April 26, 2017 at 11:15 am #35
[Friday March 19, 2077; The Gothicum (Southwark Cathedral), The Squeeze, London]
The setting sun of the spring equinox struck a vivid pink under the blanket of London smog in a brief flare before it plunged below the horizon. The gargoyle flock followed its course before turning their impassive gazes back on the activity in the courtyard below them. Tribals scurried like ants around the seven cloaked and hooded figures who in turn stood silently in the bounds of a complex magical circle.
As the last solar rays glanced off the cathedral spire the seven figures uttered a single long, very deep note which caused all the tribals to stop and stare and no few pauses in the bustling streets of the Squeeze outside the compound. Then, on the material plane at least, the seven forms returned to their silent contemplation of the ritual…
The ritual incense burners mixed with the smell of damp stone and rotting ferocrete and the strange chemical tangs of the London air…the Old One gestured with an out flung hand and they flared up in a bright blue flame before settling back to a more sedate smoke haze. In the centre of the circle X began to turn to each of the other participants, drawing on their power, even Vision, the technomancer, to fuel the casting. With another deep note drawn from the depths of his lungs he reached out towards the faded sun and then everything was still once more… on the astral plane however the magic expanded outwards in a sudden rush that quickly passed out of the narrow confines of the courtyard and in to the wider world…
[Friday March 19, 2077; Oakfarm Estate (Argent’s House), North Bellevue, Seattle]
The rain drifted through the oak trees surrounding the estate in a fine haze. Dusk was a way off yet but inside the house it was already quite dark as Silk made the final preparations for the ritual. Compared with her companions in Europe hers was considerably simpler as the ritual would be conducted in the matrix.
Settling in to a comfortable recliner she rested the sleek Navigator cyberdeck in to the crook of her arm, briefly running her fingertips across the glass tablet to initiate its processes and then nestled the trodes over the nubs of her horns before virtually pressing the go button and plunging into the ‘trix.
[Friday March 19, 2077; Cirque de l’Ombre, Outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco]
Even this late in the spring evening the air was hot and filled with the spiced scents of the city below. The black, greys and silvers of the circus contrasted starkly with the bright vibrant colours that made up the shanty town around where they had made camp. Performers and roadies alike stretched their legs after the journey from their last show, standing aloof from the curious locals in order to maintain the air of mystery that they travelled with.
Desire’s astral form, projected from the far side of the world, settled down gently on the windswept earth and she took a moment to absorb the atmosphere of the circus and the more muted Marrakech beyond. Reaching down she brushed the sand at her feet, it was good to touch the earth again and breathe unprocessed air, even if her lungs were thousands of miles away and still at the mercy of the CO2 scrubbers on board ship.
Her two companions were here in person, if such could be said of a free spirit, and she greeted Phoenix and the Child with pleasure. The seer gestured as she made her link with the ritual circle and without further talk they were ready to proceed…May 15, 2017 at 3:35 pm #177
23:30h March 18th 2077 – Verdun, at the banks of the Maas
8000 years of experience and still I had fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book – or rather on the cuneiform clay tablet. Luis was bleeding out at my feet, Alex had started to claw his own eyes out and Renard was currently trying to behead me while the army of the dead bore down on us…
It had started as a “small favor” to my erstwhile patron. I mean he had sent Sahra and a bottle of 25 year old single malt – you’d have to be made of stone to show her the door even if she hadn’t been one of the few individuals left from the beginnings of my life.
I just had returned to the small mansard across the Louvre. The air was stale after over two years without an open window and as it turned out without a functioning cleaning drone. The landlady, Madame Vi who had originally leased the flat to me and who had always made sure everything was in tip-top shape in her house had died at the ripe old age of 102 and left her good for nothing nephew Gaston in charge.
This led to me having to dust and air out every blanket and pillow by hand. Dusty, sweaty and wearing the only available apron (with frills) I became aware of someone unlocking the front door.
Naturally, I didn’t carry any weapons with me but the 18th century candelabra made from sterling silver (a present from my then wife Marie) looked like it would be a sufficiently blunt, heavy object to deal with the intruder. You can imagine my surprise when instead of the slavering beast or black clad corporate assassin, I looked into the sweet, elven face of Sahra. Technically that meant I had been right on both accounts – there is a reason she still works as an understudy to Herr Brackhaus.
“Lanius, I hope you don’t mind that I left myself in, but the door was as good as standing open…”
“Sa’Ira. Well, what a surprise. How did you know where to find me?”
“You yourself took me up here 52 years ago.”
“Oh. Right, I forgot.”
“But even if you hadn’t, there is a plume of dust issuing from your windows that makes the normal Paris smog look like clear mountain air.”
“Guilty. Damn drone malfunctioned. They don’t build them like they used to. Come in.”
She smiled that same little knowing smile she had had for the last eight millennia.
“The dress becomes you. You should wear one more often.”
“It’s an apron – and the only one I could find.” I said while removing said piece of apparel. “What fortunate winds bring you to my doorstep?”
“I bear gifts and an assignment from our benefactor.”
“I like gifts but I fear the Danaer, even those bearing gifts.”
“Liar. You do not fear anything – otherwise he would not have sent me to you.”
I shrugged and relented, leading her to the small sofa that still had some pillows to sit. From behind her back she drew the aforementioned bottle and with a practiced motion removed the seal, using nothing more than her sharp, sharp nails.
“Have a sip, brave Collurio, my Kaern companion and listen to my tale.”
No matter how old I am, her honeyed words get me every time and the whiskey did smell good enough for me to comply.
“Our master learned that you are back on the continent and wishes you to investigate a rumor not far from here, just two hours in fact.”
“Very thoughtful and expeditious of him. What kind of rumor?”
“Oh you know, the usual, a potential portal into hell. Say, have you ever been to Verdun…”
And that’s how I ended up stopping my spring cleaning and instead called up an old shadow contact for transportation and support. Alex and his mates of former Foreign Legionares owed me a favor and agreed to accompany me on this little impromptu expedition.
Alex, the dwarven rigger, Luis the human mage and Renard the troll with the combat axe had been working the shadows for over five years now and were – if not friends – at least reliable companions who had helped me catch a Loup Garou terrorizing a ski resort. I wouldn’t say they were happy to learn that I wanted to visit a 1st World War cemetery, but nonetheless it only took a modest sum to convince them. After all I can be charming if I set my mind to it.
It took a lot longer to reach the destination, thanks to Alex insisting to use only dirt roads with his newly acquired off-roader. It made me long for the time when horseback riding was the fastest way to travel. I mean seriously – it was good enough for over nine millennia…
Anyway, we reached our destination shortly after nightfall. Luis kept his distance – he neither liked me or the void I carry with me.
I had told them that we were looking for a portal to another world – no need to scare them with unnecessary details – and that they should arm themselves.
The gates were closed but neither of us had problems getting over. Luis hovered over them, Alex had his car lift him over, I ran up and jumped the wall, while Renard simply kicked them open. Each after there own, I guess.
I have to admit, visiting the endless rows of graves stretching into the distance had a sobering effect even on me. At least until I took another sip from the witches brew I keep in my hip flask.
Luis complained that the astral space was so twisted and polluted he couldn’t see anything. As so often the case, the mage was borderline useless. Alex had more success with his flying eyes.
“There’s something going on down by the river. The infrared spectrometer is picking up flares of 5°.”
“That’s not particularly spectacular.” I replied
“Oh. Right. I hope you are all wearing your ski underwear.”
Slowly we crept closer. The river’s humid air quickly turned into a freezing mist the closer we got to the source of the cold. Louis soon began to shiver violently and not just from the cold. “It’s evil. Darkness and pain. Drowning and suffering. My god, the suffering. And the shells are still falling. We have to get out of here…”
I stopped his rising panic by slapping him hard across the face, leaving a thin trail of blood on my rough skin.
“Get a grip on yourself and stop projecting…”
But it was to late. I realized what was happening a moment after Louis’ eyes filled with utter blackness as my void aura stripped away the shadow spirit’s camouflage. It’s words were harsh and in such an alien voice that I was surprised that a human voice box could produce them.
On cue the earth began to tremble and fountained around us where suddenly the restless long dead World War I soldiers clawed their way up with brutal strength and determination.
I didn’t hesitate. Kicking off from an old headstone I jumped at Louis, aiming for his head with the bared ball of my fist. Bone crunched as the force of my blow broke its jaw and cheekbone. A strike like that would have been enough to send even the meanest mercenary to the floor. But the unholy horror inside its stolen flesh husk felt no pain and no restraint. It lashed out at us with a dread power. Once again the void prevented me from feeling the effect while terror swept over my companions, erasing their conscious thoughts and leaving only animal fear behind.
Although my creator hadn’t seen fit to not allow me the luxury of fear he let me keep fury at least.
With a cry of rage I grabbed Louis’ collar, dropped to the ground and used my own momentum to sling the mage’s body head first across the cast iron cross next to me. It didn’t kill him/it, but the impaled guts fixated his body long enough that I was able to close in and break his neck, twisting it a 180°.
“Quick, I need the axe before it reanimates…”
I didn’t get much further before Renard hit me with his axe across the back of my torso. I’ve been hurt before, and I can hurt with the best of them, but the blow actually managed to pierce my armor and my toughened skin, knocking me to the ground.
Dimly I was aware off Alex sitting on the ground and plucking out his remaining real eye out of its socket with his manicured fingernails while he screamed for his mother. Yet I had no time to come to his aid as Renard with his by now pitch black eyes lumbered forward with deceptive speed to finish what he had began. The dead, or at least their earthly remains had nearly freed themselves from their earthen tombs, surrounding me like a bizarre garden where bone grows like wood.
I felt the injection on my thigh as the biomonitor determined the wound to be bad enough for desperate measures. Burning bliss filled my veins and I stepped through the white fire. I flexed my body like a spring, getting back up on my feet and used the momentum to drive my fist from below into the jaw of the 2,10 m troll, lifting the brute from the ground which had the effect of cutting off his tongue with his own teeth. The combat axe swished uselessly over my head as I ducked and rammed my elbow into the relatively fragile radius bone, fracturing it and forcing the spirit to release the axe from its grip. The Void howled hungrily inside me, slowing the shadow’s movements enough for me to kick out the troll’s kneecap and forcing his leg to move sideways in a way that nature never intended. Gravity took care of the rest and Renard’s body hit the ground like the proverbial sack of potatoes. This time I didn’t give the spirit time to leave it’s host: Renards axe was in my hand and cut off his head before he’d even had time to flinch.
It would have been more stylish if I’d had a scythe, but the executioner’s axe served just as well: I mowed down the undead left and right before they had a chance to move about. Every breath I took burned like fire, but the pain barely registered with me. Blood and gore and rotted bone splinters decorated my face when I reached the center of the site. The portal waited for me, appearing like a cloud of the darkest black that you can’t imagine. Voices howled from within, calling, begging, cursing me, while I looked around for the other Master Shedim. I found it easily enough: It had taken the body of a small girl, no older than eight. And still it managed to smile an innocent smile. But a smile is no defense against an axe made from titanium alloy with a tungsten-carbide edge. The bisected carcass dropped to the ground and the gate closed instantly.
