Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fear the Reapers

"I want you to understand, precisely, what it is I'm ordering you to do.  This man is the most important human being on the planet to you.  If anyone tries to lay a hand on this man, you cut that hand off." Chief Commander Brady McBride (1993)


January 7th, 2060

I was 20 years old.

My pocket secretary started buzzing. I recognized the number as one Sheila X, my long time fixer and future mother-in-law, used.  I dried my hands and hit the speaker phone button. "Hello Ms. X, how are you today?" I asked.

"I'm fine, thank you.  Are you feeling up to working?" She asked.

"I'm sore but I'll live." I responded.

"Come sit in a meeting.  Crank will be here tonight at 2000 hours," she said.

"I'll be there." Sheila X hung up before I could say anything else.

I climbed out of the bathtub, toweled off, threw on my bathrobe, and walked into the kitchen.  Aria was there with Rose, the two of them were making homemade ice cream.  I tousled Rose's hair, and kissed Aria on the cheek.

"Did I hear your phone ring?" Aria asked.

"Yes, your mother called. She wants me to sit in on something tonight. Sounds like work." I said.

Aria turned and put my face in her hands. "Are you sure you're feeling up to that?"

"I'm fine honey." I said. "Don't worry about me."

Aria kissed me.  She held me there for a long moment, her body pressing into mine.  I returned her kiss and felt my body responding to her. She must have noticed because she gently pushed me away and said, "Later.  Right now the babies want ice cream."

I nodded and kissed her once more, then said "I'm going to get dressed.  I've got a good while before I have to be there so I'll catch a nap, then head out."

"Will I be going too?" Rose asked.

I shook my head, "No baby-girl, I need you here.  Look after the house and help Aria, please."

Rose nodded at me, "Of course.  I would like some ice cream anyway."

I went back to my bedroom and got dressed for my evening.  I pulled on my new suit of form fitting body armor.  It had top-grade thermal insulation, a Faraday pocket hidden on the right hip, and a set of matching gloves that sealed onto the forearms.  I climbed into a good pair of heavy denim jeans and felt a twinge of pain around the scarred gunshot wound in my abdomen as I laced and tied my combat boots.   A grey neoprene running shirt that was resistant to acid rain completed the ensemble.  I looked remarkably casual.  I thought about that a moment, realized I would probably stand out without obvious armor and decided to gear up a bit.

I slipped into my shoulder rig and holstered my sliver gun. I shrugged into my armor lined trench coat, and unpacked the newest addition to my equipment, a ballistic mask styled to resemble an Edo period menpo mask.  It looked much different than Pepper's had, but I had decided to pick it up to honor his memory, to help hide my features, and to give me an added level of protection.  The mask was black with silver tracings across the cheeks. I stuffed it into my coat pocket. "Might as well go all out." I told myself.

I grabbed another piece of new equipment from the lock box in my closet.  I checked the action on the Colt L36 and found it worked nicely.  I sat down on the bed and started loading the two magazines I owned for the small handgun.  In the first magazine I loaded wood pulp rounds and in the second I loaded silver rounds.  I prayed I wouldn't have a need for either.

The Colt L36 went into its concealable holster, which I clipped into the large right-hand pocket of my armored trench coat.  I had loaded the wood pulp clip to be prepared for the worst case scenario.  My knife went into my pocket.  I looked in the mirror Aria had installed in the bedroom.  "Dressed for the office," I told my reflection. "most people take notes and a data pad to meetings. I take two guns, a knife, and a squad of spirits."

I set my alarm and lay down on the bed to grab a nap before I went to the Brick Yard.  You never know when you'll sleep on a shadowrun.  Best to get sleep while you can.

*****
January 7th, 2060

1835 hours

I was flying over Redmond when I suddenly felt a presence at the edge of my awareness.  A hungry, alien sensation that carried with it a wrongness I had experienced far too often, vampires. There was definitely more than one nearby.  They were moving swiftly, getting closer, but staying low to the ground.  I reached for my viper sliver gun on instinct, then remembered the Colt L36 in my pocket. 

I pulled the small gun from its holster, thumbed the safety and chambered the first round.  The weapon was smaller than the viper, but I had fired it at the range before buying it. I knew it well enough to use it to good effect.  I focused on the presences I felt as the vampires rushed closer.  They were approaching from my left. I turned and saw the headlamps of motorcycles rushing along the pockmarked road. 

From thirty meters in the air I had a good vantage point, but I was also a great target.  Invisibility isn't any good against ghouls and I couldn't imagine it would be of any use against vampires.  I let the invisibility unravel, and soared backwards to put a ruined building between me and the oncoming horde. I placed my back to the crumbling brick and held my breath.

The motorcycles passed in a chorus of motor noise.  I watched, horrified, as I saw motes of light winking around the riders as they passed close enough for my detection spell to reveal them to me.  I counted the vampires as they passed, a cold knot of fear growing in my gut.  It took less than a minute for thirty-one vampires to pass.  Their motorcycles were a varied collection of styles but their jackets all bore the same stylized image of the Grim Reaper. 

"Vampire gangers," I whispered to myself.  "Glad I moved out of Redmond."  I waited until they passed out of the range of my detection spell, then hurried on to the Brick Yard.

My air elemental set me down in the parking lot.  I hurried into view of Little Rickie.  "Oi, you're good to go in." the large troll said.  He reached for the door but I held up my hand.  We were alone but I looked around anyway, my astral sight searching for any who might overhear.

"Rickie, there is trouble in the Barrens omae. I saw a pack of vampires on motorcycles on the way here." I looked up at the big man. "Rickie, I counted thirty-one vampires.  That's a LOT of trouble."

Little Rickie's brow furrowed as he looked into the darkness. "Any of them around?"

"Not within four hundred meters or so. I can sense them if they are that close." I told him.

"That's a useful thing to be able to do." Rickie nodded and continued to look around. "Anyway I could learn to do that?"

"Not something you can learn, but I may be able to fix the same spell to you.  Let me research it a bit and I'll let you know. I thought you should know about them.  They were flying the Grim Reaper as their colors if that tells you anything." He frowned at that bit of news.

"Redmond Reapers.  Two-bit gangers got knocked down a peg by the 'Nukes.  Been a while since I heard anything on them." Rickie scratched at his left horn for a moment. "Yeah, okay, I'll keep my eyes open.  Let me know if you hear them coming."

"Will do, and Rickie," I urged him "if you see one don't hesitate.  Blow the fanged fragger's head off."

Little Rickie nodded and opened the door for me.  I walked in, but kept my guns on me.  I wanted them close with vampires around.

There were several people in the Brick Yard that evening. I made my way to the bar and took a seat next to a burly orc.  Sandy paced over to me, "Lemonade?"

"Yes, thank you Sandy." I had time to eat, and ordered my usual sirloin platter, added orders for Sandy and her kids as well as the traditional rum for Solomon.  If Crank could work it out others might too. But if I broke pattern, it would draw attention. I decided it's better to be damned for being myself than for acting against my own nature.

"What's your story?" the orc asked. 

"I fight monsters," I smiled at him over my lemonade. I'm sure Crank would have been proud of me. "What's yours?"

"I train hellhounds. Take care of the little puppies, put out the fires until they learn to control themselves." he took a long pull of his beer.

"Chill!" I answered. "I wondered how people kept them from burning down their houses.  Care to talk about it? I'll buy you a round."

The orc arched his eyebrow but replied, "Sure thing chummer. They're really just dogs that happen to spit out fire." His name was Frank. He talked for twenty minutes about hell hounds and the difficulties in raising them as puppies.  I bought two beers for him, and finished my sirloin platter while he talked. It really was pretty interesting stuff, though to Frank it was just his job.

Sandy collected my plate and I excused myself then walked back to Sheila's booth. I found some familiar faces sitting there. Angel was sitting next to Sheila while Crank and Gitti sat across from her.  I squeezed next to Gitti. "Hope I'm not late," I offered.

"No, you're right on time" Sheila said. The curtain pulled closed with a whisper of fabric.

"A lot of work going around right now." Sheila X started.  "People trying to crack Renraku, or break out their chummers who tried to.  Lockdown happened and everyone lost their fraggin' minds." Sheila shook her head at that. 

"Some of the news agencies are offering nuyen for reliable intelligence from around or inside the arc'" Angel offered. "A lot of chatter and speculation about what happened floating around Shadowland, but not a lot of hard data. I haven't found anyone who can verify they've been inside."

"I was there the last week of November," Gitti offered. "Did some shopping.  Security was 'bout the same as always. Nothing stands out."

"I've never been inside," Crank responded.

Sheila X looked at me.

"I was there when the lock down happened," I said. "Barely got out, got shot somewhere along the way."  Everyone was looking at me.  "First thing I noticed that was out of the ordinary was that there were more security personnel than normal.  I wasn't too worried about that, but they started massing up at the exits and I thought I may have been recognized."

It was harder to talk about than I thought it would be.  I took a drink of my lemonade and continued. "I started walking toward this security check point and saw two sec-guards tranq another.  I thought that was some weird drek, so I started walking toward the food court.  I get a few meters away and the sec-guards call for me to stop.

"I turn and make the nice talk but two of them got right up in my space. I stepped back and told them they were too close and they told me something about how 'maybe you witnessed a crime, we want to talk about it'.  I told them to go ahead and ask their questions and we could talk about it right there.  Then some guy got dragged down by sec-guards over at the entrance. I looked to see what was up and these two fraggers try to nail me with stun batons."  I took another sip of lemonade.

"I set two of my spirits on them, and that goes well.  But all hell was breaking loose." I closed my eyes and focused on the memory.  "Security gates came down over the store entrances.  Security was moving along shooting people with these glowing gel rounds.  They had drone support too.  Small, sleek, hi-tech looking roto-drones. Security on those upper levels fired on people without a moment's thought."

I took a deep breath and opened my eyes and stared straight into Sheila X's face. "I was down on the causeway entry level, southern end of the Arc'. I finished with the two sec-guards, put them down but not dead, and four more showed up.  They had a pair of those sleek drones with them and they weren't playing around.  They had riot guns and they didn't look too concerned about using them.  I had a spirit knock out the drones and I broke the sec-guards with a powerball spell.  They went down and weren't getting back up."

Gitti interrupted, "Anything about the sec guards you remember?"

I turned to face Gitti, "The first two were damn fast.  Not as fast as Adam, but just about as fast as I am.  It was tough to stay out of reach and not get clobbered. The next four didn't get a chance to act. I hit them before they could kill me."

I looked back to Sheila and said, "The guards I dropped with that spell lost their helmets.  They all looked like they had new cybereyes.  They were green and looked creepy as hell."

"You weren't able to get anyone else out?"  Crank asked.

"Crank, I had my hands full, I managed to get me and Aria out.  I was out shopping.  I didn't have a gun or any foci on me. I did what I could to get out alive.  I was flying toward the exit and a mage burnout started throwing spells at me. Then the security doors were closing, and I was just trying to escape."  I took a breath, took a moment to collect myself then continued.  "It was a drek storm.  Drones and automated guns were gunning people down left and right. I left as soon as I could and almost bled to death from the gunshot wound I earned along the way."

"That's the kind of information people are paying for, first hand observations.  If you take any runs against the arcology grab video, take notes, collect evidence and make it pay." Sheila glanced around at us.  "You aren't the only runners around but you're among the most reliable. If you pick up information on the arcology, I'm interested in those first-hand accounts."

"One other thing," I said. "My electronics were fried by the time I got home.  Everything was dead, my DocWagon band, my pocket secretary, all of it.  Same with the Aria.  Her phone, DocWagon band, even the image unit in her locket, they were all bricked."

Angel whistled, "That's pretty damn thorough."

"We didn't even notice until I got home." I said.

Crank shifted a bit in his seat, "I was having a friendly chat with a rat shaman I know under the Alaskan Way Bridge when the lockdown went up.  I heard the gun fire all the way out there.  The guy I was with scampered over that way but he never came back.  He hasn't been answering his phone."

"Crank, if he wasn't invisible then he would have had a problem.  It was like a war zone around there." I shook my head as I told him.  "If I had been on the ground, instead of flying around, I'd be dead without the guns even trying.  They chopped up the area pretty thoroughly."

"UCAS troops on the ground aren't just your regular forces." Getti interjected. "I saw insignia's for the First Special Forces out of Fort Lewis.  Those guys don't go anywhere to just stand around.  If they're on the ground then they are ready for operations.  Expect their drone support to include the kind of ordinance that knocks out armored vehicles, not to mention what they can call in from Navy assets or local artillery.

"As far as small arms, they are a tough bunch.  We're not talking about your average grunt out for a drink and trouble.  These guys control their lanes of fire, work together as a unit, and their load outs will fit the job and then some." Gitti paused a moment his face tense. "These are not guys your average street samurai can tangle with.  Those with reflex enhancement are going to be as fast as I am or better."

