A Journey Deferred

Posted: May 11, 2015 in Shadowrun
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He walks down the corridor with a purpose, his well worn yet polished boots barely making a sound on the villa’s fine carpet. He observes at the ornate mosaics decorating the walls of the corridor. Such a masterpiece.  Espléndido arte , pagado con la sangre de los innocentes. He shakes his head sadly.

A voice from the end of the corridor interrupts his thoughts.

“Finalmente! Nuestro héroe de la hora viene.” He looks up and sees an ork in crisply pressed combat fatigues at the end of the corridor, waving.  “What kept you, jefe? The crowd is getting restless.”

He hurries over and clasps the ork’s arm. “Marco, Hermano, It is good to see you!” He looks down at the Marco quizzically. “¿Pasa algo? Te ves un poco verde.”

“No sé,” replies Marco, absentmindedly rubbing the back of his head. “I guess I’m uncomfortable.” Marco looks up at his commanding officer. “No lo entiendo, Jefe.  En el pasado, we knew who our enemies were. It was simpler when we used to kill for a paycheck.” Marco sighs.

“Yo entiendo, Marco. But what good is a paycheck if you can’t even buy your freedom. De vez en cuando, you decide to fight for something more valuable than a fist full of credsticks. Luchas por tu alma, tu corazón, y tu futuro.”

“I guess you’re right, Comandante,” sighs Marco.

“Por supesto, I’m right!” he replies as his laughter echoes off the corridor’s walls. “And anyway, you’re not the one who has to make a speech to a restless crowd.” He gestures to the curtain behind the both of them with his thumb. “As happy as I am to tell them that they are free, helping them keep that freedom is the most difficult thing I have ever faced. Being tagged as a wanted man among all the big 10 scares me less than leading these people. Now, OUR people.

Marco laughs, the tension easing a bit. “Good point Jefe, And good luck. Watch your cabeza as you step out onto the balcony.  The former owner of this villa didn’t factor in troll height when designing this place.”

He smiles and gives Marco a sharp salute as he bends down slightly and pushes his way past the curtain.  He closes his eyes for a moment, allowing his other senses to drink in the experience.  Entwined with the roar of the crowd, he hears the occasional birdsong, the hum of tropical insects, and the sound of the wind rustling in the leaves.  The occasional staccato of gunshots in the distance punctuate the aural tapestry.  He takes in a deep breath, reveling in the perfumes of the tropical flowers and the delectable aromas of various feasts being prepared.  The acrid scent of gunpowder, blood and dust have faded to almost imperceptible levels. Satisfied, he opens his eyes, intent on etching this moment into his soul.  He looks around him, seeing the faces of his comrades.  Celso, standing to his front and left, is already speaking to the crowd gathered below and gestures behind him. “… nuestro soñador, nuestro visionario, nuestro héroe,” he turns and gestures.

“Dirtnap!”

Confused, he stares at Celso.  Quién es Dirtnap?

Celso continues, “Seriously I’ve already using tried the chair on him”

No, no. That’s not right. Celso no habla inglés. Y Quién es Dirtnap?  He locks eyes with Celso as the landscape starts to fade around him.

“You want me to try what? You’re kidding. Really? OK,” continues Celso in a voice that doesn’t seem belong to him.

Why is he speaking like this? This is un momento importante!

“Wake up! This is important!”

CRACK! THWAP!

“Wow, your fixer wasn’t kidding when he said it might take a gunshot to get you out of bed,” comes a voice from the darkness.

“Ugh, Flechette itchy,” mutters Dirtnap, as slowly opens his eyes, rubbing his forehead. As he groggily pulls himself up, Dirtnap sees a smashed kitchen chair next to the bed and an ork sitting on a sofa about 2 meters away, wearing two pieces of a three piece suit and holding a gun.

“Ah good. You’re awake.  I was hoping I the first shot would do it.  I didn’t bring a larger caliber.”  The ork stands up and holsters his weapon.  “Zippy Toetag. Remember me? I did some work with your chummer Joules recently, too. And due to the recent riots near the Ares HQ, I need some muscle to finish a job that I started before Ares went all Dante’s. Your fixer told me you’d be perfect for this job.”  Zippy looks at Dirtnap, who is still half asleep.  “Go shower and get dressed, Joules and I will fill you in after you’re clean and presentable.”

Dirtnap pulls himself off the bed muttering to himself.  “Como… Quién… Que…”

Zippy chimes in, “Queso? We’ll grab some Mexican from the stuffer shack on the way.”

