A while back, a couple friends of mine ChAlLeNgEd me (which I love--hint, hint) to write two different Alternate Universe versions of my Shadowrun character, Gowan: make the little speciesist a meta and slash two of my characters. Tonight, I bring you the first challenge, Gowan as an Elf! Enjoy.
Gowan glanced up and down the corridor, eyes peeled for nosy neighbors. The entire hallway was dead as a shedimless tomb, even with the sound magnification in his ears on. That left penty of room for whatever said neighbors happened to be doing in their apartments, behind the paper-thin walls. It looked like 1314 across the way had a couple girls over again. Gowan growled under his breath. So long as he cleaned up the mess, there was really nothing Gowan could do about it--but, if he saw anything for sure this time, he was calling LS and "keep low" orders be damned. He could be a god-damn concerned citizen, at the very least. 1325 on the right sounded like Boyfriend was over again. Gowan shuddered. Why she'd want an orc... 1311 on the left had to be watching the San Fransisco Devilray - Atlanta Mad Dog CalFree-CAS exhibition match. Gowan made a mental note to actually talk to the guy if he saw him, and maybe suggest a beer sometime.
Gowan stuck the key in the lock, turned it, and pressed in his six-digit code in the punch pad. The door clicked open. The "special security" the management saw fit to charge an extra 30 nuyen for was such a joke. A solid kick would take the door off, and "special security" be damned, as well. Five extra minutes and some lock-pick love would probably buy you the code, anyway. That was hopefully what the sleepy troll in the atrium was for. That and the fact Gowan didn't really have squat to steal. Besides, who even know he'd moved? He just left everything he could replace behind. All the really juicy information and pics were either in his head or a safety deposit box. The clothes were old, and the furniture (such as it was) was second-hand. Most came with the place when he'd rented it--and been checked out very thoroughly. And fumigated. Twice. It was just a place to crazy, nothing more. Home was Austin.
Gowan pushed the door open and flipped on the lights. He gave the room a cursory scan--why not, 'til he got a better feel for the neighborhood?--and shut the door. An arm pinioned around his chest, jamming one of his arms. He felt a small, cold point against his neck. "Next time, check behind the door, Officer." The voice chuckld quieity. "Or you'll make my job much too easy. And you never liked it easy, did you?"
Gowan dropped the doorknob and drove his remaining elbow as hard as he could into the attacker's stomach. He heard the breath whoosh out of the man's mouth and felt the hold around his throat lacken. Gowan kicked a leg back into the attacker's knee and heard a grunt of pain. He threw his weight out, dropping like a stone. He bared his teeth in a feral smile and he fell to the floor and prepped to roll. He didn't count on the attacker letting himself fall with him.
The arm grabbed him again, this time as an iron bar around his stomach. They fell hard; Gowan's head cracked back against the floor, and all the breath got knocked out of him. His momentum carried him right onto whatever had been against his neck. A ball of liquid fire exploded from the spot and spread like infection, devouring his nerve endings and licking up his bones. Gowan screamed. "I knew..you'd fight back," wheezed the voice under him. "I was counting on it, Ash."
Something was pulling his arms and legs out of their sockets. It had to be. Gowan started to thrash, his body jerking and shuddering on top of his attacker's. He was on fire, everything was burning, even his eyes. He jerked--or, maybe, was pushed--onto the floor. His head slammed against the floor again, and he saw stars. He screamed in pain, writhing over himself like a half-crushed snake. But he knew it was no good. No one would hear him over their own noise. Still, he could not help himself.
The fire ate at his eyesight like it ate at his bones and flesh. The room started to break up and darken before him. He might have heard the attacker get up, but he could barely even hear himself over the blaze in his ears. He tried to see around the pickaxe of a headache jamming again and again into his eyes. But the firebound breeze was pulling it away. he thought he saw a shock of blood-red hair before all the spinning bits of room fell away into darkness.
