Thursday, August 16, 2018

Operation Emerald: Part Three ~ Drowning in Darkness

You see things from the shadows.  As you lurk in darkness, those secrets playing out before you are illuminated.  Secrets come into your possession and are passed onto Mr. Johnson for whatever token sum you have agreed to.  Some secrets are so terrible that they haunt your dreams and fuel your nightmares.  Brace yourself before you enter the shadows, because you'll never be the same.... Thomas Michael Gunne
___________________________________________________________________


November 20th, 2060

0715 hours, operational area local time


Dredging out the salt had revealed faint drill lines in the salt bed of Lac Assal. Creep's idea of mapping the cylinder had been fruitless as the drill marks were too faint to have been revealed from our ultrasound scan.  The cylinder we dredged free had been dug out then backfilled at some time in the past.  At fifteen minutes after seven on the morning of November twentieth, we reached a scratched stainless-steel plate, its surface adorned with symbols warning of radiological and biological hazards. Engraved beneath the symbols, in English, French, Somali and Arabic were warnings of an unspecified danger of radiological and biological contagion. A seal of the Djibouti National Gendarmerie was prominently embossed across the top of the plate with the year 2001, beneath it. We sent down a aquatic drone equipped with a dosimeter and collected samples from the water and dense salt pack around the plate. The same drone attached sensors to the plate itself, before surfacing and being collected for analysis by Sherlock and Simon.


0830 hours, operational area local time

"Control, this is Machine." I said into my comm.  Simon had set up a secure satellite link directly back to the office.

"Standby for Control." A male voice replied.  I recognized it as belonging to an ork gentleman I knew only as 'Danny'.

"Understood." I replied.  I sat, the water from Lac Assal rapidly evaporating from my wet suit and leaving a grey-green film of salts deposited across my body.  My tent was cool in the early morning hour.  Rose hugged me, then vanished into the astral plane carrying a message back to Aria for me.  I powered up my tablet computer and kept an eye on the reading from the sensors I had attached to the metal plate we had uncovered below the lake. I didn't have to wait long.

"Machine, this is Control." Samantha's voice came over the comm clearly.  "Report."

"Authenticate per mission order." I replied.  The data I had was important enough that I wanted to make certain it was Samantha and not someone spoofing her voice.

Her words came back without hesitation. "Aria likes my dress."

"Confirmed. Sending data from Simon now."  I hit a button on the tablet and transmitted the sensor data stream as well as image files we had collected from the dredging and of the plate that had been exposed. "Someone's been here before. Seal looks legit from what Simon can dig up from here.  We have no trace of radiation and no sign of any contaminate leak in the area surrounding the plate."

"Have you done any astral reconnaissance beyond this seal?" Samantha asked.

"No. If there is a radiological threat, I didn't want to dive down into it."  I replied. "There is also the difficulty of projecting down under the lake to consider."

"Understood. Cap the drill hole, pump out the water and set up an airlock. I need information on the status beyond that seal.  Materials are on the way."  Samantha issued her orders but information about what was going on seemed particularly scarce.

"Copy that, what can you tell me about what's down there?" I asked.

"Nothing over this line.  I'll be arriving with the materials.  We'll talk face to face."  she said.

I shook off the shock of that announcement and replied. "Bring sunscreen and water.  See you shortly."


1323 hours, operational area local time

I didn't see or hear the Osprey land. There was a brief windstorm that blew in from the east, carrying salt-dust that stung every inch of exposed skin. Suddenly the wind stopped and a second Osprey was sitting fifty meters from our camp, its rotors winding down to a stop.  Jazz reacted by shouldering a rocket launcher and calling out an alarm. He held his fire as Samantha Goode came marching down the ramp at the back of the craft.  I pulled my Zeiss binoculars and saw her wave her hand before the aircraft vanished from my sight.

Samantha walked toward our camp alone.  When she was twenty meters away she called out, "Machine! Report!"

I walked out to meet her.  "Neat trick." I said. "Air and earth spirits working together to conceal your arrival?"

"Of course." she replied. "With a bit of invisibility thrown in for good measure."

"I'll keep that in mind. I can have the team unload supplies as soon as you're ready for them." We were two meters apart, standing under the blazing sun atop a crusty patch of salt strewn earth.  She was as beautiful as ever.  Her amerind-elf features gave her an air of unearthly grace and concealed a level of magical power I had rarely witnessed.  I held a mixture of professional respect and raw fear of her ability close in my mind.

"Wait until nightfall. No sense in taking any more chances than necessary. Plus, you have some reading to do."  Samantha patted the satchel she wore at her side and gestured back to the area where her Osprey had vanished. "Shall we talk?"

I walked back with her, vanishing from sight as I passed through the concealment effects of her spirits.  The Osprey was devoid of any other people.  I walked up the ramp and heard it start to rise behind me.

"Remotely rigged?" I asked.

"No. I flew it here."  Samantha showed me the commlink resting in the palm of her hand.  "Remote control app.  Nothing so fancy.  Fewer people involved the better."  She took a seat atop a crate, dug into her satchel and handed me an old-style paper file. "It's a copy.  The original is too valuable to lug around.  I made this last night then melted down the copier.  Your eyes only and no one, and I mean no one ever learns of this."

{You sort of disobeyed that order. ~ Angel}
{I don't work for them anymore and like I said before, for some reason there wasn't a non-disclosure agreement in my contract. ~ T}
{Clumsy of them.~ Angel}
{No. They didn't expect me to survive.~ T}

I looked down at the file.  CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY was blazoned above an eagle head and shield symbol floating above UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The colorful logo was centered on the file with red lettering above it reading "TOP SECRET" and "DO NOT COPY" below it.  I opened the file and was confronted by a stack of pages, each bore the title "Operation Emerald" across the top of each document. I sat down on the deck and began to read.


1625 hours, operational area local time

It took almost three hours to read through the file, pausing periodically to glance up at Samantha as she watched me.  She refused to answer any question I had, only pointing me back to the file and saying, 'Everything I know is in there.'  I read and followed the documents as they cross-referenced each other.
_____


Operation Emerald (Cross referenced under redacted notations from Project Stargate, declassified in part and made publicly available in 1995) had begun in 1977.  The new government of Djibouti had received monetary incentive from the old US and had accepted a presence at Camp Lemonier.  In August of 1977, CIA field supervisor Nathan Johnson (I'm not making this up, yes, the CIA had a 'Mr. Johnson' in the area) launched an investigation of reports of KGB backed Communist insurgents using the Lac Assal regional caverns to hide out in.  Field agents reported finding several dead bodies that showed signs of disfigurement that were (at the time) attributed to some unknown disease.  It was noted that the corpses had been partially devoured but the animal responsible had not been identified. Subsequent searches of the area found badly decomposed bodies that were eventually matched to missing persons from the surrounding area as well as some persons who had been reported as kidnapped from rural areas. Field supervisor Johnson managed to get local government assets to investigate, but nothing conclusive was found and the investigation was closed in July of 1980. 

In April of 1984, field supervisor Johnson requested satellite time for surveillance over Lac Assal following the disappearance of a bus full of tourists.  Citing lack of strategic significance, his request was denied.  In October of that same year, the bus was found in a sinkhole, five miles from Lac Assal.  There was no trace of any of the missing tourists, though the interior of the bus was badly damaged and dried blood was found splattered about.  Property belonging to several of the tourists was found in 1989 when elements of the Djibouti first special forces were conducting training exercises near caverns in the Lak Assal region.  Those forces reported coming under attack by a hideously deformed person that assaulted them barehanded, clawing and biting.  Photos of the deformed corpse closely resembled those deformed bodies found in '77.

Johnson sent a pair of forensic scientists along with the investigators who followed up on the incident.  The investigators discovered human remains scored with bite marks which were believed to have come from the deformed assailant.  While investigators were scouring the caverns, two of the soldiers who had been injured in the assault, sickened and died.  Their bodies were quarantined then incinerated.  The assailant's corpse was determined to be diseased and potentially contagious and was likewise incinerated.

Dozens of documents followed showing images of grossly deformed persons.  Each attached to incident of violence, outbreak of disease, and carefully concealed stories of cannibalism.  Photos of deformed corpses appeared as if a progression of some dreadful disease.  I saw strange elongations of teeth and jaws, fingernails blackening and taking on the appearance of talons, and milky cataracts forming and becoming more pronounced as years went by.

In 1997 a village was burned down, the official story being an outbreak of swine flu that had killed everyone.  The truth, according to the file, was that the village had been attacked by a group of deformed cannibals who had killed everyone and were found feasting on the corpses. The cannibals were killed, photos of their corpses showed scabrous skin, pronounced pointed teeth and talons.  They looked like people who were infected with, and showing advanced signs of, the Kreiger strain of the human metahuman vampiric virus.

Satellite images from 2000 revealed what looked like a structure hidden beneath the lake bed of Lac Assal.  Given the rising strategic importance of Djibouti and the periodic appearances of what were deemed 'mutated' humans, the CIA sponsored a dig to the site under the guise of researching geothermal power generation.  A drill rig was brought in, and a hole drilled down through the lake bed to the bedrock.  A submerged station was built over the drill hole, and water pumped out.  The remaining excavation was done from the station.

Dozens of pages were missing from the file and were referenced in the later documents as "the Dying Light Incident".  What was left was a list of casualty numbers and expenses related to sealing the drill site and removal of all traces of its existence.
_____


"Ghouls." I looked at Samantha, tension growing in my jaws. "They found ghouls, years before the awakening. Some sort of spike in the local mana field, or maybe some infected bit of bone and then we have these periodic outbreaks." 

"That's what I concluded as well." Samantha replied.

"Where is the file on the Dying Light incident?" I asked.

"Missing.  No idea where it is or what became of it."  Samantha fixed me with a dire look.  "Are you detecting any ghouls in the area?"

"No.  Not since that first night." I held out the file to her her.  "Why are we here?"