"Local wireless is pretty much useless." Angel said. "Forget trying to remote in, you need to clamp onto a hard line or all you'll get is static.  I tried the other day and the line went nowhere.  May have better luck inside, but the lines into the building seem to all be dead fiber."

For thirty minutes we bounced around data we had gleamed from our own observations. Sheila passed out a certified credstick to each of us.  The amount wasn't huge, but was certainly worth the time I spent getting there and sitting in on the meet. "When any of you have more data, just remember I'm in the market.  If I buy it I expect it to be exclusive too, so don't try sprinkling it around."

I put the credstick in the interior pocket of my lined coat.  "Always a pleasure doing biz with you." I told Sheila.  I was taking a drink of lemonade when I felt the wrongness, the hungry presence of vampires.  There were many of them and they were very quickly getting closer.  I choked on my lemonade for a moment.

Gitti pounded my back for a moment, "Don't die on us omae," he laughed.

I took a deep breath and realized the vampires were now less than two hundred meters away.  "Vampires.  Sheila, we've got vampires getting closer."

Sheila X didn't flinch. "You told Rickie about some vampires earlier. Same bunch?"

I thought about that a moment, "I don't know, but I hope so.  I would hate to think there were more than one large group of vampires in Redmond.  They're about a hundred and fifty meters away now."  The curtains parted quickly and I slid out of the booth.

I started walking toward the door, "Fifty meters, Sheila" I called out.  I saw Creep come running out of the men's room.

"You feel that too?" He looked nervous. "They're getting close."

"Yeah, I know.  Put your game face on Creep or we'll have a lot of dead people around."  I pushed through the doors and stepped outside.  Little Rickie's gun went off twice before I made it to his side.  Motes of light danced around gangers on motorcycles.  I opened my astral sight and saw that a handful of motorcycles had corpses strapped to them or draped over the handlebars. Half of the vampires pulled into the parking area while the other half came to a stop in the street in front of the entrance. A vampire was picking himself up from the street, his motorcycle still skidding down the pockmarked plascrete.  He had two huge holes in his chest that were closing as I watched. 

"I always heard you wuz fast," the vampire made a show of dusting himself off. "I'm gonna' rip your fraggin' head off and drink you like Ice Cola."  The vampire blurred across the ten meter distance between him and Rickie.  Rickie's boot met him firmly in the crotch and threw the vampire five meters into the air.

"Ya' not welcome here." the big man said. 

I pulled the Colt from my pocket and realized that Creep was nowhere to be seen. "That slimy fragger."

The vampire hit the street, about five meters away, his hands on his crotch.  A riot of laughter went up from his chummers.  I sent out a call into astral space and felt the trio of spirits I had bound respond. 

"I 'tink he got da' bes' of ya' Romeo!" A burley orc stepped off his motorcycle laughing.  "Ya' lucky ya' don' want any squeelers."  The vampire stepped up to his fallen comrade and looked over to us. "Rickie, ol boy.  Long time.  T'ings change omae but you still 'ere."

"Tank, not glad to see you. You and yours aren't welcome here." Rickie answered. 

"Who 'dat wearing the elf suit?" the vampire responded.  "Some elf wannabe? True words omae, ya' never would 'ave let this poseur in back in the day. 'Ya gone soft Rickie?"

Little Rickie shot the vampire in the blink of an eye.  A hole, larger than my fist, appeared just to the right of the vampire's sternum.  The monster fell to lay next to the first vampire. "Doesn't seem so Tank"

Vampires climbed off their rides in front of us. I couldn't see the vampires in the parking lot. To my astral sight the vampires before me looked essence hungry.  Their auras were faint and spotted with the same dark, tiny fanged mouths I had always seen on vampires. They were ravenous for the essence, the very souls, of some hapless victim.  Little Rickie and I were the only two people dumb enough to be outside to meet them.

The vampire named Tank laughed.  He and Romeo stood back up and faced us.  "Rick 'ol boy that was not chill. Now I' gonna' have to kill you and your elf wannabe too." Tank nodded at Romeo and the vampire took a lazy step toward me.

"I'm gonna pull those ears off you before you die.  You look like a tasty morsel though, so I'll make sure you live long enough for me to eat you up right." The vampire smiled at me as he took another step.

I aimed the Colt at him.

Romeo laughed at me, "You think that little thing is gonna' stop me." He slapped his hands together then spread his arms wide. "Take your best shot you slitch."

You can't ask for a better straight line than that.  I sighted down the short barrel, exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The little gun made a 'pop' sound and Romeo hit the pavement.  The small motes of light around his body winking out as dark blood welled up from the hole in his chest, just over his heart. "How's that?"

The door to the Brick Yard burst open.  The thunderous roar of gunfire announced that Crank and Gitti had left the building. 

The vampires in the street screamed out in a chorus of curses and anger so loudly I could hear it over the cacophony of Little Rickie's hand cannon, Crank's 'good luck charm', and Gitti's sub-machine gun. Tank sprang up and flashed across the distance to Rickie, punching the large man in the stomach and sending him crashing into the doorway.  Metal screeched as the doors tore free and Little Rickie tumbled inside. 

I shot Tank in the temple.  He didn't drop right over and die. He staggered for a moment, fangs bared for all to see, a confused look on his face. His lips moved as if to say something as he began to tumble over and the motes of light around him began winking out.

Essence starved vampires rushed towards us.

"We can't take you anywhere!" Gitti yelled at me.

Crank and Gitti kept firing but the vampires weren't impressed.  They rushed through the barrage ignoring the wounds they received.  Three of them were knocked off their feet but even they didn't seem bothered.  They were only a couple of meters from us, arms reaching for us and fangs exposed in the dim light.

A spell erupted in front of us.  My whole world went white as the mana flashed across my astral sight.  I smelled brimstone and old tacos.

Creep yelled out, "Did you start this drek?"

"Where the frag were you?"  I yelled back.  I squeezed my astral sight closed with a painful effort.

"Had to get my stick. They made me check it at the door." He waved a weird looking wand around, it had bits of string and what looked like bits of bone, dangling from it.  I looked over and saw the vampires picking themselves up off the street. 

Little Rickie erupted from the doorway and snatched his hand cannon off the street.  "THATS IT!" he yelled. He brought his weapon up and blew the head off a vampire that was pushing itself up from the plascrete. 

Gitti dropped the magazine from his SMG calling out "Reloading!" 

"Stay down!" Crank shouted as he decapitated a vampire with the roar of his shotgun. 

Six fire spirits, each with horns, cloven hooves, and naked feminine forms materialized in front of us. "Ladies, if you would please." Creep's voice had an oily, perverse tone.  Each of the spirits blew him a kiss, then leaped upon a vampire. 

One vampire, out in the street and at the rear of the pack, jumped on his motorcycle and cycled up the engine.  "Oh hell no!" I yelled.  I pointed at him and yelled "INGIS MAGICAE!"  A white hot ribbon of fire streaked from my finger like the tail of a comet, burning through the vampire and catching his clothes on fire. The vampire panicked and began swatting at the flames. 

Gitti brought his SMG up, it burped out three rounds, and the flaming vampire's head exploded.

Vampires screamed in pain and terror while demonic flame spirits laughed with girlish glee.  The air was rank with the stench of burning flesh and bubbling plascrete.   I swept my gaze about and didn't see any other vampires.  Creep's spirits tore the weakened vampires apart in seconds.  I looked around, my small Colt at the ready, but didn't see any other threats.  The spell I had woven to my senses all those months ago assured me there were no other vampires around {See "Bloody Business"}

I walked to the corner of the building, opened my astral sight, and looked into the parking lot. 

There was a human magician standing in the lot.  I recognized him from Brick Yard but didn't know his name.  Adam was standing next to him, his fists glowing with mana energy.  An orc, a dwarf and a troll stood in front of them shotguns lowered to the ground.  Ashes lay on fallen motorcycles.  The smell of burnt hair fighting against the odor wafting from the front of the building.  Three shotguns spun my way and I ducked around the corner on instinct. 

"Not a vampire!" I yelled. I backpedaled from the corner and turned to see Little Rickie looking down at the vampire he had called 'Tank'.  I walked over to the big man and looked up at him. 

"Been a while since I seen him" Rickie said.  "Sonuvaslitch would have eaten me."

I looked down at the corpse.  There were no motes of light, no eye sockets full of blood. "He's good and dead now.  He won't be eating anyone else."  I sent out a command to my air spirit, and it began laying out vampire bodies along the fractured sidewalk across the street.

Little Rickie nodded and holstered his weapon. "Figure out if you can do that thing so I know when these fraggers are about.  Let me know.  They rode up like they wuz anyone else." Little Rickie looked down at me. "I wouldn't have know'd they wuz vampires if you hadn't told me."

"Null sheen, Rick. I'll try to figure it out." I replied.

I counted out the bikes and realized, with a sense of dread, that we only had twenty-four of them and a corresponding number of dead vampires.  Creep and I went through their pockets, careful to avoid contamination, and removed their commlinks and an assortment of handguns.  I used my sterilization spell over the salvaged gear as an added precaution.  After we had both looked over the items from the astral plane, we pronounced them free of contagion and packed them up.

"Thought you were dead," Creep said.

We were alone, across the street from anyone who could have heard him. "That's a secret Creep. Is there going to be a problem?"

"Nah, its chill Tommy.  Just remember that any magician who knows you is going to see you." Creep made my skin crawl on the best of days.  At that moment, as we collected gear from the corpses of dead vampires, I gave serious thought to committing murder.

"Yeah," I said. "Good thing there aren't too many magicians around who know me."

"That's lucky," Creep said.  I looked and saw him smiling at me.

"You smell like tacos." I told him.

Creep laughed at that, "I work at a Taco Haus during the day.  Have to meet normal people somehow."

I didn't know what to make of that, but as we collected the last of the electronic gear I noticed his odd wand.  It looked to made from real wood. What I had thought was string was actually bits of braided hair.  There were teeth braided into locks.  I felt a cold chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

The magician in the parking lot was known as 'Shade'. I had heard of him but hadn't worked with him before.  Sheila X paid Adam, Crank, Gitti, Shade and his crew for putting down the vampires.  She tried to pay me too, but I told her, "Consider it a wedding gift." Sheila nodded at that, and not another word was ever said about it.


2000 hours

The crowd at the Brick Yard had thinned out after the fight with the vampires.  I spoke with Sheila X and pointed out that there were still vampires from the Reapers that weren't accounted for.  She made an offer for the gear Creep and I lifted from the vampires and Creep jumped at the opportunity.  I nodded my head in agreement.  We handed the loot over to Sheila. I imagined that she would soon be farming interesting data from the commlinks.

Creep left the Brick Yard around 2015.  He said something about having a girl he needed to see.  I felt sorry for her, whoever she was.  Creep wrapped an invisibility spell around himself and simply vanished from sight.  To my astral sight he was clearly visible, wrapped in a layer of magic, and surround by demonic looking fire elementals.

"I don't like him."  The voice surprised me.  I turned as I jumped away and saw Shade staring at me.

"Damn, chummer!  You nearly made me piss myself." I said.

"I don't like him," Shade repeated. "He shows several classic signs of a sociopath.  His magic seems tainted as well."

"I don't know anyone who likes Creep." I responded. "But if you need some magical mayhem, he's a good choice."  I could see that Shade was watching astral space too.  He looked at me for a long moment.

"You're not an elf." he said it flatly.  It sounded like an observation, like saying 'the car is red'.

"You are not wrong," I replied.  "That's a handy trick you pulled earlier.  How did you do it?"

"Sunburst spell.  I invented it during my last year at the University.  I was hoping to make some money from the licensing rights, but they ruled it was work product from my time there, and the university kept the rights to it.  I never made a dime.  Not really a big loss though, I don't think it's as profitable as I originally imagined."  Shade paused a tick, still watching Creep as he walked away. "It creates a violent burst of actual sunlight.  Great against vampires and anything else with an allergy to sunlight."

"Any chance you would be willing to teach it to me?" I asked.

"Don't really have time to teach right now. I'm busy for the next couple of months with some enchantments.  I can sell a spell formula for it though. I also created a formula for a focus object to help cast it, but it will be about three months before I can take the time to create one."  He took a deep breath then added.  "I'm going home.  Don't get killed.  Just tell Sheila what you want and she'll arrange the meeting for me to bring you the formula."

Shade turned back and hitched his thumb in the direction Creep was taking. "I'd watch out for that guy, if I were you.  Something about him is just not right."

I raised a thumb in agreement. "Good work on the vampires, Shade.  I'll keep you in mind if I need another magical asset in the future." Shade gave me small nod, turned and walk out of the Brick Yard.

I walked back to Sheila X's booth and sat down across from her.  She raised an eyebrow at me.

"Do you have ten minutes?" I asked.

"Yes."

*****

January 7th, 2060   Redmond Barrens, the Brick Yard

2115 hours 

Sheila X put out a call to a few people possessing talents I had an immediate demand for.  I made a deal with Angel, and she set to work on a handful of the commlinks Sheila had bought from Creep and I.

