garbage floating in the water, for about fifty meters around me.  Our target was a long two kilometer swim toward the middle of the Puget Sound.  The little aqua drone swam ahead of us, I was on the far right side and trying to watch everywhere at once.  My water elementals were above and below me, while my companions were to my left and slightly below me and spread out about ten meters. 

Our target was a yacht that had vanished a couple of years ago.  It had once belonged to a certain organized crime boss, who had suffered a sailing mishap which sank his vessel.  Seems he and his crew never made it to shore.  Whatever our target was, it was believed to be in the yacht, stuck in the mud at the bottom of the Sound. 

We were approaching the gps coordinates Angel had dug up. Mel, Lance, and Cole were descending toward the wreck while I was watching out for things I hoped wouldn't show up.  I was worried about mermaids or sea serpents in particular, but a wayward shark could be just as bad.  I was focused on keeping my eyes out for critters which is why I didn't see the real threat right off. 

Astral perception underwater is mostly useless.  Open water is full of small organisms like shrimp and small fish. So you tend to see a cloud of living auras all around and it can be really hard to pick out individual auras in the crowd.  Imagine being crammed into a full bus, and then being asked to find one particular person on the other end of it. I wasn't watching astral space for just those reasons, so I didn't see the spirits until they manifested.  Where once there was a wreck caked with mud and littered with debris, now sat a wreck populated with seven restless spirits, ghosts in the common parlance, who seemed to take serious issue with the intrusion.

My fellow divers had the good sense to be scared.  They each started swimming for the surface but they were coming up fast, way to fast really, so I reached out to the water elemental below me and had it slow their ascent.  No sense in letting them get the bends. I then turned my attention to the spirits below me.

Ghosts are problematic to deal with.  Very often there is some object that holds them to the world of the living.  If you can identify that object, you can exercise control over the ghost, or put it to rest.  Personally, I'm a fan of the later solution, but I didn't have the foggiest of ideas about what could be holding them here.  I started my descent with my other water elemental in tow.

I felt the oppressive force of the ghosts' power when I came to within about ten meters of the wreck.  That same force must have triggered a fear response in my comrades but, fortunately for me, my mystic defenses held.  I swam over to the wreck and had seven angry ghosts staring at me. 

"What are you looking at?" I said. 

I "heard" all seven react at once in a jumble of curses and pleas for help.  Ouch, it really was a multiple haunting and not just a spiritual imprint.  Each was trying to communicate with me in one way or another.  One seemed particularly hostile and floated to the edge of the wreck, pulled a ghostly looking pistol from his jacket and started pointing it at me.  Nothing happened.

I swam around the wreck, careful not to touch it, and found a hole about two meters wide on the starboard side.  The hull had been blown out, probably by a small explosive charge.  A number of shrink wrapped boxes had spilled out of the wreck and littered the bottom of the sound.  I opened my astral sight and took a long look at the wreck.  It was a ghost ship, in the truest sense of the word.  There was an astral presence to the yacht and to the ghosts trapped on it that was plainly visible on the astral.  The ghosts and the ships seemed linked together in a way I had never seen before.

Angel's drone floated up in front of my face and a light blinked on and off.  My ear piece carried Angel's voice to me.  "Chummer what the hell is going on?  What are you waiting on?"

"Angel, the yacht is haunted, it ran off the rest of the team and the ghosts are trying to scare me off too.  I'm trying to find a way to get rid of them so the guys can board it, but it may take a while." 

"How much time are we talking about?" Angel sounded worried.  I don't like it when Angel sounds worried.

"I don't know.  A minute, an hour, a month, no telling really.  Let me look it over and I'll see what I can come up with."  The drone floated away, skirting the bow of the yacht and began ascending. I completed my circuit of the yacht, finding only a disturbingly powerful astral presence from the boat itself, and a painful barrage of the astral echoes of drowning men. 

Anytime I got close to the yacht all seven ghosts would appear close at hand.  They were keeping me from boarding even though most of them were pleading for help.  Ghosts don't often make sense in my experience. They didn't leave the wreck, but their presence was felt out to about ten meters from it.  I needed more information so I dove down and picked up one of the shrink wrapped boxes, and started a slow swim to the surface. 

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

Mel, Lance, and Cole were treading water a dozen meters from where I surfaced.  They swam over to me as I tore off the shrink wrap, and opened the box. "Chips?" I asked.  The box was full of what looked like sim chips.

Cole spoke up, "Looks like it. Not what we're here for though."

