Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Homecoming


“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”
― Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God


Friday, June 25th, 2060

The first week with the twins was a whirlwind of work, no sleep, and soft crying noises that would jolt me out of my catnaps.  Aria was recovering rapidly and was proving to be a wonderful mother.  Her only complaint was that breastfeeding was leaving her sore.  Rose and Lily were tremendously helpful and served as extra hands as we needed.

Thankfully, 'work' hadn't been more than punching a clock and spending my time reading over files for candidates to replace our losses.  I agreed with Jazz that we needed steady gun hands and left those candidate files to him for review.  I went over the four files we had for awakened candidates.  Creep was still on the 'team' despite his gibbering melt down in the field which had Jazz more than a little annoyed.

At 1308 hours I received a text message from Jazz, "gettin' itchy" was all it said.

I called Aria.  "Hey honey, how are my girls?"

"We're all fine here. Twins are taking a nap and I was about to do the same. How are you?" She sounded tired and looked gorgeous.

"Something may be coming up at work. I'll let you know more when I can. Just wanted to keep you in the loop and see your face before I get the call."  I smiled at her and saw her frown.

"You be careful.  Take Lily with you.  We'll be fine here."  Aria looked worried.  I saw a teacup float over and hover behind her.

"I promised Lily she could sit the next one out.  Our girl had quite a rude introduction to my work environment." I told her. "I'll leave the girls with you and if I need them I'll call.  It'll be fine."

Aria turned and took the teacup.  She paused for a moment listening to one of my ally spirits speaking to her. She turned back with a sigh. "Okay Tommy.  I've got to go, Rose says 'something foul smelling just appeared in Violet's diaper' so I'm going to go change her before she gets it all over herself.  I love you."

"I love you too." I replied. Aria broke the connection.

1335 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

My desk phone unit chirped.  I thumbed the answer button and was greeted by Samantha's face.  "Machine, be in the situation room in ten minutes."

"Will do." I told her.  I terminated the call, locked my desk drawer, and grabbed my go bag.  The suit I had worn to the office was hanging from a hook on the wall. I had already changed into my armored fatigues and had my gear bag waiting for me on my desk.  I stood, checked the safeties on my guns (accidental discharges in a board room are best avoided), grabbed by bag and headed for the meeting.  Zero and Jazz were waiting outside my door and were likewise ready to go.

"Creep?" Zero asked.

"No idea." I replied.  "New guys?"

"Need more, but yeah, I've vetted four so far." Jazz reported. "If things keep escalating we'll need multiple fire teams.  I've also put in requests for specialty ammo, wood pulp and silver ammo as you suggested."

"Sub-zero.  Here's hoping we don't need it." I opened the door to the meeting room and Jazz and Zero slipped in ahead of me.  I opened my astral sight and took a moment to inspect the newly reinforced wards.  After Flick's suicide Samantha had the room's protections enhanced though I doubted it would do any good.

We took our seats and waited as the new people arrived.  They filed in one at a time, each dressed for the office and casting curious looks at our field dress.  Creep showed up last and held the door for Samantha.

"Good afternoon.  Please do follow along as time is short.  We are wheels up in twenty minutes." Samantha started briskly. I put on my AR goggles and opened the presentation that was blinking in the air above the table.  Samantha was speaking before the image resolved.  "This is Elvis Blackwater.  Four days ago, he was reported missing by his spouse and has not reported to work for the last week.  Corporate police began an investigation and discovered communications between Mr. Blackwater and a paramour. The investigators tracked down the paramour and the two investigators left this morning to visit the last known address."

Images of the two corp police officers appeared in my AR overview.  I triggered the biographical data and skimmed through the high points.  Both were human and former UCAS Marines who had been recruited after their term of service.  Each had elected to retain their UCAS citizenship and they both had experience in combat zones. Officer Eliza Durne was twenty-eight and unmarried.  Officer Joshua Peters was twenty-six and married with a newborn son.  I felt my face tighten.

I started picking at details in their records as Samantha continued. "The two of them crossed into the Redmond Barrens at 1213 hours local time and reported arriving at the address at 1249.  They called in their location, secured their vehicle and approached the apartment building."  Samantha's presentation pulled up the image of a rundown apartment building, not unlike the ones I had lived in when I called Redmond home.  "Body cams recorded their entry into the building and several minutes of stair climbing, until they reached the objective on the tenth floor. I'll play the footage we have now."

