Guttersnipe and the Ork
by William Ashe
The small electric scooter darted quickly through the light early evening traffic. It had just left the "official boundaries" of Dallas on the way to Fort Worth and was now in some nameless suburb. Although now in 2055 the entire metroplex was controlled by one municipal authority.
A large dour building loomed over a fast treeless plain of scraggly grass and outdoor basketball courts. The grass was clinging to life under the harsh Texas sun by luck and sheer willpower. The young man riding the scoot pulled up next to the fence of the DFW Teen Foster Care Facility #4 and looked through the high fence topped by a crown of menacing razor wire.
These facilities were designed to house those children who hadn't been adopted by the age of 13 and were considered un-adoptable, or any child over the age of 13 who found themselves in a 'disparented state'.
He suppressed a shudder. He had spent a hellish few days at this facility after his father died back in 2053. The facility was supposed to house, feed, and educate its young charges. Releasing them able to get a job and fend for themselves. He almost laughed out loud at that thought. The education any kid ever got in there was as a victimizer, or as a victim. Everyone else either died or escaped. That brought him back to the task at hand. His one and only true friend was about to be discharged from the Care of the State. More like released from prison.
"Drek!" He whispered to himself, "at least they give you 1000 nuyen when they put you on the street when they let you loose from prison."
"I heard that." The young man turned to see an old Hispanic woman standing next to him.
"My son got thrown in there accidentally. I actually had to PAY 2000 nuyen in fees to convince Child Protective Services that he was mine."
The young man nodded. The DFWPD Child Welfare Section was notorious for snatching any unescorted kid off the street and tossing them in here. The bribes required to extricate a accidentally housed youngster insured that various officers, inspectors, and other civil servants continued to live in the style to which they become accustomed.
"What are you doing here?" She asked.
"My friend got nabbed the other day. I paid to have a decker change his file and boost him to 18."
"That's a good idea. I'll have to look into that," She said, "But, what about you? You look pretty young."
The young man fingered an odd assortment of feathers, bone and ribbon that was pinned on the lapel of his long light brown trench coat like some sort of film noir carnation.
"Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself."
They were both standing at a guard shack and gate. The shack was connected to the perimeter fence. There was only one line of fence. This was, technically, a boarding school after all. The young man looked around and saw many more people come up to the fence. They were mostly of Hispanic descent. Refugees from that weird country to the south, Aztlan. A few were metahumans. One elf looked at him and nodded a greeting from inside a Mitsubishi Nightsky limo. The young man was startled. He didn't know any elves. He knew dwarves, orks, and even a troll or two, but no elves, especially rich ones. Quickly he let his vision slip into the astral. The world shifted into a skewed picture. Everything alive glowed on it's own. But things like walls, fences, cars; actually absorbed the light and looked like cartoon silhouettes of themselves. It took a moment to orient himself. Yep! sure enough the elf was radiating an aura just a little more blue than everyone else. He looked at his own arm, his aura was a little more red. So the elf was a mage. By now the elf had noticed, and in a flash of thought, astrally projected over to his side.
"Good evening young shaman. What brings you here on a fine night like this?" the elf asked astrally. The young human could see the aura around the elf's body enlarge, pulsate, and reach out to touch his aura. Judging by the rhythm of its song and its color. Some kind of detection spell had been cast. More than likely a truth spell of some kind.
"No biggie, I was planning on telling the truth anyway," he thought.
The young human turned to look toward the fence. He laid down langorously on his Dodge Scoot. Then he also astrally projected. His body went limp but stayed on the bike. To everyone else, the young human and the elf were watching the door at the corner of the large dour school building. But, they could converse to each other in astral space and have total privacy.
"And good evening to you sir. (no sense in being rude) My good friend has become an unwilling guest of the state. I have secured his ... uh ... official release, so I'm here to pick him up."
The elf stood quietly for a moment analyzing the truth of his statement then started to chuckle, "Forgive me; I have grown so used to being lied to, that I have almost forgotten what is like to be told the whole truth. You may call me Pokerface."
"I'm called Guttersnipe ... its a long story."
Just then the crowd started to move. They both quickly returned to their bodies. The door had opened. Several kids were led out by two burly humans in DFW civil servant uniforms. Guttersnipe could see his friend. He was the only ork. As they approached the shack he could see that his friend's stay had not been a pleasure cruise. The young ork was visibly bruised and battered. Guttersnipe wondered how much of it was started by somebody else.
"Probably about half." Guttersnipe thought.
When it was the ork's turn he signed his name on a datapad, was given a large packet of stuff, a handshake, and a none to gentle push out of the gate. Guttersnipe gave the ork a big hug, which earned him a few stares, then they both got onto the little scoot. It whined but held. Guttersnipe was negotiating his way back to the street when he heard a woman's voice shout.
"What's wrong? All of the papers are in order."
Guttersnipe turned, it was the Hispanic lady he had talked to earlier.