"Yacht has a lot of boxes like this down there.  Lot of ghosts too.  Any information on what they were doing when they sank?"  I asked.

No one spoke up. 

"Okay then. I've got one idea and its not a great one. Head for shore and look for me to come up."  I didn't wait for them, but dove back down toward the wreck.

Elementals are particular to their environments.  I wouldn't, for example, order a fire elemental to manifest in the ocean or a water elemental to manifest in an active volcano.  But in nature there are always instances where the elements meet.  I dove down and called out to a third spirit I had bound weeks before, gave out a set of very specific commands to the water elementals, and swam to the bow of the wreck.

The ghosts manifested and faced me with faces full of menace and pitiable torment.  I thought there was a good chance my plan wouldn't work but I had to try.  At my command my earth elemental manifested in the mud the wreck rested upon, my water elementals (one fore and one aft) seized hold of the yacht and the three spirits began to lift the wreck.  The ghosts went crazy for a moment, splitting up and heading to different ends of the yacht.  I tried to land upon the deck, only to see all seven ghosts come at me with murderous intent.  I swam back as quick as I could, and watched as the wreck rolled to the port side, the spirits struggling to lift and move the hulking wreck.  Debris littering the deck slid off into the muck... one of the ghosts fell along with it as whatever tied him to the ship was left behind.

The wreck moved another meter to the east and again the ghosts menaced my spirits until I moved to land upon the deck.  The wreck rolled again, to the starboard side this time, and more debris was shaken off to the bottom of the sound.  Two more ghosts fell from the wreck, as did several shrink wrapped boxes and the detritus of years of submersion. 

Meter after meter we continued this dance.  The elementals were tireless, moving the hulking wreck little by little, with debris falling from the shattered hull and from the deck.  Ghosts, tied to some physical object of significance, fell from the ghostly craft and were left behind.  Angel's drone followed me along for while, then disappeared.  I was too busy to worry about it.

***********

August 29th, 2058 0458 hours

The wreck broke the surface and I saw the night sky for the first time in hours.  Only the gun waving ghost remained on deck, waving his pistol and trying to attack the spirits only to dart over to me as I threatened to set foot on the yacht.  Twenty minutes later the wreck was beached and rolled over onto its port side, the exposed hole in its hull reaching for the light polluted sky.  Dawn was not far off.

I climbed onto the wreck and down into the hull.  The ghost was on me in an instance.  I called up an air elemental I kept bound and had it hold the ghost and keep it from me while I searched. I found a corroded old heavy pistol that looked just like the one the ghost kept waving around.  I gave it the astral once over and saw the strands of mana that were woven from it to the ghost my elemental was currently holding in a head lock. 

The ghost wasn't hard to lay to rest.  Holding his anchor I was able to break its hold on the ghost and release him.  He faded slowly, then dark hands seemed to grab the ghostly spirit, its face changed to an expression of utter horror and it vanished with a scream.  I felt a cold shiver run down my spine.

We only had a few moments before someone would spot the wreck and phone it in or a wandering harbor patrol drone spotted it.  Cole, Lance, and Mel climbed over the yacht for about three minutes and came out carrying a small safe.  They started hoofing it back over the highway to the getaway car and Angel.  I followed after them, climbing into the vehicle behind Angel while the safe was loaded in.

Angel's Mr. Johnson was happy to have the safe and paid Angel while I ran astral overwatch on the meet.  All sides were tense, but things went on without anyone doing anything terribly stupid. Angel dropped me off at the Brick Yard, with a new certified credstick in hand.

That wasn't the first time I had run into ghosts, nor was it the last.  A few weeks after that run I went for a long swim in the sound, and managed to round up the objects holding those ghost to the world.  I was able to put each to rest and was glad that they each seemed to go peacefully.

There is a great hot dog joint north of the marina.  Lets go grab a beer and some dogs.  The place looks out over the water and you can often see otters playing near the shore.










Citation:  The Sky is a Poisonous Garden, Performed by Concrete Blonde; Album: Still In Hollywood


Monday, January 15, 2018

Taking the reins of power

"It is a terrifying fact, that once you start on the path of power you can never go back"
~Jefferson Lane Smith, PHD dissertation MIT&T (2056)

**********

I sometimes wish I had read Doctor Smith's dissertation before beginning my studies of the deeper mysteries of magic.  There are 'things' out there you will wish you never knew about.  Things that have a way of showing up in your dreams and corrupting them into the foulest nightmares your subconscious can construct.  The idea of some of these things is enough to destroy your peace of mind.  But once you start on the path, once you become an initiate, the potential you see in the next secret you uncover, the next technique you master, or the next metaplane you discover will tempt you.