Gowan groaned. Every single part of his body ached, even his ahri. He was pinned down on a grazzy hillside under a human weight-strength net. No, wait. That wasn't right. He had come home...There was a shot...a shot! Gowan pried his eyes open, forcing them to uncross by sheer force of will. It took two tries, but the world finally quit jumping and settled down into normal patterns. He was curled up in--he squinted--his bedroom. Had he dreamed it all? But it was so bright. It hurt to look around. He tried to unbend his knees from his chest and cried out fin pain. His legs had locked while he was away, almost as if he'd been in rigor mortis. He unwound his arms from under his chin, stopping and working at every joint, almost as if he had to break each one to unlock it.
"Steady there, friend. Watch the tubes. You haven't moved in two days." Gowan's mind jerked at the voice, but his body was still slow. He followed the voice, but got distracted by the IV bags hanginging by his bed. Both were clear and both--he winced as his neck cracked--wended their slow way into him through the veins in his hands.
"What?" He cleared his throat and swallowed past the dusty dry click in his mouth and tried again. "What these?" He slurred around a thick tongue. The whatever it was must have attacked his troat, or, perhaps, he'd busted a vocal chord screaming. His voice sounded off somehow, lighter.
"Soygreen and saline solution. Don't want you to lose nutrients while you were out, do we, Officer? That would defeat our purpose." The voice was moving toward him. "But, here, let's get these out of you, so you can get up. You'll want to be on your way, I wager." The elf from the wacko sensory run swam into Gowan's view. His hair was still an electric red not found in nature, and he'd enhanced the oddness by gelling it straight up and out. His face was foxlike and amused. Out of his battlemedical gear and in a Holwing sou7ls t-shirt, he looked amost normal--for a meta. His skin was still that washed out elf tint, no matter the color, and his ears rose to modest points. He caught Gwan staring and grinned. "Figured me out yet?" He started removing the needles from Gowan's hands, slapping on a foul-smelling ointment, followed by bandages. He moved the needles off to the side and into a special baggie with the biohazard symbol on it, then wrapped everything, baggies and all, into a small medkit. He tucked it under his arm. [NOTE TO SELF: Hmm. In addition to testing materials, that also gives them blood and skin for magic. Hadn't thought about that part.]
"...the hell...?" Gowan managed.
"Good, you're livening back up. Let's get you up and ready, so we can finish up. The sooner we finish, the sooner I can get out of your hair."
"come on, stop spluttering, bigot, and let's get you up. You'll have better questions once you see." The elf flicked a critical glance over Gowan, then nodded. "And we'll have better answers now." He coaxed Gowan up enough to put an arm under his back. Gowan wanted to fight him off, but his body was still a little off and would not respond fast enough. He managed a shudder when the elf slowly curled him up off the bed. That elf was surprisingly strong.
Gowan stood up and almost fell back over. A wave of vertigo hit him. When he came out of it, he was gripping onto the elf for dear life, weaving back and forth. His feet were just too far away. The elf locked one arm around his shoulders and the other grabbed his bicep. "Come on, let's get you moving.' And they shuffled to the bathroom, step by shaky step.
The elf paused in the door frame and let Gowan carry on. Without the help, Gowan tripped on the linoleum, his feet catching themselves. he stumbled for the sink, but his hand went right past it. Already off-balance, he crazshed against the sink, and his hands hit the faucets. "God damn it--OW!" He was trapped in a fun-house body, stretched and bent and twisted way from what he knew. It would not do what he wanted it to. "What was that shit you shot me up with?' Gowan grabebd the sink in a death grip and levered around to glare at the elf.
The elf himself jerked his chin back behind Gowan at the mirror. "Phase three. Until I get your reaction, I can't tell you any more." The elf folded his arms over his chest and perched against the doorway as if he fully intended to wait Gowan out for however long it took.
Curiosity won out over anger, frustration, even pride. But it was close. Gowan looked in the mirror. What in the everlonging hell was he seeing? Gowan blinked, rubbed his eyes, blinked again. The image didn't change. It was him...but it wasn't. His eyes grabbed him first. If he squinted, he could still see their normal liquid coal color. But overlaying it was a rainbow shimmer, like twin oil slicks had spread out over his irises. His skin was still olive, but it had washed out, making it look like he'd stayed out of the sun for a couyple years. His hair looked more or less its normal black, but, when he turned his head and the light hit it--blue. It had all somehow gone blue. But the crowining injustice...