"Satellite image mentioned in the file. Recent fly over did a higher resolution scan and it shows a far more extensive structure than was initially believed.  Easily as big as the one in Laos."  Samantha glided off the crate and took the file from me. "You're here to find out what is down there.  With these images it looks like there were ghouls showing up before the awakening.  Spikes in mana field or random infection, who knows? But you have a lot of experience fighting ghouls and you and the team have experience with old ruins.  That's why you're here."

"So, you're sending us down under the bottom of a lake to investigate.  Into a place where I'll certainly find tons of things waiting to kill and eat us."  I felt my face getting hot even as I bit back my rising ire. "What are you hoping is down there?"

"Keep your eyes open for any items carrying an aura attached to them.  Focus items, enchanted bits, or anything with writing on it."  Samatha smiled easily.  "Don't fret over it Tommy. This is why you make the big money."

The team and I offloaded the equipment under cover of darkness.  Samantha took off in silence, her passage concealed by another freak windstorm.  Sherlock, Jazz, Ding and I moved the equipment out to the lake and into the water. It took two days to set up the seal over the hole and to assemble the airlock.


*****

November 22nd, 2060

2015 hours, operational area local time

It had taken seven hours to pump the water out of the hole and to stabilize the air pressure.  I opened the air lock and peered down the fifteen-meter deep shaft.  The odor of chlorine stung my nose.

"Rose, please tell Aria you're leaving to help me with something, then tell her I say, 'I love you' and then please come to me." My thought voice stretched out through the metaplanes and reached my ally spirit in Seattle.

"Certainly. Shall I tell Jasmine and Violet anything for you?"  Rose's question tugged at my heart as I found myself wondering what I may have missed during the few days I had been away.

"Just tell them that daddy loves them, please." I turned my attention back to the shaft below me.  Fifteen meters down was a steel plate that was meant to seal away whatever lay beyond.  I unsealed waterproof gear bag and holstered my S&W500(tm) Magnum. The big pistol's weight was oddly reassuring.  "Ghouls.  Dark hole under a dead lake.  Rampant magical energies all over the place.  What could possibly go wrong?" I said to the empty airlock.

"Say again, Machine?"  Simon's voice came over the speaker on the wall.

"Disregard.  Just thinking out loud Simon."  I replied.

Rose appeared next to me.  "This is a strange place."

"I agree.  Trust me, it's about to get even stranger."  I briefed Rose about what I had learned in the Operation Emerald file through the telepathic link we share.  I didn't want anyone listening in on that conversation, and I didn't want to worry Simon. 

"You expect to find monsters below us.  If they are there, I will do violence."  Rose's thought voice didn't hold any malice.  She was simply stating the facts as she knew them. Her presence was reassuring, and I began to believe I would survive the day.

"You are correct.  I want to ask you to do something that is very dangerous.  If you're afraid to do it, let me know and we'll find another way." Rose contemplated me as the thoughts raced between us. "I want you to go down there and materialize on the other side of that metal plate.  Look around and let me know what lies beyond.  If you run into anything dangerous I want you to run away, back to me, as quickly as you can."

"You are afraid for me?" Rose's voice drifted into my mind.

"I'm always afraid when I send you or Lily to fight.  You're more than a weapon, you're my daughter." I hugged Rose, my powerful ally spirit, my first daughter. "I'm sorry that I keep bringing you into these situations."

Rose smiled at me. "You don't have to be sorry.  We are family and family protect each other."  With that, she vanished into the astral plane and drifted down the shaft.  She passed through the steel plate effortlessly.  "There is power here."

I closed my eyes  and focused on what Rose was seeing.  There was a cavern beyond the steel plate.  All around her the stone pulsed with the power of the Earth.  It was a natural formation, deep and wide.  Rose materialized, her senses seeing ribbons of power through the rock, and a profound darkness that swallowed her up.  Water had created a thin, ten-centimeter long, ribbon of salts that descended from the roof of the cavern at one corner of the steel plug above her.  A ball of light sprang to life in her hand, pushing back the darkness to bring the cavern into view. 

Fragments of bone littered the floor of the cavern.  Rose drifted down, looking over the remains.  I saw old shell casings scattered among splintered bone fragments, the brass thick with green corrosion. "There was violence." Rose reported.

"Do your spells detect any ghouls in the area?"  I checked my own spell enhanced senses and felt nothing.

"No." Rose reported. She continued to move among the remains.  Old corroded weapons, shell casings, and bullet impacts along the cavern walls hinted at a desperate fight.  "Something dreadful happened here. Terror lingers in these bones."

"Be careful. Find any openings that may exit out of the cavern."  I began dictating notes as I sat there exploring the cavern through Rose's senses.  There was a strange odor to the place.  The only sounds were the rare drip of water on stone.  It was hot down there, though Rose weathered it without complaint.

"There are no skulls.  Is that significant?" Rose asked. There were broken bits of leg and arm bones, splintered ribs, scattered vertebrae, fractured bits of pelvis, and tiny pieces of bone from hands and feet were strewn all about the cavern.  There were no skulls or jaw bones to be seen.

"Yeah, that means something, though I don't know what." I confessed.

Minutes stretched by until Rose found a tunnel that opened along the cavern wall.  Its walls were polished smooth and seemed to be cut from the living rock.  It was tall and broad enough to drive a large vehicle through it and it stretched on into darkness beyond the range of Rose's orb of light. The tunnel seemed to bore down deeper into the Earth.

"This is the direction toward the ruins you mentioned." Rose's said. "No monsters have come forth."

"Okay, come on back baby-girl.  Next time you go down there I'm going with you."  I keyed my commlink.  "Simon link me to Control."

I briefed Samantha on my findings. I planned to take things cautiously as there were simply too many happenings in the past which alarmed me.  "Creep and I will do a thorough astral recon in the morning.  After that, I'll make the call as to whether we breach the seal or not."  I told her.  Samantha had agreed and cut our conversation short with a simple. "Understood."

I sent a telepathic message to Lilly.


2130 hours, operational area local time

The airlock cycled and Creep entered the cramp confines.  "For the record, this sucks Machine." he said.

"Agreed.  Let's get to it." I said. I lay my head against the bulkhead and slipped away from my physical body.  At the other side of the airlock, less than two meters away, Creep lay down and slipped free of his own body.  Six of his demon-women fire elementals appeared around him in an instant. Beside me Lily's face wrinkled in distaste, while Rose seemed unconcerned.  The demons smiled at us. 

Creep's astral form leered unashamedly at his demons.  "Looking really hot today, ladies." He laughed at his own joke for a moment.  The demon-women tittered along with him, a melody of soft voices tinged with madness reached my senses. 

I dove down through the deck, plunged down the cylinder we had dredged through lake bed, and passed through the steel plate into the cavern beyond.  Rose and Lily stayed nearby as I flew over to the tunnel carved in the rock.  Creep and his demons followed close behind.  "Creep, the girls and I are going to move on ahead.  I want you to take a look around the cavern and standby in case I need help.  If you don't hear from me in an hour, come get me."

"Understood. We'll hold things down out here.  Scream if you need us." Creep's astral formed smiled. One of his demons jumped suddenly as he swatted her bare rump.  Lily, Rose and I drifted off down the tunnel leaving the madman and his demons behind.

"The rock is dead, lifeless.  Someone has cut the heart out of it." Lily whispered.

"That may work to our advantage as it should be easy to see a living aura against that dark backdrop. It would be harder to pick out against the natural stone of the cavern."  I told her. "Something is down here.  Maybe it doesn't know we're here yet, or maybe it's hiding and waiting for an opportunity to strike, I don't know.  Something killed those people in the cavern though, so stay alert."

We moved down the tunnel and found a steep slope at the end.  It took me a moment to realize I was looking at a broad stairway that had been carved from the living rock.  We floated down, passing into a new cavern that stretched high overhead.  Before me stood rows of intangible, grey stone.  Strange shapes alight with mana energy floated near the ceiling, like boats buoyed by an invisible tide.  I realized the rows of stone were buildings, arrayed along streets that formed strange patterns only seen from the air. 

We soared over the ruins.  The strange shapes floating near the ceiling were long bits of stone impregnated with magic that held them aloft.  They were huge, as large as city buses, and appeared to be shaped like boats.  Below us the streets were flooded in murky water.  Magic energy pulsed through the ruin, flickering through buildings and charging the air, earth and water.  I didn't see any living auras.

I had only explored part of the first street I encountered when Rose said, "It has been nearly an hour.  We should let the wretched magician know we are well."

"Right." I looked around, my curiosity doing battle with the dread I had felt since diving down through the seal.  "Let's go get Creep."

I had turned to head back when a giant scabrous hand erupted from the water below us and grasped Rose's ankle.  I jumped in surprise and brought my hands up to cast a spell.  Rose was plunged under the water before I got the first bit of mana together.  "SISTER!" Lily's scream echoed in the astral plane, reverberating against the currents of mana in the water beneath us.  She dove into those heady currents after Rose, with me close on her heels.

*****

Thank you for reading my fan fiction!

I hope you are enjoying the stories of Tommy's adventures as a shadowrunner. 

Coming Soon!
I will be launching a KickStarter campaign to fund art for my coming RPG source book, "Whispers of Persephone" which is a book on a new necromantic arcane tradition for the 5th edition of Gary's game.  I hope you'll check that out when it launches, support if you can, and share it with other TTRPG enthusiasts.


Thank you all!


Art for Whispers of Persephone
Artist: Christian Martinez









Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Operation Emerald: Part two ~ Dig toward damnation



November 17th, 2060

1100 hours, operational area local time

My comm beeped in my ear, waking me from my nap.  (Here's a tip chummers, when you're out on a job grab sleep whenever you can!)

"Machine, can you come take a look at this?" Simon's voice was oddly inflected.  It wasn't often that I had heard Simon speak when something had him stumped.

"On my way." I replied.  I yawned and stretched then pulled my socks and boots back on.  The Osprey was comfortably hidden under the camouflage netting. Hidden from the sun, the interior was pleasantly cool.  I hurried down the ramp and onto the salt-beach.  "All personnel, report."