So magician, be warned, if you would seek the higher mysteries, know that you can never step off the path to power.  Cherish your sleep for some entities, once known to you, will steal your peace.
~ Tommy 'the machine' Gun

***********

April 21st, 2058

I was a new man.  I had a new identity, a new apartment, and not much money left.  I wasn't going to starve, but I was going to need to raise some cash.  It was time to get back to work.

I headed down to the Brick Yard. I hadn't been down there since Valentine's Day and I wasn't sure how I would be received. I landed in the parking lot, released the invisibility spell I had used, and walked around to the front door.

Little Rickie never looked 'little'.  He was the largest person I had ever seen and was terrifyingly fast.  The hand cannon on his hip was to large for me to comfortably carry, much less to fire, and every time I saw him I felt a need to be very polite.

He saw me coming from the parking lot, gave me a subtle nod, and opened the door for me. That was the first time he ever did that. Inside, the Brick Yard was had just a few people in it.  A trio of orcs I saw around pretty often, a few new faces, and a handful of runners I had pulled jobs with, were eating lunch.  The noise of soft conversations punctuated by a random laugh was refreshingly familiar.

I made my way to the bar, and saw Sandy hustling over to me.  She had the same tusky smile I was accustomed to. She had given birth months before, but I hadn't seen her since before she delivered her triplets.   "Mr. Gun!  Where have you been?  Hungry?"

I smiled in spite of myself. "Yeah, Sandy that sounds great. Whatever Solomon has in mind is fine, a hot chocolate for me, a plate for you, and can I get a triple of the best rum for Solomon?"

Sandy kept smiling, nodded and said "It's good to see you Mr. Gun. Thank you."

"My pleasure Sandy", she hustled into the kitchen.

Solomon sent out a plate with a blackened sea bass filet, a boneless chicken breast glazed in a Jamaican jerk sauce, and a bowl of gumbo.  That dwarf can cook!  I took my time, savored every bite, and when Sandy next passed by I asked her if Sheila could see me.  "I can ask." was all Sandy could offer me.  I nodded and got to work on finishing my meal.

I met with Sheila X fifteen minutes later.
***************

Sheila X had first showed up on the shadows of the Seattle Metroplex sometime in the early '50s.  By the time I had taken my first job from her in 2056 she was someone any up and coming runner hoped they would hear from.  No one ever crossed Sheila X. Or, if they did, no one ever heard of anyone living to brag about it.  She was all business, and I have to admit that I knew nothing about her of substance.

I was walking back to her usual booth and thinking very hard about how she might react. The last time I had been here, I had loosed a powerful spirit, leveled a room full of tough guys, and shot a man in the hand.  Blood had been spilled and I had a bad feeling that kind of thing was going to seriously lower my value in Sheila's eyes.

I walked up to her booth, and sat down across from her. The curtain slid closed silently, blocking out the rest of the world.  I was alone with Sheila and I wasn't sure whether I should be afraid or not, but I was.

"Tommy" Sheila said in that same business neutral tone I had heard so often.  "You look well.  What can I do for you?"

"I'm sorry Sheila." It came out of my mouth before I realized I was even ready to speak.  I took a breath. "I'm sorry your place got shot up."

Sheila's expression might have softened just a tick, "Tommy, I thought you might have come down here to kill me.  I'm glad I was wrong."  She paused for a moment, looking me dead in the eye.  I held that gaze as she continued, "There are rules even we live by.  Mr. Johnson tried to stomp all over those rules.  I didn't know whether you would take the job or not, but the pay was sky high and you were the best magical asset I had available.  You could have done it, and all would have played out.  You came down in good faith on my offer, rejected the job, and tried to walk away.  Nothing wrong with that.  Mr. Johnson thought he could do whatever he liked. He probably got away with forcing things on people wherever he came from, but not here.  This is my place and no one, and I mean no one, tries to strong arm talent in my place."

I looked away for a moment and found my voice, "I thought you might hold a grudge."

"You don't know me Tommy, and that is just fine.  You did minimal collateral damage, none of my people got hurt, you acted in good faith, and... you took out the trash."  Sheila, took out a pocket secretary and placed it on the table.  "I offered you 50k to be here in an hour and you made it in 30 minutes.  I know you weren't hurting for cash, so that speaks well of your reliability.  When you take a job, it gets done.  I can't fault your professionalism.  Mr. Johnson made it personal, and you did him with extreme prejudice.  People will hear about that, they always do."

