Monday, February 26, 2018

Date night

{Date Night occurs soon after Family ~ Love and revenge in the Shadows of Seattle. Sometimes things go according to plan. Or, almost according to plan.}
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'No plan survives first contact with the enemy" ~ Helmuth van Moltke


February 2059

I was twenty years old.

I had faked my own death, again, and was starting over under a new identity.  I bought the house I had previously lived in.  I liked the house, the neighborhood was nice, and there was a source of magical energy in the basement. Sometimes astral entities would drop by uninvited, but I took that as part of the place's charm (of note, it was a pain in the ass at times).

A lot of work went into my new identity. I was a registered and licensed magician, a UCAS citizen, and had a tax and credit history.  The electronic records showed I was a freelance magician.  It was a great identity that didn't require me to remember a lot of odd facts, and was a life I could live in comfortably.  Staying 'in character' wouldn't be hard.

It took some time to become accustomed to being taller and a slightly broader elf. I also had much lighter skin, and with the platinum blonde hair I had a somewhat idealized appearance. I picked up a new wardrobe, with several business appropriate suits. I also had to buy new body armor, but those are the little things that sneak up on you anytime you start a new life that involves a shapechange spell to alter your appearance.

I had made dinner reservations for Valentine's Day. I had a date with Aria.


February 12th, 2059

1235 hours (local Seattle time):  What do you get a lady for Valentine's day?  I had some problems shopping for a good gift.  It was unseasonably cold and very windy, which didn't help my shopping efforts. I left a jewelry shop, that had done its best to devour me, and walked in to a nearby lore store. They were doing a brisk business is selling fake 'love' potions which were little more than herbal libido enhancers.  There were a lot of teenage boys in the lore shop. (Many of you reading this are likely surprised by this nonsense. Don't be, it happens every year since lore shops became 'legitimate' after the awakening.)  I was looking for nothing in particular, taking a break from thinking about Valentine's Day and gifts. 

I avoided the "love potion" and "male enhancement" crowd and skirted over to the selection of books in print.  There weren't any books on display that I wanted.  I wandered about the shop, taking in the magic themed products, and drifting over to look at the real treasures kept behind the locked ballistic glass.  Expensive reagents, folios of spell formula, treaties on astral theory, and books on awakened pets shared space with minor spell foci. There was a beautiful ring with a seventy-five thousand nuyen price tag, "That would certainly send the wrong signals," I told myself. 

I left the lore store before one of the clerks could corner me.  Outside the cold and the damp drove me into the next store with a Valentine's Day themed advert. As it happens, none of the stores had anything I thought Aria might like.  I managed to pick up a bottle of champagne and a box of organic chocolate caramels.  It was a start.

1634 hours: my car service dropped me off at my house.  I waved to my neighbor as I made my way inside.  I locked my door up behind me and checked the security system. I walked through the house, taking in the new furniture for what must have been the tenth time since I "moved in".  The place looked a bit different, but it was still home. 

I ate and sent a text message to Aria "I've confirmed our reservations. I'll pick you up at 1700. Still good for then?"

Aria:  "Sounds perfect, where are we going again?" she had been fishing for information on where we were going and what we were doing for a week.  I kept her in the dark but I did recommend that she bring a warm coat, and dress as if we were going to the Space Needle. 

"Oh, we're going somewhere I haven't told you of yet.  Don't worry I think you'll like the surprise"


February 13th, 2059

I had an epiphany as I ate breakfast. I hit the car service app and scheduled a pick up just before noon. My trip downtown was uneventful, but I found and picked up a pair of gifts for Aria.  I had them wrapped in a white gift box and tied with a red ribbon (its traditional I'm told).  It was a good feeling, having the gifts covered. I called and confirmed my reservations, verified my car service data, and went over the plan for the evening.  Everything seemed to be in order, and I was beginning to feel a bit excited about pulling off a happy Valentine's Day holiday.


February 14th, 2059

I spent the morning cleaning my house, and the afternoon cleaning up for my evening.  This was my first date with Aria since her ordeal and I wanted everything to be perfect.  My car arrived five minutes early. I shrugged into my suit jacket, donned my cape, then headed to the car with the Aria's gift in hand. I was half-way across town when I realized I had left the chocolates and champagne at home.

I sent a text from the car, "See you soon"

"Almost ready" she replied.

I had upgraded for the evening. My car service had provided a Euro Westwind and I have to admit, I liked it.  It was a comfortable ride, immaculately clean, and had a faint scent of old leather.  I rang the door on Aria's building at 1700, precisely, and was met with "Come on in, I'll be ready in a minute." from the speaker.  Aria's voice held an excitement to it that made me smile.  The door was new, and opened easily when Aria buzzed me in.  I had never been in her building before.  There was an elevator to my left and a stairway on my right.  Aria lived on the first floor, so I walked down the wide, clean hall and found her number.  I knocked, and Sheila X opened the door.

Uh-oh. For some reason I had not expected to see Sheila that night.  She opened the door and I walked in.  I stood there for an oddly uncomfortable moment, when Sheila let me off the hook saying "She's going to be a minute. Where are you taking her?"

I didn't like the idea of trying to tell Sheila X that it was "a surprise". I thought, given recent events, that would have been unwise. I glanced around, then leaned in and said "The Gray Line, lower floor reservations and a great table.  Think she'll like it?"

Sheila X nodded.  "Good choice, she won't expect it and its really nice. I took her there for her birthday last year and she loved it." It was at that moment that I realized I had no idea how old Aria was or when her birthday was. I made a mental note to ask, but on another day.

"Sub-zero. I asked her to bring a good coat too.  I summoned up a pair of air spirits and I thought I would take her for a flight around the city after dinner." It was really weird to be talking to Sheila X, while waiting for her daughter to finish getting ready. She may have been preparing to respond, but Aria interrupted.

"Sorry, I'm ready now" Aria had walked in quietly. I turned, and she was simply stunning. She wore a red dress, with a gold chain that held a small opal pendant.  Her long coat was black with silver accents.  She had her hair worn up in an elaborate pattern of woven locks and a pair of opal studs adorned her ears.  I may have stared for a moment.

"Have fun honey." Sheila said. "I'm going to work." 

*****

Aria and I talked the entire way to the restaurant. She asked about my haircut and I asked how long it took to get her hair done. We both laughed when I told her about the folks at the lore store buying "love potions", and she confessed she changed outfits twice before I got there. I told her she looked beautiful and she told me she liked my new ears. 

When we arrived at The Gray Line, I opened the door, produced an umbrella, and we walked in fifteen minutes early for our reservation.  We had champagne at the bar, and she laughed as I tried to tell her a joke in Sperethiel. {In all honesty, she laughed at my terrible Sperethiel, not the joke. I botched it up terribly ~T}

We had one of the best tables in the place.  The lower level is always below the waterline and you can see the marine life through the glass.  A violinist came, right on time, and played for us through our salad course.  A pair of otters swam by and looked at us as our steaks came.  I waved to the little critters and Aria laughed at me. The otters swam about for a moment, beautiful little furry creatures at home in the water.  It was peaceful, fun, and a bit romantic.

We ordered desert and were enjoying more champagne when a man shouted, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you would remain seated.  My associates will be moving through the room momentarily, please keep your hands where we can see them. This is a robbery."  I turned to see six men in suits walking toward us, a young human man, the speaker, was holding a gun. "We'll be taking your valuables, then we'll leave you to your dinner."

"You have got to be fraggin' kidding me," I swore in a low voice. I had left my own gun at home.

The thieves moved through the restaurant calmly and smoothly.  That told me it was a bad idea to do anything, particularly given the circumstances. Aria was completely quiet, her hands on the table.  I saw her shiver and noticed her hand closing around her steak knife.  I laid my hand on hers, smiled, and said. "Don't worry."

One of the thieves came to our table, he grabbed Aria's purse, I gave him the credstick I brought with me, and my pocket watch.  He had me stand up, then he patted me down and found the small gift box.  I felt a moment of indignation and saw fear in Aria's eyes. 

"There's nothing there." I said. My spell snaked its way into the thief's mind and he passed over the box. "The lady's purse isn't worth anything. You should leave it behind." He set the purse back down and moved away to the next table.  I sat down and kept one hand on the table and the other on Aria's hand. 

"Keep quiet and don't argue folks.  We'll just take a few minutes of your time and then we'll be done for the evening." The one doing the talking seemed quite calm. I opened my astral sight and saw that he was very comfortable.  He was alert, calm, and wasn't at all afraid. The other thieves were likewise very confident in their actions.  There wasn't any fear, or anger on that team, just a job they were doing.  I noted their auras, and decided it just wasn't smart to start a fight. 

Unfortunately, not everyone was of the same mind.  I noticed a couple, two tables away, both magically active.  The woman appeared to be some manner of physical adept.  The local mana infused her aura, flowing into her body and she practically hummed with power.  The man was a magician. His aura was strong, though not as strong as mine or Creep's.  He didn't appear to have any spells working at the time, but he was clearly very agitated.  When one of the thieves came to his table he made a terrible decision.

"I'll not give you fraggers a thing," the magician proclaimed. "I'll curse the lot of you if you don't get out!"

The thief punched him between the eyes, knocking him off his chair to laying bleeding on the floor.  The woman jumped up, moving with alarming speed, and punched a hole in the thief's chest.  I saw the auras of the remaining thieves become agitated as they reacted.

The thief with the gun, the one doing the talking, fired and hit the woman in the gut.  The bullet blew through her body and hit the reinforced glass behind her.  The glass cracked ominously.  "Now I am very certain I told everyone that this is a robbery." He waved his gun to emphasize his point. He started walking toward the table. "This is NOT a fist fight, or a spell duel, or whatever else you may think.  This is US robbing YOU, and You being damn quiet about it."

The woman was laying on the floor, bleeding from her gut wound. One of the thieves ran over to check on their fallen companion. "Rip is dead." he stated, looking up at the thief with the gun. "She's killed him."

The thief with the gun took on a grim expression and leveled his weapon at the woman lying on the floor.  "You fragged up lady."

Fighting during a dinner date is generally frowned upon.  The last thing I wanted was another body on the floor, and I was a lot faster than the gunman.  I sent out a mental call into astral space, and quickly wove my invisibility spell around Aria and I.  I was pulling her up and away from our table when my earth elemental manifested and engulfed the gunman.  I heard the muffled sound of his gun discharging. The bullet hit the floor and ricocheted up into the ceiling.  I pulled Aria in close to me.

The five remaining thieves drew light pistols from under their jackets.  My little sleep spell wound its way into the aura of the nearest, and he fell in a heap on the floor.  The remaining four brought their weapons to bear over his crumpled form but found no targets.  A quick mental command brought a water elemental, which engulfed the thief on the far side of the room.  His comrades brought their guns about, saw the elemental and checked their fire. The thief near the corpse, the engulfed gunman, and the injured couple called out "Time to leave!".  He crumpled to the floor under the force of a sleep spell, and then there were three.

My earth elemental released the spokesperson for this band, who fell in a heap to the floor with satisfying 'thud'.  The woman he had shot, snatched his gun out of his hands and trained it on the remaining thieves.  "Lone Star police services! Drop the weapons!  Drop them now!" she called out.

Oh fun, a police contractor.

The magician pushed himself up from the ground, an aura of energy pouring out from him, a defensive enchantment of some kind I supposed.  He saw the spirits, the thieves, and raised his hands toward the three men. "Don't make me kill you!" he threatened.  I took advantage of the sudden reversal and ordered my spirits back into the astral plane.  I guided Aria back to her seat, sat down next to her, and let the invisibility spell unravel.  My spirits vanished, and a pair of earth elementals manifested near the magician.  One of the patrons, a distinguished looking orc gentleman at a table with three young children and an orc woman, started clapping.

"Nicely done 'Star!" he said. Applause broke out around the room.

I called 911 and reported that an officer had been shot.  Aria squeezed my arm, and I kissed her on the forehead. "Happy Valentine's Day." I told her.  She smiled back at me.

The management at The Gray Line comped our dinner for us, given the rude disruption.  I thought that was rather kind of them and gave my compliments to the manager.  Additional Lone Star personnel, uniformed officers, showed up as did an emergency medical transport to pick up the wounded officer.  Of the thieves, only one was dead upon arrival, the poor schmuck who got his heart punched out was dead on the floor.  Aria and I were interviewed by another detective who took our statements, checked our identification (mine held up, thank you Angel!) ... {You're welcome ~ Angel} Aria's ID was real and the officer never gave her ID a second glance.  We left the restaurant an hour later than I expected, calmly ignoring a scream sheet reporter that had shown up to get the scoop.  The EuroWestwind rolled up, I opened the door and Aria slid in effortlessly.  I joined her, the door closing behind us, and we were off to our next destination.

{The Lone Star officers made no mention of any other magicians being involved in taking down the robbery suspects.  Which was simply fantastic. The case was pretty much open and shut, with the thieves getting terribly long sentences related to the assault on two police contractors. Bad luck for them really.}

*****

Kelsy Park closes at sundown but there is plenty of parking available just outside of the park itself.  The car pulled up to a stop, parked, and my door opened.  It was cold outside, and Aria had a quizzical look on her face. "Tommy, what are we doing?" she asked.

"I thought you might enjoy this."  Two air elementals responded to my mental summons and manifested before us. "I thought you might like an air tour.  I know its cold.  We can take it slow and fly around the city for a while."

"Tommy Gun, I could get used to this." Her smile banished the last of my tension from the robbery.  The elementals had taken the form of clouds shaped like the giant eagles of legend.  They were powerful spirits, and frankly this kind of thing was probably beneath their dignity.  But the spirits didn't complain at all, and I took that as a good sign.  We flew around Kelsey Park, then overland to the west and out over Puget Sound.  We skirted Council Island (no sense in getting shot at for violating air space) and skimmed the water until we approached the shore again.  We flew through downtown, about five stories up, following the roads and watching the people below.  We were moving slowly, the wind was slight, and the rain had stopped.  Aria laughed and smiled, pointing out sights as we soared around the town.  Below us, there were couples in their limos, or the occasional horse-drawn cart, but we were riding on air itself.  It was a magnificent experience.

{Magicians, take note.  This is a fun thing to do for a date.  Be nice to your spirits though, because some don't like doing this, while others don't mind a bit. ~ T}

We spent a little more than two hours aloft before we returned to the car.

"Tommy, I really loved that!" Aria exclaimed. "I hope we can do that again!"

"I think that can be arranged." I replied.  I bowed to the elementals and they vanished back into the astral plane, their service complete. "I love to fly. One day I should summon an ally spirit though, so I don't have to keep summoning up new spirits."

"I don't know about that, but its fantastic to fly with spirits."  She was smiling ear to ear. "Do you have anything else planned then?"

"Well I thought I would take you home, and I do have something for you." I responded.

We got in the car and took one of the longer routes to get back to her place.  I gave her the small gift box, which she opened with a grin.  There were two smaller boxes inside.  She opened the smaller of the two, revealing a gold locket on a fine gold chain. She opened the locket, revealing the digital photo frame within.  It cycled through photos of our first "date" at the Eye of the Needle, and an image of each our dates since.  The last image file, one I captured that night, showed Aria, floating in air, her arms wide as she soared over Seattle.  The larger box held a gold bracelet, the back of which was engraved in Sperethiel "for a lovely lady, from your beautiful idiot", in all honesty I had someone fluent design the script so that it was correct.

"I love it, thank you Tommy." Aria said.  She hugged me, and we shared our first 'real' kiss as I took her home. I walked Aria to her door and earned another kiss for my trouble.  It was nice.  She walked in, and down the hall to her door.  I waved and went back to the car.

The EuroWestwind took me home.  I had a peaceful trip.  Aria sent me a few text messages saying she had a good time. I invited her over to have lunch at my home the following day, and she agreed.  I was feeling pretty good, and a little proud, for a successful date night.  I wished Aria a good night, grabbed a bottle of root beer from the refrigeration unit (a guilty pleasure of mine), and put on some old flatvid cartoons. 

