Friday, June 29, 2018

Rise of the Machine (Part five)

"When fighting monsters, be very careful not to turn into one yourself" ... Unknown


I spent the rest of February 2060 in Seattle.  I made good use of my car service and left Rose to help Aria, who was feeling very uncomfortable at twenty-four weeks pregnant with twins.  My time at the office was spent reading, studying enchantment theory as well as the finer points of exorcism and banishment.  There was so much to learn and only one (probably very short) lifetime to learn it in.  I took Rose's suggestion to heart, and began designing the formula for a second ally spirit in the late evenings after Aria went to bed.

Aria wanted to have the wedding after the babies were born.  It was a matter of vanity, because she wanted to "fit into a proper wedding dress".  I was allowed to schedule the wedding at the church, though I'm sure several of the older parishioners would balk at the idea.  Sheila X offered to help Aria with the wedding invitations and I gratefully accepted.  I was burning the candle at both ends between keeping up an appearance and state of readiness at work and working on formula design in the evenings.  I tasked Rose to make certain I was awake each morning in time for work and very often had to rush to be ready.

Saturday, March 6th 2060

0600 hours

It was early, Aria was asleep and I had left Rose with some very specific instructions about keeping her out of the basement.  I had been preparing for the ritual summoning all week long.  That morning I checked my work thoroughly, examining every inch of the circle's integrity and each symbol's alignment. I couldn't find any problems and, to be honest, it was probably the best ritual work I had ever done by that time. 

I whispered into the astral plane and the air elemental I had summoned appeared.  I tasked it to keep the air clean and to keep any stray winds from damaging the circle's integrity.  I called out again and the earth elemental I had summoned appeared.  I tasked it with strengthening the foundation of the house and protecting it from tremors that may result from the summoning.  My water elemental came next, and I assigned it the inglorious jobs of protecting the plumbing and keeping errant fluids from harming the carefully penned symbols.  My fire elemental was called up last, and I tasked it to protect me from noisy astral intruders.

With the spirits of the elements in place, I stepped into the circle and opened my perceptions to the astral plane.  The room hummed with power, and the small globe of power that hovered over the circle's center beckoned.  I knelt down in the circle's center and arrayed the tools I would be using before me. There were an array of images before me: a photo of a wolf, a print copy of the painting of a red horse by Phoenix O'Faery, a print copy of a digital painting of a young elf girl that had been done by Lotus Blair, the image of a human Japanese woman attired as a samurai that had been drawn and inked by Alexia Veldhuisen, a painting of a wrathful angel that had been created decades ago by the mad genius Anthony Ojeda, an old gold ring I had found at a pawn shop, and a painting done by Kelsy Cowan depicting a griffin.  Having the originals would have been preferable, but those were resting safely in art galleries scattered around the globe, so I made do with prints.

The sun rose at 0628 hours, the alarm I had set for it chimed, and I lifted my arms and began to speak the summoning ritual.  Hours passed, mana energy poured through me and was bound by the constraints of the ritual circle, and gradually the ally I sought began to manifest.  The formula I had devised gifted the spirit with powers beyond even those Rose possessed. The symbols adorning the circle began to glow as mana energies cascaded from them, imbuing the spirit and consuming the alchemicals and reagents of their construction.  Water from the blood falls boiled away, sage burned and the smoke spiraled into the forming spirit, hair from the tail of a living unicorn drifted and braided itself into the energies coursing through the circle and powdered quartz from the Clearwater River was transformed into motes of starlight that merged into the mana coalescing before me.  I chanted, sang, and screamed into the storm of magical energies whirling about me.  The hair on my arms burned away as sparks danced along my skin and blackened my fingernails.  I gritted my teeth through the pain as mana burned at my body.

I saw a fountain of energy erupt through the orb of light before me, and the spirit took form.  She cycled through her various forms, arriving at last at the form of the wrathful angel.  She was glorious and terrifying to behold.

"Why have you summoned me?" she said.

I went with the truth, which I highly recommend if you ever summon an ally of your own. "I have summoned you to aid me.  I will treat you with respect and you will live with me.  You will know kindness from me and those who love me and you will face horrors alongside me as I go into battle. I will entrust the safety of my loved ones to you and those who serve alongside you.  I will seek your help as I grow in power, we will see much of this world and travel into the metaplanes together.  I will call you 'Lily'."

The spirit was silent for a full minute as it appeared to contemplate what I had said.  "You speak truthfully and have bestowed great gifts unto me as befit the purposes you describe.  Thank you for bringing me forth." Lily changed instantly before me, adopting the form of the Japanese woman.  She stepped from the circle, turned and bowed deeply toward me. "My life is yours, how may I serve you?"

It was 1930 when I came out of the basement.  I introduced Lily to Rose and Aria.  We spent more than an hour explaining certain facts to Lily about our family, my work, and the roundness of Aria's belly.  Aria and Rose had a stew ready which I attacked with a terrible appetite. Lily didn't see a point in eating so Rose ate her bowl for her.

I took a shower, put on my comfortable robe and drifted off to sleep watching anime as Aria, Rose, and Lily were talking in the kitchen over bowls of ice cream.

*****

March 8th, 2060

0745 hours

I walked into my office and found Jazz waiting for me.

"Watcher' doin' Machine?" he asked.

"Another day on the farm, Jazz.  You?" I replied.

"My knee is itchin'.  I think we're flying soon.  You ready this time?"  He was sitting on the edge of my desk, his hands trembling in his lap.  Too much cyberware in his body made him jittery and he always seemed on edge. 

"I was ready last time." I told him. "No one told us the target was possessed."  I locked eyes with him from across the room. "I told Odin those things were almost impossible to destroy.  I meant it."

"Now don' you be bringin' Odin in on this discussion. Chummer is dead now, ain't he. Control brought you in 'cause we need another magic tosser.  I say, what we need is more muscle and bigger guns, but what do I know..." He rose smoothly and stuck his hands in the pockets of his designer trousers.  "Next time you know something that important, speak up.  I don' wanna be joining Odin any time soon."

Jazz walked out of my office. His tailored suit hid what he really was, a heavily cybered piece of street muscle.  He walked out and closed my door behind  him.  I took my seat at my desk, unlocked my drawer and brought out the book on exorcism I had been reading.  I spent the day in the office, reading and waiting for a call that didn't come.

