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 see in myself, the anger that came out when things happened I could not stand.  In my dream, I was suddenly in darkness looking up at 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 madness 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.


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


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, directly beneath us.  Our rigger, Zero, was manning the mini-sub we had arrived in 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 ship to list perilously.  On the bridge Taz reacted by 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 were 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 in the bubbling depths 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 laughter chasing away the horror of the previous days. Love is the deepest, and strongest magic.


Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

I hope you enjoyed this story.
Please do share these tales with others.

Monday, July 23, 2018

That is not dead which can eternally lie ... (Part One: RV Sally Ride)

"To Federated Boeing, the land and mineral rights to the volcanic island that will erupt 301 kilometers due west of Petrolia on October 3, 2060." Dunkelzahn's Will


October 2nd, 2060
2217 hours, operational area local time

The ship before us was dark on the water.  The only sounds were waves slapping against her hull and a bubbling noise raising out of the unusually warm waters of the Pacific. The sea was bubbling as gases escaped the surging seafloor below. I swam along the surface, my eyes on the floating ship before me.

Two years prior I had woven several spells into myself.  I had a spell continuously running (via a self-sustaining mana loop, what some magical scholars call 'quickening') which oxygenated my blood and allowed me to effectively breath underwater; a spell that allowed me to see underwater (though it worked by removing the water from my vision so I saw things as if they were floating in air); spells that enhanced my physical strength, speed, and toughness; as well as spells that detected ghouls, vampires, and other less than friendly creatures.  Ahead of me the ship RV Sally Ride, formerly a commissioned vessel of the old U.S. Navy, floated amid algae and a curious school of jellyfish.  When the Navy had been divided between the UCAS and the CAS, RV Sally Ride was sold off to private interests and eventually ended up in the hands of Federated Boeing.

"Machine, I've got no wireless signal from the float.  Sonar is picking up a rapidly rising sea floor and an increase in biological signals in the area." Simon's voice was soft in my ear.  He was whispering in spite of himself being half a kilometer away in the mini-sub.  "Sea floor has movement all over the place.  Likely its the shifting tectonics moving debris along."

I looked down and saw schools of fish, jellyfish and shifting darkness as the sea floor was below the range of my spell enhanced senses.  The water was deep here, and many people had scoffed at the note in Dunkelzahn's will concerning an island he claimed would appear tomorrow.  The sea floor had been charted at 1400 meters a year prior and was measured by sonar sounding at 800 meters just two days ago.  We were there to snoop, collect information, and basically just see what the hell was happening with this island that was rising from the deep right on time for the Big D's prophesy.

"Simon, are you getting any cell signals from the crew?  Or any sub-surface contact for divers or hydrophone?" I was whispering because I was less than fifty meters from the ship and wanted to make certain I wasn't overheard by a surveillance drone or security sensor.  Nothing appeared to be moving on the deck.

"Diving at night isn't too smart unless you've got something to hide." Jazz offered up.

"Nothing.  No engine noise from the Sally Ride.  Her EM signature is almost zero.  I'd be surprised if a toaster were plugged in over there."  Simon sounded certain and the decker had been solid so far.  I would have felt better if Angel had been the one relaying the news but Simon hadn't earned that level of confidence yet.  He was good, there was no doubt about that, but he wasn't in her league.

"Okay, Zero surface and lets get an uplink to Control for this.  Everyone fall back to the mini."  I dove down to about five meters under the surface and kicked my way toward the sub.  Around me the weapon specialists wore thermal dampening wet suits and scuba rigs.  Creep was in the mini-sub as he couldn't swim.

"Copy that.  Surface in two minutes, uplink one minute after that." Zero replied.

"I've got zero surface contacts, nothing subsurface beyond the biologicals and the seafloor churning." Simon called out.

The weapon specialists called out in sequence. All accounted for and no one saw anything other than sea life.  We made contact with the mini sub as it surfaced, taking hand holds to stay together. I took a hand hold next to Taz and waited.

"Uplink is good, strong signal." Simon reported.

"Control this is Machine." I started. "We are on site and have suspiciously little activity.  Vessel appears to have had some form of system failure, no crew have been observed on deck, no signal from vessel.  Sea floor is rising steadily. No sign of other actors. Please advise."

"Please confirm. You say you have no visual on crew?" Samantha Goode's voice was as controlled as ever.  The hint of a question in her voice gave away nothing.

"Affirmative. No contact.  Simon, report sensor results." I replied.

"Uploading last thirty minutes of sensor logs now." Simon answered.

Samantha's voice came back over the comm a moment. "We're receiving your data.  Signal the Sally Ride, see if they need assistance.  If you don't get a reply, board the ship and determine what's going on."

"Received and understood. Simon, give me a channel they can hear."  In the mini-sub Simon was busying himself with sensors and communications while Zero controlled the small vessel.  Creep would be standing by for astral defense and to counter any awakened wildlife we might run afoul of.  I didn't have to wait long.

"Machine, your on Channel 6 at 156.3 megahertz.  Go for broadcast." Simon whispered.

"Sally Ride, Sally Ride this is Captain Charles Thomas of the submarine 'Peanut' do you require assistance?"  I tried to sound as professional as possible but had no idea how sailors communicated to each other.  Beside me Taz shrugged his shoulders and fiddled with his respirator.

Silence greeted me over the channel.

"Sally Ride, Sally Ride this is Captain Charles Thomas of the submarine 'Peanut' do you require assistance?"  I repeated my call and was again greeted by silence.  I muted the channel and switched back to the uplink with Control. "No response from Sally Ride."

"Board vessel, determine what is happening.  Provide assistance as needed, force is authorized for self-defense only." Samantha's reply was reassuring. We were here to snoop, not bloody people up.

"Confirmed.  Simon feed comm to the uplink. Taz, you're with me.  Everyone else, give us one hundred meters of lead then follow in pairs.  Jazz, you're drag."  Taz and I swam out toward the research vessel.  Two hundred thirty-eight feet of ship loomed darkly before us.  Taz and I came within fifty meters and I called out at the top of my lungs. "SALLY RIDE, CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?"

The only response was the sound of water slapping against her hull.

"I don't think they're home." Taz offered.

"We're going up. Don't freak out." I told him.  The water elemental rose from beneath us, lifting us in a column of sea water.  We were five meters above the surface and could see the deck at the bow of the ship. "Sally Ride, permission to come aboard?"  When no one replied I had the elemental deposit Taz and I onto the ship.

"Control, we're on board.  No contact."  I moved up toward the aft end of the ship in the darkness.  No one challenged us.  "ANYONE HERE?" I called out.   Again I was greeted with silence.

The Sally Ride suddenly pitched to starboard and I was thrown off my feet to crash down to the deck.  I saw sea foam splash as the ship righted and smelled a rotten fishy smell mingled with the stench of rotten eggs.

"Machine, the sea floor just buckled up another five meters.  Water temp is up two degrees locally.  I'm seeing a LOT of motion on the sea floor."  Simon sounded surprise.

"Damnit! This ship is right over the hot spot.  Machine, she needs to move." Taz said urgently.

"Machine, this is Control.  Proceed to the bridge, see if you can get her underway."  Samantha's voice was as calm as always. "Be advised, we've notified the CFS Coast Guard and are awaiting their response."

"Understood. Team is still boarding the vessel, we'll see if we can get her moving." I replied.  It took me almost two minutes to reach the bridge.  The exterior door was locked and the plexiglass encompassing the bridge was a mess of impact fractures and cracks.  "Control, are you seeing this?"

"I see it Machine. Proceed with caution." She replied.

"No drek." I thought to myself.  Over the comm I said, "Taz, I need a hand.  Get this door open." I cast my gaze about in the darkness, my spell enhanced sight showed me a barren deck and my team climbing up on the aft diving deck.

Taz put his shoulder to the door, and the door held. "What the hell?" Taz exclaimed.

"Cut it, we don't have time to wonder."  I told him.

Taz took the monomolecular knife from his belt and forced it into the seem of the door.  He sawed against the frame and I heard something snap.  "It's no good Machine. This door is fixed tight." Taz showed me the broken blade of his knife, a look of consternation on his face.