"I'm sorry, there is a problem with him being a CAS citizen. We just have to verify his citizenship Ooops! but the office is closed for the evening. We'll have to hold him until tomorrow so we can verify the records." The guard at the gate said blatantly holding his credstick reader out, with the input adapter opened and ready. The old lady understood. She inserted her output end into his input end, and in a kind of financial sex, transferred a sum of cred's. Her credstik weren't certified so these cred's were useless until the credstick reader made contact with the guard's bank and verified the transfer. This would only take a couple of seconds. But that was all Guttersnipe needed. He started a quiet chant under his breath and almost instantly a spirit of the city appeared.
"Will you do me a favor or four Friend Spirit?"
"Sure, I'll do you ONE favor." The spirit replied making sure that Guttersnipe knew just how friendly the spirit wanted to be.
"See that big goob over there holding a credstick reader , can you go interrupt its data transfer so that he doesn't get any cash, and trick him into thinking that the transfer was a success?"
"Actually, that is two favors, but I've been watching him and he annoys me. So I'll consider that as only one. Hang on a moment Spirit Friend." The spirit flashed across the short distance. Blocking the radio waves asking for confirmation from the reader, it interrupted the transfer. In another few seconds the credstick reader would display an error message. The spirit returned.
"I can do nothing as long as he is inside the shack. That is the domain of a hearth spirit. But, if you can get him out of that shack. I can trick him." It said.
"Guttersnipe, what are you doing?" The ork growled behind him
Guttersnipe smiled, That would be easy. He reached over to one of the other little wood, bone, feather, ribbon and other assorted flotsam thingys that dotted his long coat. As soon as he touched the one that contained the dismembered Barbie Doll torso he felt the expendible fetish act as a lens for his throwing of astral energy. It was then a simple matter to chant a quick song snippet to tune his aura to that of the fetish, and the clueless guard. Moments later the guard went flying out of the door doing a full body slide down the pavement, with the spirit moving quickly after. It depressed the "O.K." button to acknowledge the error message. This put the credstick reader back into ready mode. Guttersnipe toodled his scoot over to the now very embarrassed, very sore, and very road rashed guard.
"Zang! I bet that stung. You shouldn't do that to little old ladies. It angers the Justice Spirits. They get petulant when they're annoyed."
The guard looked up at the pair. There was a mixture of naked hate at them, and naked fear that the urchin might actually be telling the truth.
"Yeah, you know there are nature spirits, city spirits, there are justice spirits too. Think about that the next time you try to extort money. You make more than any of these people, be content. Live righteously and the spirits will see that good things happen to you too." The young shaman said loudly like a preacher at a tent revival.
With that Guttersnipe drove away. The elf had also picked up his charge, a young human female and had bustled her into the big black limo. The elf was laughing so hard that tears streamed down his face. Guttersnipe nodded at the elf who nodded back waggling his finger accusingly at the young city shaman.
The city spirit appeared in the air following the scooter. It looked like a whirling bundle of leaves, old newspapers and soda cans, "Justice spirit?" it asked.
"It seemed a good idea at the time."
"You're a scamp." The city spirit said chuckling.
"No, I'm a guttersnipe." and with that the spirit turned and vanished.
The two rode in silence each lost in his own thoughts. Their bond of trust was as strong now as it was when they went to kindergarten together. As they drove back into Dallas proper. They passed their old elementary school. The non-offensive beige building was labeled "PS-E 372".
"Pull over Guttersnipe."
"Oh man! do you have to do this every time we pass this fraggin' place?"
"Just pull over."
Guttersnipe made a rude noise in his throat. But he did pull over. The ork dismounted and searched for a moment. Picking up a hunk of brick in an alley, he smiled a mouthful of tusks at Guttersnipe, and heaved the projectile at the school. He missed any windows, but it made a satisfying thump against the wall.
"One of these days ShotGlass, we're gonna get busted for doing that." Guttersnipe said as the ork got back on the scooter.
"Get me back to the Darkstar. I'm supposed to be there by seven to help clean up the dinner rush."
"They rode north and east into one of the more affluent areas in the cities. The Darkstar was situated on the second floor of an old warehouse. It was on the border between the upper low living types and the lower middle types who didn't have quite enough corporate rank or connections to allow them to move into one of two arcologies that were nearby. Its close proximity to the urban sprawl and the corridors of megacorp power made the Darkstar a perfect place for shadowrunners, shadowrunner wanna be's, and everyone else who wanted to feel like they were part of the action but didn't want to be actually shot at. It was this very thing that has earned the Darkstar several unexpected renovations. The most recently at the hands of an autoloading grenade launcher. But, that was before the new owner cleaned the place up.
The ride through Guttersnipe's old neighborhood sent his mind wandering back to when life was simpler.
"John Jr. , get your lazy ass out of bed. You had better not be late to school again."
The scruffy little eleven year old poked his head out from under the covers. His dad was a poor man. As a consequence it was cold. There wasn't much business for an honest-to-god sheet music store in the all digital 21st century. John Jr. dressed quickly and slid into the bathroom. A cursory drag of the toothbrush across the teeth and he sailed downstairs. The apartment he lived in was above the store, a package deal. Now, his dad sold musical instruments also. He even sold the new "synth-struments" as his dad derisively called them. But mostly he sold sheet music. He had music going back to way before the Awakening. The people really in the know came to him when they wanted something old or obscure. They were poor. But, all things considered in that troubled time, they weren't about to complain. It was January 2050. His dad had survived the really chaotic times and was glad things had started to settle down a little. Life was hard. But at least it was starting to get predictable again.