At the end of the day I left the office and climbed into the Euro Westwind my car service sent for me.  I rode home in comfortable silence, my book tucked into my satchel, and my thoughts mulling over Jazz's itchy knee.  I had no idea what my next mission would be but I had to be ready for it. 

When I got home I ate with the family.  Lily didn't seem to take the joy in eating that Rose did but she was learning social cues and Rose was a huge help in that regard.  After dinner I played an AR game with Aria for a while, then spent an hour massaging her aches and a few minutes talking at the twins and feeling a little foot or hand push against my cheek as I lay my ear against Aria's baby bump.  Aria was happy in spite of being physically uncomfortable all the time.  She went to bed before me, with Rose taking on her rottweiler form and taking her usual place on the foot of the bed.

Lily stayed up with me.  I grabbed a burner phone and sent some messages out to my contacts in the shadows. It wouldn't do to disappear and leave your chummers wondering what was going on.  I couldn't tell them about my new work, and I didn't want to.  I sent a message to Roy and asked about making an appointment to pick up some special ammo and getting a custom job done for a new gun.  He responded within an hour and we were able to schedule a meeting time.

I locked up the house, checked the wards, set the alarm, and went to bed feeling a bit restless.  Lilly took on her wolf form and lay on the floor on my side of the bed.  I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.


0315 hours

My pocket secretary rang to tell me I had a call coming in.  I grabbed the wretched thing and immediately recognized the number displayed.  I thumbed the button to answer the call even as I swung out of the bed and headed toward the living room.  Lily and Rose followed after me.

"Machine, this is control.  We are wheels up in forty minutes.  Report to the office immediately."  Samantha Goode's voice was calm, clear, and unyielding.

"Copy that. I'm en-route." I replied.  The call ended before I could hang up. "Rose, stay here and protect Aria and the house.  Lily, you're coming with me dear."

I put on my form-fitting body armor and stuck my burner phone in the Faraday pocket.  I pulled on a clean pair of jeans, my rescue boots, and grabbed my go-bag.  Rose brought my guns to me.  I thanked her and donned my shoulder rig, threw on my armored trench coat and stuck the Colt in the right hand pocket.  I ran back to the bed room and kissed Aria on the forehead, told her I loved her, then ran out into the back yard.

Rose was arming the security panel when I flew away on Lily's back.  Her griffin wings beating the wind as we soared toward downtown.  Lily made use of a spirit power I had included in her design and she shot forward like a rocket, hurtling us toward my office and the task that lay ahead.

*****

March 11th, 2060

0440 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

The helicopter put down on the roof of the building.  I came out of the side door with Lily alongside me.  Tap was on the stretcher between me and Jazz and we ran him to a waiting team of medics.  They took him gently and with far more expertise than I possessed.   Zero was helping Flick across the tarmac behind us as the helicopter's rotors began to cycle down.

Samantha Goode was waiting for us. Her beautiful elven features and dark Amerind skin hid a magical potency that any normal magician would have to envy.  I walked up to her and held out the satchel I carried. "Control, here it is."  She nodded and took the satchel without a word and opened it, looking at the contents within.  I saw a smile spread across her face and began to wonder what I may have unleashed upon the world.

"Excellent work team." She said.  Then turned and walked to the elevator.  Over the beating sound of the helicopter rotors winding down I heard her yell "You can catch the next one!" before the elevator doors closed.

"That woman is gonna get us killed." Jazz was standing next to me, his arm was bandaged where a tear was cut across the sleeve of his armored fatigues.  The bloodstained bandaged was plainly visible and contrasted harshly with the jungle camouflage pattern.

"Let's get Flick looked at.  That thing could have been poisonous." I replied.

Jazz nodded and we joined Zero in walking her to the medics.


0600 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time (Mission Debriefing)

"... after we accessed the ruin, we encountered significant resistance.  The skeletal remains within the structure animated and advanced towards us." I hit a button on the control in my hand and a holo-image appeared in my AR view.  "These images are constructed from the team's body cams.  Notice that the skeletons move without benefit of muscle tissue.  I looked over these things in astral space and noticed the same type of dark spirits as have been encountered on our previous mission."

The scene began playing out before me.  "Jazz deployed the first grenade at this point.  The resulting explosion did tremendous damage to the skeletons, immobilizing the majority of them.  I spent several minutes banishing those entities which had remained.  They appeared to favor the largest intact skeletal pieces, primarily skulls and femurs.  They were difficult to banish, though not as difficult as they are in remains that are intact."  The holo showed a skeletal hand clawing its way toward us and my own outstretched hands as I banished the possessing entity from it.

I looked around the room as the scene played out.  Trap was being seen by doctors and wasn't in the debriefing.  Jazz and Zero sat on either side of Flick while across the table sat Samantha Goode and the ork I knew only as 'Danny'.  Flick was sitting in a wheelchair, her right ankle and knee bandaged up and elevated.  A few minutes passed and I watched myself move through the smoldering wreckage of shattered human remains.  My hands would tremble at times as I worked my will against the possessing spirits.  The people in the room were spared the horror of what I had seen as I looked upon those horrible things.

As the holo advanced to the team crossing the corridor and moving down through the ruins I resumed my narration. "Here we heard something like a voice.  It called out to us though I couldn't understand the language, I understood the communication.  As you can tell by the sound not being registered on the recording, it was a mana based emanation.  Something like the thought voice of dragons or the spirit communication known to summoners."  The voices of the team members sounded their responses.

"What did it say?" Danny asked.

"Join with us and embrace eternity in death, or something similar." I replied.  "The rest of the team may have understood it differently."

"Sounds about right to me," Jazz offered.  Flick and Zero nodded in agreement.

For several minutes we watched the holo play out.  "Here we see the second group of possessed remains.  As you can see, given the success of the first encounter we repeated the methodology.  Grenade out, detonate among the corpses, follow up with banishment."

We watched the third such encounter, then the fourth.  Samantha Goode spoke up, "that must have been quite tiring."

"Very." I replied.  "Following this encounter I called up my ally spirit for support.  As you can see we had not yet made it half-way to our objective."