I opened my astral sight and looked at the door. Magic hummed through the door and the surrounding walls.  I saw astral echoes of long tentacles that wrapped around the bridge and struggled against the bulkhead.  The plexi had cracked and splintered under the force but it hadn't failed completely.  The magic on the door was reinforcing the bridge and door and its lock were strong enough to keep us out.

"Control, I'm seeing signs here.  Astral after images of what looks like an attack by a paracritter.  Magic is reinforcing the bulkhead and door. I'm going to crack it now." I raised my hands and began the counterspell.  "Implicata magicae.  Arese ditri su." I watched as the mana woven along the bulkhead and door unraveled.  The plexiglass windows of the bridge collapsed in small shards exposing the control center of the ship.

Taz moved onto the bridge like a shadow. His feet somehow avoiding the fragments of plexiglass that now littered the floor. "Bodies." Taz announced.

"Eyes up and weapons out." Jazz's voice came over the comm instantly.

I followed Taz inside, my boots crunching loudly on the shattered plexi. Taz turned and gave me a questioning look.  "Sorry." I whispered.

There were three bodies on the floor.  One corpse, a woman wearing a Federated Boeing Maritime security force uniform, was bloated and swollen.  Her skin a strange blue green color.  Small puncture wounds were evident on her leg, arm, and face.  Her uniform bore a triangle in gold on her lapels.  Dried blood was caked over her eyes and down her cheeks like old bloody tears.  The other two bodies were ork men, both of whom showed similar injuries.  They were older and had the look of hard working types.

"Control, I've got three deceased on the bridge.  What's the status on Coast Guard?" I watched the corpses carefully, long experience telling me to be mindful of the dead.  Taz stalked around to a terminal station and hit a pair of keys.

"Machine, no update on Coast Guard.  Proceed with caution and search for survivors." Samantha replied.

"No response from the helm." Taz reported.

"Okay, let's link up with the team and see if we can't find someone to clue us in." I waved Taz out ahead of me, keeping my eyes on the corpses as he ghosted out onto the deck.  "Simon, I need intel on this FBM officer, see what you can dig up."

"On it." Simon called back quickly.

Zero's voice joined the conversation. "Machine, the sea floor is rising steadily. I think around dawn or shortly before we'll see rock breaking the surface."

"Understood.  How do we get this ship out of the area and keep it off the rock?  Taz says controls here are offline." I followed Taz down to the next lower deck, my astral sight catching flashes of terror imprinted on the old research ship.  I heard phantom screams and saw after images of the ship shuddering from impacts on its hull.

"Don't know.  Would have to see what was wrong with it." Zero replied.

"Can we tow it?" I asked.

"Not with this mini-sub. Coast guard ship would be able to though." Zero's answer sounded certain. I trusted his judgement and kept my senses open as I scanned the deck.

Bright imprints of terror, currents of hunger and rage, and the echoes of dying men clung to the ship.  I shuddered in spite of myself.  The Sally Ride lurched again though this time I managed to keep my feet.  Sea foam sprayed and the ship rocked perilously.  I grabbed the railing and fixed myself to the deck.  Over the side I saw fish flitting by and jelly fishing pulsing themselves to get away from the stinking bubbles that were rapidly breaking the surface.  A large dark mass was rising, but I couldn't yet make out details.

The Sally Ride shook in the sea like a horse finding its footing but the old ship stayed afloat. I found Jazz stepping through the astral haze and noticed a spot clear of astral echoes.  I walked toward Jazz who opened his mouth to speak but I raised my hand to silence him.  I fixed my senses on the blank spot in the astral, a place free of the undercurrent of fear and violence.  Something or someone had carefully wiped away an impression in the astral.

"Jazz, we may not be alone." I looked him in the eyes and saw grim determination.  "I'll take Taz and see if we can get the helm to respond so we can move the ship.  Split the men into two teams and search for survivors. Don't take any chances though, if they look sick fall back from them and call me."

Jazz and the rest of the team scoured the ship while Taz and I tried to get the power on.  Simon guided us through a series of steps to bring the ship's generator to life and after ten tense minutes we had power.  I heard pumps engage in the lower portion of the ship and prayed we weren't sinking.

"Machine, CFS Coast Guard says they don't have any assets nearby.  Best estimate is three hours for a helicopter flyby and five hours for rescue vessel." Samantha said suddenly. "What is your situation?"

"We have power now.  We've found the three dead in the bridge but none since.  We're searching the vessel as we speak.  Astral echoes lead me to believe that some sort of tentacled para-animal, maybe a giant squid of sorts, attacked the ship." I looked out over the churning sea around me. "One thing stands out though, I've found places around the ship where the astral signatures have been wiped.  Someone didn't want to leave evidence behind."

There was a pregnant pause.  "Understood, Machine. Complete the search of the ship, we're watching your feed.  Call out if you see anything in the astral."

"Understood."  I replied. I watched as Taz worked under Simon's instructions to get the ship's systems booted up.  The ship had an eerie empty feeling to it and the horrific astral impressions clinging to it only reinforced the sensation.

It took twenty minutes for the team to search the ship. "No more bodies. No survivors." Jazz reported.  "Pumps are running as there is a small break just at the waterline.  The crew sealed that section and left the pumps running."

"Keep everyone on deck. Close the hatches going below and lets be ready to jump ship if this gets any worse."  Jazz was moving before my next sentence left my mouth. "Taz, how are we on getting this old girl moving?"

"It's coming along. Maybe ten more minutes if Simon is right."  Taz sounded tense, focused.

"Copy that. Take your time, we've got you covered." I replied. "Creep, get topside and get over here.  If that critter shows up I want more firepower on deck."

"Ugh, okay Machine. I'm on my way."  The slimy little fragger sounded sick.

I watched as Creep floated out from the mini-sub and began to drift toward the ship.  Below I saw the tips of rock formations rising and fish scattering away.  My ear piece clicked and Simon's voice came through.

"I've got a bit on that FBM officer. Darlene Cortez, formerly lieutenant Darlene Cortez of the Confederated American States Navy special weapons unit.  Full magician, classified training I can't get to without a lot more work and divine intervention, big periods of redacted mission time, action on the Aztlan border.  Special weapons and tactics with the Atlanta police until she got a better offer from Federated Boeing.  Basically, she's a badass combat mage with a lot of time in the field."  Simon's information did not fill me with confidence.  The lieutenant was dead, sealed away on the bridge of an empty ship alongside dead shipmates.

"Thanks, Simon. Control, did you get that." My reply sounded somber, even to me.

"Loud and clear, Machine." Samantha replied.

2315 hours, operational area local time

Creep touched down on the deck as the Sally Ride's engines began to come to life.  He looked sea-sick green and swore with every roll of the deck.  "I hate boats." he complained.

"It's a ship, not a boat." I replied.

"What's the difference?"

"I have no idea." I smiled at him as the ship rocked and heaved beneath us.

"I'm really not liking this, Machine." Creep wagged his finger at me for moment, then bent double and vomited across the deck.

The Sally Ride jerked as her engine caught and she began to move under her own power.  I grabbed the rail and watched as the jagged stone became more clearly visible.  Two hundred meters down, strange shapes moved along the rising sea floor.


(Continued in Part two)


Sunday, July 22, 2018

A little magic

" ... I hate bugs. I always hated them, even as a kid. I think there's just something hardwired, deep in the human brain, that says bugs are wrong somehow. Just looking at them creeps me out. So, naturally, there I was inside the rusting corpse of a factory complex some thirty-five miles outside of the Federal District of Columbia facing down a guy in charge of some bugs bigger than me. ...."  Excerpt from "Crossroads" by the legendary Stephen Kenson (quote attributed to the remarkable character "Tommy Talon")


August 2060

Work was quiet.  I managed to get a lot of reading done and even spent some time in the gym.  I was home every afternoon and spent my evenings enjoying the family life.  The news, however, was far from quiet. There was a big news story out of Boston.  A serial killer, or a copy cat, had emerged and taken many victims.  The shadow community was buzzing with work.

I spent my weekends giving Crank a new tattoo.

It was the first one I had ever done, and stretched the length of his spine (which was damn awkward at times).  I decided to cheat as I am not a great artist, and created the imagery digitally, then had a stencil printed out.  All said, I had about fifty hours of time spent in inking and coloring that piece.