Dirtnap grunts dismissively and waves Zippy off as he heads to the shower, frustration etched on his face.  He steps in the shower and as the hot water runs over his unusually smooth skin he starts to reflect on his most recent dream. Where was that? Was just a dream? Was memory?  Why faces familiar?

“I Forget… Something Important.” Dirtnap says out loud.

“Oi! Dirtnap,” hollars a familiar female voice from outside the bathroom. “What’cha forget? Want me to go grab it while you’re in the shower?”

“No funny hair lady. Dirtnap has all things,” Dirtnap says thru the closed bathroom door.  “Uno, Panther cannon in closet. Dos, grenades in sink. Tres, armor folded under the bed.”  He counts each item off on his fingers.

“Oh Dirtnap, you’re picking up Spanish! That’s wiz!” chirps Joules from outside the bathroom door.

Dirtnap steps out of the shower, happy he remembers where he placed all his gear. With great personal pride he goes and points out each item out to Zippy and Joules.  As thoughts of the here and now take over the forefront of his mind, the recent dreams and memories of a time long past are pushed back into his subconscious. The hero’s journey buried but not forgotten.

**Remember, google translate exists for a reason, Chummer. 😉

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“Well I think we’ve covered all that I can think of, including some of your more ‘creative’ ideas, Joules,” says Cassidy, taking a deep breath. “And I believe you could improvise if things go sideways. You’re a capable, if atypical, shadowrunner.”

Joules runs her hands thru her now bright red hair. “I hope so. I’ve never been a part of something so large in scale.” Then Joules starts giggling, her hair turning bubblegum pink, tears streaming down her eyes. “Nor did I realize that our team in Opti’s big plan would end up being the Scooby Doo gang, version 2.0.”

“Hey, I know Scooby Doo!” pipes up DeForest from the couch. “That was the first cartoon you showed me when Opti took me in.”  She ponders for a minute. “Are we going to ride in the Mystery Machine then?”

Joules smiles, hair turning from pink to a rich gold. “Something like that De’Forest.”

“How many hair colours do you have, honestly,” asks Cassidy.  “I think I’ve seen at least 8 in the time I’ve spent in the safehouse.”

“I’ve got all the colours of the rainbow!” Joules responds happily. “Except puce.  I hate puce.”

Cassidy smiles. “So-ka. So how much time do you estimate we have?”

Joules checks her comlink. “Well I guess we won’t be moving out till night, so I guess maybe 4 hours or so.  That’s enough time for the kids to finish up watching Invader Zim and maybe get some rest.”

“DOOM!” exclaim the kids from the couch.

Cassidy raises an eyebrow. “One of these days, Joules, you’ll have to explain this cartoon obsession of yours.”

Joules just smiles, nods, and heads to the couch, gesturing Cassidy over. “Come and sit and watch with us. It’s better than just waiting, alone with your thoughts.  Trust me.”

4 HOURS LATER

Joules com-link buzzes, bringing her mind to the here and now.  The sun has set, the only light in the safehouse comes from the 2D vid screen.  Joules answers her comlink. “RainbowSmite here.”

“Oi! It’s started,” slurs a voice she recognizes as her favorite pirate, Captain Calico Jack. “The party should be in full swing in 30 minutes. Then move yer arse.”

“Thanks, Captain. When all this is over, the first round is on me. Top shelf.”

“I’ll be holding you to that, lass. Captain Calico Jack out.”

She looks down at DeForest, who is fast asleep.  A soft smile touches Joules’ eyes when she sees that De’Forest has snuggled up to her, small arms wrapped around her waist. Joules turns and looks over at Gowan, also fast asleep, lying against his mother. Cassidy’s arms are crossed over his chest, her hands clenched in fists with a slight smile on her lips.

“Wakey Wakey, everyone,” says Joules.  “We have 30 minutes to get ready and then we make our way to the extraction point.” Joules’ face suddenly becomes hardened and serious, her hair turning dark red. “Cassidy can you please help the kids get ready?”

Cassidy nods and starts grabbing supplies and gear for her and the two kids.  The two kids rub sleep from their eyes and start to help Cassidy grab supplies, their nervousness palpable. Joules grabs her duffle and pulls out an urban explorer jumpsuit and a set of form fitting body armor. She dresses herself rapidly and then begins pulling assorted armaments out of her bag.  She straps her two katanas across her back, a Ruger Superwarhawk to her right thigh and a Fachetti Pain Inducer to her left. As Joules goes thru her various skill softs and begins to slot them, she turns to Cassidy.