Several minutes of holo-footage played out.  It looked like an old flatvid horror movie.  The dead came at us from every corridor, through every door, and out of every room.  After thirty minutes, we were falling back to the exposed entrance where we had first entered the ruin.  "We had to fall back for more munitions.  Zero dropped additional munitions, we loaded and re-entered the ruin."

"Can't believe we went back in." Jazz muttered.

"As you can see, we encountered resistance immediately."  I let the holo play out, as dozens of skeletal figures came into view. A ball of fire erupted among the corpses, scorching the stone structure and shattering ancient bones.  "My ally spirit entered combat at this point.  She chose a direct approach. As we moved through the ruin, I had her undertake a more active combatant role."

A jet of flame was seen to lance out at bits of shattered bone.  "Here we see Flick and her spirits engaging.  They proved remarkably effective as well."  Flick sat there, her face unreadable.

I paused the holo for a moment.  "We were doing well, and advanced through the ruins following a similar methodology. Grenades, spells, banishment where need be done.  It was tiring but effective.  If you don't mind I'd like to advance this footage to the central chamber where we encountered the 'thing'."

Samantha Goode nodded her consent.  I cued up the scene and let it run.

We had entered a large tiled chamber.  Nine corpses, each wearing military uniforms and fragments of armor, came surging forward.  Flames shot forward and the corpses seemed to stop to fight invisible opponents. "We recognized the threat the possessed corpses posed and engaged immediately.  Magic and spirits were leveled against the opposition and the fight was fierce.  What we didn't see, however, was the other monster in the room."  As I spoke, a tentacle spotted with scales lashed out and speared through Trap.  His gun dropped to the ground and he was seen to grasp the tentacle that had impaled him.  His scream. a mixture of pain and anger, rang off the walls of the room we were in.  Zero shuddered.

"Jazz engaged the tentacle creature, while Flick and I continued to combat the possessed corpses."  I continued.

"Were you able to recover any of the insignia or ID tags from those corpses?" Danny asked.

"No.  There wasn't anything left of the corpses by the time we were done.  At least, not enough we could go through in the time we had."  I responded.

"Here we see that the tentacle creature was affected to a limited degree by Jazz's weapon fire.  I'm not certain what the creature actually was, but it seemed to be some kind of dual nature being.  It had a physical as well as a terrifying astral presence. Jazz's attack against its physical being was proving effective." I watched as the combat played out before me.  "As Flick's spirits overcame the spirits they were tasked to, they then turned on and engaged the tentacle creature. I assume this was at Flick's command." Flick nodded in the affirmative, her face devoid of expression.

"That's when things changed." Jazz commented. "I was shooting it up and it was lashing out at me. I was staying a step ahead of the tentacles, but when those spirits jumped on it, it switched targets and decided to geek the mage."

The video showed a tentacle lash out and wrap around Flick's leg.  There was a loud snap and Flick screamed.  She fell unceremoniously to the floor of charred fitted stones.  "The tentacle creature's tactics were either deliberate and it picked her as the magician who had sicced the spirits on it, or it was dumb luck and picked one of us at random.  Either way, it shifted its focus to Flick and suddenly things got weird."  Even as I said it my stomach quelled as I saw the skin on Flick's face start to shift and move over her body.  She screamed in pain and I saw her teeth squirm in her mouth. "It took the time to torture her during the fight, and its aura seemed to grow more powerful as it inflicted pain upon her."

I paused the holo and took a deep breath but before I could continue Flick began to cry.  "That wasn't the worst of it.  It was stripping Flick's aura.  I saw it fade as her magical talent was torn free.  Most of it is gone now.  Whether it will return or not remains to be seen."  Flick sobbed shamelessly and I couldn't blame her.  She was, had been, a very powerful magician.  The creature had stripped away her magical talent and grew stronger for it.

"We put everything we had on the creature other than the spirits I used to hold off the remaining possessed corpses. Jazz's weaponry was effective, but we simply didn't have enough firepower on hand to finish it quickly. You'll see the effect for yourself."  I let the holo run through the remainder of the encounter.

Flick screamed as if she was being lowered into Hell itself.  Jazz and I put everything we had against the creature, even as it lashed out with newly grown tentacles.  I remember seeing something bright in Flick's aura dim, then be torn away by the tentacle worrying at her body.  It threw her to the ground as the dim light vanished into its being.  Flick lay screaming on the stone floor in obvious agony.  Fire engulfed the thing as Lily joined the fight. It lashed out at her with every tentacle it had and she deftly dodged them, though several came perilously close to striking her.

When Jazz's AK-97 ran dry he let it fall and cyberspurs sprang from the mounts behind his wrists.  With his first swing he severed one of the creature's tentacles and it howled like the damned.  On the holo it couldn't be heard, but the memory of it echoed in my ears.

I heard myself ordering Lily to grab Flick.  A blink later Flick was floating away, carried off by my ally spirit.  I knew what came next, but watching it play out brought the terror of that moment fresh to my mind, as if it were new and happening right then.  I heard Jazz yell out, "FRAG OUT!!!" then watched the footage as he dashed back through the entrance we came into through, my body cam showing that I was right on his heels.  There was an earsplitting noise and I tumbled down to the cold stone.  I watched the clock on the holo display tick away as I lay there for twenty-one seconds.

"Machine, are you alive?" Jazz's voice, strained and devoid of the usual anger.

"I'm alive." I heard my voice but I don't actually remember responding.

"Think it's dead?" Jazz asked.

"No, but it will be." I had replied.

I closed my eyes to what happened next, but I saw it play out in the memory of my mind's eye.  I walked back into that unholy place, hands alight with barely contained magical energy.  The room was littered with body parts, some of which were still moving.  In the corner of the room where the monster had been was a pile of bodies.  Their faces horrifically contorted and misshapen.  I remember seeing them in the astral, many of them still alive, their souls in tatters from the abuses heaped upon them by the monster.  Of the creature there was no sign, only the aftermath of its existence in our world.

"Jesus." Jazz said behind me.

"He had nothing to do with this."  My voice again.  I sounded flat, cold and detached.  I opened my eyes and watched the end of it.  I saw my hand holding my Viper sliver gun.  I counted the shots as I did the only thing I could do for the 'survivors'.  I fired twenty-one times, putting one round into the skull of each of those poor suffering bastards.

Danny vomited on the meeting room table.

"Is it gone?" I heard Jazz's voice from the holo.

"For now." I replied.