Gowan reached one hand up, unbelieving, and poked his ear. It felt real enough. He ran a finger along the rim, squeezed it hard between two fingernails, looking for the gotcha. It hurt. And, no matter which way he twisted it, the point stayed in place. He checked the other side. Also pointed. He was..ha had...Gowan's head drooped, and he closed his eyes to gather himself. The sink was a lifeline in a suddenly very cold and alien sea. He counted to ten and reopened his eyes, gathering himself to double-check whether the mirror lied. Then he caught sight of his clothes. he was still wearing his niceish duds from the auction, and he could see a good two inches of sock-encased leg hanging out from under his pants' hemline. His pants hung a little loose, and his collared shirt flapped a little in the center. The sleeves were also a solid inch or so short. "That is not physically possible," he breathed. he looked back up at the mirror and confronted the startled elf with his face yet again. He looked through his reflection at the still-impassive elf leaning against the doorframe behind him. "What the fuck did you do to me, tree hugger? What the hell is phase three? Of what?"
The elf dropped his gaze and turned back toward the bedroom. "You must be starving after two days, Copper. Why don't we talk about it over dinner, my treat?"
Three long strides, and Gowan was out the door grabbing the front of the elf's shirt. he jerked him right in front of his eyes. "Fuck dinner. I want to know what's going on and how to reverse it. Now." One part of his mind fought the urge to bring trusty Shines out to see if he got a better reaction that way. Shyines was only for truly desperate situations, or habits that went along with it would come crawling back. And he wasn't willing to admit things were that desperate yet. Another part of his mind marveled at how far he managed to move and how quickly.
The elf wraped one hand around Gowan's arm and squeezed--just enough to let Gowan feel his strength. Red flecked brown eyes met oil-slicked black. "I have to guage your reactions to the information before I can leave you to go about your business, and I saw lover dinner would be easiest. Now, you can play as macho as you want,m copper, but unless you're willing to back that muscle up, I say we discuss this like to rational formerly human beings. Over dinner."
Gowan dropped his fistful of shirt and shoeve the elf just hard enough to throw him back a few steps. He growled and turned away, jabbing a hand through his hair. It didn't fieel the way he remereed. He jerked his hadn back like the hair scalded him. The elf was righrt, damn him. As much as Gowan would love to rush the little snot intoa red smear on his carpet, that wouldn't solve anything--and would most likely make the elf clam up. He must have figured by now that Gowan wasn't willing to kill him. Without that, where was the muscle to back up his threat? Hesitation. it had cost him in Chicago, and it was probably what got him dead-ended to homicide when he got back--to so-called "toughen him up".
"For what it's worth, you have my sympathy. Forced goblinizing hurts like a son of a bitch. And I didn't know you had some last Azzie residue, or I'd probably have waited. But, hey, sparkling's the rage now, idn't it? Not that my sympathy amounts to an orc in a Humans First! meeting for you, but that's the vbest I got."
Gowan turned back around and found the elf rooting around ina black duffle bag he'd presumably brought with him. "Figured you might shoot up. Brought a couple things to tide you over 'til you could go yourself." The elf turned arounf with a white t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers in hand. He held them out.
Gowan gave him a long, earching look, which the elf rode out. At last, Gowan took the clothes and started metholidc ally checking them for bugs or wires. "So, you went through this forced--this, as well?" Gowan asked at the same time the elf said, "Once a cop, always a cop, eh?"
The elf's crooked grin drained away, leaving him solemn and blank-eyed. "Someone had to make sure it was ready for you<' he answered noncommitally. "I could tell you you wouldn't find anything, but I doubt you'd believe me, anway,." He leaned back against the dresser. Gowan could feel his eyes on him, but h'e sweated much nasiter--but not nearly as frustrating--perps than this. When he was finally staisxfied he wouldn'[t be able to find anything, he stalked back to the bathroom door. "You're going to be here when i get back out." It was not a question.