Crank's tattoo followed a formula I had devised. The inks were unusual, being derived from alchemical compounds and distilled with components from certain awakened creatures.  The tattooing needles used were made of a alchemical metals. I commissioned Mike to produce them and he came through with flying colors.  Each needle was used for a different ink, six in all.  Each weekend Crank would come over and I would work on the tattoo while he lay in my basement inside a ritual circle I create specifically for that creation.

Once I had completed the tattoo, I subjected Crank to an hours long ritual where I infused him with a spell that greatly enhanced his reaction speed and reflexes.  The casting went far better than it had when I had cast the spell on myself, years earlier.  As I held the spell in place I took a feather from a living phoenix (that was really hard to come by) and used it to brush an alchemical solution derived from aloe, ginseng, water from a hot springs in Calgary, and powdered jade.  I braided the mana loop with care, fixing it forever to Crank's body and aura.

I took a deep breath as I released my hold on the spell and watched as it continued to hum with power.

"Crank, omae, I think that does it." I told him.

"Sub-zero.  I don't feel much different.  You seem to be speaking slowly though."  Crank got to his knees as he couldn't stand up in my basement due to the height of the ceiling.  "Can we test this?"

"I have something in mind. Put your shirt on and we'll go out in the back yard a moment." I replied.  He and I made our way upstairs where I grabbed a spray bottle Aria used on the houseplants.  "Honey, Crank and I will be out back.  We'll just be a moment."

"Okay, your daughters destroyed their diapers. I'll be a while in here." Aria called back.

I joined Crank outside.

"This is a nice place, Tommy." Crank turned and looked at me.  "Squirt bottle?"

"Yep. I'm going to shoot you with it if I can. You try to get out of the way.  If it works we'll move up to paint balls and assuming that works we'll test using gel rounds if you're up for it." He nodded and my hand blurred up, squeezing the little pump on the squirt bottle and rapidly as I could. Thin lines of water passed through open air as Crank stepped effortlessly from their path.

"Oh, real wiz Tommy!" Crank exclaimed.  He had a big tusky smile that showed off his perfect dental work.

The paintball test went the same way.  Crank easily stepped out of their path and came away clean.  We went to Redmond for the gel round test. We were a few blocks from the Brick Yard when I pulled my heavy pistol and opened fire on my old friend.

He was fast, terrifically fast.  He couldn't outrun bullets but he could outrun my aim for just a while.  My first four shots missed as he reacted to me.  The fifth round struck him in the gut, splattered against his body armor and knocked the big man on his ass.

"Ouch! Damn that hurt!" Crank complained.  "You fraggin' shot me!"

"Yeah, but I missed you the first four times.  That's the important part.  If you had been shooting back, I'd be dead."  I took a moment to load live ammo.  "I think it worked just fine, Crank.  You'll be like that until I die, or you do."

"This is real wiz. Seriously, you could make a fortune doing this." Crank jabbed the air, his motions smooth and faster than I remembered him ever having been.  "It's going to take some getting used to.  This is a big edge, Tommy.  Thanks."

"Thanks for being the first.  Now I've got a few other jobs like this to do in the coming months.  It's tiring work though." I thought about Little Rickie.  "Hopefully it works for other types of spells as well."

"Why wouldn't it?" he asked.

I shrugged, "Magic is funny that way sometimes.  I'll have to see what I can figure out, but this is great.  Don't get careless out there though. I'd hate for all that work to go to waste. Don't forget, let's keep this between us."

Crank smiled down at me. "Oh, I'll be careful. I haven't lived this long to get geeked after I finally have an edge beyond common sense and good looks."

Crank left on his pink scooter.  I watched him as he rode off down the pot-holed street, the spell's aura blending with his own. He would stand out from the astral perspective and I had warned him of as much, but he was faster than I was after that and on the mean streets of Seattle that was an edge no one should underestimate.  I wrapped an invisibility spell around myself, called out to Lily and the two of us flew home.


Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  The quote at the top of the page is from one of my favorite Shadowrun novels, "Crossroads" by the great Stephen Kenson.  The quote is used and cited to the source in compliance with conventional practice.  I do not own, nor do I claim any rights to that copyrighted work.  You can find "Crossroads" on Amazon at the link below.  (Disclosure:  I do participate in the Amazon affiliate program, see statement below).

I have been a big fan of the work of Mr. Kenson for some time and Crossroads and Burning Time are two of my all time favorite books.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Interlude ~ Home is where the heart is

"The truth will set you free"... ancient proverb

"The truth will get you ten to twenty" ... Nicholas Polowatski, criminal defense attorney / vampire


Saturday, July 31st 2060

0500 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

Jasmine and Violet were crying pitifully.  I rolled out of bed as Aria stirred. "I've got them honey, you can sleep."  I kissed her on the cheek and padded into the hall.

"I believe they are hungry as they are not stinky.  I will prepare the bottles." Rose's thought voice reached me as I entered their room.  Lily was standing watch in the astral, watching for any threats to the children {Honestly, I'm not paranoid.  Why take chances?}  The girls were dry, clean, and fussy.  I picked each of them up and saw them gumming away.  Yep, hungry.

Rose came in a few minutes later with two bottles, both at perfect temperature.  "Thank you, Rose. That is a great help." I opened my astral sight and beheld Lily, standing watch over the girls' room like a guardian angel, wings and all. "Thank you, Lily. I really appreciate all that you two do.  You're great help with the twins, and it gives me great peace of mind to know that Aria, Jasmine and Violet are safe with the two of you."

"Your gratitude is welcome and unnecessary," Lily replied. "I will keep you and the family safe."

"You're welcome," Rose added, "Aria says we are family and that family loves and protects one another.  Lily, Jasmine and Violet are my sisters.  Isn't that correct?"

I nodded to her as I rocked my daughters while a little telekinesis spell held the bottles for me. "We are a family.  Some people may not agree, but I brought you and Lily into this world so I feel responsible for you.  I had my reasons for bringing you both forth, that is certain.  I want to be the best wizard I can be, and a powerful ally spirit is a wonderful step in that direction.  I am a criminal with a dangerous job.  Sometimes I fight monstrous beings and having you two to watch my back is a fantastic relief.  Now, being married and the twins being here, I don't know what I would do without you two.  You'll both be here long after I'm dead and gone.  I only hope you'll remember me fondly in the ages yet to come."  Violet put her little hands up so I bent my head down and kissed her little fingers.  "If I died tomorrow, I know I left the world a better place than I found it.  I know that because all of you are so much more than I ever imagined I would accomplish and the world is a much better place because you are all here."

"You should take us to work more often," Lily offered. "it would be safer for you."

"I know, Lily. I just don't like having you two away from the house."  I took Jasmine's bottle and rubbed her back to burp her. "I like knowing the family is safe."

"Aria, mommy, worries about you when you go away for work." Rose told me. "Lily and I worry as well.  Jasmine and Violet are happier when you are here.  They enjoy the sensation of levitating."

Rose and Lily both smiled down at me. In my arms, the twins sucked at their bottles without a care in the world.

"Is there room in the family for more of us?" Lily asked.

"Mommy says she thinks so." Rose replied.  "If you don't wish to take Lily or I with you, consider summoning another."

"Another sister would be welcome." Lily said thoughtfully.

"Or the male version. They call them 'brothers', I'm told." Rose told her. "I am helping Lily with the social interactions. She does not like my cooking though, I'm afraid."

"I prefer the food made my he who is called 'Solomon'.  You're food is not as pleasant." Lily replied.

"You have not had food prepared by father." Rose's voice had a hint of laughter behind it.

I found myself smiling.  "Okay, you two.  I'm not in a hurry to make the family any larger yet, but I hear what you're saying.  There are a number of things I can do to give me an edge.  Bringing you two into the world, well, those were the most difficult magical operations I've undertaken.  There are a few other things I should do before bringing another ally spirit to the world."

"The dog is in the yard again." Lily said, suddenly serious. "I shall disperse him."

I looked at Rose who smiled and said, "The neighbors dog drops stinky piles on the grass in our yard.  Aria does not like it, so Lily takes offense and urges the dog to leave."

There was a sound like thunder outside.

"She doesn't hurt the dog, does she?" I asked, suddenly concerned.