"You're wrong Machine."  Flick said through her tears.  "It's not gone.  It's right here.  It's speaking right now.  Can't you hear it?  Can't you smell it?  It's here and it's going to do the same to all of us."

"Jazz, go get the medics." Samantha's order was softly spoken but no less authoritative.  Jazz got up and walked to the door.

"I'll go get something to clean that up." Zero offered, pointing to the vomit on the once pristine table.

"It's here.  It's going to get us all.  Can't you hear it?!?!" Flick stared at me, her pink eyes wide. "It's here Machine!  It's here!"

I should have seen it coming, but I didn't.  Flick pulled the small backup pistol she kept on her hip and before any of us could stop her she stuck the barrel under her chin and pulled the trigger.  What was left of her aura vanished before her brains splattered on the wall behind her. I heard her soul screaming in terror for several seconds after.

"End of after action report." I said.  Then I turned off the holo.

*****

To be concluded in part six

___________________________________________________________________________


Thank you for reading my fan fiction.   I hope you enjoy this story arc so far. We are nearing the conclusion of 'Rise of the Machine'.   Sometimes in Shadowrun, as in life, you can do all the right things for all the right reasons and still lose.  The important part is in carrying on.

I'd like to dedicate this story to my friend Cameron.  Even in the darkest moment, you can fight your way to the light if you don't give up.  Sometimes you fight alongside your chummers and sometimes you have to fight alone.  Don't give up.

















Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rise of the Machine (Part Four)

"... because fighting vampires at night is stupid." ... Goblin Mike


Saturday February 21st, 2060


0300 hours, local time


Location:  13.950°S 33.700°E (Lilongwe, Malawi)


"Machine, I've got six escorts on the south end with our primary.  Thermal shows cold, confirm targets." Odin's voice whispered in my ear.


I had felt the unnatural presence of vampires since we had touched down in Malawi.  We were surround by the infected everywhere we went.  They hid in plain sight and fed upon the populace of Lilongwe with impunity.  It was a terrible secret that lay hidden just outside the corporate enclaves, and just below the surface of the well bribed government.  I glided to the edge of the building, suspended on a subtle field of levitation magic, and looked down at the group striding across the street toward the capitol building.  Small motes of twinkling lights danced along the six figures escorting the president elect.


"Confirmed.  Six hemophages plus primary." I whispered.  We were thirty meters above street level and I was on my first assignment with a new team.  I opened my astral sight and shuddered at what I saw.  Our primary target, known to the world as president-elect Daniel Wakumbe wasn't metahuman, he was a corpse inhabited by a dark spirit of a kind I had, unfortunately, faced before.  "Drek." I muttered.


"Elaborate." Odin's voice carried a soft but insistent note of command.


"Primary is dead.  The body is inhabited by a possessing entity."  I drifted back from the edge of the from.  "I've seen this kind of thing before.  They are nearly impossible to destroy."


Odin's voice was calm as he whispered, "Control, reference report of Machine. Are we go or no?"


Samantha Goode's voice came through my earbud with the same calm clarity as Odin's. "You are go. Proceed on target."


"Machine, you've got experience on primary so engage same on my mark.  All other units on escorts on my mark." Odin said with a calm I didn't share.


"Zero, confirm same." The ork rigger replied.  He was waiting in an old surplus Osprey at the airport.  His signal boosting blimp drones floating high overhead and watching the scene play out around us.


"Flick, confirm same." The elf woman stood out in any crowd.  A tall albino, with fierce pink eyes, she possessed a potent magical gift.


"Tap, confirm same."  Somewhere down the street the dwarf was watching through the scope of his sniper rifle.


"Lets frackin' do this." Jazz sounded irritated.  He was wired to the gills with more cyberware than I thought any metahuman could carry.  He was fast, jumpy, and usually very pissed off.


"On three." Odin whispered.


I drifted over the edge of the roof and started floating, face down, toward the street.  I kept myself close the building and felt tremendously stupid.  'Why am I fighting vampires and a dark spirit at night?' I asked myself.


"Two." Odin continued.


I readied the spell as the target reached the steps leading up to the capitol building.


"One." Odin's whisper reached my ears.


I released the manaball with everything I had behind it.  My astral sight went white with the flare of mana.  I closed my astral sight, which has always been hard for me to do, just in time to see one vampire's head explode and a second vampire's head come right off its neck.  Seems they had been lined up for one in a million shot from Tap.  The dwarf's rifle hadn't made a sound.   The manaball had hurt the remaining vampires but they reacted quickly and with a horrible professionalism.  Their hands flashed and came up with handguns even as they surrounded the president-elect and started hurrying him up the stairs.


Fire exploded around them, announcing for all the world that Flick had joined the fray.  Plascrete melted and bullets cooked off in the guns carried by vampires.  The world went white from the intensity of the flame that exploded on the steps.  A blink later the flames were gone and only the walking corpse of Daniel Wakumbe remained.  He was untouched by the fire storm, and looked up at me with a terrifying smile.


A chorus of voices sounded in my ear as the team unanimously expressed their surprise that the target was still standing.


"Don't let him touch you." I said grimly.  I sent out the mental call to a pair of fire spirits I had bound just two days before.  "Get him!"


Daniel Wakumbe looked rather dapper.  If you hadn't known what lay below the surface you would swear the man before you was in the prime of life.  It was a lie the spirit driving the corpse put forth to hide the ugly truth.  I was still drifting down, having sent the order to the spirits, as those dead hands rose and pointed at me.


I felt the mana hit me like truck.  My head swam, and I nearly blacked out.  I lost focus on the levitation spell and fell, catching a window ledge by blind, dumb luck.  I lay there, stunned, as Odin and Jazz closed on the monster.  I saw Odin's spear flash forward with a speed and skill that any physical adept would envy.  Daniel Wakumbe caught the haft of the spear in one dead hand and stopped it cold.  Jazz put three rounds from his AK-97 into his chest, to no affect.


"I've got contacts closing on your position people." Zero called out.  There was a note of concern in his voice. "I've got movement, folks with low to no heat hit signatures.  You've got company coming!"


Odin was nearly as large as Little Rickie.  His strength enhanced by his own innate magic.  He jerked at his spear, trying to wrest it from his foe, but the dead man held fast.  "Weapons free!" Odin called out.


