There are times when I regret some of the things I've done. There are times when I dream of things from my past and wish so fervently to do things differently. The day Pepper died stands tall among these dreams, but it isn't the only one. Sometimes people you care about die, and there isn't a damn thing you could do differently to make that change even if you could go back in time and try again.
This is one of those stories.
February 12th, 2060
Aria had found her appetite and the twins were finally letting her keep most of her meals down. Life had been quiet since I got back Missoula. Aria and I spent our time reading up on children, spending time with Rose, and making time for one another. We were being people, and it was nice.
"Baby, I want ice cream." Aria told me. "It's seven in the morning and I want ice cream. What is wrong with me?"
I smiled even though I should have known better. "Nothing wrong at all. You've just got two little people growing inside you and they seem to really like the stuff."
"It's not funny, Tommy." Aria pouted. "I'm getting fat. Not just, 'oh you're pregnant fat' but the 'oh she never says no to candy' kind of fat."
"You're not fat." I reassured her. "You're three people packed into one body and two of those people are trying to outrace each other to see who gets to be called the big sibling."
Aria continued to pout. "It sucks, and I still want the ice cream."
I rose from my space on the couch and walked into the kitchen. I found the latest batch of frozen heaven Rose and Aria had made just the day before. It was a peppermint ice cream with tiny chocolate chips. It smelled good and looked fantastic. Two scoops went into a bowl which I then presented to my sulking fiance.
"There you go honey," I told her. "Anything else I can get you?"
"No. Just sit and keep me company." she replied.
I sat down on the couch next to her, pulled her feet into my lap and started to massage her legs and feet. She took a spoonful of ice cream in her mouth, savored it a moment, then put the bowl down. "Let me go, I have to pee."
Aria stood and stormed off to the bathroom. I shook my head and wondered how people ever managed to survive more than one pregnancy. I was contemplating the idea of what the house would be like when the twins arrived when my pocket secretary buzzed, demanding my attention. The call was from Sheila X. The fact it was on my phone and not Aria's meant biz.
"Ms. X, good to hear from you." I said.
"Tommy," Sheila started. "I would like to talk to you about a job opportunity I heard about. Interested?"
"Always looking for ways to expand my career and build a better life." I said. "When shall I meet you?"
"Tonight, twenty-one hundred hours, Brick Yard." Sheila X was precise, crisp, and to the point, which told me this was serious business indeed.
"I'll be there." I replied. Sheila X hung up without another word.
Redmond Barrens, the Brick Yard
The Brick Yard was busy that night. All of the tables were occupied, the bar was crowded and the live band was nova-hot. Sandy took one look at me and nodded toward the back.
I slid into Sheila X's usual booth right on time.
"Tommy, glad you could make it." Sheila said. Her tone was flat, all biz, and for just a moment I forgot that she was my future mother-in-law.
"Always glad for work." I replied. "What's the action?"
"Theft." Sheila replied. The curtain closed around the booth as she placed a holo-display on the table. The image of a gold statuette appeared, floating in a cascade of light and dust motes. "I want this undamaged, brought to me, and a counterfeit left in its place."
"Who owns it?" I asked.
"It is presently held by
I got straight to the point. "
"Five hundred thousand on completion." Sheila's reply was smooth and unemotional. "Meaning nothing up front. Get it done and get it to me and then you get paid. I'm not laying out money on 'maybe'."
I nodded my head at that. As far as thefts go this one promised to be dangerous, the target was obviously very valuable, and leaving a counterfeit behind only added to the degree of difficulty. I thought about it for a very long minute. "What can you tell me about the target and its security, the transportation involved in its shipping, the fine details? I'll look them over and make my decision. Twelve hours doesn't leave much time for leg work or set up so I need to know what is involved."
Sheila X leaned forward and looked me in the eye. "If you don't want the job just say so."
"I want the money." I corrected her. "But I don't want to take on a job I can't pull off. You once told me you liked that I was reliable. I want to maintain that rep and part of that is knowing if I can do the job."