I grabbed Crank and Gitti for a quick talk about the importance of finding the remaining vampires and putting them down.  I appealed to their metahumanity and compassion for others.  Pointed out that the surviving vampires would beget more vampires and we'd soon be locked in a battle for our lives every night if left unchecked.

When that failed to convince them I offered them each ten thousand nuyen to help me kill them.  Crank argued the price and we settled on twenty thousand, each.

"You're robbing me blind Crank." I protested.

"You're trying to get us killed." Crank replied.  "Besides, I told you after the last time you took me monster hunting it was going to cost more."  Crank gave me a broad smile that showed bright, well-polished teeth and tusks.

"I've had bad experiences hunting vampires before." Gitti interjected. "I can't believe I'm doing this again."

"I've learned a few things about vampires," I said.  "I have a plan, but first we have to find them.  I've got a spell that will help, but I am waiting on a little digital wizardry to peg them down."

"Don't underestimate vampires," Gitti warned. "The ones tonight must have been new.  They weren't as fast as others I've seen."

"They were starving.  They didn't have the essence to fully fuel their vampire powers.  It slowed them down."  I told him.  I looked to Gitti and Crank and explained. "The vampire feeds on life essence.  The soul of a metahuman.  The vampiric virus destroys their own essence and consumes what essence they steal from their victims.  The vampire lives on it, so they get hungry for more as they run out of essence."

"Would it be really wrong if we just called it 'soul food'," Crank asked.

I looked at Crank, not sure how to respond.

Gitti moaned, "That's not funny chummer."

"Anyway, the vampire virus spreads to the victims of this essence loss.  The people the vampire eats become vampires unless something happens to prevent it." I continued.

"Like blowing the corpse's brains out?" Gitti asked.

"Exactly." I responded.

"I always wondered about that," Gitti muttered.

I took that in for a moment.  Crank looked at me with a question in his eyes.  I gave my head a shake.  Gitti was a chummer but he had contacts with the mob.  I was guilty of forgetting that he didn't know I was his old chummer he had fought vampires with before.  I liked Gitti, but the mob has a way of working information out of people.  I couldn't let him know I was the same friend he once knew.

"So, we do this smart. I've got some more muscle coming.  We're going to find these fanged fraggers and burn their doss down after the sun comes up.  We'll force them out into the light to maximize our advantage, and hopefully keep any of us from being killed."  I felt a momentary twinge of guilt about Joe, John, and Jim, as well as for the injuries Suzi sustained that eventually took her life.  I wasn't up for making that mistake again.

"I like the 'keep any of us from being killed' part of this plan," Crank said.  The large troll nodded thoughtfully. "But if we're just going to burn them out and into the sunlight, why get more people?"

"In case we aren't enough," I replied.

"It's your nuyen," Crank replied.

"Hey, I just want to make sure we all get to spend the money.  I don't know about you two, but most of my money comes from jobs I take through Sheila.  I'm certainly not going to waltz down here for biz if the place is a vampire buffet."  I stared at them both, two rock-solid street samurai who I'd come to respect, and rely upon.  "I don't want these fraggers getting away.  If even one of them escapes we'll have this problem again in few weeks and maybe worse.  Who knows how many people they'll eat and infect in the meantime."

Gitti nodded thoughtfully, "I've agreed to do this, and I will.  But don't you think you should come clean to Crank and Angel at least?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," I replied.

Gitti looked at me, frustration building in his face.  He turned to Crank, "Oi, chummer, think about it. Anything about our friend here remind you of anyone?  Orders lemonade?  Spends a lot of time with Aria?"  Gitti turned to me and pointed a finger at me. "I know it's you Tommy. I'm not stupid."

Drek.

"Gitti, I know you have biz with the mob.  I didn't want anything to come down on Aria and I didn't want you sent after me."  I looked him in the eye.  "I'm sorry I lied to you."

"If the mob figures out you're alive there won't be a rock on this planet you can hide under Tommy."  Gitti shook his head at me.  "I'm the last thing you should have worried about.  I'm sure Crank would have figured it out soon too.  If you're going to hide, change towns and your routine.  You're a creature of habit and it's going to get you killed."

"I'll work on it," I said.

"Work harder." Gitti pointed at my boots.  "Same brand.  I get that they protect your feet.  I understand that from way too many klicks on the march."  He pointed at my viper sliver gun, "Same brand of gun.  It's not common for magicians to carry guns unless you're looking at combat mages.  If you're going to pack a pistol get a different one.  The Colt was a surprise to me, but you need to pack the viper up, melt it down, or put it in the ground.  Change yourself up a bit, don't be stupid."

I looked around to see if anyone else was listening and found no one nearby.  "This is the only life I know Gitti.  I've been doing this since I was sixteen. I get what you're telling me and I'll make the changes." I looked to Crank.  "Hell, I should have changed some things when Crank punched me in the jaw after he figured it out."

Gitti looked to Crank, who smiled back at him, "I'm a lot smarter than you Gitti.  Don't take it personally."

Gitti may have laughed a bit.  Then turned back to me, "Reminds me, that little colt.  Is it magical?  You put down two vampires with two shots.  What gives?"

I pulled the magazine from the Colt, ejected the round from the chamber and caught it before it got away.  I put the bullet on the table.  "Wood pulp rounds.  I picked up some of these and some silver ammo for special problems.  I had the wood pulp loaded as a 'worst case scenario' and figured for anything else I could just the viper or magic."

Gitti picked up the bullet and looked it over. "Hand loaded?"

"Yeah, I know a guy." I responded.

Gitti passed the bullet to Crank, who examined it as well.  "After this is over, I'd appreciate it if you could introduce me.  What else does he do?"

"I got his information from Creep, of all people." Crank handed the small bullet back to me and I loaded it back into the magazine. "He built that assault rifle Creep carries around.  He does some custom work on firearms.  He did the grips on my viper for me."

"Actual gunsmith then, if he's building custom assault rifles.  Creep is a slimy little fragger but his weapon is a work of art." Gitti admitted. "Yeah, what's this guy's name?"

"I just know him as 'Roy'."  I said.

"Okay then, after we kills all of these vampires, let's get an introduction. In the meantime, we've got vampires to find and a little arson to plan." Crank interrupted.

"Who do you have coming in on this?" Gitti asked.

"Angel is working on the communications to see if she can narrow down where the remaining Reapers may be. I've got a call out to Ratchet, he should be here in a bit.  Adam went to get his spear so he should be back in an hour or so.  Sheila put me onto a merc who does some shadow work, mostly heavy weapon stuff.  I'm told he goes by the name 'Goblin Mike'.  I've also got a handful of FNG street samurai trying to break into the biz. Sheila says they have potential, but I suppose we'll see what they're made of."

"So we're going to war against how many vampires?" Crank asked.

"I counted more than thirty when I first saw them on my way here.  We put down a total of twenty-four so my math says there are likely to be at least seven more.  If they've fed, they'll be fast, strong and dangerous."  I put it bluntly.  We had each seen first-hand the difference between a hungry vampire and one that had fed.

"You gonna call Ed?" Gitti asked.

"I tried, but he didn't answer." I shook my head. "Sometimes Ed just disappears for a few days."

"He's probably at the clinic," Gitti replied.

"Is he sick or something?"  I looked to the two street samurai.  Crank was biting his lip as if to hold something back.

"Nah, he took the money from the last job and had a new testicle grown.  You know he lost one the last time you took us vampire hunting." Gitti was able to say it without a hint of sarcasm.

Crank couldn't hold it back anymore and laughed.


2300 hours

Sheila X had some contractors come out and repair the door.  I don't know how she convinced them to come out to the Redmond Barrens in the dead of night to fix it, but they came.

Angel narrowed down some common contacts from the captured commlinks and phones.  She excluded the devices we had, which left her with eleven contacts common to all of them.

"More than I expected," I said.

Angel nodded her head and smiled. "It's not as bad as you think.  I've pulled the communications, and one of these numbers is for a joy girl who is very popular with a handful of these losers.  Another is a chip dealer, which is weird because a couple of them called him before they came out here.  There is a pizza place they all have in their directories, but none of them have called there in a few days.  Then the rest seem to be fellow gang members or hangers-on.  I'm compiling an org chart of people so we can see who goes with whom, and all that.  I've accessed the comms from the remaining members and I've managed to pull their access logs.  Give me another hour, maybe two, and I'll be able to tell you where they spend most of their time."

"You've got the phones tagged from the remaining members?" I was shocked.  Angel had always been a top notch decker but this was amazing, even for her.  {You're welcome ~ Angel}

"Yeah, GPS is offline but they still ping off the cell networks.  I've lifted some selfies and videos these fraggers have taken tonight."  Angel's smile disappeared. "I can show them to you, but it's pretty bad. Seems they are 'recruiting' while they are on the hunt.  Mostly women too, seems these fraggers may be lonely."

"Long time until sunrise." I felt horrible sitting there, knowing that out there in the streets people were dying to feed an unnatural hunger. "We have to do this smart, or a lot more people are going to die."

"You should know that one of those numbers keeps trying to reach the dead ones. I've been putting out a connection error message.  Hopefully, it will keep the vampires satisfied until you can go down there and kill them."  Angel plugged herself into her cyberdeck and went to work.

Goblin Mike came down in a roadmaster with Ratchet.  Adam arrived shortly thereafter.  Each agreed to take the job.  Sheila provided a hundred rounds of ammunition for Crank's 'good luck charm', two hundred rounds for Gitti's sub-machine gun, four fragmentation grenades, and an incendiary device, (yes, it was a bomb but 'device' sound more professional), which we secured to a small roto-blimp drone. She provided a belt of ammunition for the heavy browning machinegun Goblin Mike brought with him, and a case of belted ammo for Ratchet. Crank carried the case out to the roadmaster for Ratchet.  The two of them came back moments later.

"Angel has a lead on where they fanged fraggers are.  Once she has it narrowed down further I'll do a quick astral recon before we leave, to verify location and see what we're up against.  We'll roll from here so we arrive on target at dawn or shortly after.  I don't want to fight these things in the dark." I said.

"That is because fighting vampires at night is stupid," Goblin Mike interjected.

I couldn't argue that point. "Right, so we'll roll on target in time to put us there at or after sunrise.  I'll know more after the astral recon.  Newbies should be here soon.  Everyone be professional and let's get this job done.  Grab a meal.  Skip the alcohol, I'll need you to be sharp.  We'll rest up here, Sheila has already okay'd it."


January 8th, 2060

0022 hours 

I was twenty-one years old.

My pocket secretary buzzed with a message from Aria, "Happy Birthday. Be safe and call me when you can."

"Hey honey," I whispered.  "Thanks for the birthday wishes."

"It's okay baby. Any idea when you're coming home?" Aria asked.

"Sometime in the afternoon, I suspect.  You take care of yourself and the babies.  I'll be fine here." I was smiling and trying to be reassuring. "I can't wait to come home and take a shower though."

Aria laughed, "Well, if you're really good, I'll come visit you in the shower."

That brought several interesting images to mind.  "You're the best honey.  I've got to go so I can get this done.  I love you."

"I love you too." Aria's voice was a wonderful contrast to my night.

The newbies walked in at 0035.  They were late, which didn't bode well for them.  Five well-muscled humans, four young men and a young woman, came over to my table after being direct by Sandy.  The shortest, stockiest of the men spoke up. "You the guy?"

"I suppose so," I responded.  "Sheila says you folks have potential.  I've got a tough job going off in a few hours. I need some extra gun hands."

"What you killin'," he asked.

I took a slow breath and leaned forward, opening my astral sight so I could gauge his response more clearly. "Vampires. Are you guys up for it?"

"Drek, dude! We kill vampires every day." he lied.

He was desperate, hungry, and throwing all caution to the wind.  It was all bluff and bravado.  Inside he was scared.  Which meant he wasn't as dumb as he looked. I looked to his chummers, each maybe a year or two younger than I was.  Was I ever that young?  Was I ever that clueless?  The answer, of course, was 'yes'.

None of the newbies had any cyberware.  They were raw street muscle.  "Sit down, all of you, let's have a word." I said.  They grabbed chairs, and pulled them up.  I waved Crank and Gitti over.  "These are my associates, Crank and Gitti." I indicated each in turn.  "We've seen a lot of drek together.  If you take this job, you listen to us and you do what we tell you.  You'll live longer.  We know what we're doing."

"Sheila didn't say how much we were getting paid for this," the stocky one interrupted. "Before you go on assuming we're in, why don't you spill how much we're talking about."

I took a page from the scariest Mr. Johnson I had ever met. "Thirty thousand.  This is not a negotiation."  I stared calmly at the younger man.  His aura flashed in shock at the figure. His muscles tensed and relaxed.  I had his attention.