Sheila punched up an image from the secretary.  A holo image of a book sprung up, the title was embossed within a circle adorned with symbols of potent magical significance. "I found one of the books you asked about.  I kept that credstick and I'm putting it toward the balance on this.  I've got a job that needs done, and I want you to do it.  Finish it up and you'll have your book."

**********

I took the job Sheila offered.

I don't speak about it and I'm not going to write about it.

**********

April 26th, 2058  0900 hours

Little Rickie opened the door for me as I walked into the Brick Yard.  I was heading to the bar but Sandy pointed me toward the back, so I changed my course and headed to Sheila's booth.

I sat down across from Sheila.  She picked up something wrapped in brown paper and tied with course string.  "If you want more stuff like this, just know that it takes time, and plenty of nuyen." She set it on the table.

I grabbed the package, which was heavier than I had expected, and opened it.  The old hard cover was in good shape, the symbols on the front were intact, and it smelled faintly of old leather.  "Always a pleasure doing business with you," I said.

Sheila actually smiled at that, "same here Tommy.  I'll see you soon."

**********

1030 hours

The power was out at my place, again, so I lit a few candles and set down with my new book. The lighting was dreadful even with the candles, so I bit the bullet and called for a ball of light to hover over my head.  I fixed the spell in my mind, sat down, and pulled the book onto my lap.

My fingers took hold, and I opened my copy of "The way of the Magi".  I read through the night by spell-light. Dawn flooded through my window, and I blinked sleepy eyes that had been studying a complex diagram describing the astral intersection into the metaplanes, and describing the Dweller on the Threshold.

I look back now, and realize I left a lot behind that day.  I committed myself more fully to the pursuit of magic. Yes, I became more powerful after I studied the book and practiced it's techniques, but I wasn't a wiz-kid street mage anymore.

I spent three months studying "The way of the Magi" and practicing the techniques described within.  On July 21st, 2058 I began my first astral quest.  I had become a wizard, and I learned many things on that journey I wish I had not.  'Magi' means "the wise" or "the knowing".  I think the later is more appropriate as wise people wouldn't risk their sanity by seeing the things I have.

My magic had grown more powerful in the process of initiation.  I came out of my astral quest as a full initiate of the magical arts.  I also picked up a handy technique that allowed me to create a self-sustaining mana loop to feed a spell. It made it possible to make a spell permanent without having to focus on it and without having to use a spell lock.  Over the years, I've discovered many uses for this technique.

Let's go grab a beer and I'll tell you my thoughts on personal magical enhancements.  You would be surprised at some of the uses I've seen for a permanent spell effect.






Thursday, January 11, 2018

Hearts and Roses ~ The Valentines Day massacre of 2058

February 14th, 2058

Happy Valentines day

Sue woke up alone in my doss.  I left a single long-stem rose on the kitchen table with a small gift box.  The rose was real and cost more money than I would have ever expected (seriously chummer, if you're going to buy a real rose buy it weeks before and use magic to keep it fresh because DAMN that cost a lot).  The gift box was made of real wood and was wrapped only with a white ribbon.  It had a bottle of a perfume she liked, the latest print edition of "Theoretical Thaumaturgy", and an ankle bracelet.  I thought it was a pretty good start.

But yeah, she woke up alone.

I was across town as I had received a message I could not ignore, "50k if you get here in an hour..Sheila".

I was airborne by spirit within five minutes of receiving that, and was in the Brick Yard parking lot with thirty minutes to spare.  I walked around the corner to see Little Rickie at the door (I don't think he ever slept back then) along with a pair of chromed out street samurai.  Rickie nodded to me as I walked in.

Inside the Brick Yard was packed.  Every chair seemed taken and the bar was crowded.  This would be weird any day, but at seven in the morning it seemed bizarre and a bit concerning.  I remember that I was suddenly reminded of the last time I got such a call and saw many hard people crowded into one place.  I shivered a bit at the memory.

Sandy was on maternity leave.  People have always said that Sheila takes good care of her people. I can tell you that from my observations it appears to be true.  With Sandy on leave, Sheila had hired an elf woman who went by the name Aria.  Aria was pretty, smiled a lot, and constantly fragged up my orders. She always was pleasant though, and her demeanor made up for a lot of her professional waitress short-comings.  I found an open space at the bar and squeezed in between a large orc gentleman (who didn't even look at me) and the wall.

"Mr. Thomas!" Aria exclaimed.  Sigh.