I heard a steady stream of  "All clear." as one by one the team reported in.  Zero called in last with, "We're good to go here."

It took me a just a couple of minutes to reach the white tent where Simon had set up the remote sensor equipment.  I walked in and found Simon, Jazz, and Creep staring at an empty space through their AR optics.  I pulled on my own AR goggles, and tapped into the feed they were watching.  "What am I looking at?" I asked.

"That," Simon sighed thoughtfully, "is the density anomaly in the lake bed. I thought at first it might be a subsurface lava tube, or maybe a hot spring.  Problem is the dimensions, they're too mathematically perfect for a natural occurrence.  It looks suspicious to me."

Simon was smart and capable.  I looked at the 3D model of the anomaly and had to agree with him. The area of lower density was a cylinder.  It looked precisely circular and cut through the salt bed down through the bedrock below.  "Mathematically perfect? What do you mean?" I asked.

Simon blew up the image in cross-section. "I'm doing a high-resolution mapping scan. It's reliable down the millimeter.  So far as I can tell from this sensor the width of the anomaly is precisely four thousand millimeters, perfectly straight, all the way down.  That's four meters across. I took measurements of the circle circumference and came up with twelve thousand five hundred sixty-six millimeters.  Sensor readings bounce back and forth between adding a point three or point four on the end of that calculation."  Simon shook his head thoughtfully.  "No way that is natural."

"Okay, explain a bit harder. I can do the math, but I don't understand the significance."  It looked artificial to me, but understanding what could be evidence of that was important.

"Well that means that the anomaly, this cylinder of lower density, is a circle that is good for a two meter radius circle using pi to the fourth decimal value.  Probably to the fifth decimal value with that variation in the decimal at the end.  That's probably the sensor's tolerance being reached and trying to reconcile the measurements. You don't see that precision unless you're looking at aerospace level precision, so missiles, rockets, satellite boosters, ICBM's and that sort of thing."  Simon looked over his AR glasses at me. "In short, it's artificial.  Could Control have found a forgotten missile silo?"

"I don't know.  You were in the same mission briefing I got, 'Investigate subsurface anomaly and report', plus the usual spiel about weapon usage for self-defense."  I took a moment to look at the cylinder of less tightly packed salts. "Well, it's not much but we found something.  Any chance we can get more information about what's at the bottom?"

"Not without drilling down through the salt." Simon replied.

"Okay." I thumbed my comm and opened a channel to Zero. "Zero, get Control on the line. We're reporting in."

"Copy that. Wait one for Control." Zero answered.

"Simon, link these images to the comm.  I want Control to see what we've found." I dusted salt from my armored fatigues.  "Salt got everywhere. I'm going to have to call up a water elemental to wash it off."

"I have a thought." Creep said softly. "You said this sensor is good for resolution down to the millimeter.  Can you map the salt filling that tube, then roll out the image?"

"Yeah, let me get the comm set and I'll do that on another rendering." Simon replied.

"Sub-zero. Thanks, Simon." Creep was being calm.  His voice carried a thoughtful tone I had rarely heard.

"What are you thinking?" I asked.

"Not sure exactly.  You know how we've seen carved stone on old ruins?  Well, if this salt pack is lower density, can we lift the surface image from the ultrasound if any exists?"  Creep replied.

Simon interjected, "I think I see where you're going with that.  I doubt we'll be able to lift anything, but I'll give it a try.  Machine, you're linked up with the images.  They'll be transmitted as soon as Zero links to Control."

"Excellent work. Thank you." I turned to Jazz. "I'm going to want your assessment of our vulnerabilities here. If control wants us to stick around I don't want to be worried about running out of ammunition with so many awakened creatures about.  Plus I want to get Taz out of here as soon as possible for medical attention."

"Understood." Jazz replied.

"Machine, Control is online. Signal is strong, satellite link is secure, it's as private a call as you're likely to ever have." Zero said.

{Want a recording of that call? ~ Angel}

{No thanks, I was there. ~ T}

"Control we are on site.  Hostile encounter with ghouls in the night time hours.  Six wounded.  Five fully healed but we need to evacuate Taz for medical attention.  No fatalities.  We've found an anomaly at the coordinates provided.  Simon has patched our findings so far into the feed. Request permission to un-ass this area of operation, or to at least evacuate Taz for treatment."  I kept my voice calm and waited for what I was certain would be bad news.

"Machine, request to leave the operational area is denied.  Medi-vac for Taz is authorized.  We'll send flight plan to Zero momentarily.  Have Simon patch the body-cam footage to this transmission, we'll process it."  Samantha paused in her reply for a moment. "I'm seeing the anomaly you mention.  How deep does it go?"

I turned to Simon who keyed his own comm and replied, "Fifteen meters down to bedrock then a bit below that into a small cavern area.  Readings are imprecise at that depth.  There may be a gas pocket."

"Understood. What is your situation?" Samantha's voice was the same calm professional tone I had become accustomed to.

"We're fully exposed." Jazz offered up. "Anyone with a mortar is going to ruin our day and end our lives, not to mention anyone with genuine artillery.  Contacts last night were all ghouls.  Scavenged weapons, light or no armor, but we counted two hundred dead. Some of them had communication gear but none of it survived the fighting. No patches or dog tags tying them to any one nation or corporation. Seems they had been raiding villages beyond the desert.  We may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but with so many of them I don't like those odds."  Jazz took a slow breath then added. "We need drone support in strength if we're going to be here for any length of time.  Water is going to be an issue within three days.  Ammunition and heavier weapons for any prolonged stay, as well as sunscreen."

"Received and understood." Samantha replied. "Give me a list and we'll get it loaded when we off load Taz."

"If we're staying here for a while I request additional weapon specialist personnel be brought in.  We caught those ghouls off guard.  If a well organized force finds us before we find them, we've got problems."  I wasn't expecting much, but if we were staying a while I wanted as much firepower as I could get.

"Copy that Machine.  Additional personnel authorized.  We'll get more boots on the ground.  Hold position and call out if you have any further contact with hostiles. Weapons free.  Hold that ground." Jazz's eyebrows arched in surprise.  Beside him, Creep and Simon both shared similar looks.

I steeled myself and replied as calmly as I could. "Copy that. We'll be evacuating Taz in a few minutes.  I'll have Zero stay in touch.  Simon will set up the secondary satellite transmitter and we'll dig in."

"We'll take good care of Taz.  Get him in the air." Samantha replied. "Control out."

I keyed my comm as I walked out of the tent. "Jazz, get the men dug in.  Simon, I want that sat-link running asap.  Once that is done, get some drones out to keep eyes on the desert and put a blimp drone over the lake.  I'm not taking chances on something not being in there.  Creep, cover Simon and let me know if you two find anything from that image once Simon gets it generated."

"Copy that," Jazz and Simon replied in unison.

"Understood, I've got him." Creep reported. "My ladies and I will keep him safe."

*****

1305 hours, operational area local time

The Osprey lifted off from the salt-strewn beach, climbing twenty meters before its wings began to decline as it pulled away from our position.  Salt stung every inch of exposed skin as it was propelled from the down draft.  Taz was tranquilized and sleeping in the belly of the great metal beast.  I watched as the aircraft gained speed and disappeared from my sight.

The salt beach near the lake had seen a lot of activity in a short time.  I had called out to the earth elemental I had bound to me and had it dig one meter deep holes, each three meters across, in spots Jazz indicated. We set up white tents within those holes, then scattered the displaced salts around the tents, blending them into the terrain as best we could.  It wouldn't fool a spy satellite, but it was certainly enough to hide us from any casual flybys.

Salt got everywhere.  It was caked onto my body from my time in the lake.  It was a distracting irritant, so I whispered into the astral plane and called forth one of the water elementals.  I stripped down, washing my fatigues and form fitting body armor in the elemental's manifest form, before having the elemental engulf me to wash the salts off.  No one else wanted an elemental "bath" so once I was dressed I dismissed the spirit back to the astral plane.

Jazz sent in his request.  He asked for rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, a pair of mortars, a handful of surface-to-air missiles, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition.  I could only imagine the look on Samantha's face when confronted with tens of thousands of nuyen worth of munitions requests.  "She'll not authorize half of it." Jazz told me. "It's like the army.  Ask for more than you need so that when they reject a lot of it you have enough on hand to make things work."

"I'll remember that." I told him. "How fragged are we?"

He shook his head. "We're the virgin in the whorehouse out here. Anyone who notices can frag us hard."

"Well, then lets make it hurt." I told him. "I wish I knew why we're sticking around though."

"She'll send in someone who knows something, to look into something which is likely to be something." Jazz cracked one of his rare smiles. "Good looking out for Taz.  He's good talent, good people."

"We take care of our own."  I told him.

"Yeah." Jazz looked about a moment. "Can we talk?"

I opened my astral perception and looked around.  There was no sign of any spirits or spells that were watching us. "Yeah, astral is clear.  No guarantee against listening devices but we're safe from listening spells at the moment."

Jazz pulled a small, hemispherical bit of plastic from a pocket.  Small holes dotted its surface.  "Let's take a walk."  Our boots crunched on the desolate salt beach. Jazz hit a button on the back of the device and I heard a soft buzzing sound emit from it.  "White noise generator. Should keep the guys who have hearing augmentation from hearing us."

"Sub-zero.  What's up?" I asked.

"Creep. We still have a problem with him?" Jazz asked.

I looked back for a moment then to Jazz. "I think so. Until further notice, anyway.  It's not the melt-down giggles that bother me.  It's comments he makes about needing to kill something, or 'letting the bad feelings out'.  I think he's insane.  I know he's powerful and that is a bad combination."

"So I'm clear.  He goes off mission, he endangers the team or turns on us. I'll put him down." Jazz looked me in the eye. "This isn't personal for me, it's professional. If this is personal for you, do him yourself."

"If it were personal for me, he'd be dead already." I replied. "But thank you. I completely respect your position."