As John unlocked the first of the three locks on the back door he spoke quietly to the three spirits that he knew always met him at the door. He wasn't tall enough to reach the top lock so he always asked one of them to open the door and make sure it was locked again after he left. He was supposed to go out the front. But, going out the back cut off ten whole minutes of walking. In the damp cold of a Texas winter, a shorter walk was more important. He was halfway down the alley when he remembered that he hadn't unlocked the front door.
He shouted down the alley, "Could you please get the front door too?"
The voice he heard in his head was faint, "We have already done it... Now don't be late. Your father hates it when your late. Be good and study hard."
"I will!" he shouted, and trundled off.
At the end of the alley was some poor teenage girl who was selling herself to get money for more of the addictive BTL chips. He felt sorry for her. She paid all of that money for a chipjack and then fried her brain on those horrible programs. He never worried about the addicts. He knew; that they knew; that he didn't have any money. But, if on some odd chance one did mess with him he knew the spirits of the city would protect him. They always did. They were his friends. Even if nobody did believe that he saw them, and he had been seeing them for months now.
With that he started whistling an old Gershwin tune. Walking out onto the street he headed to school.
School did not go well again. Once again he got beat up by Larry Gomez, and once again Tommy beat up Larry Gomez. Also, like usual, another note for his father. It wasn't as if he didn't like school; he did. He just would start watching the spirits and end up getting yelled at. Then all of the kids would laugh when he told them what the spirits were doing. Even the spirits at school were starting to get cross with him. They knew he should be spending his time on his lessons. It was not a good day.
The next day went like the previous. The next week went like the previous. But the week after that was a turning point in his young life. Occasionally during the week some of the older musicians would come into the store. Talk with his father, drink very expensive REAL coffee, and play REAL music. John Jr. loved those days. Some days he would hear jazz, other days blues, still others would bring Broadway, classical, or even 20th century rock and roll. But today was different. The musicians were packing up early because it was rainy and cold. They didn't want to miss the 4:30 bus and have to wait outside for another fifteen minutes. The weather forced John Jr. to play inside. He knew it bothered his father that he talked to the spirits. But, he didn't know why. So he was talking to them quietly sitting underneath the saxophones when he came in. He looked like he had just walked out of the NAN. He wore beads, feathers, a fringed beige leather jacket with all kinds of weird decorations hanging off of it. He also wore a battered cowboy hat, boots; just the whole schlameel. John Jr. went back to talking to the spirits.
"May I help you? ... Jonathan, will you stop playing around and go get the broom. Its almost time to close."
John Jr. looked up. The store didn't close until much later. The expression on his father's face told John Jr. to just do it. As he walked by the ancient amerindian he saw him touch an odd amulet on his jacket. But, in his mind he heard a strange yet beckoning song.
"... Git! I told you to get the broom. Now what kind of music are you looking for stranger?"
"The music of the spirits." He replied. The old indian was surprised. His totem had told him that his last task was to teach his replacement. But the boy! He was younger than he expected. Most people do not show the talent until their teenage years. But, he only had to look at the boy in astral to confirm it. Now there was no question.
"'S 'cuse me?" John Sr. asked.
"Are you worried about your son?" The old Amerindian asked, glad he has cast a truth spell on the father.
John Sr. vented to the old man. John Jr.'s teachers had noticed a decided change in behavior over the last few months. They wanted to put him into psychomedical testing to see if he was beginning to show signs of goblinization, or worse that he was just plain old insane.
John Jr. heard all of this. He was rather shocked. He knew he was sane. He supposed that turning into an ork or a troll would kinda suck. But, then he wouldn't get beat up so much.
"Neither is the case." The old man said "Your son has the dance ... he has the magic."
A blank stare was John Sr.'s reply.
"Your son will be a shaman."
Now that got through. A look of profound relief swept over John Sr.'s face and he sat down with a thud.
"Now wait a minute. How come you are here?"
"I'm an old man. My totem has required me to find my replacement before I take my final spirit walk. I walked by your store and I heard the spirits of your store singing. So I came in to see who they were singing to. They were singing to your son"
John Jr. ran out from the back, "You mean I can cast spells and stuff." The little boy ran about the store casting imaginary spells at imaginary enemies.
"Fireball... boom! Mana blast ... zap!"
"Stop that and come here!" Both men said at once. They looked at each other and smiled.
The old shaman sat down on one of the stools that the musician's would use. He began to explain to the boy that magic wasn't a mindless weapon. It was to be used to bring the world back into harmony with nature. He explained that the magic was there to make people's lives better. He explained that it was to ease suffering. He also explained that like most things magic could be used for evil purposes, and sometimes one had to fight to keep the world on its course of healing and regeneration. That was why combat spells existed, not to crush the weak, but to protect them.