I was being a person, and it was nice.

*****

February 15th, 2059

0600 hours: Angel sent a message telling me that her systems had picked up an image capture of me leaving The Gray Line with Aria after the robbery.  I told her I was fine and thanked her for checking on me.  She asked if I could meet her downtown that evening.  I told her I had plans already, but I would be available the following day if that could work.  Something, "interesting" had come up and she thought I might be available for some freelance work. She said he could make tomorrow work, I thought about it a tick, and agreed to meet her.

We'll save that story for next time though.  For now, I feel like taking a trip downtown.  I need a few things and I feel like flying.

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From the Author:

Hello everyone!  Thank you for over 2000 views for my fan fiction.  I appreciate your time and I hope you have enjoyed the stories to date.

There are a lot of stories remaining for Tommy, and probably as many for Shade (another fan fiction series for Shadowrun I've started).  I want to thank you folks for your comments, +1s, and for sharing these stories with others.

I also write and develop role-playing game materials (not for Shadowrun, unfortunately) for other role-playing games.  You can find my work on drivethrurpg.com and you can help support my projects on KickStarter (look for a weapon resource book I'm bringing to KickStarter in a couple of months titled "The Steel Road" for 5th Edition Open Game License *cough*dnd*cough* and in a Pathfinder Compatible edition).

Please feel free to comment!

Tommy was a fun character to play.  He had some deep issues to deal with over his career, and wrestled with whether he was a person or a monster.  Through the course of play he did have moments, such as "Date Night" where he enjoyed a normal life, just being a person.  More stories to come will detail more daring adventures, tragic losses, and magnificent triumphs.

I hope to see you here soon.

W.S. Quinton













Saturday, February 24, 2018

Family ~ Love and revenge in the Shadows of Seattle

Tuesday, January 21st, 2059 (2100 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time)
 
"...and then this guy," Edgy Ed grabbed my right shoulder and shook me gently "starts smiling like he's found the Big D's treasure horde. Next thing you know, we're backing up toward this alley and I'm thinking 'I'm doing to die, and I did not get paid enough for this drek' then BOOM! Fire explodes and flash cooks almost all of those scabby fraggers." 

Crank laughed, "I bet that was something to see!"  The large troll took another drink from a pitcher of beer, it looked like a small cup in his huge hands. "I got one for you!  I was at this place, doing this thing, when I see this woman.  Tall, gorgeous, with horns that really stood out." He grinned at that. "Anyway, I walked up to her and I say 'Hey, I'm new around here, what do I say to a beautiful lady if I want to ask her out on a date?' and she looks me right in the eye and says, 'You say, I'm going to take a bath and I'll be right back.  Then you go wash the stink off.'  OI!  You think a ball of fire burns!  No way omae. That burned."  Edgy Ed and Crank had a good laugh, I chuckled and wondered where ever Crank found someone as tall as himself. 

We were at the Brick Yard. I had been busy at home and decided I needed to get out for a while.  I whistled up an air spirit and flew around for a while before I surrendered to the inevitable and landed in the lot near my favorite shadowrunner haunt.  Little Rickie had looked at me hard, then waved me in.  I saw Ed and Crank at the bar and invited myself to join them.  Ed was a little drunk and in good spirits. Crank was drinking pitchers of beer and seemed to be smiling even more than usual.

"I got one for you guys," I said. "I was in Dante's, a couple of years back. I saw this red head elf lady there and I thought she was cute" Ed's smile faded and Crank's eyes got a little big. "Anyway, I walked over to say 'hi' introduce, the whole thing you know. But as I..."

Crank interrupted with, "Can I get another beer?"  I jumped a little as his voice boomed over mine.  I hadn't expected it.

"Damn, Crank, a little loud omae don't you think?" I asked. 

"Hey, I got one," Ed said suddenly. 

"What's up with you fraggers?  This is a good story, I promise" I was glancing between the two when a hand suddenly alighted upon my left shoulder.  I caught the scent of honeysuckle and vanilla and I knew right then what had two thick-skinned street samurai acting so weird. I turned and looked straight into Aria's eyes. "Hi, Aria.  How are you?" 

"Don't let me interrupt." she had a wicked grin on her face. I didn't know if she was having fun at my expense, or if she was genuinely agitated. "I know I want to hear this story.  Are you eating tonight Vanima Asinus?"

My Latin had been improving.  For those of you who didn't know this, classical Latin and Sperethiel happen to share a fair number of words whose meanings are identical, or at least very similar.  My Sperethiel was still limited to 'where is the bathroom' and 'I don't speak Sperethiel'  but I had learned that 'Vanima Asinus', a nickname Aria had hung on me, means "beautiful idiot".  I smiled as best I could and replied, "I think so.  Would you like to get dinner sometime this week?" Aria's expression didn't cool, but her cheeks and ears turned a slight shade of pink.

"Okay." she said. "Call me tonight, I'm off at 2300." then she turned and walked off without taking my order.  Like I always say, she wasn't a great waitress.

Crank and Ed had a good laugh at my hijinks.  Ed called Gitti and asked him to come down, then called Suzy B for the same.  Suzy B told Ed to frag off and die, while Gitti promised to come down in an hour or so.  Crank sent a text to Adam who responded almost immediately.  Adam showed up about fifteen minutes after my embarrassing conversation with Aria, and Gitti (true to his word) arrived one hour after Ed called him up. 

I was in good spirits and bought a drink for each of them, ordered another lemonade for myself and waved Sandy over to take my food order. "Sirloin platter please, Sandy.  Hot rolls, the mashed potatoes with that Amish cheese. Can I still get that?" I asked.  I wasn't paying attention to what I ordered really, and rambled off an old favorite. "Oh, and orders for you and kids, on me, and a triple of the best rum for Solomon." I turned and laughed as Crank told a joke about a Renraku accountant and an AI possessed sex toy.  When I looked back, Sandy was looking at me with a strange expression on her face. 

"I'm sorry, what did you order?" Sandy asked.

I repeated myself, still smiling at Crank's joke.  Sandy, looked at me for a moment then frowned and said, "Sure thing.  You want another lemonade? We have alcohol you know.  It is a bar."

"No, lemonade is fine, thank you Sandy." I said. She walked away, and out of sight into the kitchen.

Ed, Gitti, Crank, Adam and I ate, watched Urban Brawl, and had a few good laughs.  Crank finally succeeded in getting drunk around 2230.  He told some great jokes, mostly involving anatomically impossible sex acts and wayward corp suits, and had me laughing on my bar stool. As 2300 approached I sent Aria a text "want to join me? Solomon's cooking I'm buying".  I saw her check her phone, she looked over at me her ears turning pink, and nodded.

2310 hours, the Brick Yard

Aria came out from the kitchen, a plate in hand, sat down next to me and said "Thank you for dinner".  She had the filet mignon. 

"My pleasure," I smiled at her. Aria wasn't a terrible person. Quite the contrary, she was a very nice person.  She was a terrible waitress, very pretty, and we had fun when went on our "dates", yes, even the business ones I had taken her on.  We were all having a good laugh, when Sandy came back out to check on us.  Aria smiled and talked with her a moment. I asked her to put the drinks on my bill (Aria's food and drinks too, of course), she nodded with a weak smile and hustled about among the team.  I really missed the big tusky smile I used to see back when I was 'me'. 

By midnight Aria and I were the only sober people in our group. I put out a call to Ratchet, who rolled down to the brick yard with a pair of armored SUV's and picked up the drunken street warriors. Crank loaded Ed into one of the SUV's while Ed was adamantly proclaiming himself to be "the warlord of the Willows!" I was left with a twelve hundred nuyen bar tab, which I did pay, and memories of a fun night. 

"Any chance you can take me home," Aria asked as the SUV's pulled away.  I had been to her building to pick her up before, and knew the area.

"Sure thing, so long as you don't mind flying." I said. 

Aria's face lit up, "Flying!  Can you make me fly?"

Her excitement was contagious, "Well sure we can fly, but its actually a spirit lifting us and flying us over, I just ask it for the lift."  We flew over to her building, her hair whipping in the wind. She laughed joyously the entire trip.  I dropped her off, she turned and kissed me on the cheek, then keyed her door and ran inside. 

*****

Thursday, January 23rd, 2059

0600 hours:   My breakfast was interrupted by a buzzing sound from my pocket secretary.  I recognized the number and triggered the phone on.  "Ms. X, how are you today?"  I asked.

"Tommy, we need to talk" there was a tension in Sheila's voice I hadn't heard before.

"Sure thing. I can be there in thirty minutes." I replied.

"No." She interrupted. "Not at the office. I'll be with Pepper. Thirty minutes."  The line went dead, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up.  I paused for a tic, then got dressed for 'work'.  I pulled on my form fitting body armor, a good pair of jeans, blue button up shirt, and shrugged into my shoulder rig for my viper sliver gun. The sun would be coming up soon, so I opted for a lower profile and pulled on my armor lined trench coat.  I laced myself into my rescue rated boots (protect your feet chummers, it's important to be able to walk and run), pulled my black hair into a pony tail with a leather cord, thumbed the safety on my viper and chambered a round. I was invisible, and flying away from my back yard ten minutes after Sheila hung up. The winds tugged at my coat as the air spirit hurtled toward the church cemetery.

I landed in the corner of the cemetery, my invisibility spell wrapped tightly around me.  I opened my astral sight, and saw the familiar warm glow I had always experienced there.  I was knee deep in snow, but the same spell that let me see underwater kept me from seeing it.  I looked out across the brown grasses, searching for anything suspicious.  I saw Sheila X, alone, standing in front of Pepper's grave. I let my invisibility spell dissipate, forced my astral sight closed, and walked over to talk with Sheila.

"Sheila, strange place to meet, don't you think?" I asked her.

"Remember last Valentine's Day?" Sheila X asked me. 

I stopped not five meters from her, "Yes. Of course I do." 

"One Mr. Johnson wanted a certain person retired. Word is that Mr. Johnson crossed several lines and ended up missing.  His remains, as well as those of several of his associates, were found weeks later.  Seems devil rats ate them. Their deaths are officially listed as 'suspicious' but the investigation went nowhere fast. Lone Star has no suspects."  Sheila turned to look at me.  "Three people knew about that night, other than the dead. One of those people, Tommy "the machine" Gun was killed not long after that incident, when he was hit by a bus.  The surviving two, Rickie and I, haven't told a soul."  Sheila X stared at me.

"I don't talk about that night, and I haven't spoken to anyone about it either." I replied.  I didn't like where this was going. "Bragging about killing Mr. Johnson would be foolish, confessing to multiple homicides would be gross stupidity, and selling out your best fixer isn't professional or honorable.  I think, that by now you would know that I didn't say anything."

"No, you didn't say anything." Sheila looked down at Pepper's grave. "Someone lifted the information from the internal security network at the Brick Yard. We had a data breach.  I tapped Angel and she has already found out who did it. I'll have that decker in about twenty minutes.  Angel confirmed that the decker made a copy of the data he lifted.  Two days ago he sold that information to Mr. Johnson's boss." 

I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather. "I see."

Sheila X faced me, the muscles in her face tense, "Mr. Johnson worked for Rowena O'Malley.  This morning, a dozen men penetrated my home security, and kidnapped my daughter.  One of the men lost his mask when my daughter fought back. It was Michael Corelli, one of O'Malley's muscle guys."  Sheila's voice was tight, and I finally understood why she seemed different.  Sheila X was angry, the kind of angry only a mother whose child was in danger or harmed can feel.  "I've got a job for you.  One you wouldn't normally do.  But I need you to get my daughter back, alive and whole, and to send a message to that O'Malley bitch."  She strode over to me in a flurry of quick steps. "You'll do it?"

I looked into the eyes of a Sheila X I never knew.  A well connected fixer in the Seattle shadows, a mother to a daughter I had never even guessed about, and a woman possessed of an anger I could feel from a meter away.  It may surprise you to know that I didn't think about money.  I also didn't doubt Sheila. She had never given me any reason to.  Trusting in the shadows is foolish, but sooner or later you have to trust someone.  "I need a picture of her, and if you have her hair brush or anything else I can use for a ritual link it would help."

Sheila X, nodded "I've got a guy there now, collecting any samples he can."

"Does he know what he's doing?" I asked.

"PHD from MIT&T, doctorate thaumaturgic arts, full magician, enchanter, and occasional shadowrunner.  Good enough?" she wasn't being sarcastic, she was genuinely asking.

"Good enough." I replied. 

"One thing, Tommy." Sheila X fixed me with a stare, and I saw the anger insider her boil out.  Her usually calm, emotionless face was flush, her teeth glaringly white.  "Priority is getting my daughter out alive and unhurt. If she has so much as a bruise on her, burn them down! If her people raise a hand to stop you, cut that hand off. If she's hurt, make them die screaming. Leave O'Malley herself alive, but burn her kingdom down. Make sure she knows she's helpless against what I can bring to bear.  Do this for me Tommy." 

"She owned Mr. Johnson?" I asked Sheila.

"Yes."

I felt a hot flush of anger and the phantom pain of old heartache.  I thought about Sue laying dead in the tub, her neck broken. I remembered her, and the kiss she gave me as she said goodbye when I confronted the Dweller. I needed to keep my mind clear, and focus on the task at hand. It was hard.

"Time for Tommy 'the machine' Gun, to come back from the dead." I said.  "I'll need images of your daughter and those samples. I hate to ask, but some expense money to get a team together would be good.  People who aren't affiliated with the mob, of course," I paused as a thought crossed my mind. "and I'll need some incendiaries.  I need to burn her house down." 

Sheila X handed two platinum credsticks to me.  I didn't bother to check the amounts. "You don't need a photo, Tommy.  Aria is my little girl."

I looked at Sheila X in disbelief.  I had been taking Aria out on dates, and never imagined the elf girl was related to Sheila.  I liked Aria, we had fun together and she made me laugh.  It wasn't a blazing romance or passionate affair, but we went places and had fun.  We laughed over dinner, and watched seals play in Puget Sound.  She was there, on my arm, when I faced the most frightening Mr. Johnson I had ever met.  I looked at Sheila X, and felt another flash of anger.

"O'Malley certainly likes her mistakes.  I'll try not to kill her, and I WILL get Aria back." I walked around Sheila and stared down at Pepper's grave. "If they've hurt her," I looked up and felt my face flush "you'll be able to see the fire from orbit."

*****

I was at my home an hour later, gathering materials I needed, and thinking things through. I didn't have any information yet on where Aria might be or who actually had her.  I didn't know how they knew to kidnap her or what they actually wanted.  I didn't know what kind of strength they might have to bring to bear.  I did know I was furious. I gathered up my materials, stormed up to my kitchen, put pen to paper and started a list.

Gitti had a contact in the mob, so I couldn't risk pulling him in.  Edgy Ed liked to gamble at a place owned by the mob, so he was out.  Suzy B was suffering from vertigo and a host of other problems.  She wasn't ready to work at all, so I scratched her off my list.  I didn't know enough about Adam, so I checked him off the list. Ratchet bought vehicles from Rebecca Benatelli, so Ratchet couldn't ever know about this.  Angel couldn't be involved for a number of reasons, so I marked her off my list... {Tommy, are you sure you want to publish this? ~ Angel}
... I had a few words with Crank, he didn't have a problem with bloodying the nose of the mob, so I pulled him in.  I hated to, but I sent a message to Creep.  He met me in Kelsy Park, reeking of tacos, and wearing a paper hat.  He agreed, wanting money and some spell instruction after the fact. I pulled him in, and almost instantly had second thoughts.

Three guys against the mob is a horrible idea. A slightly worse idea was killing my girlfriend, then kidnapping the daughter of Sheila X, who also happened to be the girl I was dating.  O'Malley's mistakes were adding up and I meant to collect with interest.  I was boiling with anger. I sat there thinking of all the runners I knew and I couldn't come up with even one more I trusted enough to take on the job.  Hell, I didn't trust Creep as far as I could throw him but he worked out against Nick, and that was good enough for this job.  That I could find good reasons not to bring in any others was frustrating. 

