Spider:

I woke up in the recliner, not realizing I had fallen asleep. The only picture I had of me and Sherri sat in my lap. It was taken at an ASA event, the time I won the two-handed sword championship in fact. It wasn’t long after this that things fell apart. This picture was my favorite memory.

The crick in my neck forced me out of the chair and into a hot shower. Fifteen minutes under the high pressure spray did the trick and I could move my neck again. My phone rang as I pulled a t-shirt over my head.

“Spider and Fortune Investigations. Rafferty Spidano speaking.”

“Good morning, Spider.” Kelly. “How are you doing today?”

“Honestly, Kell, I’ve been better. But I am better than last night.”

“Good. I was hoping you could stop by and help me clean up a bit now that the cops have finished going through everything.”

At first I wondered what she really wanted. Was it company? Or did she have something she didn’t give to the cops? “What’s going on, Kell? How are you doing?”

Deep sigh. “I’m okay. But… Well… The place IS a mess… And I COULD use some company…”

She trailed off. She had something she didn’t want the cops to have. “Say no more. I’ll be over in about fifteen minutes.”

Another deep sigh, this one was more relieved. “Thanks, Spider. Oh, and just you. I don’t need Maddox seeing this.”

Huh. “Okay,” I said. “At least let me tell him I’ll be unavailable for awhile, just in case.”

“That’s fine. Just tell him you’re coming to console me.”

“Fifteen minutes.” I hung up and thought about what she might have to talk about. Something she didn’t want Fielding or Maddox to know about. I’d find out in fifteen minutes.

 

Fortune:

I didn’t sleep that well, but at least it was in my bed. I was betting Spider slept in his recliner and had to take a hot shower for a sore neck.

I checked my phone. No messages from Fielding, Quentin, Spider, Kelly, or anyone else. No news, good news I guess.

I checked my email. Nothing but spam. National Ignore Maddox Fortune Day. So with nothing else to do, I showered, grabbed my bag and hit the gym. Half hour on the track, half hour in the weight room, fifteen minutes each on heavy bag and speed bag, then half hour in the hot tub, a shower, and I felt like a new man. Well, refreshed anyway.

When I got back to my locker, I had two texts waiting for me. One from Quentin: “Got something. You need to see this.” And one from Spider, “Got something. We need to talk.” Heaven forbid either of them give me any information in case something happened to them.

I texted Spider first: “What’s up?”

“Meet me at Kelly’s.”

“K-O, just finished at gym, gimme a half hour.”

“Yep.”

Terse, even for Spider, even for his mood.

I got dressed and called Quentin when I got in the car, headed to Kelly’s.

“Yo yo yo, O Fortunate One.”

“You got something for me, Quentin?”

“I sure do, buddy boy. You have to come see it.”

“I’m on my way to see what Spider has for me, can you give me the gist of it?”

“The two might be related.”

“How so?”

“Our mystery boy, Mr. HonestAndOpen, has sent Kelly a few messages as well.”

I pulled over to the side of the road and threw the car in park. “Say that again.”

“I said, he’s talked to Kelly, too.”

“How do you know this?”

“I hacked his account.”

Shit. “I’ll be right over.”

Before I pulled back into traffic, I called Spider. “Hey, Spider, how you feeling today?”

“Better than yesterday, Mad. You on your way?”

“About that, I just talked to Quentin. I think you should meet me over there. You still with Kelly?”

“Yeah, she was talking to our guy.”

“Quentin mentioned that,” I said. “Hang on a second.” I connected my phone to the bluetooth in the car, checked traffic, and pulled back onto the road. “That what you wanted to show me?”

“Yeah, he’s pulling the same thing on Kelly now.”

“Quentin hacked his account. Might want to let Kelly know that.”

“You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“That we use your cousin as bait to draw this guy out?” I asked, hoping that wasn’t what he was thinking.

“Nailed it in one.” Shit.

“Meet me over at Quentin’s. We can plan things there.”

“On my way.”

I hung up. Shit. Spider is on a revenge kick, and that is never good.

 

Spider:

When I pulled into Kelly’s driveway, she was waiting for me at the door. “Everything okay?”

“I’m… I’m not sure,” she said.

That stopped me cold. “Talk to me. Inside.” I ushered her in the room and had her sit on the couch. I sat next to her and took her hand.

“What’s going on?”

“I think I’m the one who introduced Sherri to her killer.” Before I could say anything in response, she burst into tears and lunged into my arms.

“Kell, Kell, Kell,” I said. I patted her back and let her cry. “You told us you never saw this guy. How could you have…”

“I told her about that website. The one where she met him.”

“EnlightenedLove?”

“Yes.” A fresh round of tears started pouring. At this point, I figured it was best to let her have it all out. I did my share last night, but I always handled emotions better alone. Kelly needed someone to be there for her, which is why she got along with Sherri so well. They needed each other. It’s also partly why Sherri and I split. She wanted me to open up to her and I couldn’t.

She eventually wound down, took a tissue I offered from the table next to me. She blew her nose, it made a really rude sound that made me snicker. Kelly glared at me a moment, the tissue still at her nose, then she laughed, too. Kelly took a deep breath, blew her nose one more time, then settled back into the couch.

“I needed that.”

“I could tell.” I looked at the fingerprints on display from the police fingerprint dust. The prints were EVERYWHERE since they didn’t know what the perp could’ve touched or how recent, so they dusted it all to sort out later. “Let’s get some of this shit cleaned up first and then you can show me why you called me over here.”

Kelly stood up, got a bucket of water, some rubber gloves, and a couple of sponges from the kitchen. She handed me a set of gloves and a sponge and we got to work. Two hours later, the dust was gone from the walls, tables, and doorknobs. I vacuumed the carpet while Kelly got bedding into the washing machine. When we sat down on the couch again, we were both sweaty, but more relaxed.

“Maddox can’t know about this,” Kelly said.

“That I helped you clean?”

“No, stupid. What I’m going to show you.”

Kelly got out her laptop, opened it, and went to EnlightenedLove.com. She logged in to her profile and brought up a standard message from the site with her top matches. Maddox’s picture stood out at the top of the list.

“So they claim you and Maddox are a match. How is that news?”

“Hang on, look.” She clicked on message after message from the site, and every single one of them showed Maddox at the top of the list. The other guys changed, but not Maddox.

“Okay, they REALLY think you guys are a match.”

“But that’s not him.”

“What?”

“I messaged him once, just to tease him about also being on a dating site, and the response I got back was not him.”

“How do you know?”

She held up a finger to me to say, “One second.”

She scrolled down a lot more messages from a lot of guys, reminding me how many guys can be assholes online, and then she found the message from “Maddox.”

“Here,” she said. She handed me her laptop.

 

KarefreeKelly: Hi, Mad. What the hell are you doing on a dating site?

ASABadAss: Hi, I’m here lookin fur love, just like you, gorgeous. Got any pics?

 

“What the fuck?” I said. “Why would Mad need pictures of you?”

“Keep reading,” she said.

 

KarefreeKelly: Seriously? You’re just here looking for pictures? Of me?

ASABadAss: I’m always looking for pictures of gorgeous ladies. I’ll show you mine first if you prefer.

KarefreeKelly: No thanks, I’ve already seen yours. Don’t really need a picture to remind me.

ASABadAss: Bitch. Fuck off. You’re not even that hot anyway.

 

“Yeah, that’s definitely not Maddox.” I handed the laptop back to Kelly. “But why don’t you want him to know about it?”

“That some kid is using his picture online to try and get pictures of women from the area? What would he do to that person if he found them?”

“He’d make sure that person wouldn’t do it again, that’s for damn sure.”

“How about you tell him you saw his profile on this site while investigating Sherri’s murder, and ask him why he’s on the site. That way it keeps me out of it.”

“I can do that. We already got Quentin tracking down one guy on this site, why not another?”

“What if it’s the same guy you’re looking for?”

I stared at Kelly, then looked at the screen again. “Huh. Hadn’t thought of that.” I pulled out my phone and dialled Quentin.

“Hot damn, both you guys in the same day? My stars must have aligned or something.”

“Can it, Q. Got an extra bit for you to look into. Check out ASABadAss on EnlightenedLove.com. The guy is using Mad’s picture and just tried getting naked pics from Kelly.”

“Wouldn’t he already have… Wait. Some guy is using Maddox’s face? Ooooh, he in so much trouble when Maddox finds out.”

“Yeah and I wonder if it’s not the same guy you’re already looking for.”

“You mean the one that… Huh. That’s a new one. I’ll get right on that, Spider.”

“Thanks, Q.”

I sent a text to Maddox. “Got something. We need to talk.”

While waiting to hear back from him, Kelly and I chatted. Normal, everyday, “How’ve you been” kind of thing. Something that felt normal in this chaotic time of loss and grief. I wasn’t close to any of my family for various reasons, except for Kelly.

“Tell me more about Wicca,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because I want to know what it is you and Sherri are doing. Why you do it. What attracted you to it.”

Kelly looked at me to see if I was serious. I was.

“It’s an earth-based religion started back in the early 20th century by a man named Joseph Gardener.”

“What do you mean by ‘earth-based’?”

“Rather than focusing on some invisible sky-spirit, or an ancient text, we focus on the earth and its care.”

“Like tree-hugging hippies?” I smiled to show it was a joke.

She smiled back. “Not really. We worship the earth and want to see it protected and healthy.”

“Do you worship the Devil?”

Kelly gave me a sad smile. “I don’t believe in the Devil, Spider.”

“What about this thing I keep seeing… how did it go? ‘Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law.’ Is that what you practice?”

“I am getting really sick of these religious fanatics misquoting our Rede. They leave of the first part to make it sound like we are selfish hedonists.” She took a deep breath. I didn’t think she was mad at me for saying it, but you never know.

“The full Wiccan Rede, which you just quoted part of, actually starts off with ‘And it harm none, do what thou will shall be the whole of the law.’ Kind of changes the meaning when you take off that first part, huh.”