“Can you use this,” asks Joules, holding up an Ares Supersquirt. Cassidy nods.

“Good,” says Joules, inserting a clip. “It’s got a full reservoir and there are 2 spare clips. Safety’s on.”

Joules checks the time. Five Minutes. She walks over to Woofles.  The hellhound yawns and sits up. Joules scritches his ears. “We’ve got a big job to sweetie.” She wraps her arms around his neck and nuzzles him. “Geronimo,” Joules whispers. Woofles pushes his head under Joules’ hand and whines in understanding. He stands up and follows on Joules’ heels. Joules takes a deep breath, clearing her mind of everything except the mission.  She turns around to address everyone in the safehouse.

“Ok everyone. It’s showtime. I need you all to stay close to me.” Joules looks at the kids. “I know that this is fragging scary, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you’re ok.  No matter how afraid you get, I need you to keep moving, ok?”

Gowan pipes up, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has  gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Joules eyes go wide in surprise, her hair turning aqua. “Where the frag did you learn that, boy-o?!”

Gowan’s eyes glitter impishly. “When you were planning with mom, I snuck off with some of your digi-comics and read them.  Dune’s pretty wiz.”

“Ok then, Kwisatz Haderach,” chuckles Joules, “let’s get out of here.”

Joules, Cassidy, the two kids and the hellhound exit the safehouse and set the building on full lockdown.  Cautiously, they make their way thru the back alleys of Seattle. They move at a casual but steady pace, so as not to arouse suspicion. They weave thru the back alleys, keeping in the blind spots of the cameras spread throughout the sprawl.  Off in the distance, the sounds of a riot steadily increase in volume and intensity.

Probably Captain Jack’s team. He really knows how to make an entrance.  I hope that Mr Pink and Opti are doing ok. 

As the group moves closer to the rendezvous point, Joules and Cassidy both notice and increase in patrols in the area, making travel difficult, bordering on impossible. Joules notices that these patrols are not Seattle’s usual local peacekeepers.  These patrols move differently. Broken into six man cells, the patrols move quickly and deliberately, wasting no movement.  Upon closer inspection, Cassidy and Joules notice that each cell is heavily armored and carrying various styles of heavy weapons. After a brief minute of observation, Joules recognizes the sweep tactic that they’re using.

Drek, they’re tightening the search pattern, cornering us until we have nowhere to run. This is really bad. Zippy where is that distraction you promised me?!

A couple of kilometers away, the sickening sound of metal rending and twisting fills the air.  A breath later, bright blue orange explosion lights up the night sky. As the explosion reaches its zenith, the explosion’s deafening roar and subsequent shockwave reaches everyone. As cacophony of the explosion starts to recede into the background noise, angry shouts can be heard from the surrounding patrols.

“What do you mean there was an explosion?”

“Who was the dipshit that used explosives?”

“OOPS?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN OOPS!”

“Who’s the wiseguy saying ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to find any reference to ‘intact’ or ‘alive’ in our contract.’

“All units, report to grid 7-B, I want a body confirmation and detailed sit-rep! Delta unit continue the search. Use pattern Gamma 4.”

Not bad Zippy, only one unit left.

Joules breathes a sigh of relief and turns to the kids, who are visibly shaken, and Cassidy, who seems pretty calm all things considered. “We’re ok, don’t worry. That explosion was my chummer, Zippy, helping us get out of here.  With a little re-routing, we can make it to the extraction point. Just follow me and keep as quiet as you can.” Joules looks down at her hellhound and with a wicked grin gives a command. “Woofles, Trap Smasher.”

The group makes their way to the extraction site, with Woofles taking point, sniffing for booby traps and trackers left by the receding patrols.  Whenever he finds one, he opens his mouth and a gout of flame turns the offending item to slag.  The kids, for some reason, find the destruction hilarious.

After about 30 minutes of winding thru Seattle’s streets and alleys, they see the extraction point. A helipad with a hitchhiking crow ARO hovering over it.  Cassidy looks slightly bemused at the setup but smiles anyway. As everyone approaches, Woofles stops suddenly, whimpering and whining. He lies down, putting both of his paws over his nose, refusing to move any further.

Oh Drek. This is not good.

“STOP!” hollers Joules, at the top of her lungs.  “Don’t take a step further! Woofles senses something up ahead and whatever it is has seriously freaked him the hell out.”

At that moment an unearthly keening combined with the sound of insectoid chittering is heard coming from the helipad.  Oh frag me. Ares welcoming party. Joules quickly glances at Cassidy and the two kids. All colour has drained from Cassidy’s face. Gowan’s eyes are as wide with panic and De’Forest has frozen in place, rocking back and forth. Shit. I don’t know if they’ll run if I give the order.