Crank and Creep were going to meet me in the Willows, so I packed up my gear and soared off under cover of invisibility.  I landed in that same lot and noted, with a smug satisfaction, that I didn't detect any ghouls in the area. Creep was already there. He wore a trench coat that looked like it was made from real leather, blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a blood red shirt.  He had showered, thankfully, and had shaved his head.  Crank came speeding down the pot-holed street on that little pink scooter and pulled into the lot. 

"Oi!" Crank called out, "Just us?"

"Yes," I replied. "Just us."

"Money?" Creep asked.

"Brick Yard." I said. "We meet here first to go over a few things.  First, we don't talk about this with anyone.  Last of us left alive can talk about it and deal with the fallout from it.  Until then, no one says a fraggin' thing." Both runners nodded. "Second thing, this is a rescue op first with a side order of hot revenge afterward. This is personal to me. If anyone makes you talk, you point them to me. Thirdly, first one to find the target, you cover her like your life depends on it. Fourth, if target is dead, then they all die. You kill every fragger you see, and consequences be damned. Finally, none of us die.  I don't give a damn if they shoot you until you sink! You don't die on me."

"Easy omae," Creep drawled.  "Don't get all emotional on us."

"No." Crank nodded. "I like this 'lets not die' thing. I'm excited about it in fact. Lets do that!  I'm all about 'not dying'" Crank's smile did very little for my disposition. 

"Target," I showed Creep and Crank an image file from my pocket secretary. "Kidnapped this morning by mafia hard boys owned by O'Malley. We get her out, they die screaming."

"Oh! I get it." Creep said.  "They snatched that girl from the Brick Yard you've been out with." The slimy little fragger nodded as if he suddenly comprehended a great secret of the ages.  Did I mention I really didn't like Creep?

"Okay, but just to be clear, are we sure she was 'kidnapped' and just didn't run off with a mob guy?" Crank, asking sensible questions.  I felt certain it was the first sign of the apocalypse.

"Yeah, image files and all." I responded.

"Well then," Crank said. "I think we have a girl to pick up."

"She got a sister?" Creep asked. 

I resisted the urge to shoot him.

"Do you know where she is?" Crank, still asking the right questions.

"No idea.  I should have a way to find her by magic once I have a ritual sample, but I'm not really wanting to wait around for the sample to arrive.  They just grabbed her a few hours ago, and I have a name for one of the muscle-boys, Michael Corelli. I've got a decker looking for his phone now." I called up an image taken from Sheila X's home security camera. "This drek head. We grab him and hurt him until he talks, then we kill him."

Crank looked at Creep, then back at me and nodded.  Creep smiled broadly and said, "I like working with you."  I just nodded. I didn't really like working with Creep, or being near him for that matter.

Twenty minutes later I received a text message with an address. 

Creep gestured and one of the demoness fire spirits he favored materialized.  Crank sat down and revved his little scooter.  I called out to the astral plane and the air spirit I had bound the month before appeared before me.   "Still got that good luck charm?" I asked.

"Never leave home without it," Crank smiled back.

"Capitol Hill chummers, lets go ruin someone's day" with that, Creep and I took to the sky, while Crank followed behind on the tiny pink scooter, flower stickers and all.

*****

Thursday, January 23rd, 2059

1037 hours:  We stashed Crank's scooter, and blended into the crowd on the streets.

The O'Malley mob had been holding Aria for almost six hours.  The only lead I had, until any ritual samples became available, was a muscle guy named Michael Corelli.  Aria had knocked his mask off as he hauled her out of her bedroom. I had never heard of or seen the man before that morning.  Our first meeting was going to be memorable, of that I was certain.  I texted the decker I had hired, who confirmed that Corelli was in the club we were approaching.  The club was closed, but staff was restocking the bar, polishing the floors, and Corelli was seen on the security cams overseeing some of the work. 

We sat down at a metro stop a block away. "Creep, give me a walk around" I whispered. 

"Be right back", Creep leaned back, and slipped away into astral space.  He came back just five minutes later.  "No wards, no awakened, all norms.  I counted ten people in all.  Corelli has a little cyberware in him.  No watcher spirits either. 

"Mob doesn't have a lot of magicians." I responded.  I looked down the street and squared my shoulders. "Time to make them regret that."

"How is this going down?" Crank asked.

"We go in, I put the staff to sleep, you and Creep put any tough guys down. Grab Corelli as soon as possible.  We take in into the back and find a quiet place to make him scream a bit, at least until he talks.  Then we whack him and go get Aria."  I looked at the two shadowrunners. Creep had a disturbing smile on his face, and Crank looked pensive. "Thoughts?"

"Needs to be real soon. Bus will be here shortly and we'll draw attention if we don't get on." Crank had a point.

"It can take time to torture a person into telling you something.  If he doesn't give it up, what do you want to do?" even Creep had a point. 

"If he won't cooperate, we whack him, get on the bus, and ride to next stop. Crank goes back for his scooter, we all meet back at the Brick Yard and hope those samples are good." I stood up. "Lets go."

Crank and I walked down to the club's front door while Creep walked around to the delivery door.  I wove my spell to silence the area, and Crank opened the door.  We walked in and surprised the hell out of a lot of innocent bar staff. 

My sleep spell flooded the room ahead of me, and eight people slumped to the floor.  Behind the bar, an elf shook off the spell and pulled a shotgun up from under the counter.  I saw the elf's head snap back and he disappeared behind bar, falling without a sound.  I looked up and saw Crank's silenced Ares Predator above my head.  I let the silence spell fade away, and checked the elf behind the bar.  He was alive, a huge bruise forming on his forehead.  His face was splattered with a colorless gel.  I heard the action on Crank's predator cycle and looked up in time to see an ork with a broom hit the floor.  I nodded to Crank, thankful for the gel rounds he was using, and walked toward the back of the club. 

I found Creep, and three of his demoness spirits, with Corelli in the beer cooler.  Stacked kegs, and pallets of bottled beer took up most of the area.  The spirits were holding down Corelli, who was playing the part of the mafia tough guy to a 'T'.  "We're going to kill you Corelli," Creep crooned. "If you talk though, we'll kill you quick and painless.  Otherwise, its going to take a very long time for you to die."  I got the impression Creep was looking forward to hurting Corelli.  At that time, I didn't care. 

"I'm going to get out of this you slimy little fragger, and when I do I'm going to rip your balls off!" Corelli spat back. 

Creep brandished a serrated knife and smiled down at the hapless mob guy.  I put my hand on Creep's shoulder, pulled my viper sliver gun from its holster, and shot Michael Corelli in his left calf.  The small gun made a slight 'pop' sound but the flechettes blew half of his calf off.  Corelli screamed.  I pulled a small bottle from my pocket, and poured out a little water from the Blood Falls onto the wound, speaking softly as I healed most of the damage. 

"Mother fraggin' son of a slitch!!! I'll kill all of...  Corelli was rudely interrupted when I shot him in the gut.  He screamed as the pain overbore him.  I waited a minute, then poured out more of the waters and healed almost all of the wound.

"I can do this all day, Michael." I said. "The pain is only going to get worse, and I'm not going to let you go into shock so you can escape it.  Tell me where the girl is, and I'll give you two minutes to make your peace with God before I blow your damn head off. Try to play hard and this is going to be worse than anything you've ever done to anyone, I promise you that."

Ten minutes, and three gunshots later, Michael Corelli gave me an address.  I stuck to my word, and game him two minutes to make his peace with God.  "Crank you're with me. Creep, make it quick." Crank and I walked out of the beer cooler.  Michael Corelli screamed for two minutes before he suddenly went silent.  Creep came out of the beer cooler without a drop of blood on him.

We walked out under my invisibility spell.

Crank recovered his scooter.  Then we all headed toward the address Corelli gave us.

*****

Rowena O'Malley had her fingers in a lot of different pies in the Seattle Metroplex.  She had dozens of businesses, hundreds of people working for her, and powerful connections throughout the 'plex and beyond. Michael Corelli 'volunteered' that they had stashed Aria in a warehouse in Puyallup.  O'Malley, or her people in charge of kidnapping Aria, had put her there because it was well guarded, out of the way, and stray sounds went unnoticed.

I rented a tube in a coffin hotel for an hour, crawled in and astrally projected to the warehouse.  It was warded, but no spirits patrolled about.  I probed the wards, found a weak point, and slipped through.  From the astral plane the warehouse was a bland, colorless place. The pallets and crates of materials laying about were grey and insubstantial.  There were dozens of people inside. 

I floated about searching for other awakened people or Aria's familiar aura.  I found her in a room on the second floor.  She was unconscious, but alive.  Her aura was oddly bland, and I had the feeling she had been drugged.  I turned and floated back out through the warehouse, through the weak point in the wards, and rushed back to my body.  I opened my eyes, and crawled out of the tube.  Crank and Creep were waiting for me.

"Found her. Time to party." I said. 

We walked out and down the street, the entrance to the warehouse was just visible about half a kilometer ahead. Sheila X sent me a text saying the samples had arrived, and were waiting at the Brick Yard.  I replied, "Found her already, moving in now"

"How do you want to play this?" Crank asked.

"There were wards on the building but I couldn't find any awakened in there. She's on the second floor.  I'll land on the roof and tear my way in.  You two go through the main entrance,  I'll have the decker try to silence their alarms." I sent the text and hoped the decker was up to the task. "I'm assuming the alarms go down. So once you go through security, hit the warehouse.  Creep, no fireballs until I have the girl clear. If we don't have confirmation that their alarms are off within ninety seconds, you two take off and I'll meet you at the Brick Yard. " Creep nodded grimly. "Remember what Corelli said. These aren't innocent bystanders. Lethal ordinance, shoot straight and put them down hard."

"Time to make noisy," Crank put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.  It hurt. "don't get killed." 

I nodded at the both of them. Then I vanished from sight, my air elemental carried me to the roof of the warehouse.

*****

Thursday, January 23rd, 2059

1546 hours:  The O'Malley mob had been holding Aria for eleven hours. Every minute of that time was a minute to long. I landed on the roof, thumbed my mic and said "I'm on top, call up your lady friends Creep. We're on." I sent out a mental call into astral space and the spirits I had bound responded.  Three air elementals were joined by a water, fire, and an earth elemental.  I pointed and the earth elemental tore into the roof.  Another command had one of the air elementals vanish back into the astral plane, watching over me and providing protection from a magician I was certain would show up soon. 

My pocket secretary beeped, and a text flashed across the screen "security systems are down, locked out local wireless, cameras offline".  I nodded and keyed my mic. "Security systems are down.  Execute plan one."  Then I jumped down into the hole the elemental had opened in the roof. 

I fell through the roof, passed a large duct, then plummeted through ceiling tile to crash to the floor below.  I rose to see a woman reaching for gun.  I shot her in the throat, and glanced around the suddenly empty room. 

My astral recon trip was fresh in my mind. I was just two rooms away from Aria.  The door to the next room opened suddenly and burly ork in a nice suit came barging in.  I shot him but his armored vest held up.  The flechettes from my gun shredded his suit jacket but failed to draw blood. He pulled his own gun, a heavy revolver and fired. His shot went wide, missing me by maybe a centimeter.  My little sleep spell wrapped around his mind and squeezed hard.  He fell over, suddenly unconscious.  I shot him in the back of the head and stepped into the room he came from.  It was empty.

I called down my spirits. One air elemental remained in astral space, providing some coverage for my narrow hoop.  The earth and water elemental manifested in the room with the dead bodies. Their orders, kill any one who entered (other than me, Aria, Crank or Creep).  I tried the door to the room Aria was in.  It was locked.  I grabbed the handle firmly and tore at it with my spell enhanced strength.  The door rattled and the frame shook.  Two more violent jerks were enough to tear it open.  Aria was laying on a couch.  Her face was bruised, and blood was caked around her mouth and nose.

I keyed my mic, "I've got the girl, I'm getting her out now."  One of my air elementals manifested.  I gave it a final order, releasing it from its service to me with this last duty.  It lifted Aria from the couch and flew her out the hole in the ceiling and away from the violence to come. "Target is out. Weapons free."

The booming sound of shotgun fire was strangely muted in the vast warehouse.  I heard screams of anger, pain and terror from below as I moved through the second floor.  I wrapped myself tightly in an invisibility spell and moved like a ghost, room to room.  I found armed hard case mob guys in suits.  They died from close range gunshots to the head.  I had to reload before I finished clearing the floor.  I didn't keep track of how many of them I killed, but I got them all. 

Below me, the mob guys were fighting Crank, Creep and his demons. I heard the sound of pistols and sub-machineguns as well as demonic screams and the booming roar of Crank's good luck charm. I cleared the last room on the floor and unloaded a small box from my satchel. It massed around two kilograms, and had a timer.  I set it for two minutes, hit the red button, and ran back to the hole in the ceiling. "Fire in the hole! Ninety seconds!"  The air elemental carried me out of the building, and into the sky.  I saw Creep and Crank run out of the building just a tic before the bomb went off. I watched as Creep turned and a fireball erupted among the vehicles in the parking lot, cooking off fuel cells and battery packs.  I cast out a handful of magical dust and my first powerball spell hit the north end of the warehouse.  The structure buckled, so I hit with another powerball and watched as a third of the warehouse collapsed.  Fire erupted along the south end of the building, the demonic fire elementals breathing jets of flames and raking them across the area. Inside the warehouse the flame found something explosive.  The detonation blew a twenty meter hole in the roof and collapsed the eastern outer wall.  The warehouse was a suddenly immolated, a column of smoke was blowing out to the east. I turned, wrapped my invisibility spell around me and flew towards Redmond. 

I caught up to the spirit carrying Aria as it was descending toward the Brick Yard's parking lot.  The spirit handed Aria over to me.  "Thank you." I said.  The spirit considered me for a moment, then faded away into the winds.  I carried Aria around to the front.  Little Rickie held the door open for me as I carried Aria in and back to the booth where her mother awaited her arrival.

*****

Rowena O'Malley's yacht burned in the harbor that night. A nightclub she owned exploded in the wee hours before dawn the following day. Her house caught fire, and some miscreant stole her car.  Over the twenty-four hours that followed the explosion and fire at the warehouse, another forty of her people, (loan sharks, pimps, enforcers, and one accountant) went missing.  The accountant actually vanished on his own.  I didn't kill him. 

Saturday morning, around 0500 Rowena woke up to me sitting on her bed.  The head of her bodyguard laying on the pillow next to her.  "We should talk, Rowena." she reached for her gun. I let her have it. She pulled the trigger and nothing happened.  I had taken the bullets out. "I can get to you. Anytime I want, anywhere in the world.  You can't hide from me." I held up my left hand and showed her the lock of her hair I had cut off while she slept.  My right hand blurred and I shoved my viper sliver gun under her jaw.  Rowena O'Malley, one of the most powerful mob bosses in Seattle, became very still.

"I don't know what you were thinking, and I don't care.  You or any of your people even look at Sheila X or her people again and I will feed you to devil rats like I did your friends."  It took a lot of effort but I suppressed the shapechange spell that remade me into an elf.  Rowena's eyes widened. "You remember my face Rowena.  Remember that I WILL come back from the dead if I have to, just to end you. You made this personal twice. You're all out of chances." 

"You kill me, and you'll never have a moment's peace." Rowena said.

I shot her in the right shoulder.  The flechettes blew her arm off.  "Shut up Rowena. You better pray you never see me again."  I vanished under my spell.  Rowena hit the panic button in her room before she went into shock.  I used a handy spell I knew to sterilize the scene.  I took Rowena's arm and flew back to Redmond before DocWagon showed up to save the mob boss.  I left eleven dead mob enforcers behind me.

I delivered Rowena O'Malley's arm, wrapped in a trash bag, to Sheila X.  She opened it and raised an eyebrow at me.

"She raised a hand against Aria. So I blew her fraggin' arm off."  I said.  "She'll live though"

Sheila X nodded. "I think I'll keep this.  Never know when it may come in 'handy'" I laughed.  I couldn't help it.