John Jr. nodded. He didn't know why, but he wanted the old man's respect so he listened attentively and tried to understand. The old shaman smiled. The boy didn't understand it all yet. But he tried, and that was what the important thing.
"I'm still a little shaky on what's going on here." John Sr. said
"If you want your son to grow to his fullest potential as a shaman, and not turn into one of those types who use the magic to cause pain, or do evil acts, he must be taught. I'm bound by my totem spirit to find and teach my replacement. He is my replacement, and I WILL teach him properly."
"O.K.., so how will this work? I don't want it to affect his schooling."
"No I agree with you completely," The old shaman schmoozed, "His school lessons will come first, of course. When he is not in school, and when he is ready. I will teach him. Many students try too much too soon and end up getting hurt. I will guide him until he is capable of teaching himself."
"Uh .. yeah ... where will you be staying? I mean this is a small store with only a two bedroom flat upstairs."
"I'm used to sleeping on the floor. As to paying rent, I have almost one hundred thousand nuyen that I have saved over my life. I can't very well take it with me, so I might as well invest it in the future." He said pointing to John Jr.
John Sr.'s eyes light up. "Will you need a blanket?" He asked.
Two days later, the old shaman and John Jr. were sitting on the roof of the store looking out over the expanse that was north central Dallas. The front had gone through and Dallas was in the grip of an "Indian Summer". It was warm, almost in the eighties, as the sun went down.
"When do I learn to cast a spell?"
"Right now! There are two spells that every magician should know. The first is how to use the astral energies to heal yourself. This is important." He emphasized to the boy, "If you were to get hurt for some reason and the high tech doctors would cut into your flesh. There is a very good chance that they could PERMANENTLY disrupt your astral balance. Making you just a mundane person again. Never forget that. Never allow yourself to be operated on ... unless it is a choice between living and dying ... and even then think about it."
"I have a question." John Jr. said
"So soon, what is it?"
"What is your name? Mine is John Taylor Jr." The boy said offering his hand as all good southern gentleman should.
The old shaman sat back on his haunches and laughed. His laugh was a lusty powerful laugh. Quite unexpected from one so old.
"Good!" He finally said, "You are a practical one. I'm Walks-While-Singing. Just call me Walker for short. ... Now watch me ... No! not in regular sight. Look at me the way you would look at a spirit. ... Yes that's right. " With that Walker drew a large knife and sliced his arm open with it. Blood spurted onto the tar roof. John Jr. was scared. Had this man come all this way just to kill himself? It was then he heard the song. It came from deep within Walker. John Jr. looking in the astral saw bands of thick astral light swirling around his arm. They stopped the bleeding, knit muscle and tendon back, even reconnected nerves. In the end there wasn't even a scar.
"When you sing the song, you control the energy. The song is the thing."
"But, I don't know the language you were using."
"That doesn't matter, my song is mine, your song is yours. It wouldn't do you any good to sing my song"
"But, I don't know my song."
"Not yet, You'll learn your song when you are ready. But, for today; I'll teach you these two spells as a mage would learn them. By simple memorization of a ritual."
"I thought that I was a shaman."
"You are. There are certain things that have to happen first. Consider this your first lesson in magical theory. Call it the difference between mages and shamans"
"I don't want to learn theory. I want to cast spells." John Jr. said petulantly.
"Hush! listen to the man." a city spirit said as it passed by doing whatever spirits do when they haven't been summoned.
That got the boy's attention. He never ignored the spirits.
"You need to understand theory, boy. With it, you don't have to rely on others. You can teach yourself magic. Someday you will be on your own. Just you and your totem."
"What's a totem?"
"A totem is ... is? ... is." Walker said shrugging. He didn't know how to put into words something that deep to an anglo child that young. The creation of the Native American Nations in the rockies and great planes resurrected some of the old amerindian languages. This had returned most of the spirit words intact. But, it was still difficult describing the concept of a totem even to a young Sioux shaman-to-be living in the NAN.
"Wait... I guess ... no ... sure why not? You'll meet him soon enough." Walker said shrugging.
Walker was old. But, he had traveled the metaplanes to the realm of Bear many times. Bear was his totem. The personification of the way Walker looked at life. Or the reason behind it. Depending on which viewpoint you wanted to accept. The transit to Bear's plane was easy for him. This time it was the Trial of Fear. This time his fear was that John Jr. would become a toxic shaman. The trial ended when Walker cut John Jr.'s heart from his young chest. Walker rushed along a tunnell of light. He heard his song echoing from the walls. He emerged into a verdant forest. Mountains crested above the trees. A cold fast flowing river cut through the trees. Bear was in the river fishing for salmon.
"Hello old freind. The river is wide. Enough room for both of us to fish." A deep booming voice said. Bear swatted at the water. A salmon flew into the air. It glittered in the sunlight. With a flick of his tail he splashed water into old Bear's eyes and dissapeared back into the stream. Bear chuckled.
"Remember; nothing is as easy as it first appears." Bear said.
"I have found him, Bear. He's a little young. But, he is strong, and he learns fast."