I watched as Durne and Peters crested the stairs and turned down the hall.  The lighting was bad and the body camera's low-light had engaged, casting everything in a soft green glow. Below the two feeds a bio-monitor report ticked off the pulse rate of each officer.  I saw Peters' hand rise and knock on a door. "Diane Williams?  We're here to check on Elvis, can we speak to you?"

"Sure, just a minute." a woman's voice responded.

Peters turned to face Durne.  She shook her head, "Runaway husbands.  If only they were all this easy."  The sound of a door squeaking open caused Peters to turn back.  I briefly caught the sight of a pretty, blonde woman standing naked in the door.  Her hands flashed out and grabbed Peters, he was suddenly tumbling through the air into the darkened apartment beyond.  Durne didn't hesitate, her hand came up with her heavy pistol.  She shot the woman twice between the breasts, blowing a pair of holes through her.

Peters body cam footage went dark, though his bio-monitor feed continued.  His heart rate doubled, and I heard him scream from both feeds.  Durne dashed through the doorway, her weapon at the ready.  There was a blur of motion then her feed vanished.  Peters continued to scream for twenty seconds before his feed died too.

Samantha stopped the presentation. "Rescue op. Locate and rescue Elvis Blackwater.  If he is dead, bring back his body. Retrieve officers Durne and Peters.  If they are alive, keep them that way. If they are dead, bring back the bodies too."

"Where in Redmond? " I asked.

"148th Street." Samantha replied.

"The Willows." I had a bad feeling. "Any analysis of the footage yet?  Can we get any good still images of the woman?"

"What is it, Machine?  Not getting enough at home?" Creep laughed.

"You say something like that again, and I'll rip your tongue out." Jazz said menacingly.

"Damn, it was a joke omae." Creep smiled back. "Sorry Machine, just funnin' with you.  Let me guess, you're thinking it's like all those other times in the Willows?  Vamps and Ghouls and things that like to eat people in the night?"

My trigger finger began to itch.  I nodded and said, "That is what I'm thinking.  She tossed Peters like he was a loaf of bread.  His file says he's 105 kilos.  Maybe she's a physical adept of has some bad ass strength modifications, or maybe she's HMHVV positive and all hyped up after eating Elvis.  Hell, maybe she has magical talent and it was a bit of telekinesis.  Any of those scenarios are bad."

"You know the area?" Zero asked.

"Pretty well, Creep and I have had biz down that way a time or three." I replied.  "I think we would be well advised to load up on the specialty ammo.  Wood and silver just to cover the bases.  If it is vampires, or ghouls for that matter, Creep and I will know when we get close enough.  Bring stun batons in case the targets have been infected."

"Jazz had submitted a request for such special ammunition. I'm told we have it in the armory. You are authorized to draw that ammunition. We're heading to the helipad people, we'll drop you on the roof and you can work your way down."  Samantha said.

"One tic." I interrupted. "If we land on the roof and this woman is a vampire there is no way she'll miss hearing us.  There is a burned out super shopping center three blocks over, we can drop off there and approach on foot.  It will make it less likely we're detected on approach."

Samantha Goode considered me with calculating eyes. "Understood.  Zero, drop the team at the location Machine indicated then stand ready for a quick extraction.  We're wheels up in ten minutes people, so get your gear and get our people back."

"I hope she is a vampire." Creep chimed in. "It's been a while since we've killed those. Right, Machine?"

"You still smell like tacos." I replied.


1418 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

Zero touched the helicopter down in the same parking lot where Edgy Ed had shot me weeks before.  I waved the team to the west and we set out at a jog over the crumbling plascrete.  We were just less than two blocks from the apartment building when I felt a wrongness, that same alien presence I had felt all too often.  There were vampires ahead, and the feeling I was getting told me they were in the building we were approaching.

"Wait one." I stopped and waved Creep over.

The slimy little fragger was smiling like it was a holiday and someone had given him a present. "Vampires.  You were right Machine.  We get to kill vampires again."

"Yeah, good times ahead." I said softly. "Grab a seat and take a peek from the astral.  We'll cover your body while you're gone."