"No.  The dog isn't scared of her, so she makes noises the dog doesn't like.  He is afraid of thunder, so she makes the sound and he runs home." Rose added proudly, "That was my idea.  The first time she went out to confront him, he licked her repeatedly and left the stinky pile anyway.  Sometimes I go out and bark at him.  He is smaller than I am, and usually runs off."

I burped the girls and changed their suddenly wet diapers.  Rose took Lily into the kitchen and the two of them went to work on creating breakfast for the rest of us.  I lay Jasmine and Violet on the rug and played with them, enjoying the coos and little gurgling sounds they made.  The smell of sausages and brewing coffee made my stomach growl.  The twins got quiet for a moment, their little faces turned up as if they were thinking very hard about something of earth-shattering importance.

I heard a pair of tiny squeaks, and grew fearful for their diapers.  Sure enough, it was time to change them again.

"Something stinky," Lily and Rose said in tandem.

"I've got it." I told them.

Breakfast was done at 0620.  I woke Aria and received a kiss to 'start my day off right'.  Our morning meal was bright and fun for me.  Jasmine and Violet slept through breakfast giving Aria and I a little time together.  Lily and Rose took the twins to their room, and Aria and I had a talk about work.  I didn't lie to her.  I told her I had been to a hell-like metaplane and fought a demon and several demonic creatures.  She took that in with a remarkable calm that shocked me.  The things she was accustomed to hearing from me already!

"I shouldn't have to tell Lily and Rose to go to you." Aria stirred her coffee while she looked at me with worried eyes.  "I love them, but you need them more out there than I need them here. What would we all have done if you had died, Tommy?"

"Aria, I'm sorry honey. I wanted them here to protect you and the girls.  I want you to have help.  I'll be fine." I took her hand and felt a tremble there.

"I was scared, Tommy. You've been working a lot and the things I hear from you are terrifying." She lifted my hand and kissed the back of it. "These new scars.  You used magic to heal your hand before you came home a few weeks ago."

"Actually, I healed it after I came home." I had promised her I wouldn't lie to her. "I got hurt in an explosion.  Rose helped me when I got home."

"We all love you, Tommy." Aria kissed me then rested her forehead against mine. "Once this contract is over, I don't want you signing back up.  Hell with the money, we were fine before this and we can do just fine without it."

"Exactly what I was thinking." I wrapped my arms around her and felt tears streak down my cheeks. I don't know why I was crying but I knew my wife loved me.

We took the twins outside that afternoon and let them get some sun. Aria and I took turns pushing the stroller. I looked around at the carefully tended lawns and well maintained houses.  My parents would have been happy for me to be living there.

We passed the home of a middle-aged ork couple.  They were welcoming family and judging from the smell and smoke wafting up from the back yard they were getting ready for a bar-b-que.  I waved to them as we passed and was reward with a tusky smile and a wave back.  They seemed like nice people and had given Rose a pat on the head to go with the large handful of candy they put in her Halloween bag.  The neighborhood was full of the sound of children laughing, sunshine  poking through thin cloud cover, and the smell of grilling foods.

The weekend passed too quickly.  I called Crank Saturday night and we made plans for him to meet up with me the next weekend.  I talked to Aria about it and she put in a larger grocery order for the Friday delivery.  I spent my time with my family, soaking in joy from the little smiles Jasmine and Violet made when I ran my hand over their thin hair or tickled their pointy ears, and playing catch with Lily and Rose in the back yard.  I laughed at jokes Aria told me, and held her closely each night, cherishing the scent of honeysuckle and vanilla.

"You make sure to come home to me, Tommy." Aria told me. "You have my heart you know."

"And you have mine." I kissed her and drifted off to sleep.

The twins woke me two hours later.


Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

Shadowrunners are interesting characters and I think that every once in a while it's good to shine a light into the shadows they live in to see the people hiding beneath the tough exterior.  I hope you enjoyed this interlude.

As always, your comments are welcome and please do share these stories with others.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Wedding Bells and Burning Hells (Part three ~ Requiem)

"There must be some way out of here"... All along the Watchtower


Sunday, July 25th, 2060

1425 hours, operational area local time

I was afraid.  I don't mean I was nervous.  I am not saying I felt the cold tingling hands of fear.  I mean I felt the kind of fear that puts an icy cold sensation in your guts.  The kind of fear that makes grown men lose control of their bodily waste functions.

"Machine?" Jazz whispered.

I didn't respond.  I heard him and understood he was wanting to know what I saw, but I didn't know what to say.

"Machine!?" Jazz's voice was insistent. "What the hell?!"

"Jazz. We're in deep." I took a breath and tried to steel myself against the fear I felt. "Let's go." I pushed myself up and stepped into the bloodied room.

"Oh. My. God." I heard Jazz swear behind me. "Machine, what the HELL is that?!?!"

"First guess? I think it's a metaplane and probably one of the hellish variety." I replied.  A wailing sound blew into the room on a gust of hot air tainted with the scent of ozone and brimstone.  "Get the team up here and put gun barrels facing that gateway but save one to watch the steps."

The team filed in and each paused upon seeing the portal alight against the far wall.  Creep joined me at the totem.  "The essence trail goes in there." He said. "Whoever it is, that person is alive."

"Agreed.  Have you ever seen something like this?" I pointed to the totem.

"No. It's pouring out mana energy, fueling the portal." Creep looked at me, his eyes alight with magic and madness. "I've never seen this much power in an object."

"I have. It didn't end well." I looked out onto the hellscape beyond the tear in reality that stood at the far side of the room. "We're going to take it with us if we can get that gate closed."

"That's a big IF." Creep replied. "I've known free spirits that could create portals for a brief amount of time, but this has to have been open for a while.  With this thing feeding the portal power, there is no telling if it's even possible to close it."

"Have you ever seen a metaplane like that?" I asked.

"Sure have." Creep replied. "I think you and I wander through different realms, Machine."

"We have a survivor to retrieve. I'm going to need you and your demons to hold the gate."  I felt a terrible dread about what I was about to do. "While I'm gone, get these victims into body bags, we'll take them back with us."

"You're going in there?" Creep's eyebrows went up. "No offense meant Machine, but have you lost your damn mind? Walking into a random metaplane is stupid.  Walking into one that looks like it came straight out of Dante's Inferno is a whole new level of stupid."

"We have a mission, Creep." I was still scared drek-less but talking about what was about to happen helped settle my nerves.  "Hold the gate.  I'll be back with our target if at all possible."

"And you think I'm insane." Creep shook his head.

"Jazz, you're in charge until I get back.  Taz, Ace and Fey are with me.  Don and clear your masks, we're going in."  I got some disbelieving looks but the three weapon specialists pulled on their gas masks nonetheless. I stepped up to the tear in space, and looked out on the blasted landscape beyond.  "Jazz, hold this gate."

"Copy that Machine." Jazz replied. "Bring them back."

I nodded and stepped through the gateway and into the hellish metaplane.  The stench was horrific.  The stench of burning flesh battled with brimstone and ozone as each tried to destroy my sense of smell in the most painful way possible.  The spells I had woven into my very body kept the toxic atmosphere from killing me, but I had to endure the odor.  My stomach threatened to revolt.

"Jazz can you read me?" I asked over the comm.  He didn't respond.  I turned and saw the portal behind me, floating in empty space mere inches over the blasted landscape.  I could see Jazz, his AK-97 propped over the lip of the dais.  "Jazz can you read me?"  Jazz made no indication he heard me.

I switched to the team-wide channel. "Radio check."

"I hear you just fine, Ace replied.  He was standing in front of the gate and had been the last of the three weapon specialists to cross.

"I have you loud and clear," Fey replied. "but I can't raise Puma."

"It's hot as balls here." Taz murmured.

"Stow it, we all feel it." I looked around, opening my sight as I did and located the think wisps of essence.  "We go this way.  Stay calm, conserve ammo, and we'll get out of this just fine." I just hoped my fear wasn't noticeable in my voice.  "Stay close everyone."

I started at a jog, following the wisps of essence that would lead me to our survivor.  Flames jetted up from pits in the landscape.  Screams of pain and terror co-mingled with the wailing of the dead to haunt the abrasive winds.  We skirted suspicious puddles of green liquid, and felt the sweat soak our clothes.  The heat was comparable to a blazing desert at noon.