"Good! Young is good. He will have more time to grow towards his totem."
"Won't his totem be you? Isn't he my replacement?"
"I don't know if he is for me. I haven't even met him yet."
"He has to be for you. Or else he is not my replacement
"WRONG!!!!" Bear's voice boomed angrily, "He has his own life, his own karma. Do not assume that we are so arrogant as to demand things of Nature. He is your replacement because you will teach him, mold him, guide him."
Walker was silent. Once again he found that he had so much to learn.
"Then I could have picked any young shaman." He said to himself.
"No, You picked who you did because of me, of our way of looking at life. You could have picked no other. We totems know what we are doing. Never doubt that."
Walker decided to cut his losses. Bear was stubborn and sometimes it was necessary to let the old furball think he won.
"Well then, meet him you stubborn old bear. He wants to know what a totem is. I'm at a loss to explain what the totems are. He is not of my people. He hasn't the language. Its been so long since I've spoken english. I have no idea how to put You into english."
There was a long pause while Bear sat and thought.
"Very well, This is NOT the choosing. I may not even like the the boy."
John Jr. was contemplating the night sky. He imagined he even saw the biggest of the space stations going over head. He started to get drowsy. He didn't want to fall asleep sitting out on the roof. But, it just happened. He was just drifting off when a giant bear appeared on top of him. It smelled terrible, and laid a giant paw on his mouth to keep him from yelling.
"Quiet child," It said in his mind, "I'm a freind of Walker's. Call me Bear."
"Are you his totem?" John Jr. asked. He asked beacause it was the only thing that made any sense to ask.
Bear howled in laughter, a lusty life giving laugh exactly like Walker's.
"Oh! you have done well, Walker. He is a good choice."
"Then he is to be for you?" Walker hopefully said now back in Dallas.
"Not a chance, this one is a scrapper, not a healer. This world now needs one's like him."
"Then he is not for you." Walker said sadly. He desperately wanted to give Bear another healer. Another one who would work to set the balance back again.
"Oh no, he is a city boy. He will never be one with the trees, and meadows. This one has concrete, and steel between his toes."
"Damn!" Walker cursed.
"WHAT? Have you not been paying attention!" Bear's voice boomed angrily again. John Jr. cringed at the sight of Bear angered.
"Once again you are not paying attention. Fate has decided who he will be with. He will be with the one who chooses him, and NO ONE ELSE. No matter how hard you try to wish it different"
"He must be a balancer, not an avenger." Walker muttered.
"He is not one of them. If he were toxic. I would have killed him myself already. You still need to learn patience. The time of choosing is when WE decide, not you."
"Uh ... May I ask a question?" John Jr. asked the giant bear who was causing the roof to sag under his great weight, "Could you levitate or something? You're about to break through the roof."
Bear found this hilarious. He laughed and laughed. He laughed so loud that he woke the other totems. They all came to see what was so funny that it aroused sleepy old Bear. Rat was first as always, Cat came second casting a wary eye on Rat. Raccoon, Eagle and Wolf arrived all at once. The rest followed in quick succession. Raven and Gator were last. Gator because he was lazy, and Raven because it amused her.
"Walker, what have you done this time?" Shouted Coyote the Trickster.
"Relax, Coyote," Bear said. "The child amused me. I apologize for being so loud. You can go back to sleep."
Walker was stunned. He had only seen all of the totems in one place at one time; once. That was in the Citadel, at the heart of the metaplanes, and they were judging HIM for transgressing against Bear during the Night of Rage. He had purposely tortured to death a Humanis Policlub member he caught beating an elf infant to death. Bear had demanded a Trial for that sin. Walker was terrified. He didn't know what was happening.
"What in the world is going on? What's so funny?' Coyote asked.
"Walker! What sin did you commit this time?" Eagle said harshly
"Walker has committed no sin. I apologize for waking everyone up. The boy amused me tha's all. It's late, go back to sleep."
"I don't think so Bear, I want to see for myself what was so amusing. Come here boy." Coyote said.
"Are you my totem?" John Jr. asked. Walker was now petrified. Coyote was notoriously unpredictable. He could hurt the child on a whim. Walker had to act.
"Hush boy, That is Coyote ... you know of Howling Coyote ... of the Great Ghost Dance. Show a little respect." Walker whispered.
Coyote plopped down onto the roof and pounced onto the boy. Wolf , Eagle, and Lion started to move. Coyote stopped and looked at them. Then he laid a big dog-like slurp on the boy's face and jumped back up into the sky. John Jr. giggled the whole time grabbing Coyote's thick fur and trying to wrestle a being the size of a small car.
"He has no fear of us," Eagle said amazed.
John Jr lay on the roof cleaning off dog splooj from his face. Eagle stood above him. An apparition of pure beauty standing at least eight feet tall.
"Why should I? The spirits are my friends, and I'm theirs." John Jr. said in simple childlike logic. Bear and Eagle tumbled through the night air in laughter. The other totems joined in soon after. Raccoon laughed the quietest, but the longest. His laughter slowly dying down to a soft chuckle that lasted for years.
Coyote was the first to speak, "Why are we here?"