I suddenly became aware of the insistent beeping from my bio monitor, warning me about the enormous blood loss I had sustained and that the clotting agent had barely kept in check. Somewhere a bell tolled midnight and an almighty weariness descended like a lead blanket upon me.
Blackness and oblivion surrounded me until…
“Rise and shine Vindariel…”May 20, 2017 at 11:12 pm #188
1430 March 3, 2077 – Slang Ap, Laos
The dim light of glow sticks outlines the aperture Sian has just made in the stone wall of the crypt. The woman turns and smiles at her dig chief and Brigitte gives rapid fire instructions to three of the men in the crew, who move forward with timbers and tools to prop open the makeshift door. After millennia of doing this, Sian has plenty of practice in being patient, but it was hard this time. It has taken years of persistent research, but if her information, and her gut, were right, she has just cracked the tomb of Phou Kel, the last king of his rather short-lived dynasty in this part of the world. He had ruled ineffectively over a large empire that had been bequeathed to him by his father and his father before him. The grandfather had ruled with a fist of iron and cowed his subjects, treating them much like the slaves he brought in from his conquests of his neighboring kingdoms. His son, Phou Kel’s father, had been cut from the same cloth and had expanded his borders even more, bringing home treasures of coins, gems, and slaves. He had left his empire to a young man who was more interested in bedding the slaves and building monuments to his own greatness than in taking care of his empire. As a result, his government had become corrupt and his army had grown soft. Rival kingdoms, sensing blood in the water and desiring revenge for the depredations of Phou Kel’s father and grandfather, had attacked and the ruler was forced to flee his capital with his consort and young son, accompanied by his personal guard and a host of slaves, but the three had never turned up at their destination or anywhere else. The deposed king had disappeared with a good portion of his treasury and some artifacts that had been rumored to have special abilities. Sian’s research has led her to believe that the treasure and the artifacts may be inside this crypt, if looters had not already beat her to it. She smiles at that thought and corrects herself; other looters.
Sian turns to the man standing next to her and talks to him in her broken Lao. “We must be cautious inside, Chong. There could be traps. Remember three years ago.”
The man grins. “How can I forget; I thought I was going to die in that ruin. Still, you stopped the thing, whatever it was, before anyone was hurt. You are a hero to my wife and children, and to me of course.”
Sian nods. “Yes. But I would rather not have to do that too often. And are you sure she holds me in high esteem? You have given her two more mouths to feed in the three years.”
Chong bows low. “To many of us you are the answer to our prayers to the gods. You always pay better than you have to and are most generous with your final bonuses. But better than the money, you treat us fairly and with respect.” He sweeps his hand to indicate the men behind them. “That is why you will never have trouble finding workers for your expeditions, despite being a witch.”
The two chuckle and turn back to watch as Brigitte supervises the construction effort while the rest of the crew crouches or sits on the cave floor behind them. When the portal is secure, Sian holds out a hand for the lantern Chong is holding. With a few commands, the lantern lifts up and passes through the opening, providing light for the others to see by. There is low muttering behind her at the clear evidence of sorcery and Sian can imagine the various hand signs being made to ward off evil, but this is not the first time she has done magic in front of them and those that have been with her on earlier expeditions have been quick to point out to the others that the expedition leader is a benevolent witch.
Sian smiles as Brigitte steps aside and motions a salute. “The honor is yours, Miss Romanov.”
The archaeologist and tomb raider known publicly as Tatjana Romanov and privately to a few people simply as Sian, nods and walks two feet past the portal into the crypt, looking around at a large room that hopefully has not seen human footsteps in centuries. She is pleased to see that the room appears intact and untouched. From her position at the door, the bright light of the lantern lets her see urns and chests stacked neatly around a burial chamber that must measure about a hundred feet to a side. Skeletal remains of armored warriors lay where they had fallen as guards for their king’s last journey. Piles of bones lining the sides of the chamber are almost certainly those of the slaves that had been killed to make sure that the king would have servants in the next life. As the lantern moves about the chamber, Sian’s eyes are attracted to the central dais, where two large and one small sarcophagus sit side by side. She smiles broadly when she sees that these gilded stone boxes appear to be undisturbed. Satisfied, she pokes her head back out and looks at Brigitte. “Please send for Fant. Let him know that the crypt seems to be intact and untouched by tomb robbers.”
The other woman nods and walks out of the antechamber, returning in a few minutes with the Lao government representative of the Ministry of Antiquities. The short man is smiling but he appears quite nervous as he walks up to the opening, perhaps remembering all too well the incident of three years earlier. “Is it safe in there?” At Sian’s shrug, he steps in a few inches and looks about in amazement at the tomb of a long-dead king of a nation that spanned much of this part of Laos and over to Cambodia and even the western portion of Vietnam. He gazes about without moving then almost takes a step forward. Almost. He shakes his head and smiles at Sian. “Thank you, Miss Romanov, your help has been invaluable. I am sure that I can leave you to cataloging and packing up all of the items here, all according to our arrangements.”
Sian smiles back and nods. “Of course, Fant, I will do as we have agreed.”
The man looks at her as if undecided about something then nods and leaves the antechamber and the approach cave the men had dug to get to the wall Sian had breached. His mind is already spending the cut of the treasure that will be his as he returns to his spacious tent and the arms of his mistress. Sian waits for him to leave then nods to her dig chief. Brigitte nods back and calls the crew forward to join her and Sian inside the crypt, setting them to carefully noting the various items and boxing them up for storage and later transport to the capital. Sian herself moves to the dais where she pays special attention to the sarcophagi there. Calling upon her great strength, she shifts the lid to where it is perpendicular to the coffin and calls for some of her crew to come forward with a small crane apparatus. Using wide straps, they lift the lid and move it aside, allowing full access to the stone coffin. The process is repeated twice more and Sian can gaze at the contents of all three sarcophagi. She waves her men aside to other tasks, having already seen what she is looking for. She can feel a bit of real power emanating from the small book clasped in the hands of the mummified woman in the first box. She will have to make some final examinations, of course, but she is fairly certain that she is looking at the Prayer Book of Lu Shan. The second box contains a mummified man still holding his royal regalia in his hands and dressed in his finest raiment. Of all the golden and begemmed trinkets adorning the body, Sian is interested in only the large ruby ring on the forefinger of the dead king’s right hand. The third sarcophagus holds the remains of the son and heir and Sian spares some looks at the child’s raiment, but sees nothing that would be of great interest to her Master.
Sian carefully removes the book and ring and places them in a case Brigitte holds open for her. Smiling, the archaeologist moves about the large room as her people go about their work. She estimates that she will be on the site for a few more days then it is back off to Europe and the museum. She smiles again at the thought of spending some time with her Master.
2355 March 8, 2077 – Slang Ap, Laos
Sian is sitting on a comfortable camp chair, gazing into the fire before her and thinking of the small treasures securely packed away in the case at her feet. After five weeks of work at the site followed by six days of hard labor to get all of the treasures out, cataloged, and stored on the trucks, the work here at Slang Ap is nearly complete and she is already thinking about her next dig. Fant, the government representative who was assigned to watch over her activities, had left the site earlier in the day, taking his mistress and two chests of gems and coins with him. Sian is relatively sure that some of the contents of the chests will not make it to the antiquities museum but that is to be expected. Shaking her head, she rids her mind of the relatively inconsequential and completely corrupt antiquities official and considers again the message that Sanrit Goldstein has sent her. The Professor Emeritus and current Chair of the Antiquities Department at Hebrew University of Jerusalem is one of the world’s foremost experts on antiquities and also a close friend and colleague. In the message, she claims to have some information about the location of a prize Sian has sought for over five hundred years. If Sanrit says she has information, Sian is certain it will be useful and she is interested enough to want to divert from her direct return to Prague to see what her friend has found out. Sighing, she prepares a message to her Master to tell him the news and to let him know that she will be stopping off in Jerusalem on the way home to Prague.May 23, 2017 at 9:03 pm #201
1015 Friday, March 9 2077 – Slang Ap, Laos
Sian walks among the loaded trucks with Brigitte and Chong, making the final checks of the convoy before it leaves the site for the capital. Satisfied, she nods to the others and Brigitte pulls a whistle from a pocket and blows it loudly. The dig crew assembles in the now vacant campsite, lining up as the woman gives orders in her fluent Lao. Once all are lined up, she turns to Sian and nods. “All yours, Miss Romanov.”
Sian smiles at her and faces the crew, speaking in Lao that, while not fluent, is good enough to be understood. “I want to personally thank each of you for the hard work that you have put into making this expedition a success. As I leave here, I will remember all of you, but especially Wang for his constant bad jokes, Taijin for trying to teach me how to dance, and poor Giap for that rather unfortunate mishap in the latrine.” After the laughter dies down, she continues. “I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to speak to each of you as we worked and look forward to seeing all of you the next time I am down this way. Now, I have a small bonus I want to pass out.”
She holds out a hand to Brigitte and the two go to the left end of the line. The dig chief opens a case she is carrying and hands Sian a credstick with a piece of ribbon attached to it that has a name written on it in Sian’s own hand. She thanks the man in front of her and hands him the stick, spending a few moments in conversation with the worker before moving on to the next man. This is repeated for every man in the crew as she makes her way to the right end of the line. When finished, she turns and walks to where Chong is standing and takes both of his hands in hers. “And you, my friend. This is the fourth expedition you have managed for me here and I could not ask for a better person to work with. Brigitte has done nothing but praise your work ethic and drive to get this done on time and that is high praise indeed. Thank you very much.” She gives the man a hug and hands him a ‘stick as well.
Turning, Sian nods to Brigitte, who gives the command to fall out into the trucks for the ride home. When everyone is in their place, the two dig leaders take their seats in the lead vehicle while Sian makes one final tour of the packed earth that had been her home for the past several weeks. She moves her hands in a series of symbols and says some words in her native tongue then picks up the case at her feet and climbs into the lead vehicle after nodding to her Valoi warriors to take their places. A nod to Chong and the word is passed to get the convoy moving. The government soldiers that Fant had provided as camp guards climb into their two vehicles and take up the lead and trail positions.
1327 Friday, March 9, 2077 Laos
The convoy has been making slow progress on the makeshift road, having had to deal with mud from the rain that had poured down the day before and needing to ford three small rivers, one of which needed the crew to jump out to help get the laden vehicles across with cables and winches. Even so, the morale of the crew remains high and several are beating on the tops of trucks to accompany others who are singing songs. Sian is going over her messages and has just responded to one from her Master when she receives one from Brigitte. >>Miss Romanov, the feed from my lead drone is odd. I am passing it to you and your Valoi.<<
Sian saves and closes the message she was writing to Sanrit and opens a window for the drone feed. She sees three jeeps and a car ahead on the trail, waiting at a ford across a small stream. There are nine Lao government soldiers standing around and Fant is off to the side, talking to another who seems to be an officer of some sort. Sian casts her mind back and thinks that she remembers this to be Colonel Kra, a ranking member of the government’s secret police. A tenth soldier is sitting in one of the jeeps and talking on a radio set. While getting her head around what she is seeing, Sian takes a request for a second window and it pops open as Brigitte sends her the feed from one of her trail drones. The corporal in the military jeep at the rear of the convoy is on his radio while the three soldiers in the rear of the vehicle seem to be readying their weapons.