"I've got targets," Tap reported. "firing free."


"Hemophages are advancing on Odin and Jazz, going hot." Flick growled.  I saw flame erupt in the street half a block to the north.  A dozen figures were illuminated as fire surrounded her.  Four large fires, each four meters tall, sprang to life beside her.


I pushed myself up to a kneeling position on the ledge. "Machine, sit rep." Zero demanded.


"I'm hurt but I'll live. Engaging target, put everything we have on him." I said.  I raised my hands and looked down at the monster.  It raised its arm and lightning danced from its outstretched hand, catching Odin full in the chest and sending the large troll sailing through the air.


"ODIN!" Jazz's yell echoed off the walls around me.  He sprinted past the monster that held Odin's spear, and slid next to the downed troll.  "Odin is down!"


"Confirmed, I've got flat lines on Odin." Zero reported grimly. "Control, advise."


"Stay on target," Samantha Goode replied.  Her voice was calm, cold and detached.


I could sense scores of vampires closing on our location.  I was the new guy on the team, our team leader was down and I was the only one who seemed to know just how bad our situation was.  Well, other than Samantha who was safe back at the office.  "Zero, go for fire mission.  I'm calling Ragnarock.  I say again, Ragnarock."  I hardened my will, started to rise higher, and rejoined the battle.  "Avante! Avante, dark spirit! Begone demon of the pit!  I rebuke you, I cast you out, begone!" My will, the full force of my magic, slammed into the spirit possessing the dead man like a river hitting a stone.


Daniel Wakumbe rocked back on his heels. A blink later his right arm came off at the shoulder. "Nicked him," Tap called out.


"Control," Zero said grimly "we're requesting authorization for Ragnarock. Please confirm."


Samantha Goode's voice came back clearly.  Her voice in my ear as I held the monster locked in a battle of wills I was certain I was going to lose. "You are go for Ragnarock.  All assets evacuate target area."


On the steps of the capitol building, thirty meters below me, the spirit possessing Daniel Wakumbe's corpse fought my banishing effort with a strength that terrified me.  My fire elementals manifested and engulfed the corpse, burning at it even as it fought against the energies seeking to force it from our world.


A dozen vampires ran out from the building.  Two brought fire extinguishers and started spraying foam at the elementals burning away at Wakumbe. 


"Launching in three seconds, everyone get out of there." Zero called out.


I made it to the top of the building.  "Avante!  I banish you from this place, never to return!"  I called out, my voice laced with magic.  Sweat beaded on me and my nose was bleeding.  The struggle was terrible as the dark spirit possessing Wakumbe held on to the corpse, weathering the damage from the elementals and my efforts to banish it.


"Machine, get clear!" Flick's voice sounded urgent.


I heard the voice of Daniel Wakumbe just as if he had been next to me. "I will not leave this place.  You are pathetically weak little magician.  I will drink your soul dry."


"You ARE leaving!"  I growled.  I floated another ten meters up, continuing my litany against the evil below me. "Begone from this place creature of the pit!"


"Lauching!" Zero called out.  Two miles away a missile dropped and launched from an old Peregrine IV drone Zero had standing by for just such a calamity.  Hell was coming.


"Zero!  I've got Odin, get me some wheels!" Jazz yelled over the comm.  I couldn't spare a glance for him. I had my eyes locked on Wakumbe below.  I kept the pressure on him as my stomach threatened to revolt and gunshots started ringing out below me.  Bullets missed me by inches.


"Detonation in three seconds... two... one"


There was a white light that erupted below me.  Something like a pillow swung by a giant hit me across every inch of my body, throwing me a hundred meters skyward.  My limbs went numb, my lips and gums started bleeding, and the wind was knocked from my lungs.  The capital building's facade shattered, and the building began to collapse even as flames swept through its ruins. A tic later, the street erupted in a fireball as the gas line below the street ruptured and ignited.


The osprey was lifting off from the tarmac as I flew toward it's still open rear door.  Jazz was manning the heavy machinegun swiveling it on its mount as he looked for threats.  "I'm in." I reported.


I heard the props pick up speed and felt the craft lift below me.  Tap and Flick were trying to resuscitate Odin.  I opened my astral sight and saw that he was gone, his aura vanished, leaving only a corpse behind.  I kept my eye on the body, watching for any dark energies that might have tried to take up residence.  Thankfully, his body was left in peace.


We flew on to Cairo.  From there we caught a flight to London and from there a semi-ballistic flight to Seattle.


I walked into my house a little after 0500 hours on February 22rd, spoke with Rose for a few minutes, then climbed into the shower.  I contemplated the bruising that covered my body as the hot water ran over me.  I washed up, took a long look in the mirror, then went to the kitchen where Rose applied a healing spell to me for several minutes.  My bruises faded away, the vision in my right eye cleared up, and the broken bones in my left hand knitted themselves together.


Rose made coffee, eggs, bacon and toast.  I ate quietly so as not to disturb Aria.  With the dishes cleared, I took a seat on the couch.  Rose shimmered and changed into her rottweiler form then lay down on the couch next to me and rested her head in my lap.  I petted her head, rubbed her belly and drifted off to sleep watching an old flat-vid anime.


*****


To be continued in part five


________________________________________________________________________




Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  I am looking forward to telling this part of Tommy's Story, and I hope you are too.


I hope to see you next time for part five!


W.S. Quinton







Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Rise of the Machine (Part three)


Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it ...  ancient proverb


Monday February 16th, 2060

0945 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

I was on the 85th floor of a certain downtown office building.  The receptionist had greeted me warmly.  She had perfectly sculpted elven features, hair the color of molten gold, and radiated professionalism.  I took the seat she had indicated and waited for my appointment.

I was one of several professional looking people in the reception area.  Though I didn't look it, I felt confident that I was the youngest person there.  I was twenty-one, five years into my career as a professional criminal, and waiting on a meeting that would dictate the course of my life for the next twelve months.  I was out of my element, and nervous.

Aria and I had talked over the weekend and into that morning about the contract.  It represented a lot of security through the next year.  The risks worried her.  My 'normal' activities were mostly contracted through her mother, and I had come home with gunshot wounds on more than one occasion.  This Mr. Johnson had sent me on some of the most dangerous jobs I had ever heard of.  Aria's concerns were justified but having a 'legitimate' paycheck of such magnitude would set us up nicely.