"Aria, good morning, can I get something for breakfast?" was all I could manage.

"Sure thing!" and Aria bounced away without taking my order.  Like I said, she wasn't a very good waitress.

It was conspicuously quiet in the Brick Yard.  In a room full of people, no one was speaking.  I took a chance and opened my astral sight to see a room full of people with holes in their auras where  cyberware filled their bodies.  Most of the people in the room were cybered up, some of them heavily.  With the usual strain I closed my astral sight and waited for  whatever Aria was going to bring me.

Aria pushed a plate loaded with bacon, eggs, toast, and some white stuff I couldn't identify in front of me.  A large steaming cup of hot cocoa came next and then she was bouncing away.  I shrugged and dug into the plate. I was about half done when a small dark dwarf came out from the kitchen and walked around the bar, and over to me.

"Mr. Gun." the dwarf said, as he stuck out his hand. I shook it and felt something press into my palm.

"Solomon, how are you?  Great breakfast by the way." I closed my hand over the palmed object and tried to be sub-zero chill with my favorite cook.  I had never had something like this go down at the Brick Yard and I was definitely feeling the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

"Healthy, not so wealthy, and getting wiser by the day.  What?  You don't like grits?" Solomon seemed completely at ease.  Something I was sure I wasn't matching.

"Never had them before Solomon, but if you plated it I'll eat it.  I swear you're going to civilize my diet at this rate."

"Nah, Mr. Gun.  You may be many things but civilized you're not."  He smiled and that and turned away.  "I'll be getting back to cooking, you keep the rum flowing."

No one in the place made a sound.  It was damn creepy. I sat and finished my breakfast.  Grits were not bad, but I've since learned to put butter on them.

I walked through the quiet crowded room to the bathroom, picked a stall, went in and locked it.  The palmed object was a small plastic token.  It looked like a poker chip, and had the Ice Cola "super-chill" logo on the side.  As hints go, it wasn't bad.  I took a breath, used the facilities, washed up, walked out into the eerie quiet.

Aria  came bouncing over with her bright smile and sapphire eyes, and ruined the whole image when she opened  her  mouth, "Mr. Thomas,  someone  wants to see you."

"Sure thing Aria, I know the way." I was walking toward Sheila's booth and  could feel eyes on me.

**********

The curtain was open at  Sheila's booth.  Two corp suits were sitting there with her and I remember that at the time one looked vaguely familiar.

"Gentlemen, the asset I mentioned." Sheila's voice was cool and professional just like always. I slid in next to her and  faced the two men.

Both were human, generic anglo-american stock. The one directly across from me had a fine suit on that looked tailored to him while on his right the other man had a suit on that was probably off the rack and looked like it had a year or two on it. The second man seemed damned familiar but I couldn't place his face.

"Greetings.  I'm Mr. Johnson and this is my associate, Mr. Smith." the words came out of Mr. Johnson smoothly, well oiled.

"Good morning  Mr. Johnson.  What can I help you with?"  My tone was tight.  I had a bad feeling and the message to be chill was weighing heavily on my mind.

"A certain individual is in need of retiring.  I would like to offer you the job of helping him leave the work force."  Mr. Johnson was slick, his voice was smooth, but I managed to miss the nuance.

"I see. Where will the individual be retiring from and when is he expected to leave the work force?"   I was asking sensible questions about the job.  I needed more information and I wanted to feel things out.

"The target is retiring from Fat Tony's Italian in Bellevue. "I hear he won't be receiving any benefits.  Terrible shame." Mr. Johnson smiled as he said it.  "I expect him to leave the work force the day after tomorrow and no later than five o'clock. "

"And where shall I escort this individual to?" I asked.

Mr. Johnson smiled.  His thin lips revealing pearly white, cosmetically perfect teeth, "Nowhere. Just leave him where he falls."

I felt a chill in my gut, "I don't do wet work. You've got the wrong guy." I stood up and nodded to Sheila. "Thanks for the call, but I'm not interested."

Sheila nodded, and held out a cred-stick to me "You were top pick for the job. I understand your position. I appreciate you coming down on short notice."

"Keep it." I said.  I didn't want it.  "I look forward to our next meeting."

Mr. Johnson chuckled.

"Well now, that is a problem." Those pearly white teeth were still showing.  His cohort had a grim expression on his face and his hand had disappeared under his cheap suit.  The color had drained from his face, and beads of sweat had appeared on his forehead and under his eyes. That's when I recognized him.  It was the Knight Errant guard I had healed up on that cocked-up warehouse job a couple of years prior.  The one where Zip caught that terminal case of death.