Joules turns to Woofles, and in a cold, obsidian voice gives a command.

“Protect the King. Final Stand.”

Joules slows her breathing and looks back at the helipad, her hair shifting between various shades of orange, black and green. She slowly, deliberately makes her approach, maneuvering herself between her charges and whatever is on the helipad.

Upon reaching the halfway point, a deformed somewhat insectoid figure jumps down from the helipad and charges directly at Joules. Ok, let’s see which of us is the deadlier monster. Joules actives her move by wire system and charges straight at the flesh form.

The distance between them closes rapidly as both increase speed.  Joules watches carefully for the flesh form’s attack, hoping that it will provide an opening.  When they are about a half meter apart, she sees the flesh form reach back for a haymaker. He’s open!

She jumps and points her right arm at his face, launching her cyberspur into his unprotected eye. The flesh form screams in pain as the cyber spur embeds in his eye, but his attack doesn’t stop. A carapace covered arm slams into Joule’s stomach, sending her flying. She lands about 2 meters away with a sickening thump.

Ow! Quick, Damage check. Hands and Feet? Good, they move. Ribs? Not broken.

Joules gets up, a little shaken. I’ve got to keep close to him, keep his focus on me. She spits blood from her mouth. I’ve got to take him down, permanently.

Joules draws her Ruger Superwarhawk and fires at the human insect hybrid. “Oi! Brundlefly! Over here, ya Cronenberg reject!”

The flesh form turns and charges Joules. She draws her katana and stands firm. When the flesh form is just about to slam into her, Joules takes a step forward and to the left, slashing at the tendons in the ankle. Her sword makes an audible shink noise as it is deflected by the carapace.  The flesh form then spins around and grabs Joules by his left arm, which happens to be a giant pair of pincers.  As the pincers close around her waist and lift her up, the flesh form lets out a howl of pain and flings Joules away like a ragdoll, clutching his face with his other hand.  Joules body stops rolling about 3 meters in front of Cassidy, Gowan and De’Forest.

Oh shit! Oh Shit! They’re too close.

As Joules struggles to get up and move away from the rest of the group, the flesh form lumbers over to Joules and grabs her again with his massive pincers.  He slowly starts to bring her up to his huge maw, strange keening coming from his throat as she gets closer.  Joules eyes focus on the flesh form’s face, seeing her cyberspur still embedded in his eye.

Oh clever, very clever. I see what you are.  Enhanced cannon fodder. The bug spirit in you kills all sensation of pain, so even if you’re hit in an unprotected region, you still keep attacking, feeling nothing.

Joules reaches out with her right hand and grabs the end of the cyberspur.

“I’m really going to enjoy this.” Joules mutters sadistically as she discharges everything in her electro orthoskin.  The flesh form falls to the ground, twitching and smoking.

“Optical nerve still goes straight to the brain, no matter what kind of creature you are.”

Joules steadies herself and turns to everyone.  “Come on everyone, let’s get the hell out of here.  I’m betting there’s a VTOL or some similar aircraft on the helipad. Probably under a cloaking spell.”

DeForest points at the smoldering flesh form corpse, her voice trembling. “Guys, what’s happening? Something’s not right.”

Everyone turns and sees two fully manifested and materialized insect spirits emerge from the corpse.  One spirit makes a direct bee-line for Joules.  Before Joules has a chance to run, the insect spirit smacks into an invisible wall about a meter from Joules’ face, dematerializing.

The other insect spirit, sensing easier prey, takes off toward Cassidy, De’Forest and Gowan.  Joules gives chase, trying everything she can think of to direct the insect spirit away from them.  Unfortunately, the insect spirit isn’t injured and has aerial maneuverability. The insect spirit soon maneuvers behind Joules, and speeds toward Cassidy, who is standing in front of Gowan and De’Forest.

“NO!”

The shout echoes off the concrete walls as Gowan runs at the insect spirit. He plants his foot hard and spins, palm striking the insect spirit with a brilliant flash, and sending the spirit right at Joules. The spirit dematerializes with an audible shriek about a meter away from her.

Gowan is already pretty shaken up when the reality of what just happened sets in.

“Oh Ghost, What did I just do? I’m in so much drek! Dad’s gonna kill me!”

Cassidy walks over and puts her arms around her son. “You’re not in trouble. You’re incredibly brave. And I am so proud of you.  Let’s just get out of here.  All three,” she glances back at DeForest, “four of us will sit down together to come up with a plan for later, ok?”