"You get paid when we're done, tomorrow afternoon. We're finding the targets now and we'll roll from here in time to make it to the target by dawn."  I waved at Sandy and she hustled over.

"Sandy, is the kitchen still open?" I asked.

"Yes it is.  We're keeping it open longer tonight," she replied.  She had a worried look on her face.

"Chill, I'm hungry again.  Can I get the boneless wings and a lemonade?" I turned to the street samurai. "What do you guys want?"

They stared at me.

"I've got weapons to clean before we do this," Gitti said.  "I'll grab some sleep after that."

"Same," Crank interjected.  The two of them walked toward the back of the Brick Yard and claimed a booth.

"Okay then, Sandy can you get a sirloin platter for each of my new chummers here please. Another rum for Solomon since he's working late, and can I get a peanut butter pie when were done.  The whole pie here, and one for you to take home as well."  Sandy nodded, gave me a weak smile and hurried to the kitchen.

"We ain't kids," the young woman growled. "We can order our own."

"Yeah, but I don't have time to wait.  I need an answer and I can at least feed you while you decide." I responded.

One of the young men looked to the stocky one and said, "Angelo, thirty thousand split five ways is six grand each, omae."

I could hear the urging in the young man's voice.  I focused on the stocky street samurai and waited.

After they ate, they agreed to take the job.

I found a booth in the back, set the alarm on my pocket secretary, and took a nap.

*****

January 8th, 2060

0625 hours

The alarm on my pocket secretary buzzed away, lifting me from a dreamless sleep.  The Brick Yard  was dark. I heard a rumbling snore, and the metal on metal sound of a magazine sliding home.  I crept to the bathroom and cleaned up.

When I came out, Crank was pulling on his armored vest, Gitti was snoring away, Goblin Mike was laying on a sleeping bag, and the five newbies were still asleep at a booth in the corner.  Sheila X was behind the bar.

I walked over and sat across from her.  She pulled out a clean coffee mug, then looked at me and asked, "You want a cup?"

"Yeah, thanks, and good morning." I yawned.  "A quick cup before I go take a look at what we're facing."

Sheila poured me a cup and said, "Aria sent me a message.  Asked how you were doing.  I told her that was between the two of you."  Sheila X shrugged and poured herself a cup. "Not my place to report on what you're doing.  If she knew, she'd be worried though.  It's a tough time for her."

"I know. Which is why I didn't tell her what was happening." I blew on my coffee and took a sip. It was terrible.  "Tastes just like the coffee I make."

"Yeah, I never got the hang of the settings on the coffee maker." Sheila replied. "Aria used to make mine for me.  I suppose I'll have to wait until I get here, hire a personal chef, or let the damn robots take over my kitchen too."

"Rose makes a good cup of coffee.  I could ask her to pop over to your place and make a pot, but I'd have to know when." I said.

"No.  Rose might be okay for you and Aria, but I don't want her just appearing in my house.  I'm glad you have her to help out, but it's just a bit too creepy for me."  Sheila X seemed to shiver for a moment, then took a drink of her own coffee.  "Yep, it's terrible, just like always."

"I'll have Crank and Gitti keep an eye on me. Angel says the Reapers are down in the Willows." I saw Sheila X give me a questioning look. "I don't know why.  I think it's just a coincidence, but there may be something down there.  I'll do some research once this is done."

"Rickie wants to know about getting that spell attached so he can see vampires too. I think they shook him up a bit last night."  Sheila X looked at her new door.  "He knew Tank years ago.  They used to be friends.  Amazing what that curse can do to you."

"Vampiric virus, yeah it makes you into a monster." I replied.

"I meant friendship," Sheila replied. "If it were just a vampire it wouldn't bother him.  But Tank used to be a friend.  Granted, a friend he hasn't seen or spoken to since they had a falling out years ago, but they were tight once.  I think this will bother Rickie for a while."

I didn't know what to say to that.  So I stuck to the biz I did know something about. "I should only be gone for a few minutes.  If I'm not back and walking around within an hour or so, get another magician to check on me."  I looked around to make certain no one was in earshot. "If anything happens to me, I've got Aria set up in my will.  Rose knows who to talk to."

Sheila nodded and leaned in close to me. "Tommy if you die and leave my pregnant daughter mourning your miserable ass, I'll have Creep torment you in Hell."

I did not piss myself, but only because I had already been to the restroom.

0655 hours

The sun was coming up soon.

Crank and Gitti had cleared a spot on the floor for me.  I stretched out, closed my eyes, and let my astral-self slip free of my body.  I floated out of the Brick Yard and into the street.  There were lingering echoes of the screaming vampires mixed with the perverse joy of giggling demonic fire spirits.  I shuddered and hoped those would fade away soon.  Angel had tracked the commlinks that belonged to the Reapers down to the Willows.  I knew the area she described pretty well, and set off at the speed of thought.

I made it to the Willows in less time than it takes me to tell it.   The building I was looking for was an old Super Shopping Center of the kind that was popular before drone delivery killed most brick and mortar stores.  It was a place I had seen in passing, several times, but I had never explored it.  Now I was drifting around it checking for wards.  I didn't find any on the walls or on the roof.  I picked a spot on the northeast corner, where the roof had partially collapsed, and drifted into darkness.

The astral space there was tainted with the murky presence of fear and hunger.  I floated along the insubstantial grey walls lit by the aura of mildew and molds growing with unchecked abandon.  I stayed near the ceiling, hoping to keep out of reach of any vampires I might find.

I found the first body in a bathroom.  She was dead, but there were dark swirls of energy playing at her corpse.  The corpse twitched and I backed away from it.  She was dead and the vampiric virus was resurrecting her into the monster she would become.  She was still only present in the meat and bone world, not yet astral active, so there really wasn't much I could do without warning every vampire in the place that I was there.

I slipped through walls, and hid behind vents, peeking about to avoid detection.  I found dozens of bodies tainted with the dark swirling energy of the vampiric virus. I found the Reapers in an old walk in freezer unit. I stuck my head through the top of the old unit and saw several vampires.  I pulled back quickly, frantically trying to avoid detection, and soared out of the ruined building and into the sky.

I hurried back to my body.


0735 hours

The sun was just cresting the mountains and spilling a pale glow through the morning cloud cover.

"Crank, you and Gitti take Goblin Mike and cover that back loading bay.  If the vampire's make a run for it, gun them down.  Hell for that matter if anyone comes out that isn't one of us, put bullets in them.  There were corpses in there. I don't know how many, but they were turning.  Kill everyone other than us."  I looked at the three men.  None of them had any comments, just stone faces and ready weapons.

"Angelo, which of you is best in close quarters fighting?" I asked.

"Me and Alexia hand to hand, knives, or what not.  Alexia with handguns, by far.  The rest of us are shotgun kind of guys." Angelo responded with an easy confidence that he faked beautifully.

"Okay, then Adam and Alexia are with me.  The rest of you stick with the Ratchet and cover him and Angel.  Ratchet and Angel are on drones and comms, they know their jobs so if they tell you to do something, do it."

"I've got the micro drone inside." Ratchet interrupted over my earpiece.  "You were right, a LOT of dead people. I've zeroed the freezer you spotted and I've got a pair of wasp drones checking for any other way out they may have."

"Chill," I replied. I looked to Angelo and his chummers. "Use the comm only for important drek and then don't hesitate.  We're burning this whole place down then mopping up.  Don't try to be hero, do your part and you'll be fine."

Angelo bristled, "Hey we know what we're..."

Crank interrupted him with a tap on the top of Angelo's head. "Hey, new guy, he's done this before.  Shut up and listen.  People die doing this drek even when things go right.  He's trying to make sure you can make it home to frag up another day."

0745 hours

Ratchet had parked the roadmaster two blocks from the old ruin.  Crank, Gitti, and Goblin Mike followed the plan beautifully and slipped off to the north end.  Goblin Mike moved swiftly, quietly, and sent me a quick "Locked and loaded," once he had his machine gun in place.

"Ready on this end," Crank whispered over his mic.

"Launching roto-drone one." Ratchet's voice came over the channel calmly.

Adam, Alexia and I were making our way to the front of the old super center.  Its facade had faded as the decades of acid rain had worn at it.  It was a hollow eyed skeleton of its former self.  Once, decades ago, people had come here to shop for things they needed.  It would have been lively, full of voices and people.  Now it was an empty shell full of corpses and monsters.

I saw the first roto-drone soar over the building and take up a position over the east end of the structure.

"Launching number two," Ratchet sounded off in my ear again.

Adam was in the lead and pointed to the face of the old building. "If Goblin Mike opens fire from the end we'll be down range. We need to stay on the west end of the building, so we aren't in his line of fire."

"Okay, good point." I replied.

Alexia was silent.  She carried her Ares Predator in her hands and kept her eyes moving.  She stayed slightly behind me and to my left, well out of my natural firing arc.  I pulled my Colt L36 from its concealed holster, thumbed the safety, and chambered a round.

"I'm zeroing the signals on their comms.  I've got one that isn't in the freezer.  Ratchet is sending a micro drone to check the signal source." Angel whispered.  "I've also got movement in the street a block south of your position.  Looks like some squatters."

"Copy that, keep me informed." I replied.

Seconds ticked by.

"I've got the source on that last commlink, put your AR on I'll patch through video to you." Ratchet reported.  He had an odd tone in his voice. "I'm not sure what I'm seeing."

I pulled on my AR goggles and watched as the feed came through.  It was dark inside but the little micro drone's low light cast everything in a dim luminescence.  There was a dark space, simply a black blob that occupied a space a few meters across, like a giant dark bubble.  I had never seen anything like it before.  I pulled the AR goggles off and handed them to Adam, "mean anything to you?" I asked.

"No fraggin' idea," he said.

I looked to Alexia and handed her the goggles, "Look familiar?"

She held the goggles over her eyes for a moment then shook her head.  "Never seen nothin' like that," she handed me the goggles.  I powered them off and stuck them back in my pocket.

"Ratchet, I don't know.  Task the drone to keep an eye on it.  If it becomes an issue we'll figure it out.  First thing though, let's fry these fraggers.  Angel you're up, Crank, Adam get ready with the grenades." I whispered the command over my mic, and watched as the little roto-blimp floated down and drifted in through one of the empty windows.

"We're approaching on target," Angel whispered. "Ready in thirty seconds. Are we go or no?"

"We are go," I responded.

It was a long thirty seconds before the bomb went off.  A plume of fire belched ten meters above the building's rooftop.  On cue, Adam sprinted forward and pitched an incendiary grenade into the entrance.  It exploded in white and red plumes that ignited everything they touched.  I heard the second grenade go off a tick later.  I sent out the mental call and my fire elemental manifested.  "Burn that building down," I commanded it. The pillar of flame gave a slight bowing motion, then sped across the parking lot, leaving bubbling plascrete in its wake.  It leaped upon the building and began scorching and burning at the aged structure.

I saw flashes of tracer rounds stitch through the building to the east, a fraction of a second before I heard the report of Goblin Mike's heavy machine gun.

"Contact!" Gitti yelled. "We've got contact coming out the back!"

Rachet's voice was echoing the sentiment, "I've got contact on both sides.  Multiple targets!"

"Weapons free." I said.

Light machine guns from the roto-drones opened up on vampires running to escape the fire that threatened to engulf them.  Goblin Mike's heavy machine gun roared as he poured rounds through the the vampires trying to flee out the loading docks.  I couldn't hear Gitti's sub-machine gun over the noise but I was certain he would be firing away.  Crank's 'good luck charm' boomed in a steady pace.

"Sunlight is doing its job," Angel called out.

"Confirmed!" Gitti yelled, "they're burning up really good over here"

"Adam, put that second grenade in there." I called out.

Adam nodded, primed the small explosive and pitched it past the conflagration roaring in the entrance.  I advanced, with Alexia close by, to stand next to Adam.  Twenty meters away the entrance to the old store was ablaze.

"Not too bad," Adam said.

"It's not over until it's gone. We've got to be thorough." I reminded him.

"I see something moving," Alexia said.

I followed the direction her gun was pointing.  I saw a dark figure moving among the flames. Motes of light winked about like a small cloud of stars.

"Open fire!" I yelled.

Alexia didn't wait.  She snapped two shots into the dark shape. It raised it's right hand and I raised my left in a warding gesture.

Fire exploded all around us.  It scorched the plascrete, melting it into bubbling goo just a meter from my outstretched hand.  I smelled burning hair as my eyebrows singed, and saw Adam slapping at the his armored vest as it caught fire.

The spell fire disappeared a moment later, leaving us standing on a circle surrounded by molten plascrete.  Alexia fired two more shots, but I couldn't see the dark shape from the flames in the entranceway.

"Adam, you okay?" I shouted.

"A little cooked but fine," he replied.

"I've lost her," Alexia shouted.

"Her?"

"Definitely a woman," Alexia called back.

"Ratchet, anything on that drone feed?" I asked.

"Negative, micro drone is non-responsive.  Bomb must have knocked it out." he replied.