Sian touches Chong on the thigh and the man looks down, surprised at the contact but alert enough to recognize the hand signal she is giving him. The man’s face goes pale but he nods and begins slowing down just a bit, which is enough to let the front government jeep get a bit more of a lead. Sian sends mental commands to her Valoi and receives confirmation from each. Chong, aware that something is very wrong, lifts the armrest that doubles as a center console and exposes a wicked-looking Predator V. Sian nods at him and sends a message to her dig chief. >>Brigitte, do what you can to get the crew down and safe. This looks like Fant is trying to make a grab for all of the treasure and he has friends to help him.<<
As Brigitte nods, she sends a command to a special compartment built into the cab of the second truck and part of the lid slides open, startling the three crew who are standing there. A medium sized drone lifts up and out, whirring on quiet rotors as it heads for the front of the convoy, deploying its machinegun as it goes. Sian taps Chong again and he slows the vehicle to a crawl then stops it. Immediately after, Brigitte slides out of the rear and begins to call the crew from the trucks for a stretch break, keeping an eye on her drones at the same time. The crew, conditioned to obey her, begin jumping out of the vehicles and lighting up or exchanging jokes. Brigitte begins walking down the line of vehicles and shooing the men into the underbrush. Shoko, one of the Valoi, glides off the rear truck and heads to where the trail jeep has stopped while the other climbs out of the front vehicle with Sian and they walk towards the lead jeep.
The men in the jeep clamber out as Sian approaches, weapons ready and pointed in the direction of the approaching women. One, the sergeant of the detail calls out. “Please return to your vehicles and wait for orders. The convoy now belongs to the Office of State Security. You will be safe if you cooperate. If not…….” He lets the threat drop ominously and allows his eyes to roam up and down Sian’s form and he leers at what he will be doing to the woman later, initially missing that she has not stopped walking forward.
Sian talks as she approaches the man, hoping that her Lao is good enough to get by. “By whose authority do you think to claim this convoy? The materials here belong to the Office of Antiquities. I will lodge a protest.”
The sergeant gets angry when the women do not stop and belatedly opens his mouth to repeat his words when Sian sends a mental command to her two warriors and the woman next to her leaps at the jeep and its occupants, drawing her sword mid-air. The soldiers had given the two Valoi odd looks from day one of the expedition for carrying such outmoded weapons, certain that they were more for show than anything else. Three of the soldiers die before their minds can even begin to understand how wrong they had been and the other two join them in death seconds later. Sian does not spare a look for the men at the jeep but continues on past at a run, heading for the ambush site and the rest of the soldiers. At the rear of the convoy, Shoko responds to the mental command much as her caste sister does. She leaps to the passenger side front of the jeep and her sword slices through the corporal’s neck, sending a gout of blood spraying and causing the other soldiers to cry out in fear and panic. In less time than it takes to tell of it, all five soldiers in the rear jeep are dead or dying and then she makes sure that they are just dead.
Sian’s quickened spells allow her to race forward to where the other soldiers are waiting, arriving as they are still forming up across the trail on the far side of the creek. Several of the men are alert enough to see her coming, but they do not recognize a threat from one woman and so do not do more than call out. By the time the rest are aware of her, Sian has passed through the line, leaving two men bleeding out on the ground, and is headed to where the Lao secret police colonel is standing near Fant. The officer has the presence of mind to be drawing his sidearm, but is far too slow and Sian recognizes the fear in the man’s eyes as her sacred blade penetrates his chest and steals his life away. Fant, has stepped backwards and tripped over his feet, sprawling on the ground. He grabs up the pistol that has fallen from the colonel’s lifeless fingers and fires it directly into the back of the woman in front of him. He has set this ambush up as a means to pad his personal accounts, but the damned woman has been insufferable and needs to be punished. His plan was to share a bit of the treasure with the colonel and his soldiers and toss them the other women as a bonus while he personally used Miss Romanov. He had delighted in planning everything he would do to her before killing her but now all that was in jeopardy. Still, he could salvage the treasure and now there would be fewer to share with. He watches as his shot strikes home then his expression goes from glee to terror as the woman seems to shrug the blow off and turns to him, the look on her face sending chills down his spine and paralyzing him with fear.
Four of the soldiers have gained enough of their wits that they raise their rifles and bring them to bear on Sian, who vaults away towards the vehicle with the radioman. That soldier has not been able to think calmly enough since the attack began to send a message and now he never will as Sian’s blade takes his life from him and removes any need for him to think calmly ever again. The four soldiers wheeling to aim their rifles do not notice the near silent drone come in over the battlefield behind them and they do not even hear the roar of the Bumblebee’s machinegun until it is far too late as it sends messengers of death into their fragile bodies. By the end of the burst, two men are dead and the other two are bleeding from serious wounds and not likely to live without immediate care. The remaining three soldiers drop their rifles and flee into the jungle, screaming. The Valoi has caught up to Sian and makes to go after one of the running men but a command from Sian pulls her up short. Nodding, she moves to stand over a cowering Fant while her mistress moves among the wounded men. Most are already beyond anything that Sian can do for them, but she she places her hands on the one that still has a chance to survive and casts a healing spell. The second Valoi runs up to the site as Sian stands up and she moves to guard the healing man.
Sian stands and walks calmly to where Fant is cringing on the ground and kneels next to him. Putting out a hand to stroke the man’s face she talks softly. “Fant, I am disappointed. I had thought we were friends. I certainly did not expect this. What were you going to do, toss Brigitte and my companions to your soldiers and you take turns with the colonel in using me. ” Fant’s face betrays that she has it pretty much right. “I thought so. Unfortunately for you and the colonel, that is not going to happen. All this exercise has made me hungry and right now you are here and I am here and…..well……I think that you will do.”
Sian opens her mouth to show her elongated canines and lowers them to Fant’s neck. The man finally finds his voice and screams in terror and he is still screaming when her teeth put holes in his neck at the carotid artery and begin transferring his blood and essence to Sian. His screams are loud enough to almost overwhelm the sounds of the machinegun as the drone tracks and kills two of the running men. Fant struggles, but his strength is no match for Sian’s and he weakens greatly as she sucks his blood away. Soon, the screams become mewls as she takes more and more and they finally cease altogether as he loses consciousness in her arms. When she is finished, Sian lays the man down on the ground and uses her sacred blade to cut his head off as she does not want to allow him to rise as a vampire.
Sian stands and taps a message out to Brigitte to call her drone back and walks over to where the soldier is laying in terror on the ground. He has soiled himself while watching what she has done to Fant and he fears the same fate from the women who is standing above him. Although he is completely unable to form cogent words, his fear is palpable as Sian kneels down beside him. The man faints dead away and Sian looks at him mutely before standing up and laughing. She bends over and picks the soldier up, carrying him to one of the vehicles. While there, she hears a noise as if someone is knocking on metal. Looking about, Sian determines that the noise is coming from the trunk of the official car and walks over to it.
“Hello? Who is in the trunk?”
The knocking goes quiet but there is some movement from inside the trunk and then a woman’s voice calls out. “It is Vanu.”
Sian nods to herself. Vanu is the name of Fant’s mistress. She had wondered where the young woman had got to, but had not been sufficiently concerned about her to worry about it. “I am going to open the trunk. If you have a weapon in there, please do not try to use it. If you cooperate, I will not harm you or let you be harmed.”
She waits until she hears the sound of what might have been a crowbar drop to the floor then opens the trunk. Vanu had been beaten before being stuffed in the trunk with the two small chests Fant had taken from the dig site and Sian notes that she will be sporting a black eye for a while. The woman crawls out and gasps and puts a hand to her mouth as she looks about at the carnage. “Wha….what happened here? Are they all dead? I heard shooting and screaming and…..and…….”
Her voice drops off as she catches sight of Fant’s headless corpse. Her eyes roll back into her head and she collapses in a faint. Sian manages to catch her and sets her safely on the ground. Standing, she taps out a message to Brigitte and Chong and before long the truck convoy comes into sight. The men in the back of the trucks hop down to move the vehicles that had been blocking the rood and remain mostly silent as they take in the scene of the butchery. The dead are piled in the vehicles, which are set ablaze after the two chests of coins and gems that Fant had left with are transferred to a truck. The surviving soldier and Vanu are also placed in one of the trucks and the convoy resumes moving back to civilization, or what passes for it in this corner of the world.May 30, 2017 at 11:32 am #244
[Friday March 19, 2077; Aria’s Domain, Citadel Game Host, Seattle]
Silk smiled a greeting to Aria and Summer as she appeared beside the limpid pools and swaying alien plants of Aria’s personal expanse. Aria was idly running her fingers through the mercury like liquid and inspecting the drops as they plunged back, somehow rippling inwards rather than the more conventional patterns of the mundane world. Although Silk couldn’t sense the Resonance the two technomancers before her would draw the skeins forth so that her own gift could sift through them…together they would trace the many paths of the digital future and feed the information to the other two rituals happening in England and North Africa…
[Friday March 19, 2077; Cirque de l’Ombre, Outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco]
The Child Seer began to hum, a tone more suited to her natural form than the disguise she wore for the benefit of the mundanes around her. The song wove its way in to the ritual as they teased at the Pattern…
[Friday March 19, 2077; The Gothicum (Southwark Cathedral), The Squeeze, London]
The magic flowed out and bound itself to the other two rituals as the Choir began this most important reading of the Pattern. X drew the mana in to the circle and channelled it through each of those present, his Chaos paradigm allowing him to manage the disparate traditions and even the non-magic users. And slowly but surely the possible futures were read, catalogued and the Darkness that was coming analysed, at least tentatively…danced around like a martial artist weighing his opponent…perhaps, just perhaps, a path could be found that would steer metahumanity along a precarious path to survival…
#02June 1, 2017 at 2:34 am #259
Early morning, March 19th 2077 – Verdun, at the banks of the Maas
The rays of the morning sun stabbed like daggers through my half closed eyelids. Exhaustion and pain had combined themselves into an unholy alliance, making me doubt for a moment that I could ever move a single muscle in my body again. Turning my head away from the sun was already an act of such heroic proportions that I’m sure that 600 years earlier it would have been worthy of a whole play and 800 years earlier of a whole saga.
Slowly memories returned and I was disappointed to learn that my current condition was not the result of a drunken revel, orgy or a simple misery bender, but instead the result of a fight that had brought me as close to death as I hadn’t been in the last 20 years. Maybe even the last 25.