Gowan nods.

“Ok Everyone, your chariot awaits,” says Joules, gesturing to the helipad.

When everyone steps on the helipad, an unmanned VTOL helicopter materializes and a set of stairs lowers.

Joules, Cassidy, DeForest and Gowan all say their farewells, promising to keep in touch as much as they are able.  Just before boarding, Joules pulls Gowan aside for a second.

“Gowan, question for ya.  When you were reading comics last night, did you read any issues of ‘Alpha Flight?’”

“Yeah, I started with Alpha Flight volume 1, number 1 and kept reading from there. Why?”

“I’m just curious,” says Joules enigmatically. “Helps me know what to stock up on next time you’re in town.”

Gowan smiles and boards the VTOL.  Joules steps down off the Helipad and watches it take off, following it till it’s no longer visible.

Good luck, Puck. I have a feeling you’re going to be… fantastic.

Joules looks down at Woofles, giving him an affectionate scratch behind the ears. “I think you’ve gotten enough exercise for a while.  Let’s go home.”

Cassidy and Joules spend a few hours going over various plans and contingencies. Cassidy’s quick mind and affinity for analytics is a perfect complement to Joules’ security training and battle experience.  The two women work in a friendly tandem, following the ebb and flow of each other’s strategizing.  After some time the two come to a natural lull and decide to take a break and grab a quick beverage and snack.

“Y’know, Joules, you are not how Opti or Mr Pink described you,” Cassidy says while sipping on a hot soykaff.  “Opti described you as a cartoon loving parazoologist with pink hair who occasionally stabs people. Mr Pink was… less flattering.”

“Oh, I’ve got to hear this one,” says Joules, turning up the volume on the cartoon that the kids are watching.

Cassidy leans in closer. “Pink said that while he can’t speak to your skills directly, he described your personality as a technicolour pop-rocks enema.”

Joules chokes on her fizzy tea, sending some of it out her nose. “Ok, well, I wasn’t expecting that,” Joules sputters, wiping tea from her nose and upper lip. “I honestly can say I’ve never heard that one before, ever.”  Joules smiles. “I guess you and I really don’t fit our mutual descriptions, do we?”

“How so?” asks Cassidy.

“Well,” says Joules introspectively, “Lets’ see. I’ve been called ‘a cyberzombie,’ ‘a psycho,‘ and ‘unprofessional.’ The last one really pisses me off.  I’ll cop to the second one though.”  Joules thinks a bit, “The way Opti described you… Well he described you as brilliant and beautiful, but he never let on just how shrewd you are. From what I’ve gathered from working with you, you don’t romanticize any situation… and your tolerance for bullshit is pretty much nonexistent. ”

Cassidy laughs, full and bright.  “Yeah, you’re damn right about that.”

“I mean frag, Ares has pretty much declared war on you and your family and you’re working like it’s a hostile business takeover,” Joules observes.

“Well you know Ares, ‘war is the continuation of business by other means’,” says Cassidy, knowingly. “Just be happy we’re not getting all the security attention that Damien Knight pays for.”

“So-Ka. So how much time do we have left to get things in order?” Joules asks.

“About a day, maybe a day and a half.  There’s no official timeline, so we go when we get the signal,” says Cassidy, pulling her hair up into a ponytail. “So, back to work?”

“Sure, just let me get a message to one my chummers. He’s a whiz a setting decoys. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them.” Joules heads to the corner and pulls up Zippy on her comlink.

“Hoi, Zippy. RainbowSmite her…”

“Frag it, Joules, I know it’s you,” interrupts Zippy. “No one else in the world is that irritatingly cheerful.” He waits a second, “So what can the shadows most classy mortician do for you? I mean, I just patched your arm… You’re welcome by the way. No Refunds.”

“I need you to help set up a huge distraction.  It’s gotta be something that will pull a major chunk of resources and attention.”

“What kind of scale are we looking at?”

“Something along the lines of The Juggernaut crash landing in the middle of Manhattan.”

Zippy sighs and grabs the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.  “Tall order.  And what do I get for pulling this masterful distraction out of my ass?”

“There’s the paydata, and you get to keep the bodies, softs and ‘wares of any Ares goons we take out. Plus I’ll owe you one. Your choice on how you do it. I don’t tell you how to do your job.”