"You came because you wanted to. No one told you to," Bear said, "Walker is mine. He chose his replacement as I told him to. When it comes time for the choosing. we will do so in the usual way."
Coyote was still annoyed at Bear for waking him up. "No! the time of the choosing is now. The boy has the dance now, so now we choose."
Wolf spoke first, "Aren't you being a little hasty Coyote? He is a very young pup. Let us watch him a little longer. It will be better for everyone to wait. He will grow, maybe even change."
Raven spoke up next, "No, Coyote is right, we're all here now. Choose."
Cat agreed with Raven. Dog and Lion agreed with Wolf. Eagle and Bear were neutral. The rest weren't convinced yet. It was Dove that finally broke the impasse.
"He is a fighter not a healer. He is not for me." and with that she left.
"We needed her to tell us that?" Cat said disdainfully of the pacifistic totem.
Gator was next, "Too energetic, not for me."
Wolf still counseled waiting, and watching. He almost had a few more converts.
Eagle decided to force the issue. "He is a city boy. Always was, always will be. Not for me."
One by one they decided that he was not for them. Even Bear left. By the end only Cat and Raccoon were left. Car sat on her hauches preening herself untill her fur glistened in the moonlight. Raccoon, by now, was very testy.
"Choose! you foppish ball of fur."
Cat looked up. The only one left was Raccoon. She was surprised. She figured him for Wolf or Dog. Both of whom she loved to annoy. But, Raccoon was so mischevious he might be staying only to annoy her. She decided the only way out was to choose. Cat looked at the boy for a long time. He could be hers. Only if he was a little more flashy.
"No, He is yours Raccoon. He is a scrapper not a hunter. He will rejoice in profit, not the hunt. He is not for me." Cat left.
Bear returned. Now only Bear and Raccoon floated in the sky above the shop.
"You are mine John Taylor Jr." Raccoon said. Your life will be hard and painful. But, I am yours... you are mine ... we are one. I will take care of you. In the end you will be remembered as a rogue who protected the weak, who fought the corrupt, and made a nice profit while doing it. Your life will be a struggle. Learn from it, and remember 'that which does not kill you makes you stronger'. hang loose chummer. I'll be in touch." Raccoon left singing a song that resonated in the little boy's soul. The song was his. The song was HIM. The song was eternal.
Then only Walker, John Jr., and Bear were left.
"Teach the boy his spells. Raccoon will be back when he needs him." Bear said that and was gone.
They spent almost almost a week to learn the simple spell. First they had to make a Medicine Lodge. A medicine lodge was the place where shamans went to get closer to their totem, to learn new spells, or to cast ritual magics. Walker and the boy spent several days going from talismongerer to talismongerer finding the right materials for John Jr.'s lodge. It took John Jr. all weekend to build and magically bind the lodge to the earth . It was built on the roof, under the open sky. It vaguely resembled a hermetic circle. John Jr. had seen enough of those on the trid's. Learning the spell itself was almost anticlimactic. The final test was when Walker cut John Jr.'s finger and John Jr. healed it.
"The next spell is important in that it teaches the basics of how to use your song to manipulate the real world."
"Didn't I just do that?"
"No not really, what you just did was to sing to your own aura. ... It's not important now. We have plenty of time for theory."
"What spell is it?"
"I will teach you how to levitate things."
Now that he had the song of Raccoon and a medicine lodge, John Jr. mastered the levitation spell very quickly. When he had finished this spell it was late. The weather was starting to turn back into winter again. The store had closed and John Sr. had joined them on the roof.
"How did it go?"
"Great, dad, watch this." John Jr. sang the song in his mind, and out to the world. The energy flowed. In fact John Jr. had a little trouble keeping it under control. The flow sucked the strength right out of him. But his father floated up a meter into the night air.
"Whoa there! John Jr., put me down now!"
Going up was easy. Coming down gave John Sr. a limp for two weeks when he twisted his ankle on impact. John Jr. felt downright ill after the attempt.
"What happened?" the little boy asked.
"You tried to do too much. The flow is like a river, wade out to deep, and it will drag you away. What you felt is called 'drain'. The stronger a spell you cast the more drain there is. There are deep theoretical reasons. But for now just accept it as the cost of magic. As you learn you'll see that drain can be avoided.
The next several months were the happiest in John Jr.'s young life to that point. Walker was a kind a patient teacher, and the boy learned fast. The results were also apparent. He no longer got into trouble with the teachers. In fact they were alarmed at the sudden return to the quiet young boy who did very well in school. They went so far as to send an investigator. She didn't believe that a boy so young could be shaman. The investigator was chased out of the store and hounded for a week by a flock of silly little watcher spirits who questioned everything she saw, said, or did. Later the investigator went back to college. She became a Ph.D. in comparative philosophy. John Jr. still got beat up by bullies, and Tommy still beat up the bullies. But, that was life in an inner city school.