"Targets are down on north side," Gitti called out.

"Make sure they stay down," Angel responded.

Adam jumped over the three meter span of bubbling, molten plascrete.  "Come on, it's getting too hot and you don't want to be stuck there if it comes back."

I couldn't leap that distance with a short step and Alexia didn't seem confident of doing so either.  I called out and my air elemental manifested and lifted us up and set us down twenty meters further away from the building.

The old super center was ablaze.  Dark smoke was spilling out the roof and through the empty entrance.  I raised my hands, and called out 'IGNIS MAGICAE'.  My own fireball exploded deep in the old store.

"Think you got her?" Alexia asked.

"No. I don't." I replied.  "Stay close, she's up to something."

"She can't just let the whole place burn down on her.  She'll have to come out." Adam said.

"Yeah, but she doesn't have to come out here."  I had a sudden realization and keyed my mic.

"Ratchet.  If you see an area of darkness come out I need to know about it." I said.

"Good timing then," he responded.  "One just came out the west side emergency exit. It's heading this way."

"Open fire on that area.  Put everything you can on it, I'm on my way." I told him as I took off running.  Adam and Alexia kept pace with me.

I heard shotguns firing as I made it to the street on the west side of the inferno.   Angelo was leading the other newbies toward what looked like a half-globe of darkness that was moving toward them at a walking pace.  The four street samurai were firing blindly into the darkness.

"Fall back, maintain suppression fire!" I yelled.  "Angelo!  Fall back!"

"Frag off! I've got this!" Angelo snapped back.

The darkness surged forward, engulfing the street samurai, and their guns suddenly fell silent.

I opened my astral sight and saw Angelo and the other three samurai falling to the ground, their bodies empty, their auras shattered. Standing in their midst was a monster that had once been a woman.  She was brilliant with the stolen life essence of her victims, and wrapped in spells that were protecting her from the daylight and hiding her from our eyes.

She started walking toward the roadmaster as she cast Angelo's lifeless body to the ground.  She made another twenty meters when she came under fire from Ratchet's roto-drones and Goblin Mike's heavy machinegun.  Most the bullets missed her completely, while the few that hit her failed to even knock her down.

She boldly strode from our kill zone, seeming intent on the roadmaster.  I threw a bolt of sizzling mana energy into her.  It hit her and she stumbled.  Bullets hailed down on her but she ignored them. Turning to face me and my two companions who were blissfully blind to the monster.  She moved, closing the hundred meters between us in a flash and kicking me in my abdomen.  Every atom of air I had in my lungs was forced out and I tumbled down the street for ten meters or more.

Adam and Alexia jumped away as the roto-drones continued to rain fire down the dark orb.  I had a moment of panic as I couldn't catch my breath, and saw the enraged vampire raise her arms toward me. I raised my hand in a familiar warding gesture, continued to gasp for air, and mentally screamed out to my fire elemental.

The vampire's spell shattered on my defenses but drove me back down to the street.  My fire elemental erupted in the darkness, engulfing the vampire, and doing its best to devour her.  I lay there, while bullets rained down, my elemental began to scream, and winced as the sun hit my eyes.  I had a crazy idea hit me, and I rode the insanity for all it was worth.

I slipped from my body and into the astral plane.  I charged forward, screaming like a madman and battered at the spell the vampire had woven to protect it from the sun.  I beat at it even as the monster who created it fought and tore at my fire elemental.  The elemental screamed again as the vampire tore it apart. Then the vampire turned to me as the darkness spell collapsed.

It had once been a woman.  Now the vampire was exposed before the morning sun as it struggled to pierce the Seattle sky.  She erupted in flames, flailing about and screaming in rage.  Then Ratchet's drones opened fire on her with horrific precision.

Ratchet claims he shot the last vampire eighty-five times before she fell.  From the mess he made of the corpse, I believe him.

I flew over the area, and for blocks every direction, and didn't detect any more vampires.  Still, we had to be thorough, so we watched as the old building collapsed from the flames.  As the fires died down early in the afternoon, I took to the astral plane once more, drifting among the wreckage and searching for any surviving vampires.  There were none.

I paid the team, thankful that Sheila X was footing most of the bill.  I sent a text to Sheila that read, "Mission successful, four fatalities, no other injuries.  I'm going home."

Sheila responded, "Get some rest, see you tomorrow."

I had no idea what she was referring to.

Alexia didn't cry over her dead friends.  I imagine she was holding it in for when no one was around to judge.  Shadowrunners are harsh like that sometimes.  We incinerated the corpses, leaving their gear to Alexia. I gave her a credstick with thirty thousand nuyen on it, and she took it without a word.

"If you want more work, I can always use a good gun hand." I offered.

"Maybe," she responded.

I said my goodbyes, wrapped an invisibility spell around myself, and flew home.

*****

I landed in my backyard.  I checked the security panel and found it read normal.

I sent out a mental message, "Rose, is everything okay?"

"Everything is fine.  Aria is worried for you, though I told her you would be well." Rose responded.  "She says the babies will make her emotional. Is that true?"

"I'm afraid so, Rose.  So don't take anything too personally.  If she seems upset it may just be the pregnancy hormones." I felt a profound sense of relief and I walked in.

"Aria, I'm home honey!" I called out.

"Tommy!" Aria yelled from the back of the house.  She came out in yoga pants and a sports bra.  She was sweaty and had just a bit of a baby bump.  She strode over to me and threw her arms around my neck. "You smell like smoke baby. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine.  Just a little fire." I brushed a stray lock of hair from in front of her eyes.

"Mom wouldn't tell me what you were up to." she protested.  "I know you don't want me to worry, but I do."  She pulled out a chair and pointed me to it. "Sit. I want to know what happened."

I sat down, still smelling of smoke and fear-sweat, and told her the whole story.  She got very worried when I told her about the Reapers at the Brick Yard and Little Rickie getting knocked through the door.  I had to assure her that he was okay and that her mother wasn't hurt.  I told her about the dead bodies and the energies coursing through them, changing them into monsters.  I told her about the fire, and the dead runners.  I told her about it all.

"Then I saw you and I knew everything was going to be just fine." I kissed her.  "I need a shower, and you look like you've been hitting the yoga.  Want to join me?"

Aria looked at me, a tear had formed in her eye at some point. "I'm just glad you're home. Yes, come one I'll help you get clean. You stink, Tommy Gun."

Rose piped up and said, "I will stay in the kitchen while the sexing happens.  I will make dinner."

Aria blushed and we did, eventually, manage to get clean.

*****

From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

You've all been a wonderful audience and I appreciate your comments.

I hope that if you have enjoyed this story and that you will share it with others.

As always, I want to clarify that I do not own Shadowrun.  These stories are derived from game play, and have been fictionalized to make them fun to read.  I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.

I do write role-playing game materials, for other games (not Shadowrun), which you can find on drivethrurpg.com 

I use KickStarter to fund costs associated with producing those books, and I hope you'll check out my projects there.  You can follow me on KickStarter, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook (Sinopa Publishing LLC).

I have a project coming soon to KickStarter (targeting May of 2018 for this campaign) for a book of exotic weapons from around the world.  This source book, titled "The Steel Road", includes fifty weapons and an example of an enchanted, 'legendary' version of each.  Each weapon and it's enchanted counterpart is fully illustrated by Zachary Viola!

After fulfillment of "The Steel Road", I'll be launching a Kickstarter for my second rpg source book, titled "Whispers of Persephone" a role-playing resource for necromancers containing new spells and a new arcane wizard tradition for the 5th edition game mechanic. "Whispers of Persephone" will be illustrated by none other than Christian Martinez!

This summer I'll also be crowdfunding my first comic book, "47 Furious Tails" which is illustrated by the very talented Alexia Veldhuisen!!!!


This year will also see the release of "Luther's Revenge", the sequel to the much loved adventure "Tale of the Wizard's Eye" which was the first adventure I published.  Art for Luther's Revenge will include work by Lotus Blair as she makes her art debut as a contributing freelancer in this bloody adventure.


Tarot Adventures, Book Three: Death comes to Glenfallow is also slated for 2018 crowdfunding and release with art from one of our foremost contributing freelancers.  So look for plenty of RPG books coming out in 2018 as I work to bring the best materials I can to your gaming table.

W.S. "Sam" Quinton


P.S. :  If you are a comic book fan, check out this cool KickStarter campaign!




{Note:  All "Tarot Adventures" are trademark of Sinopa Publishing LLC and copyright of W.S. Quinton; "The Steel Road" is copyright 2018 by W.S. Quinton, "Luther's Revenge" is copyright 2017 by W.S. Quinton, "47 Furious Tails" is copyright 2017 by W.S. Quinton}

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

New life and near death: The last days of 2059

My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business. ~ Harry Houdini


October 2nd, 2059

0200 hours

Rose flew Aria and I over Redmond.  The fog was thick over the metroplex that night.  Rose had taken her pegasus form and the three of us were flying high above the mist choked streets.  It was a damp, chilly night.  Light pollution made parts of the 'plex glow in the mists.

I ran Aria a bath, rubbed down her sore muscles and released a bit of healing magic to banish her aches.  "Yep, I'm used to this now.  You're stuck doing this full time, Tommy." She smiled, her eyes closed.  "I bet this will do wonders after a workout."

I paused a moment, the thought fermenting in my mind. "I bet you're right. Wow, yeah I bet you're spot on."  I am not a doctor, nor have I ever been a fitness expert, but the idea made sense to me. "I bet it would really help to speed up muscle development and help keep you from suffering training injuries."

"Baby, don't overthink it." Aria sighed. "I want to do something.  Something different. I'm tired of waiting tables for mom."

I had learned that sometimes it's best to listen before you speak.  This seemed precisely like one of those moments.  I grabbed the shampoo and started on her hair.

"I just don't know what I want to do.  How crazy is that?  Grown woman and I don't know what I want to do with my life."  She relaxed a bit as my fingers worked along her scalp. "Well, I think I want to sit in this tub and get my hair washed every night.  But beyond that, I just don't know baby."

"You could start your own biz.  Do something you enjoy and work to get paid at it," I suggested. "Maybe start a live stream of your gaming?  You're a fantastic player."

"Tommy, no.  I don't want mom on my case about having my face on the 'trix." She murmured.  "That feels good baby. Anyway, no, I think I want to do something low key.  Maybe I could learn to garden or paint.  I don't know. I just think I don't want to work for mom anymore."  She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I want to do something with my life and I want to contribute to our life here."

"Aria, I can take care of the bills baby. Whatever you want to do in life you've got me." I said.  "I imagine a lot of people have a hard time finding what they want to do.  There is so much in the world to see and do, it's no wonder you're not sure.  For me it was easy to decide.  Didn't have much choice really, as I was born to magic."

"You could always become an accountant." Aria chided.

"Ha! No, thank you.  I like being a wizard.  It's always interesting, often terrifying, and on occasion it's pretty cool."  I laughed.  "Plus, I get to lay healing magic on my girl's achy muscles."

"I love you, Tommy."  Aria sighed.

"I love you too, Aria." I said it and Aria's eyes opened wide.

"That's the first time you've said that." Aria sat upright, her slim figure draped in bubbles. "You LOVE me? You aren't just saying it?"

I took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. "Aria, I love you. Now, let's rinse your hair and go to bed."

*****

I woke up in the back yard.  My house was engulfed in flames.  I tried to scream but couldn't get words to come out.  Rose lay broken in bloody snow a meter from me.  I could hear Aria screaming from inside the house.

I tried to spring to my feet by my body didn't respond well.  I felt slow, weak, and powerless.  I staggered to my feet and saw skeletal hands reaching out from the soil and holding my ankles fast.  A sinister laugh rose from behind me and I turned to see a dozen dark figures, ghouls and vampires, stalking closer. At their lead was a corpse driven by a dark spirit.  Mana energy waned as it advanced and I felt myself robbed of my magic.

"I will eat your soul," it promised.

"Wake up!" Rose's thought voice rang in my mind.  I woke suddenly, bolting upright in the bed.  "Dark spirits are not here.  You are not under attack. We are safe."

I rose from the bed and grabbed the bathrobe Aria had given me.  It was thick and comfortable, and provided for a measure of modesty.  I slipped from the bedroom, down the hall and into the kitchen.

"I will make the coffee.  You do not do it correctly." Rose's thought voice carried a hint of worry.

"Thank you, Rose." I said.  "I had a bad dream."

"I saw.  You should not torment yourself so.  Peaceful sleep is better for you, I think."  Rose had the coffee started in short order.  The sun was rising, and I was very tired.

"Yes, well I didn't realize I was dreaming. Then the fright took hold and I was stuck."  I turned on the trid and thumbed through my favorites. "Thank you for waking me.  I'm glad I didn't have to see that dream's conclusion."

"You are welcome," Aria responded. "You should have better dreams.  The flying one, or perhaps one of the sexing dreams.  Can you not choose which you will have?"