“Ares huh?” Zippy considers. “Well, corps shock troopers usually have first hand ‘wares.  And I’ve got a package I’ve been wanting to test.  How many bodies do you need?“ He sounds like he’s going off of a mental checklist while he rubs his hands together.  “Let’s see.  A Little explosion, some charred bodies, then a quick comm hack should get most of them double-timing to the distraction’s epicenter.”

“How the frag is a comm hack going to get Ares units to abandon their mission?” asks Joules.

“It’s simple really,” says Zippy grinning. “I’ve just got to leak one word. ‘Oops.’”

It’s finally morning.  Sunlight slowly brightens the safehouse.  Joules, unable to sleep after the night’s conversation with Opti and desperate for something silly, spent the night reading her collection of digital “Deadpool” comics.  She looks over at her twin katanas.  What can I say, I go for what I know.

She hears some movement from the couch and looks over to see a little elf head pop up.

“What are we watching next, Joules?  Can we wa…” The elf’s request is interrupted by a balled up pair of socks hitting her in the head.  A mischievous giggle follows shortly after.

“Oi Gowan! Stop playing ‘sockball’ with DeForest, would ya?” Joules shoots the giggling dwarf a stern look.  “Woofles may eat part of the ball.”

A sharp rap at the safehouse door stops Gowan’s protest before it starts. All colour drains from the children’s faces.  Joules, moving at inhuman speed, picks up both of the kids and stashes them behind the bullet proof barricade in the far corner.

“Hush. Don’t move. Keep your heads down,” Joules whispers, her hair turning obsidian.

Joules gives a hand command to Woofles as she moves to the console next to the door. Good Ol’ Opti. Installed some upgrades since the last bug attack.  Now let’s just see what has rapped upon the chamber door.  Joules presses a few AR objects, changing the scan type and cycling thru the various cameras.

“Just let me in for Ghost’s sake! I’ve had a hell of a night,” says slightly exasperated voice on the other side the door.

Voice Authorization Recognized. Biometric Pattern Accepted. Welcome Home.” chirps the console in front of Joules as the locks disengage with a hiss.

“What the hell?!” mutters Joules, her hair turning green.  She stares quizzically at the door, but draws her katana, just in case.

The door swings open and a slightly disheveled and very annoyed dwarf enters the safehouse.  She takes a quick look around as the door shuts behind her and the locks engage with an audible clack hiss.

“At least he thought to fortify the walls this time,” she says, removing her hat and shaking her thick auburn hair free.  “Otherwise the place looks the same.” She spins to face Joules, her eyes darting to quickly to the katana as a wry smile crosses her face. “Hello, sweetie. Didn’t mean to surprise you. Trip took less time than expected.” She smiles and extends a hand. “Name’s Cassidy.”

Joules eyes widen slightly and she lowers her blade. Woofles, deciding that Cassidy’s not a threat, starts sniffing the dwarf’s feet. Joules reaches out to shake Cassidy’s hand when a voice from the corner freezes the room.

“Mom?”

Gowan steps out from behind the barricade, eyes wide. DeForest stands up and grabs Gowan’s arm. “Joules said don’t move. We don’t know what’s… Oh her hair’s green now.”

“Mom? What are? How? Why?” Gowan’s questions come too fast to articulate. A storm of raw emotions set his stocky frame trembling, tears filling his eyes.

What are you doing here?

I hate you!

Where have you been?

Are you mad at Dad?

I missed you so much!

Am I in trouble?

What’s going on?

I love you, Mom!

What did I do to make you leave?

What trip?

Do you hate me?

I’m sorry!

Cassidy turns to Gowan. Time seems to freeze as she catches his gaze.  Woofles, blissfully unaware of the emotionally charged atmosphere, decides at that exact moment to lift his head, accidentally planting his muzzle straight in Cassidy’s crotch.

DeForest’s eyes go wide and she starts giggling. Joules’ hands quickly fly to her mouth, her body shaking in barely contained laughter, her hair turning bubblegum pink.  Cassidy and Gowan look at each other, then at the hellhound, then at each other again.  Simultaneous gales of laughter erupt from the both of them.  Woofles, thinking he did something brilliant, rolls over, begging for tummy rubs.

The laughter continues for a good 5 minutes, bleeding the tension from the room.  The giggles slowly fading as the group struggles to catch their breath.  Cassidy is the first to regain her composure.  She walks up to Gowan and wraps him up in a tight hug.

“I’m sorry Gowan. After everything is over, I promise we’ll talk.”

Gowan looks up at his mom, kind of skeptical. “Promise me a date and time, and I’ll believe you.”

Cassidy smiles. “All right, I promise that a week from Monday at 7:15pm you and I will sit and talk.”