"Okay. I don't like the fragger, but I don't really know why.  Maybe it's pheromones or something like that."  Jazz looked back toward the lake behind us. "I don't like him but the only thing I can point to is his breakdown in the field and the way he goes kill-happy with those demon women of his.  It's like it excites him.  It's unnerving and makes my trigger finger itch."

"I get that. His magic is different, dark. Other magicians have mentioned it to me. I know spirits that don't like him either." I stuck my hand out and Jazz shook it. "He's a psycho, but he's our psycho. Let's keep him pointed the right way and maybe he'll help us all live a bit longer."

"Understood." Jazz released my hand and shut off his white noise generator. "By the way, my knee has been itching since we first stepped onto this salt shaker."

"Yeah, I think we've just scratched the surface."  We walked back, the only sound being our boots crunching on the salt beach.

*****

1910 hours, operational area local time

"Machine, I've got an airborne contact thirty kilometers out closing fast." Simon's voice was crisp, with just a trace of tension. "Air speed is three hundred kilometers per hour, altitude is one hundred twenty-five meters. I don't have an ID on it yet."

"All personnel, take cover." I came out of my tent and whispered into the astral plane. The earth elemental manifested next to me a tic later. "Talk to me Simon. Will it be over us, near us or just in the neighborhood?"

"Heading straight for us. Will be overhead in five minutes, thirty seconds.  ID pending." Simon replied.

"Copy that. All personnel, get your heads down and do not move. We'll be hidden in a moment."  I pulled an invisibility spell around myself and held it tight.  To the earth elemental I sent a simple command, "Conceal the presence of myself, my men, and our equipment.  Hide all trace of our activities."

The spirit consented with a rumble and grinding of the earth beneath me.  Before my eyes I saw the tents, the satellite uplink dish, and all trace of our comings and goings vanish into the terrain.  It was a mirage of sorts, a spirit power that would hide us from everyone except for astrally active beings.

"Machine, I've got a signature match. Confirm approach is a MIL MI-26 HIND-2 gunship.  Transponder tags it as Djibouti Army, first air cavalry. It's due east of us now. They're transmitting but I haven't been able to break the encryption yet.  I've got translation software standing by for Somali, French, and Arabic."  Simon reported.

"Do not fire unless fired upon." I was banking on us being undetectable.  The heavy helicopter flew overhead minutes later. Circled back over the lake and slowed as it prowled overhead.  I opened my astral sight, looking for any sign that a magician may have been onboard.  It passed above us again, slowing before it landed four hundred meters away, amid the blasted landscape where two hundred ghouls had died the night before.

"Machine," Simon whispered over the line. "I've got a tap into their comms.  I can send it to you if you want."

"In English please." I replied.

I heard a click sound as the channel was spliced in. Whatever language they were speaking in Simon had filtered it out.  The voice in my head was male and generic, like any voice that might be used for electronic personal assistants.  "HQ, we have many dead in the area, all look like ghouls.  Likely the fight happened within the last twenty-four hours.  Several explosive blast patterns, possibly from grenades.  Looks like quite a fire-fight occurred.  No sign of hostiles in the area.  No sign of the aircraft."

Drek.

"Capture images and then resume airborne patrol.  Was their any activity at Lac Assal?" A second voice, this time female sounded over the comm.

"Negative.  No one around.  All instruments show no-contact.  There is nothing and no one here." I breathed a little easier. "We'll be airborne in fifteen minutes."

I watched through my Zeiss optical binoculars as six hard looking soldiers moved among the dead, gathering images with their gun cams.  Creep appeared next to me in astral space.  "Technically I'm not disobeying orders. I stayed right where I am." His aura blazed with power.

My thought voice seemed to reach him just fine. "What's up, Creep?"

"Poking my head up.  I can call up the ladies but I think they might show up on thermal." His concern made sense. "They are pretty hot." He smiled as his own thin joke.

"Good catch. Stay frosty." I replied.

He nodded and vanished in a flash.

It was a long fifteen minutes.  I watched the troops move among the dead, then board their helicopter.  They were airborne and flying away in short order.  For another ten minutes we were still.  Hiding against any unseen surveillance that may have been watching us.

Simon's voice came over the comm as I rose and dropped the invisibility spell. "No other EM traffic in the area. We're clear."

"Copy that. I'm dropping the concealment now." I whispered to the earth spirit and its power bled away into the local manasphere.  The team was laying about, weapons at the ready.  "Good work everyone."

"I can't believe they didn't spot us." Ding said.

"Not all magic is flash and bang." I told him. "Look at it this way.  We didn't have to fire a shot, no one died, and we don't have to worry about reinforcements showing up to kill us."

*****

November 18th, 2060

0215 hours, operational area local time

Zero brought the Osprey in just fifteen meters above ground level.  We had the camouflage nets over it as soon as the rotors came to a halt.  Simon was tapping into the Djibouti military channels and was confident the Osprey hadn't been spotted.  I decided to err on the side of caution and had the earth elemental use its power to conceal the aircraft.

Samantha had sent us an additional six weapon specialists, two trolls, two orcs, a human and an elf. Each of them carried themselves like they knew their business.  We offloaded the additional weapons and ammunition. I was surprised to see that we had received most of what Jazz had requested.  A dredging rig was the last piece of hardware to come off the Osprey, accompanied by a man in his early thirties who brought a lot of bad news with him.

"I'm looking for Mr. Machine." he said.

"I'm, 'Machine'.  Who are you?" I had never seen the man before and his presence made me very curious.

He thrust is hand out to me. "Doctor Charles Ling-Thomas.  Doctor of archaeology. Pleasure to meet you."

I took his hand for a quick shake. "Pleasure to meet you doctor. Why are you here?"

His face took on a questioning look. "Why, I'm here about the excavation.  I'm told you've found something."

"Something.  Yes we found 'something' but we don't know what yet." I looked at the dredging equipment that had come off the Osprey.  "You know how to use that?"

"Yes, indeed I do.  I've had extensive experience with underwater finds."  The good doctor seemed at ease.  "I confess though, I haven't the foggiest idea of what you hope to find out here."

"Me neither." I confessed.  I spoke with Doctor Charles for nearly an hour. He was operating under the impression that this was a new dig site and he fully expected to be on-site for months. 


0618 hours, operational area local time

The sun was rising but I was underwater.  I hammered down six pitons into the lake bed, and secured the nylon lines that anchored the dredging rig in place.  Dr. Charles Ling-Thomas, call sign "Sherlock", seemed right at home in his scuba gear.  He swam effortlessly and situated the dredging pipes with clear familiarity.

"Machine, get clear from the run-off pipe.  It will cut you bloody if the waste jet hits you." Sherlock warned. "You'll hear some high pitched noise when the screws kick in an start cutting on the bed.  That is normal.  Power cell is good for four hours, then we'll have to switch them out."

"Copy that, Sherlock. Let's get to work." I saw him thumb the control panel, and heard the rig whine to life.  Small pebbles of salt and rock came shooting out the run-off pipe, propelled by a jet of water. With that, we had begun our dig toward damnation.





Thursday, August 2, 2018

Operation Emerald: Part One ~ Djibouti




November  17th, 2060

Lac Assal, Djibouti  0200 hours, operational area local time

"This is a bad idea, Machine." Creep's voice whispered over my earpiece.  "Those ghouls are coming, and if you're still gone when they get here, we'll be down a man."

Jazz interrupted in a hushed tone, "Agreed.  We've got poor position.  This lake sits in a basin and we're widely exposed even on ground level, not to mention drones by air or mortar fire.  They get serious, we die."

"Got any better ideas?" I whispered into my mic. "If you do, I'm game."

Neither of them spoke up.

"Okay, then.  Creep, keep an eye on my body.  If I die, incinerate my corpse. I don't want those fraggers eating me."  I lay down on the shore, next to the saltiest lake in the world, closed my eyes and slipped from my body.

Lac Assal is the lowest elevation in all of Africa. The area around the lake is beautiful and holds black lava fields, dormant volcanoes, lava tubes, and vast 'beaches' of salt that have been exposed from years of evaporation.  The lake is always warm as it is fed by active hot springs. The water is so salty that you can't drink it without running the risk of poisoning yourself. Under the clear night sky the astral space was alive with mana energy. The elements of nature combine in a unique way here, as fire and earth heat water that touches a parched sky.

The desert surrounding Lac Assal is vast. Before the awakening it was dangerous for the careless wanderer due to the heat, lack of water, and the occasional bandit gang.  With the return of magic the desert came alive with strange creatures not known to exist anywhere else.  Fire elemental spirits sometimes rage along the old lava fields. Wind spirits dance dervishes into existence in the desert.  Water spirits erupt from the lake as if trying to touch the sky itself.  The ground shakes as thermal stresses and the rumblings of earth spirits create earthquakes.  Amid all the spirits and awakened creatures, all around me, nature was alight with raw elemental energy and hummed with power.  Currents of light moved through waters that were devoid of life, spun over parched salt beaches, erupted into the sky and plunged into the quivering Earth.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

I looked around at the faint auras of the team.  Jazz carried a lot of high-end cyberware that had weakened his aura considerably.  He was calm and resolved.  I saw similar traits in auras of the rest of the team, except for Creep.  His aura was devoid of emotion, and simply radiated magical power.  There were strange flickers in his aura, as if dark thoughts were dancing in his mind and coloring his soul.  Maybe he didn't have emotions at all, some psychopaths are like that.

I turned my attention to the east, where the ghoul forces we had been fighting were likely getting ready to attack our position.  "Girls, come here please."  My thoughts stretched out across the vast distance of space, through the metaplanes and reached the ears of my ally spirits, my eldest daughters.  I felt them respond through the connection I hold to them which touches my very soul.

"We are coming," their thought-voices reached me in an instant.

Lily and Rose appeared at my side moments later.  Two bright angels, wings and all, stood to either side of me.  Rose, my first ally spirit and my eldest daughter, stood at my right hand.  Lily, my second ally spirit daughter, was ready at my left.  "Glad you're here girls." I told them.  I reached out and took their hands in mine.  "There is a large force of ghouls closing on my position. I must ask for your help to fight them."