"I don't know how to do that.  I've heard of some people being able to control what they dream about though." I took the steaming cup of coffee she offered.  It had real sugar and cream in it, just as I like it. "Thank you for the coffee Rose. You make a far better cup than I do."

"You are welcome." Rose shimmered from her young girl form, assuming the form of a beautiful rottweiler. "The coffee you create is unpleasant. I'm not certain how you accomplish that."  She jumped onto the couch and put her head in my lap.  I scratched behind her ears reflexively.  "Aria worries when you dream and walk the house.  I have concerns as well.  Sometimes your power flares as if you are readying a spell casting.  You should control these dreams before you cause harm."

I hadn't realized that I was summoning mana in my sleep.  It made a kind of sense to me though.  Magic was my primary means of defense, though I favored a gun for dealing with most physical threats.  "Rose, I want you to wake me up if you find that I'm channeling magic while asleep.  There are too many things that could go horribly wrong from that happening." I took a sip of my hot coffee, savoring it. "If I cast a powerball in the house out of fear in my sleep I could kill Aria and I both by accident."

Rose rolled onto her back for a belly rub. "I will wake you as I did this night." I rubbed my ally spirit's belly for a few minutes.  She seemed to genuinely enjoy the sensation.  I found an old favorite flat-vid anime on the trid and cued it up.  The theme song started, and Rose rolled off the couch.  "I will lay on the bed.  Aria will wake up too early if she is left alone.  I will not let dark spirits harm our home."

Rose trotted silently down the hall and disappeared into the bedroom.  I turned back to the trid and finished my coffee through the first episode.  The young witch who joined the secret police force which captured wayward magicians.  The anime predated the awakening, but it brought up some interesting ideas about what magic could be like.  At some point during the second episode, I fell asleep.

*****

October 3rd, 2059

I woke up to Aria kissing me on the forehead.  "Rise and shine, baby."

"Good morning honey." I yawned.

"Afternoon, actually" Aria replied. "Get up, let's have some lunch and get you into the shower.  I'm going to talk to mom tonight.  I'm resigning from the Brick Yard, that is, if you're certain we can afford it."

"Yeah, we've got money enough to last us for a good while." I responded. "Give me a few years of small jobs and we'll be able to retire early."

Aria made lunch with a little help from Rose.  Rose asked about a lot of little things Aria was doing and the two were cute together, Rose in her young girl form and Aria in an old t-shirt of mine.  The three of us ate amid small talk punctuated by the occasional laugh.

"Rose and I will get the dishes, you get in the shower." Aria scooped up my plate and coffee mug.  "Go on. Shoo!"

I rose and trod off to the bathroom, grabbing a fluffy towel from the closet on the way.  I turned on the water and stepped into the steamy goodness.  The water felt refreshing as it ran down over me.  I was washing my hair out when Aria gave me a good scare.

With the water running over my head I hadn't heard her step into the shower.  Her hands on my back startled me and I spun, shampoo suddenly running into my eyes.  "Easy baby," she laughed. "It's me." She giggled at me and wiped at the shampoo.  My vision cleared, and the first thing I saw was a joy-filled smile on Aria's face.  We were in the shower until the hot water was gone.  Rose left us to our own devices.

That night, Aria told her mother she was leaving her job at the Brick Yard.  She told her she would work through December to give her the opportunity to find a replacement.  Honestly, Aria was a terrible waitress, but she could be trusted and that was an asset that was hard to find.  Sheila took the news well and may even have been somewhat relieved.



October 7th, 2059

1000 hours

Rose stayed home at my request.  I felt better knowing she was there in case Aria needed her.  I summoned the car service and road down town.  I was at a jewelry shop when my pocket secretary buzzed at me.  Sheila X wanted to meet with me that night after I brought Aria to work.  I had healed from the mana burns I earned fighting the dark spirit possessing Swiftwater's corpse, so I agreed to meet.

I found what I was looking for in the second jewelry store I visited.  It was gold and fitted with a natural diamond that had been found in Arkansas.  The ring had been made by hand and was suitable for enchantment, should that ever need to be done.  The clerk wished me luck as she handed me the ring box.  I thanked her, put the ring box in the inner pocket of my lined coat, and walked down the street to an alchemist and enchanter shop I knew of.

Mike Edmond is a legitimate alchemist, enchanter, and wizard.  He's been practicing magic professionally since the early forties and his shop catered to magicians, foregoing the frivolous things most lore shops sold to mundane people.  Prices were high because the merchandise he sells carries real power.  He works in his laboratory and comes up to deal with customers as he needs.  Sometimes his shop is closed for weeks on end when he is undertaking a particularly sensitive enchantment, but he places a notice on his node on the 'trix and people respect his honesty.  I walked into his shop and wasn't at all surprised to see that I was the only person there.  A chime sounded, and I walked to a locked cabinet and gazed over a selection of weapon foci while I waited for Mike.

I was only waiting a few minutes when Mike came out from the back. "Tommy?" Mike asked.  "Didn't expect you today."

"Mike, good to see you" I extended my hand and Mike shook it.

"Finally going to buy one of those weapon foci you've been drooling over?" he asked.

"Sorry Mike.  But I do have biz today."  I hooked my finger at the display. "I want one, but I think I want to make my own."

Mike's eyebrows went up, "That's a LOT of work.  You sure you want to get into it?"

I was nodding even before he finished his question. "I need some things.  I need a reference library, hard copy if I can get it.  I need some equipment for my laboratory, and I need to arrange some instruction.  Are you up for providing some training?"

He nodded, "Yeah Tommy I can teach some of the basics.  I can probably spare some time over the next couple of months if you don't mind the price.  You'll have to join the United Talismonger's Association though.  I won't train you otherwise."  Mike walked around behind his counter and started tapping out a supply list on his data pad.  "Reference library and instructional material are going to cost you. May as well get a decent library right off if you're going for hard copy.  I charge one thousand a week for teaching.  You get five hours of personal instruction each week at that rate, plus I provide you with a study plan to help you digest the material."  He turned the pad toward me to show me the costs total.  I was expecting it to be very pricey and Mike certainly met my expectations.

"Paid in advance, I'm afraid." Mike added.

"You have a deal, Mike." I pulled an ebony credstick from a concealed pocket on the breast of my form fitting body armor. "I'll pay that now if that's okay with you?"

Mike nodded, clearly a bit surprised. I slotted the credstick and moments later I was one hundred forty-five thousand nuyen lighter.  Mike and I scheduled the training days right after the funds cleared.  I summoned the car and we loaded the vehicle with books and several boxes of exotic thaumaturgic laboratory equipment.

I arrived home shortly before 1300 hours.  Rose and I unloaded the vehicle and took our time carrying the equipment down to the lab.  We were organizing the books when we heard Aria's footsteps above us. 

"Shall I make the coffee?" Rose asked.

"Probably a good idea," I told her. "I'll be up shortly. I want to unpack the athanor.  We'll set up the venting for it tomorrow morning."  Rose vanished from sight, fading into the astral plane.  A moment later I heard a startled yelp from Aria. 

I took the ring box and locked it in the steel safe I used for rare reagents. 


Rose and I dropped Aria off at that night like usual.  My meeting with Sheila X wasn't what I expected.  Sheila wanted me to take a look at an item she had 'found' that she thought may be magical.  I looked over it's astral signature, determined that it was a focus of some kind, but couldn't be sure what it did.


"I think you need to have an enchanter look at this." I told her. "I'm no expert on foci and I don't recognize what this thing is."  Being honest with your fixer isn't always the best policy but when your fixer is Sheila X, you're dating her daughter, AND you're planning on asking said daughter to marry you... its best to shoot straight. 


Sheila frowned at that and said, "Okay. I'll see if Shade can tell me anything. If you want to pick up some good nuyen without all the danger, learn about magical items.  It's hard to find someone who can identify stuff without trying to rip you off."


"I just may do that," I said. 


*****



I spent the rest of October studying the mysteries of alchemy, talismongering, and enchantment.  The disciplines of enchantment are demanding, but Mike was a great instructor.  The reading list was pretty hefty but incredibly useful.  I attacked my studies, took copious notes, pestered Mike with questions, and generally was a much better student than I had been as a teenager. 

For Halloween I relented to Aria's insistence that we take Rose trick-or-treating.  Aria bought her a princess costume which Rose wore with a quiet dignity.  We walked the block earning a small bag of treats which Rose devoured when we returned home.  We had a great time watching the other neighborhood kids run about in their costumes.  "Next year I will hand out candy," Rose declared. "That way we can get the treats I like, and the children will come to me. That way I can see them all easily."

It was a magical night for all us, and tremendous fun.



Monday, November 24th, 2059

Rose and I picked up Aria from the Brick Yard early that night.  She had been sick to her stomach and called me to come get her.  It was cold that night and flying in the chill night air seemed to ease her discomfort.  I put her in a warm bath only to help her to the toilet as she started vomiting again.  Rose brought ice water and crackers as I asked, but nothing stayed down very long. Aria fell asleep around 0300 and I resolved to take her to see a doctor if she didn't feel better in the morning.


Tuesday, November 25th, 2059

I woke up at 0700 to Aria shaking me gently.  "I'm hungry baby, can we go out for breakfast somewhere?"  I agreed, grateful that she seemed to feel better.  I cleaned up, pulled on a clean set of form fitting body armor, jumped into jeans and a sweater.  Aria summoned the car service and we road down to a pancake house she knew. 

We were on our way back home when Aria became sick again.  We had the car pull over as she emptied her stomach of a stack of pancakes, a trio of sausage links, and two glasses of orange juice.  My own stomach rolled in protest, but I kept my breakfast down.  "That's it," I said. "we're taking you to see a doctor."

"Can't you just wave your hand or something?" Aria asked.

"Sorry honey, but no.  That's not something I know how to do." I was genuinely sorry for her as she was plainly miserable. 

Aria protested for the better part of an hour as we drove to a DocWagon(tm) clinic in Lynnwood.  We had a short wait but were seen by a nurse and introduced to the doctor on staff.  I had set up Aria and I both with DocWagon(tm) Gold contracts two months prior (it was the first time in my life I actually had health insurance) and the staff seemed happy to assist us.

The doctor came in and asked Aria several questions while the nurse took scans of her temperature and other biometrics.  They took blood and urine samples and I tried not to flinch at the thought of ritual links and nefarious corporate plots. (I'm not paranoid, honest.)  It was a long ten-minute wait before the doctor came back in.

"Okay, Aria.  Do you have a regular gynecologist?" The doctor asked.

"Dr. Simms, I missed my annual checkup this year though." Aria said.  She was pale, and I thought she might start heaving again.

"Okay, well you're going to want to schedule an appointment soon. I take it you don't have any children, is that right?"

"No, no children. Doctor is something wrong with me?" Aria asked.  "I feel like drek.  I've been queasy the last couple of days but last night it really hit me."

"Well, I can't say if anything is wrong but I can tell you that you are pregnant." the doctor smiled despite herself.

I was stunned.  Aria turned to me and her eyes welled up.  I hugged her and told her I loved her.  Then she vomited down my shirt.


Thursday, November 27th, 2059

In the UCAS and CAS they celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  When you live in Seattle, surrounded by NAN territories, Thanksgiving doesn't generate the same enthusiasm it does on the east coast.  Still we had arranged to have a family dinner at our house.  Sheila X, Aria's very protective mother, was coming and informed us that Little Rickie would be with her as they had some business to see to after the meal.  Aria was a nervous wreck.

Rose and I worked very hard to follow directions we lifted from the 'trix on preparing a traditional east coast style Thanksgiving Dinner.  The problem we encountered is that there seem to be hundreds of different 'traditional' meals.  I decided to err on the side of caution and picked up a ham and a turkey as well as several pre-made meal components.  The auto chef took our directions well, and by some divine miracle I managed to not burn the house down.

We ate in our small dining room.  Rose had found a prayer that was said to be in common use and offered to say it for us.  I agreed, and everyone took hands.  Rose bent her head and pronounced. "Rub a dub-dub, thanks for the grub, Amen." 

Little Rickie started laughing, a deep rich baritone that filled the house and brought a smile to my face.  Aria giggled and even Sheila X smiled.  Rose's thought voice entered my mind, "Did I do it incorrectly?"

"Not at all baby-girl.  Not at all." I replied. Out loud I said, "That was wonderful Rose. Thank you."

Aria excused herself shortly after we started eating.  Sheila watched her daughter walk down the hall toward our master bedroom. "Is she still having stomach problems?"

"Yes, when she gets back we'll tell you more about that. I took her to the doctor." Sheila X fixed me with look that screamed, 'you're withholding information from me'.  I smiled back and dug into my potatoes. "These are really good, Rose.  You did a great job."

"I followed the instructions from the video.  It was not hard." Rose responded. "I still prefer the foods made by Solomon, but this is pleasant."

