The memorial service for Kristi and Grant Hunter was held three days later. It was a beautiful service held at a lovely park by the seaside, well attended by the couple’s many friends and business associates. Many had even come in from out of town, shocked and saddened by the sudden end to two beloved lives.

Sean barely remembered any of it, as he barely remembered the three days leading up to it.

He sat numbly in the family section of the white wooden folding chairs, staring straight ahead and not even trying to quiet his thoughts, which were at the same time molasses-dull and flitting around so fast he couldn’t pin them down. There weren’t many others in the family section: his maternal grandparents and paternal grandfather were dead, and his paternal grandmother was somewhere in Europe and couldn’t be reached in time to attend. She had called last night in tears and she and Sean had talked for awhile, but both of them had been too stunned to be much help to each other.

Some of his friends were there too, and he was glad for that—Althea, who sat next to him and held his hand; Nicky and Kim and some of the others from Watanabe’s, including the Sensei himself; his childhood friend Jay, others. Their faces were all a blur, just a sea of light and dark. He hoped they didn’t mind, but at the moment he didn’t care.

After the service he left alone, gently shrugging off his friends’ and his parents’ friends’ attempts to engage him, to take him out for something to eat, to try to get his mind off what had happened today and what had happened three days ago. Just as he had for the previous days, he wanted to be alone, to think—or not to think.

There had been people in and out of the house for the last couple of days, but after the service, either by accident or design he had the place to himself for awhile. He parked his car, a 20-year-old Eurocar Westwind he’d been working on ever since he’d bought it last year, out in front of the place; there was a spot in the garage now next to his mother’s shiny new QZX700, but he didn’t feel right parking there. Somewhere in the back of his mind he still expected his father’s sleek black corp-style sedan to glide silently back in and take its rightful place.

Inside everything was quiet and dim and...normal. In one of his more lucid moments, Sean had mused about how strange it was to see normal life just going on all around you when something terrible has happened. The household computers still went about their business, making kaf and running lawn sprinklers and queuing up Dad’s favorite trid shows in his den at eight o’clock each night. The first time the latter had happened, the night after the crash, it had startled Sean so badly that it took him a couple of hours to recover from it—the suddenness of the trideo unit blaring the nightly news into the silence when no one would be there to watch it was the first step in his long slow convincing that things weren’t going to change back.

He wandered through the house in a daze, stopping to pick up an item here or look at one there. The hallway full of holopics had commanded his attention for an hour last night, as he carefully examined each image of himself at various ages from baby to unsteady toddler to nearly full-grown man, and the images of his parents as young lovers, as newlyweds, as parents proud to show off their handsome blond son. The pictures had been here for as long as Sean could remember, but he had never really looked at them. Why bother, something in the back of his mind had always said. You can always just look at the real thing.

But now he couldn’t look at his parents anymore. He’d never see them again—he hadn’t even been able to say goodbye because they wouldn’t let him see the bodies. He knew why, of course: because there hadn’t been any bodies to speak of. Plane crashes weren’t kind to the fragile human form. They’d been able to identify his parents and the other victims by dental and DNA records, but a memorial viewing had been out of the question. Sean knew that was for the best. Still, though, he would have liked to have had the chance to say something.

He continued on his way through the house, his eyes skimming over the items that had made up two lives. There wasn’t much of him out here, by his own choice—he had a big bedroom upstairs where he rarely spent time, but he was content to keep the items that were important to him there. His mother’s taste pervaded the place: they weren’t rich, but they were comfortable, and Kristi Hunter had a knack for choosing a few expensive items of decor which, when combined with the tasteful but relatively inexpensive things that filled the majority of the house, gave the place an air of genteel grace. Sean was often surprised at how good the house looked, given that both Mom and Dad had demanding jobs and weren’t home as often as they’d like to be. The robo-maids kept the place clean, but machines couldn’t add that personal touch.