Sheila X let me laugh for a moment, then said "Creep and Crank picked up the money you left for them.  Creep wants you to call him.  Crank says he's going on vacation and he'll leave word when he gets back."  I nodded.  "Are you going to 'die' again?"

"I think it may be best.  I've got a spell or two to teach to Creep, though I'm afraid for what he'll do with them. I think I owe Aria an explanation though."  I looked around the Brick Yard. "I'm not sure I should come back here though. It may be bad for folks if I do." 

"We'll talk with Aria together. She likes you, and I feel she's as safe with you as she is with Rickie.  Though, admittedly, I know Rickie wouldn't lay a finger on her whereas with you..." Sheila let her words trail off a moment, "with you, she's happy and safe. But no one can know she's my daughter Tommy. No one."

"I understand." I looked at Sheila X and saw the same cool professional I was used to. "Do you think Rowena will go to war?"

"Rowena has her own problems. She looks weak, and her best people are dead or missing.  If she decides to start something it will be after she heals up.  She can't afford to war with me now, her own people would chew her up." Sheila looked me in the eye. "You're a frightening young man Tommy Gun.  Its good to work with you."

"You scare the drek out of me Sheila X." I answered. I smiled back at her, "Its good to work with you, too."

*****

Afterword:

I kept my side of the bargain and taught Creep the silence spell,  the spell to detect vampires, and the spell to detect ghouls.  He learned quickly, often speaking to the elemental demoness spirits and working to refine his castings of the spells. It was a bit disconcerting that he learned so much faster than I had.  I chalked it up to my teaching technique and the help he received from the spirits.  But it was bothersome nonetheless. 

I arranged a gift for Crank.  When he got back from his "vacation" Sheila had him come down to pick it up.  The light machine gun was customized, with a pink frame, and small flowers adorning it. It matched the scooter, and I thought it was both practical and a really funny gag gift.

I never told anyone about these events, until now.  Creep died a long time ago, but Crank, well Crank isn't here anymore either.  Word got around somehow though. It always does.  Rowena's people stayed away from the Brick Yard, and soon moved out of Redmond altogether. She lost a lot of face and never was able to build her empire back to what she had lost. No one working for the mob ever crossed Sheila X again. 

Suzy B stopped answering her phone. I went to check on her, and found her dead in her apartment on February 1st. She had been reliable professional. She had fought ghouls and vampires and, in doing so, helped save countless lives. She's buried in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery and I hope she rests in peace.

Aria came over to my place for dinner and her mother came with her.  I cooked, it wasn't great, we ate and talked.  We talked about a lot of things.  I showed her my true face and she didn't care.  She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek and I asked her out on another date.  She said yes, and we made plans for a night out after my death. 

On February 4th, 2059 I sold my house to a nice elf gentleman.  He was two meters tall, had platinum white hair, silver eyes and, like me, was a licensed magician.  I took the money from that transaction and bought several books I wanted, some spell formula, and alchemical reagents.  I reserved a moving van for March 1st, and put down a deposit and first month's rent for a posh apartment downtown. 

On February 8th, 2059 I was walking out of a Stuffer Shack when two men walked up and gunned me down.  Witnesses described the men as white, human males wearing masks.  Paramedics arrived and I was pronounced dead on the scene.  The detective assigned to investigate my murder didn't have much interest.  My case went cold with no suspects.  I was cremated and my ashes scattered in the Pacific. I watched the ceremony. Crank was there, as were Gitti and Edgy Ed. 

Gitti and Ed received packages from me, shipped from my estate.  Each received twenty thousand nuyen in certified credsticks. Angel knew I was still alive, as she did much of the work setting up my new identity.  At least this time I wouldn't have to move.

I broke the mana loop that held my shapechange spell in place.  I cast the spell again and wove a new mana loop to sustain it.  My new self, the tall elf with great features, and platinum white hair; moved in as soon as the legalities of my estate were done.

I hired Angel to go through and 'clean' any of the electronics I owned.  She made sure there wasn't anything left to tie them to my previous identities.  I had re-register some software, buy a new chip reader and e-reader, and I picked up a new pair of AR goggles (I even bought a cool AR-MMORPG game from Sinopa Publishing). 

Starting a new life is expensive, but well worth it.  It burned through the nuyen from my last big score, and the little money I kept from the two platinum credsticks from Sheila.  I was dead again, and the new me would need to get to work if I was going to keep the house. The shadows of Seattle were about to get a "new" magician. 


__________________________________________________________________________

From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction blog!

As I mention above I do not own Shadowrun.  These stories are derived from game play, fictionalized for ease of reading, and are something I enjoy doing.

I have been making an effort to go back and edit the content of this blog, to clean it up and make it more presentable.  If you're new to this blog I invite you to go back to the beginning, and experience the development of Tommy as his shadowrunning career progresses. 

Tommy began play as a second edition character and was retired during the third edition. He was brought back as an NPC during the current fifth edition campaign, and has been a fun addition. 

If you enjoy these stories, please do take a moment and share them to social media channels for others to enjoy as well.

I also write, develop, and publish role-playing game materials (for other game systems under open game licenses or the equivalent) and I'm working on my own original game system as well.  You can find my currently published works on drivethrurpg.com  HERE and you can follow me on KickStarter to support my projects (adventures, source books, comic books, and that RPG I mentioned). 

You comments are most welcome!

W.S. Quinton







Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shadows of the Past

"There is no shadow without light,"... Unknown


December 2058

I made good on my promise to Aria and took her to the Eye of the Needle again. We had to wait a week for a reservation, but she was agreeable. We had a nice dinner, then took a boat tour of Puget Sound.  It was a fun time.


December 30th, 2058 

I was nineteen years old.

I had spent most of the month of December secluded in my new home. I managed to learn two spells, summon and bind four spirits, and had furniture delivered.  The annual mandatory gift giving holiday came and went.  I bought gifts that year for a few people I knew.  Sue had insisted on sending gifts the prior year, and I thought it would be rude not to follow up.

Suzy B and Edgy Ed spent the month recovering from injuries.  I made a point to see each of them once or twice each week. It was hardest visiting Ed as he had a major mad-on over losing "one of my two oldest friends".  It wasn't funny.  I didn't laugh, not even a little.  Suzy was another matter.  The skull fracture the vampire gave her was causing her all sorts of problems. The doctor she saw had wanted her to stay at the clinic under observation, she refused and was recovering at her apartment.  She complained of headaches, kept the lights off, and wasn't eating much.  (NOTE:  for all of you with cyber eyes, if you have a head injury and light hurts your eyes... that's a bad sign chummer, go to a doctor).

Gitti messaged me and said he wasn't going to be available for work until after the holidays.  I didn't ask about Creep, Crank disappeared for the month, and Adam the First went on an initiatory ordeal. As usual, I had no idea what Angel was up to, though I did send her a holiday gift.

{Thank you ~ Angel}
{You get fruit cake this year ~ T}
{So help me, I'll subscribe you to every targeted marketing firm on the planet if you do! ~ Angel}
{Joking ~ T}

It was about this time that I realized that I only socialized with professional criminals or people in those immediate circles.  The words "Known Associates" came to mind.

{What? Most of the shadowrunners you hung out with back there were decent folks.  For shadowrunners, anyway ~ Angel}


December 31st, 2058 2230 hours

I couldn't get in to Dante's Inferno for the New Year's Eve party. Same was to be said of every night spot I had ever been to.  Places were packed with revelers celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of another.  For me, 2058 had been very busy and had held some personal losses. I wanted to celebrate like everyone else, to revel and laugh. Instead, I ended up spending the evening at church.  I sat through mass, listened to the priest, and found that I felt a bit better.

At midnight I was listening to gunfire and fireworks, watching the sky erupt in magical and mundane pyrotechnics.  I was standing at the graves of Pepper and his family.  I talked a lot that night.

"I wish you could see the new place.  Its a quiet neighborhood.  Kids play in front of the houses during the daylight hours."  I said.  "Biz has been tough this year.  I bit off more than I could chew with a vampire.  He beat my ass and killed three of my team.  Poor planning on my part.  I should been smart about it, set fire to the house after dawn and let the daylight kill him.  Two other runners got hurt pretty bad.  Not sure if one is going to be able to work again and the other, well, lets just say he's going to walk funny for a while." I might have chuckled a little.  "I hope you are at peace, all of you."

I thought I was talking to Pepper but I know now, he wasn't there.  I was talking to myself, getting things off my chest.  Catharsis is what the ancient Greeks called it when you purge the negative feelings.  That night, standing in the snow, surrounded by graves, and watching the sky erupt as 2059 was welcomed in, I felt better.

I said "Goodbye" to Pepper and his family.  I didn't intend to come back.

*****

January 7th, 2059

I filed my year ending taxes with the tribal tax bureau and my property and various other miscellaneous taxes with the Seattle Metroplex Department of Revenue.  My money was well and truly laundered, but if you don't pay your taxes official people with access to law enforcement get curious.  So I pay my taxes, which is funny to me as the governments make money from my illegal activities.

My bills were paid, I had real food in the refrigeration unit, and my neighbors had taken down their holiday decorations. My identity didn't have any suspicious activity on it, and was growing stronger with all the "legitimate" use I put on it (like paying taxes... just a hint there chummers). 2059 was off to a good start.

1300 hours:   January was colder than normal.  I stepped out of the car and beheld the towering edifice of the Renraku Arcology.  If you have never seen it up close, its fraggin' huge. There was a lore store there that sold some decent materials and some top notch enchanting tools and alchemical equipment.  I arrived at the end of the lunch rush, made it through security with no problems (I left my gun at home), and headed to the lore store. 

Renraku was not, and still isn't, known for being particularly meta-friendly.  That said, where magicians are concerned companies usually have to set aside their racial prejudice if they need the staff.  Robert Longfellow, was a troll magician and proud employee of Renraku North America.  He ran the lore store on the third floor (fyi, at that time the Arcology only had two lore stores) which catered to alchemists, conjurers, and enchanters.  The shop carried material reagents, a fair selection of minor foci, focus formulae for a variety of different magical tools, and a worthless series of books on the basics of summoning.

"Robert, its good to see you." I thrust my hand at the towering man.  He smiled and shook firmly.

"Mr. Gun.  Its good to see you.  I have your order here, of course, if you'll follow me we'll get your final forms signed."  Robert led me to a secluded client booth, where he waited for me to be seated before seating himself.  "I confess I was impressed to see such a large order.  So many people simply buy a trinket so as to own a small bit of magic.  Wizard's, on the other hand, are a great boon to business."

"Its my pleasure, Robert.  Your merchandise has always been of fine quality, and my needs were rather, specific."  Robert was fishing for information.  I don't think he did it maliciously, I think he was expressing a professional curiosity. "Between you and I, I'm planning a bit of an astral quest. I'll tell you about it sometime. Provided I succeed, or course."  My smile was genuine.  I liked Robert.  He was a nice guy who sold stuff I wanted and needed and he didn't try to upsell me, much.

"I look forward to it!" Robert exclaimed. "If you would review the order information, I'll bring the items out for your inspection." 

I went over the list and found everything I had ordered there.  One thing in particular, "Eldritch secrets of the Babylonians", I had ordered in hard copy.  I wanted to compare the on-demand copy to the one I had. I didn't exactly lie to Robert.  I was planning an astral quest. I also had a large quantity of materials I planned to use for summoning and binding rituals.  Robert brought out several boxes, opening each to allow me to inspect the contents.  Everything was as I ordered.  I signed for receipt of my new property after paying a painful sum.  I hit the app for my car service while Robert arranged for a security team to escort me to my ride.

*****

January 9th, 2059

I was twenty years old. 

My birthday came and went.  Angel surprised me with a card, and a gift.  I still don't know how she found out when my birthday was.  By noon I had finished packing away my local purchases of reagents, alchemicals, and other magical paraphernalia.  At 1303 hours, a pair of critical components arrived from Europe.  I unpackaged the tusk from a golden boar delicately.  Its magical potency was well worth the price paid to (legally) import it. I left it wrapped in the paper it came in and covered it with a large glass bell jar.  A smaller box held a single fire opal.  It was a beautiful stone, the light catching it and throwing off a host of color.  To my astral sight it shone brilliantly, radiating incredible magical potential. 

I cast my eyes around my basement, studying the flow of mana through the room.  A small orb of light held fast near the center point, an eruption of power into the local mana field. I don't know how it was formed, but it was present when I first looked at the house, and was the chief reason I moved in.  I had found that I could harness that extra power in my magical efforts, and for the working I had planned I would certainly need it. 

I went to bed early that night, with a trio of bound spirits watching over me and the house.  I had a bit of magic planned for the following day. I was wary of any astral interference as well as mundane interruptions that may have interrupted the working. 

January 10th, 2059

I was up and working at 0300:  I drew out a circle on the floor of my basement in a yellow chalk from the Painted Desert.  I carefully added the mystic symbols and materials needed, and was done with the physical construction by 0600.  I went upstairs, ate breakfast, and cleaned up.  It was an hour before I went back down to the basement to continue my work.

Astral quests, vision quests, planar excursions, whichever you may know them by (and there are many other names) are dangerous undertakings.  You launch your essence, your very soul, into the astral places hidden far away from most mortal magicians. When you undertake an astral quest you journey into the metaplanes, places apart from "normal" astral space, where you may encounter profound wonders or darkest horrors.  Initiate magicians brave the metaplanes in search of knowledge and power.  Often times, a magician never comes back and the body dies as an empty shell.  I was seeking knowledge I desperately wanted, and I was certainly willing to take the risks of an astral quest to get it.

I took up position in the center of the circle, took a deep cleansing breath and began.  I took up a handful of phoenix ash, "Spirits of fire, light of the east, I beseech you.  Light my way as I journey the hidden paths.  Cast aside the darkness that I may see."  The fire elemental I had bound materialized at the eastern cardinal point.  I cast the phoenix ash at the spirit. "May your power aid me on my journey."

I reached down and retrieved a green, glass stoppered bottle.  I turned to face the western cardinal point, "Spirits of the waters, keepers of the secrets of the deep, I beseech you.  Reveal unto me that which I seek.  Part the deceptions of time, and reveal unto me the truth." The water elemental I had bound materialized at the western cardinal point.  I poured out water from the blood falls onto my head then emptied the remaining precious waters onto the spirit.  "May your power aid me on my journey."

I picked up the geode I had chosen for this working, and turned south, "Spirits of the earth, foundation of the world, I beseech you.  Support my efforts as I travel the darkened paths.  Guide my steps and strengthen my resolve." The earth elemental I had bound materialized at the southern cardinal point, dark obsidian eyes staring into me. I placed the geode between those dark eyes and watched as it seemed to open.  A crystalline third eye radiating magic before me. "May your power aid me on my journey."

I lit a bundle of sage and placed it in the northern quadrant of the circle.  Thin trails of pungent smoke wafted up, combining with incense from Tibet, Wyoming, and Japan. "Spirits of air and sky, breath of the world, I beseech you.  Watch over my working, blow back the dusts of time, and grant me your foresight." The air elemental I had bound materialized at the northern cardinal point.  I lay down in the circle, surrounded by the four elements, "May your power aid me on my journey."

The air was hazed by the incense and sage.  The elemental spirits about me bore witness as I slipped from my body and ascended into the astral plane. The area about me thrummed with harnessed power, while the orb of light directly above my body grew, changing shape as it did so, until I saw a long corridor before me.  A distant echo sounded, "Go back".

"No." I said. Then I walked into the corridor to confront the Dweller on the Threshold.

There are a number of theories as to what the Dweller on the Threshold may actually be.  I don't subscribe to any of them.  What I do believe, however, is that the Dweller makes it difficult for magicians to enter where they wish to go, and in doing so the dweller forces magicians to confront our own limitations.  I also believe, as many others do, that the Dweller on the Threshold is a first rate pain in the ass.  If you can't get past the Dweller then your quest is over before it begins, you hopefully learn a lesson about hubris, and those secrets you wished to possess are out of your grasp (for the time being, at least).  The Dweller can, and does, take many forms.  While you would think you learn to "expect the unexpected", the Dweller will surprise you.