But the elf took it as one. "Wouldn't miss your smiing face for the world, elfie." Gowan slammed the door on his laugh. He stripped and quickly started to dress. After a quick check to make sure that nothing else important had changed, he stopped halfway to stare at his reflection in the half-mirror over the sink. The cars were still there on his chest and arms. The axe in flames still flared out of his shoulder blade, although the edges were already fuzzing out from inattention and lack of care. Not 'til he knew if anyone had made it out. The actual burns were still there. Everything had simpley wisted somewhat, like he'd half-melted and recooled. he jerked the t-shirt over his head, a blank whiteness to smooth over it all. He'd deal with it later, like always.
The elf was waiting for him on the other side, half-smiling. "So, what do I call yoU?" Gowan asked sourly. 'If I threaten you away, I get no answers. And I can't just call you 'elf' at dinner. That'd raw more attention than I want right now."
The elf grinned. "Adn people might get confused about which one you meant, anyway."
Gowan felt another of the few remaining threads of his temper slide away into the black, and it was a very long drop into nothingness from there. His eyes narrowed.
The elf sighed and looked away. "In all seriousness, you dno't recognize me? Even if you replace the hair with greying brown and round the ears?"
Gowan looked him up and down and shook his head.
"What if you add surgical scrubs?" Another shake. "Well, to be expected, I supppose," he said to himself. "you were pretty groggy at the time." He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "Call me Doc. Now, what do you say we be off? I know a great little hole in the wall in the factory district, and that's only a mile or two from here. Caters more to metas, so there's no chance they'll know you there. You know, for a Humanis stooge, you live in a really meta-friendly area."
"It's cheap." Gowan ground his teeth. "Let's get this over with."
They stopped in front of a dive diner that looked like it probably remebered the twentieth century--and hadn't seen soap or a can of paint since then. Gowan had eaten in worse place, but it just felt overexposed, despite how grimy the big front windows were. Gowan slocuuhed a little further into his denim jacket, wishing the sleeves were alittle longer. He settled the Seattle Bruisers cap a little further down on his head and adjusted his unglasses. Doc chicked and oepend the door. "Come on, noob. Hey, waht do you want me to call you, anyway?"
Gowan thought for a second. "Storm," he said at last. He hadn't used that yet here, so no one could cnnected the current trainwreck with him. Doc raised his eyebrows, but Gowan/Storm looked way. and puased. Someone had tagged the building. A snacking yellow line slashed arcorss the peeli9ng paint of the side of the building. Gowan wrapped around into the alley the dive diner crouched along and slid his glasses down in the dimness, but he couldn't read the intricate squiggles. Or, rather, he could make out "X Over Mein" just fine, but he didn't know what the tages here meant. Maybe--
"Storm! You hungry or not? This ain't memory lane."
Doc's words burst the fragile though bubble that had been surging up in Gowan's mind, and the tag returned toa series of intricate suqiggles and incomprehansible slang. Gowan punched up his glasses again. "Yeah. Sure." They walked into Ethel Ann's.
Gowan slid into the booth and down practically out of sight. Every eye in the place was on him, he could feel it. "Ugh. Bad enough you--you make me miserable," he glanced at Doc over the sunglasses and round the hat brim, "but you have to hold me up for ridicuke at the same time," he hissed.
Doc shrugged and smiled when the waitress laid down the menus. The smile curcled into a smrik once her ample back was turned. "Hey. I wasn't the one who chose to dress up like a domestic abuse victim." Gowan just stared at Doc. He cleared his throat and glanced down at the plexiglass tabletop. He tapped it twice with a nail. After an uncomfortable moment, he continued. "I've already wasted two days on you. You gonna ask me questions or what? I need to report back. The chicken fried steak is amazing," he tacked on without missing a beat when the waitress came back. "Can we have a few more minutes?" He dialed up the smile. She grinned back and left again.
Gowan grimmaced. "But she's a troll."
"And you're an elf. It happens. I'd ask if you have questions yet, but maybe we should order first."
"Good idea, or she'll keep coming back." After several seconds staring at the menu, Gowan sighed and took off his sungalsses. His eyes immediately dropped. "I...can't read with these on. It's too dark in here."
Doc flashed the mega-watt smile again. "It's the grime on the windows. Great for meeting unobserved from across the street, if you're looking for a place. now, you can show off your baby...whatever color that is. BPs, I suppose. And i can get a few more dtapoints to come back with."