I was taking a risk.  That's what Shadowrunners do.

0958 hours

I was escorted to an elevator, up three floors, and then down a lushly carpeted floor to an office at the corner of the building.  The receptionist escorted me to the door, said "Good luck", then retreated down the hall.  The door opened of its own and I walked in, my shoes striking real marble.  The room was spacious, with floor to ceiling windows as the west and north walls.  The east wall held a painting depicting a scene of demons tormenting people in a pit of flames and a low row of shelves holding busts, the bleached skulls of creatures I couldn't identify, and curiosities of many sorts.  The door closed behind me with a barely audible 'click' sound. Mr. Johnson sat behind a desk crafted from dark hardwood, Samantha Goode stood to his right, and an ork gentleman I had never seen before stood at his left.  I opened my sight to the astral plane and found that I was in room lined with powerful wards.

I was well and truly trapped.

I walked over to the desk.  Mr. Johnson rose to his full imposing height and thrust his hand out to me. I shook it and was once again confronted with the sheer power of the man.  He gestured to the one chair on my side of the desk. "Have a seat."  He said with a smile that showed off his perfect teeth.

I took my seat.

Mr. Johnson picked up an old-style paper file from his desk, opened it and glanced down.  "Thomas Michael Gunne:  Aka, Thomas Gunderson, Aka Tim Guthry, Aka Tomy Cannonari, Aka John Deeds, Aka Ash Thomas." He paused for a moment and looked at me, "but more commonly known as Tommy 'the Machine' Gunne.  Age 21. Professional criminal. Suspect in the violent deaths of no less than one hundred and forty-seven people to date, and very much deceased.  Killed when he was struck by a bus while he was fleeing arrest from an off-duty corporate police officer who later demonstrated signs of thaumaturgic mental manipulation.  Seems someone scrambled up her memories."

I sat there listening. Had it really been that many people?

"Known acquaintances: Hiro Horibe, Aka 'Pepper', Deceased;  Susanne Abigail Swiftwater, Aka "Sue", Deceased; {redacted}, Aka 'Angel', Active; Sheila X, real name 'Unknown', Active; Samantha Rodriguez Alvarez, Aka 'Suzy B', Deceased;  Tanyin Great-Bear, Aka 'T-Bone', Deceased; George Washington Brown, Aka 'Gitti', Deceased; Edward Leslie Connor, Aka 'Edgy Ed', Deceased; Wilbur Worthington the fourth, Aka 'Crank', Active; Bruce Parker-Kent, Aka 'Creep', Active; Jefferson Lane Smith PHD, Aka 'Shade', Active; Ricardo Montoya, Aka 'Little Ricki', Active; James Oliver/John Oliver/ Joseph Oliver... no known aliases... all deceased."  Mr. Johnson read off the names with a calm, non-threatening voice.  I did a quick head count and acknowledged that most of those 'deceased' runners had died on jobs I had taken from him. "And that is just in the last five years.  You've been a very busy man."

I nodded in what I thought was a thoughtful way. "I have been, yes."

"For a man who doesn't take wet-work against metahumans, you've killed a lot of them."  Mr. Johnson commented. He closed the file and handed it to Samantha.  "None of that means anything to me. Danny?"

The ork was immaculately dressed, looked strong enough to throw me out the window if need be, and had a distinguished look some men are lucky enough to age into.  "Mission evaluations indicate he has succeeded on slightly more than ninety percent of the operations he has undertaken.  With only one op we're aware of in the last twelve months that he didn't complete."

Mr. Johnson nodded and looked at me. "Care to comment?"

"No." I replied.  "I'm afraid client information is confidential."

He laughed at that.  "Danny, what can you tell me?"

Danny's face took on a look as if he had tasted something quite sour. "Not much, I'm afraid. An operation with Worthington, and the ganger we're still looking at.  {Redacted} was spotted at the hotel in Missoula with him as was Connor.  I believe they abducted a girl while they were there, and they may have been involved in a fire fight that destroyed an old strip mall, but they managed to get out of town undetected." 

"So, you kidnapped a little girl." Mr. Johnson looked at me, his expression unreadable.

"As I said, client information is confidential."  I looked back at him.  My astral sight still showed him as completely mundane.  Samantha's aura shown brightly, and she was clearly not trying to conceal her power.  She was watching me as well and I could see power gathered about her.  Danny was faint, full of cyberware, and tremendously confident. 

"I can respect that, but I don't have to like it.  While you're working for me you will not freelance." Mr. Johnson explained.  "I have the contracts for you.  Take a look at them, have your attorney look them over, and get them back to me, signed, before noon tomorrow."

Danny walked over and handed a thick file to me.  I opened it and glanced over the first page. "I'll be back tomorrow.  If there are any changes that need to be made, I'll have my guy draft a new version.  One thing though."  I looked over at Mr. Johnson. "Why offer me a year-long contract?  Why not just take things one job at a time?"

Mr. Johnson smiled at me. "I'm afraid that information, is confidential."

I took the contract to my attorney who called in two other attorneys to go over the fine print with him.  I ended up with a six thousand nuyen bill, and a contract I could live with.  I had a couple of points stricken from the contract regarding my healthcare coverage for my family (I'm keeping DocWagon, thank you), ritual sample submission, and waved the retirement /pension plan they offered to begin should I seek to renew my employment contract.  Oddly enough, I wasn't forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement. After all these years such an agreement wouldn't have been valid anymore anyway.

The next day I was at the office at 0900 and was in front of Mr. Johnson and Samantha Goode by 0930.   Four signature lines later, I was a full-time employee with a ridiculously large salary and an office located on the 87th floor.  My office was in a section of the building no one seemed to be using but looks were deceiving.  There were four other people with offices on that floor.  Each had a call sign on their door, as names are precious.  The name on my office door read "The Machine".

*****

To be continued in part four

____________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

I hope you enjoy Tommy's Story as I take you through his many adventures as a Shadowrunner.  It is a great pleasure of mine to recount these old stories and to share them with you. 

Sinopa Publishing LLC operates out of Frankfort, Kentucky and is the company I release my commercial work through.  I have published role playing game material for the 5th Edition game mechanic (not Shadowrun, unfortunately) and I'm currently developing my own RPG game as well.  I fund art for my projects through crowdfunding efforts, mainly on Kickstarter.  You can follow me on KickStarter HERE  to see my projects go live.