Gowan beams and returns the hug. “Ok, Mom.”

Joules walks over to Cassidy and Gowan, reluctant to break up the reunion. “Cassidy, we’ve got a lot to go over and not much time.”  Joules kneels down so that she’s face level with Gowan. “Mind if I talk with your Mom for a while?  I promised your Dad that I’d keep you, DeForest, and your Mom safe.  I need your Mom to help me figure out the best way to do that.”

Gowan’s smile fades a little bit, but he nods. “Ok.” Then a devious twinkle enters his eyes. “As long as you put something really cool on the 2D vid for DeForest and me.”

Extorted by Opti’s son.  Ah well, there’s worse things. “You got it kid.”

Joules turns off the latest episode of the Neo Anarchist podcast.  She sits in stunned silence, processing all the data she just took in and all the buried memories that Opti’s story dredged up.  Silent, still images of the mundane and delight, of betrayal and blood collide in Joules’ mind. Her memories provide the soundtrack.

“Ma! Da! Can we watch Dr Who again? I wanna see River!”

“That bitch only got that job because of her family’s connections.”

“Give her the move by wire system.  Frees up space for the nanites.”

“Update security protocols. The full effects of the comet aren’t known, yet”

“I know she’s the reason behind the security breaches.”

“Replace it all.  Give her electroshock and dragonhide.”

Kill them. Purge them! Erase them! 

Call for backup! She’s a monster!”

“She’s adapting well to the implants. Surprisingly so”

“I’m a psychopath. I’m not rude.

Woofles, sensing his master’s mood, comes over and wriggles his head under Joules’ hand.  Joules smiles faintly and then closes her eyes, forcing the specters of the of the past back down to the darkest recesses of her soul.  She looks down at the two children asleep on her lap. A day of wetwork to give them a night of peaceful dreams. Not a bad gig, chummer. She sighs. I’ll tell Gowan in the morning. 

Her comlink buzzes.  Joules carefully extricates herself from the couch, making sure not to wake the two kids.

“RainbowSmite here.”

He breath catches in her throat and her mouth sets in a grim line as she hears the voice on the line.

Oh frag me! He’s insane. Well, not exactly. I’m insane. He’s mad! Joules starts pacing back and forth, trying to focus on the conversation, and failing spectacularly. It’s too fast. Too intricate. Too many layers. What the frag is he talking about?

The voice on the comm stops.  Joules struggles process everything she just heard, when a singular childhood memory resurfaces. Everything clicks.

“Demons run when a good man goes to war.
Night will fall and drown the sun,
When a good man goes to war.
Friendship dies and true love lies.
Night will fall and the dark will rise,
When a good man goes to war.
Demons run, but count the cost.
The battle’s won, but the child is lost.”

“Ohhhh! I get it.  Ok Opti, I’m in.”

Daemon Butterfly

Posted: April 17, 2015 in Shadowrun
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B.I.T.R shakes her head, trying to clear the fog from her brain.

Where the frag was I going?  I thought I heard a voice and next thing I’m wandering around here. I don’t think it was Nanny’s latest  “checkup” that did it. And Tag has been in the cage so he’s not messing with my ‘ware. OK. Where am I?  She taps a few AR objects. Shit. The Barrens. How the hell did I get here?  How long was I…  She doesn’t complete the thought.

Back in control of her situation, B.I.T.R starts to do a quick sit rep and inventory.  All of her equipment is in working order. Full clips, no missing STIM patches and her blades are clean and sheathed.  And then she hears it.  The voice. It seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. Whispering and Screaming.

“Butterfly. Butterfly in the Rain. I seeeee yooooou.”

She lets out a scream as all fades to black.

B.I.T.R awakens to slap across the back of her neck. She reaches up and feels a stim patch. She shakes her head to clear her vision. That was sloppy B.I.T.R. Unprofessional. The reaction of an amateur. She looks up as her eyes start to focus.  Before her is a humanoid figure, straddling a black motorcycle, dressed in black modular body armour and wearing an obsidian like spherical helmet.   Superimposed over the helmet is a large AR mouth, grinning.  The edges of the twisted smile extend well beyond the helmet itself. B.I.T.R’s heart starts pounding, her breath quickening. The AR mouth smiles even wider as B.I.T.R. struggles to get to her feet.  She looks around and notices two similarly dressed figures on motorcycles that had been hiding in her blind spot.  One figure with an AR eye superimposed over their helmet, the other with an ear. Frag me!  B.I.T.R’s thoughts race. I thought they were boogeymen made up by the local ‘gangers, Mr Johnsons, and failed runners. A Deus Ex Machina explanation for failed turf wars and runs gone south. Feared by SINers and SINless.  The Seattle Grins.