Sheila took out her pocket secretary and sent a file to mine. I opened the file and looked over the available details. My window of opportunity was slim indeed, but I thought I saw a hole I could exploit. "You have the counterfeit item and the case?" I asked.
"It will be ready in two hours. Are you in?" she asked.
"I'm in, but for six hundred thousand, I need to hire on some help." I replied.
Sheila X actually smiled at that. "Okay, Tommy. Make this happen. I'm counting on you."
Given that the job was against
0800 hours local Seattle Metro-Plex time
It was cold that morning.
Zoe unplugged the cable from her datajack and turned to me. "Null sheen chummer. The helicopter is a fake, a decoy, they're sending the real thing by drone in fifteen minutes. Something set off a network alarm so security is tightening up and looking for intrusion." She shook her head at that. "Some wannabe deckmeister crawling in while I was working. Not chill at all."
"Are they still launching?" I asked her.
"Right in one. They're taking it seriously though, even ordered up on-site security to run facial app on everyone in the facility. That's going to eat up processing power but it will help to find faces that don't belong." Zoe dug into her bag a moment, retrieving a micro-printer unit. "I pulled the shipping file while I was there. You're going to need to slap this on your package before you pull the switch." Zoe printed out a series of shipping tags, handing them each to me in turn. I stuck them onto my decoy package, carefully lining them up as she instructed.
"I've got movement on the roof." Mario's voice came over my earpiece. "Escort helicopter just touched down. Looks like a fueling team is heading to top it off before they go play cat and mouse."
"Any sign of our shipping drone?" I asked.
"Not yet," Mario replied.
"About ten more minutes," she chided. "Mario I'm sending you the route. If you can keep me within a kilometer of it that would be great."
"Ed, I think you and I are just along for the ride. We should have dressed like jockeys." Gitti joked.
"I think this will go well," Ed replied. It was an emotionless, tired sound.
I had heard that Ed had his cybernetic reflex enhancements corrected. They had made him jittery the entire time I had known him. His hands used to shake whenever he wasn't moving. At that moment though, he was perfectly still.
"Damn right it will go well." Zoe interjected. "Five minutes."
I stepped out of the cargo van and called out to Rose. She materialized in her pale shadowrunner persona and hugged me.
"Mom will not want you to get hurt this time." Rose told me. "She says I need to protect you."
I shook my head at that. "I need you to do what I ask, please. Rose, I will be careful but part of this job is knowing what role you play on the team." I brushed away a stray hair from her face. "Today is going to be a simple job. We're going to steal the thing, replace it with the copy then get out of there before anyone suspects anything."
"If you get hurt, I'm told I will not get ice cream." Rose said. Her face was plainly serious.
"We get this done right and I'll make sure you have a whole liter of ice cream." I promised her. I wove an invisibility spell around myself and opened my senses to the astral plane. Before me, Rose wove her own spell then changed into her Pegasus form. I climbed onto her back and checked the package. "Let's go."
Rose launched us into the sky, her wings beating lazily but she picked up speed quickly. I called out to one of the spirits I had bound and tasked it to maintain the invisibility spell. Then I pulled on my AR goggles and hit my mic. "Talk to me Zoe, where is this thing at?"
"Just lifted off and will be crossing the north perimeter in less than a minute. It's going to be at thirty meters above street level, heading toward Sea-Tac." Zoe was all biz, and her information was spot on. Rose and I glided around to the north end of the complex just in time to see a small delivery drone soar off with a package cradled against its undercarriage.
"Rose get us under that thing. Zoe, have you compromised the drone yet?" Rose and I drew closer to the target.
"I've got control of it's package release systems, on-board memory, active sensors, and I'm spoofing the rigger who is flying it." There was a note of pride in her voice as she added, "You paid for the best, you get the best."
I reached up and pulled the package free, then slipped my counterfeit package up and into the package cradle. "I've got it. Let's get to the van Rose." Rose pulled us away from the drone, and we swept down toward the cargo van speeding along below.