“‘And it harm none’?” She nodded. “Yeah, that’s kind of important. So I am guessing that but about ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ is also incorrect?”

“My understanding is that comes from the King James version of the bible. And that original word in Hebrew actually meant ‘poisoner.’ But King James, weirdo fanatic that he was, was deathly afraid of being poisoned, so he forbade anyone from mentioning any variation of the word around him. When his translators got to that part, they substituted ‘witch’ in its place. And of course it’s be been grossly misinterpreted since then.”

“You sure know a lot about other religions that you don’t practice.”

“It helps to be armed with information from these ass-hats to use against them.”

“I ever tell you about the time I argued with a Jehovah’s Witness, quoting the bible at him until he said, ‘Even the Devil can quote scripture for his own purpose.’ I pointed at him and said, ‘Exactly. Why is it that only the stuff you quote applies but when I do it, all of a sudden I’m the Devil? How do I know that you aren’t doing the same thing? Maybe you’re being tricked into worshipping the Devil with your quotes.’

“He left not long after that and they haven’t bothered me since. Apparently I’m on some kind of list now.”

Kelly laughed. “I’ll have to remember that one.”

My phone rang. Maddox.

“Hey, Spider, how you feeling today?”

“Better than yesterday, Mad. You on your way?”

“About that, I just talked to Quentin. I think you should meet me over there. You still with Kelly?”

“Yeah, she was talking to our guy.”

“Quentin mentioned that. Hang on a second.” I heard his phone move around a bit, then his voice changed, must be in the car. “That what you wanted to show me?”

“Yeah, he’s pulling the same thing on Kelly now.”

“Quentin hacked his account. Might want to let Kelly know that.”

“You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“That we use your cousin as bait to draw this guy out?” he asked.

“Nailed it in one.”

“Meet me over at Quentin’s. We can plan things there.”

“On my way.” I hung up. “I gotta go. Be careful with this guy. I’ll be back later, with Mad to discuss what to do next.”

“You want to use me to trap this guy.”

“Yep. But for now, I think you’ll be safe.”

 

Fortune:

Spider beat me to Quentin’s, but Kelly’s house was closer than my gym was. His car was parked on the street, and he was waiting on the porch, about to knock when he heard me pull up. I parked behind his car and got out.

“Morning,” he said.

“How you doing, buddy?”

“Better, thanks. Kelly helped a lot. Helping Kelly helped a lot.”

“You knock yet?”

“Nope.” He knocked.

Ten seconds later, we heard feet shuffling to the door. An elderly woman in her 70’s, with tight white and blue curly hair and wearing a blue housecoat and slippers, answered. “Hello? Yes?”

Quentin came up quickly behind her. “It’s okay, Grandma. They’re here for me.”

“It’s not the mailman with another package?”

“No, Grandma. She’s already been here.”

“Okay.” She shuffled back into the house.

Quentin turned back to us after watching her shuffle off. “Sorry about that.”

“No need to apologize,” I said.

“Well, come on in! I can’t believe Spider-man and Fortunate One are here! You guys are gonna shit when you see what I got for you.”

Quentin led us through the house and into the basement. He had a huge setup of at least six computer towers, each with a keyboard, mouse, and three monitors, none of the screens smaller than thirty inches. One chair in the center of the arched table holding all the electronics.

Quentin was an eighteen year old computer genius. He came across our radar when we caught him trying to hack into our office computer from the closet. We still have no idea how he got into our closet in the first place, and he would have been fine if he hadn’t gotten bored and ordered a pizza. When the delivery guy showed up, Spider and I confirmed we hadn’t ordered anything, then Quentin appeared out of the closet to pay for it and eat it. Rather than have him arrested, we hired him on the spot.

“So you called,” Quentin pointed at Spider. “And I called you,” he pointed at me. “And I dug a little more out on this asshole than what you were expecting.”

“You get a real name for starters?” I asked.

“Ah, no. But I did narrow it down to one of two guys.”

“Names? On either?”

“Yes. Felix Thompson and Thomas Felix.”

“Seriously,” Spider said.

“Yes, I know they are fake, but they are damn good fakes because, best of all…” He spins around in his chair, turning to one of many monitors, taps a couple keys, grabs the mouse and the screens come to life. There on the largest monitor in the center were two pictures of what looked like the same guy.

“Twins,” Spider said.

“Yep. Meet Felix and Thomas Peters. Son of David Peters of the Peoria Police Department.”

“No shit. We know David Peters,” Spider said. “Good guy, just lost his ex-wife a couple years ago.”

“If her name is Courtney, then yes he did. These two are their offspring.”

“And Sherri was dating one of them?” Spider asked.

“I think so. I’m not sure which one. They’ve got some sweet encryption on their shit, but luckily I can get through most of it. This is what I’ve gotten so far.”

“Are they local?” I asked.

“Close enough, thirty minutes north of Peoria.” You can tell that even as smart as Quentin is, he’s still from Illinois because he judges distance in the number of minutes, not miles, it takes to get somewhere.

“And one of them messaged Kelly, too?” I asked.

He grabbed a stack of paper, about twenty pages worth, and handed it to me. “Everything I got is in there, including all his conversations on that website. I searched other dating sites as well, and found the same login info for two others, both of them are sites that focus on people on alternative religions, like Buddhism, Taoism, Wicca, Pastafarianism.”

“What?” Spider asked. My look echoed his question.

“What,” Quentin repeated.

“What the fuck is ‘Pastafarianism’?” I said.

“His holy noodliness? Worshipping the FSM?” Our blank looks spoke volumes. “The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! God you guys are old!”

“Are you serious?” Spider asked. “The Flying Spaghetti Monster?”

“Look, Spider-boy. I may be a happy, fun-loving teenager, but have I ever actually joked around with you guys? Given you false information? Made up stories? Anything?”

He had a point. While Quentin might use a language Spider and I may have outgrown, he has always been a straight shooter with us, never kidding around or making things up. He’s always been truthful.

“Man, I need to get out more,” Spider said.

“It’s about…” Quentin started, but Spider held up his hand to stop him.

“Don’t bother. I may look it up later.”

Quentin shrugged. “All the basics are in there.” He pointed at the papers he had handed to me. “I’ll keep digging see what else I can find on these yahoos.”

“Previous residences would help,” I said.

“In there,” Quentin said, already pecking away at his keyboard. “You find your own way out?”

“Uh, sure,” Spider said.

We made our way out of the basement domain of a kid too smart for his own good, and managed to get back to our vehicles.

“Meet up at the office and we can start reading,” Spider said.

“Agreed,” I said. We got in our respective cars and drove to the office.

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Dr. Stephen Albright, brother to the Colonel, stepped into the research lab. His assistant, Kendra Price was examining the satellite images the Colonel had just sent.

“Is this for real?” Kendra asked.

“It appears so,” Stephen said. He sighed and stepped up next to her at the imaging table. He brought up the video from Cpt. Parker’s ship and had the satellite photos show in sequence where they matched the timecode of the video, that way he could see the encounter from two different angles.

Stephen and Kendra watched the battle all the way through twice, paying close attention to the active Necrobot and the factory. They could see small spots that were most likely Black Fire Mages running around in a panic near the three inactive Necrobots.

“Those are probably their version of technomancers,” Stephen said. Kendra nodded in agreement. “Panicked at the thought of someone attacking their unfinished ‘bots.”

“There seem to be quite a few of them there,” Kendra said. “I don’t remember the number that were reported three days ago, do you?”

For an answer, Stephen brought up the initial orders on the imager. They quickly scanned through the document until they found the number. “Reports from neighboring villages state that thirty five Black Fire Mages have been seen in the vicinity.” Both researchers turned their eyes to the image of the factory under attack and began circling the scrambling mages, a red circle tracing where their fingers had been, the computer keeping count of the circles.

“Do we have the three dimensional version of this?” Stephen asked.

Kendra punched a couple buttons on the console. The image expanded and filled the entire imager but as a three dimensional hologram with the imaging table as its base. Stephen and Kendra continued around the imager, circling Black Fire Mages as they encountered them on the hologram.

When they had finished, they stepped back and looked at the number of circles, then they looked at each other. “That seems to be a few more than thirty-five,” Stephen said.

“Computer,” Kendra said. A beep answered her meaning the computer was acknowledging her vocal commands. “How many Black Fire Mages have been circled in this image?”

A flat, male voice said, “Three hundred and fifteen.”

“Holy shit,” Stephen said. “I need to report this to my brother.”

The door hissed open and Col. Albright stepped into the research room. “Need to report what?” he said.

“Look at this,” Stephen said. He gestured to the three dimensional image of the Necrobot factory. “Each one of those circles is around a Black Fire Mage.”

“Holy shit,” Col. Albright said, echoing his brother. “How many?”

“Three hundred and fifteen,” Kendra said. “The initial report stated thirty-five.”

“Where did they all come from?” Col. Albright asked.

“We don’t know, sir,” Kendra said.

“Who else knows about this?” Col. Albright turned to look at the two researchers.

“Just us,” Stephen said. “Unless the pilot, Cpt. Parker mentioned something. I doubt he saw the ground activity though.”

“Let’s keep it between us,” Col. Albright said. He turned back to the imager and leaned his hands onto the table. “We need someone to scout out the area on the ground. On foot.”

Stephen leaned to his brother and said, “You need a spy.”

The Command Center on the Imperium’s freighter Ancestor was empty except for Colonel Marcus Albright. He sat with his head in his hands, wondering how bad it was going to get before it got better. Four Necrobots. How did this happen? He’s glad Cpt. Parker had the forethought for his Spider Web spell. Sensing incoming danger combined with radar was something he now planned to implement in his entire command, if he could find enough technomancers to be able to handle the spell on the Ancestor. As it was, he was hard pressed to have enough technomancers to handle the basic ships and robots under his command. And now this. Necrobots.