"How much further?" Ace asked.

"Don't know." I replied. "We'll know when we get there."

We traveled for what seemed like hours.  We crested dunes of small bones, trudged through stinking patches of sulfur, and felt the winds sting us with blown particles.  I saw a lake of burning sulfur where demonic fire spirits, looking much like the ones Creep bound to service, tormented astral forms by holding them down to burn.  The cries of the damned brought harsh laughter from the beautiful demons.  We gave the lake a wide berth, trudging through charred plains of shattered volcanic glass.

I saw an astral form, the soul of some hapless being, picking its way through razor sharp spines of obsidian only to be dragged to the ground, held fast by the jaws of demonic looking dog.  Taz raised his SMG but I motioned for him to lower it.  We hid as the dog dragged the screaming soul away to whatever torment awaited it.

"I had it dead to rights, Machine!" Taz sounded fierce even with his gas mask on.

"We don't want to raise attention.  We're still going to need to get back to the gate once we have our target." I told him.  We took five minutes to catch our breath, then cut back toward the lake of fire and picked up the essence trail once more.  We followed it to a pit that opened on an expanse of salts and plunged into darkness.  Tortured screams and laughter echoed from the rough-hewn rock walls of the pit.

"Down there?" Fey asked.

"Yeah, down there." I replied.  "Everyone remember where we parked.  Let's get this done."

There were no steps, and no easy ways to climb down. I took hands with the others and wove the levitation spell around us.  We floated down into the pit as screams wafted up to meet us.  Minutes stretched out and the pit's opening shrank above us.  The heat was stifling, and the air became tainted with a stench I don't have words to describe.  We landed in heap of rotting corpses, tattered astral bodies, and suffering souls.  I climbed over the heap, following the faint wisps of essence that led me into this hell.  The wisps were growing faint, and I was suddenly fearful that we might lose our way if the survivor died.

The damned grabbed at me, pleading in languages I had never heard before.  Corpses burst in clouds of stench that ignited and charred the filth around us.  The dead hated us, and we found ourselves batting away corpses and throwing down damned souls that sought to bury us under the pile with them.

We scrambled over, then tumbled down the mound of gore, striking a floor of rough black stone.  I gained my feet and felt the heat through my boots. The sound of my footsteps echoed menacingly down the vast corridor in front of me, a ribbon of fading essence lead the way.

Try as I might, I could not silence my footsteps on the stone.  Each step echoed all around me, while the cries of the damned and demonic laughter rang out ahead of us. Strangely, the sounds of souls and demons produced no echoes.

The corridor opened into a chamber that was roughly the size of a basketball court.  The floor was of the same blackened stone of the corridor, the walls were rough stone and adorned with the bones of countless victims.  The rest of the archaeological team was there, crucified to the walls. The fading wisps of essence drifted over the wretched figure of Dr. Louise. She was hanging limply from the wall, her wrists were pierced by shards of bone that held her pinned to the wall.

"They don't look like they're going to make it out there." Taz said.

"We take them anyway.  That's the mission." I replied. "Let's move, sooner we get this done, the sooner we get out of here."

We were halfway across the room when the air shifted in the heat. A figure stepped out, fully four meter's tall.  It had the body of sultry, feminine demon with cloven hooves and a barbed tail.  Its red skin was covered in small scales the size of a baby's fingernails.  The face possessed flawless skin that ended in a bare skull just below eyes of blue-white fire.  A crest of six horns sprouted from the top of the monster's skull and ran to the back of its head.  It was nude and reeked of sex, sulfur, and death.

The monster's voice rang in my skull. "Oh, new toys.  How I so love to play.  Such consideration as I have all but broken these latest."

I hardened my magical defenses, extending them over Taz, Fey, and Ace.

"You like to play little wizard, don't you?"  My defenses held and I heard the demon's voice from it's own mouth.  It was a delightful sound that hurt my ears.

"Open fire." My words were answered by the burping sound of Fey's SMG.  Silver rounds stitched up the monster's abdomen, spilling green blood and eliciting a scream of anguish.  Taz and Ace stood slack-jawed, staring at the demon.

"Get in the fight you two!" Fey yelled.  Taz and Ace ignored her and continued to stare.

I drew out my S&W500(tm) Magnum and leveled the heavy pistol at the monster.  The monster looked me in the eyes and everything changed.

I was standing in my bathroom, steam clouding the mirror.  My form fitting body armor had blood on it.  Aria was standing in front of me, her eyes wide with terror.  The babies were crying down the hall.  My heavy pistol was leveled at her head.

"Tommy! No, baby please. Wake up!" she pleaded with me.

I lowered the gun. "What happened?" I asked her.

"You came home from work and wouldn't talk to me.  You had blood on you and just went to the bathroom. I came in to ask you what was wrong, to see if you were hurt, and you..." Aria teared up in front of me.  "... you pointed your weapon at me."  She cried and took a step toward me.

"I'm sorry Aria." I heard myself say. "I don't know what happened. I don't remember coming home."

"It's okay my love." she said through her tears.  She took another step toward me.  "Don't leave me again.  Please.  I hate it when you leave."

"It is not the truth," I heard a faint whisper in the back of my mind.

"I can't stop yet, honey.  You know that." The trideo was on too loud and I found it hard to think over the sound of gunfire.  "We should turn that down or the girls won't get any sleep."

Aria took another step toward me, her eyes wet with fresh tears and a smile creeping up on her face.  "It'll be okay my love. Rose can sleep through anything."

"A lie..." I heard the whisper again and a cold knot formed in my stomach.

I brought the heavy pistol back up, its barrel touching the Aria's forehead.

Aria's face didn't show surprise or fear. "I love you." she said.

"If I'm wrong I'll find those magic balls," I promised her.

Her face took on a puzzled look. "What?"

I pulled the trigger and my wife's head exploded in a shower of blood, bone and brains.

Everything was dark. "It was a lie." repeated over and over again in the darkness.  I heard a soft, rhythmic thumping sound pulsing somewhere.

"Was I wrong?" I wondered. My voice echoed against the darkness. I remembered the look on Aria's face and prayed I wasn't wrong.

"It was a lie." The voice came louder this time, closer.

I couldn't see, but my hands felt warm and sticky, like they were covered in blood.  "Who's there?" I asked.  Fear was creeping up on me.

"We're coming. We will do violence."  I heard the voice sounding in my head.  It was warm, and familiar.

I opened my eyes, and found my left hand pinned to the wall by piece of splintered bone. My right hand grasped my heavy pistol like it was the only thing keeping me alive.  In the chamber before me, Fey darted about.  Her enhanced reflexes keeping her just ahead of the demon that sought to kill her.  The Colt submachine gun in her hand burping out silver rounds that stitched small wounds over the monster that was trying to kill her.  Taz and Ace had been crucified to the wall on either side of me.  Their eyes were glossy and vacant, their breathing shallow.

My wrist hurt like hell.  I holstered my pistol, grasped the splintered bone and tore it from the wall and out of my arm.  I bled horribly and uttered the incantation of healing as I struggled to open the vial of water and poured it out over my wound.  The waters bubbled and popped as they came into contact with tainted air I was breathing, and foamed as it made contact with the wound.  I didn't have time to waste, so I gritted my teeth and held on to the spell as best as I could.

"If anyone can hear me I need help!" Fey yelled over the comm.  "Damnit! Ace! Taz! Machine! Snap out of it!"

I drew my heavy pistol again and took aim at the demon. I had a flash of an afterimage, Aria's face at the end of the barrel. "No.  Not this time."  I pulled the trigger, the heavy pistol bucked in my hand and the silver round struck the demon on the chin and blew its lower jaw off.

"Reloading!" Fey screamed.

I aimed between the demon's exposed breasts and fired again, blowing a hole the size of a troll's fist into the creature.  "Two." I said, and pulled the hammer back.

The monster's barbed tail lashed out at me but I stepped aside and leveled the gun at the joint above the right cloven hoof.  The pistol roared and bucked in my hand.  The creature's joint exploded and its hoof came off.  It screamed in rage and pain. "Three." I intoned, levering the hammer back again.

The demon sneered in rage, extended her right hand and spat a word at me that no living being was ever meant to hear.  The spell struck my magical defenses and the mana rang like a church bell.  Energy pulsed around me, arching against the stones and tearing at my will.  I felt the burns appearing on my face and hands and smelled the familiar stench of singed hair and ozone.