As the van stopped for a traffic light the back doors opened and I climbed in. Rose vanished back into the astral plane.
"Smooth," Gitti said.
"Just drive casually Mario. Get me out to the Willows. Well done everyone." I said. I had Zoe scan the package. She found an active on demand tracking device and disabled it in moments. We pulled through the check point and into Redmond within an hour of the theft. All was quiet, and no one seemed the wiser. I had Rose close by in astral space, watching for signs of magical pursuit.
Mario pulled the van into the parking lot of a burned out Super Shopping Center. "Okay we're here." he said. The van's doors swung open and I stepped out onto the crumbling plascrete. Gitti joined me a tick later and I heard boots crunching on the far side of the van, telltale signs of Ed and Zoe climbing out.
"Right, quick check of this thing first. Zoe, give it another scan then Gitti go over it for any explosive surprises. I've already checked it for magical hazards and got rid of the astral tag." I stepped back as Zoe came around and went to work.
Gitti was watching the street, as was Ed. "This place has some bad memories. Why come back here?" Gitti asked.
"I keep an eye on it. Make sure nothing weird is lurking around. No one comes around, even the local squatters avoid it like it's cursed." I replied.
"Yeah, well it's creepy, omae." Gitti's comment was softly spoken. The veteran runner was watching the street and cradling his smg. "Next time pick someplace less open, or just go to the Brick Yard."
"I'm telling you, it's clean." Zoe reported. "None of the electronic tags on this bundle are still active. I did an ultrasound scan too. Just a statue looking thing packed tight."
"Sub-zero. Gitti, you're on." I said.
"Right." Gitti slung his smg, opened his rucksack and started pulling out tools. "If there is anything to make it go 'boom' I'll find it."
"I'm telling you, it's clean." Zoe sighed.
"Better safe than dead." I replied. The area was eerily quiet. It was like the whole world was holding its breathe. I looked around, found nothing threatening, then sent out a mental call to Rose and my spirits "Keep an eye out for anything in the astral. Fan out for one hundred meters and let me know if anything comes that close." Rose and the spirits set off, looking for any sign of astral threats.
Ten minutes ticked by as Gitti went over every inch of the package. At last he straightened and put away his tools. "Nothing here. It's as safe as a bag of trash."
I jumped at the unexpected roar of sound. A bloody hole was punched through Gitti's chest, and a look of shock appeared on his face.
Everything seemed to slow down. I heard a second shot from my left and saw Zoe thrown to the pavement with a bullet hole blown through her. I saw Edgy Ed bringing his Ares Predator around, its barrel still smoking from the shots that dropped Gitti and Zoe.
I managed to cast my little sleep spell, my pointing fingers were scant centimeters from Ed's heavy pistol. Maybe it was the shock of Ed's betrayal, maybe it was fear, or maybe Ed had a much stronger force of will than I had ever expected; but for whatever reason, my spell failed to take hold. Edgy Ed shot me twice, from a distance of less than meter.
I remember looking up from the broken plascrete and seeing Ed fire two times into the van. I felt numb and cold. I saw Zoe feebly reach for her pistol, then watched as her head exploded when Ed put two rounds into her skull.
"Mutha' fraggin' hell Ed," I muttered. I don't know why I was talking. Playing dead would have been smarter. "You killed us all."
"Not yet." he replied. Ed slapped a fresh magazine home and chambered a round.
Gitti's smg barked out three rounds. Two of the bullets caught Ed's gun arm and the heavy pistol hit the plascrete. "Careless of you Ed." Gitti muttered. His smg hit the pavement as blood foamed up from his lips.
"Why?" I heard myself ask.
Ed ignored me and the horrific bullet wounds in his arm. He reached down and picked up his pistol with his left hand.
Rose materialized behind him. She grabbed Ed's head as he began to straighten up, and twisted it completely around. There was a loud CRACK sound, followed by the sound of Ed's pistol hitting the plascrete for a second time. There was a flash of mana energy then Rose dropped Ed's smoldering corpse. Mana burns crisscrossed every inch of exposed skin.