Belatedly I remembered that someone had called me by my street name. I blinked and somehow found an ounce of strength to move my head again in search of the speaker.
“Come on, get up. You can’t just have fun with an axe and afterwards go to sleep. There is more work to do. Besides I don’t think its wise for you to lie next to the dismembered corps of a little girl while still clutching the axe – not to mention the two dead shadow runners and the score of desecrated war graves. Jeez, it’s like looking after a little child.”
It took me another half second to realize that I knew the voice. The smug, self satisfied demeanor gave him away.
“Puck, fuck you with an anchor – sideways.”
The profanity helped me to regain a measure of strength. Crusted blood had matted my hair and clothes and I felt it pull painfully on the fresh axe wound on my back as I slowly got nearer to be vertical again.
“Gee. What foul language this early in the morning. But I have to admit it befits your looks and….” he sniffed “…your odor. Seriously, we aren’t in the 18th century anymore.
I couldn’t help myself but snort a short laugh. Puck could be a real PitA, but at least he was always direct, honest and occasionally even funny. Also I could smell a freshly baked croissant with cheese and ham. Puck noticed that I noticed and tossed it to me.
Despite doubting a moment before that I could move my muscles ever again, my stomach and my hands seemed to have come to an agreement that this did not include the procurement of food. Ripping the paper and devouring the concoction of butter, starch, grease and all the other lovely calories took me no longer than three seconds.
“Fascinating, have you ever considered living in the Amazonas? There is a type of awakened Piranha that could learn a thing or two from you.”
“Do you have anymore of that?”
“I’m not a bakery or a street food vendor.”
“Then shut and help me up. Some of that blood is mine.”
“I’ll make a note of it in my little pink diary with the unicorn stickers.”
The Oni pulled a grimace but despite the banter, Puck gave his hand to me and helped me up.
Stiff and sore I began to move wobbly on my feet: “Any particular reason you should appear here with a ham and cheese croissant at half past fucking too early in the morning?
“Of course not. It’s part of my morning routine to visit Great War graveyards looking for dead beat asses in the dew.
What do you think? The boss wants a report and Daggermother got out of fetching you by virtue of being currently on the other side of the globe.”
“I never understood why Sa’ira got that code name. I’ve never seen her use a dagger – or behave motherly now that I think about it.”
“It’s obviously an allegorical term. Like your name which I suspect is the combination of a popular window cleaner and an equally popular washing detergent. Just like you to spell the first letter of your name wrong.”
I didn’t deem this conversation worth my still limited breath and limped after the man to his car.
All in all it wasn’t the worst start the day could have had…June 1, 2017 at 11:32 am #263
[Friday March 19, 2077; Aria’s Domain, Citadel Game Host, Seattle]
Suddenly the matrix environment shivers as if a minor earth tremor had swept across it. Aria looked up in apparent alarm
“Someone is doing a deep run on the Foundation! They want to destabilise the host…the timing is too convenient, whilst I have dealt with hackers in the past nobody is likely to try something as risky as this for a gaming site, it must be connected to our ritual. Go, I will deal with this…” and with that her persona had disappeared from the garden
“I…” was all Summer was able to say before her persona suddenly disappeared too leaving Silk standing alone. Concerned she sent a flurry of messages out to her network and to the other ritual sites and then disconnected from VR…
[Friday March 19, 2077; Cirque de l’Ombre, Outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco]
As the swirling mana kicked up dust devils around the ritual there was a sudden outcry from the circus folk and heads turned to the horizon where three matte black helicopters bearing SK insignia and AROs where approaching fast…the waspish and aggressive shapes felt threatening even at this distance and there was no mistaking their destination, there was nothing else of significance on this hilltop…
[Friday March 19, 2077; The Gothicum (Southwark Cathedral), The Squeeze, London]
With no warning, not even from the circling spirits that accompanied the mages below, the southern wall of the cathedral courtyard erupted in smoke and flame and raining debris…the gargoyle flock leapt into the air with a chorus of shrieks. X froze in surprise his eyes widening as they briefly had a chance to glimpse the reflected dazzle of the drone mounted Firelance laser as it bored a hole through his chest before sweeping on to its next target…
#03June 1, 2017 at 11:58 am #265
1735 Monday, March 12, 2077 Near Viengiap, Laos
Sian senses the change in attitude of the men in the dig crew as they finally break out of the jungle onto what passes for a road in this part of Laos. Although she has seen it many times in many different places, the speed at which the jungle reclaims what people have done never ceases to amaze her. They had left this exact stretch of road almost eight weeks ago, cutting a rough track into the jungle that would take them to where the tomb was located. In that short time, the track had almost disappeared, taken over by jungle growth. The way back out had been almost as hard as cutting the way through in the first place, so getting back to the road certainly boosted morale. Once again breaking into song, the crew was looking forward to reaching the village of Viengiap, which is located only about three miles down the road.
Sian has been mulling over some of the things Vanu has been telling her during the trek from the ambush site. The woman had been grateful for being rescued and had talked about what she knew of the plans of the late and unlamented Fant.
”Fant had used his placement in the antiquities section to hide that you were even coming to Laos this time. He must have been planning this from the start of you requesting permission to do your expedition.”
Sian had frowned. ”But I had made arrangements with the travel authorities to set up permission to come here and to hire a crew. Does that mean that there are others involved?”
”Not from what Fant said as he bragged about how he was going to be rich. He had contacted Colonel Kra of the security police and they were able to keep everything apart from normal channels. Of course, some of the local people would know that you were here, but most of them are so used to be told to keep quiet that they would, especially if you just disappeared out in the jungle.”
Sian nods. ”And those they could not frighten they would just have disappear, too. So his plan was to take all of the treasure and share it with Kra and the soldiers.”
Vanu had shaken her head. ”No, I think he was planning on a double cross. At least I got that impression from some of the things he said. He was going to use the colonel’s contacts to get the treasure smuggled out of the country and then have him killed. I am quite sure, even though he said nothing, of course, that I was not to live much longer as well. My usefulness had reached an end, it would seem.”
”I see. No record of me being here and Fant holding the list of what we found would allow him to get it out of the country and sold without anyone being the wiser, especially if he covered his tracks well.”
”Yes.” Then the woman had licked her lips and paused. ”So, what of me? And the soldier? Are you going to let us live?”
Sian had smiled at the woman. ”Of course. Do you think I am some sort of monster?”
Vanu had not replied to that but Sian could see the truth in her eyes. There had been some talk about her during the past three days as the convoy made its way through the jungle. Even some of her own men were giving her a wide berth when they walked near her. Most of the crew were solidly in the camp that she was a beneficent witch, maybe something more than that, but at least ten of the men had been on each of her previous expeditions into Laos and had never seen her use her magic on them and were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, she paid really good for the sort of labor they provided.
Sian had told Vanu that she would be taken to Vientiane, the capital, and released to her family. She would even be rewarded handsomely if she was able to assist in getting clearance for Sian’s convoy to pass through into neighboring Thailand, where Sian has other contacts that would help her get home with the bulk of the treasure. The soldier had already asked to be allowed to return to his remote village, where he would never breathe a word about what had happened. It had not taken Sian long to go from learning of what Fant had planned to realizing that no one officially knew that she was even in the country or that she had recovered a substantial find in coins and gems, not to mention the value of the various statues, urns, and other items that would be of immense interest to a number of collectors that Sian knows. During the rest of the trip back to the road, she had been working on a plan to get the treasure out of the country and back to Prague, where it could be discretely sold or stored away in her Master’s hidden museum.
She has contacted several sources and Vientiane’s location so near the border to Thailand would make it easy to get the treasures across the border and on to their new home. Still, there would be time to finish those plans but tonight was a chance to celebrate the return to civilization. She would be saying farewell to several of the crewmen here as they made their way to their homes. Some, including Chong, would remain with the convoy and help with sending everything off, for which they would receive additional bonuses.June 1, 2017 at 1:35 pm #271
1035, March 16, 2077 Laos/Thailand Border
Sian reflects on the past couple of days as she waits for the convoy to pass through the checkpoint that separates Laos and Thailand. Just south of the Lao capital of Vientiane, this would be the last barrier to leaving Laos and on to getting her precious cargo to Prague. Once past the border, the convoy would meet with Zhiang Phu, one of a number of coyotes in this part of the world that Sian has worked with in the past. It has been arranged to have him join the convoy and provide local drivers and laborers to go the rest of the way to the coast. She would be saying a sad farewell to a number of people that she had come close to in the past few weeks, to include the man driving her vehicle. Chong had once again proved to be a real blessing and she had promised to try to return to Laos for the birth of his next child.
Vanu had demonstrated that she was fully into the smuggling operation, calling on contacts that she had developed on her own and using others provided by her father to make sure that there were no glitches in the process of getting the convoy safely out of Laos. As it turned out, the rampant corruption in the Lao government had helped as much as anything. Sian had needed to grease the palms of a number of officials, but that was only to be expected and her not really being officially in the country actually helped in providing deniability to those who provided assistance. Vanu’s father had been surprisingly helpful once he realized that Sian had saved his daughter from a horrible end. Sian was leaving suitable funds with Vanu and her father in thanks for their help and continued silence. Vanu had come the short distance from the capital to make sure there were no problems, but would be returning to the capital when the convoy was away. Sian’s reverie is disturbed by Chong’s gentle touch on her shoulder. She stirs and looks where Chong is pointing at Brigitte and Vanu as the pair return from getting the final clearances for the vehicles. As promised, the inspection of the vehicles has been very cursory and nothing had been out of order as far as Sian was aware. That the two women are smiling and laughing is an indicator that things are still on track and that thought is proven correct when Vanu stops at the lead truck to talk to Sian.
She hands a tablet to Brigitte and another to Sian and says, ”All is in order, Miss Romanov. The papers are all signed and you should have no difficulty making the crossing.” She casts a look at the woman next to her then looks back at Sian. ”I have to thank you for taking such good care of me. it would have been much easier to just leave me in the jungle with poor, misguided Fant. I hope that we can stay in touch and that you contact me when you decide to come back to Laos.”
Sian takes the tablet and smiles as she nods. ”You can count on that Vanu. You have proven to be quite dependable and effective and I value that. When do we roll?”
Vanu smiles back. ”Thank you, Miss Romanov, that means a lot to me. You should be out of here in about five minutes. I guess this is so long for now.”
Sian nods and watches as Vanu and Brigitte go off to say their own farewells. The two had developed a friendship and had been often thrown together in making the arrangements to get Sian and her treasures out of Laos, but it is apparent that they care for each other in a deeper sense than just friendship. Chong playfully honks his horn as the vehicles ahead of him begin to move and Brigitte turns to stick her tongue out at the man before running over to take her place in the truck. Sian chuckles, ”Am I supposed to know that you have a ticket back to Vientiane in your pocket?”
It is Brigitte’s turn to laugh but her face does not display one bit of embarrassment. ”Yes, I am flying back after you leave Bangkok. I have some unfinished business in Vientiane and want to see if something comes of it.”