I shot the creature in its outstretched hand, the roar of the pistol was strangely reassuring. "Four." I growled through gritted teeth.

The barbed tail lashed out as the monster pushed itself up on its elbow, narrowly missing my head as I thumbed the hammer back again.

"FIRING!" Fey cried out. "DIE YOU FRAGGER! DIE!"  Her SMG hammered out rounds that struck just below the monster's ribs and walked up over the bare breasts.  Bits of flesh were blown off and green blood splattered the crucified corpses behind the demon.  Fey pulled the weapon in tightly to her as she burned through the magazine.

I leveled my gun at the demon's eyes.  "Five." The back of the demon's head exploded.  A sickening rainbow of colors mixed with splinters of bone showered the stone floor.  The demon crashed to the floor.

"Reloading." Fey and I said in unison.

Rose and Lilly appeared in a flash of light.  Two angels, radiating strength and seething with a fury I could feel in my mind. "You are hurt." Their voices reached my mind and I felt grateful and worried for them.

"Girls we have work to do." I said.  Get the living people down off the wall, treat their injuries."  I pulled the hammer back on my pistol, walked over and put five more rounds into the demon.

Fey watched the corridor we had entered from. "So is this one of those 'as yet unidentified awakened threats' you guys were on about?"

"No.  This wasn't as tough as they were." I replied.  I looked over the corpse of the demon and watched as it began to turn to ash.  "Though I suppose it could be almost in the same league."

"You're slottin' with me, right?" Fey asked.  Her eyes were wide enough that I could see them through her mask.  "That thing took you three out of action in a blink."

"Yeah, it got my number and played in my head." I told her.  "This one liked to play mind games."

"Most of these are dead." Rose exclaimed.  "Their spirits have been consumed."

"This place is vile. Why did you come here?" Lilly's voice held a trembling quality to it.

"These people needed my help, Lilly.  I came here to save them" I explained.  I thought about it a moment and added, "and because I had to for my job."

We pulled Ace and Taz off the wall and got them moving again.  I had them police up the shell casings while Rose sterilized all of the blood that was left behind in that cavern of the damned.  We slipped out of the cavern, flying over the pile of the dead, with Taz and Ace carried by an air elemental.  Fey flew on Lilly's back and held onto Dr. Louise, while the two other survivors clung to Rose's back.  I levitated up behind them.

"Girls, follow the link back to the gate. Dr. Louise, we're getting you and your people out of here." I poured out a measure of water from the Blood Falls over Dr. Louise, and applied my best healing spell.  She was weak, and hadn't regained consciousness.

We flew on, covering miles of blasted, hellish landscape and picked up a flock of the winged eels who pursued us.  Taz and Ace shot down dozens of the little monsters.  We flew on, dashing across the sky as more winged shapes rose to give chase.  Demon women rose from lakes of burning sulfur to throw bolts of fire at us.  Maddened souls erupted from geysers of flame, screaming incoherently only to be dragged back down by some unseen force.  We fled for our lives and souls, following the fading wisps of essences bound up to Dr. Louise as they stretched on toward the tear in the fabric of reality.

We came through the astral gateway reeking of brimstone and death.  The survivors never regained consciousness.  We lay them on the floor and Simon opened the medkit and went to work on Dr. Louise.  "I'm not a doctor, but I've had a little training."  He confessed.  The other surviving members of the dig team, shuddered and coughed up bloody globs of sulfur and dirt.

"Machine, we've got company coming." Creep reported. I heard him intone a spell and saw his demon spirits hurl fire at a cloud of winged eels that were fast approaching.

"Jazz, suppression fire.  Keep those things busy until we can close that opening." I heard his AK-97 firing before I finished speaking.  The rest of the team joined him in sending death down range.

Dr. Louise convulsed violently, blood foaming at her mouth.  The bio-monitor hooked to her sounded the alarm as her heart flat-lined.  I watched as her essence finished dissipating.  Her soul vanished peacefully, while my ears still heard the wails of the damned from the portal behind me.  Simon started chest compression.

"Simon, she's gone. See to the others." I told him.  I turned to my ally spirits. "Girls thanks for coming."

"It is my pleasure." Lily replied. "I told you I would not fail you this next time."

Rose's thought voice reached my mind. "We love you and Aria was worried.  She would ask of you and was alarmed when we told her you were in the underworld."

Oh. Drek.

I removed the totem from the dais and watched as the gateway to Hell slowly closed. It went into one of the archaeological sample bags.

Of the archaeology team, only Michael Smith survived.  We placed Dr. Louise and the others in body bags and brought them back to the wall and the gate.  Wolf and Tom hadn't seen any action while we were away.  It was a relief to see them on the wall, healthy and whole.

It took three trips to ferry the bodies out of the ruins and out to the Osprey.

We didn't scour the ruins for relics.  I called out to control and showed her the totem we recovered.  She approved our immediate return and we packed up got out of there before anything else could go wrong.  I watched the body bags for any sign of movement, and was greatly relieved not to see any.

We were over the Gulf of Oman when I sent Lilly and Rose home ahead of me.  My ally spirits hugged me before they vanished into astral space.  Jazz stared at Creep who wisely said nothing.

Monday, July 26th 2060

0345 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

I opened my front door and found Aria asleep in the rocking recliner we had bought when we discovered she had been pregnant.  She had baby vomit on her shirt and her hair was up in a tail that had stray hairs escaping in a frenzy.  Lily was holding Violet, who was sleeping soundly in her arms, while Rose was holding Jasmine who was patting at her cheek.  I sneaked down to my bathroom and took a long shower, scrubbing at every part of my body to get the stench of brimstone off.  When I came out of the shower I felt like I had lost a layer of skin.  I pulled on my robe, and joined my family in the living room.

I had Rose and Lily put the twins to bed, while I carried Aria back to the bedroom and tucked her into our bed. She woke up as I was pulling the covers up.

"Hi, you." she said sleepily.  "I'm so glad you're home."

"Me too, it was a long day."  I kissed her on the forehead.  "I'm going to get some breakfast, then I'll come to bed."

"Okay, but if the twins wake up it's your turn to take care of them." Aria yawned and rolled over. "I need some sleep."

I managed to get three hours of sleep before Jasmine and Violet began to fuss.  Rose appeared and advised me that "foul odors were coming from the twins".  I pulled on my robe and went forth to do battle with dirty diapers.

My daughters, giggled and squirmed as I cleaned them up.  Their little mouths turned up in grins as I carried them out to the living room.  A little levitation had them floating in the air before me, as I made funny faces and tickled their little feet.

Rose warmed bottles of breast milk for them.  I fed and burped them, and watched as they fell asleep in my arms.  Lilly and Rose helped me put them down to bed.  I asked Lily to watch over them, asked Rose to make breakfast, and I sat down on the couch and fell asleep.

I woke up a few minutes later to bacon, toast, and my grumpy wife asking about coffee.

It was good to be home.

Thank you for reading my fan fiction!  I hope you have been enjoying the stories of Tommy's adventures throughout his Shadowrun career.  These stories are derived from game play and from down time activites.

I also develop, write and publish role playing game titles (though not for Shadowrun).  You can find my projects on KickStarter and on Drivethrurpg.  I'll hope you'll share these stories with others.

In August, after completing fulfillment of The Steel Road, I will be launching the KickStarter campaign for a new supplement book for the 5th Edition of Gary's game.  That project is titled Whispers of Persephone and includes art from Christian Martinez!

Art by Christian Martinez
From: Whispers of Persephone
All Rights Reserved

Your comments are most welcome.  I answer as soon as I can.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Wedding Bells and Burning Hells (Part Two ~ Power in the Blood)

"If you're going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill


0715 hours, operational area local time

The carvings on the walls, floor and ceiling moved on their own.  Figures appeared to breath, limbs moved, eyes followed you, and figures sometimes traversed the entire surface of the magnetite block they were carved into.  The strange carvings made no sound.  I felt their eyes on me as the rest of the team climbed down and we took that first room.