"I will do violence." Rose's thought voice carried a certitude to it.  She was calm and ready for action.

"I will fight by your side, father." Lily's thought-voice carried a ring of steel.  She had been exposed to horrific enemies in her short time on Earth and I fear it had hardened her.

I squeezed their hands, our astral forms shining across the brilliant landscape.  "Thank you, girls. Here's what we're going to do.."

*****

0230 hours, operational area local time

Astral space was brilliant over the desert.  Below us, two hundred ghouls crept along toward Lac Assal.  They were fanned out in squads of five, each ten meters or more from any other squad, and stretched for five hundred meters across the pristine landscape.  Their aura's were dark red, like old blood, and their souls were weakened from essence hunger.  They must have been ravenous.

The ghouls had been plaguing the area.  Raiding villages and infecting survivors to increase their numbers.  Some carried scavenged weapons, mostly older rifles and AK-97's left over from desert wars.  Those ghouls whose intellect had degraded, the most feral of wretches, were pushed to the forefront where they would sniff at the air and scamper toward the lake.  They were closing in and I didn't like the odds that were leveled against us.  We flew overhead as I looked for signs among their auras.

I found what I was looking for.  The auras of three of the ghouls showed the unmistakable signs of awakened beings, magicians.  These three had spread out and among their fellow monsters, creeping along in the darkness.  Lily and Rose flew off, taking up positions to the north and sought of me and waiting for my command.  I hardened my resolve, remembering all the horrors I had witnessed, all the victims I had seen who had suffered and died at the hands of the infected.  "Now, girls." I sent the message and turned my focus to the ghoul magician below me.

On the north end of the ghoul force, twenty meters ahead of a squad with a ghoul magician among them, Rose appeared in her full angelic glory.  "Die." was all she said before unleashing a fireball spell that lit up the night, consuming the ghouls in a flash of fire that reduced them to ash.  The ghoul magician didn't even have time to scream.  On the south end of the ghoul force, Lily shattered the night sky with a war cry of  "FIRE AND WRATH!"  Her fireball spell exploded among a squad of ghouls, detonating in the face of the second ghoul magician.  They were blown apart, their bits incinerated in the conflagration.

Gun shots sounded over howls of rage and terror in reply to the girls' first spells.  The bullets bounced off the attacking angels.  Ghouls rushed toward them, fury and feral hunger competing on their faces only to be replaced by confusion when the girls vanished before them.  Below me, the last ghoul magician looked up, his astral sight bridging the space between the physical and spirit worlds, and spotted me immediately.

"Hi." I said to the monster below me.

The ghoul sorcerer lifted his hand in a gesture of power, gathering mana into what would certainly be a nasty spell. Lily and Rose tackled him astral space, dragging him down to the desert floor and tearing his aura to shreds.  It was over in a flash of angelic wings and the screaming of the damned. In those first six seconds of the battle, my girls had killed eleven ghouls and stripped the force of their magical support.

"Now we wait." I took their hands again. "Thank you girls.  Are you okay?"

"I am unharmed." Rose said to me. "Thank you for asking."

"They were unable to injure me." Lily added. "I am also grateful for your concern."

"I would rather you were home, helping Aria and having fun playing, but I am very glad you are here.  As soon as this battle is done, once we have destroyed these monsters, I'll send you back.  We'll get ice cream when I get home."  I looked at my ally spirits, my beautiful and powerful daughters, and felt a tremendous pride.

"We love you, father." Rose said. "I am proud to fight by your side."

"Rose is correct." Lily said. "I will not fail you again."

"You've got nothing to prove Lily." I assured her. "You've done wonderfully, you both have." They both squeezed my hands softly.  There, in the astral space above a kill zone, I found a brief moment of peace.

We were interrupted as Creep's astral form shot up to us like a comet.  He stood there, blazing in his power. "Hey, Simon found their com signal and is intercepting their chatter.  He's cut their long range communication, so its just all us monsters in the desert ready to kill each other.  Zero called in and says he can put down near the lake but it will be close to dawn before he can get back."

"Thanks, Creep.  Tell Jazz, we're on for phase two. Weapons free." I added. "And Creep, stay safe and keep the gun-hands supported.  Nothing happens to Simon.  Keep him covered at all costs."

I could sense the satisfaction that rolled off Creep's soul. "Sure thing!" he chirped, then blasted away back to his own body.

"He is unpleasant," Rose commented to me.

"Can I kill him later?" Lily asked.

"I agree, Rose, and no you many not, Lily.  Not unless he tries to kill me or you or the others. If that happens, then yes, kill him hard." I wondered how it was that Creep made even spirits uncomfortable.

Below me, four ghouls were patting down the corpse of the last dead ghoul sorcerer.  I watched as one's aura vanished.  In the physical world his head exploded as a large caliber rifle round struck him in the back of the head.  Taz had opened fire, right on time.  Ghouls dropped and tried to flatten themselves into the salt strewn waste.

"Okay, girls, lets get started on the next part of the plan."  I focused my will and manifested my astral form into the physical world.  On the north end of the ghoul force, Lily and Rose manifested in all their angelic glory. A tick later fire shattered the night as they began to cast their spells upon those monsters in the night.

The ghouls below me rose and fired on my astral form. Bullets passed harmlessly through me.  I watched as a another ghoul's head exploded. Its aura vanished and as it fell lifelessly to the ground.  To the north, mana flashed and fiery explosions rolled across the landscape.  I could see heavy currents of chaos, confusion, and mind-searing hunger polluting local astral space.  The ghouls to the south were surging forward toward the lake, spreading out as they went.

The two ghouls remaining below me met their end from Taz's rifle.  I streaked across the desert and dove back into my body.  I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.  Rifles were firing all around me.  I rolled onto my stomach and saw a wall of flames erupting in the distance.  Ahead of me, stretching south, were dozens of ghouls.  Some were sprinting forward with mindless abandon, others were advancing with shouldered assault weapons firing short bursts of death.

I picked out group of ghouls who were laying prone in the salty desert and firing methodically on our position. A burst of fire passed half a meter away from me and hit Taz in the forearm.  The bullets blew his arm off just inches below the elbow.  His right hand landed in the salt, his index finger twitching as if trying to fire back.  Taz fell, the shock from the wound knocking him unconscious.

"IGNIS MAGICAE!" I shouted.  A small white orb materialized above the prone ghouls for a fraction of a second, then exploded with the the full force of my magic behind it.  They died in an instant, their ammunition cooking off in a fury of micro-explosions. I scurried over to Taz.

Blood was squirting from the shredded stump of Taz's right arm.  It marred the salt bed we were fighting on with a growing dark stain.  Taz was unconscious, his aura was weak, and he was losing a lot of blood.  I grabbed his arm, poured out water from the blood falls on the shattered stump of his arm and began the healing incantation.  Bullets broke the night all around me, explosions of magical energy raged in the distance, and I was sitting on a white patch of salt around a dead lake, healing a man who had been unfortunate enough to get hit.  I tried to shut everything out, but my memory haunted me for a moment.  I remembered a time, not too long ago, when I was kneeling in the snow, healing a Knight Errant security guard.  Blood had surrounded me then, the snow a strange mix of crimson and pink.  Around me the white salts were soaking up the moisture from the blood, leaving a sticky mess of bloodstained salt crystals around me.  Taz's aura was weak, the cyberware in his body made it difficult to get the spell fixed to him.  I held onto his arm forcing mana energy into him, prompting the healing processes.

"FLASHLIGHT!" Jazz yelled out.  I steeled myself and heard the claymore mines discharge a tic later.  Ghouls screamed in pain and howled in rage.

I felt the healing spell finally latch onto Taz's aura. I held it there, sweat beading on my skin, as the battle raged under a dark sky sprinkled with stars.  The blood stopped shooting out from Taz's stump, splintered bones knitted themselves together, and a new layer of skin grew over the exposed wound.

Lily and Rose appeared next to me.

"The first group of ghouls have been destroyed." Lily reported.

"Excellent work, girls!" I nodded to a pair of figures laying limply on the ground. "See if you can't heal our wounded.  If any ghouls get to within fifteen meters of our position, kill them."


0245 hours, operation area local time

The last ghoul presence I could sense vanished with the sound of several assault rifles firing. The desert returned to a desolate silence under an uncaring sky.

"Sit rep."

Jazz's voice came over the comm clearly. "Six wounded.  Worst is Taz, the rest were mostly superficial. We're reloading mags now then we'll mop up any survivors."

"Astral is clear. Most of the local spirits have shied away." Creep added.

"Understood. Simon, where is the target?" I patted a damp cloth on Taz's face.

"Two hundred meters west. It's out on the lake and six meters subsurface." Simon replied.  "You're going to need a mask or goggles.  The water's saline level is through the roof.  You'll blind yourself if you go down without eye protection."

"Good to know.  Thanks, Simon." I replied.


0648 hours, operational area local time

Dawn saw the Osprey land near the water.  We loaded Taz into the belly of the beast.  For him, that job was done.  We unloaded the ZodiacII from the Osprey and cruised out to the coordinates for our target.  The little boat's electric engine was quiet, producing a soft buzzing noise and a thick spray behind us.  We bounced over the crystalline green waters and slowed to stop over a darker patch of green.  We were over one of the deepest points in the lake. I pulled on the dive mask and fitted it tightly over my face.

"Respirator?" Ding, one of our FNG's*, asked.

"No, thank you,I'm fine." I replied. I slipped over the side and into water that felt strange on my skin.  I was buoyed up, and floated easily.  "Okay, anchor please."

Jazz handed me the small ten pound anchor and I sank like a stone.  I felt my boots hit the bottom, about six meters down.  There were no fish, no plants, no sign of life of any kind.  The water was warm, and all around me the area had a green tinge to it.  Above me the ZodiacII provided the only shadow on the bottom other than my own.