Albright shook his head, stood up and stepped to the command table. He brought up the images taken by Cpt. Parker and placed them next to the latest images of their primary target. Captain Parker had done his job well. Satellite imaging showed the nest was destroyed enough that it wouldn’t be making any Necrobots for some time. It made Albright wonder just how many more Black Fire Mage nests were building Necrobots. He also wondered if any of them would also have the Black Fire cannons these Necrobots were armed with.

Albright enlarged the latest satellite images. Only two Necrobots were standing near the destroyed factory. He could see the remains of the two that Parker had taken out with missiles. It had been four hours since Parker returned from his sortie to the planet and the two remaining Necrobots were still in their same position. Whether the functional Necrobot that had skirmished with Chase’s Champions was no longer functional or if it was just guarding the remains of the factory, Albright couldn’t tell from the satellite images. He edged towards the latter due to the fact it hadn’t changed position in the last four hours instead of patrolling the area. Was there something in the factory that powered the Necrobots and Parker stopped it when he blew up the factory? Or were the Black Fire Mages unconcerned with the Imperium ship hovering miles over their heads?

Albright needed some research done about these Necrobots. He hoped his research team could gain some knowledge from Chase and Parker’s reports, as well as Parker’s video of his encounter. Albright bundled the reports, the video and the satellite images and sent them off to research.

Robomancer, chapter 2: Scout

Posted: April 27, 2016 in fiction, Robomancer

Captain Thomas Parker waved the wings of his Claymore fighter as his ship left the command freighter. It was a ritual to keep him safe and return him to his wife. So far, after thirty-five solo flight missions, it had worked like a charm, so to speak.

As he dove to the surface, he opened his sealed orders, already knowing their contents. The paper ripped open easily and Parker pulled his orders out. He scanned the documents, found his coordinates and punched them into the computer. He then sat back and relaxed for the eighty minute ride to the surface.

Of course he had known his objective was to take out that nest of vampires and Black Fire mages. Chase’s Champions couldn’t get it done because of some mythical ‘bot that attacked them. Parker didn’t know what had really attacked Chase’s Champions but he was pretty sure it wasn’t a Black Fire Necrobot. Where was their proof?

As a Claymore pilot, he wasn’t privy to all the information and intel that came in from other sources, and there was no way he was going to see a video of something the Imperium Command said didn’t exist, but rumors have a way of flying through a command ship faster than a cat with its ass on fire. He had heard the rumors that Chase’s Champions had a run-in with a Necrobot, and just as quickly as he heard it, he dismissed it as mere rumor. Sure he had seen the damage to the Coyote ‘bot with his own eyes, and no, he didn’t know offhand what could do something like that in a single shot, but he damn sure wasn’t going to believe in some mythical Necrobot just because some robomancers, mages who couldn’t make it as technomancers due to lack of magickal skill, had said they were attacked by one.

Unless he, Captain Thomas Parker, saw a god-damned Necrobot with his own two eyes, he wasn’t buying what they were selling. And the Imperium Command wasn’t giving it out either.

Parker picked up his orders once more and read them carefully, word for word.

Capt. Thomas Parker
7th Air Regiment
Claymore Lance

You are to proceed with extreme stealth and caution to the coordinates below to eliminate the target of a vampire nest and location of Black Fire Mages. You are to terminate with extreme prejudice leaving no survivors. If you encounter resistance, you are to terminate resistance with extreme prejudice.

Despite rumors and official releases to the contrary, the Black Fire mages DO have at least one Necrobot in the area.

Parker blinked and read that line again.

Despite rumors and official releases to the contrary, the Black Fire Mages DO have at least one Necrobot in the area.

He wasn’t sure what surprised him more, the fact that Imperium Command was admitting there was such a thing as a Necrobot or that there may be more than one of them lurking about on the planet’s surface.

Holy shit, the rumors were true, then. Chase’s Champions did encounter a god damned Necrobot. The Black Mages had done it. Something they had been threatening to do for ages, and they finally did it. Parker dropped his orders in his lap, forgotten for the moment, and thought about what that meant for the future of the vampires and Black Mages. They might not be able to be stopped by the Imperium. Hell, a Necrobot stopped a group of five veteran robomancers in their tracks. It took most of their ammo to just STOP the Necrobot, and they didn’t get a chance to finish it off. It managed to take down one of theirs as well. Word on the freighter was Wapasha might never pilot a ‘bot again. Black Fire can take a lot out of you, and on the scale of a ‘bot, she was lucky to be alive.

Parker shook off his reverie and picked up his orders again to see what else The Powers That Be had to say about the Necrobot.

If you should encounter a Necrobot on your mission, you are NOT to engage it. Repeat, you are NOT to engage the Necrobot in combat. If an opportunity presents itself to strike it while it is unmanned and inoperable, you may attempt to destroy. If you encounter a Necrobot, report its location AS SOON AS POSSIBLE so that further steps can be taken.

Your primary objective is the Black Fire Mage/Vampire nest.

Good luck, pilot.

That was it except for the coordinates of the nest.

He’d be damned if he would engage with a fucking Necrobot. He had seen Wapasha’s Coyote firsthand. If that had been his Claymore, he wouldn’t be here right now. His Claymore did have an advantage of maneuverability, so he might be able to dodge a blast or two, but he didn’t want to stick around long enough to find out how many blasts he could dodge before he bought it.

His ship rolled into position as it entered the atmosphere of Vega VI, the protected hull absorbing the heat of friction burn. As the autopilot took the Claymore into its reentry maneuvers, Cpt. Parker checked and double checked his instruments. Seeing green lights across the board, he settled into his preparation ritual.

Not all pilots, whether robot or fighter, were mages. Some of them were just normal people with extraordinary skills piloting the special vehicles. But to be a robomancer or a techno-pilot, you had to have some magickal ability. The magick partially powered the vehicles, but also enhanced them. A normal pilot could pilot any vehicle, but certain vehicles were enhanced by the technomancers to be able to accept magickal energy. Those vehicles could fly faster, maneuver quicker, shoot straighter, and were generally tougher than normal vehicles. The magickal ritual performed to enhance the vehicles was what gave it the extra boost. Some pilots had the ‘mancers do the ritual, preferring to reserve some energy for actual combat, just in case, but not Parker. He liked the ability to boost his own Claymore beyond that of any other pilot in the Imperium. As a true technomancer, he enjoyed the thrill of piloting a Claymore fighter and fighting in combat than he did the boring rituals most of the Imperium’s technomancers had to perform on a regular basis. Parker figured to have another year under his belt as a pilot to get it out of his system, then settle down with his wife and have a baby. As a solid ‘mancer, he had something to look forward to in retirement, a nice cushy job by the time he was twenty-five. Most pilots died in combat because they had nothing else to fall back on. There were a limited number of instructor spots at the Academy to be filled by older pilots. Parker knew that wasn’t for him. He smiled as he thought of the nice technomancer position he was already promised by his father-in-law.

The Claymore’s computer beeped at him and the autopilot rolled the Claymore back to a “normal” upright position. Parker checked his position and saw he had five minutes until he reached his target. His eyes scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of the Necrobot, not quite sure if he’d be able to see it or not. He smiled at himself for being so worried and double checked his instruments again.

One thousand miles from his target he switched off the autopilot and dropped down to treetop level. He activated his cloaking talisman, making his ship invisible to radar and the naked eye. The main reason Parker chose the Claymore as his fighter of choice while still in the Academy was it was the smallest space vehicle that was cloak-enabled. He spent weeks comparing it to other smaller, faster fighters, some even with more weapons, but with his abilities, the talisman installed in every Claymore made it his first choice. After weeks of research, it remained his only choice. Parker focused his prepared spell into the cloaking talisman when he was still five hundred miles from his target. The spell he had worked out with his wife, who was his ‘mancer for his Claymore, doing most of the pre-flight prep work except the charging ritual, enabled the cloaking talisman to also hide heat and noise signatures from detection. Parker was the only pilot that could fly out solo because he hadn’t shared his cloaking spell with anyone.

Parker watched his distance to target shrink rapidly as he soared just above the treetops. As he was nearing his target, he brought his speed down, giving him time to do a little long range reconnaissance before taking out the target.

One of Parker’s pre-flight rituals that had saved his life on more than one occasion was his Spider Web spell. This was one that his wife had started doing without his knowledge when they were still dating. She didn’t want anything to happen to Parker when he went on his solo missions. The Spider Web spell had feelers out in all directions, like a spider’s web, sensing anything that could be intending harm to the ship, or its pilot. The first couple times Parker went on missions with this spell on his Claymore without his knowing about it, he had come back a nervous wreck. He was getting feelings of dread and anxiousness caused by the spell, but he didn’t know that. He thought it was intuition telling him about it, and it was making him jumpy. When he mentioned it to his wife, she told him about the spell. Together they managed to fine tune it so it was more specific to the location and direction of the danger as well as a more specific feeling like radar and less of a general feeling of anxiousness.

Parker approached his target from the north rather than the west like Chase’s Champions. At fifty miles out, his Spider Web activated so strongly that it almost made him pass out.

“What the fuck?!” Parker said aloud. He had never had a reaction like that. Unless…

His eyes quickly scanned the horizon. He could see his target, but it didn’t look anything like it was supposed to. First of all, it wasn’t any normal Black Fire Mage/Vampire nest. It looked more like a factory in the middle of a graveyard. No, not quite. More like a slaughter yard. A huge factory building which hadn’t been there three days before was sitting in the midst of a giant pile of what could only be corpses. Standing near the factory in the final stages of construction were THREE Necrobots. On the other side of the factory was a fourth Necrobot that only had three arms instead of the four. This one had some visible damage which meant it was probably that this was the one that had engaged Chase’s Champions. It had made it back to its base and now was being repaired.

Four Necrobots, at least one of which was functional, the other three most likely could move, if not fire upon him.

Rather than panic, Parker took that fear at seeing four Necrobots, which he hadn’t believed existed a mere two hours ago, and put it into a quick charging spell to boost his weapons. He quickly armed his lasers, cast the boosting spell and fired at the factory, sure that it was the original nest. A few shots from his magickally charged blasters took out huge chunks of the wall facing his assault causing the roof to partially cave in. He fired two missiles each at the Necrobots, not sure if they would do anything. The three Necrobots he had first noticed took considerable damage from the missiles. Two of them were completely destroyed. He flew past the nest/factory and prepared a bank for another pass. He hit the switch to transmit his video of the mission so far just in case.