I entered the corridor as ready as I could be to confront the Dweller.  As usual, I was horribly surprised.

The corridor before me was littered with bodies.  As I strode into the corridor the shade of Nicholas Poliwatski, looking frail and sickly, accused me. "Murderer." he gasped. "I was dying, I had no choice. You invaded my home and took my life. You may not pass."

"You were a diseased murdering psychopath who preyed on those who sought your help.  You infected others with your soul destroying disease and I would kill you again, without hesitation, if I could."  I spat my words at the shade and I meant every one of them.

Others rose up to take Nick's place, the vampires of his brood confronted me and I shouted down their accusations.  They were replaced by those victims they had condemned on that night when I lead the attack against Nick and the vampires.  A young prostitute looked up from a blood soaked piece of carpet.  "Please. Help me!" She cried.

"I did what I could. You would have become a monster. The disease would have poisoned your soul and you would have murdered others. I'm sorry for what happened to you, but it had to done." I felt sympathy for the shades of the victims of the vampires.  They were soon replaced by scores of disfigured ghouls.

"We didn't choose this, but you chose. You chose to murder us!"  They pointed talon-tipped fingers stained in blood at me.  There were so many.

"You preyed upon the people who were once your neighbors.  You slaughtered families, spread your disease, and condemned others to your own fate.  You had to be stopped, and I chose to stop you."  I confronted the shades of the ghouls and I felt no pity for them.

A multitude of shades rose up to confront me.  Shades of creatures, monsters, and people whose lives I had cut short.  They rose up and condemned me.  I answered their accusations, recalling why each had to die.  The gang of faux-hawk wearing wannabes faded from my view.  Then two forms rose up, their eyes wide, hands scorched from the first spells I sent down their weapon foci.  "Why did we have to die, Tommy? Why did you kill us?"  The shades of two physical adepts, the two who ran, who tried to get away.  Two security officers who were doing their job.  Two men I had murdered.

"I shouldn't have killed you. I was scared, desperate, and I made a terrible decision."  The truth is remarkably easy to tell. "I chased you down, and used your own weapons against you.  You could have lived.  There wasn't a reason to kill you, but I did.  I murdered you both, and I'm very sorry."  I felt a deep sense of shame, a burden I had carried for a few years now.  The shades faded away, but my guilt didn't.  I hung my head, the weight of my sins heavily upon my mind.

"What about me chummer?"

I froze. I knew that voice very well.  I didn't want to believe what I was hearing, so I looked up.

Pepper stood before me, a bullet wound in his eye and another in his throat.  His voice became distorted, gurgling from the blood bubbling out of his wounds.  "What about me, chummer? Why did I have to die?"

"I didn't kill you Pepper. It was those gangers.  I didn't kill you chummer." I could feel tears welling up.  "I didn't kill you Pepper.  You were my friend.  I didn't do it."

"Then why am I dead?"  Pepper demanded.

Damn the Dweller for doing this to me.  I stood dumbfounded for a moment, then I cried.  "I'm sorry Pepper.  It wasn't my fault.  I wanted to lash out at them for what they did and I didn't think. I could have just sent elementals and we could have picked them off as they fled, or I could have made us invisible so they couldn't see us to shoot back.  I just didn't think."  My voice broke and I sobbed, "I'm sorry Pepper!  God in heaven, I am SO SORRY!  I didn't think.  You didn't have to die.  I could have done it, I could have put you to sleep and sent the spirits.  I could have had Ratchet float the drones on them and mow them down.  I didn't think! Now you're dead, and its not my fault but I could have stopped it!  I could have been smarter!  You didn't have to die."  I was crying freely.  My astral form glinting from tears that flowed from me.  I pleaded and sobbed and I apologized to my friend's shade for my failings.  It wasn't my fault, but it always felt like it was.  Pepper was joined by Jim, Joe, and John.  Each looked as they did when they died.  They cast their gazes upon me and I felt my own guilt.  I sobbed, and poured out my guilt and grief as I looked at them all.

"I'm sorry.  I made mistakes and it cost you your lives. If I had been wiser, if I had thought things through, you would all be alive." I straightened, and steeled my resolve. "But its not my fault.  I didn't kill any of you. I am sorry, but I have things I have to do, I have someone I have to save, and I can't let you stand in my way."  I stepped through the shades, their hands patting my shoulders, and felt Pepper's hand firmly on my back.

Sue's shade appeared before me.  She didn't accuse me, she didn't challenge me, she only kissed me on the cheek. "Goodbye, Tommy" she said, then faded away.

"Honorable, and professional.  Live long and well Tommy, until we meet again." and then Pepper was gone.

I passed through the corridor, passed the Dweller, who had stepped aside from the glowing portal at the end, and walked into the metaplane beyond.

*****

The metaplanes are as varied as they are infinite.  I heard that on the trid once. It also happens to be true, as far as I know anyway.  I stepped into a small, square room, maybe three meters on each side.  There was a door in the center of each of the three walls I saw before me, and when I turned around I saw a door behind me.  Everything was grey and dark, like old ashes.  I turned to the left, and opened the door.

I stepped through into a scene that drew me up short.  There was a little boy, covered in dust and laying on a dilapidated bed.  The room, the toys, all looked very familiar to me.  As I moved closer I saw the boy's face and realized that I was looking at myself.  I was in my childhood bedroom, from before my parents were murdered.  It appeared that I could simply be sleeping.

I looked around the room, "Isabellix?" I called.  There wasn't an answer.

I went over to the bed and looked down at my own young face.  Even covered in dust I looked pained and scared.  I reached out to brush the dust off my face and watched as the boy, the bed and bedding all crumbled to ash.  The room began to crumble around me as I watched.  I jumped through the doorway toward the small room, only to land elsewhere.

I was in the living room of my childhood.  I saw the small figure of an infant laying in a playpen.  The child was holding a rattle and, like in the bedroom, was covered in ash.  I looked about and everything was gray and ashen.  I felt certain that the child was the key, but as I stepped toward the playpen the floor began to crumble.  I watched as the room began disintegrating about me.  I had never heard of something like this and I didn't know what to make of it, but I was certain I didn't want to be in the room when everything was gone.  I jumped back, trying once more for the door to the small room and landed in a classroom.

There were small children sitting about the room, bright and alive and full of color.  I turned and watched as a very small, very young 'me' walked down the steps and took a seat.  I was very much alive and vibrant', bright with magical potential, but sad and uncertain.  I walked over to the empty seat next to the smaller 'me', and heard a voice from behind "No pets allowed!"

I turned, confused, and saw a dead woman before the class.  Her fingers were red with blood, and there was a haze over her aura where she was hiding her true self from others.  She was alive only in the strictest of senses.  She was heartless, ruthless, and would do anything for power. She looked upon the young talents before her, and her hunger for power longed to consume them all.

As I watched, she raised her hand and pointed to the younger me.  A putrid cloud of tainted mana came flowing toward the child.  I raised my hands in a gesture of warding and soared into the path of the spell.  It cracked and flowed around me, breaking on my defenses and still trying to crawl its way to the small boy it was sent for.  I batted at the spell with all my might, then soared into the sorceress who was trying to poison the mind of small boy. "Tommy! Run!" I cried out.


I saw myself, eyes wide, turn and start running up the steps.  The sorceress beneath me battered my essence, striking at me with the skill and strength of a top notch magician. She was easily my match, and probably more powerful, but I fought as best I could holding her back from the fleeing boy-version of me.  I struggled and fought, all the while wondering wear Isabellix was.  As the younger me reached the door and ran out, the color vanished from the room.  The scene crumbled around me, and I was suddenly surrounded by a cloud of ash as reality collapsed all around me.

I'm not certain how much time passed. I wandered in the ashen cloud for an indeterminate amount of time.  It may have been minutes or days, but eventually my hand found a wall of smooth stone.  I followed the wall until I reached an opening, then stepped through.

I emerged into a small chamber of gray stone. There was a shape on the cracked floor, colorless and still.  Around me reality seemed to be crumbling away, falling into nothingness.  I had reached what is commonly called "the citadel", the place where knowledge is to be found.  All I saw was an ash covered shape.  I knelt down, and looked into a face that may have once been Isabellix. I looked up and saw a shade of that same sorceress who once tried to cast a spell on me, who had once used blood magic to torture Sue, walk to the shape I was inspecting and shatter it with sickly magical energy.  The mana coalesced into dusty ash.

I looked down at a cloud of ashes and understood.  Isabellix had been destroyed here.  The sorceress had hunted Isabellix down in her native metaplane and destroyed my childhood friend.

I fell to my knees then lay down next to the pile of ash that had once been the delight of my childhood.  I lay there for a long time, then began to drift off, as if to sleep.

*****

I regained awareness in my basement.  The elemental spirits had departed, the incense had burned down, and I felt a chill from laying on the basement floor.  I was stiff, and it took a few minutes for me to rise and find my pocket secretary.

I had been on my astral quest for almost two days (42 hours to be precise). I was dehydrated and weak. I wandered about the house for a while, drinking lemonade, and contemplating what I had learned.  I had dared to journey to the metaplanes to rescue Isabellix but my childhood friend was dead and beyond my help.

My face felt gritty from dried tears, so I washed up. I thought about what I had seen, the bottled up feelings that had tried to overwhelm me and, yes, I thought about Pepper.  "Honorable, and professional.  Live long and well Tommy, until we meet again." he had said to me.

Until we meet again chummer.
______________________________________________________________________


From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  If you enjoyed this, please comment below, and please do share this with others.

I also write and publish role-playing game material (for other game systems) under open game licenses.  You can find me on KickStarter as W.S. Quinton, and on Drivethrurpg.com under my company Sinopa Publishing LLC.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bloody Business


November 30th, 2058 0200 hours (The Brick Yard)

I was tired, my stomach was full (I love Solomon's peanut butter pie), but Sheila X wanted to talk to me.  I walked back to her usual booth and sat down across from her for the second time that evening.  The curtain pulled closed a tic later.

"A certain Mr. Johnson asked about you for an upcoming job.  Are you interested in making some real money?" Sheila asked.  It seemed an odd question.  When had I NOT been interested in a paying job?

"Maybe, what's the job?" I asked.

"Meeting later to find out.  Not here though, this Johnson doesn't do the Barrens.  Meet is tonight at the Space Needle, dinner date theme, bring a girl and dress the part.  Reservations under the name 'C.U. Thomas', nine sharp. Don't be late."  Sheila passed a thin brown envelope to me.  I opened it and found a credstick with one thousand nuyen on it, and a data chip.

"The chip has the dossier on your identity as Charles Urien Thomas.  It won't hold up for long, but it will get you through the day, and into the Space Needle.  You're with the Thomas-Johnson party." Sheila X paused for a tick, then added, "Tommy, whatever his pitch is, give it a lot of thought.  I've dealt with this guy before, he pays well, but its always complicated."

"Any job worth good money usually is," I replied. "Thanks, Sheila.  I'll get some sleep, find a date, and clean up before I head over."

"Don't frag this up Tommy.  This Johnson, well, you remind me of him." Sheila warned.

I nodded, took my shiny nuyen, and walked out of the Brick Yard.

*****

November 30th, 2058  (1015 hours)  Lazi-Staye Inn, Renton

I woke up, took a hot shower, and dressed for my day.  Everything I owned was in that hotel room.  My books were packed up in two trunks.  My clothes filled one suitcase.  My computer and data chips were in a case on the small table.  I had a few hours to find a "date", pick up some clothes for my meeting, and find out what this Johnson had in mind.

1025 hours:  Angel turned me down.

{I had a prior commitment, Tommy ~ Angel}

I was out the door and on my way to Bellevue.  I was a bit frustrated as I couldn't think of anyone to take to the Space Needle for the meet.  Suzy B sported too much chrome to be discrete, Angel had turned me down, and Sue was dead.  That last part was still hurting. The cab dropped me off a block from my destination.

If you've ever had a problem finding a date, you know you have a lot of options.  If you've ever needed a "date" to go with you to an illicit meeting where quasi-legal or wholly illegal matters were sure to be negotiated, then you know you really do not have many options. I knew a few female shadowrunners, but most were chromed out street samurai. With Angel being out of the pool of candidates ..
{I get it Tommy, I'm sorry but I really was busy ~ Angel}
... I was running low on options.  I sent Sheila X a text while Russell was busy hemming my trousers.

Suffice it to say, several texts were exchanged over the next hour.

Russell did great work.  After a couple of hours I was the owner of a newly fitted charcoal suit styled in the trendy corp mage fashion that was popular that season (at least that is what Russell claimed).  A midnight blue cape, fashionable leather shoes, and a tie embedded with tiny crystals (it looked like a night sky with a sprinkle of stars) made for a nice look on me.  My brown skin and elven features worked well with the cut and colors.  Russell suggested, and I relented, that I add a pocket watch to the ensemble.  The outfit devoured the thousand nuyen I had received from Sheila, and a little more besides. The suit went into a nice garment bag, and I got into a cab and headed back to my hotel.

I picked up my "date", at 2005 hours.

*****

November 30th, 2058 2040 hours (Seattle Space Needle)

I stepped off the elevator into the Eye of the Needle. It was my first time in the famous restaurant. The prices are high, the food is good, and view changes slowly. I felt Aria's hand grip my arm tighter for a moment, steadying herself as she adjusted to the motion of the floor.

"I've wanted to come here for ages," she whispered.

"Thanks for coming at all.  I know it was short notice."  Two steps brought me to the Maitre D', a middle aged human man with grey hair and a distinguished manner.  

"Good evening sir, madam.  Do you have a reservation?" he said.

"Yes, indeed.  I'm C.U. Thomas, I'm here under the Thomas and Johnson reservation." I replied.  

The Maitre D' paused just a tic, "I see sir.  Your table is almost ready.  Would you care to adjourn to the bar in the meantime?"

"Certainly.  Thank you."  I turned to Aria, "Would you care for a drink?"

Aria blushed slightly, "Why thank you, yes."

I admit, I was worried about bringing Aria.  If I had a few days longer I may have found someone else but Aria was the best I could do.  She also happened to fit in with the environment.  She was a pretty elven woman, but not so pretty that she stood out from the other pretty elven women there.  Her dress was appropriate, acceptable, but not so flash as to draw unwanted attention.  She also managed to coordinate well with me, which was a pleasant surprise.  It had taken a bit of persuasion to get Sheila to agree to me asking her to come.  Surprisingly, Aria agreed to come even after I explained it was a business meeting and I really just needed her on my arm.  Her only conditions were that I picked her up, that I paid for dinner, and that if things went well I had to take her out again.

Yeah, I was shocked too.

Aria ordered in Sperethiel.  The elf tending bar produced a champagne flute and opened a bottle that looked fantastically expensive.  I knew I was going to hate the bill on my "date" that night.  "I'll have what the lady is having."

We sat and made small talk while enjoying our champagne.  It was the first time I had tasted champagne, and it was not what I expected.  It tickled my nose, and was pleasant on the pallet.  Aria was laughing at my attempts to mimic something she said in Sperethiel when the Maitre D' retrieved us, and escorted us to our table.  I was pushing Aria's seat in for her, when a tall human man and his
date were escorted to our table.  He was a bit more than two meters tall, with salt and pepper hair, and a hardy build. It was either a top notch body sculpt job or this guy spent hours in the gym each day.  His eyes were a mix of blue and grey, like a cloudy sky before the rain came. He was tan, imposing, and mirrored my actions by pulling out a chair for his date.  The woman was a surprise.  She was a tall amerind-elf with flawless skin, and jet black hair held in check with a comb that appeared to be made from real wood.  Her emerald green eyes were striking, and I recognized her immediately as my former client, Samantha Goode. 

With both ladies seated, I faced Mr. Johnson.  He seemed to stare through me for a moment and I suddenly had a bad feeling.  He raised his left hand, "Charles, how wonderful to see you." His voice was a firm baritone.  I shook his hand firmly, mindful of my magically augmented strength.  His grip was strong, and I got the impression the he was far stronger than I.