I pulled on the anchor cord and waited as Jazz lowered a large bag down to me. It took me ten minutes to level a place on the packed-salt lake bed. I pulled out the device within and worked it into position.  I hit the power button and watched for a moment as it came to life.  I felt a soft impact, something like being hit by a soft pillow, as the ultrasound and sonar fired. I swam up to the surface.  Jazz helped me into the boat, then we turned and headed for shore.

Simon monitored the sonar sensor from the shore.  The data came back gradually as the sensor oriented, mapped the area, then began its deep probe of the lake bed.  "Composition is salt, salt, and hey... more salt." Simon offered.  "I've got a density difference, a significant one actually, about two meters from the probe.  Once we finish this cycle, can you move the sensor over that area for a deep scan?"

"Not a problem." I replied.  Two hours later, Jazz and I went out on the ZodiacII.  Simon signaled that the first scan was done about ten minutes later and I dove under to move the device.  Simon put a directional arrow on the sensor's display panel with a range indicator that dropped as I got closer to the target area.  When I was over the spot he wanted to scan, a 'thumbs up' signal appeared.  I set the sensor and swam back up to the surface.  Below me the sensor bent its technological abilities to locating the anomaly we had been sent to investigate.

May God have mercy on our souls.
______________________________________

*FNG :  acronym for "fraggin' new guy".  A variant of an older term from the late 20th.

*****

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  I hope you enjoyed the first part of this story line.  The story of Operation Emerald is one derived from game play, but from a different character.  I hope you'll join me next time for Part two!

I write this fan fiction blog because I enjoy doing it and as a writing exercise.  Your feedback, comments, and criticisms are always welcome.

I also design, write and publish role-playing game books as well as comic books (coming soon) and will be releasing children's books (again, coming soon... waiting on art).  You can find my RPG material on Drivethrurpg.com under my company Sinopa Publishing LLC. Presently, I've been releasing open game license content and will be releasing my own, original RPG in 2019.

Some of the things I have coming soon (2018):

The Steel Road ~ Funded on Kickstarter in June of 2018, this book is scheduled to fulfill to backers this month (August, 2018).  It will become available on Drivethrurpg.com after fulfillment is complete and will be available on Amazon once I have my store running.


Whispers of Persephone ~ Coming to KickStarter August 25th, 2018!!!  My little bloody book of necromancy.  A new arcane tradition, mechanics for ritual sacrifice, new spells/rites/rituals, new feats, and several new magic items.  This is a book to bring the 'DARK' back to your dark arts.  Don't miss the KickStarter campaign, as it will be a great opportunity to get this book and to help it be all it can be! Illustrated by the renowned artist, Christian Martinez!  I'll be releasing a few promotional images over the coming weeks before launch.  I hope you'll help spread the word and support the KickStarter campaign.



47 Furious Tails ~ The comic book retelling of the infamous Ako Incident!  The legend comes alive as we explore the events leading up to the Asano's final trip to Edo.  Issue one is coming to KickStarter later this year!  Illustrated by the remarkable Alexia Veldhuisen, this comic is a treat for the eyes.

Cover of issue 1
Art by: Alexia Veldhuisen

Tarot Adventures, Book Three: Death comes to Glenfallow ~  Currently in development, this adventure continues the Tarot Adventures series in grand style.  Packed with fearsome foes, deadly encounters, and a principle villain that will leave your players stunned, this book ups the stakes for your adventurers.  Lives are at risk and the only people who can help are sitting around your game table.  Written to be a deadly level challenge, this adventure will leave Glenfallow changed forever.  Whether that change is for good or ill will be determined by the player characters.  Glenfallow needs its heroes. Can you live up to the expectations, stand against a dire evil, save the people of Glenfallow and survive to the tell the tale?  (Artist: TBD ...)


Coming in 2019:

More Tarot Adventures ~ Adventure continues as the hand of Fate is played out.

More issues of 47 Furious Tails ~ Asano and his entourage arrive at Edo.  Destiny unfolds as Kira clashes with Asano.  Death, honor and revenge in the Edo period.  Don't miss this amazing story.

Sinopa Publishing's first comic book anthology project (this showcases a number of artists/writers who have contributed to our RPG product lines).  Example art from that project is shown below.










And... children's books, an original role-playing game, and so much more!


Wow... yeah I've been working on a lot of projects.  I hope you'll be as excited about these books and comics as I am.  It's amazing to be able to produce them.

Legal Stuff:  All art included in this post is copyrighted by the creating artist or by Sinopa Publishing LLC.  All rights reserved.  Use of these images is not permitted without express written consent of the artist and Sinopa Publishing LLC.  Thank you!











Monday, July 30, 2018

Halloween 2060 ~ Trick or Treat



I've had a lot of names over the years.  The one I'm most known by is Tommy "the Machine" Gunne. I was never famous, but I have a solid rep in the shadow community, particularly around Seattle.  If I took a job, it usually got done.

You've been reading my stories and I hope you've learned a few things from mistakes I made along the way. I've made several tremendous mistakes.  There are things you learn with experience, things old-timers might tell you, if there were any old-timers and they felt like sharing their insights.  I'm not going to turn this story into a 'how-to' tale, or one of those 'I remember when" sagas.  No, I'm going to remind you that you aren't just a runner.  You're a person.  Take some time, as often as you can, to be a person.  All too often, those days are limited.  Cherish them.

~ Tommy "the Machine" Gunne
________________________________________________________________________


October 31, 2060

1830 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time


Lily had healed up from our trip onto the island in hours.  It took me a few days before the chemical burns on my chest and abdomen lost their tender pink tones.  With judicious use of magic, I came away with almost no scaring though, to this day, when I get a tan you can see small little splatter marks where the coloring doesn't match up. Aria didn't scold me too badly.

The rest of October was quiet at the office. I had debriefings, looked over information for potential team members, and kept myself busy reading up on alchemy, enchantment, and magic theory whenever I had time.  I went home each night and focused on my family.  I tried to help cook dinner but was soon vetoed as no one appreciated my efforts. {I'm telling you Tommy, Rose is by far a better cook than you'll ever be ~ Angel}

Halloween came quickly, and Aria and I dressed the twins in their little pea-pod costumes.  Rose wanted to stay home to hand out candy.  The weather turned unseasonably cold and we had snow coming down shortly after 1800 hours.  Aria and I decided to keep the twins indoors, but Lily had been excited to go trick or treating like Rose had done the year before.  I bundled up while Lily took on her young elf girl form then pulled on her Halloween costume.

I walked out the door and saw a flock of children heading toward my door.  Small goblins, Lone Star patrol officers, cartoon characters, and cyborgs were popular costume choices that year.  Lily looked on in undisguised fascination at the small humans and their strange appearances.  Lily was a small elf girl. Her white robe was partially concealed by the brown hooded cloak she wore over it.  The light up 'sword' she carried made a humming sound that oscillated as it swung providing a precise reproduction of the sound effects used in the movies almost a century before.  I doubted that anyone would recognize what her costume represented, and that was just fine.  Rose and Lily both enjoyed the science fiction classic.  I smiled to myself, wondering how many people would have difficulty figuring out Rose's costume and those large green ears.

I walked with Lily along the sidewalk with the snow drifting down slowly.  It wasn't sticking to the street yet, and the sidewalks had too much traffic for snow to take hold.  Our first stop was at the Campbells, the middle-aged orks who lived just a few houses down from us.  My AR visor displayed the "Trick or Treat welcome Here" overlay that floated over their door.   Lily walked up to the door and rang the bell.

"Trick or treat" she said plainly.

Mr. Campbell smiled broadly, his tusks showing over his lower lip.  "Well, well.  I am impressed.  Just you this year Lily? Rose sick at home?"

"No, Rose is handing out candy to other children.  She says it will be more efficient, and she can eat candies she likes without offending anyone."  I had to smile at Lily's blatant honesty.

"I see. You girls are both very smart.  I think I'll forego the trick and just give you a treat."  Mr. Campbell pulled out his large bowl of candy and dumped a huge handful of treats into Lily's bag. "May the force be with you." he added with a smile.

"And with you, always." Lily said.  Her voice carried a solemn seriousness I had to admire.

I shook his hand and thanked him, then followed Lily around the neighborhood.


1920 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

Lily and reached the front door as the AR overlay above the door was shut off.  The neighborhood cut-off time for trick or treating was 1930 and most of the kids in the area were already done and at their homes picking through their treasures.

The candy bowl inside the door was empty.  A trash can full of wrappers told me where most of that candy had vanished to.  "Good thing you girls don't get stomach aches." I said to Lily.

"Mom, I'm home." Lily announced.

"Welcome back you two." I heard Aria call back from the nursery. "Just changing the twins."

"Need any help?" I called back.

"No.  Do me a favor and check the candy though.  Never can be too careful."  I smiled and spread the candy over the table.  A wave of my hand and a subtle spell found no poison but revealed a horrific amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners. A quick check for any physical tampering revealed nothing threatening and I pronounced the loot suitable for consumption.  Lily picked up a licorice stick, tore open the plastic wrap and began to nibble away.

"It's all fine, honey." I said.  Aria came out with Rose, each of them holding a twin.  The little pea-pod costumes were very cute on them.

Lily and I played with the twins as Aria and Rose told us of all the little trick or treating kids they had seen.  Rose was impressed by a few young princess costumes but was particularly fond of a young orc barbarian costume the Campbells' grandson had shown up wearing. Lily shared the story of a small toddler who had fairy wings and a tail that attached to her bottom.  Jasmine and Violet each held on to one of my fingers while they giggled at the sound of their sisters laughing. I felt eyes on me and looked up to see Aria smiling at me.  She was simply radiant, with a bit of pink in her cheeks and sparkling eyes.

"I love you, Aria." I told her.

"I know." she smiled back. "Good thing I love you too."