His own room upstairs, which he reached eventually, was in its usual state of disarray. He threw himself down on the bed and looked around the walls. They were covered with holoposters of his favorite subjects: martial arts, sports in general, and Eastern dragons. Now they shimmered and shifted, going through their motions as Sean watched with detached disinterest. On the floor were piled most of his clothes (Mom had more than once accused him of having been frightened by a closet at a young age), his sports equipment, boxes of music chips and schoolwork and martial arts magazines—in short, a typical sort of bedroom for a seventeen-year-old boy.

He didn’t even feel like it was his anymore.

Restlessly he got up and went over to his desk, where his dataterminal sat covered by two tank tops and his high school graduation program, printed on old-fashioned stiff paper with raised letters. He hadn’t even turned it on since before the accident—email hadn’t been high on his list. Now, he pushed the shirts and the program off, switched on the machine, and waited for his email to load. This would have been a lot easier if he, like many of his fellow students, had a datajack, but his distaste for invading his body with such things had made that impossible. He wasn’t the only one without a jack, but most of the others who didn’t have one were magically active in one way or another. Sean got teased about it some, but he was content to be a “turtle” if it meant keeping anyone from drilling holes in his head. The only kinds of holes he wanted were the kind you put jewelry through.

The little terminal paused for several seconds, longer than it usually did. Sean didn’t often get much email. He and his friends communicated in person, and since school was over he wasn’t getting assignments. What could be taking so long? Then the list came up and he knew.

He scrolled up from the most recent, noting name after name of the senders: high school friends, acquaintances, the other members of Watanabe’s school, the folks from his job—all of them offering their condolences and help if he wanted it. Sean’s hand shook a little as he continued scrolling. There was the usual collection of get-rich-quick schemes and investment opportunities and porn solicitations with them, but most were from people he knew. He hadn’t realized he knew this many people.

Then, as he got to the top of the new messages, he froze, staring.

His mother’s name was there.

He looked at the date: June 24, 15:30. She’d sent it before the match. With a shaking finger, he stabbed the button to play the message.

It was a card, the sort that you could send through various sources to commemorate events. The window popped up and his parents’ faces appeared, proud and smiling. In the background, one of his favorite songs played. “Hello, son,” his mother’s voice said, sounding just like she was standing right there in the room with him. “I just wanted to send you this to let you know how proud Dad and I are of you, not just for tonight but for everything. I don’t want to get all mushy because I know you don’t like that, but we both love you and wish you best of luck in the tournament tonight.”

The image faded out and a moment later so did the music. Sean didn’t notice. His shoulders shaking, he buried his face in his hands and finally let himself cry.

After that it was a little easier. Later that day the Hunters’ lawyer (who was also an old friend of the family) came by and told Sean that she had been appointed his guardian for the month or so until he turned eighteen. In exchange for his promise not to get into trouble, Sean was allowed to continue living alone in his parents’ house, only having to check in with the lawyer once a day to verify that everything was all right. Sean was fine with that—the sort of trouble he normally got into due to his fearlessness and his tendency to dare himself to do dangerous things just to see if he could wasn’t something he wanted to pursue right now anyway. He had too many other things on his mind for that.

The lawyer, whose name was Gretchen Peck, also had copies of the Hunters’ wills. Sean wasn’t surprised that they’d left him everything except for a few personal items that had gone to friends, but he was surprised to see the extent of it. When he turned 18 he would be the owner of the house in Bainbridge as well as the family’s vacation cottage on Chesapeake Bay. He would also be the recipient of several substantial bank accounts, including his college fund which turned out to be several times bigger than he’d been led to believe. It wouldn’t be enough to make him rich by far, but if he was careful he could live on it for many years without having to work.

He barely paid any attention to any of this. Money and property weren’t things that interested him, especially since he had no intention of remaining in Bainbridge after he graduated from college.

“Do you want me to look into selling the house after you leave for college?” Ms. Peck asked gently. “You don’t have to make a decision anytime soon...”