Memories of thrashed ‘gangers, demolished buildings, and mutilated salarymen flood B.I.T.R.’s mind.  All of them with the same AR rictus grin tag hovering above the carnage. Where was this? When did this happen?  These aren’t mine!  Questions and images assault B.I.T.R’s warped psyche.

A voice breaks B.I.T.R’s waking nightmare.

“Fly away, little Butterfly. Don’t you have somewhere else to be tonite?” says the AR mouth. Enunciating each syllable while seeming to savour it.

With startling composure, B.I.T.R. nods in curt agreement, mounts a 4th black motorcycle, and rides away from the 3 figures at top speed. The AR mouth’s final words gain momentum in B.I.T.R’s mind, slowly mutating to the voice that called her there.

“Don’t you have somewhere else to be tonite?”

“Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

“Don’t you have somewhere to be? “

Don’t you have someone to find?

At the safehouse, Joules, Mr Pink, Woofles and the two kids settle in and wait for Opti’s next communication.  The safehouse is well fortified and has a cache of weapons, talismans, medicine and food.  Joules makes sure not to touch the talismans, since she’s not sure what would happen if she did.  She tells the Woofles to go lie down, and the tired hellhound lopes off  and flops down on some blankets, panting contentedly.  Mr Pink grabs some fresh clips and loads his weapons. He throws a glance at the two kids and Joules.

“I’m going to head out for a bit. I’ve got to get a message to Opti that DeForest and Kid are safe, and I think you need a doctor.” He gestures to her left arm. “You’re bleeding.”

Joules looks at her left arm and swears. “Dia ár sábháil!” Her hair turns green. “The splat job had samehada with anti-clot.”

Mr Pink and the kids look at Joules, very confused.

“Oh. Sorry.  Samehada means shark skin in Japanese.” she says, smiling. “I wasn’t expecting a gun bunny to have that kind of a dermal upgrade.”

“No. I know what samehada is” replies Mr Pink. “I just have no idea what you said first.”

Joules face turns bright red and her hair turns Tardis Blue.  “I should NOT have said that in front of the kids!” DeForest and Kid look at each other and being to giggle manically. Joules facepalms.

“Back to the blood dripping down your arm” says Mr Pink, redirecting the conversation. “There’s a local med mage”

“No no no no. No magic. Bad idea”  Joules blurts out as her hair turns silver, which surprises the usually composed Mr Pink. “Fixing me is best left to science.  Last mage who tried to heal me nearly geeked himself.  Contact my chummer Zippy Toetag after you’ve briefed Opti. Zippy’s good for quick fix jobs and his shift should be over by then.”

Mr Pink raises an eyebrow, shrugs and heads out the door, shaking his head and muttering to himself.

Joules then turns to the kids.  “Would one of you please grab me a medkit? I need too wrap up my arm until Zippy can fix it properly. Then we can watch some cartoons.”

Kid hops up and starts searching the cache for a medkit.  DeForest heads to the sofa and sits down.  After about a minute of searching, Kid produces a medkit and with surprising skill applies a temporary clotting agent to Joules’ arm and bandages it.  Kid, looking very proud of himself, bounds over to the couch and sits next to DeForest.

“Ok Joules! You’re fixed for now. What are we going to watch? It’d better not be boring baby stuff.”

“Yeah!” DeForest nods fiercely. “It has to have a good story.  And good fight scenes. And it can’t look stupid!”

“No stupid voices either.” Kid adds with an emphatic nod.

Joules looks down at the two kids and smiles, her hair turning golden.  “Good story, good fight scenes, and non-stupid, huh? Tough order. Well I have one that fits all those requirements.  I think you’ll like it.”

Joules pulls out a chip and plugs it into the 2D vid screen and starts the cartoon.

It kind of reminds me of the work Opti and his friends are doing.

About 4 hours later Joule’s com-link goes off. She walks to the back of the room, so she doesn’t interrupt the show.

“RainbowSmite here.”

“You have some really strange chummers, you know that?!” says an exasperated Mr Pink. “Zippy says he’ll be by after he locks up the morgue, and he told me to remind you that he doesn’t carry anesthetic.”

Joules sighs. “I remember.”

“CABBAGES!” DeForest and Kid squeal from the couch.

“Joules, what in the world are you showing those kids?”

Joules smiles and responds “Just an old cartoon from long ago; Avatar: The Last Airbender.”