After the twins went to bed I pulled up an old horror sim. Aria and I watched it while Rose and Lily watched over the nursery.  Sometime before the movie ended I fell asleep.  Horror movies had lost their bite lately.  The real world held far more frightening things than I had ever seen on the trid.  Aria woke me up after the movie ended and we went to bed.  I fell asleep with her head on my shoulder and the scent of honeysuckle and vanilla in my nose.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I felt the physical world and the astral world slide very near each other.  I heard things in my sleep, saw colors of such beauty I couldn't name them, and felt a joy in my home I could scarcely believe.  Jasmine and Violet were happy babies, Rose and Lily were powerful spirits who seemed to be very contented, and Aria was radiant.  Her life was full of love and laughter.  The only dark spot in that colorful vista, was me.

I dreamed and drifted along the astral currents.  Buffeted by laughter and love.  I felt it pierce me, caress me, and flow over me.  I also felt the cold within, the darkness I seen in myself, the anger that came out when things happened I could not stand.  In my dream, I was suddenly in darkness looking up a worm ridden figure who spat out spells that slammed at my defenses.  I saw madness take hold of me for a moment as I raged and hurled magic with rage fueled recklessness.  I saw myself follow Pepper into an abandoned old pawn shop, shooting people dead as we walked through them.  I saw Sue laying in a bathtub, in her neck broken.  Piles of ghouls, blood splattered walls, screeching vampires, and walking dead men plagued my sleep.

"Wake up." I heard the voice, found it and latched onto it. "Tommy, wake up."

I opened my eyes and looked at Aria.  In the dark of our bedroom we both saw fine.  Her natural elf eyes shining like stars while my spell-enhanced vision let me take her in.

"I was dreaming." I said sleepily.

"You were having a nightmare." Aria corrected me. "You want to talk about it?"

I thought about it a moment. "No, you've heard it all before.  I could use a kiss though."

Aria pressed her lips to mine.  She lingered there for a long moment, kissing me gently.  I felt passion rising in the moment and wrapped my arms around her. She responded with a fierce kiss and we let the night pass away from us.  The world spun on, the children slept, and for that evening the only magic in my life was her.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

That is not dead which can eternally lie ... (Part Two: Deep Magic)

 “Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
― H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

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October 2nd, 2060

2340 hours, operational area local time

None of us were sailors.  The research vessel RV Sally Ride was under her own power and Taz had engaged the engine to pull us away from the island that rising from the deep beneath us.  Our rigger, Zero, was manning the mini-sub we had arrived with and was talking Taz through the process of moving the vessel.

Unfortunately, Zero forgot about the anchor.

The Sally Ride's anchor caught on one of the spires of stone I saw rising up from the deep.  The ship lurched hard to starboard as the anchor chain held.  Her engines pushed on, causing the she to list perilously.  On the bridge Taz reacted turning to the starboard, wrapping the anchor chain a third of the way around the rising spire and snaring the ship to the island.

"STOP! STOP!" Zero yelled over the comm, but it was too late.  Taz disengaged the ship's engine and she drifted slowly starboard, the deck righting as anchor chain lost tension.

"What the fraggin' hell?!?" I said.  "Taz, Zero report! What the hell just happened?"  It was a long minute before I received a reply.

"Damnit! Anchor was down.  I hand't thought to have Taz check for that.  Looks like your snagged on the island." Zero was frustrated and I was worried.

"Is there a way to release the anchor, to let the ocean have it?" I dashed over to the starboard side of the ship and saw the chain stretching down toward the rising island.  The anchor had caught on one of stone spires and was wrapped almost halfway around it.

"You'll need a torch and it'll take time.  I recommend putting the bow toward whatever you're snagged on and reversing the ship's engine at low power to pull away as the island rises.  You'll likely end up beached but that beats ending up high and dry in the middle of the island."   Zero's plan made sense but wasn't appealing.

"I've got this," Jazz replied.

Jazz secured a safety line to the railing and lowered himself down to the anchor chain.  I watched as he rolled out a grey paste onto one of the links.  Three minutes later he was back on the deck.  "Control, I'm blowing the chain.  Fire in the hole!" Jazz called out as he thumbed the detonator.  There was a loud "BANG" sound from over the rail.  I gazed through the smoke and saw the anchor chain falling away below us.

"Det cord. Never leave the office without it." Jazz said.  I saw the ghost of a smile cross his features.

"I'll remember that." I replied. I keyed my comm and gave the order. "Taz, Jazz saved our hoops. Get us the hell out of here."

"Initiating the 'get the hell out of here' maneuver!" Taz called back.  I heard the engines engage and felt the ship start forward.  "Jazz, get the men together mid-ship.  Eyes open and weapon's up.  We're not out of here yet."

Jazz was crisply professional.  The weapon specialists snapped to it and took up positions mid-ship.  The RV Sally Ride began to slowly pick up speed.  I could hear Creep vomiting over the rail not ten meters from me.  Below the ship, the fish and jellyfish had vanished.  Foul smelling bubbles were rising from the depths.  I could make out strange shapes moving about the surface of the land below. They were dark, indistinct, and moved erratically around the ring of spires. I could just make out a strange stone in the middle of the spires.  It was oblong and had to be four meters long or more.


October 3rd, 2060

0118 hours, operational area local time

The rock spires broke the surface, rising nearly twenty centimeters each minute.  The ocean water had warmed another three degrees locally, and green patches were appearing as algae bloomed in the energetic waters.  The RV Sally Ride drifted five hundred meters from the position where we had found her. Our mini-sub, dubbed "Peanut", held station twenty meters from the research vessel.

"Machine, what am I looking at?" Jazz asked suddenly.

I followed his pointing finger to the six rocky spires that were erupting skyward.  "Rock formations.  They're about fifty meters long and run to the center point of the island that is coming up." I had seen them from directly above. They were long and strangely narrow and were now the first part of the new island to see the night sky.

"No.  On the spires.  Do you see those shapes?  Looks like they've been carved." Jazz looked at me, a strange expression on his face. Jazz's cybereyes looked natural but I knew they had state of the art vision enhancements built in.  Jazz turned back toward the spires and added, "I've got a bad feeling."

With the algae blooming I had forced my astral sight closed against the living glare.  Now as I stared across the sea I felt as if Jazz's foreboding was contagious.  "Right.  I'm going to go take a look.  Get Creep off his ass and cover me."

I whispered into the astral and the air elemental responded.  A moment later I was flying over the ocean toward the rock spires that continued to rise up from the bubbling sea.  "Zero can you get a bumblebee out here too, please." Extra eyes couldn't hurt.

"Will do.  Two minutes." Zero replied.

Below me I saw the sea floor rising.  The spires erupted from a high point in the terrain and were now a full three meters above the water, with perhaps as much as another twenty meters remaining below the surface.  They were raising rapidly now as the island clawed its way toward the surface.  I was ten meters away when I saw what Jazz had noticed from half a kilometer out: the surface of the spires carved and shaped like the tentacles of an octopus.  Suckers lined the interior facing of each spire.  It was a sea monster of stone, reaching for the night sky.

"Control," I heard myself whisper. "are you seeing this?"

"Machine, is that stone or some form of paracritter?" Samantha's voice lacked its usual detachment and carried with it a sense of awe and dread.

I flew over to the nearest spire and ran my hand over the cold, hard stone.  I shivered uncontrollably as my skin made contact.  It was slimy from algae and millennium under the ocean.   "Feels like stone to me." I reported.

I heard Taz whisper over the comm. "Crazy."

Below me the sea continue to bubble with foul smelling gases.  I was close enough that I could see the rising island below.  I watched as man-like shapes shrouded in flowing dark fabrics danced along the sea floor.  A cold chill sunk into my soul.

"Control we have people on the island.  I repeat: we have people on the island."  They moved through the water below, dancing through the currents and spinning about the ring of spires.  The island was still clawing its way skyward and the sea floor they danced over rolled and shifted as silt and sand were sliding away.

"Machine, please confirm: you say you have people on the island?" Samantha asked.

"They're dancing around the tentacles, under the sea.  Just below me, and ..." I trailed off as I turned to follow the movement of the strange dancing people under the sea.  I saw the dark oblong shape approaching the surface. The tentacle spires were rising far faster now and were more than ten meters high above the surface. The oblong shape was of the same stone the tentacles had been carved from and was shaped like the beak of giant octopus.  The drowned corpses of the crewmen of the RV Sally Ride had been stuffed into the maw. "Merciful heaven." I whispered.  I looked about the rising tentacles of stone and opened my astral sight.

I flew away as fast as the air elemental could take me.  "Zero, keep the drone on station!  Control we need a fire mission on this location, what can you give me?!"

Samantha Goode reacted with surprise, "What?  Machine this is a recon mission not a combat op. Explain."

"God's name, Samantha, the tentacles have an astral presence.  Its alive Samantha!  The missing crewmen were stuffed in its beak.  The dancers in the water, I think it’s a ritual of some kind. They're trying to summon it or wake it up!"  I alighted onto the deck of the Sally Ride.  "Jazz do we have anything on hand we can kill those fraggers with?"

Jazz looked around the fire team, then back to me. "Well, yeah Machine.  We've got about ten things we can use to kill them. Eleven if you count Creep."

"I may just start to like you, Jazz.  Don't get me killed." I keyed my comm. "Control, are we getting fire support?"

"Assets aren't in place Machine.  I'm working on it.  For now, assume you're on your own." Samantha was back to the same calm professionalism I had heard in her voice so often before.  "You're call, Machine.  Go or no go?"

I looked at Jazz then back to the bubbling sea where eight tentacle spires were rising toward the night sky.  The astral echoes of fear and the screams of dying men were all about me. There was magic in the air and bubbling deep beneath the sea.  The thing being brought into our world had no place here and it had already taken the lives of the RV Sally Ride.

"Control we are go.  Keep us apprised of the availability of fire mission. Simon stay on comms and monitor bio-monitors for the team. Zero standby to extract as need be and get as many bumblebees over that place as you can.  Creep and I will provide air cover and magical support, rest of the team dives and eliminates the people dancing around that thing."  I lifted off the deck of the ship. Behind me nine men and women pulled their scuba gear back on and headed aft.  "Creep, come on and get your game face on."