Aria walked back, took her seat, and squeezed my hand.

"Tommy says you're still not feeling well." Sheila stated. "Are you going to be okay?"

Aria looked at her mother, a smile creeping up on her face as her eyes started to water. "Yeah, mom, I'm going to be fine.  I talked to the doctor." Aria took a deep breath and looked at me.

"Sheila, Aria is pregnant.  We're going to have a baby." I said. 

Sheila X stared at me a moment.  I felt a cold chill go down my spine. 

"Pay up." Rickie laughed. Sheila X nodded, pulled out her pocket secretary and tapped away at it for moment.  I heard a 'ping' noise from Little Rickie's pocket almost immediately.  The large man smiled down at us. "Congrats, you two."

"How far along?" Sheila asked.

"I don't know yet." Aria replied.  "Can't be too long, maybe two months, but I'm seeing Dr. Simms next week.  I'll let you know what happens or you can come with us if you like."  Aria had a pleading look in her face.  I knew she had a lot of fears about having a baby.  We hadn't planned it.  In fact, we had taken precautions against pregnancy, but nature was determined.

Sheila X has cyber eyes that look very real.  Even so, she always looked rather emotionless to me as her eyes aren't telling.  At that moment though, her face relaxed its usual guarded nature and she smiled. "Of course, I'll come along baby.  I can't believe I'm going to be a grandmother." She turned to face Little Rickie, "Not ONE WORD.

Little Rickie's smile was huge, but he didn't say anything.

We ate and talked for hours.  Little Rickie and Rose seemed determined to eat everything that had been prepared.  I don't know where food goes once Rose eats it, but I can tell you I've never known her to be 'full'.  When Little Rickie finally pronounced that he was done, Rose took that as a social cue to be finished as well. She and I took up the plates and cleared the table, leaving Aria to talk with her mother and Little Rickie to commit an atrocity against my plumbing when he used the guest bathroom.  We spent a couple of hours watching the 'trid, talking about baby related things, and just being people.


Thursday, December 4th, 2059

Dr. Simms pronounced that Aria was a bit more than two months pregnant and gave us quite the shock when she informed us that we were having twins.  I think I went into shock for a moment because the next thing I knew Aria was pinching my cheeks.

"Tommy!" she said.

"I'm sorry, honey." I responded.  "What did you say?"

"Twins Tommy!  We're having twins!"  she declared. 

"I heard that." I responded. "Twins. So, two babies?"

Doctor Simms laughed at that. "Yes, that's what 'twins' mean." She shook her head at me. "I recommend increasing your dietary intake, particularly for foods rich in iron.  I'll have a dietary sheet worked up for you before you leave.  I know it's a burden, but I always recommend that pregnant women eat wholly organic foods, free of any pesticides, additives, or other nonsense.  You can have chocolate so long as it's natural and you eat it in moderation."

"Doctor Simms, what can you tell us to expect with two babies?" I asked.

"Expect that you won't get much sleep. Hire help if you can afford to. Try not to confuse their names, and for the love of all that is holy don't give them similar names.  People hate that."  The good doctor smiled brightly, and I felt as if I was stepping out onto the moon, far away from anything I had ever known.

For a moment, I had forgotten that Sheila X was there with us.  "When can we tell the babies' genders?" She asked.

"We'll do an ultasound scan on the next visit.  Two weeks from now.  We could do it today but the machine is being serviced."  Dr. Simms smiled at us. "Aria you call me if you need anything dear or if you have any questions.  Congratulations!"

Babies.  We were having two babies.

*****

I spent the first two weeks of December turning the reading room into a nursery.  Two cribs, a large changing station, and an air purifier.  I spent three days reinforcing the wards on the house with Rose's assistance.  If I hadn't been the one to create them I doubted I would have been able to breach them. 

Aria cleaned everything in the house, every day.  I locked her out of my laboratory to keep her from handling toxic substances, but had to reassure her that everything was safely stored and that there was no way the babies would be able to get in.

We didn't know the babies' genders yet, so we held off on buying clothes and focused on things we could get done.  I spoke to an attorney Sheila X recommended and set up my last will and testament. I arranged for insurance to pick up on the children once they were born and put a reservation deposit for "as yet unnamed children (2)" for them at the private school run by the church. 

December 14th, 2059

I took Aria to the Eye of the Needle and asked her to marry me.  She teared up, said "NO!" and stormed off to the ladies' room.  I sent Rose in to check on her.  When Aria came out she sat down and accused me of only asking her because she was pregnant.  She was blotchy and kept dabbing at her eyes.

"No, Tommy. No.  You could have asked me at any time before I was pregnant.  You didn't.  I'm not marrying you just because of the babies."  She was teary-eyed but convicted. "Now I'm going to be fat and miserable for months then squeeze out two little babies into this drek-hole of a world. "

I showed her the ring again. "I bought this before we found out.  I was going to enchant it for you, but I didn't know how."  I pulled out my pocket secretary and set it on the table. "I can show you the receipt if you don't believe me."

She straightened at that, "You really bought it before we knew?" she asked.

"I swear I did." I replied. "Like I said, I can prove it if you don't believe me."

"You want to marry me?" Aria sobbed a bit. "You REALLY want me to marry you?"

"I do, honey. I really, REALLY, want you to marry me." I replied. "So, will you please marry me?"

"I will.  I will marry you my vanima asinus.  I will."  I slipped the ring on her finger and silently thanked God that it fit.  Dinner was very good and we took time to just enjoy the evening.

We made it home before 2200 hours.  I know this because at 2200 hours I was holding Aria's hair as she vomited her dinner.  I put Aria to bed at 2330 and resolved to investigate whether there really was a spell to alleviate nausea.  I found a spell that was said to alleviate nausea associated with pregnancy, but it carried a disclaimer which warned that it exacerbated mood swings.  No thank you.

*****

December 19th, 2059

Aria and I were out and about the 'plex shopping for baby items and Christmas presents.  We started at the Renraku Arcology.  If you've never done it before, let me tell you this: shopping with your pregnant fiance can be quite the adventure.

"Tommy, I've got to pee again." Aria sighed.  We had been in the arcology for about an hour and it was her second trip to the restroom. "I'll be right back."

Twenty minutes later she came out of the restroom.  Her face was splotchy. "The babies hate me." she said.  I didn't have the opportunity to respond as Aria started walking away.  I picked up the two bags we had and followed her into women's clothing store.  She bought a package of panties then stormed out.  I followed as she led me back to the bench I across from the women's restroom.

"I'll be back." she said.

Ten minutes later Aria came back out. "Okay, this sucks.  Let's go home.  I'll just order gifts and pay the delivery charge."  I couldn't tell if she was sad, dejected, or just irritated. "Come on, honey, I want to go home."  She turned on her heel and started toward the bank of elevators.  We took the elevator down to street level A4.  I hit the car app as we left the lift. I followed Aria as she strode with purpose toward the doors.

We were about ten meters away from the elevators, and a couple of blocks from the arcology exit, when my skin started to crawl.  I saw several security officers moving to the exits.  I pulled Aria close to me and whispered, "Honey, something's up.  If they come for me just run for the exit, get in the car and call your mom.  I love you."  I strode ahead of Aria toward the security station, calling out in the astral to Rose.  Rose appeared in astral space next to me a tic later.

"Rose, something is wrong.  I want you to manifest near Aria and make certain she gets out of here unharmed.  If anyone tries to stop you, or if anyone tries to harm Aria, kill them." I was only ten meters from the security station when I saw three of the officers grab a fourth officer, and forcibly apply a dermal patch to him.  The officer slumped to the ground a heartbeat later.  That ranked pretty high up in my list of things I didn't expect to see on my shopping trip.  I changed course and passed within five meters of the security station.

The three officers picked up their fallen comrade and carried him to a security cart.  They removed his sidearm, handcuffed him, and belted him upright in the seat.  One of the officers sat at the driver control, and the two cruised off at a sedate pace.  It was a very well done arrest/kidnapping.
I kept moving, heading toward the food court and keeping my eyes on the Tai stand at the corner.  I was moving at a sedate pace and heard heavy boots hitting the floor behind me.  "Sir, a moment please," a voice behind me said.


I turned and saw two security officers marching toward me. "Yes, officers? Is there something I can do for you?"  I was outwardly calm, smiling, and non-threatening.  Between the two officers I could see Rose and Aria heading for the exit.  There was a line forming at the exit as security seemed to be checking for something.


"Sir, would you come with us please?" The officer on the left asked.


I took a breath and did a quick head count. "Rose, stun the security at the checkpoint and get Aria out.  Use invisibility and get her home. Let me know once you're both safely there." To the officers I said. "I'm a UCAS citizen here on a business.  Can you state probable cause for your request?"


I was expecting a quick beat down but the officers surprised me. "We believe you may have witnessed a crime and we would like to ask you some questions."  They stopped just short of a meter from me.


I took a step back and said, "Too close guys.  Ask your questions here and I'll tell you what you want to know. But other than that..." I was interrupted as people started screaming at the exit.  I saw two security officers drag a man to the ground.  People surged forward as half a dozen security guards suddenly hit the ground.  There was no sign of Aria or Rose. 


I caught sight of sudden movement from the two officers and my spell enhanced reflexes were just barely fast enough to let me duck away as they both swung stun batons at me.  Screaming erupted all around and a claxon sounded.  The security goons took another swing at me and advanced as I ducked and dodged.  They were fast, very fast.


Normal security forces don't usually rate high end reaction enhancements.  Whatever was in these guys was solid tech that all but the most wired street samurai would have to envy.  They were almost as fast as I was and were clearly more skilled at close in fighting.  I had left my gun at home, but I am a wizard so I'm never truly unarmed.  I sent out a desperate call into the astral plane and felt my spirits respond. 


I always keep a water elemental bound to service whenever possible.  They are simply too useful not to have around.  The spirit responded to my call, manifesting as a large orb of crystal clear water.  It rolled over the security officer on my left, engulfing him and sweeping him off his feet.  The second security guard threw his stun baton at me, barely missing me, and drew his sidearm. 


I saw the security officer's gun clear his holster and everything seemed to slow down.  I felt the stir in the air as my earth elemental manifested.  The elemental rolled over the security officer, trapping him within his body of rock, soil and sand.  The sec-guard's pistol discharged, the round hit me just above my left pectoral muscle and right below by collarbone.  The impact spun me to the floor and hurt like hell. 


Rose's voice rang in my mind, "Large doors have closed.  Aria cannot get out."


"Knock the doors down, burn through them, I don't care how you do it Rose.  Get Aria out of here, now!"  my left arm was numb from the impact. I was pushing myself up with my right hand and was surprised to see that I wasn't bleeding.  Instead, a glowing greenish goop not unlike the chemical in a glow stick, was sticking to me. 


"I will do violence." Rose's thought voice was tinged with what felt like anger.  Whatever was going on over there she wasn't liking it.


"Go get 'em baby-girl" I muttered.  I gained my feet and saw the security gate closing at the entrance.  I heard a loud screech like metal being torn and saw people start running away from the exit.  Chaos was erupting all around and so far, no one seemed to have notice the two elementals choking out the security officers.  I saw a foot belonging to the officer being engulfed by the earth elemental jutting out, grabbed it and sent my little sleep spell winding into him.  It was hard, the local mana field was weak and hard to work with, and I felt him fighting against the spell.  I put the full force of my magic into a second spell and felt his resistance snap as the spell claimed him. 


The elemental expelled the guard's body to lay on the floor. 


"I must destroy the wards here.  They are making it difficult do damage the barrier." Rose protested.


"Do what you have to Rose. I'm sending help your way." To the earth elemental I said, "Go to Rose and follow her instructions precisely. Serve her to see to Aria's escape. With this I release you."  The earth elemental vanished, leaving only the faint sent of damp soil behind. 


I looked around and saw that panic was spreading along the upper levels of the rotunda.  Shops were shuttering, and people were trapped behind the security gates.  Security forces were moving into the area and I saw two sleek roto-drones fly by.  "Well, that can't be good." I muttered. I pulled my out my pocket secretary and got a 'no service' error.  "Damnit." 


"Sir, lay down on the floor and place your hands behind your head!" I heard the shout from the security check point.  I saw four more sec-guards coming, this time with riot guns at the ready and two of those sleek roto-drones floating overhead. I sent another mental call out to the astral plane.


"You must think I'm dangerous." I called back.  My air elemental appeared above the drones. It took the shape of a dark cloud rippling with lighting.  I saw the sec-guards bring their riot guns up. "You'd be right!" 


I poured the full force of my magic, and more than a little rage, into the powerball that detonated among the sec guards.  Weapons, security helmets, and bones shattered.  Blood erupted to spray across the floor and all four sec-guards collapsed. My air elemental released a torrent of lightning that flashed through the drones, scorching the shattered flooring and sending the sleek machines crashing down trailing smoke.