September 7th 2051 was a bad day. They were sitting in class doing math exercises on the trid screens on their desks when Tommy let out a piercing scream and collapsed on the floor. Doctors were summoned, and the diagnosis was made. Tommy was undergoing UGE transformation. He was goblinizing. The next few weeks were horrible. Tommy's mother worked for a small company. She was a weak, racist woman with a weak racist boss. Thier belief structure was unable to deal with the change. So three weeks after the change started, she forced a sick and changing little boy onto the streets. A sweet little boy left to Fate to live or die. Tommy went to the only other refuge he knew. It was a cold and rainy mid September night when he pounded on the front door. This set the watchers set to act as burglar alarms into tizzies. Walker let the boy in. The next day John Sr. went over to Tommy's mother and had her sign custody of the now young ork over to him. Tommy's mother told everyone later that he was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout. She went so far as to have a friend arrange a funeral, complete with an urn. With Tommy now a short squat and somewhat still unstable young ork, it fell to John Jr. to do the protecting. Larry Gomez found himself levitated to the ceiling and held there all during recess one day. The other children used him as a pinata. By Christmas, Tommy's personality had settled down to the point where he was let back into regular class. DFW school board decided after a lawsuit threat from a very expensive lawyer hired by ten thousand of Walker's nuyen that mainstreaming stable metahumans was worthy of a try. Tommy was to be that try. To his credit he was a bright kid. Very bright in ork terms. As of Valentine's day of 2052 Tommy was back to his old self. Even if no one recognized him.
Autumn 2051 was also a bad time for John Sr. He had been feeling ill for some time. He borrowed enough cash from Walker to go to a real doctor. The doctor pronounced a death sentence. John Sr. had Rankin's disease. Rankin's disease was one of the few incurable forms of cancer left. Walker was the first one he told. The two men had grown very close in a short amount of time.
"Walker, I need you to do something for me."
"Certainly, if I can."
"This Monday I'm going to sign over custody of the boys to you."
"I'm ninety two years old. I don't have much time left."
"You have more time than me. I don't want the boys to go into foster care. Those are horrible places. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy."
The paperwork was a trivial exercise. Walker got custody of a young human, and a young ork. He swore upon the seal of the great state of Texas that he would raise them in the principles to which the state was founded. He also bought the shop for ten thousand nuYen. John Sr. took that money and bought himself a coffin and a nice hunk of land way out in the country to put it.
It was just after New Years 2052 when John Sr. died. Tommy cried more than John Jr. The funeral was impressive. John Sr. was a very well liked man. Some of the old musicians there managed to convince a record company that an album of nostalgia tunes would be a great way to make money for the Rankin's Disease Research Foundation. The album was a hit. In addition to setting up a nice trust fund for the boys, it raised almost five hundred thousand CAS dollars for the charity. Three years later a cure was found; money well spent. For the rest of his life, John Jr. would occasionally take the train out to Mahlersville to go to the grave. He always did it at night. Partly because he was very sensitive to the sun, and partly because he would go there and sing weird nonsense songs to his father's spirit.
The next year went rather well. Tommy and John Jr. grew older, wiser and stronger. Tommy always was a physical boy, and his new ork strength came quite in handy. Tommy bought a book on Martin Luther King from an underground dealer. Books of that nature were deemed damaging by the DFW School censorship board and thus were banned. He was determined to prove them all wrong. An ork was a person too.
The store did well. The old musicians still came and played the old music. Walker found that to be one of the more pleasant parts of the whole ordeal. He was never cut out to be a shopkeeper. He always chastised himself for not taking the two boys back into the NAN when he had the chance.
2053 was a year that put Guttersnipe firmly on the road into the shadows. John Jr. and Tommy were walking back to the store after another day of causing mischief. Try as he might Walker couldn't break all of the young city scamp's bad habits. A week after getting some fresh fruit by five fingered discount he and Tommy were still going around town saying "I'm a guttersnipe ... He's a guttersnipe." That was what the old lady yelled at him as they ran from the store. By now the handle had stuck.
July in Dallas is hot. Now contrary to what you read in some of the travel guides, Dallas in the summer is dry. So dry, that people in the know carry drinking water in their cars; just in case. Blacksabre was not one in the know. He was thirsty, angry, and frightened. Blacksabre was now one of the most popular people in DFW. Everyone wanted to talk to him, and not about the weather or Super Brawl. Two days before he had made one rude comment too many. This last one was to adjutant security chief of the Dallas branch of Mitsushama Computer Technology. After a brief argument Blacksabre announced his resignation from the firm by planting a Mana bolt into the hapless executive. The combat mage was now a hunted man. He had served the company very well over the years; too well. He was responsible for several dirty jobs. He was credited for geeking a very high placed Renraku suitboy with a ritual magic attack. So when it hit the streets that he was out of corporate favor, he became a very popular person. A few wanted to hire him. Most just wanted him interrogated to death. Attention like this makes one very jumpy. He had noticed that a surveillance drone had picked up his trail. He needed to dust it, so he entered the first shop he saw. It was a sheet music shop. An old amerindian was behind the counter. Blacksabre didn't want anyone to be able to say anything to anyone about him. That made only one course of action possible.