The first room was a square, ten meters on each side with a three-meter-high ceiling.  Three passageways opened from the room.  My compass was useless as it just spun lazily in the magnetic fields I was wading through.  I oriented myself and identified that the corridors ran from the north, east, and south side walls.  That the western wall had no passageway may have been significant in some way.

Simon set up the first repeater and hooked it to a cable Zero had lowered down.  While he worked, Jazz set Wolf and Fey to cover the southern corridor, Tom and Puma to cover the eastern corridor, and tasked Ace and Taz to come with me.  I left Creep with Jazz for additional support.  Dee and Amy were topside protecting Zero.

The passages were little more than two meters wide which made for a tight fit.  The two weapon specialists loaded silver ammunition into their Colt submachine guns.  The sound suppressors fixed to the barrels were a welcome sight.  The bumblebee drone that had spotted the dead flashlight had landed atop it and was awaiting our arrival.  It was time to find some answers.

"I've got point, Taz you're behind me.  Anything that looks dangerous shows up, I'll drop down to clear your line of fire.  Ace, you've got drag, keep anything from biting us in the ass."  I pulled my menpo-style ballistic mask onto my face and stepped into the dark corridor.   Taz and Ace followed close behind.

Twenty meters in, the corridor sloped down and began to curve to the west.  I shook out a light stick and left it laying on the black stone of the floor.  The eyes of a strange beast stared into the pale green glow.  I passed the first repeater drone as I lost line of sight to the square room. The small drone hovered in the middle of the corridor, its four electric motors giving off a barely audible hum.  I continued down, my feet falling on the dark stones and my eyes searching for any signs the drones may have missed.

I found the flashlight laying on the floor. The bumblee drone was resting atop the handle and fluttered up as I bent to retrieve the first evidence that someone had been there.  There was a peculiar smudge across the lens and in the darkness my low light vision wasn't sufficient for me to tell what it might be.  I pulled my pen light and inspected it.  There was a smudge of dried blood on the the plastic lens covering the lamp.

"Yeah, that's what I figured." I said out loud.  My voice softly echoed around me. "Blood on the lens.  Eyes up and weapons free people."  I dropped the flashlight into my rucksack and continued down into darkness.  Every twenty meters I dropped another light stick.

The corridor spiraled down in a long, cork screw fashion.  The signal degradation Zero had promised was making it difficult to send a live feed.  I killed the video stream, going to audio only, and set the video file to store on my pocket computer.

"Zero, how many repeaters do you have left?" I asked.

"Twelve *static* ...or.  Signal is getting bang *static* should be like this until we *static* out" Zero replied.

"Confirm. You say we have twelve remaining?" I didn't like the thought of being out of communication range.

"Copy that, Machine. Twelve *static*" Zero replied.

"Send the rest down, this goes deep." I keyed the com and headed down until I began to receive a signal warning from my commlink.  We waited for flock of repeater drones to arrive, then continued down into the depths.  We had one repeater drone remaining as the corridor ahead ended in wide stairs that dropped into darkness.

I signaled a stop and keyed my comm. "Zero.  Float that bumblebee down a bit.  I want to see what's down there before I poke my head out."

"*static* that, *static* one tic" Zero's voice came over broken and fuzzy.  The little bumblebee drone came alive and flitted down to the steps.  I pulled my ballistic mask up and pulled on my AR goggles.

Faint specs of light dotted the scene below.  Wide boulevards vanished in the distance.  Buildings standing four stories high were laid out before me.  The vast chamber was lined with the same black stone blocks, the ceiling supported by columns of stone that stretched from floor to ceiling. Nothing moved below.  The city below us was dead in the darkness.

"Zero, relay this to control. Keep the drones on station and streaming data.  We'll have them rotate with the remaining drone to keep them charged.  Jazz, we're coming back."  Ace, Taz and I hurried back to the others.

1130 hours, operational area local time

Exploration of the eastern and southern passages revealed what appeared to be store rooms.  Shards of ancient pottery littered each of the rooms.  The archaeologists had set up battery powered lamps in each room.  We collected three of the lamps and brought them to the entrance and ran power to them from the solar system above.

Zero continued to report no signals and no contact on the surface.

Jazz was getting restless. "Where are they, Machine?"

"Probably down in that town.  It's huge, they could be anywhere." I replied. "Let's grab a bite, then we'll head down there.  Bring down the machineguns and we'll leave Wolf and Tom behind them to cover us from the top of the stairs."

"We don't have enough people to search that whole area quickly." Jazz whispered. "We'll be down there for a while."

I nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I know. But those people went somewhere and I'm betting its down in that town.  Maybe one of them found something they shouldn't have and the rest went to help. Who knows, we may even find survivors."

"Thousand nuyen says we don't." Jazz muttered.

"I won't take that bet." I replied grimly. We took twenty minutes for food and biology, then headed down to the stairs.

Stairs beyond the passage were ten meters wide.  Each step appeared to be a solid slab of stone, and each was covered in the animate carvings we'd seen on every surface.  We left Wolf and Tom behind medium machineguns at the top of the stairs while the rest of us descended thirty meters into darkness.  The stairs ended on a wide platform surrounded by five-meter-high walls of the same black stone.  An iron gate stood ajar ahead of us with crystals the size of softballs giving off a faint light.

"What's powering those?" Fey asked.

Creep paused and stared the crystals. "Magic, but nothing like I've ever seen before.  The magic is weakening, like its dying."

"Creep, call up your lady friends.  I don't like this." I said.  I whispered into the astral and was soon joined by a fire elemental, an earth elemental, and two water elementals.

Creep grinned and said, "Ladies, if you would please."  Six demonic looking women sporting horns, barbed tails and cloven hooves appeared around Creep.  Wisps of smoke drifted up from their bare skin, and I caught the scent of brimstone.

A whispered levitation spell brought me to the top of the wall.  It was far broader than I expected, fully ten meters thick.  A satchel lay on the fitted stones, its contents spilled out.  "Creep, Jazz, get up here." I brought out my light and looked over the satchel.  Bloody fingerprints had dried on one nylon strap.  A tag sewn on the back read "Dr. S. Louise".

Jazz and Creep joined me on the wall.

"It's for defense." Jazz said. "Classical access control.  The wall channels people through that narrow gate.  If you need to keep people out, or keep them contained within, it lets you maintain control of this area with fewer people.  It's solid too.  You'd need explosives to breach this, small arms fire isn't going to cut it."

"Same stone, and the moving images are still as unsettling as ever." Creep chimed in.  "Those crystal lights are on both sides.  So maybe this wall is meant to do both.  Keep people in and keep other people out.  What do you think?"

"Sounds right." Jazz replied.  "We should probably bring Wolf and Tom down here.  They'll have a better lane of fire, and easier time controlling access to the stairs."

"Okay, bring them down." I replied.

1235 hours, operational area local time

We moved the machineguns into place.  I found a hairbrush in the satchel, with hair that I hoped came from Dr. Louise still in the teeth.  I whispered into the astral and an air elemental appeared before me. I pulled the hair from the brush and handed it to the spirit of wind and sky.  "Find she whose hair this is, then return and tell me where she may be found." The spirit writhed, uncomfortable below ground, then vanished into the stale air.   I sat down on the wall and waited.

1300 hours, operational area local time

The air elemental appeared before me.  Errant veins of lightning danced about its being.  I got the impression it was agitated.  It reported its findings in a flash of mental images.  Dr. Louise wasn't in the town. Her trail had gone cold as she had crossed into a metaplane.  THAT was a surprise!  I received a mental image of the direction the spirit had gone as it had followed her trail.  With that, the air elemental made a slight bow and vanished back into the astral plane with a faint 'POP' sound.

"Okay, let's go, we're burning daylight." I said.  We took the boulevard at the gate and headed east into the long dead city.

The streets were made from fitted hexagonal slabs of the same black magnetite.  Graven images writhed in our lights, disturbing fine dust that covered everything in sight. Footprints in the dust told of people who had walked this boulevard recently, their prints leaving a legacy of exploration as they walked from one building to another.  Two hundred meters ahead, an orb of light glowed brightly on the street ahead.

"We should check these buildings. They may be hiding in somewhere, or there may be something unpleasant waiting to eat us."  Jazz's voice carried over the comm.