"Excuse me?" Sheila and I both said in unison.  The hand holding the credstick didn't move, neither did the one holding her drink.  My hands were still at my side.  I locked eyes with the Knight Errant guy.

"Chummer this isn't like last time.  You pull that piece and I won't be busting my ass to heal you up in the snow." It came out as a low angry growl, far more menacing than I intended.

Mr. KE didn't break, and he didn't answer.  Mr. Johnson went on as if nothing fatal were unfolding in front of him, "Sit down and listen to what you're going to do.  Don't disappoint me, Mr. Gun.  It isn't wise." He pulled out a pocket secretary, set it on the table and said, "Show him"

A holo popped up from the small device.  Sue's face, with newly swollen, bloody lips appeared before me.  "'Proof of life' as it's called in the biz, as I understand it." Mr. Johnson sneered.  "Go on, ask her something.  It'll prove its not an effects job."

"Hey lady.  What's up?"  It was lame, but the only thing that came to mind.  Sue seemed to focus on something I couldn't see.  Most likely the holocam on her end.

"Tommy? What's going on? They broke in!" She got cut off by a very large hand clamping down on her mouth.

"I see that I now have your attention" Mr. Johnson, still oily smooth said. "There is the matter of retiring this individual."  He placed a large brown envelope on the table and gestured for me to sit down.

The room was full of hard looking people I didn't recognize. I had a Mr. Johnson who was threatening the well being of my girlfriend.  Sheila was being very still and had an unreadable expression on her face.  I was on my own so I sat back down.

Mr. Johnson showed me an image of the target he wanted iced. He showed a lot of data that would be useful to an assassin. The "briefing" went on for about five minutes.  I opened my astral sight about half-way through the meeting to check on the room, scanned dozens of hard cases with cyber who were clearly ready for a fight, then squeezed my astral sight closed.  Mr. Johnson finished his pitch with "and once he's been 'retired' we'll make sure the lady is safely delivered to you here and you'll get a tidy sum of another 50k nuyen to smooth over any bad feelings. See, its really just that simple."

For the record, I had killed people before this meeting.  I had killed enemy combatants, sec forces who wouldn't run away, I had murdered two physical adepts whom I really shouldn't have, I had killed several gang members for what happened to Pepper's family, and I had killed three shadowrunners in self-defense or in defense of others.  I had also killed vampires, a wendigo, several ghouls, and many a critter who wanted to eat me.  All that death up to that point, and only the gang members who killed Pepper's family were personal to me.

Mr. Johnson made this personal.  He also gave me five minutes to think very hard about my circumstances.  My peek into astral space showed that I was the only awakened person around.  The watcher spirits that hung around the Brick Yard were still there, and they didn't seem to be very happy.  Mr. Johnson though, he was a very happy man.  His aura positively oozed a smug satisfaction.  His cohort, the KE guy, was scared drekless and the room full of heavies were on edge, tense, and ready for violence.  It was a bad situation.

Mr. Johnson finished his pitch and looked at me.  He honestly seemed like he was expecting me to jump at his every command.

I thought about Pepper.

Most people think that magicians shout and dance and chant every time they cast a spell.  That isn't necessarily true.  I knew a dandy of a spell, a tiring spell, but a great one.  It made the world seem to slow down as my ability to react was enhanced. It heightened my senses and enhanced my situational awareness.  It made me as fast or faster than many heavily wired street samurai and almost as fast as a top flight physical adept.  It was also a spell I can cast silently.

I looked at Mr. Johnson and Mr. KE, reached over and hit the power button on his pocket secretary, "Dishonorable and unprofessional" was all I said.

Then all hell broke loose.

I was moving faster than I had any right to, but my manifesting air elemental was even faster.  It filled the rest of the Brick Yard with a cloud of suffocating gas that hit the wired up muscle hard.  Thirty hard case bad asses immediately began choking out.  Guns were being drawn but I was already up, my left hand pointing at the KE guy and a ribbon of mana flaring out as my little sleep spell blasted him into unconsciousness.  My right hand brought out my Viper slivergun.

Gunfire erupted as the muscle guys started to panic.  Rounds went through the elemental to knock holes in the wall behind it.  Many of those goons were already down and the rest were failing quickly.  The spirit kept it up, obeying my initial command like it was its only reason for being.