Sean shrugged. “Can you just look after it for me—you know, hire someone to come in and clean it once a month or so? I don’t know what I want to do right now.”

She patted his arm. “I understand. I wish there was more I can do.” She explained to him that she, as trustee of the money until he came of age, had set up a separate account in his name for living expenses for the next month, and that all the accounts would automatically revert to his name the following month. “Call if you need anything,” she told him. “I’m just downtown, and I’m here for you if you need me.”

He thanked her and saw her to the door, his mind still spinning.

He didn’t do much in the next couple of weeks. His friends called and he visited with them for an hour or two at a time, but aside from that he spent most of his days puttering around in the house, going through his parents’ things and boxing them up for storage. Once he left for college he didn’t want some stranger pawing through his family’s personal things while cleaning the house. Ms. Peck arranged a storage locker for him and so he spent his days looking at things, putting them in boxes, and carting the boxes off to storage. It was hard on him: his mother was the type who saved just about everything that had ever been important to her or her family, so Sean had to sort through drawers full of his old school drawings (he was amused by the fact that he seemed to have loved Eastern dragons ever since early childhood—he’d forgotten about that), assignment papers, school holopics, childhood favorite clothes, and other items from his early childhood, as well as letters and pictures and mementos from his parents’ lives together both before and after his birth. Eventually he got to the point where he was just glancing at things and tossing them into the boxes—if he looked at everything, he’d be here for far more than a month, and he only had three before he was off to college. He wanted to get it done before then.

He was finishing up with his father’s study one day when the doorbell rang. He stabbed the button on the desk that activated the front door security camera and saw that the visitor was Jay Canfield. The dwarf had been one of his two best friends since they’d both been small children, and he’d been dropping by occasionally just to make sure Sean was all right. Sean clicked the speaker button. “Hey, Jay,” he called. “Come on in. I’m up in Dad’s office.”

He was boxing up the last of the office when Jay appeared in the doorway, with his deck bag slung over his shoulder and carrying a large white bag in his arms. The dwarf was about as much the opposite of Sean as it was possible to be: short where he was tall, squat where he was slender and muscular, cynical where he was generally fairly upbeat. Jay and Sean didn’t see as much of each other in the last couple of years as Sean had become more involved in his martial arts and football and Jay had gotten himself a datajack and hooked up with Bainbridge’s decker community, but they still made time to get together on occasion.

Sean engaged the auto-seal on the last box and tossed it on the couch. “What’s up?” he asked, dropping down next to it.

Jay shrugged. “I was just in the area.” That was a lie and they both knew it—the dwarf’s family lived on the other side of town. “Still boxing? You ever even eat anymore?”

“Yeah. I had lunch...I think.”

“You think.” He held up the bag, which bore the logo of a local sub shop. “You think you could have another one? You know how much I hate eating alone.”

Sean smiled. “Yeah, I think so. Thanks.”

They ate lunch in the office, sitting on the floor and talking about safe topics. Jay told Sean about his acceptance to MIT&T, where he was planning to major in Matrix science.

“You, a corper?” Sean asked in mock disbelief. “I’d never have thought—”

“What corper?” Jay’s expression was scornful. “You can learn more there than how to be a good little drone. You just gotta know the right people, that’s all.” He paused. “So you decide where you’re goin’ yet?”

Sean nodded. “Yeah. Georgetown.”

“Football scholarship?”

“No. They offered me one, but turned me down when I didn’t want to get the mods. Same with Notre Dame.”

Jay cocked his head. “How come? You aren’t the type to be scared by the surgery...” He patted his own pair of datajacks, blued chrome against the pale shaved skin of his left temple. “Didn’t hurt at all.”

“No, it’s not that. I just—” he shrugged. “It just didn’t feel right. It’s like there’s something inside me that says don’t do it.”