His Spider Web spell triggered again almost as intense as the last time. Parker looked back and saw the fourth Necrobot, the original one, turning its one upper arm towards him. “Uh oh, that can’t be good.”

Parker started some evasive maneuvers, twisting and turning his Claymore to make him harder to hit. As he watched the Necrobot, his terror increased. Even with the cloaking talisman activated, even with his enhancements, that god damned Necrobot was tracking him with that huge cannon. If the rumors were true, and it seemed that they were, that cannon fired an intense blast of Black Fire. There was no way Parker’s Claymore, or Parker, could survive one hit from that cannon. Wapasha’s Coyote had a glancing blow to its right hip and it need to be completely rebuilt. It took a blast right to its head and the whole head had to be replaced. She might end up with a new ‘bot out of it. But Parker wouldn’t just lose his Claymore, he’d lose his life.

After a half second’s thought, he decided to scrap the second pass on the nest and bugger out. He did fire another barrage of missiles at the factory though before taking off. The Necrobot never fired, whether it just wanted to scare Parker off or if it actually couldn’t fire he wasn’t curious enough to find out. Parker just knew that he had to get back to base and report his findings. He hoped those missiles finished off the nest. Intel would check once he got back and inform Command.

Updates, life, etc.

Posted: April 20, 2016 in fiction

So I’ve been able to write some more again, here and there. Mostly while at work. Here and there. But I am trying to get some old projects cleared up before starting too many new ones. Hence the updates of Spider & Fortune and this new one, Robomancer.

Robomancer was originally going to be a NaNoWriMo book a couple years ago, but life intervened (as it is wont to do) and I never got much beyond the opening. This is a fantasy/sci-fi/space opera involving mechs powered by magic and ritual. All the technology is powered by magic actually, and innovations come through not in invention of items, but of spells and rituals. There are currently four complete chapters, and I have scheduled the other three to post over the next three Wednesdays. I hope to get to focus on this story this year as I like where it is going and how it is developing.

Spider & Fortune: Skyclad is coming along, but it seems I didn’t re-read close enough to what I had written before attempting to continue it last month when I picked it up again, so I have to go back, rethink and rewrite what I have and hope to straighten the mess out so it can move forward, too.

In the meantime, I just shot a Star Wars short film last weekend and am trying to get it edited in time to submit to the Star Wars Fan Film contest with a deadline of this coming Sunday night. Writing, photography, voice acting, all that takes a back seat until I can get this film completed. Except life has a way of intruding, and I have to help the AC repairman tonight instead of editing. Summer is coming, and the warm weather has already begun.

Until next time, keep reading and I’ll keep writing…

His breath came in short rasps as he attempted to control his hyperventilation. Battle always did this to him, no matter how many times he entered combat. Part fear, part excitement, part apprehension, the adrenaline always made him hyperventilate. He reached up and adjusted the facemask on his necro-helmet to help control his breathing, as always. Once his breath was under control, he relaxed a little, though his muscles were still tense.

As he waited for the dropship’s doors to open, he ran through his checklist again. Necro-helmet was in place and the contacts were making a good connection to his temples and the three other locations on his skull. He was one of less than ten robomancers that understood the actual rituals behind the necro-helmet and how it worked with the giant robot he was piloting from the inside. The contact points in the helmet corresponded with the movement centers in his brain, those of active, conscious thought. The ritual that connected the robomancer to his robot made this bond even stronger. He could move his arms and legs inside the cockpit brain center and not make his robot move unless he thought about moving them. First time robomancers had a little trouble getting used to the idea of thinking about moving and having only the robot move, not their own body. Practice made it work. It was almost like having two bodies being controlled by one brain. Some robomancers couldn’t handle it and became schizophrenic. Some robomancers forgot about their own bodies and lived only for their robot, forgetting to eat, to exercise or even relieve themselves. Eventually they wasted away, dying in the cockpit brain center.

He looked down at himself, checking the snugness of his pilot suit. For a man of 40 years, a pilot for over half of his life having started at 19, he was still in great shape, better than some of the pilots ten to fifteen years his junior. He still had a well-toned, evenly muscled physique that was the envy of some of his shipmates. His purple and white pilot suit was clean and pressed, as per regulations, yet the colors were more faded on his suit than any other robomancer in his regiment. The life of a robomancer didn’t last as long as his career had. He was an anomaly, a freak. Most robomancers retired, were killed, or wasted away by the age of thirty, if they lasted that long. Yet he had nothing else.

“Chase!” came a voice in his inner ear communicator.

“Yes, sir!” Lt. Corwin Chase responded. He pulled himself out of his reverie, focusing on the task at hand.

“Get your head out of your ass! Ground time in one-eighty!” Colonel Isaac used the robomancer timeframe of the number of seconds until the dropship hit the surface of the planet rather than the command ship’s normal time of minutes.

“Yes, sir, Col. Isaac!”

Chase double checked all his connections, not only to his necro-helmet but his pressure suit and the brain center chamber. Chase looked at the panels of his robot cockpit, making sure weapons were active and all joints loose and free-moving.

Seeing green lights across the board, he checked in with his squad. “Champions, sound off!” he said into his communicator.

“Champ One, Murphy, ready for drop!” Pvt. Kelly Murphy, a solid, reliable mage, steadfast and confident, a three year veteran with fifteen drops to his name.

“Champ Two, Henry, ready for drop!” Pvt. Jack Henry, the Fucking New Guy in Chase’s Champions. Untested in actual combat, he was a monster in the simulations, agile and quick, it wasn’t often he got hit at all. This was his first actual drop.

“Champ Three, Benson, ready for drop!” Sgt. Jerry Benson, Chase’s right hand in his squad. Next oldest after Chase at a ripe old 23. He also had the highest number of drops second only to Chase.

“Champ Four, Wapasha, ready for drop!” Pvt. Linda Wapasha, the only female on the team, as well as one of the last pure blood Native Americans from Earth and a natural shapeshifter. This would be her seventh drop.

All ready and anxious for a fight. Chase thought back to his own drops. Although Benson had the second highest drop count, Chase still had more than triple Benson’s number of drops. And he was still dropping.

The dropship pilot began counting down the final seconds to the drop. Chase braced himself for the landing. A sudden, violent shudder ran through the ship.

“What the fuck was that?” Henry shouted through the comm.

“Ground fire,” Wapasha replied. “It means they know we’re coming.”

“Felt like a mage squad doing a Black Fire ritual,” Benson said. Chase could hear a grin in his voice. “I just love kicking those fuckers into each other.”

“Can the chatter, Champs!” Chase said. “Ground in ten… nine…” Chase counted down the last ten seconds with the dropship pilot. “Hit! Crash and burn!” Chase shouted. He double checked his jump harness, making sure it was tight. His eyes scanned the dashboard and each control panel to either side, seeing green lights where they should be, he reached over to the switch that would release his robot from its own harness in the dropship.

More rumbles shook the dropship as the Black Fire mages kept up the shooting. “All right, people, let’s move it!” Chase had his robot step forward out of its bay as the dropship’s door lowered, creating a ramp for the robots to move out. He moved to the doorway, raising his right gun arm, his eyes automatically scanning the ammo count on the right readout. Ten thousand rounds in the high speed cannon, fifty short range missiles per each shoulder bay, twenty-five medium range missiles per bay, and fifteen long range missiles in the back pack. The left arm had a smaller cannon with only two thousand rounds, but it had an extendable short, broad sword blade and plasma flamethrower with fifteen full minutes of fuel. His robot was a bipedal model known as a Buccaneer. Benson and Wapasha also had bipedal robots with similar weapons, Benson in a Jester, Wapasha in a Coyote. Wapasha’s Coyote was smaller than Benson’s Jester and Chase’s Buccaneer, but she held the position of point man, so she needed the extra speed. The Coyote could scout ahead at a whopping seventy-five miles an hour with small jets in the feet that could help it jump a hundred yards into the air.

Wapasha’s Coyote was attuned to her specific abilities after her third drop and could shapeshift with her, to a small degree. The Coyote could change from a bipedal to quadrupedal robot as Wapasha changed into her man-wolf hybrid form. The Powers That Be wanted to make sure that she was going to be a lasting robomancer before committing to the ritual to have her robot bonded to her that intimately since it required so much manpower and time. The ritual took six months to perform.

Benson’s Jester had less ammo per weapon, but had more weapons per appendage, most of them hidden until needed. Overall it had more firepower than Chase’s Buccaneer, but was less armored. Chase referred to it as the most offensive robot he’s seen, to which Benson laughed.

The remaining two robots were quadrupedal which gave them more stability than the bipedal robots, as well as the ability to carry more armor and weapons, but they gave up a lot of speed and some maneuverability. Their top speed was below the average forty miles per hour, but not by much.

Murphy piloted a Panther which could do short bursts of speed in one direction for close-range attacks, then an equally quick shot in the opposite direction. Henry was in a brand new Fenris, packed with all kinds of long-range missiles, high-powered, long-range sniper rifles and artillery. It was slow and lumbering, but Henry liked the ability to take out whole platoons that couldn’t even see the giant, seventy foot tall robot.

Wapasha’s Coyote shot out of the dropship and did a complete circuit of the carrier before settling on a point towards their designated target. Chase and Benson followed, taking up positions to either side of the Coyote. Each of the three robots began shooting at the small group of Black Fire mages on a nearby ridge. The twelve mages were obliterated by the time Henry and Murphy made it out of the dropship.

“Wapasha, head out two miles and report back,” Chase ordered. “Stay low and keep your eyes peeled. I’m not sure if there are any other armored brigades waiting for us. Or any robot squads either.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Wapasha replied. Her Coyote loped off at a steady fifty miles per hour towards the north and their objective.