"Good to see you again." I smiled.  I was nervous, but it was definitely not the time to show weakness.

"It's been too long, Charles" the woman I knew as Samantha Goode chimed in. She had nailed the 'little black dress' wardrobe for the evening, with silver studs on her ears, a pair of silver rings on each hand, and a simple silver chain around her neck.  She was beautiful, and her fingernails matched the green of her eyes.

I turned and introduced my date, "This is Aria.  Aria, this is Mr. Johnson, and Samantha".

"I'm pleased to meet you both," Aria chimed.  "I love your dress Samantha, where ever did you have it made?"

A waiter appeared and took our drink orders.  Aria engaged Samantha, insisting on the details of her wardrobe.  It was superficial, not germane to the reason we were there, and provided me with a perfect opportunity to focus my attention on Mr. Johnson.  I opened myself to perceive the astral plane and gazed upon Mr. Johnson.

He was perfectly mundane.  Healthy, full of life, and had no flaws in his essence from cyberware.  He seemed perfectly normal.  That scared the drek out of me!  Samantha was a different story.  Her aura radiated power.  She was an awakened powerhouse, and was watching the astral plane as well.  She spared me a glance and grinned as she bantered with Aria.  As I watched, her aura faded until she suddenly looked completely mundane as well.  I took a drink of my champagne, wondering what I had gotten into, when Aria spoke up.  "He's great, though I haven't taught him Sperethiel yet.  I call him my 'vanima asinus'," Aria and Samantha both chuckled at that. "At least until he learns the language anyway."

I spared a glance at Aria and found her aura glowing with vibrant health and not a trace of magical ability.  She was having fun and was radiating an excited joy. I smiled feebly, as I forced my astral sight closed.  I felt a familiar tension behind my eyes as the astral plane faded from view.

"Charles, how has business been?"  Mr. Johnson asked.  He was nonchalant, frightening for a reason I couldn't put my finger on, and being perfectly amicable.

"Busy of late. Long hours, late nights, but all in all, very gratifying." I replied.  "How are things going for you? Making the big deals?"

"Doing my part to save the world and make a living in the process.  Same as always really. I heard you had some business in Redmond?  Terrible area, worst element, but your outreach efforts seem to really have made a difference.  I understand that certain crime statistics have dropped precipitously.  Well done, that.  You should be proud."  He paused and took a drink.

"Just a little something to help the community. There is a lot left to do there, I'm afraid."  our waiter was approaching.  I took another drink of my champagne.

Aria ordered like I usually do at the Brick Yard, steak and all.  She ate and talked to Samantha, patting me on my arm a few times as they two women slipped into Sperethiel.  I ate my salad, talking about nothing at all with Mr. Johnson and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Our main course arrived and my mouth watered at the sight of my steak.  It looked perfect and smelled amazing.  The conversation become less frequent, with Samantha and Aria speaking in turn as the other ate.  I bit into my first cut of steak when I felt a pressure on my mind and heard Mr. Johnson's voice. "I apologize for the violation, but this is the best way to meet in public and not be overheard".  I started at the words erupting in my brain, began to choke on my steak, and grabbed my champagne flute.

Aria's hand found my knee, "Are you alright?"

*Cough* "I'm fine, just went down the wrong pipe." I responded.

"Smaller bites. It's healthier for you." Aria smiled brightly.

"She's right, smaller bites will help you live longer." Mr. Johnson's voice rang in my skull. "I have a job that may interest you.  It pays well, and you seem to have a taste for the work."

"I admit I'm curious" I stated. "What do you have in mind for the short term?" I was fishing for a way to respond that didn't raise suspicion.

"You adapt quickly, that is good.  I'm told you don't kill people, but you don't seem to have a problem with killing the infected." The voice in my head was giving me a headache.

"I hope you understand. People often think they know what you may have in mind, but it is so often simply not the case." that's me, subtle, right?

Mr. Johnson nodded as if everything I was saying made perfect sense. "The target is a vampire. He's managed to hide his condition, but has killed scores of people in the years since he succumbed to the infection." I chewed my food slowly while Mr. Johnson's voice played loudly in my skull. "He's recently infected a small number of people. Each of whom is advantageously positioned.  He's chosen carefully, and has garnered some influence by virtue of his brood."

I swallowed my steak, heard Aria say something about the difficulties of meeting client demands, and mentally palmed my face. "Think about it, you may have a larger goal for the betterment of the community at large, but the people involved may only be in it for the money. It can be difficult to strike a balance between community and enlightened self-interest."

"Irrelevant.  I want you to investigate the target, identify those persons who have likewise been infected, and eliminate them.  You can expect resistance from those persons who don't yet know of the outbreak." Mr. Johnson took another bite of steak himself.  He smiled and said aloud, "This is really very good."

I nodded in agreement, "That it is.  I wonder if, maybe you would be interested in contributing to further my work in the community?  I assure you the funding would be put to good use."

Mr. Johnson nodded, produced his pocket secretary and began punching numbers in.  He turned the display screen to face me.  I almost fell out of my chair. "I think you'll find this amount more than agreeable. This is not a negotiation.  Hire who you must, use whatever methods you must, but kill this monster and his brood. Do you accept?"

It was a contract killing. The fact that the target was (allegedly) a vampire was the only reason I was entertaining the idea. I thought while I chewed my steak, my word choice would be important. "I think your contribution is remarkable, thank you. Let me look over the proposal and I can let you know how your donation would be put to use."

"I expect an answer before the end of dinner," Mr. Johnson smiled as he cut into his steak again, his voice ringing in my head. Images and information came flowing into my mind.  I saw the target, heard his voice, and received an overview of his career.  It was a flood of information and difficult to digest. I lost awareness of my surroundings for a moment, like I was lost in a daydream.  I saw the target, saw his aura and the multitude of tiny, fanged mouths swimming in the dark wreckage of his shattered soul.  He was terrifying and radiated an insatiable hunger.

But was what I was seeing real, or was I just being subjected to a potent illusion or mind control?  "If you'll excuse me for a moment.  Aria, my dear, I'll be back momentarily."  I rose, and headed toward the men's room.

I entered a stall, sat down, and hooked my arm into the rail on the stall's wall. I leaned against the wall, and went limp.  My body sagged a bit but I remained seated.  "Good enough" I thought.  I closed my eyes and slipped from my body, projecting my essence, my soul, into the astral plane.  "Don't trust, definitely verify" I told myself, and zipped through astral space to an address I had just learned.

*****

You can't read street signs or house numbers from the astral plane, but you can follow the topography and recognize natural features. Kelsey Creek Park, is a beautiful place from the astral viewpoint.  Its full of life. All the trees and vegetation are cultivated from native species.  The staff keep trash picked up, and security patrols the area so that the well off citizens of Bellevue can jog in peace and relative safety.  Its a nice park, and one I used to visit often before I became an elf.

Southeast of Kelsey Creek, and a little south of the Lake Hills Connector there is a posh neighborhood on SE 10th street. Expensive homes sit on large lots with plenty of grass and other vegetation ("yards" I still don't know why people call them that).  Generally speaking, the astral space in that area is vibrant, clean of astral pollution (what many thaumaturgic scholars refer to as a "background count") and a pleasant place to be.  In the meat world, the area is often patrolled by Knight Errant private security contractors, in addition to Lone Star's police contractors.  The area is one of the safest in the Seattle Metroplex, with powerful and wealthy people calling the small neighborhood 'home'. I made my way slowly, looking for natural features that matched the images I had seen, and found the place almost immediately.  The vegetation was vibrant and alive, but the astral space around the home had a more mellow feeling to it.  Its hard to describe, but something felt different from the rest of the area. I skirted the house and floated around to the back yard.

There was freshly dug earth, with newly planted roses struggling to take root.  From the astral I saw a spectral hand thrusting out of the soil, reaching and tearing at nothing material.  A ghost, buried in the soil and confined by the plants and living earth, had managed to just break the surface of it's prison.  I looked around and found two other freshly planted roses, struggling to take hold in the earth.  "Well, that's not a good sign" I told myself.  I looked back to the house and floated over.

Probing the home revealed a potent set of wards. They were substantial, but not insurmountable, and I'm pretty good about slipping through wards anyway.  I braced myself, had a brief moment of trepidation as I remembered the last time I entered a building that hosted vampires, and slipped my narrow astral self into the home.  The interior was dank with death and rife with fear and pain.  Phantom images of blood pooling on the floors, and echos of screams filled with terror played against the grey, insubstantial inner walls.  The place wasn't a home any longer.  It was house of horrors. I slipped back out through the wards, confident that I hadn't been detected and returned to my meat body.  The whole trip was a very long ten minutes.

I washed my face and hands, toweled off and returned to my table.  Aria and Samantha seemed to be getting along fine.  Mr. Johnson was engaging the waiter when I sat down.  "Terribly sorry.  Seems I missed a good joke." I said.  I looked at Mr. Johnson, "As I was saying, I think we can put your money to good use."

"Excellent! I look forward to seeing the results." His deep baritone carried a pleasant quality.

Dinner went swimmingly.  We drank some champagne, ate great food, and I began planning the murder of a vampire.

*****

December 2nd, 2058

Angel took the job I offered. Digging up dirt on someone can be hard, unless you know what to look for.  Angel and I had a wealth of online information to check against where vampires were concerned.  Most of it was fictionalized, useless rubbish, but there were some nuggets of information that helped round up some key data.

Nicholas Poliwatski was a successful attorney.  He had founded his own firm in 2051 after leaving the Metroplex prosecutor's office (he had worked their since passing the bar exam in 2043).  Nicholas had gone on vacation, to Egypt, in 2052.  He came back with a taste for human blood.  Throughout the rest of 2052 a number of Nicholas's criminal defense clients either went missing or were found dead.  Many of the deceased were badly burned, suffered catastrophic head injuries, or were otherwise so badly injured that no one bothered to do any blood work on the deceased.

In 2057 he took on a trio of young attorneys, fresh out of law school, and put them to work assisting him with his case load. In January, 2058, one of those attorney's vanished.  A number of clients went missing throughout 2057 and 2058.  The number of disappearances became more frequent in October of 2058.  "More mouths to feed," I said to Angel.  We were going over the data she had mined, and pulling more information as some programs she had running...  {Smart frames, Tommy, SMART FRAMES.  All these years and you haven't picked up on the lingo ~ Angel}
... dumped more data to us, and it painted a terrible picture.

We constructed a timeline and went over everything we could dig up electronically on Nick. "I managed to access his medical records.  Seems that in 2051 the Metro-health plan he was under with the prosecutor's office, denied reimbursement for a cancer treatment drug.  When he started his own firm his health insurance corp flagged a pre-existing condition.  Seems he had leukemia."  Angel keyed up a report she had "found". "It didn't look good for him" she finished.

"So he gets sick, quits his job where his insurance won't cover it and starts his own biz, and tries to get covered on his own. New insurance says 'hell no' and what?  He decides to become a vampire?" I had a bad feeling where this was going.

"Looks like it.  I accessed his email accounts' deleted files archive.  Seems he was in contact with a shaman who claimed he could be 'purified in the blood and healed of any sickness'" the highlighted portion of the emails floated into view, as Angel continued.  "He booked a flight and spent three weeks in Cairo, though he stopped ordering room service after the sixth day there.  How long does it take to turn into a vampire?" Angel asked.

"No idea.  Something we need to find out though." I answered.

"Right," Angel made a note on her system, then continued.  "He comes back to Seattle, his wife and kids meet him at the airport.  The next morning they file for divorce, nothing contested, he keeps the house, she gets a lot of child support and a generous alimony package."

"What happened to them?" I asked.

"Car accident, three days after the divorce finalized.  Car went off the I-5, crashed into something that went 'boom'.  Coroner recovered three bodies.  DNA matched the wife and the kids.  There was an investigation and autopsy, but nothing came up.  Looks like she lost control." Angel shook her head. "Its a pretty clean set of murders.  I guess he learned a few things as a prosecutor."

"Seems that way." I replied. I scrolled down the timeline."Here." I pointed out a note in the data. "This is the first client who came up dead?"

"Sure is." Angel replied. The display changed, pulling up a file image and pages of data. "Arthur Coomer, aka "Main Merlin", street magician.  Arrested for magical assault with intent to do bodily harm and a litany of related lesser offenses.  Prosecutors wanted him to do ten years. He hired Nick, came to the office, and next thing you know he is well and truly dead.  Nick's appointment register confirms that Arthur came in, they started a file on him which they turned in to the Star when their investigation began."

"Cause of death?" I asked.

"Ruled a 'suicide'.  Found a note and everything." Angel pulled up the suicide note.

"Okay, so he offs a client, a magician. Lets run with that a bit.  Any other magically active dead people around Nick or his law firm." I asked.

"Just a tick," Angel said. "I didn't cross match that correlation yet."  She hit a few keys, I blinked, and a set of documents floated up in the display. "Oh, drek."

"Yeah.  You can say that again." I said. I shook my head slowly. "There must be forty names here. All dead?" I asked.

"Looks that way." Angel responded.

"Dead as in, really dead, or dead like me dead?" I asked.

"This many?" Angel asked. "Probably really dead.  Its a lot of work to make a living person dead in the record."

"Wow." there were a lot of names. "Johnson said he had killed a lot of people. This, this is full blown serial murder." I rubbed my eyes.  I was feeling a mixed sense of fear and hot anger. "And this is just the awakened people he has killed."

"I think it gets worse." Angel said.  "Seems Mr. Poliwatski has been down to the jail pretty often.  One of his accounts for office expenses lists a number of regular payments for "paper clips" that are going to a guard there.  I did a quick check, and there has been a suicide at the jail shortly after each of Nick's visits."

"So he's eating inmates, and paying a guard off to bring him snacks and clean up the mess." The more I learned the less I wanted to know. "We've got a real piece of work here."

Angel nodded.  "Okay, two months ago things changed.  He's still going to the jail, two or three times a week, but clients or potential clients start disappearing with greater frequency.  Where we were seeing two or three a month, now we're seeing at least one client or potential client each week who doesn't make it home.  Most are listed as missing persons, but one was found in Kelsey Park, burned up. Lone Star is keeping the cause of death quiet, but the coroner report I grabbed lists the corpse as HMHVV positive.  A vampire.  Seems this one sat down and watched the sunrise, and it killed him."

I was looking over the list of the missing, "I recognize some of these names.  'Anthony Denello', works for the mob, hangs out at Fat Tony's.  What did he get pinched for?"

Angel pulled a file, "Seems Tony was stopped during a routine security check, they found a gun on him.  Tony has a record, so they pulled him in on a parole violation and felon with a weapon charge."

"Tony, went to Nick. Nick's a mob lawyer?" I looked at Angel, who was manipulating her search fields.

The display re-ordered itself a bit, with a dozen names highlighted in red, "Each of these missing persons has notations on their records that suggest they are linked to organized crime."  Angel leaned back in her chair.  "So, yeah, Nick's a lawyer for the mob."

Fraggin' perfect.

*****

I flew to Boston the following morning.  My identity was pretty well constructed, (and really expensive), so when I applied to buy the spell formula I wanted I was only a little worried I might get arrested. The lore store was owned by MIT&T, and occupied a small corner in the downtown area.  My ID held up, and I was able to purchase five spell formulae I had been wanting, as well one I now desperately needed. I bought them in hard copy, which meant I had six heavy books to carry out, but they were also just small enough to fit in my carry-on for the flight back.  I was back in Sea-Tac by sundown.

I spent the next two weeks learning a spell which I hoped would keep me alive.

Detection spells are handy.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Magi means the wise, and being informed is at least a component of appearing to be wise.  Detection spells do suffer the need to be cast, much as my spell that detects ghouls did, until I had woven a self-sustaining mana loop to make it permanent.  I had experienced numerous unpleasant surprises from having a spell running continuously.  Riding the bus and detecting a ghoul under the street below me, walking through a dark neighborhood and sensing ghouls in the underground or in an abandoned building is disconcerting.  Now I was adding to my web of detection spells, and for a moment I wondered how much sleep I would lose in the future.