Jay took a big bite of his sandwich and chewed noisily, considering. “Well, it’s not like you’re a wizkid or anything, right? I thought you got tested and turned up mundane.” When Sean didn’t answer, Jay let it go. “Yeah, yeah. Well, you got the grades to get in even without the jock scholarship, right? Got a major?”

“Nope. I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there.”

Jay’s shrewd dark eyes studied his friend’s face. “You don’t know what you want to do with yourself, do you, Hunter?”

Sean sighed, looking down at his sandwich, realizing that his friend was right. A few weeks ago his life had been so easy—continue his martial arts studies, play football, hang out for the summer and then go to college. Now none of that seemed important to him anymore.

Jay got up, wadding up his sandwich wrappings and tossing them in one of Sean’s trash boxes. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s go see a trid or something. You need to get out of this place for awhile.”

“Can’t. I need to finish up with this. Maybe after.”

Jay looked around the room. “What else you got to do?”

Sean paused. “The attic. And...Mom and Dad’s bedroom.”

“Tell ya what—how long you think it’ll take to do the attic?”

“I don’t know—a couple hours, maybe. There’s not a lot up there. Mostly furniture, and it stays where it is.”

Jay nodded. “Okay. How ‘bout if I help you finish up the attic and then we go see a trid? You can do—the rest—tomorrow. Kay? I’ll even spring for the tickets.”

Sean knew what Jay was trying to do, and he appreciated it. He hadn’t been looking forward to going through the musty attic alone. “Okay,” he said decisively. “Deal.”

They cleaned up the rest of the lunch trash and then together they trooped to the back of the house, where a narrow, seldom-used back staircase led upward to the attic. Sean went first; flicking the lightswitch at the foot of the stairs he was rewarded with the comforting glow of three low-powered light panels that illuminated the place with an adequate but uninspiring glow. There was one window up here, round and high up on the wall, but it was so covered with dust and grime that it barely let any light in at all.

“Bleah,” Jay said, pushing dusty cobwebs out of his way as he followed Sean up into the big open room. “How long’s it been since anybody’s been up here?”

“Ages. I used to play up here when I was little—Mom and Dad didn’t know it, of course—but that hasn’t been for years. I don’t think they’ve come up since.” Sean shoved some more cobwebs aside and moved further in. As he’d expected, most of what was up here was furniture, sheet covered lumps crouching along the walls as if waiting for someone to come and take them away. Sean’s parents liked to refurnish the house occasionally, and as was his mother’s tendency, they rarely sold the old furniture. It just went up here in case it was needed again. Aside from that, boxes were stacked in a disorderly pile next to a wooden dresser. The rest of the place was clear.

“You guys have the same pile of junk in your attic that my folks have in ours,” Jay remarked, picking up a broken toy car out of one of the nearest boxes and examining it. “Did your mom save everything you ever touched, or what?”

“Let’s just get on with it, okay?” Sean’s voice was a little harsher than he’d intended it to be, but his friend let it go.

It only took them a couple of hours to go through the boxes. Most of them were filled with old toys, clothes, school projects, and other such items that were easy to catalog. Sean decided to leave them where they were, since they had no intrinsic value and he had no emotional attachment to them. He shoved the boxes against the wall in a neater stack and wiped the sweat off his face. It was hot and very dusty up here; he could feel more sweat running down his back and soaking his chest. Jay was looking equally wilted; he’d already gone downstairs twice to retrieve soft drinks from the refrigerator. “Are we about done with this?” the dwarf asked after the second cache of sodas had run out. “What I could use right now is a nice shower.”

Sean sighed. “Yeah, I guess so. It’s not like anybody’s going to want to steal any of this stuff. I’ll have to have it moved out when—if—I decide to sell the house, but for now it can stay.”

“Okay, then. Let’s go. I want to go home and get that shower before we go to the trids.”

They had almost reached the stairs down when Sean stopped. “Wait a minute.”