The sec-guards' helmets fell apart as they hit the ground. I paused to take in the bruising around their cybernetic eyes.  Each of them sported implants that didn't look remotely natural, a flat metallic blue in color that filled the eye socket. The eyes gave them a decidedly alien appearance.  I turned and ran toward the crowd that was surging back toward the exit. "Rose, what's going on?"


"People in armor are shooting at the crowd, I am hiding Aria from their eyes and we are working to get out through the barrier, but it is formidable." Rose's voice felt hot in my mind.  There was a mixture of anger and fear coloring her thought-voice. As I got closer I heard the staccato of gunfire over the screams of the crowd.  People were panicking to get out. 


"Rose, I'm coming but don't wait for me." I wove an invisibility spell around myself and sent out the mental call to my air elemental.  The elemental lifted me into the air and I flew out over the crowd.  More than thirty sec-guards were firing gel rounds into the crowd and forcing people from the entrance.  Large, heavy looking security doors were sliding shut while an earth elemental was busily bashing its way through the plexi-doors beyond.  Fractures were evident across the fa├žade, but the sec-guards didn't seem to be worrying about the elemental or the failing barrier.  They were focusing on the people trying to get out.


"What the hell?" I said. On the levels above the entry, people screamed and cursed as sec-guards, supported by drones moved through the crowds gunning people down with gel rounds.  There were easily a hundred guards on the upper levels, and I could see dozens of sleek roto-drones.  I turned and saw the heavy doors we're moments from locking everyone in. 


I was distracted and didn't see the attack coming.  A spell fell over me, trying to invade my mind. It was weak, and I shrugged it off, but it surprised the hell out of me.  I spun, looking for the source, my astral sight opening to reveal heady currents of fear polluting the local mana fields.  People were panicking, and the astral plane was suffering for it.  I spotted a magician, her aura spotted with cyberware, her magical power tattered and scorched away.  Her magic was weak, and her aura strangely devoid of emotion.  She sent another spell at me, but I batted it away easily. 


I didn't have time to worry with one weird magician trying to shoot me down.  So, I reached out to the astral once more.  My water elemental engulfed her a tic later.  She didn't seem to notice. 


I flew down toward the closing doors.  With my astral sight open I could see Rose.  Aria was wrapped in an invisibility spell and hiding behind Rose, who stood in her full angelic form sending spells into the plexi barrier with frightening ease. 


"THIS FACILITY IS ON EMERGENCY LOCK DOWN. PLEASE COMPLY WITH SECURITY PERSONNEL.  A THREAT TO YOUR SAFETY HAS BEEN DETECTED.  THIS FACILITY IS ON EMERGENCY LOCK DOWN.  PLEASE COMPLY WITH SECURITY PERSONNEL."  The intercom was blaringly loud at the exit.  Gunfire sounded behind me as I landed next to Rose. 


"It is good you are here.  We will be crushed if we cannot get through."  Rose looked at me, never ceasing her barrage of spells against the plexi barrier. "You are hurt."


"We're getting out here!" I yelled. I called out into astral space and felt my spirits respond.  The water elemental, a fire elemental, and another air elemental manifested near me.  The water elemental and air elemental assaulted the plexi even as the security doors slid to within three meters of either side of us.  I called upon the fire elemental and felt it's power added to mine. 


Powerball is damn hard on a magician.  I put everything I had into that casting, all my magical power, everything the spirit could lend me, all the desperation I felt went into that spell.  It slammed into the plexi that was being battered by three potent elemental spirits and by Rose's barrage of spells.  A two-meter section of the plexi exploded outward into the southern causeway. 


Rose grabbed Aria and flashed through the opening, shimmered in mid-stride and leaped into the air.  The earth elemental vanished, returning to its native metaplane, while the air and water elemental slipped back into astral space awaiting my next order. I flew through the opening, the screams of the people behind me reaching a crescendo only to be muted as the security doors slammed shut behind me.  I heard a peculiar buzzing sound as the doors sealed behind me. 


The air spirit carrying me aloft responded to my will and lifted me over the grounds around the arcology.  Sleek roto-drones were firing on people who were running from the arcology pyramid.  On the ramp to the Alaskan Way viaduct I saw a Lone Star patrol vehicle stop.  The officers within got out of their vehicle only to immediately come under fire from a handful of drones.  The officer on the passenger side collapsed in a puddle of his own blood, while the other officer dove back into his vehicle. I caught a glimpse of a rocket flashing across the landscaped grounds, then the patrol vehicle exploded in a fireball that flipped the wreck ten meters into the air. 


People were dying all around the arcology.  I saw weapon emplacements open on the pyramid, grenades, rockets, and machineguns fired down into those people who had made it outside.  Above King street a Lone Star yellow jacket helicopter exploded.  Its wreckage rained down in flames.  I heard screams during the breaks in the thunderous roar of gunfire and explosions.  It may have lasted for two or three minutes as I floated above the causeway, frantically holding my invisibility spell to me. 


Then the weapons stopped.  I heard moaning, crying, and screams below me.  Then more of the sleek little roto-drones floated out, skimming the carefully manicured grounds, and began firing on the survivors. There were dozens of the little death machines below me.


I flew away, heading home as fast as my spirit would carry me.


*****


I landed in my back yard, my feet sinking in what I assumed to be snow.  I saw a drop of blood land a few inches above the ground and realized I was bleeding.  I walked to my back door and checked the security panel.  The system was armed, which was a relief.  I keyed my way in and stepped into the house.  Rose appeared before me.  "You took longer than I expected. You are hurt."


"Sorry to worry you, Rose. Is Aria okay?"  I asked. 


"She is terribly worried.  She has been angry and cried a few times." Rose hung her head. "She said I should not have left you."  Rose stood there, looking for all the world like a small elf girl, blonde hair hanging to her shoulders. 


I put my hand on her head and felt the tremendous power of the spirit.  "Rose, you've got nothing to be ashamed of. I'm proud of you baby-girl.  You did exactly what I needed you to do." 


"Aria is in the bathroom.  The babies make her urinate again."  Rose lifted her head.  "You are hurt, we should see to it."


"In a minute. I want her to know I'm okay." I said.  I walked down the hall and into the bedroom.  I could hear Aria crying in the bathroom though the light was off.  "Aria, honey I'm home. It's okay." The bathroom door was open, so I stepped in and palmed the light switch. 


The lights came on at my touch. I had left a smear of blood on the wall switch. Aria was sitting on the toilet, tears on her face and her hands shaking.  "Tommy!" she screamed when she saw me.  She jumped from the toilet and was reaching for me when I caught sight of myself in the mirror.  I had blood down my right forearm and my shirt was soaked in blood.  A hole had appeared through my shirt at some point, and I was bleeding.  My face was paler than normal. 


"It's okay baby." I said.  Then I fell on my ass.


"Rose!" Aria screamed as she leaned over me.  "Damnit, don't you die on me, Tommy!" 


"I'm okay, Aria.  Just tired." I must have closed my eyes for a moment because they opened, and I saw Rose, her hands holding my head in her lap.  Aria was yelling at me.


"NO!  Don't you dare die on me!" Aria yelled it over and over again. Her face was red and blotchy.  She had tears in her eyes and blood on her cheek.


"I've done what I can Aria," Rose said. "The injury is severe."


I watched as Aria lifted my hand and frantically hit the button on my DocWagon band.  It was dark, nothing was happening. "Mothafraggin' piece of drek!" Aria screamed.  She grabbed at hers, hitting it frantically.  It was dark too.  I lay there, feeling cold and oddly calm as Aria tried her phone then mine.  All our tech was dead.


"It's okay baby." I told her. "I'm fine."


"You are so NOT fine! Tommy Gun, you shut up!" Aria screamed at me.  "Rose! Go to the Brick Yard, tell my mom what happened. You go Rose, go baby-girl, and don't let anyone stop you."


Rose looked down at me and I thought I saw a tear in her eye.


"Better listen to her, Rose." I said.  Then things went dark.


*****


December 24th, 2059


The first thing I noticed was that I smelled bad.  The next thing I noticed was that I hurt everywhere. 


"He is awake." Rose's voice sounded far away. 


I heard feet hitting the floor and Aria's voice. "Tommy?"


"Hey honey." I said. "What did I miss?" 


"Tommy Gun don't you EVER scare me like that again!"  Aria hugged me fiercely and it really hurt.


"Ouch!" I yelp. "Sorry baby, I didn't mean to.  What happened?" 


"You were shot," a voice I didn't recognize said.  I opened my eyes and saw the doctor Sheila X had sent me to a few times standing in my bedroom.  There were machines next to my bed, and an IV in my arm.  The doctor stepped up next to me. "Easy, miss.  He's going to hurt for a while.  Do you know who you are?"


I thought about it and said, "Yes, I know who I am.  I know who Aria is. I recognize you as well."


"Good start," he said. "the bullet that hit you released a toxin into your body.  Some sort of anti-coagulant.  You're lucky you didn't bleed to death."


"I don't feel lucky," I said.  "How bad?"


"Mostly your problem was blood loss," he responded. "Looks like you had the injury mostly healed by magic, but you lost enough blood that you were in serious danger for a while.  You've been unconscious for a few days."


I was shocked by that. "I've been down for a few days?"  I looked to Aria. "Are you okay?"


"We're fine." Aria responded. "We made it out.  That's the important thing."


"What happened? Have they said what went wrong?" I asked. "I thought at first it was just me, but all Hell broke loose."


"You need to relax," the doctor interjected. "I don't care what happened or what you think you need to know.  You NEED to rest.  You're going to spend your holiday and a few days thereafter in this bed. I've got a nurse coming to keep an eye on you. I'm spending the holiday with my kids and I'm not missing that, even for a paying customer." He turned to Aria.  "Nothing exciting for him. No stress.  He stays in bed. I'll remove the catheter and he can use a bedpan until we get him up and moving around.


"Look!" I started.


"Nope. Bad patient," the doctor interrupted. He hit a button on the machine connected to my IV.  Everything slowed down very suddenly.  "Get some sleep and keep calm." he smiled down at me.


"Shush baby," Aria said.  My eyes started to close. I could smell the vanilla and honeysuckle as I drifted back to sleep.


*****


Aria, Rose, and the nurse were there when I woke up on Christmas day. 


We didn't have a trid unit in the bed room, and Aria wouldn't bring it in for me to watch the news feeds.  I didn't know anything about what had happened at the Renraku Arcology while I recovered. She did bring some books I asked for, and Rose kept her from getting into any of the toxic substances in the lab while she was down there retrieving them. 


I spent the rest of 2059 in bed. Rose tended to Aria while I couldn't, with occasional help from the nurse. 


I had earned a nasty scar during our escape and I have no memory of  being shot.  I have no idea when it happened. 


Sheila X covered my medical costs.  I told her that wasn't necessary and she bluntly told me to shut up.  "You made sure she got out and you're going to be my son-in-law." she said. "So take this as the gift it is, get well soon, and don't start arguing with me just because you're marrying my daughter. I know where you live, you know." 


I decided it was best not to argue


I'm not proud of that night.  I froze there at the end, floating in the sky, while below me people were gunned down by ruthless machines.  I don't know if I could have made any difference.  My mind tells me I would have just  gotten myself killed trying to help, while my heart and soul ache for not making the effort. 


I saw families gunned down that night.  Their only crime was to shop late in the season.  Some nights I have nightmares about it, and Rose wakes me up to scold me for being hard on myself.  I suppose it's something I'll eventually come to terms with.  I don't think anyone will ever know why it happened though.  Whatever the reason may be, I made it a point from that day forward to not buy anything made or sold by Renraku.  I know missing my biz doesn't hurt them, but it makes me feel better.  I don't want to put my money in their hands.  There is too much blood on them.


___________________________________________________________________________


From the author:


Thank you for reading my fan fiction!  I hope you enjoyed this story.  If you did, please do share it with others.

Your comments are most welcome.

I also design, write, and publish role-playing game materials for other rpgs (not Shadowrun).

Currently I'm working on finishing and fulfilling my Kickstarter rewards for Tarot Adventures, Book Two: Comet over Echo Rock, a rpg adventure module for the 5th edition game mechanic. 

I will soon be launching a new Kickstarter campaign for an rpg sourcebook titled "The Steel Road".  "The Steel Road" details weapons from around the world, having fifty different weapons and an enchanted "legendary" version described as well. Packed with more than one hundred illustrations by Zack Viola, this book will be made available in both 5th edition rule set.  The art for this book is being done in a sketchbook style in keeping with the narrative throughout.  The book is narrated from the point of view of a fictitious caravan merchant. I hope you'll check it out and support that project when it goes to KickStarter.

You can learn more about that project on my blog "My New Adventure" using the button at the top of this page.


Some example art from "The Steel Road" 




All art by: Zack Viola








































{Note: All art in The Steel Road is copyright(c) 2017 and 2018 by Zachary Viola and is used with permission and under contract.  Reproduction without authorization is prohibited. In other words, all rights are reserved.}