”Good for you, Brigitte. I hope it works out.”
There was little opportunity to say more as the convoy pulls forward to the Thai checkpoint. All is as promised and the convoy is passed through and on its way. Chong pulls over at a diner on the Thai side of the border and they watch as Zhiang Phu walks towards them, followed by several men. Sian climbs out of the truck to meet the coyote and pleasantries are exchanged as the new drivers and laborers take the place of Chong and his remaining men. Hugs and farewells are said and Sian passes out additional bonuses as she had promised she would. The men will take a bus back across the border and then disappear to their various homes in that country. When the new men are in place, Zhiang Phu climbs into the lead truck and puts it in gear, setting it off down the road to the port of Chon Buri, located about four hours away.
Sian knows that the coyote has made arrangements for the convoy’s cargo to be transferred to a freighter leaving Chon Buri the following day. If all goes to plan, she will meet the freighter in Marseille, France and the cargo removed to be delivered to the Charles University in Prague. She will then go to Bangkok and fly to Jerusalem to see Sanrit. Sian has kept her Master apprised of her plans and he has approved of everything, as she had felt he would. Right now, all is going to plan. She is looking forward to her arrival in Bangkok as she expects to be hungry by then and the worries of getting the cargo away will be behind her, allowing her to concentrate on something else for a bit.June 1, 2017 at 4:12 pm #272
0200, March 17, 2077 Bangkok, Thailand
Sian is waiting. She had marked her targets almost forty minutes ago and is just waiting for the appropriate time, which seems to be just about now. The thugs were chortling over the bit of money they had just forced from two of the prostitutes they run from this narrow alley. Sian has seen five working girls reporting to the pair, swapping cash for packets of what she is sure is some sort of drug. Two of the girls had left with no drugs and bruises on their bodies from where the men punched them for under performing. Although the faces were left alone, it was made quite clear that would not be the case if they showed up without more money next time.
Over the centuries, Sion has developed the techniques that allow her to take a bit of essence from several unsuspecting hosts and so not needing to kill as often. There are times, however, when she really needs to feed by completely draining someone and she is looking forward to doing that tonight. No one but the prostitutes will ever miss these men and the girls will just move on to another pimp as part of a continuing cycle of life and death. Sian has assensed the thugs and they are clean of implants or anything else that would lessen their essence and she smiles at the thought of feeding off of them.
The two men are arguing about whether or not they should go after the one girl in their string that has not reported in yet. One of them tosses a cigarette to the dirt of the alley and shakes his head. ”We need to really do something about this one. She has been late three nights in a row.”
The second man nods emphatically. ”The fucking bitch is stealing from us. I just know it. And that is not something we need to have get around.”
”Definitely not. We need an example for the other bitches to show that they cannot do that and expect to get away with it.”
”Uh-huh. Shame to waste such a nice ass, though.”
”Lots more nice asses where that one came from, but OK, so we fuck her before we kill her. And we do it tonight.”
The other man nods. ”No time like now. Fuck her and kill her and put the body where the others will see it. They will get the message, loud and clear.”
Both men laugh as they discuss who gets the girl first and how they are going to kill her. One of them gets very creative in coming up with how they should do this and is laughing as he talks about what they will put up her before doing the deed. After they use her first, of course. Sian steps away form the shadows where she has been standing and approaches the pair of thugs. Men such as these have no honor, but she feels it is necessary that they know she is here and so she makes a small noise. Both men turn immediately, one reaching for a knife before they see that there is only one woman approaching them.
”What you want, bitch?”
The second man puts out a hand. ”Hey, man, don’t talk to the pretty girl that way.” He nudges the other as he continues. ”We got something for you if you want it and are nice to us. There is going to be a vacancy in our string in a bit and you can fill it good.”
The first man is quick to pick up on the idea and nods as he puts his knife away and takes a small packet from a pocket. ”Is this what you are looking for? A bit of Bliss to make your day go better? It’s yours if you fuck both of us right here and there could be even more and some steady money if you come to work for us.”
The second man laughs, showing the bad teeth that are a sign of bad hygiene and even worse dental care, but he is prevented from saying more when Sian’s hand moves forward faster than he can really follow and he is thrown against the wall of the alley hard enough to have the wind knocked out of him and send him unconscious to the ground. The other man is momentarily in shock at the turn of events and puts up no real resistance as Sian grabs him and runs him head first into the wall. He collapses to the ground as Sian kneels in front of him and caresses his face before pulling it close to hers. Still a bit out of it, he can do nothing but watch as the woman’s mouth opens to expose two long canines. He tries to scream but the hand covering his mouth ensures that the noise is not heard beyond the confines of the alley.
Feeding on him, Sian is briefly reminded of the countless people she has emptied of life and essence over the last ten thousand years or so. It is common for the blood to taste differently from one human to the next, but the essence drain is pretty much the same, although implants can make it less fulfilling. The man she is holding quivers several times as his life is drained away but he is completely unable to get away and is soon empty. Sian uses a finger to clean a few wayward blood drops from her chin before putting it in her mouth to clean it off. Smiling at the taste, she stands and moves to the second man, who is just now starting to wake up. He shakes his head to clear it and sees the woman approaching from where he can see his friend on the ground. Some instinct lets him know the other man is dead and he tries to get his knife out of his pocket and open it. And fails. Sian is kneeling near him and removing the knife from his hand before he can flick it open. Without saying a word, Sian lowers her mouth to the man’s throat and punctures the soft skin of the neck near the carotid artery and begins taking his life.
Sian leaves the alley after removing the heads from both men and tossing them further into the darkness. As she moves away, she can hear the rats already moving in to finish her work. Sian steps out into a narrow street and sends mental instructions to the two Valoi who have been shadowing her and all three women begin walking back towards their hotel, her victims already all but forgotten. She is sated for now and later this morning she will be on a plane for Israel and will see what Sanrit has found. All in all, this expedition has proven to be most satisfying.June 1, 2017 at 6:09 pm #273
1200 Sunday, 18 March, 2077 Okinawa, Japan
White beach spread its wings to either side of Al. Foam tendrils teased at his toes, then retreated back into the limitless azure expanse. There was only one other person in sight – the Pacifico Naha Excelsior was the most expensive resort on Okinawa, priced for exclusivity. Or people that didn’t mind spending their last nuyen on a week or so of R&R.
A week – that was how long he’d been here – and still he couldn’t get the Siberian chill from his bones. Sure, he’d travelled some, but always hot places. The Chukchi had kicked his ass – or rather frozen it.
So the closest tropical paradise had been the Ryukyus, and Al had always wanted to go to Japan. He’d learned a bit of their crazy lingo watching anime and Tales, but had never been there. But after wandering around outside the resort area for a few daus, he figured he still hadn’t – this place was no more Nippon than the Virgin Islands were really a part of the UCAS. And if he wanted to speak Japanese he’d damned well have to stay here in the hotel, where the staff and guests all used the standard hyojungo speech. Which was close enough to anime for Al to get by.
One of the people he’d chatted with was the lady down the beach a ways. She wasn’t wearing anything, but for these prices folks could do what they damn well pleased. Looking at her, he’d initially figured her for mid-twenties. But after their conversation in the resort’s steakhouse, he’d decided it was closer to sixty. Money may not be able to buy love, but it could do a helluva job on youth. She was on a lounger, fingers working furiously at the air. Even when they’d spoken, she’d been working. Great multi-tasker. Boring as hell.
But then this whole place was. Plenty of booze, plenty of sun. Room was plush. Great view. He could even see the Snakehandler where it was tied up at the edge of the marina. The trid screen covered a wall, so that was nice, calling up old stuff. He’d watched the first four seasons of Mars Force Five. Great show until they’d canceled it over the CFD thing. Respect for the victims or some crap. They were making a lot more now than ever before, and no production costs for new episodes.
He’d made friends with some of the maintenance staff, and they’d let him use a shed in the facilities plant – a place filled with infrastructural realities the guests were supposed to never see. He’d spent a couple of days in there, first working on a beerchemy machine. It had come to him in a dream – what if he could turn salt water into beer? How many downtrodden lives could be improved? Somehow, the device had morphed in the making into a perpetual motion machine. Al was pretty sure he could make one, but about halfway there he got to wondering how it would affect the global economy and he’d decided to leave off for a while. Congratulated himself on his enlightened sense of the greater good.
So here he was back on the beach in his boxers and boots, brown leather jacket lying beside him. He had nothing really to do. And nowhere to go. Sure, he’d have to fly back to England to fetch Spike, but after that….
In ten months he’d be half a century old – ancient of days. He’d spent the last few years doing this silly urban mercenary thing, met some interesting people, some of whom he’d then killed. But was that really a proper vocation for the man at the center of Fate’s web? If the universe revolved around you, where should you be?
There was really only one answer – the same one he’d known since he’d left The Mountain almost three decades back. He was ready.
But was Hollywood ready for him?June 2, 2017 at 3:41 am #281
Mid morning, March 19th 2077 – Essen, S-K Prime
I must have dozed off, because when I opened my eyes we no longer were in the French countryside but fully inside the sprawl of the Rhein-Ruhr-Megaplex. Groggily I groped for the water bottle that Puck had tossed to me on the back seat. The plastic tarp crackled that the bastard had laid out beforehand, so I wouldn’t soil his seats. Consequently, I had to peal back a bit that had began to stick to my cheek. Greedily, I emptied the bottle, realizing belatedly how thirsty I’d been. Blood loss will do that to you.
“Were are we going?”
“Oh the princess has woken from her slumber. What do you think? S-K Prime of course.”
“Shit, I’ll have to freshen up a bit then, won’t I.”
“No shit, Sherlock. There is a little care pack next to your head. Once we are at the suite, you can scrape that disgusting ooze from your face.”
I opened the little pack taking out a toothbrush, shower gel and…
“Ketchup? Why the hell did you put a bottle of Ketchup in their?”
“Eh, just in case the boss gets a bit peckish after you inevitably show him your usual disregard for niceties and decorum.”
I was still too tired to come up with a snappy reply. So I just mumbled mockingly “niceties and decorum, blablabla.”
“Very adult of you – say, how did you manage to keep on to that much obnoxious childishness after all that time? I mean, most people would learn at least something in all that time.”
“The trick is not to fear anything and having seen the same shit over and over again. And the boss respects me as I do him without one of us fearing the other. You on the other hand can suck it. Oh and thanks for the ride and help by the way.”
“I’d say it was my pleasure – but then I’d probably be lying. You are welcome, asshole.”
We finally entered some underground garage or other and I dragged myself into the private elevator that took me all the way up to the top floor. I didn’t waste a second to appreciate the spacious, modern, with all amenities equipped room, but headed straight to the shower.
