Friday, June 29, 2018

Rise of the Machine (Part five)

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

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

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

Saturday, March 6th 2060

0600 hours

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

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

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

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

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

"Why have you summoned me?" she said.

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

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

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

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


March 8th, 2060

0745 hours

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

"Watcher' doin' Machine?" he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0315 hours

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

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

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

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

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


March 11th, 2060

0440 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

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

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

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

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

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

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

0600 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time (Mission Debriefing)

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

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

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

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

"What did it say?" Danny asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Think it's dead?" Jazz asked.

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

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

"Jesus." Jazz said behind me.

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

Danny vomited on the meeting room table.

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

"For now." I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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


To be concluded in part six


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

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

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