Three days ago, a small band of Black Fire mages invaded a small town on the planet Vega VI. Once they had settled in, it took less than a day for that initial nest to spread to half the main continent and infest and infect over 200,000 people. Chase’s Champions were sent in to wipe out the initial nest and stop the spread of infestation. The only robomancer squad within a week’s travel to the Vega System, they arrived in less than a day.

The rest of the Imperium’s Star League Navy would be mopping up the rest of the problem, but the initial nest was the main problem. As long as they could contain or eliminate the nest, the rest of the problem was just clean up.

Wapasha’s Coyote had been gone two minutes when Chase decided to move his squad out after her. “Champions, form up and head out.” He led the way in the direction of their objective with the two quads behind him to either flank with Benson’s Jester bringing up the rear in a diamond formation.

Inside the robot, Chase kept his eyes roving across the three screens inside the brain center. He had always wondered why it was called a brain center rather than a cockpit. He understood that the robot was actually a living thing, an organic robot made up from living flesh and technology. The technomancers worked hard to create each robot homunculus with its own personality. But the brain center was usually located in the chest where a human’s heart would be. In a quadrupedal ‘bot, the brain center was at the base of the neck, if the ‘bot had one, or between the shoulders of the front legs.

The brain center wasn’t actually a brain per se, but more like a cockpit, which is what Chase usually called it. It was where the pilot of the ‘bot sat and controlled the giant technomantic homunculus. But the ‘bot didn’t have a brain, or a mind, of its own. That was what the pilot did. It did all the “thinking” for the ‘bot, actually acting like a brain, much like any other “normal” machine. There were major differences, like the ritual bonding with a pilot to his ‘bot and the rituals required to “boot up” the power. The more powerful the pilot in terms of willpower and precision for the ritual, the more powerful the ‘bot usually was in combat. Most pilots couldn’t last too long because of the psychic and physical toll piloting took on a mind and body, respectively. Chase had wondered before why he’d lasted so long. This was all he had. He had no wife, no siblings, no parents, no children. With no family, he had nothing else to focus on but his Buccaneer.

Wapasha’s Coyote popped over the hill a half mile ahead of the squad, running back in quadrupedal form at full speed. “Lieutenant! They’re coming! Black Fire! They have…”

Chase had never heard Wapasha scared before. He saw a bout of black mage fire strike the right hip of her ‘bot causing it to stumble and skid a hundred feet or so. It slowly stood back up and started limping on three legs back to the squad.

“They have a what, Wapasha?” Chase said. He led the other three squad members to where she had fallen. The four robomancers stood looking with unease to the southwest, waiting for whatever it was that had struck Wapasha’s Coyote.

“They have a Black Fire robot!” Wapasha said. Her ‘bot stood and turned back to face what had shot her.

From over the hill, a pillar of black mage fire blasted out towards the clustered Champions.

“Scatter!” Chase yelled.

Four of the five ‘bots dove out of the way of the dark burning fire, but the Coyote was damaged and couldn’t jump as fast. Wapasha was struck full in the face of her ‘bot, knocking it back on its haunches. Chase ignored her plight and turned his attention to what was stepping up the ridge.

A ‘bot larger than any he’d seen before climbed up the ridge. It was thick and broad, heavily muscled and armored with four arms of weapons and two missile racks on each shoulder for a total of four. Chase zoomed in his main image screen and identified the missile racks as two short range and two long range missile racks, one each per shoulder. Two of the weapons he didn’t recognize, one of which must be the Black Fire. How could the mages create a ‘bot that shot Black Fire? It was something only a mage could do. Even if the pilot of a ‘bot was a mage, no one had been able to get a ‘bot to fire off any spells of any kind.

Chase zoomed in closer on the body to examine the cockpit. His jaw dropped in astonishment and horror as he noticed how the body of the ‘bot was made. It consisted of hundreds, no THOUSANDS of corpses. The rumors were true. The Black Fire Mages had created a Necrobot! Even though the Imperium mages claimed it was impossible to get that much energy together to keep the corpses together, here was living – so to speak – proof of just what they said could not be done.

Chase saw the Necrobot’s top left arm begin to charge, a dark glow forming around the huge bore at the end of the appendage. He dodged left again, raising his right arm and charging his power shield just in time for the Black Fire to mostly deflect off. The force of the blast was still enough to knock his ‘bot onto its backside, making Chase’s head spin.

A deep, demonic voice he didn’t recognize, but guessed came from the Necrobot’s pilot, came through his communicator, “Lt. Corwin Chase. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”

The Necrobot charged his upper right arm’s cannon which also seemed to be Black Fire, and aimed it once again at Chase’s Buccaneer. Before he could fire, Benson fired an assault of long range missiles which struck the Necrobot full in the face. His Black Fire charge still went off, but it fired harmlessly straight up into the sky.

Chase’s ‘bot climbed to its feet. Inside the cockpit, Chase shook his head in an attempt to clear it. He briefly wondered how bad that shot would have been if he hadn’t gotten his power shield up in time. “Full assault, Champions! Target those upper arms and the cockpit!”

“Brain center,” Benson corrected.

“Fuck you, sergeant! Hit it!”

Chase raised both arms and started unloading both cannons on the Necrobot. Benson fired missiles, long and medium range, targeting the arms in an attempt to stop the Black Fire cannons. Murphy and Henry fired a mix of missiles, lasers and cannons focusing just underneath the head. While Chase had a lock on the cockpit area, he zoomed in to see what kind of damage they were doing. He could see pieces of the corpses flying off, but it seemed as if they had been toughened up as they were coalesced into the body of the ‘bot. Was the pilot also performing protection spells? If he was, he must have been a pretty powerful mage to be able to protect that many corpses at one time.

“Keep it up!” Chase commanded.

“It doesn’t seem to be working, Lieutenant!” Benson said, but he kept firing.

“It’s keeping that ‘bot off balance so he can’t aim at the least. I’m going to pull Wapasha back towards the dropship.”

Chase kept the left viewscreen focused on the Necrobot as he turned to Wapasha’s Coyote. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the damage that had been done to her ‘bot. Most of the head was gone. Not burned or shrapnel lying around the ‘bot, but just GONE. The cockpit wasn’t exposed, so he hoped that Wapasha was just unconscious. That Black Fire cannon was just way too much. He needed to get this intelligence back to the Imperium as fast as he could.

“I’m running low on ammo!” Murphy said. “This bitch just won’t fucking DROP!”

Chase moved closer to Wapasha, grabbing the ‘bot under its shoulders on the handles designed for dragging a prone ‘bot. “Keep it up and pull back. We have to get back to the dropship!”

“What about the mission?” Benson said.

“If you want to stay and fight your way through that to the objective, sergeant, be my…”

“Woo-hoo! There goes that fucking Black Fire cannon!” Murphy screamed.

Chase glanced at the left viewscreen and saw the upper left arm falling to the ground. The upper right one was quick to follow. “Hit it in the cockpit!” he ordered. He turned Wapasha’s Coyote around so he could face the Necrobot as he dragged the prone ‘bot to the dropship. Once he got her moving, he launched a full barrage of long range missiles, targeting the Necrobot’s cockpit. With the four mobile ‘bots hitting it all dead center mass, they managed to knock it over the ridge for the time being.

“Grab one of those cannons, Henry!” Chase ordered the closest robomancer.

“Sir, yes, sir!” Henry’s ‘bot jumped in and attempted to pick up the arm in its mouth. As the Panther’s jaws closed around the appendage, it fell apart into hundreds of rotting corpses.

“Shit!” he said. “Loo, it fell apart on me!”

“I see it,” Chase said. “Damnit. Fall back. Maintain cover position, three-man cover.”

Chase dragged Wapasha’s Coyote back towards the dropship. The ‘bot began to move when they were about halfway back to the ship from where it was shot. “Wapasha?” Chase asked. “Can your ‘bot move?”

“I… I think so,” Wapasha said. She sounded hurt. Chase knew that she wouldn’t let it hinder her from doing what she needed to get done.

True to her nature, Wapasha got the Coyote on its feet and moving, but not before she sent a barrage of missiles over the ridge. Since her ‘bot was so maneuverable and quick, Wapasha used a type of missile that fired a tracking missile first that didn’t explode when it struck its target, but rather stuck in the target and attracted all the remaining missiles from its group to it. It didn’t matter where Wapasha fired the other missiles, or that the target was out of site. As long as the missiles had fuel to reach that homing beacon, they struck it with deadly accuracy.

A group of explosions reached up past the ridge, putting a small smile on Wapasha’s face as she turned her heavily damaged ‘bot towards the dropship. Chase stood guard while she moved her ‘bot into the ship and into its bay. Once the others were back, he, too stepped inside.

The ride back to the command ship seemed to take forever. Chase couldn’t hold this information in. He knew he had to get the ‘bots’ video uploaded as soon as he could to present to Command. They had to know about the Necrobot. The nest they were originally sent to destroy would have to wait for more intelligence on the area. That was the job of a scout.

Fortune:
Spider gave Marty a hug I don’t think either of them expected, but Spider released the poor kid before it got even more awkward, and then Spider approached Kelly and I standing in the doorway to the house.

“Rafferty, I…” Kelly began.

Spider held up his hand to stop her. “I’m sorry, Kell. This isn’t easy, for you or me. What you do with your life is your business, and I’ll respect that.”

Kelly ran forward and hugged Spider. “You and your damn anger! I understand the PTSD kicks in with high stress, but damn it, it’s me, your favorite cousin.”

“Let’s go back inside and talk about this,” I said.

Rafferty and Kelly broke their hug, wiped their eyes again, and followed me back into the house.

I sat in the one chair that faced the couch. Spider and Kelly took their respective seats and looked expectantly at me. “I know you’ve been over this with the cops, but I want you to tell Spider and I everything that happened from the moment you walked in the door tonight.”

Kelly looked at her bare feet, wiggled her toes as she collected her thoughts, and began.

“Sherri met this guy about two months ago through some website,” she said.

“Which website?” Spider asked.