I shot Mr. Johnson in the hand, blowing off his three outer fingers and most of the rest of the appendage.  He screamed like he was dying, which was all Sheila needed as an opening.  She shoved a heavy pistol into Mr. Johnson's mouth and pinned him to the booth by his head.  He was still trying to scream with that mass of steel and ceramic crammed down his throat but he held up his left hand in a gesture of surrender.  His right hand was bleeding all over Mr. KE.

I brought my Viper up to cover the room and found the muscle knocked out all over the Brick Yard floor.  A quick mental command brought a water elemental to my side.  Behind me I heard Sheila say, "Flashlight".

I heard two loud gun shots from outside.

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

I left Sheila and Rickie at the Brick Yard and flew over to my doss with my invisibility spell tightly woven around me.  Every spirit I had bound to me, four of them at that time, were right along for the ride.  I landed in my back yard, lined up my slivergun behind the brainpan of a heavily armed man I didn't recognize, and quietly blew his brains across the gray snow.  He fell without a sound, as did the guy in my garage, the three in my front yard, and their driver in the van parked in my driveway.

I looked in through the window and saw two trolls and an orc eating a cheesecake I had picked up for the holiday.  My earth elemental manifested and engulfed the orc even as the air element and water elemental each engulfed a troll.  I watched the struggle with a cold, malicious intent.  It took them each about two minutes to die.

I found Sue in the tub.  Her neck was broken.

I grabbed a pack full of things I couldn't replace. I pulled the van into my garage, dragged the dead people into the living room (had to have some spirit help for that) and lay Sue on our bed.  I kissed her on the forehead then walked out into the back yard.  Blood and brains were everywhere.  I looked at my house for a long minute, then sent out the call to my fire elemental.

My house burned down before noon.

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

February 14th, 2058   2045 hours

Mr. Johnson and his muscle boys were having a bad day.  Their collective hoops had been kicked.  The spirit's effect on them had worn off hours ago, but the tranq patches that had been applied to each were only now starting to release them from slumber.

Mr. Johnson's hand had been cauterized as I didn't want him bleeding to death prematurely.  The muscle guys were zip-tied and laying on the floor of that old warehouse. Sheila and Little Rickie had been a lot of help, finding the place, and Rickie had carried the muscle guys in easily. They left them with me without a word.

I had waited for Mr. Johnson to wake up.

I won't bother you with the offers he made, or the threats he attempted.  I took a piece of broken window glass and cut a four inch gash in his leg.  His blood dripped down his leg and into the drainage grate he was tied too.

Mr. KE was awake and scared drekless.

One of the muscle guys caught on to what was about to happen and started begging me to cut him loose. "I'll give you anything omae! Just cut me free!"

I shot him in the face. In retrospect, he got off easy.

I was almost to the door when I heard the first devil rats squealing.  I was outside when the screaming started.

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

I lost a lot that day.  I lost Sue, who was pretty awesome.  I lost my house.  I lost my name.

What? You didn't think I was always "Tommy 'the machine' Gun" did you?

No I used to be someone else.  After that, I was just a runner.  Sometimes I would try to be a person, but bad things happen.  One day maybe it will stick, or maybe one day I'll learn to stop trying.

Anyway, let's go grab some sushi.  I've got a bad taste in my mouth and some sake might just kill it.



















Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tommy's story: Seeking the secrets of magic

Sunday, January 13th, 2058

1030 (Seattle)/Tacoma : St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

I was praying.

Don't gape, it's unbecoming.  I was, honestly, at prayer. Services were going well, and I was enjoying it.

Many of you who read this won't understand, but a church service among faithful, well-meaning people is a wonderful event for awakened people to experience.  Under all that emotional current, you want to reach out and feel the presence of God (big 'G'), but it doesn't seem to work that way.  You have to have real faith it seems, and I have struggled with that. I pray sincerely, but I don't think I yet have what folks would call a strong faith. But I could definitely enjoy the message, and the astral space in the church was a wonderful thing to behold.  I'm pretty certain some people thought I was high, and they may have been right.

Anyway... I was praying.  I was praying for the well being of the people around me.  I was praying for a peaceful day in the metroplex, and I was praying for a call.

I was going through a recitation of prayer when I felt my pocket secretary vibrate very softly.

I finished the prayer and casually strode to the back of the church and out through the doors.

It was cold outside, snowing with stinging little ice pellets falling among the soft flakes.I check around me, saw now one in the flesh or on in the astral, and hit the 'call' button.