"Happy to!" Creep sat down and laid his assault rifle across his lap.  He leaned back against the crumbling brick of the building behind us and slipped away into the astral.

"Creep is up on astral reckon.  Vampires ahead.  Load wood pulp." I whispered over my comm.

"How many?" Jazz's voice came through clearly in my ear.

"Don't know yet.  Definitely more than one." I replied. "Zero can you float a micro drone down for a visual?"

"On it." he called back.

I opened my astral sight and waited for Creep to return.  I didn't have to wait long.  Creep's astral form came flashing across my field of vision and dived down into his body.  Creep took a deep breath and jumped to his feet.

"Oh, we have got to leave." he said.  All trace of mirth was gone from his face. "There are a lot of them in there. Maybe a dozen or more. I poked my head in and almost got it batted off."

"Load wood pulp rounds." I told him. I keyed my comm again. "Control, Creep confirms we have a dozen vampires at target location. We're advancing on target."

"Copy that, Machine.  Weapons free." Samantha replied.

We advanced up the street, sticking to the shadows of old crumbling buildings.  I could sense ghouls in the sewers below us and several vampires ahead of us.  "Watch the storm drains.  Ghouls below us. Creep, I don't want you behind me, take the other side of the street.  Eyes up everyone."  Jazz fell in behind me as Creep crossed to the opposite side of the potholed street.

"Machine, what are we doing?" Jazz asked.

"We're getting our targets out, Jazz.  Doing the job." I replied. "Planning on getting us in and out alive."

"Sounds good, any specifics on how to pull that off?" Jazz asked.

"Not yet.  I'll figure it out once I have intel I can use." I waved us to a stop and the team grabbed cover on either side of the street. "It's daytime so we have that in our favor.  Sun is high and its poking through the haze.  We stay together, control our lanes of fire, and kill anything that looks like it wants to eat us."

"We need an entry plan." he said sternly.

"I know.  I don't have one yet. We get closer first.  Creep took off without getting a lot of details.  I'll go take a look once we're closer."  I spared a glance at Creep who was crouched down behind some steps.  "Jazz, if Creep goes off mission, kill him."

Jazz looked at me and growled. "About damn time."

1430 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

We were down the street from the apartment building.  I could see it rising above the short squat ruins of the businesses that had once thrived before Redmond fell on hard times.  The windows were boarded up or covered in sheets of black plastic.  I sat down and keyed my comm.  "I'm going to take a look, Jazz is charge until I get back."  I leaned back against faded brick and slipped into astral space.

Redmond has always been polluted in the astral.  I grew into my power in such conditions so the weaker magic currents we nothing new to me.  The aura of fear and hunger I sensed in the area was new.  The block seemed bare of any living soul and my detection spells screamed of ghouls below me and the vampires in the building ahead.  I decided to take the direct route and flew down to the entrance of the building, following the path we were likely to take momentarily.  The astral space within the building was rank with fear, death, and an unnatural hunger.  Echoes of terror and pain had blotted out any other astral impressions, painting the interior in a miasma of blood lust and death.

I drifted down the corridors, floating through insubstantial walls and finding only death and rotting flesh.  "The same thing all over again." I told myself.  The first floor was clear, but my detection spell carried the 'scent' of ghoul to me as I approached the stairwell that lead down into the basement.   I flew back and then up the stairwell into the upper levels of the building.  Every apartment carried astral echoes of terror.  Above me, the building was infested with vampires.  I felt a cold chill run through my soul.

At the ninth floor I felt the presence of vampires down the hall and in the floor above me.  I flew back to my body and shuddered as I opened my eyes.

"That bad?" Jazz asked.

"Yeah, it's that bad." The truth is so easy to tell. "Zero, I've got vampires on top two floors.  Get the drone in there and give us a visual."

"Almost there." he reported. "It'll run low-light and thermal. We'll get good images momentarily."

The small drone flitted about, crawling under doors and through cracks in the walls.  The images were as bad as I expected.  We picked out the vampires from their low thermal signatures.  There were a handful of victims scattered throughout the ninth floor.  On the tenth, floor Peters' corpse was laying in front of the stairs.  His head had been torn off and left next to his torso.  In the apartment Elvis Blackwater was resting next to the vampire that had answered the door.  I watched as he stroked her hair, his own splattered in gore.  The little drone found officer Durne handcuffed in the bathtub.  Tape over her mouth and a dermal patch stuck to her forehead.