“I don’t know.”

“They took her computer,” I said. “The boys in blue will find out. Go on.”

“I never actually met the guy. He only came over when I was gone, so I never saw him. Although I did see the back of his head a couple times as he was leaving.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“How’s what?”

“How did you see the back of his head?”

“Aside from tonight as he ran and jumped through the window, I saw him drive away.”

“He has a car?” Spider said. He leaned forward, thinking this was the start of a lead.

“Taxi. He always rode in a cab.”

“Shit.” Spider sat back.

“Okay, we got some background. Now… Tonight.”

“Tonight, right.” Kelly bit l\the left side of her lower lip, which she did when she had to really think. I used to think it was cute. I was being insensitive. I only thought about my feelings of loss over Sherri, and not how it affected you, and then when I found out you’re no longer Catholic… I kinda snapped.”

“Rafferty Spidano, you are a terribly self-centered man when you are emotional. And at times I love you for it. Let’s go inside and talk about this.”

I led Spider and Kelly back into the living room. They took their respective seats on the couch, and I sat in an over-stuffed armchair facing them.

“Where to start?” Kelly said.

“How about the guy’s name?” I asked.

“I didn’t know it. Hell, I never even saw the guy, except when he jumped out the window, and the one time I saw him leaving.”

“Driving away?”

“Uh huh. Well, riding. He was in a taxi.”

Spider and I shared a glance. That was a start. If we knew a date and time, we could find out where the guy went from here.

“Dark hair? Light? Ginger?” Spider asked.

“Hoodie. He had the hood up. I don’t know how tall he is, how big or small, other than average.”

“How long had they been dating?” I asked.

“About three months. They met online, on a dating site.”

“Which one?” Spider asked. “Cupid, Singles, Yahoo?”

“‘Yahoo’?” Kelly said with a pained look. “Have you even been online since the nineties? I don’t know what site. That’s what I told the cops, and they took our computer anyway because of that, see what they can dig up on the bastard.”

“Shit.”

“You got someplace to stay while we look for this guy?” I asked.

“I’m not staying with you, if that’s what you’re implying.” Man, she could give the dirtiest looks.

I held my hands up in surrender. “Not what I meant. I meant do you have a friend you could stay with?”

“Oh, sorry, Mad. I just…” And she burst into tears. Spider opened his arms and Kelly crawled into them. Five minutes later she sat back and wiped her eyes.

“I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize, Kell.”

 

Spider and I eventually dropped Kelly off at the home of one of her coven sisters before going to see Lt. Fielding. We drove in silence for the first two miles after dropping off Kelly. I waited for Spider to break the silence.

“You know, ever since you dropped that bomb on me that Kelly and Sherri were witches, I’ve been mulling that over in my head.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I mean, what does it matter what religion they practice? They are still good girls, they help people, they love their families, they contribute to society… What does it matter what they do behind closed doors?”

I turned that around and looked at it from different angles as I drove. Trying to see if Spider really was accepting of his cousin’s lifestyle.

“Mad?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you think?”

I glanced at Spider. His face wasn’t easy to read at the best of times, let alone in the dark while I was driving, but it seemed pretty open. Sherri’s death had hit him hard, and he didn’t want to lose his one tie to her by pushing his cousin away.

“I think that is a pretty adult thing to say, little guy.” I put my hand on his head and ruffled his hair.

“Knock it off,” he said and brushed my hand away. “I’m being serious here.”

“All right, all right.” I chose my words carefully. “I’m not going to go into a lot of historical detail here, but you know my thoughts on religion.”

“Yeah, yeah, like a penis: great to have one and even to be proud of it, just don’t wave it around in public or force it on me or my kids.”

“Yes, but it is more serious than that. I think that religion is a private matter between someone and they deity of choice, and no one should judge anyone else for whatever sky captain they choose. As long as you are a good, respectful person, what you do at home shouldn’t matter.”

“Like I just said.”

“Like you just said.”

We drove in silence again while I thought about Kelly and Sherri. Sherri and I never really got along, but we were civil whenever we saw each other while she dated Spider. I thought that her PTSD and Spider’s were a volatile mix, and made the mistake of telling her that. She broke it off with Spider after taking a swing at me, and blaming me for her actions. Unfortunately for her, Spider had heard the whole thing and was about to break it off with her anyway because she wasn’t seeking any help for dealing with her time in the Middle East.

It was one of the hardest things he had done because he truly did love her, and yet he knew the best thing for her was to get help, help she wouldn’t get while she was with him. It took two bar fights and a night in jail before she finally got that help. That was two years ago, and it was also when she moved in with Kelly and joined the coven. Sherri’s therapist told Kelly that what Sherri needed was a supportive group of women. Kelly’s coven was more than willing to help.

Lt. Dan Fielding became a cop after Night Court was no longer on the air but was still in reruns. He looked nothing like John Larroquette, who played the character with the same name on the show, but he still got harassed about his name by people who had seen the show and never met him before.

However, he preferred Dan Fielding to the Forrest Gump character “Lt. Dan.”

His office was on the second floor of the main police station near downtown Peoria, right across the street from the baseball stadium. He had his own little office two doors down from the Chief himself, but none of the responsibilities that went along with such a prestigious address. Spider and I stood in the open doorway waiting for Fielding to see us. He finally looked up when I knocked on the doorframe.

“Hey, fellas, come on in.” We entered and sat in the two chairs across the desk from the lieutenant. “How you doing, Spider?”

“I’ll manage.”

Fielding nodded once, leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “How’s Kelly doing?”

“It’ll be rough,” I said. “But she’ll manage. She has a good group of… friends.” Spider and I looked at each other.

“What was that?” Fielding said. He sat forward in his chair.

“What was what?” I said.

“What was that pause?”

Spider and I looked at each other again. He shrugged.

I turned to Fielding. “Answer me one thing first?”

Fielding stared hard at me. His left eyebrow raised. “One thing.”

“You got a motive?”

He licked his lips and chose his next words carefully. “We are thinking a jilted lover angle.”

Spider and I looked at each other again.

“God damn it, what is that look?”

Spider and I ignored him for a couple seconds. Spider shrugged again. I shrugged back.

“Look here, Fortune,” Lt. Dan started.

“Relax, Lieutenant. We want to make sure that we respect Kelly’s wishes on this.”

“In what way?”

“They’re witches,” Spider said.

“Wiccan,” I clarified.

“They’re what?”

“Wiccan, like Maddox said. Modern day witches.”

“So how does that… Oh shit.”

“Right, the guy was going to try and burn her at the… metaphorical stake I guess,” I said.

“That’s what the gas… You know we would have gotten around to that eventually.”

“Of course,” Spider and I said.

“So why give this to me now? Besides the obvious of your relationship with the victim.” He paused. Then he sighed. “What do you want?”

“A crack at her computer?” I said.

“Too late, Frank’s got it already, but I will share with you everything we get off it, deal?”

“Sure.”

“Anything else?”

“We’ll think about it.” Spider and I stood up. Fielding also stood up and offered his hand.

“Thanks for that bit about the wicked thing.”

Spider shook Fielding’s hand. “Wiccan,” he said. I had a feeling he was going to become some kind of advocate of Wicca now that he had been exposed to what it was. He was very progressive when he put his mind to it.

“Wiccan. Right.” Fielding shook my hand. “Mad, I’m sure we’ll have something for you soon. You know how good Frank is.” Frank Davis was the computer crimes guy. Peoria was a small enough town that the police couldn’t afford more than one computer guy, so he also handled getting evidence out of computers for non-computer related crimes.

“I think we’re going to head home and get some sleep.”

Spider and I left, went back to the car to go home.

 

Spider:
Fortune dropped me off at home, but I wasn’t headed to bed just yet. I was no slouch in the computer department but not in the hardware/decryption sense like Frank Davis. I was one hell of a researcher online.

After booting up my laptop and making a pot of coffee, I started searching dating sites for Sherri. Most people I’ve noticed don’t sign up for just one to broaden their options when choosing a mate. I never saw the point because you’d probably find the same people on every site.

The first three sites I checked, the most popular ones, turned up nothing. Plenty of people, but no Sherri. I saw pictures of cats instead of women for a number of profiles, and tons of comments from creeps asking for facial pictures, full body pictures, and nude pictures. Why did guys have to be such assholes online?

I did a search for dating sites and had millions of hits. Thinking about Sherri and her interests, I knew I had to narrow her options as well to find someone that matched. I tried a military veterans dating site. No luck. I tried a PTSD dating site. No luck. I tried an “alternative religion” dating site, EnlightenedLove.com and there she was on the front page as a featured profile.

Her profile name was “PeoILWiccan13” and her real name wasn’t evident anywhere on her profile. She mentioned her time in the military and her affection for animals and medieval reenactment. When I read that, my eyes began to sting.

Our second date was to an ASA practice. She immediately fell in love with armored combat, having an interest in history and being ex-military. Sherri tried fighting once, but after receiving three stitches for an improper swing in a newcomer fight, she preferred to just watch.

Every practice and event after that, she was right there on the sidelines cheering me on, all the way to my first two-handed sword championship.

INSERT SOME BACKSTORY OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP

And I’ve missed her every day since then.

Her profile on Enlightened Love was simple, but summed her up to a T.

Real name: You’ll have to get to know me first
Birthday: Feb 09
Location: check the handle
Eyes: brown
Hair: Dark brown
Height: 5’6”
Weight: nunya
Hobbies: ASA (if you have to ask, you don’t know), rifles, movies, ritual, the Moon,
Looking for: a nerd in a tinfoil hat
Interested in: someone willing to put up with my strange hobbies and idiosyncrasies
Religious affiliation: check the handle
Tattoos/Piercings: 7th Cav on left bicep, winged heart right shoulder blade, left nipple pierced

The piercing was new, but everything else I knew about. Let’s see what people had said about her. This is where the weirdos and assholes usually show up.

From NakedGuy: “Hey sexy. When can I see the piercing?”