Gowan kept his eyes resolutely on the menu, but he locked his jaw hard. "You're going to tell me about that."
"I'll tell you what I can, and I'll leave you with a coupla suggestions of where you can get a little more on your own. And I'll still be watching you, of course."' He grinned. "I'm only a panic bracelet push away."
Maddening. Absolutely maddening. Why had he agreed to talk to this elf istead of systematically breaking him down until he fair to wept answers? Elves were eminently breakable; everyone knew that. Probably wouldn't have taken that long. At this point, Shines sounded like a better and better option. "I didn't push the dam button the last time, and you still came," he said through his teeth.
The msile slowly faded away. "You got shot in the chest. We come automatically at that point. Besides," the smile creeping back, "we've got too much invested in you at this point."
Gowan leaned over his menu and into Doc's face. "you shot an associate of mine in the head after you'd made it clear you knew me."
"With a gel equivalent. He probably needed the rest, anyway. Anyone regularly "associating" with you is bound to be high-strung. Besides, it probably just stuck in your craw that you couldn't find enough to analyze to figure out what I used." He paused, staring at Gowan. "Your eye color shifts. That's really nausea-inducing."
Gowan's smile was think and his lips pressed. Ï'm glad there is at least one thing I can do that erks you in some way."
"Gentlemen, are you ready to order?' The watress's booming voice startled Gowan, and his head jerked up and up to the watress towering above them. Their eyes met, and hers went wide. Her lipsticked mouth formed a silent "wow" around the offwhite blob of chewing gum.
Gowan wanted to look away, but the damage was already done. He smiled weakly and readjusted his hat. "how's the harmbger here?'he asked, craning his neck up to see her.
"Good..." she said, still peering at him. After a moment, she bent down (and down) awkwardly and whipered in a rumble, "YOu from the Tir?"
Doc developed a sudden suspicious coughing fit. Gowan fought not to hit him. But it was so hard. "Yeah. That obvious, huh? But I'm just visiting, so let's just keep this quiet, all right?" He took his sungalsses off his shirt collar and slid them back on with more calm than he felt. The news would be everywhere the second he left, if that long, but what did it matter? There was no weird-eyed e...nobody like that for them to find, anyway.
"Yeah, word says things got particularly nasty after they put off the Rite of Progression again." The troll nodded sagely and adjusted her enormous beige and red uniform. Gowan nodded right along; he had no idea what she was talking about. "But you said a hmburger, right, hon?" Gowan nodded, ordering one with every trimming he could think of, even mustard. It really felt as if he hadn't eaten in a week. Maybe two. Doc ordered only a cup of coffee.
"What, you're on a diet or something?" Gowan snarked after the waitress-her nametag read 'Tammy'--left.
Doc glanced at his watch and frown. ï'm down to minutes here, but I'm giving you what time I can. Damn questions; here's the canned speech. You got selected for phase one when you would up on my operating table a year or two ago. 'Lot of people did. But you automatically catapulted yourself to phase two when you found my symbol and started to investigate. Kudos to you, by the way. So far, you're our only phse three, and that makes you real special. So much so that your intial handler--well, of your new kidney and replacement Smarlink, anyway--gets to keep you moving along." Doc grimmaced and absently rubbed the pointed edge of one of his ears. "Lucky you, lucky me. Luck for everyone." He glanced at his watch again and stood up. "Well. Enjoy that hamburger on me." He dropped fifty nuyen on the table.
"Wait, that's it? AFter all that? You've got to be shitting me." Then Gowan looked down at the bill. He frowned. "What's with the drastic overpay?"
Doc shrugged, put his hands in his pockets. "I come here a lot. Started, well, after. You know. Thanks, Tam, but I'm heading out." He turned to smile up at the eleven-foot, horned waitress carrying a tray with a massive burger andd steaming cup of coffee. Ï'm sure Storm wcould use the kic,, though. You take good care of him, okay? " Tammy saw the bill, grinned, and nodded. She took it and bustled away, probably in case Gowan changed Doc's mind for him after he left.