I hope you'll join me again for part four.

W.S. Quinton














Monday, June 25, 2018

Rise of the Machine (Part Two)

"Choosing the lesser evil is merely the first step on the road to damnation" ... Creep ~ Shadowrunner and hermetic magician.

February 14th, 2060

1432 Hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

The waiter left me alone with the wall panel.  My temper was flaring as I tapped the blinking button.

"Charles, it's been far too long." Mr. Johnson said with a perfect smile.  His salt and pepper hair looked just as I remembered it but his eyes had more grey in them and less blue, like the sky as a storm rolls in.  "Sorry to bother you but we need to talk."

I don't have ice water in my veins.  Many shadowrunners want you to think they do.  At that moment though, my blood ran cold.  I thought furiously, my temper suddenly quenched. "It has been quite a while.  How have you been?"

"Rather busy I'm afraid, Charles."  He spoke smoothly, like we were old chummers shooting the breeze. "I'm going out tonight for dinner.   You should join me.  Bring Aria, I'd love to catch up."

Somewhere, deep inside me, that little flame of anger shook off the cold fear that gripped me.  I felt the muscles in my face clench. "I'm afraid Aria and I already have plans.  Could we reschedule?"  Being angry shouldn't make you stupid.  Don't loose your temper with Mr. Johnson when he has a powerful magician on his payroll.

"Oh Charles, I insist.  Please do come on out and join us.  Eye of the Needle, nine o'clock.  Don't be late."  With that the connection broke.

I returned to my table with my best fake smile.  I'm sure it didn't fool Aria for a second, but it kept appearances up for the rest of our lunch date.  We talked and laughed, and watched the otters play over lunch.  I didn't talk to Aria about the call until we got home.

*****

February 14th, 2060

2055 Hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

Aria and I stepped off the elevator and were met by the same Maitre D' I had always seen at the Eye of the Needle.

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

"C.U. Thomas for the Johnson table." I responded.  My tone was, perhaps, a bit short.

"Very well. Your table is ready.  This way please."  Aria took my arm as we followed the Maitre D' to a table near the center of the restaurant.  "Your waiter will be with you shortly."

Mr. Johnson and Samantha Goode arrived as the waiter was taking Aria's order, "All organic ice cream only, no artificial sweeteners." Aria told him.  We both rose and shook hands, Aria with Samantha and myself with Mr. Johnson.

"Charles, it is so good to see you.  Aria, charming as always."  He spoke through a broad, perfect smile. "Glad you could make it."

Samantha Goode looked stunning.  That night she wore a white dress {though Aria later informed me it was a gown... I still don't know the difference} with gold brocade along the shoulders and bust.  Gold studs graced her ears, and a gold bracelet held a large moonstone at her wrist.  She smiled easily at Aria. "You're positively glowing dear.  Congratulations on your child."

"Children actually." Aria replied.  "It's my first pregnancy, and I hit the jackpot.  Two for one. Do you have any children, Samantha?"

Samantha's Goode's smile faltered for a blink, "No, I'm afraid I haven't managed that miracle yet."

"It's miserable.  Your hormones hate you, your emotions go nuts, and everything seems out of sorts." Aria smiled then as she put her hands to her growing baby bump. "But then they kick you for the first time, and it seems like all the world lines up."

"Charles, how have you been?"  Mr. Johnson asked. 

"Dreadfully busy.  So many duties to fulfill.  I'm sure you can relate." I replied.

"Quite right, the world moves at such a fierce pace.  So many things to do, goals to accomplish, it is difficult unless you have good people working with you."  Mr. Johnson took a drink of his bourbon. "Kentucky bourbon, best drink you can get east of the Tir.  Have you picked names for the twins yet?"

I felt damned uncomfortable talking about my twins, but it is always best to not show fear in front of predators. "We have a few ideas we're still mulling over.  Do you and Samantha have any other plans for the holiday?"

"Holiday?" Mr. Johnson asked.  His face wore a questioning look.

"It is Valentines Day." Samantha interjected. "A holiday for romantic celebrations."

"Ah. I see." Mr. Johnson replied. "We do have other business tonight. I'll not bore you with the details."

"Sounds charming." Aria muttered.

Samantha busied herself with her salad for a moment.  Mr. Johnson continued, seemingly not concerned at Aria's response.  "Charles, I'll come right out and ask this.  What would it take to get you to work for me?  A full time position."

I hadn't seen this coming. "What type of position?"

His smile broadened. "Trouble shooter."

"I would prefer to be a contractor, but thank you." I told him.

"Now, now.  Humor me.  What would it take?  I can't imagine you plan on working out of Redmond for the rest of your life.  Now with children coming, I would think a young man of your intellect had been thinking of his future."  He took another drink of his bourbon. "Come on now, what would it take?"

I took a drink of my ice water then looked at Aria.  She was glowing, and she looked very worried. I thought about the twins, about the people I knew in the Shadows, and all the death I had seen.  I thought about Pepper and his family.  "Honestly?" I asked.

"Of course," he answered.

I took a breath and looked him right in his stormy eyes. "I would want to be able to choose the trouble I shoot. I want to be home every night possible.  I want to retain my citizenship and my rights.  I want the freedom to pursue my own interests without a corp telling me that my discoveries were theirs.  I want to live where I want and how I want." I took another, slow breath and continued. "And I would want five million a year."

Samantha Goode started to choke on a bite of her salad.  Aria was strangely still.  Mr. Johnson nodded, knowingly.  His expression made me think that he had expected my response or something very similar.  I saw a thin trail of smoke snake out of his right nostril, and a horrible thought crossed my mind.  Mr. Johnson looked right back at me, "Thank you Charles. Why don't you come down to my office, and we'll start the paperwork.  Contract for one year work for you?"

I felt as if my soul were screaming at my numb brain.  "You're offering me a year long employment contract on those terms?"  I asked him.

"Oh yes I am.  I'll have the contracts drafted by Monday morning.  I hope to see you in the office, say ten o'clock?"  He looked very pleased with himself as he finished his bourbon.

I looked at Aria, who looked stunned. Samantha had a stone faced expression. For just a moment I thought I smelled brimstone.  Every man has his price.  Mine, for that contract, was five million.