From NorthwesternStud: “Ever make it up to Chicago area so I can see the piercing? I’ll show you mine I got while attending Northwestern.”

From IndyFighter: “I love the ASA! That piercing sounds nice! Any chance I can see it, sexy?”

I noticed a trend that almost all the guys responding on her page wanted to see her boob. Natural enough. I had wanted to see them when I first met her, but I didn’t start the conversation that way. Heck it took three dates before we even kissed. These guys were all the common thing now, no repercussions from treating someone like shit on the internet, so why bother to hide it.

Then I noticed someone unique about twenty assholes later. His opening line was different.

From HonestAndOpen: “Good morning. I see we have a common interest in the ASA. What category do you normally fight? And where did you get your preferred weapon? I prefer the rapier myself which a friend made for me.”

Interesting. I may have stumbled onto a lead. Maybe this guy was in our local ASA chapter? I thought about the other guys, and while I didn’t like every single one of them, I couldn’t see any of them committing murder, let alone crazy psycho “Burn the witch!” kind of murder. My bet was this guy isn’t in the local chapter.

From Sherri: “I tried fighting once, got stitches, so now I just watch, but I love watching the heavy fighting.”

From HonestAndOpen: “Watching is fun. I enjoy watching the heavy fighters too. Not my thing, but those guys can be brutal. So where do you watch the fighting?”

From Sherri: “Same town that I live.”

If he asked where that was, this conversation was going to be over.

From HonestAndOpen: “I come to Peoria about every other week. When would you like to get together?”

And that was it. No more public messages on her wall. They must have taken the conversation private. Time to see if I could still hack into her account. Ten minutes later, after discovering her password was “IHeartSpider,” and crying my eyes out again, I was in.

I thought the messages on her wall were bad. The private messages were far worse, and far more numerous. Dick pics galore. I scanned through a couple hundred dick pic messages, all of them unread, before I found the sort option which let me see only previously read messages. And there he was… HonestAndOpen.

I stared at the screen, my finger hovering over the mouse button, not sure how invasive I wanted to be. I could have Maddox look at these. I SHOULD have Maddox look at these. Fuck.

I didn’t want to see cute messages from some guy she was attracted to. I didn’t want to read a budding romance that was cut short tonight. I didn’t want her to be happy with anyone other than me. No, that’s not true. I DID want her to be happy, but I wasn’t sure she would be happy with anyone else.

That’s my ego talking. I knew I had a special place in Sherri’s heart. I knew that I was the reason she was able to start dating again. Dating people other than me. Shit.

I shut the computer off without reading the messages. This part was for Maddox.

 

Fortune:
“Okay, buddy, I’ll take a look.” I hung up the phone. Poor Spider. I could tell he had been crying again. Death was always tough to handle, especially when you had no chance to say goodbye. And to someone you cared about but were no longer with… I had an ex who had her ex’s ashes over her bed. Try competing with a guy you can’t talk to, you can’t reason with, you can’t scare or threaten. That one didn’t last long.

I got my laptop out and booted it up. I opened a browser and went to the site Spider mentioned. After logging in, I went straight to her messages. I reminded myself I was here to investigate her killer, not check to see if she had pictures of her pierced nipple.

Scrolling through her messages, I found the one Spider thought might be our guy. HonestAndOpen. I doubted that, I mean, after all, this was the Internet Age, where lying came so easily to people online who wouldn’t dare do it to anyone in person.

Sherri: Let’s move this conversation out of the public eye.

HonestAndOpen: Now that we’re alone… ha ha ha… what did you want to know?

Sherri: Well for starters, your name.

HonestAndOpen: Felix Thompson.

Before I read any further, I sent a text to Lt. Fielding with the name and how I found it. Ten seconds later my phone rang.

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“What the hell are you doing poking around on Sherri’s computer?”

“I’m not. I’m poking around in her dating profile. Actually, Spider started it and passed it off to me.”

“Stop. Right now.”

“You going to use the name I gave you?”

There was a brief pause. “Maybe.”

“How many Felix Thompson’s do you suppose there are in Peoria?”

“Probably not many.”

“I’m going to finish looking through this conversation.”

“Please don’t. Give me the address, username and password for that account and log off, Fortune.”

“But, Lieutenant…”

“Now, Fortune.”

I gave him the information and hung up. Then I scrolled through the rest of the conversation.

Typical flirty, getting to know you talk between two people who like each other from the first meeting. It felt weird reading this, knowing Sherri was dead.

I finished the chat log and didn’t find anything substantial, but I didn’t read it, only skimmed it. It felt too invasive, which is why Spider had sent it to me in the first place. Let the cops sift through it. They had the manpower and the time. I needed to look elsewhere.

I just wasn’t sure where “elsewhere” was. Googling “Felix Thompson, Peoria, IL” got me nothing. Then I remembered he told Sherri he comes to Peoria about every other week. So I expanded my search to “Felix Thompson, Illinois” and got…. Nothing. So it would seem that “Felix Thompson” is an alias. Big surprise that someone lied about their name on the internet. But he was planning murder, so not really surprised.

I debated whether or not I should call Richard Quentin, a hacker Spider and I know. Maybe search for other crimes where Wiccan women were killed and burned. I finally decided to check other public notices to Wiccan women from HonestAndOpen on EnlightenedLove.com. It was our starting point, that site, might as well follow other possibilities from that point.

Sleep could wait it would seem. I called Spider first.

“Mad.”

“Rafferty, can you call Quentin?”

“For what?”

“See if he can find our boy’s IP address. Maybe get an address.”

There was a long pause.

“You sure you want me on that?”

“You can tell him to send the results to me, if you like. I think that would be best.”

No reply. He just hung up. People handle grief in many different ways. Spider’s was to close up.

I went back to EnlightenedLove.com, found HonestAndOpen’s profile and started digging.

Real name: Known only to a select few
Birthday: Sept 18
Location: Illinois

Well that was a big help.

Eyes: blue
Hair: salt and pepper
Height: 5’11”
Weight: proportionate
Hobbies: ASA (rapier),
Looking for: someone to spend time with, hopefully for the rest of our lives
Interested in: someone to spend time with, hopefully for the rest of our lives
Religious affiliation: Other/Non-religious
Tattoos/Piercings: none

At this point, I’m not sure how much of this is bullshit. Could be the eye color, hair color, height, and weight are all accurate, but without a picture to confirm, it doesn’t mean anything. However, if Sherri met the guy, and his description didn’t match what was listed here, she would’ve called him on it, and they wouldn’t have met more than once.

So our first suspect is a man of average height and build with greying hair and blue eyes. Can’t be more than a few thousand of those in the area, or who visit regularly. Hell you can see hundreds alone walking into any of the Caterpillar facilities in the area on any given day. Shit.

My phone rang and it was Quentin.

“Yo yo you, my Fortunate friend.”

“Hey, Quentin.”

“What’s this I hear Spider-boy’s ex lady love was murdered?”

“Yep, and you are going to help us look into our first suspect.”

“That why Spider yelled at me to dig up the ‘ip’ address?” He pronounced it like it was spelled “ip” and not “eye-pee.”

“Did he seriously yell at you?”

“He did, but I know the big guy’s hurting. He didn’t tell me where to look though.”

“EnlightenedLove.com. The guy’s handle is HonestAndOpen.”

“In the Internet Age? Not fucking likely.” He paused. I could hear tapping on a keyboard. “Gimme a day or two. This one might take a bit.”

“Usual fee?”

“Depends on the intricacies of the trail this guy leaves, but most likely.”

“I’ll have the six-pack waiting and cold. What’ll your fee be once you turn 21?”

“Hey, free beer is free beer, man.” He laughed and hung up.

Fortune:
The red and blue police lights strobing across Spider’s face as he crossed the yard of his cousin’s house gave him a jittery, bouncy movement, even though his stride was straight and purposeful. His face, usually deadpan serious, was furrowed with worry. I had gotten a call from Kelly, his cousin, about an hour before. She said she had come home and there was a strange man in the house, pouring gasoline outside her roommate’s bedroom door. She yelled at him and he ran for the back, leaping through the closed window in the kitchen, breaking it.

Kelly found her roommate Sherri dead, strangled, on her bed. She was laid out as if she were in a casket, hands crossed over her chest. Her body, the bed, and the entire room were all soaked in gasoline.

She called me, I told her to call the police, and was out the door before I had hung up. I called Spider on the way. He was on his way home from an ASA event, the Anachronistic Society of Anarchists, where he was honored with an award for best two-handed sword fighting. I stood on the porch awaiting his arrival after the police machine started its business of processing the crime scene.

Spider met me at the door outside his cousin’s house. The police had already closed off most of the block and were holding back the gawkers, who stood around in their pajamas and bathrobes and clucked about “that poor girl,” or “she had it coming with what she did.” Lucky for them Spider heard none of this.

“Mad, what is it? What happened to Kelly?” Spider was about to try and rush past me, and even though I stand six foot one and weigh in at a solid two-fifty, it would be difficult for me to stop the six foot five, three hundred twenty-five pound man mountain Rafferty “The Spider” Spidano.

“Maddox, you either tell me what’s happened to Kelly or I’ll go right the fuck over you.”

“Easy, big fella. She’s okay. But her roommate isn’t.”

He finally stopped trying to look past me and focused on my face for the first time since he arrived.

I took a deep breath and answered his unasked question. “Sherri’s dead, Spider. Someone killed her.”

Spider stared at me for a full minute, tears fighting to escape his eyes. “Can we…” His voice broke and my heart went out to him. Sherri and Spider had a long on again, off again relationship, and he really cared for her, but she was also a veteran of the Middle East like us, except she had some severe PTSD that she never got properly treated.

“Can we go see her?”

“Sure,” I said. I turned and led him into Kelly’s house. She sat on the couch in her living room as the police dusted for prints around her. Her knees were pulled up to her chin as she tried to make herself as small as possible. Two fingerprint technicians dusted the lamp and end table at each end of the couch. When she spotted Spider and I standing in the doorway, she leapt to her feet and ran to Spider with her arms open, and a fresh batch of tears streaming down her face. He embraced her in a huge bear hug as I stood by and rubbed her between her shoulder blades.