"Angel, tell me you found something"

"Tommy, I got the data you were wanting.  You owe me for this one."  Angel sounded tense, which is NEVER good.  "I'm printing this for you and it'll be at your doss in two hours"

"Sub-zero, Angel.  I'll send you the creds in a minute.  Thanks for help chummer." I was hoping to sound upbeat and friendly.  Some part of me was desperate that whatever seemed to be worrying Angel wasn't going to find its way to me.

"Okay Tommy.  Enjoy your Shakespeare." then she hung up on me.

"Shakespeare?"

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

I transferred the money to an account Angel had set up.  My money was now lost in a sea of money laundering electrons until it came out clean on Angel's end.  She was careful, precise and {DELETED:  honestly Tommy?!?!?!}.

My car service dropped me a couple of blocks from my doss.  I walked the rest of the way wrapped in an invisibility spell.  I was shivering as I walked to the back, and keyed my way in through my back door.  I was home for maybe ten minutes when I received a text, "Shakespeare". I looked out and saw a small, white, quad-rotor drone lifting off from a package laying in my grass.

Angel had printed the data, sealed it in a plastic bag, and wrapped it in white shipping tape.  It was a pain in the ass to open.  Inside were nearly one hundred pages of text and hermetic diagrams, the work of several forensic magicians and of a recently deceased corp mage who once banished my childhood friend.  I spent the rest of the afternoon reading through the pages and pouring over the diagrams.  The last page in the packet was a sketch, done in pencils with various color patterns layered over it.  I had been almost a decade, but I recognized the crude image as a poor effort to sketch Isabellix.

Seems the corp mages conducted an investigation of the spirit "incident" in the school.  Astral investigation had gleamed much of what had happened and they had formulated a theory as to what Isabellix was.  Now I had their notes, I had the diagrams of the late Dr. Natasha Romain (dead corp mage), and I had an idea.

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

When a spirit is disrupted you can often retrieve, or rescue, that spirit from the astral plane.  You have to be able to reach the plane in question though.  So hermetic magicians, like me, normally access elemental planes.  So, in theory, it would be possible to attempt to retrieve Isabellix.  It wasn't very likely that I would be able to succeed, but it was at least possible.

The problem I had immediately lay with the type of spirit the corpers had indicated Isabellix was.  They weren't certain, in that each magician seemed to disagree, what type of entity Isabellix had been.  One believed she was a spirit of man, one was very vocal about her being an air spirit, while the the other two were not certain but both agreed the first two were mistaken.   I didn't much care for what Isabellix may have been, I just wanted to find her.  I wanted to save my friend.

My hope lay in the advance metamagical practices utilized to access what are called "the metaplanes".  The metaplanes were 'other' places in the astral.  Places where great mysteries were said to be answered, where power waited to be tapped, and where horrific entities with no name waited to devour the souls of mankind.  Initiate magicians were said to be able to access these metaplanes.  I would need to enhance my knowledge, strengthen my ties to magic, and become an initiate if there was any hope of me every seeing Isabellix again.

I had done as much discreet research on the subject as I could.  There were various publicly recognized magical brotherhoods who purported to help advance understanding of magic through initiation into "higher mysteries".  I needed something more low profile.  There were certain magical writings, (call them tomes, manuals, treatise, or what have you) that were said to provide instruction for those who wished to initiate on their own.  They were also terribly expensive, and some were recognized as class III magical paraphernalia, meaning I would need a license to own them.  That certainly wasn't something I could do.  So I needed a few books on magic, and I needed them without a paper trail.

Buying contraband isn't hard.  You just have to know the right people.  Buying magical contraband is damn hard, because there aren't that many "right people".  Trading in magical goods and tools is very lucrative, even without the mark up for illicit services.  So you don't find too many people who are willing to break the law, and risk their permits, to sell things under the table.  When you find someone who can get those materials, you have to wonder whether its a sting operation, or something else is going on.  I didn't want to take the time, and possibly make a mistake, to run down the materials I needed on the black market.  So I sent a text to SheilaX.

Sheila told me she would look into finding the books I wanted.  She gave me a price.  I nearly choked on my own tongue.  I would be hurting for money after paying that, but I agreed, and she said she would let me know once she had them, then she hung up.

"Tommy, you okay?" Sue asked.  She was coming out from the bathroom, a fluffy white towel wrapped around her.  Steam was coming out the door behind her, and wafting from her bare shoulders.  She looked fresh and clean and I really wanted to see what that towel looked like on the floor.

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

I think we're done for tonight.  I know this place with the best gyros down in Tacoma, next to the church.  We'll talk about those books and the trouble they caused another day



(Edit:  Re-titled this entry following feedback from readers)