The hot water scalded my skin – or it would have if my skin wasn’t tougher than rhino hide. So it merely made my skin tingle nicely. With interest I watched as all the dirt, gore and other fluids began to dissolve and flowed down the drain. The half closed wound made itself known and suddenly the shower grew a bunch of metallic looking tentacles. For a moment I thought I had landed in some hentai anime, when a soothing female voice began to speak:
“Autodoc S-K VI activated – Please keep still, you seem to be hurt, repairs will commence now.”
I didn’t get much chance to move as the snake finger modification wrapped around my midsection and immobilized me while other parts began to laser, blow, staple and suture behind my back.
To be fair, it didn’t hurt much and when it was done and the wound seal had been applied, it had stopped hurting completely, leaving only a very dull pressure behind. Thankfully, the machine had also forgone the opportunity to give me a prostate examination.
Much cleaner and healthier I exited the shower and found a nicely tailored suit, complete with underwear, socks and shoes waiting for me.
Coming back into the main room I saw Puck waiting, staring out of the window, his massive, muscled form looking into the distance. Without turning around he said:
“There’s a little snack on the table, but hurry. The boss has very much to do these days and only very little time to waste. So eat up – you never know if it’s your last…”
My grumbling stomach droned out the snappy remark I was about to utter, so instead I constructed a very delicious breakfast sandwich from rye bread, salmon, various types of cheese, scrambled eggs, caviar, bacon, some more cheese and a single olive on a stick. What can I say – quantity is the main quality I’m looking for in my food. Also it gave me a small jolt of pleasure to see Puck react with disgust and revulsion at the sight of me eating that abomination of a sandwich. I washed it down with half a pitcher of fresh milk and an equal amount of coffee.
Finally, I felt ready to meet my maker once again…June 2, 2017 at 11:01 am #286
[Friday March 19, 2077; Oakfarm Estate (Argent’s House), North Bellevue, Seattle]
Silk jolted out of VR to the sound of gravel scrunching under the heavy tyres of the two laden SUVs that powered up the drive. They clearly had a hacker on site to bypass Gossamer’s security so Silk took the precaution of hitting the virtual wifi kill button on her gear. Rolling away from her recliner she slipped stealthily out of the room, briefly regretting that she didn’t have her running gear to hand. Still, she was paranoid enough to at least have a firearm to hand and she eased the machine pistol in to a shoulder holster as she crept on all fours like a spider conscious all the time of her vulnerability. How could this be happening with no glimmer of it in the Pattern? She realised ruefully that she had come to rely on her gift of foresight and its failure shook her more than she would like…
[Friday March 19, 2077; Cirque de l’Ombre, Outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco]
Autocannon rounds slashed through the caravans in an arbitrary display of violent power. Circus folk scattered away from the sudden hail of ruin, futily trying to put some cover between themselves and the inbound helicopters.
Phoenix cast a powerful barrier around the ritual but it wilted under the sustained fire and his tattered body was bowled over in to the dust…Desire and the Child fled in to the astral away from the horror that tainted the manasphere around them.
[Friday March 19, 2077; The Gothicum (Southwark Cathedral), The Squeeze, London]
As the beam of the Firelance passed across the Old One’s hooded form he let out a roar that dwarfed even the explosions of moments before. Reality rippled as he resumed his natural form and the black dragon sprang from the courtyard. Spells and spirits scythed outwards in a scintillating wash of power and woe betide any that stood in their path…
#04June 2, 2017 at 12:29 pm #290
1530, March 17, 2077 Jerusalem, Israel
Sian leaves the main building of the Antiquities College of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stepping out into the sunshine of beautiful Spring day. Looking to her right, she nods at the two women waiting for her and all three walk down the long, tree lined pedestrian boulevard to the main plaza that will give them access to the street leading back into the city. Sian’s mind is still back in Sanrit Goldstein’s office and she carefully considers the information she has been given. Sanrit has uncovered information that might lead to the tomb of Constantine. Scholars have been debating for centuries whether the public burial site was the true one, with as many on one side as the other. In Sian’s mind, there had just been too many inconsistencies in what was on display and what should have been found in the tomb. She had spent time in the company of the emperor and was sure that several items were missing from what he would have considered taking to his grave, but it is one thing to know and quite another to try to tell others that you had been in his bed and so knew that the Orb of Rulership on display is a crass forgery. Yeah, that does not always go over well and just opens oneself to lots of unnecessary questions and then the peasants with pitchforks and torches start coming after you. No, it is better to just accept what others say in cases like this.
But now, Sanrit has just told her that she has a clue to the true burial tomb of Constantine and this excites Sian. And confuses her. If Sanrit is correct, the tomb is in the middle of the Amazon Basin. If accurate, that would certainly explain why it has not been found before, but it certainly begs the question as to how the remains and treasures of a Roman emperor made their way to the Amazon jungle. Still, Sanrit is nothing if not meticulous in her research and she has provided Sian with as good a proof as almost anything one can expect in the world of archaeology. The final piece was a recounting of a story of one Henry Gordon, an early nineteenth century British explorer who had gone into the Amazon in search of a fabled city of gold and had crawled back out ten years later in Argentina, crazed from hunger and suffering from some sort of disease that was robbing him of his sanity. A local reporter was visiting a friend in the hospital the man had been taken to, heard of the strange man, and decided to get his story. Managing to bribe a nurse, the reporter sat with the man and heard a crazed story about finding the city of gold, but that is was of Roman construction. He said that he had seen the tomb of Constantine and that the people there were all dressed in the ancient Roman style. The locals had killed or captured all of his team and held them prisoner to keep them from leaving. He was the last to have survived and had taken a chance to flee but his escape had been noticed and he had been pursued. The reporter had considered the story crazy enough to be true and had posted it. And nothing more for almost thirty years, at which time both the French and the English had mounted separate expeditions to try to find this lost city. Neither expedition ever returned and the issues in Europe surrounding the Franco-Prussian War and its aftermath left little time for anyone to follow up on it and the idea died, treated as nothing more than a sad loss of life over crazed rumors.
The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War had briefly revived efforts to locate lost cities and artifacts as the Nazi leader was intent on recovering what he could of anything that even hinted at the occult and magic. Hitler sympathizers in Argentina were convinced to mount an expedition into neighboring Brazil to look for this city, but it failed to return. A second expedition was planned and financed, but the war ended before the final arrangements were made and funding dried up. A smaller expedition did set out four years after the war, led by one of Hitler’s leading archaeologists that had survived the Nuremburg Trials by fleeing to Argentina. this one, too, failed to return, adding to the mystique of the hidden city but not providing enough solid evidence for anyone else to go looking for it.
Sanrit had painstakingly put together all of the published anecdotes and sifted through the rumors to come up with several nuggets of possible truth. Sian was intrigued enough to listen to the story and take away what Sanrit was willing to part with. The Goldstein family have been loyal to Sian for generations, ever since she had saved the family by hiding them in the mountains outside Prague during the Nazi persecutions. If Sanrit was telling Sian this then she was sure about it…..or as sure about it as anyone can be in this line of work.
Barely noticing her progress, Sian finally looks up to see that they have walked a couple of miles. Spying a bench on the side of the wide street, she sits and pulls out her ‘link, sending messages to several people, to include Brigitte in Vientiane, who is alerted that her vacation might be cut a bit short and to brush up on her Spanish and Portuguese. After the messages are sent, she smiles and sends another to her Master, detailing her progress and telling him that she will be flying to Marseille, France the following day to wait for the freighter from Laos.
Feeling better about the world than she has in a while, Sian stands and smiles at her Valoi before continuing her walk to the hotel.June 2, 2017 at 2:39 pm #293
2300, March 18, 2077 Marseille, France
Sian is sitting at a sidewalk table of a small café in the port district of Marseille, watching people go past and looking out at the lights of the various ships at anchor. She has checked in with the port offices and knows that the freighter is still some three days out and she can expect a week in the city on the southern coast of France, walking the streets and reacquainting herself with the city. She has an untouched cup of espresso on the table in front of her and she is now looking out over the ships in the harbor without really seeing them, focused instead on the task of arranging an expedition to Argentina and Brazil. She already has people working on the necessary permits to operate in those countries and other people getting equipment and personnel together. A particularly bright spot is that Doctor Alyce Krait seems to be available. Sian has worked with her before on a few expeditions and is impressed with the skill set of the blind physician. Always in demand, Alyce had not been available for the expedition to Laos, but her schedule seems to be open for one to the Amazon. There had been rumors that she had retired to a castle in Cornwall, but those rumors had apparently proven to be not completely accurate. Brigitte is on board, too, and is apparently in talks to get Raul Sanchez in as her local dig chief consort, which brings another smile to Sian’s face. Raul is well know in his profession and has particular experience in the Amazon Basin. Sian herself has contacted Roberto Gonzalez of Aztlan Corp to secure permission to go into the jungle there and his initial words were encouraging. He needs additional information, of course, and Sian has promised to provide it to him.
Sighing at the nice feeling of a plan coming together, Sian settles down and actually takes a sip of the now overly cooled drink in front of her, having earlier cast her spell to limit the allergic reaction, something she had long ago learned to do to help her fit in with mortal customs and expectations. She has given her Valoi the evening off and told them not to come to her room until at least noon the following day. Her thoughts are interrupted by the approach of a man with two cups of espresso in his hands and an odd twang in his French. “Pardon me, but I did notice that your cup has cooled somewhat and took the liberty of ordering you another.” He motions to the table and the seat opposite Sian. “May I join you?”
Sian sits up and looks the man over carefully. “I do not normally accept drinks from strangers, but since it is only an espresso, I will make an exception. So yes, join me, please, and thank you for the fresh drink.”
As the man sits down, he introduces himself. “Mark Rawlings of the Greek-flagged freighter Cyprios, at your service. We do a regular run between here and Athens and are in port to load some cargo for the return trip.”
Sian responds with a smile. “And I am waiting for a ship carrying cargo I am to meet here in a few days. It has been a long time since I have been in Marseille and I have been sitting her remembering why I used to like it here and wondering why I have delayed coming back. I hope I am not being too rude, but your accent…..is it CAS?”
Mark smiles. “Guilty as charged and not rude at all, Miss. It has been a longtime since I set foot in the hills of my youth, but the accent has just never completely left. You have one, as well, but it is European.”
Sian laughs. “Now it is my turn to be embarrassed. Tatjana Romanov.”
The man sits back in his chair and looks closely at Sian. “Romanov? Not the Hungarian…..no, no…..Czech archaeologist?” At Sian’s surprised nod, he continues. “Whoa and spank me silly. You could not possibly remember me, but I remember you. I was a lowly fourth officer on a small freighter supplying some sort of an expedition on Crete. You were leading that expedition, if I remember. Wow, that was about seventeen years ago and you are still the exotic beauty now that you were then, if you pardon my saying so.”
Sian smiles. “I remember that trip, but you are right, I do not remember many of the…….wait, were you the young man that fell into the water?”