“Spider, that asshole killed her!” she wailed.

Rafferty held on to her, easing his own sudden pain as much as hers. After a minute or two, they released each other, but still held hands. Kelly looked at me for the first time. “Hi, Maddox,” she said. “I…” Her eyes welled up again.

“Hi again, Kelly.”

“I… I forgot you were here, but thank you for coming.”

“Why don’t you sit down? It looks like the crime scene guys are finishing up in here.”

Kelly looked towards the couch and saw the two techs putting the last of their stuff in their gear bags. “Okay,” she said to me. She led Spider to the couch and sat down with him. He put his arm around her, she buried her face in his shoulder and cried again.

I raised my eyebrows in a question to Spider. He nodded, understanding that I wanted to poke around, see what the cops found so far.

I walked down the hallway past two closed doors, the kitchen doorway, and into one of the two bedrooms at the back of the house. This was Sherri’s room, now officially known as the crime scene. Her body had been taken out of here fifteen minutes earlier. The crime scene techs had started here in their quest for fingerprints, so everything had a light gray dusting over it. Smudges where they found unusable prints stood out like leopard spots on almost everything. I made a mental note to offer to help Kelly clean the place.

The window was open and a fan had been placed in front of it to help get the gasoline fumes out. It mostly worked.

I avoided Kelly’s bedroom. I’d seen it enough a couple years ago when we had dated. Things hadn’t ended on the best of terms, but we’d patched things up enough to be civil to each other.

I made my way to the kitchen and saw the broken window the killer used for his escape. The tech guys were still here, checking the window. One saw me come in, turned and smiled. “What’s up, Fortune?”

He offered his hand and I took it. “Hey, Marty. Glad to see you finally got on full time.”

“Party” Marty Brown was an army buddy’s eldest son. I convinced our friend on the force, Lt. Dan Fielding–who still hates Night Court reruns–to help Marty get a fast track through the hiring process. His nickname came from getting busted almost weekly through his senior year in high school attending underage drinking parties.

“Yep, three weeks now.”

“You guys find anything on the window?”

Marty’s eyes opened wide, his grin got bigger, and he turned back to the window. “Dude, you gotta see this shit. Check it out.” He pointed at a sharp point that stuck out towards the center of the hole further than any other piece. “See that?”

I stared hard at the tip of the glass. I even moved Marty out of the way and stepped closer, putting my nose not two inches from what I was looking at.

“See what? I don’t know what I’m looking for. Or at, other than a broken window.”

Marty reached past me with a pair of tweezers. He gestured about a tenth of an inch from the point of the glass. “See that striation?”

And suddenly I could. What looked like a small scratch crossed the glass just under the point. “What is that?” I leaned back and looked at Marty. The biggest shit-eating grin crossed his face.

“He cut the glass.”

“Say what?”

“He cut the glass. After I found that, I checked the other windows, and all of them have these same cut-marks about six inches from the center of the window.”

“What the hell for?”

“Our guy planned ahead for a hasty exit. He wanted to make sure the window would break.”

“Huh.”

Marty’s partner looked at us and said, “I’m not a hundred percent on that, but I don’t know why these two girls would cut their windows.”

I looked from Marty to his partner and back at Marty. “Well, buddy, I’m glad you’re on the job now.”

“Thanks for that, Fortune. I owe you one.” I shook Marty’s hand again.

“Nah, I owed your dad a few. We are more than even.”

Marty’s face softened. “I miss Dad every day.”

“So do I, Marty.” Marty’s dad saved Spider and I in Afghanistan on our second tour. He had spotted an IED before it got us. He threw Spider and I aside and took the brunt of the blast. He lost his leg, and eventually his life due to infection from that one explosive. Marty stopped the parties after that. Spider and I looked out for him when we could, like helping move things along to get him on the crime scene team.

I squeezed Marty’s shoulder once, nodded to his partner, and walked out of the kitchen.

I wondered if the guys had checked the two closed rooms. I guessed they had, which is why the doors were closed, that way the crime scene team lead would know at a glance. I admit partly why I was looking through the house was I was nosy, both about Kelly and Sherri.

One of the two doors opened on a linen closet. The other opened onto… I don’t know what. The carpet was black with a silver five-pointed star in a circle in the center of the room. Against the opposite wall was a small table with a marble top, about two feet square. It held a small dish, a crystal goblet, a candle, a stick, a dagger and an incense burner. The incense burner wasn’t the strip of wood that holds the stick incense either. This was a fancy cauldron-looking one that holds some sand, you burn a piece of charcoal on the sand, and sprinkle powdered incense into the fire.

A bookshelf to my left held an array of tomes with authors like Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, and a few others. An honest to God book pedestal stood between the bookcase and the table. Wooden, intricate carvings spun around the stand, and an immense hardbound book with handwritten pages sat atop it. I leaned in to see what was written in the book. “Spell to attract a mate,” adorned one page. The other said, “Ritual to stop smoking.”

I peeked at the cover and saw the words, “Book of Shadows” stenciled on it with a flowing script. That answered a couple questions right away.

I dropped the book cover and made my way back to the living room. Spider and Kelly had composed themselves and were chatting quietly at opposite ends of the couch. They stopped talking and looked at me when I entered the room.

“I know why Sherri was killed, and we’ll have to make sure he doesn’t come back to try for you,” I said.

“What? Why?” Kelly said.

“Because you’re witches.”

 

Spider:
Fortune’s statement couldn’t have been further from what I was thinking than if he said the girls were from Mars.

“Mad, what the fuck are you talking about?” I looked at Kelly. She wouldn’t look at me. “Kelly, what the fuck is Maddox talking about?”

She didn’t look at me, but did look at Maddox. “You’re right, Mad. We are witches, well Wiccan.” Then she looked at me. “I’m sorry, Spider. I should have told you.”

“Told me what, that you and Sherri gave up on Aunt Megan and everything she taught you?”

“I know you’re angry, but it’s not that.”

“Then enlighten me, Kelly. What is it. You’re some devil-worshipping whore, bound and determined to burn in Hell?”

Kelly stood up, hands on her hips and leaned over me. “Listen here, Mr. High and Mighty. Wiccans don’t ‘worship the devil.’ We don’t even believe in the devil. We…”

She pointed a finger in my face, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s when someone lectures me with their goddamn finger in my face.

I stood up, knocking her aside. She fell on her ass on the floor. I marched towards the door. Maddox blocked it with his hands up, palms towards me.

“Hang on there, big fella. Calm down a second and let’s talk about this.”

“Get the fuck outta my way before I move you.”

He stared at me a second, then stepped aside and said, “All right. You know where to find me when you’ve calmed down.”

I stormed past him, and the cops standing outside the front door. I marched towards the street and my car when I heard someone call my name. “Spider! Hey! Rafferty Spidano!”

I looked over my shoulder to see who it was and there stood Marty Brown waving from the group of cops I just barreled through. A huge grin split his face when he saw me recognize him.

I stopped my trek across the lawn and turned to face him. He said something to the guy standing next to him and jogged to where I stood.

“Hey, Spider. I saw Fortune inside, but didn’t realize you were here, too.”

I shook his offered hand and tried to smile.

“You okay, buddy? All things considered? I hear your cousin was the victim’s roommate, and you used to date the victim. I’m truly sorry, man. This can’t be easy.” He put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a sympathetic look.

I stared at Marty and saw he truly cared about how I felt. Tears welled up in my eyes. I looked back at the house where Sherri died, but Kelly, my cousin, still lived. Kelly stood in the open doorway with Maddox. They watched me, the same concern on their faces as on Marty’s.

“I’m horrible, Marty. No, this isn’t easy, and I just found out my cousin…”

I paused. Did Marty really need to know this?

“Your cousin?” he prompted.

“My cousin needs support from me. No matter how I felt about Sherri, Kelly is the one who lived with her. Thanks for caring, buddy.”

“You and Maddox have done so much for me, Spider. Any time I can help, with anything, you just let me know.”

“I will, Marty.” I gave him a quick awkward hug and headed towards my cousin and my partner. We had some talking to do.

Until June 6, you can purchase both of my books from Smashwords for only $0.99 each! Just use the coupon codes below to get half off!

The Adventures of Felix Valentine, Gentleman Adventurer, vol. 1:
Coupon Code: JU45M


The Three Jack Voodoo: A Spider & Fortune Adventure:
Coupon Code: DN34H

Works in Progress

Posted: April 23, 2015 in fiction

I am cranking through a lot of work at the moment, as well as getting ready for our big move into our new house. However, I am still making time to write. Here is a by no means complete list of what all I am working on”

1. Star Wars audio drama – My first actual piece of fan fiction that I plan on producing. I have parts one and two finished, out of three, and I know exactly where the story is going. Hoping to have this one completed and started recording process by the end of May.

2. RoboMancer – One genre I’ve always liked is ‘Mechs. Battletech, Robotech, Robot Jox, Robot Wars, etc. I love the giant robot stuff, so I decided to try and create some, but with a twist. All the mechs are powered by magic rituals. All the science is powered by rituals. The Engineers on the large spaceships do a ritual to create the energy that powers the ship. Need some shielding on your space fighter? Develop a ritual. This one is taking a lot of work. I have a way to tell this as a short story, but may one day turn it into a novel-length story.

3. Skyclad: A Spider and Fortune Adventure – The second Spider and Fortune book, which I’ve mentioned before, has the boys hunting a killer who’s targeting Wiccans.

4. Various comics – I am still writing some comic book series, even though I am limited on artists. I have about six I am currently developing and building on in a single shared universe.

Those are the main things I’m working on at the moment, but I also have some more steampunk tales of Felix Valentine, Gentleman Adventurer floating around as well as some other comic stories.

Check out the comics at comics.circus13productions.com or Felix Valentine (Smashwords / Amazon) and the first Spider and Fortune: The Three Jack Voodoo (Smashwords / Amazon)!