"By the way." Doc bent down over the table and murmured, doc to patient, check out that cyber of yours. No telling what the shot did to the fit, speshly with Azzie shit running through you." He dropped folded sheet of paper by Gowan's hamburger. "This guys'good, and he's got a pretty good idea of why you want it checked." He met Gowan glare for stare, right in his face, and ropped even his low voice. "REmember, we've got too much invested in you at this point to screw with your safety. Well, any more than we already have, that is." He winked, then straightened back up. "Enjoy that hamburger, Storm."
Even with no one around, Gowan could still fell people staring. He readjusted his hat and glanced around, checking for nayone taking undue interest in him. He lifted the payhphe receiveer and dialed in a series of long strings of numbers, waiting for th eincreasingly tinny prompts. At last, there was only a beep. "Me. Leech, Mr. Cranston, I...I have information that may be of interest to you. I made direct contact with--with there-haired elf mention in a priveious report. he said to call him Doc. I--" Gowan paused. He yanked the hat off and ran his fingers through his hair. He dropped his head to the side of the pohnen kiosk and left it there. "I apologize. This is proving difficult. if what Doc intimated is true, DW and potential unnamed accomplices have developed a pro-magic serum--he called it a "forced goblinizing agent"--poissbily patterend on the HMHVV and VITAS outbreaks. I cannot speak of its magic ptoential, but I have direct proof it works. Unless it is an incredlby powerful illusion spell." Gowan could not suppress the hopful lilt to his voice. Here was to hoping they missed it. Ï will call back in several days to confirm.
"Also, per Doc, it sounds as if this is a research study with at least three phases, the third being the serum. Most participants appear to be in the first or second phse. From what I gathered, the first phase is the selection process by DW, and has something to do with operations. The second is when the patient unwittingly self-selects to join the study...Given all of this, I cannot confirm whether there, in fact, is a conspiracy, research, or it is some elaborate setup for nosey patients.
"What worries me is that we now have two prototypes to grant and take away some form of magic connection. Add to that a serial killer who preys on the magically affliected and meticulously removies their cyber parts, and I would say this city is roally and in a wide variety fucked, if you'll pardon my French. ALC out." Gowan jabbed the pohone back onto the hook and stared at it for a moment or two. Had he really just told the IA stiffs they were fucked? A grin mushroomed up on his face, and he started to laugh. He could feel the laughs bubbling up and up in his throat, trying to block it in their eagerness. And, so they were, or at least, he probalby was. He laughed all the harder at that thought. But he hadn't rais anything like that to a superior since--he cast his mind back--probalby his rookie year fourteen years ago. What had Danny, ever the good cop and partner, said? "Don't say 'fucked;' tell 'em you've run into unanticipated difficultes and nod real solemly. They smell BS, and you reek, but they don't write you up for it--and you know what you mean>' And he'd probably grinned that shit-eating grin of his. Gowan sighed. maybe he'd give him a follow-up call, even though Gowan had a much, much better idea of who 'Doc' was at this point. It wasn't like Dan not to call back.
Gowan reached for the phone again. he leaned back against the bakc of the kiosk and dialed another number from memory. He let it ring and ring and ring, eyes rolling. At last, a deep, scratchy voice warbled on the line. "Hey, Jam. it's Gowan. Yeah, long time no chat, I know. it's been a crazy month. Yo uknow how it is. We shouldget a beer sometime. But, yeah, question fo ryou. Can you get me some drak contacts? Close to black as possible? But I don't want to get them from a store. That's what I'd be paying you for. Well, do what you can and call me back when you know. Thanks, man. Yeah, definitely, beer sometime soon. Uh huh. 'Bye, man." Click.
Gowan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The laughter was gone, and he was almost sorry. He felt hollow. But two calls down, one to go. And he only had the word of apsycho elf to go on. But, if something had happened to his cyber, and it wasn't some extremely elaborate hoax...one that emplyted some kind of BTL to induce the pain...Well, if the 'Navy' was creating anti-magic...Gowan took out Doc's folded little piece of paper and brought it close to his eyes. It really was hard to see with these damnh sunglasses on. But what was the alternative? He carefully punched in the nubmers and gripped the phone white it rang. At last, "hello? Dr. Aeschelon? An elf name doc gave me our number. This is Officer Laughing Crow..."