I moved into a new place in Lynnwood. The cost of living there was going to be a strain, but with the job I was on I would be able to pay it.  Assuming I survived, of course. I chalked out the circle I needed in my two car garage (funny that I didn't own a car at the time) and spent the better part of the day going over the symbols, the ritual components, and purifying myself for the work ahead.  I sent out a mental call, and an air elemental appeared just outside the circle. "Lend me your power for this working, please." I asked. Air elementals are well suited for aiding with detection spells.  The spirit bowed its 'head' in my direction.

I took up a small cup holding a fine, glittering powder.  Alchemically purified, powdered quartz mixed with fine grains of alchemical silver glinted within.  I held it aloft and began my incantation.  The words flowed from me and I felt the mana weave its way into my senses. I felt the spirit's might added to mine.  My intonation was precise, my gestures perfect, as I cast the powder into the air above me it exploded into small motes of light that fell upon me like drops of rain.  I felt the power of the spell infuse my being.  Then I felt something, something wrong, at the edge of my senses.  I focused on the spell, working the mana and weaving a pattern that would feed the spell, keeping it going without a need for me to focus to sustain it.  The presence I felt persisted.  It was wrong, alien, and hungry.  I finished the quickening of the spell, and the pondered the presence I was detecting.

The spell formula I had used was meant to detect vampires at considerable range.  I had put a lot of power into the spell casting and I estimated that I was able to sense the presence of a vampire out to about four hundred meters.  I would have been perfectly happy if I hadn't detected any, but to have one that close was concerning.  The spell formula I used was supposed to have some interesting effects once you got close to a vampire.  I thought for a moment, then decided to test my new spell out. I donned my form fitting body armor, put on a suit and concealed my slivergun in my shoulder holster beneath my jacket. I walked out of my house and started following the spell.

2010 hours: I sent Angel a message.

It didn't take long for me to find myself approaching a bar a few blocks away.  I paid my cover charge, and walked in.  The place was full of laughing, happy people. Music was playing and a small dance floor was crowded with people having a good time.  I was within line of sight, and less than ten meters from the dance floor (the spell's close detection effects were said to be good out to fifty meters) so I got my first opportunity to see what my spell revealed when I saw a vampire at close range.

Anthony Denello had been a good looking man.  He was tall, had dark hair and broad strong features.  Under the influence of my spell I saw him as a vampire, with small motes of silvery light playing over his person and dark eyes flooded with blood.  The visual imagery was going to take some getting used to, but there was no denying it made him stand out in a crowd.  He was dancing with a young woman, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself.  I opened my astral sight and immediately wished I hadn't.  Tony's aura was darkly spotted with the tiny fanged mouths I had always seen when I look at a vampire.  The spell worked, that much was certain.  I also saw a thin line of mana wafting from Tony and into the young woman's aura. The mana seemed to be clouding her mind.  Tony's aura was weak.  He must have been terribly essence hungry, and the young woman was a vibrant, living meal.

"Tony!" I called out.  Even over the music and the chatter at the bar, he heard me and turned. I didn't know Tony other than by reputation, and having seen him at a restaurant I liked. He looked straight at me, and for a moment I thought I was going to piss myself.  His dark eyes looked right back at me through the astral space between us. "I know what you have become Tony. Let's talk." I spoke softly but he seemed to hear me.  He turned to the woman and said something.  She nodded and headed toward the ladies' room.  Tony walked over to me.

"Tommy 'the machine' Gun. I thought you were dead son. Shall we take this conversation outside?" That Tony recognized the real me, was scary drek.  He was smiling, and I got a good look at the fangs he had grown.  With effort I forced my astral sight closed, and gestured to the door.

"After you Tony." I said.  The vampire laughed and walked out. I followed.

Anthony Denello had been a made man.  He had money, powerful connections in the Seattle mafia, and he had a beautiful car.  The vampire Tony had become walked over to his vintage 1969 Corvette Stingray and leaned against its rear. It moved deliberately, slowly, and faced me with a smile that almost concealed the fangs.  "Tommy Gun back from the dead. Wow! Word was you were hit by a bus. I guess tales of your death were premature."  The vampire unbuttoned his jacket, and smiled at me.

"Sorry about what happened to you Tony. I bet Nick surprised the hell out of you." my jacket was already unbuttoned. "Did you see something he didn't want you to, or did he just decide to eat you?"

The vampire's expression changed. It's smile vanished and its dark bloody eyes fixed on me hard. "How do you know about Nick?" the voice was firm, unyielding, and carried a force that was hard to describe.  It slammed into my will, found my defenses more than sufficient, and shattered.

I played along, "Nick killed a chummer of mine. He was live streaming the whole time and I saw it happen." it was a thin lie, but was close to several truths. "I heard you got pinched a while back, and asked around.  A joy girl I know is in the bathroom, sent me a text saying you were here. I just want Nick so Tony, you can walk if we can talk."

The vampire smiled, "I can walk?" It actually laughed. "Chummer, you are the dumbest slag I've ever heard of, and I used to collect money for loan sharks.  I'm going to be the boss of Seattle soon, and you're going to be a blood bank I drink from when I decide I want a taste of magician. I understand you people are sweet."  It stood up and took a slow step toward me. "I'm immortal now, chummer.  I can walk into that bar and drink everyone in that place dry and there isn't a damn thing you, or anyone else can do to stop me. Hell, I say a few words and you're standing here like a slack-jawed fool."

The vampire stalked up to me. "Tommy 'the machine' Gun, big badass shadowrunner wiz-kid. You don't look like much more than a nice meal now, kid. Get in the car." Again I felt the power in his words shatter against my defenses.  The vampire didn't seem to notice.  It turned, walked back to the car and opened the passenger door.  I decided to take a chance, and slowly walked over and climbed into the car.  It smelled of blood and death.  The driver side door opened, and what was once Anthony Denello, climbed in and shut the door firmly.  It turned to face me.  "Now then, about that snack."

Vampires are fast, very fast, but so are magicians if they know the right spells and have the ability and foresight to quicken them.  The vampire was pretty new, he had to have seen the spells I had enchanting me, but obviously didn't understand what he was looking at.  He opened his mouth, exposing his fangs.  I shoved my viper slivergun into that gaping maw, "No means 'no' Tony" and blew the back of his head off.  Brains and bone exploded inside the once beautiful antique.  The vampire jerked then lay still.  The silver motes clinging to him started winking out (nice touch, that).  I watched for a moment then opened my astral sight to make certain. The vampire's aura had vanished. Only a corpse remained.

I went through Tony's pocket's, retrieved his credstick, pocket secretary, and his gun (you would think he would have learned after getting pinched the first time).  I took the keys to the car too.  I knew I was going to hate myself for what came next.  I got out of the car, and took the keys across the fiberglass hull.  It was a horrible sin, but it had to be done.  I scratched "vampire inside" on both doors, then walked back to the door man.

"You've never seen me before," I said.  The spell snaked between us. "Forget I was ever here."  He took on a blank expression for a moment, I wove an invisibility spell around me, and walked away.  I was half-way home when Angel texted me.

"Cameras cleaned and wiped.  Did you get anything?"

"Maybe" I responded.

*****

I knew we wouldn't have a lot of time before word got out about poor Tony being dead in his car. The mob would find out he was infected and there might not be a lot of fallout from him getting whacked from them, but Nick was another matter. If the vampire thought he was in jeopardy he was likely to run, and I would be stuck following a trail of dead people. Angel had managed to locate his phone, which was active at the jail, and pulled his call records.  She went to work identifying numbers from his call logs, while I called Sheila and asked her to put a meet together in short order.  I whistled up one of the air spirits, and flew to the Brick Yard as fast as it could carry me.

I walked into the Brick Yard, and straight to the bar.  Aria was tending, and frowned at me. I had forgotten to make another date.  "Aria, sorry I've been out of touch. I was in Boston for biz." She didn't seem impressed.  "Make it up to you?  Dinner? Dancing? Both?"

Her frown softened a bit, "Space Needle again?" Damnit that escalated quickly.

"You got it.  I'll call you tomorrow." I said.  "Can you tell Sheila I'm here?"

Aria, shook her head and smiled, "Drek, I forgot, she said to wave you on back. She wants to talk to you."

I found Sheila in her booth. "They're good, you have the money?"

"Yeah." I put a pair of platinum credsticks on the table.

"Nothing personal Tommy, just biz" Sheila said as she passed them through a reader.  They cleared the checking protocols and Sheila whistled. "Be careful Tommy, it'll be rough."

"You can say that twice. Where am I meeting them?"  I asked.

"That lot in the Willows.  Suzy B insisted." Sheila's said.

"Will you let them know I'm on my way?" I turned and heard Sheila's response when I was barely a step away.

"Already have chummer."

******

Vampires are not something you want to fight, and definitely not something you want to fight alone.  If you have to do battle with the fang-faced fraggers you want solid backup you can trust to put hurt down range.  I landed less than a block away from a rubble choked lot in the Willows where I had prepped an assault on a building full of ghouls barely a month prior.  There were some familiar faces in the lot.  Edgy Ed, Gitti, and Suzy B were standing around Gitti's old truck. Jim, Joe, and John were nearby. Adam was petting a dog, his spear close to hand.  As I approached, Crank rode up on a small, pink, electric scooter with small flower stickers pasted on it.  I have to tell you, it was the weirdest thing I had seen in months.  He stood up from the scooter, holding it upright with his calves. Creep was eating noodles from a take-out box.

I let the invisibility spell I was under unravel as I came within fifty meters of the team, (never surprise a group of heavily armed people).  "Oi! Chummers, its me." I called out."

" 'Sup?" Crank asked.

"Crank." I said. "Sheila tell you the deal?" I asked.  Everyone but Creep nodded.

"You want us to help you kills some vampires, right?  Sheila has the money, we get paid when the job gets done.  We're on a time limit for tonight, etc. etc."  The little fragger was annoyingly nonchalant. "Yeah, omae, we got it."

"We've got targets all over the 'plex.  I've got wheels coming, we'll need casual civilian attire, I assume you guys came prepared."  I said.

"Of course," Crank said. "What do we look like? Amateurs?"  He sat down on his pink scooter and I swear I heard a bolt snap.

*****

Ratchet was a rigger I had worked with a few times before.  He had a garage where he maintained his vehicles, worked on his drones, and did other rigger things. (Hey, I don't pretend to know what being a rigger is like, okay?)  It was 2245 when we rolled up at his garage.  Cameras dotted the security fence, and a pair of mini-blimp surveillance drones were tethered to the roof.  I don't know how Ratchet monitored it all, but he seemed to have every point covered.  I climbed out of the back of Gitti's truck and waved at the surveillance cameras.

The garage door rolled open.

Ratchet had three large SUV's ready for us. Gitti, Edgy Ed, Suzy B, and Creep piled into the first; Ratchet, Jim, Joe, and John took the second; Crank, Adam, and I took the third.  Everyone had been told to bring silenced or suppressed weapons.  When I asked Crank about his load out, he showed me a silenced Ares Predator, then chambered a round in his assault shotgun.  When I looked up at him, he just said, "Its not a weapon, its a good luck charm."  Seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

At 2300 we left the garage.  We were locked and loaded, and Angel was feeding us data on likely targets.  We were saving Nick for last, so we started in Renton, with another mafia affiliated target.  Donnie Marcillian had gotten pinched by the 'Star for pimping.  Nick was supposed to be defending him, but apparently now Donnie belonged to Nick.  We rolled down to Renton, toward an address that Angel reported was alleged to be an old fashioned whorehouse owned by the Yakuza.  Upon hearing that, I remembered something Sheila X told me just a couple of weeks before, "Tommy, whatever his pitch is, give it a lot of thought.  I've dealt with this guy before, he pays well, but its always complicated." Yep, very complicated indeed.

My newly enhanced senses told me of two foul, and hungry, presences in the old two story house across the street.  I keyed my mic, "Heads up, we've got two of them"

"You sure?" Creep said.

I took a breathe, let it out slowly and responded, "As certain as anyone can be, detection spell shows two."

"Chill," Creep chirped in my ear. "I'll have to get you to share that sometime."

"Stay frosty." I said, and the line went quiet. "Creep, give me an astral walk around the perimeter. Ratchet, can we get a camera up there please."

"Roger that." Ratchet called back.  The dwarf, sent out a pair of small, insect like micro drones which flew over to the house.

I pulled on my AR goggles and watched the feed.  I steeled myself, as I watched from the little drone's point of view.  I watched as the drone drew closer to the door.  It was closed, but the drone landed and wiggled its way under.  There was light in the foyer beyond, and an older Japanese elf woman laying on the floor, her face frozen in terror.  The drone was looking straight into her features for a full second or two. "Video is recording, feeding to Angel, I've got motion in the house upstairs and down" Ratchet sounded almost mechanical.  His tone emotionless and flat.

"Go or no go?" Angel called out.

"Go." I said.  "Adam, you're with Creep until he gets back.  Then you two cover our exist and protect Ratchet and the vehicles.  Rest of you with me, we're on for plan one."

I dumped my AR goggles in the seat and climbed out of the big SUV.  Crank stepped out, his Ares Predator in hand while his "good luck charm" hung from a funny holster he had rigged to his left leg. The other six street samurai, were out on the street a tic later.  "I've got two other exists from the building, one in the back and one on the south side, coming up from the basement.  Storm cellar most likely." Ratchet's little drones were flying or crawling around the exterior.

Jim, Joe, and John headed to the front of the house.  Ed, Gitti, and Crank headed to the back.  Suzy B jogged over and joined me as I made it the storm cellar entrance.  I could sense one of the foul, hungry presence below, and one above me in the upper floor.  "I've got one on top, one below"

The cellar door exploded open with furious BANG, and a woman with wild, blood soaked hair pounced on Suzy.  My gun was coming up and somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered something I had apparently been suppressing... I had never defeated a vampire in a straight up fight before (lets be honest, I suckered Tony).  Suzy's Dikote(tm) coated cyberspur whipped up to meet the the monster, but met only air.  The vampire ducked under the blade, grabbed Suzy B by her right ankle and swung her like tennis racket.  Suzy slammed into the side of the house with a loud BOOM sound and went limp.  The vampire was already turning toward me and Suzy was still falling to the ground.  My gun wasn't up to head height, but I fired anyway.  It was panic fire, because I was scared drekless, but my first burst of three rounds caught the vampire dead center of her chest and blew a hole the size of my fist through her.  The vampire dropped, seemingly boneless to the ground.

I saw Suzy B laying limp on the ground, then Creep manifested in front of me, wildly pointing to the downed vampire. I realized I still sensed her on the ground. Small motes of light still clung to her and her eyes were dark bloody pools. "I have a clean image of the target, running ID.  Make sure she stays down." Angel's voice in my ear was reassuring. I put another three round burst in the vampire's head and felt her presence disappear from my senses, even as the motes of light vanished.

Creep vanished, and I moved to check on Suzy.

Suzy B was unconscious.  Her aura was as weak as always from all the cyberware in her body.  She didn't appear to be in danger, so I pulled here away from the entrance and the dead vampire.  "Suzy B is down but not out, these fraggers are fast."  I took to the steps leading down under the house, my senses still telling me of the vampire above.

The spell that gave me the ability to see in the dark, much as a real elf can, has been a great benefit to me over the years.  That night it showed me a scene I often wish I could forget.  A dozen people lay bloodied on the floor, in what seemed to be a small social area. A pair of couches, a few tables, and a small bar filled most of the space.  A large troll lay bleeding on the floor, his head had been torn off and now rested on the bar.  The rest of the people in the room were alive, badly hurt, and crying for help.

I opened myself to the astral and beheld the true horror. Small dark spots were forming on the aura's of the victims. The infection had begun and would turn each into a vampire in the time it took the virus to devour each victim's soul.  I didn't dare step onto the blood soaked carpet, so I stood on the last step and said a prayer I had learned at church.  I raised my slivergun, took aim at a young woman laying on a darkened mass of carpet.  "Help me, please." she said.