"Take Creep, Fey, and Puma.  We'll do these one building at time.  Simon, Ace, Taz you're with me, we'll stay in the street and cover the entrance."  I pulled out my little Colt and kept my eyes on the eerily quiet street.

Jazz led them into an ancient stone building. Minutes ticked by, then my comm buzzed with static in my ear. "Machine, I've got *static*static*static*, we'll be right down."   Jazz lead his team out a moment later.  They brought a man in his mid-twenties with them.

I pulled up my mask and put my AR goggles back on.  I ran through the information on the archaeology team and found a match.  Michael Smith was a doctoral candidate who had accompanied the dig team.  According to his file he was an expert on '4th Age' relics.  The man before me had his face but his eyes were bloodshot and rimed with salt from his tears.  He was disheveled and reeked of sweat, piss, and terror.  Smith was babbling from the moment they brought him out of the building.

"It's here!" Smith whined. "Please, we have to hide, or it will get me."

"Michael, we're here to rescue you and your colleagues.  Where is, Dr. Louise?"  I asked him.  His eyes rolled up in his head and he muttered something I didn't understand.

"It's fed. It took them all." Smith fell to his knees, sobbing. "God help me! I'm next!"

I looked down at the man and opened myself to see the astral and beheld the tragedy of his soul.  Pieces of Michael Smith's soul had been torn away.  Small blobs of essence bubbled up from the wounds.  As I watched a piece of his soul broke away and floated off up the street in the direction the air spirit had indicated.  Michael Smith screamed in anguish.

"Jazz, take your team and get him back to the gate.  Tranq him and leave him on the stairs.  We'll pick him up on our way out."  I forced my site closed, fighting against the mind-trapping enchantments laid into every stone on the street I stood upon. Jazz and Puma lifted Smith, who had degenerated into a sobbing heap.  Fey applied a tranq patch to Smith's neck and he slumped into unconsciousness.

1325 hours, operational area local time

Jazz, Creep, Fey and Puma returned, and we advanced up the street, one building at a time.  We found no sign of any survivors in any of the buildings we checked as we made our way to the next cross street.  Ahead of us, the glowing orb beckoned, a lone light in the darkness.

We were crossing the intersection of the two streets when I saw a flurry of darkness heading toward my face.  My spell enhanced reflexes saved my life as I ducked under a vicious barb attached to a long, tail of ebon darkness.  Bat-like wings beat against the air as the creature, whatever it was swooped away.  From out of one building down the street, a chorus of chittering noises rose up and dozens of bat-winged monsters took flight and descended upon us.

The soft popping sounds of suppressed submachine gun fire erupted all around me.  Jazz, Fey, Puma, Taz, and Ace turned their SMG's to the airborne menaces. Silver munitions struck dark figures and blew through them, shredding the beasts and sending them spiraling down to the stone street. It was over in an instant.

"What the hell are those things, Machine?" Jazz asked.

"No idea. Let's take a closer look." I replied.  I walked over to one of the battered corpses of the winged beasts.

It was about a meter long and looked very much like an eel.  It had wings that were shaped very much like those of a bat.  Where I expected to see a maw of fine teeth, I instead saw a chitinous beak.  The tail of the thing ended in a translucent stinger that looked to be formed of amber colored crystal.  The thing twitched as died.  I pulled out a Mylar(tm) sample bag and levitated one of the dead creatures into it.  I sealed the bag, marked its label, and placed it in my satchel.

"That's real ugly." Puma whispered.

I nodded my agreement.  "Watch out for them.  They have a stinger and that usually means poison. Eyes up everyone."  We moved down the following street, checking buildings and finding nothing but dust and relics of an age unknown to history.

The orb of light proved to be a crystal, much like those at gate in the wall.  It was blazing with light.  There was a dried, bloody hand print marring its surface.  I shuddered, and took another risk.  My astral sight revealed wisps of essence, fine strings like cotton candy, stretching from the bloody print and down the street.  Energy was being siphoned from the essence and the crystal was thrumming with the power of it.  I tore my gaze away and saw Creep, his astral sight illuminating his own features as he gazed after the trail of essence leading down the street.  I forced my sight closed and felt the beginnings of a headache coming on.

"That's weird." Creep proclaimed. "Someone's alive."

"Let's see if we can keep them that way." I said as I stood up and tapped Creep on the shoulder. "You okay?"

"Yeah," he responded. "It's kind of the same thing we saw in Laos. It brings out that feeling you get when you need to kill someone.  You know, to let the bad feelings out. I'm okay, it's just trying to trap my mind.  There are things here to see, but I think it is just a lie.  A trap to lure your soul away, never to return."

"Yeah, it's pretty damn hard to look away." I offered.

"It sure is." Creep sighed. "There are places there I want to explore, places I want to see."  He shook his head.  "Wow, that is hard to shut out.  I'm okay, though. I can see how this would make a great defense against astral predators though."

I had thought about that at length since Flick and Tap had died. "Maybe that's why we found that creature in Amazonia.  Maybe it got in and then couldn't get out."

"Hadn't found its way through all the traps?"  Creep nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe, but that means that whoever lived here built it to keep them out and with that contingency should those measures fail.  Makes you wonder how long it took to build and enchant this place."

"Yep. Question for another time and for other people." I took a step back from him and waved the team forward. "Get your game face on."

"Need some magical mayhem, Machine?" Creep asked.  His smile was disturbing. "Wanting me to lash out with fire, spill blood, and bring on death to whatever we may find?"

"That is why you are here, Creep." I replied.

"This time don't get the giggles." Jazz interrupted.

Creep checked the action on his assault rifle.  "I'm good."

We moved down the street following the direction of the threads of essence and the directions I received from the elemental.  I checked the astral space at every intersection.  At the third intersection we turned left, following the essence.  Ahead of us lay three glowing orbs of light and dozens of the small eel-creatures which took flight and raced towards us.

Creep's demonic fire spirits were ready this time.   Blue flame exploded before us, the flying beasts screeching out in pain as their bodies were seared.  They fell from the air, their charred wings breaking upon the suddenly hot stone road.   We stomped those that were still screeching to death, then advanced to the trio of lights.  Three corpses lay there in pools of dried blood.  The crystals blazed with pure white light.

The corpses had been picked at by the eel-things and had been mostly devoured.  We couldn't identify the corpses but by the smell they had been dead for a few days.   "Body bags.  Let's get them back to the gate as well. Creep keep a look for more of those eel-things."  We bagged up the corpses and made our way back to the gate. We reloaded our weapons then headed back.

1410 hours, operational area local time

The trail of essence led us to one of the stone columns which rose to the ceiling above.  It was twenty meters across, and carved steps wound up its surface.  The trail of essence was faint and spiraled around the column.

"Well, someone is up there." I said.  "We're heading up people.  Keep your eyes  open for anything flying up to take a poke at us."  I holstered the Colt and drew out my heavy revolver.  My left thumb stroked the wedding band on my ring finger.

We climbed higher into the darkness while below us, the city lay shrouded in dust and silence.  Near the top of the column I saw a flicker of light from an opening leading into the stone.  I crept up and peeked inside.

My first impression was that I had discovered a shrine of some kind.  A dias was situated in the center of the room, upon which sat a meter-tall totem that bore a striking resemblance to one I had seen before.  Images of mana flooding through a downtown office building, magicians having their astral forms swept away, and the scent of mana-burned flesh erupted from my memory.  I shook off the past and focused on what lay ahead.

On the other side of the room, directly across from the totem, light flickered out from a hellish landscape.  Flames flickered in pits, the scent of brimstone assaulted my nose, and the cries of the damned were carried to me.  I looked out from the physical world onto something I had only ever read about: a gateway into a metaplane.   The floor of the shrine was littered with the corpses of four of the dig team, their flesh torn and their blood splattered on the totem, walls and floor.

"Oh, drek." I heard myself whisper. I turned and saw Jazz looking up at me with questioning eyes.

(To be concluded in Part Three ~ Requiem)

Thank you for reading my fan fiction!  I hope you have been enjoying the stories of Tommy's adventures throughout his Shadowrun career.  These stories are derived from game play and from down time activites.

I also develop, write and publish role playing game titles (though not for Shadowrun).  You can find my projects on KickStarter and on Drivethrurpg.  I'll hope you'll share these stories with others.

Your comments are most welcome.  I answer as soon as I can.