"Control.  Blackwater has turned.  Request permission to terminate."  I whispered into the comm and hoped that Samantha would make the right choice.

"Request denied. Recover Blackwater."  Samantha's voice lingered in my ear.

I gritted my teeth. "Received and understood." I looked to Jazz who shook his head slowly. "Alright everyone, you heard Control.  Jazz, there are ghouls in the basement.  When we come in through the front entrance take Creep with you and set a claymore mine up at that stairwell. We'll go up to the ninth and clear that floor before we move up to ten.  I don't want these things grabbing us through the floor and pulling us down."

"This is a bad idea." Jazz offered.

"I've done this before.  It'll work." I glanced back at the building ahead. "Zero, standby with heavy ordinance should we need it."

Zero's voice came through crisply. "Copy that."

"Let's go." I dashed to the building's entrance.  Jazz was right on my heels.

We took the first floor under cover of my silence spell.  Jazz set the claymore and padded back to us. We crept up the stairs at a slow, steady pace.  My spell spared us from hearing any of the cries of the vampires' victims. We entered the first apartment in total silence, catching the vampires within by surprise and killed them with precision weapon fire.  The wood pulp rounds did their job nicely and I watched as the small motes of light winked out from around each vampire. There was a single victim within that apartment, an old ork woman. Her aura was being consumed by the small dark mouths of the vampiric virus.  She sobbed silently and held her hands up to us in a gesture begging for help.  I shot her dead.

Room by room we made our way through the ninth floor.  All of the survivors were infected.  I did what I could for them, leaving them lifeless on the bloody floor.  Creep was smiling with insane glee while the rest of the team looked grim.

We took the tenth floor at the far side of the building.  We made our way through the rooms with ruthless efficiency and saved Blackwater's apartment for last.  Jazz took point, opening the door to the apartment with ease. It hadn't been locked.  We crept forward, my spell silencing the squishing sounds of our boots stepping in blood-soaked carpet.

The vampires were naked and asleep on the bed.

I cast a levitation spell and lifted the monster that had once been Elvis Blackwater off the bed.  He stirred, rolling over in mid-air, and stretched out his had as if reaching for the filthy blanket he had been lying under.  I made a single chopping motion with my hand and Jazz opened fire on the sleeping blonde vampire. The wood pulp rounds from his AK-97 tore her to pieces.

Blackwater woke up suddenly, struggling and turning in mid-air.  He kicked and tried to scream at us.  His eyes were lifeless pools of darkness and silver motes winked all about him. I spun him in the air so that his back was to me and let the silence spell fade away.  Elvis's cursing was loud and full of rage. Jazz leveled his assault rifle at him.

"One tic, Jazz."  I whispered into the astral and called forth a water elemental I had bound.  It engulfed Blackwater, choking him into unconsciousness and forcing him into a vampire's version of a coma.  My spirit held the vampire fast, its limp form suspended in the blob of animate water.

"That's just weird, Machine."  Jazz's comment carried through the strangely silent room.  I smelled blood, cordite and death.  Jazz stared at the limp form.

"Control wants him 'alive'.  I don't think being a vampire counts, but what do I know.  Grab Creep and check on Durne.  Don't leave him alone with her.  We'll have the FNG's* grab Peters on our way out.  I've got this piece of drek."  I focused on Blackwater, watching for any sign he had regained consciousness.

"Creep, haul ass in here." Jazz yelled out.  Creep scurried in and joined Jazz in the bathroom a moment later.

We retrieved Durne alive.  The vampires hadn't bitten or infected her, but had drugged her with a tranq patch.  I think they were saving her for later.  Peters was very dead.  We put him in a body bag and brought him down the stairs.  We were in the street heading back toward the parking lot when I heard the claymore explode in the building behind us.

"Move it!" I called out. "Zero, fire on that building!"  We hurried away, the water elemental carrying the still form of Blackwater, his inert body turning black under the sunlight.  Behind us I heard a chorus of angry howls echo down the street.