"I am." I answered.  Then I opened fire.  I had to reload while I was on the steps.  Each victim got three rounds or more.  The micro camera on my mic boom recorded the whole thing. I placed my empty magazine in the pouch my fresh one came from, and backed up the stairs.

"First floor is clear." Joe whispered.

"Any survivors?" I asked.

"Three," John replied.

"Roger that. I'm on my way."  I walked around the bloodied grass and dead vampire, threw Suzy B over my shoulder and ran to the front yard.  I lowered her to the grass, and crept into the foyer my astral sight open to the horror beyond.

A whorehouse is not a pleasant place for an astral jaunt.  They are polluted with lust, and tainted with suffering.  This particular whorehouse, was also filled with the astral residue of the horrific deaths of its clients and "employees".  A dozen dead littered the first floor.  The survivors were likewise infected.  I did all I could for them, then swapped out for a fresh magazine.

None of the team said a word.

The last vampire was still upstairs, its presence foul against my senses.  I pointed to the ceiling and moved to a point where the vampire felt like he was directly above me.  I looked at the street samurai, pointed to Joe, held up three fingers and pointed to the stairs down the hall.  The three orks crept down the hall and trained their smgs up the stairway.  I backed up a couple of steps, my foot found a corpse and I almost fell on my ass but Crank caught me.  The large troll shook his head at me softly.  I nodded and pointed to the spot at the ceiling.  I waved to the remaining street samurai, pointed my gun to the ceiling and with my left hand held up three fingers.

Gitti, Edgy Ed, and Crank took aim at the spot I was pointing to.  I pumped my hand once, bringing a finger down. Then again, leaving one finger up. Then pumping it a final time, my left hand forming a fist.  All four of us opened fire. Crank's Are's predator, my viper slivergun, and the sub-machine guns Gitti and Ed bore blew holes through the ceiling and the flooring above it.  Something screamed above, a loud feral sound that sent a shiver down my spine.

A flurry steps sounded above then the trio of ork street samurai opened fire.  We had driven the vampire straight into the kill zone.  Jim, Joe, and John backed up as they fired a second burst.  They were backing toward the front door when I saw the bloodied form of the vampire leap down to the landing.  Crank fired and the head of what was once Donnie Marcillian exploded.  I saw the small motes of light wink out as he fell.

"Nice shooting" I said.

"I was aiming for his heart," Crank answered.  I turned and found the large troll smiling down at me.  "Joking man."

The first monster was among our list of suspected vampires, and had saved us a trip into Greenwood, by slumming with Donnie. The house was awash in contaminated blood and corpses.  Angel remotely triggered a 911 call from one of the phones in the house, left word of vampires and dead people and hung up.  We politely cruised out of the neighborhood before the police contractors arrived.

Angel checked the location of the other phones we had identified, and found a group of four of them huddled together in Ravenna.  The address matched up with a bar none of us had ever heard of.  Nick's phone was on the move.  He had left the jail, and was down at a retailer outlet.  Angel tagged his phone and lifted a search result for "shovels".  The store he was at was the first result from his search.

*****

Ratchet had us to Revenna by 0100 hours.  The area was desolate, and my senses were screaming at me. We had four foul monsters in what was once a bar called "The lower".  Its sign boasted 'founded in 1992'. I still have no idea why that would be something to be proud of.  The vampires were inside.  There wasn't much in the area.  Most of the nearby buildings were in various stages of falling down.  Ratchet launched his tiny drones, and we waited for the feed.

It was horrible.  I've seen a lot of things in my years in the shadows but this was one of the worst, and easily the worst thing I saw that night.

Ratchet vomited and I heard Adam over the com "Oh frag this!"

"Chill and cut the chatter" I said.

{I won't tell you what we saw.  None of us talk about it.  Just know that after that night, vampires passed ghouls for my least favorite monsters on the planet ~ T}

{I still have the video.  I can upload it here if you want.  They wouldn't believe you if you told them ~ Angel}

{No. Let the dead rest~ T}

We spread the team out in the street about fifty meters from the bar.  I could see small motes of light inside a darkened hole where a window once stood.  The vampires knew were were out there. I don't know what they were waiting for, but they didn't wait long.  My powerball spell blew the street side wall apart and brought the roof down.  Creep followed up with a fireball spell that lit the night up in an orange hellfire glow. The spooky little fragger actually started laughing as the building caught fire. Bits of flaming debris rained down into the street.

I blinked and the next moment a vampire had Creep by his ballistic vest and had hoisted him into the air.  Glowing motes of light danced along the vampire's face, only to vanish abruptly as Adam's spear cleaved the top half of its skull off.

A second vampire was rolling on the ground in front of the burning ruin.  It had caught fire, and had adopted the 'stop', 'drop', and 'roll' method to extinguish them.  Crank fired on the flaming vampire.  His predator's silencer doing its job, and the vampire was knocked into another roll toward the burning building. Motes of light continued to dance along in the firelight.

The third vampire blurred across the distance and kicked Edgy Ed in the groin.  I swear I felt a rush of pain for him as he was thrown three meters into the air.  It spun toward Gitti who screamed "Hell no!" and opened fire.  The vampire took a dozen rounds fired from point blank range, then caught Ed as he fell.  Gitti stopped shooting and the vampire held Ed by the neck and the back of his vest.  "Leave ."  That same power in the vampire's voice slammed into my defenses, but I shrugged it off with relative ease while my teammates turned and started running.  Ed was running in mid-air, held aloft by the sheer power of the vampire.  "I'll rip his soul out, then I'm coming for you." It rasped.

I heard Angel's voice in my ear, "Kill that bitch!"

My pistol came up and I fired a single shot.  It passed over Ed's left shoulder and missed his ear by perhaps as much as three centimeters, but the flechettes scored dead center of the vampire's forehead, blowing the back of it's skull apart.  The motes of light winked out, and Ed fell with a crash at the feet of the monster.

I was turning to meet the third vampire, but I knew I would be too late. I saw it reaching for me, its eyes wide and bloody, motes of light playing across its features.  Then I heard a loud BOOM, and the vampire's head vanished into a fine mist.  I heard Crank's shotgun action cycle, and turned to find Crank ten meters behind me smiling. "Told you it was a good luck charm."

I couldn't sense the last vampire. We moved in and checked the rubble.  We found our missing vampire impaled by a charred wooden beam that had likely come out of the roof.  "I think she's dead" Creep said.

I nodded and turned to the survivors.  There were several. I did what I could for them, then reloaded.

*****

I was down to my last magazine for my pistol.  I was tired and still processing the horrors I had witnessed.  We found a our last suspected target in a diner down in Green Lake.  We pulled up in the lot at 0210.  The vampire was sitting there talking to a pretty waitress and not drinking the coffee.  It must have been distracted because it didn't react to the trio of ork hard cases who walked in and took seats at the counter.  It never budged when Crank walked in a tic later and went to the bathroom.  And it didn't even turn to look at me as I approached his table.

The vampire did, suddenly, take notice when I brought my pistol up though.  I shot it just left of center with a three shot burst from my slivergun at a range of less than five meters.  It blew a hole through its chest and the seat behind.  It looked up and laughed at me.

I never even saw it move.  One moment it was sitting down and the next it was on the counter and running for the door.  Jim, Joe, and John gunned it down as it the lay hands on the door.  The plexi shattered under the force of the vampire's strength and the hail of bullets that blew through the body.  The waitress snapped out of it, started screaming and ran out the side exit.  Crank came out of the bathroom, looked at the dead vampire and said, "Must have been something he ate."

I didn't detect any more vampires in the area, but we checked the diner anyway.  The cook and the manager were dead in the back office. I saw small dark energies swirling in the corpses. I summoned Adam, who promptly speared the corpses through the brain pans.  The dark energies vanished, and we left before the police contractors showed up for coffee.

*****

Suzy B was hurt but finally conscious.  Edgy Ed had a horrific groin injury and was going to need medical attention.  We were all tired, and the events of the evening were definitely a strain on us all.  Ratchet drove us all past Kelsey Park around 0410.  Angel was reporting that Nick had tried to call the dead vamps and she was working hard to keep his phone displaying a "no signal" error.

"He's certain to know that something is up." Angel reported.

"Sub-zero with me" I said. "Its time to end this fragger."

Crank nodded in agreement, and small "thumbs up" icons appeared in my AR goggles' overview.

"Quick and quiet, just like the ghouls building." I said.  "Creep, once we stop you're on astral over watch. Adam and Getti, cover Creep and Ratchet. Crank you've got the doors and I'm bringing the quiet.  Everyone shoots, none of us dies. Everyone clear on this?"

I had a trio of acknowledgements from the orks.  Crank squeezed my shoulder, (it hurt), and said, "We got this."

"Alarm system has been shut off. It's on software update cycle.  You've got a ten minute window to finish him and get gone before it starts chirping." Angel's voice came as we rolled to stop.

The SUV's stopped two houses up from Nick's place. I wove an invisibility spell around the orks, Crank, and myself and we headed up to the house.  "Killing sound" I whispered.  Then I wove the silence spell over the area in front of the door.  My senses weren't telling me anything about what was inside, but I chalked that up to the wards around the house.

Crank grabbed the door knob, and tore the door out of the frame. We stepped into an immaculately clean house.

When I crossed the threshold, I felt pressure on my senses and I felt the monster close by.  I dropped the invisibility spell, tapped each of the orks and Crank, then patted my ear.  I let the silence spell drop away.  I heard a pitiable sound from the back of the house.  "Please don't"

I pointed to Joe.  His left hand came up and he signed to Jim and John who crept forward, their smgs at the ready.  Crank laid a hand on my shoulder, this time not squeezing it, and slipped ahead of me.  His Ares predator cradled in both hands.  The sound continued,  "Please.  No, please don't."

We made it to a closed door at the end of the hall. I could feel the wrongness of the vampire through the wall.  It was dark, hungry, and terrifying.  I wove my silence spell over us, and leaned against the wall as Crank leaned back to kick.

Two hands erupted on either side of me, grasped my ballistic vest and pulled me bodily through the wall. I crashed to the floor, my concentration broken, and sound returned. The door to the room burst inward and Crank appeared, shotgun in hand only to have the vampire, Nicholas Poliwatski, punch him in the stomach.  Crank flew backward through the open door, bowled over Joe and the two of them tore through the wall behind them.  I put one hand to the floor to push myself up, but Nick helped out there, by kicking me in my favorite chest.  I felt ribs break, lost every bit of air in my lungs, flew out the window and landed in the back yard.

I heard the soft popping sound of suppressed sub-machine guns firing.

I saw Creep manifest in front of me.  He looked positively terrified, then vanished back into the astral plane.

I managed to cough. Tried to gulp in some air and fumbled to get my arms under me.  My right arm was numb, and my ribs were on fire. I heard a crash from inside the house, and realized that I didn't hear the gunfire anymore.  "Drek." I groaned, as I pushed myself to my feet.  I couldn't seem to get enough air in my lungs. I was wheezing, and I tasted blood. I made it to the back door and nearly got killed when Crank was thrown through the door and tumbled into the back yard. He stopped and lay still next a rose bush.  I walked into the house, and found myself in the kitchen.  There was a blur of motion, and I flew over the kitchen counter, knocking over utensils and landing hard.

Nick strode into view, casually batting at something in the air.  "I should call the police," the vampire said.  There was blood on his lips and I had terrible fear come over me. "I didn't order delivery."  He took another step toward me.  I fumbled with a numb hand, and sent a bolt of mana blazing at the monster.  Nick batted it away with less effort than I would have thought possible.

"Come now. That can't be the best you can do" he smiled, his bloodied fangs protruding over his lower lips.  I struggled to push myself up, my hands fumbling in the clutter. "What? No righteous indignation, no pleading for your life?  What kind of vampire hunter are you?"  He grabbed my neck and lifted me bodily into the air.  Where a moment before it was difficult to breath, it suddenly became impossible.  I saw swirling motes of silver fire dancing about the vampire, and his eyes were pools of dark swirling blood.  He was powerful and I was mostly powerless.

I was slammed onto the kitchen table, and my vision swam for a moment.  "Come now, at least try to fight back.  The orks went down struggling to the end.  At least be entertaining," He was arrogant, and he was kicking my ass.  I couldn't catch my breath, my gun was somewhere in the hall or in the room I was kicked out of, or maybe in the yard.  I fumbled, felt something in my left hand and tried to see what it was.  Nick grabbed my favorite head and pulled me up to face him.  I stared into those terrible eyes, "Give yourself to me" the power of his words shattered against my defenses.

I thought about Pepper.

I was beaten, bloodied, and badly injured. I brought my left hand up and thrust whatever it was I had grabbed at the vampires dark eyes.  The wooden kitchen spoon buried itself in Nick's head.  He dropped me. It hurt.

The vampire fell over, blood flowing from his ruined eye as motes of light vanished from around him.

"Rot in hell" I said. I turned and went looking for the team.  I found Joe in the hall, and his head embedded in the flooring.  Jim was dead, his throat torn out, and whirls of dark energy were playing at his corpse.  I took his suppressed smg, pointed it as his head, and squeezed the trigger.  Nothing happened, the gun was empty.  I found my viper, and shot him until the dark whirls vanished.  John had been torn in half.  He was dead, and his corpse was just that, a dead body laying in a child's bedroom.  Adam came bounding in, found me wandering in the house, shook me and said "We're almost out of time, we have to leave."  I nodded and started walking back toward the front of the house. We passed the the room Nick had been in.  There was a holo playing. An image of his wife, playing on a loop. As I watched it cycled again, the footage was from an internal camera in the house, maybe a nanny cam. Nick was reaching for his wife, and she was pleading with him, "Please. No, please don't."  The image froze for a moment, Nick reaching for his wife, his fangs clearly visible and her terror all to real.  Then the holo cycled again and the scene began to play.

I walked out of the house to find Crank limping out of the back yard.   We stumbled into the SUV's, and Ratchet began to drive.

"Recording is solid.  Local cameras were all offline.  Police contractors won't have anything to tie to us." Angel's voice was in my ear and I started to come around a bit.

"Sit rep?" I asked.

"Jim, Joe, and John are KIA.  Ed needs medical attention, Suzy B had a seizure while you were in the house, we'll need to get her to a doctor too.  Gitti says Creep is in shock, no idea what happened there.  Lone Star and Knight Errant are responding to a call of "suspicious sounds" from the neighbor.  We'll be clear in a minute, maybe two" Angel spoke like she was reading the scream sheets. "I got the whole thing recorded for you."

"Thank you Angel." I said.

*****

We took Suzy B and Edgy Ed to the same clinic where Sheila X once had us tested for HMHVV.  It seemed like a really good idea at the time so I had the tests run again.  We all came back negative, and I tried to breath a sigh of relief.

Suzy B had a crack in her skull, she was going to be out of action for a few weeks.  Ed lost a testicle and was really pissed about it.  I had four broken ribs.  Crank had a concussion. Creep had been disrupted in a one shot astral combat.  Seems he was what Nick was batting at in the air before he bounced me around the kitchen.  Jim, Joe, and John were dead and laying in a crime scene.

I used a little bit of healing magic on myself and Crank and managed to patch us up. Suzy B and Ed were beyond my help and needed some time to heal.  Creep would have to rest and hope his battered essence would recover.

The team collected their money, and Sheila told me she would get the orks' money to their family.  I believed her.

I met with the spooky Mr. Johnson on another "date night", Aria in tow.  She had a good time and I smiled and put on my best face.  My payoff was huge, but it really wasn't worth it.  I would have given it all back if it meant Jim, Joe, and John were alive and well.

We all die sometime.

It's a bloody business.


___________________________________________________________________________

From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  If you enjoyed this, please comment below, and please do share this with others.

I also write and publish role-playing game material (for other game systems) under open game licenses.  You can find me on KickStarter as W.S. Quinton, and on Drivethrurpg.com under my company Sinopa Publishing LLC.