Now Mark laughs and holds up his hands in mock surrender. “Again, guilty as charged. I was looking at you and walked right off the dock. I was embarrassed as all hell and have never stopped being teased about that when the beer is flowing. I guess I had a crush from afar, but that dip off the wharf meant I never had the courage to get anywhere close to you again. And now, seventeen years later, here you are at my favorite café in one of my favorite cites.”
After both get a good laugh, Sian continues the conversation. “But you cannot still be a lowly fourth officer?”
“No, indeed. Now I own that ship, and two others, although I find I am working even harder than when I was younger. I try to go out on the ships a couple of times a year, just to keep my hand in and to let the young bucks know that I still know my business. I took this trip just to get back to Marseille for a few days. You still in the expedition business?”
Sian nods. “Indeed. That is why I am here. I shipped some goods from Laos to here and the ship is not due for a couple of days yet, so I thought I would just get here early and wait for it.”
“Well, I am glad you did. It is good to see you again and I do promise not to walk off the pier. I know it is late, but I have not eaten since about noon and am starving. Could I interest you in a bite?”
Sian chuckles at the unintended innuendo but nods. “I am not very hungry, having eaten not long ago, but I could be convinced to stay for the company and perhaps a small desert.”
Mark smiles. “Excellent. Let me get the attention of a waiter.”
Three hours later and the pair are still talking when the manager of the café comes out to shoo them off, telling them to get a room. Mark does not even blush and certainly does not look away from Sian. “It might not be much, but I do have the largest cabin on the ship…………..?
Several hours later, the tangle of sheets and limbs on the bed of the owner’s cabin onboard the Cyprios is mute evidence to the activities of the early morning. Mark wakes first and walks to the bathroom, using the toilet and reaching out to start the shower. He is pleasantly surprised when a pair of arms encircles his waist and he can feel Sian’s naked breasts pressing against his back. He leans into her and places his strong hands on hers at his waist. “Mmmmmm. I wish I had been braver seventeen years ago. But, of course, you were not looking at young fourth officers back then.”
“I don’t know. I might have if you had been a little braver. I am glad that you were brave enough last night.”
He turns in her arms and looks her in the eye. “I am glad, too. Is it too forward to wonder if you might just agree to room here for a couple of days?”
Sian puts a finger on Mark’s nose. “My, someone is certainly brave this morning.”
“I have to be. It is either that or walk off the dock again, and I would rather not do that. So……?”
Sian laughs and drops her hands to squeeze the man’s ass. “Would you have any time for me or would it be all work?”
Mark is already nibbling at Sian’s neck but he comes up for air. “Work? What work? I think trying to keep up with you is going to be real work. It is probably overly rude to ask, but where did you learn some of what you did?”
“Yes, it is rude, but the truth is I cannot really recall. I guess that makes me a wanton woman.”
He goes back to nibbling on her neck, eliciting a moan in response and his words are muffled as he replies. “It makes you experienced, not wanton. My God!.” The last was in response to what her hands were doing to his rising manhood. The shower is forgotten as the two head back to the bed, almost making it before simply collapsing to the floor to work out their passions on each other. Eventually they get to the bed, but only to fall into it in exhaustion. Mark calls the captain of the ship and explains that he is occupied today and will leave the loading of the ship to him. Sian sends a message to her Valoi to let them know that she will not be back at the hotel for a bit and will keep them informed as to when she will return.June 2, 2017 at 5:45 pm #307
Mid morning, March 19th 2077 – Essen, S-K Prime
I was just about leaving the suite when Puck stopped me to adjust my tie. For once his tiresome fuzziness for appearances did some good: It prevented the 12.5 caliber round from turning my freshly shaved face into modern art. The shot shattered the supposed-to-be-bulletproof floor to ceiling glass panel and continued on it’s merry way pit through the other side of the room. About half a second later the supersonic boom could be heard. At this moment I already had jumped back into the room, looking for some sort of furniture that would provide large enough cover.
Naturally the tasteful, super modern and expensive furniture was made of mostly flimsy, translucent and filigrane structures.
I heard Puck call out in Chinese, indicating that he was trying to channel a lot of mana without frying his brain in the process. Suddenly the room began to fill with mist, just as another bullet came close to take my head off. I continued my movement back towards the bath room, stubbing my toe in the process because the rising mist had hid a small table from my view.
“Stop that shit Puck. They’ve got thermo optics. And get away from the windows you ass.”
A third bullet shattered the bookshelf I’d just passed.
“Means we have to raise the heat in here.”
And with another cry, Puck called into existence a giant, flying wall of fire, interposing itself between us and our would be assassin.
Shots continued to ring out, but evidently our enemy had indeed lost sight of me, as they now landed pretty randomly around us. In my books this constituted only a marginal improvement – after the shooter had only to get lucky one time, while I had to be lucky every time.
“What kind of shitty place is this anyway? This hotel is really a dump – there are holes everywhere.”
“Could you stop complaining and do something about the situation?”
“What are you expecting me to do? Throw my shoes at the shooter? That’s a fragging anti-material-rifle out there, hanging from some kind of balloon drone and likely coated with electrocromic material to blend with the sky.” I had begun to crawl across the floor, fumbling around in the mist.
“What, how do you know that?”
“I’m guessing – the building is to high for anything but a remote operated drone and the tracking is to slow for a rotor drone. Otherwise I’d be dead right now.”
“I can’t see it, how do we get rid of it?”
“It’s likely a Terracotta Arms AM-47 modded with an ammo bin for about 500 shots. Right now the rigger likely noticed that he can’t really see us, so he is shooting in the general area of the elevator, preventing us from leaving.” Another shot rang out, punching through the elevator carriage and underscoring my point. “And he is moving the drone closer since the shots are less accurate but the impacts and the thunder gets more and more synchronous. Once it is at 20m or so it can use radar to target us despite the fire wall.”
“Great, just great. But my original question still stands: How are getting rid of it?”
“If you were a proper mage I’d say just call up some spirit and have it deal with the drone. But since you are just a shitty warlock…”
“I’m a Sorcerer, you ass.”
“Yes, right, sorry – shitty sorcerer – how about you use some of your spells.”
“I’m kind of sustaining four already – I’ve barely enough concentration left to continue this idiotic conversation.”
“So drop the mist already – it’s not doing us any favors… wait, four spells?” I took a look around and noticed only then the suspicious absence of Puck.
“You ass, turning yourself invisible and letting me sprint about the room like a rabbit…”
“Bite me. If he hits me you are dead anyway.”
I finally found what I’d been looking for – the plastic bag that contained my soiled equipment – including my two earbuds. I tossed one down the hall and the other towards the bathroom. The shots were getting closer and closer now, but that couldn’t be helped, so I just pulled out my commlink and donned the still sticky trodes. This kind of work wasn’t my forte, but nonetheless I knew a few tricks.
“Get your link up and be ready to throw one of your explody-lightning-balls where the ARO indicates. Ready? Set. Go!”
Say what you want about Puck (as I usually do) but the guy knew when to shut up and do what he was told. His fire wall vanished and was replaced by the view of an exploding ball made of lightning. The shooting stopped as the burned out blimp plummeted to earth.
“Ok, how did you do that?”
“Triangulated the distance with my earbuds and made an educated guess.”
“You fragging guessed? What if you’d been wrong?”
“You’d likely been dead and I’d have had to throw my shoes after all…”June 2, 2017 at 6:58 pm #308
1630, March 20, 2077 Marseille, France
Sian comes up for air, brushing the sheet off of her head as the man beneath her continues to quiver in ecstasy. “Take all my pure thoughts away, woman. How do you do that to a man? Don’t you have any conscience whatsoever?”
Sian laughs as she stretches out alongside Mark. “Absolutely none. I would have thought two days of this would have taught you that much.”
The man lifts his head to check the chronometer on the bulkhead. “Only two days? My God, it has only been two days. I could have sworn we have been at this for a week or more. You will have me all used up.”
Sian begins to nibble at the expanse of chest near her. “Are…you….hinting….that….you….regret….running….into….me….at….that….café?”
He grabs her tightly in his strong arms but his voice is low, almost a whisper. “No, definitely no regrets. Except that this will probably end tonight. The Cyprios is fully laden and we will be leaving on the morning tide. Is there any chance……………….?
Sian puts a finger on the man’s lips and shakes her head. “You know that would not work out, right? We have different lives and different masters. Would you be happy away from the water? Hey, stop that. I am trying to be serious here.”
“Just letting you know that I might be convinced to give it a try.”
Sian lifts her head up and looks Mark in the eyes, all sense of play gone. He is looking back at her and appears to be dead serious. “You BSing me, Mark?”
The man silently shakes his head and she mouths a few swear words in several different languages. She sits up next to him, one leg drawn up to her chest. In over 10000 of this world’s years, she has taken many men and women as lovers but has loved only a handful. All but one of those is long dead. What is happening right now in front of her should not be happening. She had thought that she had hardened her heart from this sort of thing, shielding her emotions. It is incalculably hard to watch a loved one age away and die and she has experienced that far too often to want to watch it happen again. She can feel tears forming in her eyes. “Shit, Mark, I………………”
This time, it is the mortal man that puts a finger to the vampire’s lips then follows that by putting his lips to hers. Placing his forehead against hers her pulls her down to him. “Shhh, Tatjana. It is OK. I can understand if you are not interested. At least we can have this time.”
Sian shakes her head. “Silly Mark, it is not that I am not interested because I am. Really interested. I would love to show you my work and have you show me your ships. Although you might lose all the respect you have built up if you keep me around.”
Mark laughs, “Are you kidding? The guys are all thinking I am a super stud for corralling you. Haven’t you noticed how they look at you when we go to the wardroom to eat? And I would love to go on one of your expeditions and then show you the oceans from the deck of a rolling freighter. I know we cannot start tomorrow, but soon?”
Sian nods without saying anything and allows the man to envelop her again. She considers what she will tell her Master and her Valoi. She should have stayed away from that café. She should have refused the espresso. She should have not gone to bed with him. She should have not fallen in love. So many fragging “shoulds” and all are trumped by the weakness of her heart. Sighing in a contentment that she has long gone without, she folds herself to the form of the man next to her and idly runs a finger along his chest, ruffling the mat of hair there. She looks up at his eyes and gently shakes her head. “If you only knew what you were in for, you might not be so quick. But, yes, I agree to see if this will work. I need to get my cargo back to Prague and I will call you from there and set something up. I am going to be going on an expedition soon, so if you want to get away……………..”
He nods. “Let me know what I need to do and I will try to make it work.”
With that, the two make love. Not the frenetic scramble to join bodies that has most enjoyably eaten up two days of their lives, but the sort of patient lovemaking that allows that feeling to permeate the action. In the final moments, both are panting and calling out each other’s name. Mark is on top and Sian’s fingernails leave trails on his back that will remind him of her for some time. They collapse together, panting and sweating. “Oh, my handsome sailor. Where have you been?”
He laughs softly. “Wishing I had not stepped off the dock just because a pretty girl looked at me. I never forgot that moment, and not because of the embarrassment, but because of the girl.”