*****

To be continued in part three ....

_____________________________________________________________________


Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  Rise of the Machine is broken down into small components and will be released over the coming weeks.  I hope you enjoy it!

Presently, I'm working on completing the formatting of my latest RPG source book "The Steel Road" which was successfully funded on KickStarter.  In the late summer of this year (2018) I'll be bringing another book to KickStarter "Whispers of Persephone" which is a RPG source book of Necromancy for the 5th Edition game mechanic.  I hope you'll check it out on KickStarter when that campaign launches.

I want to thank you all for reading about Tommy, and the adventures he had.  I look forward to telling the rest of the tale.

W.S. Quinton





Friday, June 22, 2018

Rise of the Machine (Part One)

"For among all things which a man will struggle for, none are as powerful as love.  A man devoted to peace will take up arms and destroy all, and even himself, gladly for the sake of love.  Beware the man who loves fiercely, for his wrath is surpassed only by God's." ~ attributed to various philosophers over the course of written human history....



February 14th, 2060

0800 hours

Aria was in the bathroom while Rose and I were fixing breakfast.  I was sore, aching from being shot by a chummer of mine.  Rose looked at me with curious eyes. I was brooding, sore, and had not slept well.  My dreams were plagued by Edgy Ed's emotionless face, his light blue cybereyes, and reliving the moment he shot me.

"I will miss Gitti," Rose said. "He liked you, I think."

I felt a wince of pain that had nothing to do with my new scars. "I think he did too, Rose.  I'll miss him."

"Why did Ed kill him?" Rose was asking a sensible question.  A question I didn't have an answer for.

"I don't know baby girl." I told her. "I doubt I'll ever know.  Maybe he was double crossing us for the money.  Maybe he had a grudge we didn't know about.  Maybe he went insane. I just don't know."

"Will we stop working for a time?"

I paused in my tracks at that jewel of a question.  I had a family to support, a marriage to pay for, and made my living as a professional criminal.  "It may be a good idea to lay low for while.  If Ed went over because of money, or the statue, I don't want to be waving my hands around asking for people to spot me."

Rose seemed to take that in for a moment.  Then said, "I can do the jobs.  I can make the money for the paying of the bills."

I felt a smile grow on my face in spite of my dour mood.  "I don't think I want that for you, Rose. Or for the twins for that matter. I think we'll only go out in pairs.  If I leave you here to watch the family, I'll take as many other spirits as I can."

Rose's response caught me off guard. "Then you should call forth more allies.  More powerful spirits like me.  There is room in the house, and I can help teach them the living skills."  She brought over a skillet filled with sizzling sausage links and began plating them.

"With two babies it would be wise to have more help.  Ed showed me that people cannot always be trusted. But you treat me well, and I know you will treat others well too." Rose, paused and looked up at me. "I can help with Aria, another to help with the babies would be wise.  You should also summon another powerful spirit to go to work with you and keep you safe.  Myself and the others would stay and help Aria; and if people, dark spirits, drones, or monsters of any sort come to harm the family, we will kill them."

There wasn't any malice in Rose's words.  She was stating something she considered a fact.

Aria came in, and we all sat for a nice breakfast.  I thought for a long time about Rose's suggestion.


1400 hours ~ Happy Valentines Day ~

Aria and I were enjoying a late lunch at the Gray Line.  We had a table on the lower floor, and were among only a handful of couples there.

"All the ambiance, none of the gun play this time?" Aria chided.

"That wasn't my fault." My feigned indignation brought a smile to her face.  Rose was close by in the astral plane, watching us for any signs of magical assault.  {I'm not paranoid, just cautious!}  Our table was near the glass and we could see divers in the water clearing the trash that had washed in too close to the restaurant.  We watched an otter swim over and swat at the bubbles floating up from one diver's mask.  It was incredibly fun to watch, and brought a smile to Aria's face.

"We need to get something for Rose too." Aria suggested.

"Good idea.  I think she'll like that."  I smiled and thought about what Rose had brought up earlier. "Which reminds me, Rose said something to me today.  I think you'll want to hear about this."

Aria sipped at her ice water. "Okay, but let me pee first." She stood and walked toward the ladies room.  She was four months into the pregnancy and her walk was changing toward the pregnancy 'waddle' I had read about.  I thought it was cute.  I sent a mental message to Rose to keep an out for trouble, and ordered another lemonade as the waiter passed by.

I was alone at the table when my pocket secretary beeped.  I didn't recognize the number.

"Not today." I said, and silenced the pestiferous little device.

Aria rejoined me after a few minutes, and our salads arrived a tic after that.  I wasn't pressed for time so I didn't bother bringing up other ally spirits. "a conversation for another day" I told myself.  The food was good and we ate and talked, enjoying our lunch date.  Aria had just told me a really funny (and very dirty) joke that had me laughing in my seat, when the waiter walked up to us.  "Sorry if I'm loud, the lady is quite entertaining." I said.

The waiter smiled, "Not at all Mr. Gun.  There is a call for you on the house unit, would you care to take it?"

My laughing stopped and I saw sparks dance at my fingertips.  I hadn't made reservations as 'Mr. Gun'.   Aria's hands quietly slipped beneath the table.

"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage," I replied.  "Who is trying to reach me?"

"I wouldn't know sir."  the waiter responded.  He seemed suddenly very nervous at the sight of me. "Shall I forward the call or would you like to use the house unit?"

I looked to Aria, "I'll be right back."  To the air I said, "Rose, I need you please."

Rose shimmered into existence.  She was a beautiful dog, broad and strong looking.  She looked up at me expectantly. "Rose, protect Aria." I said.

The waiter started to say something, but I fixed him with my best glare. "She's not a real dog. She's the most powerful spirit you are ever likely to see."  With that I walked with the waiter to a wall panel behind a discreet divider.

A call was waiting for me.

*****

To be continued in part two ....

__________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  This story is broken in to smaller parts and will be told over the coming weeks.  I hope you'll enjoy the telling.

I want to thank all of you who supported my KickStarter campaign for The Steel Road.  Your support is very much appreciated.

I want to thank Russell Zimmerman for his kind words of encouragement and his support during the KickStarter campaign.  You can read his Shadowrun novels "Shaken" and "Neat" which are available on Amazon.  I think they are really great.