We were at the end of the block, racing across the intersection when the missile streaked overhead a mere ten meters overhead.  It struck the building and exploded, shattering the building's facade and bringing all ten stories down in a cloud of dust and debris.  Flames licked up from the ruins and I felt the presence of several ghouls vanish.

We boarded the helicopter, my water elemental cocooning Blackwater on the deck.  Zero brought us up quickly and we soared out over Redmond.  Below us a few ambitious souls fired small arms up at us.  I ignored them, focusing on the limp vampire lying before us.

"Elvis has left the building!" Creep laughed.

I resisted the urge to shoot him.


1700 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

The vampire that had once been Elvis Blackwater sat in a warded cell, bound up in an old-style straight jacket.  He was on his knees, and chains held him to the floor.  He cursed and spat, swearing he would enslave my mind and eat my soul.  He was hungry for essence, the forced torpor of being drowned had drained much of his reserves. I stood in the cell and focused on the monster before me.  The door opened and Samantha Goode strode in with Mr. Johnson close behind her.

"Elvis," Mr. Johnson spoke smoothly, like an old friend. "You didn't call, you didn't write.  Your poor wife was worried sick."

"Frag off!" the vampire spat back.

"Now now, we can't have that.  Elvis, how ever did you manage to get entangled with a vampire ol' boy?" I watched, noting the quiet strength of the man. "What did she want from you? Other than your life and soul I mean?"

"I'll drink you dry when I get out of here.  I'll rip your limbs from your body and when you can't scream anymore I'll rip off your head and drink you down." the vampire stared daggers and screamed at Mr. Johnson.  "I don't owe you anything.  You don't own me!  I'm immortal now!"

"A pity." He sighed.  "Tommy, can I borrow your sidearm?"

I handed my S&W500(tm) Magnum over.  Mr. Johnson leveled the massive gun at what had once been a man.  "Goodbye Elvis." The roar of the gun was deafening in the confines of the cell.  The vampire's head came off its neck, blood shooting half a meter into the air. "Thank you, Tommy."  He  handed my gun back to me and I holstered it.

"Nicely done everyone."  Mr. Johnson said cheerfully as he walked out of the cell.

"Machine, get someone to sterilize this room please." Samantha added quietly.  "And thanks for getting Durne out alive."

"We could have killed him in Redmond.  Would have been a lot easier." I replied.

"True, but then he wouldn't have been able to shoot him. Go home, get some rest."  Samantha Goode glided out of the room leaving the stink of cordite and death behind.

I contacted the hazmat team and had the room sterilized.


1741 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

I didn't bother with my car service.  The air elemental carried me home and deposited me in my back yard.  I took a deep breath and savored the smell of cut grass, flowers, and damp earth.  I looked around and wondered at how different my life was from when I had lived in the Barrens.  For a moment I simply let it soak in.

If I could keep my activities from being discovered, if I could stay in the shadows, my daughters would grow up playing in this yard or one very much like it.  They would go to a school that was safe and free from gangers.  They would eat real food, see their doctor if they were sick, and have a far softer life than I had.  I thought about my own parents and how they were murdered so a corp could cultivate me as a wage mage. My daughters wouldn't be left alone, even if I died Aria would be there to care for them.

I walked to the back door, inspected my wards and found them secure, then keyed my way in past my security system.  I was met by Lily who was carrying a small cloth diaper toward the laundry room.  "There are foul smelling substances appearing in the babies' diapers." she seemed worried.

I took the diapers from her.  "It'll be okay, Lily.  They'll be out of diapers eventually. Come on baby-girl, I'll help you rinse them out before we throw them in the wash."

It was good to be home.



(*FNG's, an acronym for 'Fraggin' New Guy', a derivation on a similar expression from the later 20th century)
_______________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  I hope you enjoy these stories about Tommy, each of which is based on game play and down time narrative.

I also write and develop role playing game materials (not for Shadowrun, unfortunately) which I publish under my company, Sinopa Publishing LLC.  To date I have released content for the 5th Edition of Gary's game which can be found on Drivethrurpg.com  HERE.  I am presently developing my own RPG, and I look forward to bringing it to the community in a year or so.

I hope you'll join me next time for the continuing tales of Tommy "the Machine" Gun.

W.S. Quinton












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