She lowers her had to his chest and just lays there, feeling as safe and secure in his arms as she ever has anywhere else. She sighs and drifts off to sleep.June 3, 2017 at 10:19 am #313
Mid morning, March 19th 2077 – Essen, S-K Prime
Following that little bit of morning entertainment I was witness to the usual tedious business of people running around, pointing guns in every direction, screaming questions without waiting for answers followed by screaming orders without waiting for compliance. The S-K Werksschutz cordoned the area and tried to apprehend the culprits. And since Puck and me were the only sketchy individuals they could find they chose to apprehend us – at least for the next half hour. After that the Hauptwachmeister received a call that made him wince as if someone had kicked him in the balls. In any case it was too late for my appointment and I decided – magnanimous – to invite Puck to lunch after we left custody:
“Hey, asshat, since we are late anyway, how about we get some lunch. You are paying.”
I ignored his answer and headed straight out of the beautiful plaza, taking one of the free bus shuttles. Puck grumbled something about taking the car, but I had had enough of horseless carriages today and having no say about the direction I was going.
Puck’s face still showed the strain of that giant lightning ball he had conjured and consequently he wasn’t in the best mood.
Even more consequently, I was in an excellent mood, so I postponed thinking about why people had tried to kill me this morning after my boss had requested my help. I doubted that an other dragon was behind it – for one thing I had survived.
Once we were in the sprawl of Essen out of earshot of the more visible S-K surveillance, I took us to a randomly selected Döner joint, got us two and dragged Puck toward the table next to the big ass loudspeaker playing Turkish pop-music. Puck pulled a grimace – I’m not sure if it was the music or the food, not that I cared – but began to unwrap his filled Pide.
“Ok Puck, tell me this: Was this some fragged up test by the boss?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. I certainly wasn’t in on this. Easily recognizable by the fact that I was in the same room as you when it started.”
“True. I always say: If they were rebooting the Wizard of Oz again and trying to recast the Cowardly Lion, I’m sure you’d have run away after hearing the word lion.”
“I repeat myself, but: Bite me. Not everyone has the part of his brain scrambled that regulates self-preservation. Hauptwachtmeister Staller told me they are looking through the matrix logs, but it seems our attacker had another drone with a retrans unit around, extending their reach. They hope to identify the weapon and follow that to its owner”
“Fat chance. I bet everything has been stolen at least once. Anyway, there are more important things to discuss: What did the boss say?”
“Just said it was an interesting development and we is awaiting you tomorrow at 0500h sharp. You still like to sleep in, don’t you?”
I groaned – which wasn’t hard considering that I had a quarter of a pretty spicy Döner in my mouth. After a mighty swallow I managed to choke out: “This is the thanks I get for risking my immortal life…”
“Quit your whining. Don’t tell me in 8000 years you never had to get up early in the morning for business.”
“I did, but everytime I hated it just as much as now. Do you at least know what he wants from me?”
“No and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you without being ordered to do so. But maybe you can try to remember if you have done anything particularly annoying lately? Maybe the boss is finally tired of your shit – just don’t forget to bring the ketchup.”June 5, 2017 at 10:58 am #323
[Friday March 19, 2077; Woods outside Oakfarm Estate (Argent’s House), North Bellevue, Seattle]
A hastily deployed microdrone, it’s matrix icon wrapped to look like an innocuous environment monitoring device, would give Silk something to review once she turned her wifi capabilities back on but for now she ran, silently, both on the matrix and in the real world. The woods flashed past, her Gift allowing her to duck and weave through the vegetation with very little sign of her passing. She longed to reach out and alert her friends and colleagues but recognised the foolish of giving the foe something to trace. She needed to be around a crowd, somewhere her matrix traffic would get lost in the flow…and in the meantime she had to navigate around the highly paranoid Bellevue security mesh where failing to broadcast a SIN would get her in almost as much trouble as the runners breaking in to her house no doubt wanted to give her.
It wasn’t long before she realised she was cold despite her exertions. Sweat cooled rapidly in the chill spring air and she briefly regretted not stopping for a coat. A kilometre or more from the house she risked flicking on her burner ‘link and stepping out of the woodland on to one of the quiet avenues that dotted this part of Bellevue. Her luck seemed to be returning as a small group of teenagers, obviously released from their corp sponsored education programme for the day, where ambling down the street, talking equally animatedly amongst themselves and in to their ‘links. Drifting up behind them, close, but not close enough to make them uncomfortable, she sent a rallying cry across the ‘trix
>>Gossamer, shut down the archive and transfer the backup to the secondary location, we may have been compromised. I will contact you again once I have a secure ‘link
>>Aria, Summer, are you ok? Contact me on Shadowland if you can
And finally to a select few runners, those she thought might be able to help
>>The spider’s web is broken. Please contact me on Shadowland if you able
[Friday March 19, 2077; Cirque de l’Ombre, Outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco]
The helicopters roared overhead, the downdraft from their powerful rotors churning the blood and dust in to quasi mystical patterns as they obscured the clocklike markings of the disrupted ritual. Rappelling lines hissed out and black clad soldiers hurtled down to finish what the transports had started…assault rifles providing a distinctive rattle almost drowning out the terrified cries of the circus…
[Friday March 19, 2077; The Gothicum (Southwark Cathedral), The Squeeze, London]
Not the largest of dragons, still the Old One presented a terrifying vision of rage and destruction as he wreaked vengeance on those with the temerity to disturb his peace. The drones were quickly dispatched by his spirits and without their support the runners who had been circling through the tightly packed streets of the Squeeze quickly realised that their primary weapons were not going to avail them. None of them had signed up to attack a dragon and as one they broke and fled, attempting to disappear in to the crowds. Maybe some of them made it…others were picked off by spells, dragon fire or the somewhat eclipsed response of the Mechanica who rallied to defend their home and their guests.
#05June 5, 2017 at 3:11 pm #325
Friday March 19, 2077; The Gothicum (Southwark Cathedral), The Squeeze, London
Doctor Alyce Krait’s face and clothes are stained by the blood and viscera of the victims she has seen today. Too many victims. She could count them in her mind if she wants to, but she does not. She has just pulled a sheet over the broken body of a twelve year old boy that had been caught in the crossfire between someone fighting someone else. At some inner level, she knows that she cannot save every patient, but her outer level does not, never has, and never will accept that. She is a skilled physician and she bloody well should be able to save every patient. Right now, she does not really care what the fighting is all about. Maybe later, but not right now. Right now she can only look at the sheets around her, each one indicating another victim. She removes a surgical mask as an orderly places a cup of soycaf in her tired hands. She thanks the young woman and sips from the mug, letting the fluid warm her. She casts her mind back to earlier in the day…..Christ, is it still the same day……and remembers how it is that she is here. She had been in a conference room at London General when everyone’s pagers started going off at once and the hospital’s internal loudspeakers had begun calling out for any available staff to report to the administrator. Alyce also received an internal message from the Mechanica, telling her that the area around the Gothicum was a war zone.
The hospital was preparing to receive victims of the battle, but needed some people on the ground to triage the injured and control the flow of patients. Alyce had rather forcefully volunteered to be one of the doctors on site and had accompanied one other physician, three nurses, and five attendants to the area. Describing it as a war zone was a polite description. Factual accounts are still hazy, but according to several witnesses and wounded survivors, the old cathedral had been attacked by drones with beam weapons and something that caused explosions, accompanied by men armed and armored as if going to war. A black dragon and all manner of other things had been involved in the fighting as well. The Mechanica had fought the terrorists, but they are no real fighting force and casualties had mounted. Now Alyce and her small team are near the remaining outer wall of the Gothicum with four tents and two mobile surgeries. She and the other doctor out here have been triaging patients, sending those forward who can be safely transported to the hospital and working on those that need emergency services. Already she has operated on twenty people, managing to save sixteen of them. Some of the victims were brought in already dead and a small morgue has been set up as there are still too many of the living to transport.
Alyce’s thoughts are interrupted by someone yelling. “Hey! Help! Over here, please. We have a couple of kids we pulled from under a wall.”
She puts the mug down on a counter and grabs up her medical bag before racing off to where the men are calling, her ultrasound sensor and drone feeds allowing her to maneuver through the rubble laying all over the street. Six men meet her on the road and set down the stretchers they are carrying so that Alyce and the nurse with her can look over the people on them. One is a young boy of about seven or so. His right leg below the knee has been pulverized and he must be in considerable pain. He calls out as Alyce runs up, “Please save my sister. Please. You have to. You have to.”
Alyce looks over at the young girl on the other stretcher and blanches. The girl is probably a year or two older than the boy and has taken severe damage to her torso, legs and arms. That she is still breathing is a miracle in itself. Alyce nods to the nurse. “Get his vitals, STAT. I will look at the girl.” As she open her case and bends over the victim, she knows that she is already on borrowed time and that the girl will almost certainly die despite anything Alyce can do for her here. Still, it is not in her to give up and she slips a needle into the girl’s body and begins attaching monitors and leads to her. She looks up at the men. “What is her name. Anyone know her name?”
One of the men responds. “I think it is Sarah. The boy called her that once or twice. We found them in the rubble when he started groaning. She was laying on top of him, which probably saved his life. Looks pretty bad for her, eh?”
Alyce mutters. “Understatement, officer, bloody understatement.” The monitor begins beeping and Alyce reacts. “Kyle, I have a problem here, I need you if the boy is not dying right now.” The nurse pats the boy on the arm and comes to help Alyce with the girl and the two of them try to work medical magic to save the girl’s life. Suddenly, shots ring out close by and the men near the stretchers whirl about to take up positions as they exchange fire with three black-clad men who come out of the darkness, pursued by several constables. Trapped, the men show no sign of surrendering and break for the hospital tents, firing as they move. Two of the men near Alyce cry out as they are hit and Alyce feels the sharp pains from several bullets as they penetrate the street clothes she is wearing and bore through her. The nurse next to her is thrown backwards with a neat hole in his forehead and his brains spilling out the back of his head. Alyce grabs a syringe from her kit and stabs herself with it to keep from going into shock as she continues to work on the girl on the stretcher in front of her. She sends a call to the other physician, letting him know what has happened and telling him that she will need assistance.
All three of the attackers go down as they rush her position, and Alyce spares a moment to wonder if they will be needing her care as well. She fights through the pain to keep working on Sarah and finally gets the monitor to stop beeping at her. From what seems to be a long way off, she sees the light on the monitor change to green and she knows that the girl will have a fighting chance. Alyce leaves her connected to the medkit and tries to stand, but, finding herself unable to do so, begins to crawl to where one of the stretcher bearers had fallen. A quick look tells her that he will live and she moves to the second man. She pulls herself up next to him and begins to feel him for the damage. Her hands come away covered in blood from the three wounds to his chest that have taken his life. Crying out from the pain in her side and leg, she is moving on to the first attacker when she feels arms around her. She wonders why the voices sound like they are coming through cotton then feels herself picked up. Her last conscious thought was to wonder if Sarah would make it.
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