Tommy saw it first. The windows of the store bulged out, then shattered as Walker came flying out of one. He was covered in green flame. Walker landed in the street with a thud. But, got up amazingly fast for a man of his age and injuries. Blacksabre sauntered quickly out of the now burning store. Tommy shouted and charged. Blacksabre whipped around faster than Tommy had ever seen anything move. The punch lifted the young ork clean off the ground and landed him on the hood of a parked car. Tommy was out cold and didn't move.
Blacksabre was now panicked. He saw the drone several buildings away pick up his trail again. Now any hope of stealth was long gone. Of all the stores he picks to go into; he goes into one with a shaman in it. What was supposed to be an quick in, out, and through the back door had turned into a battle royal. The old man must of been some kind of initiate. Blacksabre threw three different elemental spirits at him. All three were disrupted in the blink of an eye. In addition, the old man had managed to get a hearth spirit to fry his spirit focus, and his spell focus. He needed to escape. But the old shaman had to go first.
Walker was hurt. A healing spell had helped some, but he just wasn't as spry as he used to be when he was an officer in the Sioux Wildcats. He saw Tommy sprawled on a car's hood, and John Jr. standing in horror. He dismissed the hearth spirit and called up a city one.
"If the mage activates any foci, make him pay for it."
"Easier done than said Spirit Friend." The city spirit was very strong and waited for a chance to attack.
John Jr. started to move when Walker collapsed as another Mana blast hit him. Walker managed to deflect most of it. John Jr. needed to do something. He only knew two spells, he cast the one that would distract the mage long enough for him to give Walker a break.
Blacksabre smiled; that last Mana blast put the old man to the pavement. It was now just a matter of mopping up and escaping. He didn't know that by now that it was too late. He still thought he could outrun a megacorp. But just then the mastoid radio receiver which was tuned to Mitsushama's combat frequencies chattered. It told him that both an MCT and a Renraku fast response team were literally racing each other to see who could get to him first. He was caught. It was a question of whether he would just die, or die under a heavy dose of truth drugging and torture. He decided that they would never take him alive. He also wanted the old man to suffer before the end. He hit the old man with a very weak electrical spark spell, and was gratified to see the old man writhe in pain. He was about to cast another when he shot up into the air. Before Blacksabre knew it he was at least twenty five meters in the air. There was a long pause. One of the few spells Blacksabre never learned was a levitation spell. He never bothered. He thought it was not a practical spell for a combat mage to know. It struck him as kind of funny how some people die. Here he was, one of the toughest combat mages in the business. But, he had no way to keep himself from going splat on the pavement below. Blacksabre started to laugh.
John Jr. was nearly knocked unconscious by the drain. But, as he regained his vision he saw the mage floating at least ten stories above the street. He was so tired. It took every ounce of willpower to stumble over to Walker. He wasn't dead. His breathing was short and raspy and occasionally he would wheeze loudly and spit up a little blood. John Jr. was furious. Walker had done nothing and yet he lay here almost dead. The one who did it hung there helpless. It then occurred to him that he didn't know what to do next.
Blacksabre stopped laughing. He was amazed at the old man's resilience. His vision clicked over into the astral. There were two shamans. That was it! He missed one.
"If I die. So do they."
He was going to cast the most powerful fireball spell that he could. He activated his power focus to give him the extra mojo to wipe the entire block clean. He was ready to cast the spell and fall when the city spirit hit the focus.
John Jr. yelped in surprise when the mage's belt buckle exploded. He could hear the scream as clearly as if the airborne mage was standing right next to him. Then the fireball spell smashed at the boy's feet. Everything went white for a moment. He regained his vision in time to see the mage smash through the roof of the parked car that Tommy was sprawled upon. John Jr. looked around astonished. He was mildly burnt. But, other than that he was unhurt. It was then he saw the sparkling globe of energy around the him and Walker.
Walker let the barrier spell fall as the first tilt rotor touched down. The troops had watched most of the latter portion of the battle through the advanced optics in the plane. They jogged up to the car and sprayed Blacksabre's corpse with a hail of bullets; just to make sure Renraku couldn't salvage any data. Walker saw a medic team lift Tommy off of the hood and check his pulse.
"He'll be all right. Just a thump on the bean." one medic said. Walker was relieved.
The other medic came over to Walker. He was a veteran of many runs, and he had seen many injuries. He didn't need to scan the old man to know that he was toast. The white boy was just singed.
"The cops are coming we're outta here." The officer said over the comlink.
The medic was torn. He wasn't about to stick around to answer any questions. But he did have a calling to at least to try to heal. He laid Walker flat on the pavement and slapped a trauma patch over his heart.
"Boy come here!" He shouted to John Jr. "The cops are coming. When they get here give them this card. It'll get the old man and the ork into a real hospital. Here's one of my credstik's to pay for it. Remember the rule of the street. You saw nothing! You heard nothing! You know nothing! I gotta go."
The tilt rotor howled into the air as the first police car arrived. A young stocky dwarf in plain clothes tumbled out and ran over.
"What happened? Who are you?"
"I'm a guttersnipe." the stunned boy replied.
©1998, William Ashe - used with permission