Creep was pale and looked very sick, but he waved that weird wand of his and floated off the deck.  I unsealed the watertight pouch I carried and pulled out my menpo-style ballistic mask.  I pulled the mask on and reached out telepathically to Rose and Lily.  Beside me Creep was suddenly accompanied by six demonic looking women.  Their batlike wings beat the air while smoke smoldered from their noses and flames licked at their cloven hooves.  As always, they were nude, their burnt red skin, and horns adding to their demonic appearance.

"Divers in the water." Jazz reported.

"I'm sending a water elemental to get you their undetected.  One tick." I whispered out the commands to one of the water elementals I had bound and watched as it sped toward the team.  "You'll be out of sight momentarily. Begin approach and stay together until you reach the target area."

"Copy that and thanks." Jazz replied.

"What do we do if it wakes up?" Creep asked.

"We kill it or die trying." I replied.  Creep didn't have a reply for that.  We flew out over the bubbling sea while the stars began to disappear as clouds rolled in.  I saw flashes of lightning on the horizon and heard the distant report of thunder.

Creep and I took up position over the tentacle spires.  The beak had broken the surface and the silt and muck from the bottom of the sea had been worn away by the waves.  The tentacles all sprouted from a single piece of stone, the center of which being the beak.  Waves continued to wear away the silt, revealing larger sections of a monster carved from living stone.  The figures dancing around the spires continued splashing along, arms flailing and long dark fabric trailing around them.  I saw the team slip from the water, grab a dancer and drag him back down beneath the waves.  The remaining dances stopped and turned toward the area their missing comrade had occupied.

Rose arrived in astral space beside me.  "Creep, I think your ladies need to introduce themselves." Tentacles formed from the turbulent sea rose and lashed out and Creep and I.  Creeps demons dove toward the figures only to be met by explosions of sea water.

"Lily is changing Violet.  She will be here once she is done." Rose's thought voice carried to my mind.

"Excellent. Thanks for coming baby-girl." I replied.

"The ones below are enemies?" Rose asked.

"Yes, indeed." I replied.

Creep's demons fell from the sky.  Tattered and torn by water, they were snuffed out of existence.  Creep raised his hand in a warding gesture as the tentacles of sea water reached for us.

"I will do violence." Rose took on her angelic appearance and left the astral plane, materializing beside me. She raised her arms toward the watery tentacles crashing toward us and spoke. "Aquam Perdo Si Ick Suon!"

Water exploded in a cloud of steam and stinking slime. Creep got splattered in stinking algae. In my mind I heard Lily, "I have disposed of the stinky diaper and am on my way."  I laughed. I couldn't help it. I held my left hand extended in a warding gesture and felt mana energies slam into my defenses. Beside me Creep cursed vehemently.

"Earth and stone, hear me." I said aloud as I called out to the astral for the earth elemental I held bound.  With my right hand I pointed to one of the strange figures below, "Kill."  At the feet of my target the silt erupted and engulfed him.  More watery tentacles rose from the ocean depths.

Spells beat at my defenses, forcing my focus to defense.  Rose blasted watery tentacles apart with each incantation, and Creep cursed as if having the worse day of his life.  His fire spells fizzled and popped against deluges of water and his demonic fire spirits had been washed away.  Rain started to fall from black clouds that blotted out the night.  Lightning flashed in the distance and the sea bubbled and churned as the nightmarish island rose, reaching toward the inky sky.

From out of the hellish surf nine figures slipped up and seized another of the strange dancers, dragging the bizarre form beneath the waves.  Before me a tentacle of water collapsed and rained down on the unholy land below.

Lightning flashed, and my vision went white.  I heard stone crack and stared through retinal sparks and a brilliant afterimage.  Lightning had struck one of the spires, cracking its surface.  Green flesh pulsed behind the cracks, and a pink fluid oozed from the wounded rock.  A barbed quill erupted from a stone sucker just centimeters below the lightning strike.

"It is waking up." Rose said ominously.

I weathered a barrage of spells that hammered at my defenses.  My nose bled from the strain of holding back violent magic.  Creep continued to hurl down fire to no effect.  Once again, nine figures slipped out of the sea and seized another enemy.  I felt the pressure on my defenses lessen and another watery tentacle vanished.

"Keep it up baby-girl, we can win this!" I tried to sound encouraging but the strain I was under made my words come out in a desperate expulsion of air.  Lightning danced on the sea all around us and thunder roared.  Below us the remaining figures shouted and flung spells and screams up at us.

Creep was grabbed by watery tentacle, torn from the sky, and disappeared beneath the bubbling sea.

Lily appeared next to me, her angelic form humming with power.  My girls tore the sky asunder, hurling down lighting at the figures below.  In those flashes of brilliance and death I saw another figure dragged under the waves by Jazz and the team.  A glob of putrid green gel flew up and struck Lily's left wing.  She screamed in pain and fell from the sky, bouncing off stone to lay face down in the silt. Rose and I dropped toward her.

I landed in knee-deep salt water. The smell of sulfur and brine was sickening.  Behind me Rose saw to her sister while before me the son-of-a-slitch that hurt her gave off a gurgling laugh.  I threw a bolt of mana energy at him, which he deflected skyward. I heard curses and bits of ritual verse erupt from outside the ring of stone tentacles.  The magician before me spat out a word that hurt my ears to hear.  Another green glob of gel was flung through the air, this time streaking toward me.  It hit my spell defenses and blew through them, splattering across my wet suit.  It ate through almost instantly burning through and pitting my dive armor beneath it.  I felt burns on my body and screamed in pain, then fell into the stinking muck. I felt the island trembling beneath me.

Rose abandoned Lily to stand at my side.  Another green glob streaked toward me, impacting her spell defenses and sloughing off into the brine.  The gurgling laugh continued as Rose fought back another spell, her defenses straining with each impact.  I looked up into alien eyes, rows of shark-like teeth and a neck covered in gill-flaps.  Rose was hammered to the ground beside me.

"Girls, go home."  I looked up at the monster before me and felt certain I was about to die.  Rose and Lily vanished with anguished cries. I heard a gurgling sound in that strange creature's throat and looked up, determined to die with some quiet dignity.

I saw Creep's hand over the creature's mouth.  A twenty centimeter knife in his other hand was sawing through its neck.  "Hey, Machine.  Get in the fight omae." The slimy bastard was smiling with barely restrained laughter.  "That's it big guy, just let it happen."

I heard burps of gunfire and gurgling screams all around me.  I left Creep to his handiwork and joined the others.


October 3rd, 2060

0300 hours, operational area local time

None of the strange dancing magicians survived the assault. They were human-like but with terrifyingly monstrous features.  The gills, strange eyes, webbed fingers and other inhuman traits marked them as something strait out of a sailor's nightmare.

The island continued to rise, trembling and shifting as the seafloor lifted.  The muck around the stone tentacles and beak washing away in the storm to reveal a monstrous beast carved from a great piece of living stone.  Fleshy bits were exposed and pink bloody fluids seeped from cracks and breaks in the rock. We planted charges around tentacles, retrieved the bodies of the RV Sally Ride crewmen from the beak and discovered a dark well beneath their corpses that vanished into inky darkness.  Jazz primed and lowered charges down the hole.

I called Rose and Lily back to me.  They helped heal the injured, as well as healed the acid burns that had dotted my torso.

We escaped the island and detonated the charged from five hundred meters out.  The sea continued to churn in the storm, lighting flashed and the stone tentacles shattered. Pink foam bubbled up on the new beach as the island continued to thrust itself skyward.

The island is more than two kilometers in diameter and roughly oval in shape.  The highest point stretches some two hundred meters above the sea and is ringed by eight stumps of stone.   A hole, not unlike a lava tube, stretches down into darkness from the center of that ring.  We sent in a pair of bumblebee drones but lost signal almost instantly. We never recovered those drones.

The storm broke at dawn.  The CFS Coast Guard radioed out for an update on the status of the RV Sally Ride. We left that complication to Control.  Simon picked up a radio signal coming from the island which we triangulated the source of and discovered a sealed tube weighted with iron.  Inside the tube was a transmitter and battery pack, along with a hand written message sealed in a mylar bag.  I opened the bag and read it, then read it a second time in disbelief.





I sealed the bag and added it to a case containing a few items we had discovered which held magical auras.  With the CFS Coast Guard still an hour distant, we secured the monstrous bodies of the magicians in body bags, lay them in a pair of inflatable life rafts, and secured them to the mini-sub.  Of the crew of the RV Sally Ride, we placed their corpses in body bags, and lay them on the deck under an additional tarp to keep the heat from further damaging their bodies.

The Peanut came to life, her power cells carrying us the five miles north to rendezvous with her parent ship.  We loaded the corpses, the relics, and sailed north to Seattle.


October 11th, 2060

1300 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

Aria took Lily and Rose out to shop for Halloween costumes, leaving me with the twins.  Jasmine and Violet giggled as they levitated around the room.  Fussed until I they got their bottles. Burped like drunken sailors and despoiled their diapers before drifting off for an afternoon nap.  Aria sent pics of the costumes Lily and Rose picked out, as well as a picture of a pair of costumes for the twins.  I smiled at the little pea pod outfits the babies would soon be wearing.

I sat in the nursery, my sight open to the astral and listened to my daughters sleep.  The house was quiet, still, and full of warm feelings.  Below me the mana eruption poured out its trickle of power into my basement, awaiting my hand to shape it to my will.  I caught myself nodding off and stood up, steeling myself against the urge to take a lazy nap with the girls.

Aria got home at 1700 hours.  Lily and Rose helped unload the car before it shuffled off to its next pick up.  I had ordered Tai food and it was waiting on the dinner table when they arrived. The twins were playing, sitting in their walkers, shaking small rattles and giggling at each other.  I scooped them up and put them in their high chairs, fitted their little bibs on them, then ate and watched the twins succeed in spreading pureed bananas in their own hair.

We ate, laughed, and had an amazing evening at home. The sound of my daughters laughing chasing away the horror of the previous days. Love is the deepest, and strongest magic.

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Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

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