Rose was beside me in a flash. Her healing spell took hold quickly. It hurt like hell as two badly deformed bullets were pushed out of my body. At point blank range they had cut through my armored vest, my form fitting armor and then taken me right off my feet.
"This will take time." Rose said.
"Anything coming?" I asked.
"There are men heading this way. They each carry much cyberware within them. They are being careful to not be seen." she replied.
"Drek." I opened my senses to the astral and confirmed my fear. Gitti was dead. "We're getting out of here. Mario, are you alive?"
There was no answer.
I risked a bit of magic and felt the strain as the package floated over to me. I clutched it to me and said, "Rose, we have to leave. Keep the healing spell going until it takes, but I need to ask you to fly me away from here."
"Of course." she said.
I managed to weave a weak invisibility spell around us. I had never had such a hard time with that spell as I did then. Rose picked me up and we began to float away. We were over the ruins of the Super Shopping Center when a dozen armed men swarmed over the van. I held onto the package as tightly as I could while Rose flew us to the Brick Yard.
It turned out that I had managed to grab the right statue. Zoe knew her stuff, may she rest in peace. Gitti saved my life one last time before he died. I never forget that.
Sheila X paid up, like always. I took half of the credsticks to Gitti's wife. I told her Ed killed him, but she didn't believe me.
Rose and I stopped for ice cream before we went home. I bought her a liter of organic strawberry ice cream, then picked up two more liters for her and Aria to share later.
Aria was not happy about me getting shot up. Fortunately for me, Rose's healing spell did a great job of minimizing the scarring. The scars looked far better than they had any right to. Whenever I shapechange to a new persona I think about getting rid of them, but then I remember Gitti, laying there on the broken plascrete, his smg still held tightly in his dead hand. A couple of old scars are the least I can do to honor his last act.
I went back the next day. Everything of value had been stolen. The bodies were still there though. I burned Zoe and Mario, but I brought Gitti back to his wife. She hates me to this day.
Gitti was a professional. He and I had fought ghouls, vampires, dark spirits that inhabited the dead, gangers, corp security teams, hell hounds, and more things than I care to admit to. He was a steady hand, reliable, and I miss him to this day.
I don't know why Ed betrayed us. I have some suspicions now, looking back at that day. Hindsight being twenty-twenty doesn't help when you don't know all the facts. I'll likely never know why, or why he shot Gitti first. Every time I think about it I realize I should have noticed that he was acting a little off. Nothing profound, just a little different, and I wonder why I didn't see it then. The truth, of course, is that I did see it then but that it didn't seem so far out of character that I worried about it. Edgy Ed killed three shadowrunners that day, one of whom he had been friendly with for years. He also shot me twice and I had saved his life on a handful of occasions prior to that. Whatever his reason, it cost him his life as well. May he rot in a hell full of the blood of his chummers and the tears of Gitti's wife.
From the author ~
Thank you for reading my fan fiction. I hope you have enjoyed this part of Tommy's story. If you enjoyed this story, please do share it with others.
As always I have to clarify that I do not own Shadowrun and that these stories are fictionalized accounts based on game play.
As you may have noticed, I recently cut back on the frequency with which I was releasing stories. This is because I have been busy with fulfillment for the KickStarter for Tarot Adventures, Book Two: Comet over Echo Rock as well as formatting text and art for The Steel Road, which is coming to KickStarter in a few weeks. If you are interested in seeing my other projects and what I have coming out, you can follow me on KickStarter.
I don't publish material for Shadowrun, but I do release material under the Open Game License for the 5th Edition game mechanic as allowed for in the SRD5.1 document published by Wizards of the Coast. You can find those books on Drivethrurpg.com here: Sinopa Publishing LLC. I am also developing my own role-playing game which I am hoping to release in 2019 (so keep a watchful eye open for that).
I hope you'll join me again next time, for more of Tommy's story.