“What?” Jay demanded.

Sean pointed to a heavy wooden trunk that had been shoved back behind a motheaten chair. “I didn’t see that before. I’d better check it.”

Jay made a long-suffering noise. “Couldn’t you do it later? It’s roasting up here.”

“You can go on if you want. It’ll just take a minute. It’s probably full of linens or something.” Without waiting for an answer, he moved over and pushed the chair out of the way for a better view.

Jay didn’t leave; instead, he moved up next to his friend and watched with curiosity as Sean flipped the catch and opened the chest. “See?” he said knowingly when the contents were revealed. “You were right. Linens.” He grew silent, however, when Sean pushed the old tablecloths aside to reveal a safe hidden beneath.

“This is weird...” Sean murmured, lifting the thing out and examining it. It wasn’t large, only about half a meter square, with heavy plasform sides and a stout metal door. He’d seen similar things for sale in office supply stores, but not often and not recently—it was the kind of safe people bought to keep their valuable papers safe from fires. The only thing was, most people’s valuable records were stored electronically, so there wasn’t much call for this kind of safe. The one Sean held looked quite old, at least twenty years.

“You think there’s anything in it?” Jay, as befit deckers everywhere, had a highly developed sense of curiosity. “Can you open it?”

Sean set the safe down on the top of the dresser and tried the door. As he expected, it was locked tight. “Looks like a maglock,” he said, “but an old-style one.”

“Do you know what the code might be?”

“No idea. I wouldn’t know where to start looking.” Sean eyed the safe with consternation. “It’s probably empty anyway. Why else would it be up here?” He picked it up and shook it, but the walls were heavy enough that no sound came through.

Jay was getting a gleam in his eye. “We could open it, you know...”

“How? I told you, I don’t know where the—”

“Yeah, I know. But we don’t need a code.” He dragged a chair over, climbed on it, and examined the front of the safe. “Maglock, all right. Simple one, from the look of it. Old. I could have this baby open in a minute.”

Sean looked at him in surprise. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

“And you still don’t,” Jay told him conspiratorially. “What you don’t know won’t hurt you. You want it open or not?”

It took only a few seconds for Sean to decide. “Yeah,” he said at last. “Let’s take it downstairs, though. It is hot up here.”

Sean lugged the safe downstairs to the kitchen table while Jay went out to his car for his tools. Less than ten minutes later, the dwarf had popped the cover off the maglock and was fiddling with it with some electronic probes and a meter from his electronics kit. A moment after that there was an odd popping noise and the door swung minimally open. “There,” Jay said, satisfied, returning his tools to their case. “Nothing to it.” He paused. “You want privacy?” His expression suggested he considered it his duty to ask but would be crestfallen if his friend replied in the affirmative.

Sean shrugged. “No point in secrets now. Let’s just look at it.” He pulled open the door and peered inside, then pulled out a sheaf of folded papers. “This is it?” he muttered. “Papers?”

“What’s on ‘em?” Jay asked from the other side of the table. He’d helped himself to another soda from the fridge and was tossing it back while he watched Sean.

But Sean wasn’t paying him any more attention. He’d unfolded the sheaf of paper and his eyes cut back and forth over whatever was written on the first page. As he continued to read, riffling through each sheet in turn, his eyes grew wide and his jaw tightened. The papers fell from his nerveless hands and dropped onto the table, where they followed their creases and returned to a semi-folded position. Sean continued to stare at them, ignoring Jay.

What?” Jay demanded, reaching for the papers.

Sean dropped his hand over them. “I can’t believe this...” he whispered. “Why didn’t they tell me...?”

Jay stared at him, his expression warring between a friend’s concern and a decker’s frustrated curiosity. “Sean? What are you talking about? What did they—”

Sean shoved the papers across the table. “According to this—I was adopted,” he said in a dull, dead tone. “My parents—weren’t really my parents.”

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Copyright ©2001, 2002 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.