[Another installment of Short Fiction Friday, about a few NPCs from my current Shadowrun campaign. This and all future entries will be written on the spot, please forgive a lack of editing, this is all one pass. Enjoy! If you like the art, while I’ve used it for my NPCs, credit goes to http://tapastic.com/series/fisheye — the comic that’s the source of these characters.]
Alice missed crème brûlée. Once a month, if she’d gotten good grades, her parents would take her out to a fancy restaurant in Harvard Square Upper. She would read the menu, read about the restaurant in wonder as she always had. It was called Finale, and according to the story in the menu, it had been around for almost 75 years. It had vanished in the mid 2020s, but had been revitalized a decade later by an elf who’d remembered it from his college years. She loved the story, that a restaurant could have such history and endure through so much, and she’d always happily read it, pretending to her parents that she was deciding what she wanted to order, then order the crème brûlée, like she always did. While she waited for it to come, she’d look around the restaurant.
Finale sat on the edge of the massive plate atop which the higher-class citizens of Boston lived. Its awe-inspiring view drew Alice’s parents, but she was always more interested in the interior. It had beautiful glass chandeliers and glasses in interesting shapes, and she didn’t like the reminder that she lived atop a massive plate over the rest of the city, she just wanted to enjoy her dessert. Her parents would get something her dad called “ice wine”, but it wasn’t anything like the heavy, sour red wine they otherwise drank. It was a clear, peach color, and if she’d been really good and gotten really good grades, she’d get a little taste. It was sweet, but hinted at flavors she was still too young to really understand. She’d found it, once, on a job at some posh businessman’s apartment. It was the same as what her father always ordered, and seeing the price tag on the bottle reminded her of everything she’d given up. She’d never be able to afford even a glass of it, much less a bottle. She hadn’t been able to resist having a taste.
Ken was the one who’d figured out what she’d done, a few days later. She’d left DNA evidence on the bottle when she’d had a sip, and it’s how the police got information on them. She never figured out how he knew; that was his knack– knowing things. Alice’s knack was a lot less subtle. She was good with the elements. Her instructors at school called her a “pyromantic prodigy”, and she’d quickly spread from fire to other elements. She’d been told that people who were particularly gifted with one element generally had a hard time learning an opposing one, and she took it as a challenge. Just to prove a point, she passed her second level apprenticeship tests as an aquamancer, three years earlier than the school had ever seen before, using an element diametrically opposed to what she’d seemed most attuned to. Prodigy was an understatement. Her parents had been thrilled, particularly when she’d been invited to the Oxford Academy for Gifted Magi at an unprecedented age. She’d gotten to eat TWO crème brûlées that time.
Oxford was far away, a boarding school, and Alice was initially terrified of the place. It didn’t help that, at age twelve, she was younger than almost every other student there. There was only one student younger than she was, an electromancer named Nicholas, who wanted everyone to just call him Nick. He was eleven, and the two of them bonded quickly. Nick was cheerful and vibrant, and Alice enjoyed his company. Together they weathered some awkward years, as they both grew into teenagers. She was there for Nick’s first heartbreak at the hands of another boy, and he helped her work up the courage to approach a slightly older student and ask him to a school dance.
The older boy was named Ken, a mage like the two of them. Alice never had to ask the question; she just walked up to Ken and he looked straight at her and said “Yes, I’d love to go with you”. It was a shock, and her expression must have given something away, because Ken was almost immediately just as flustered, apologizing for being too forthright and looking abashed. He explained later that it was his knack, knowing things, but that sometimes– particularly when he was nervous– he had trouble remembering what he was already supposed to know and what he wasn’t. After the initial awkwardness, Alice and Ken became fast friends, and Nick helped Alice pick out her dress. A little later, he helped her pick out a second dress, a much fancier, much more elegant one. When she asked why, he winked and grinned. “For prom… eventually, you know? Ken’ll love it.”
Alice, Nick, and Ken became fast friends at Oxford, and Alice learned more about their histories. Nick was from a poor family, and Nick’s penchant for accidentally damaging their limited electronics meant that they put him in a foster program for mages very young. He’d proven he had incredible talent, and Oxford had picked him up, offering him a free ride. He’d taken it, knowing it was his only hope to get out of poverty. Ken didn’t talk much about his family, but Alice had pieced together that something horrible had happened to them, and that he was at Oxford because he’d somehow survived whatever had happened and was paying for it with inheritance money. Alice introduced the other two to her parents when they came to visit, and they became her companions during breaks, spending it at their parents’ home in Boston.
It was on one of those visits that things took a turn for the worse. Nick was having trouble in classes, and Alice and Ken were trying to teach him. Frustrated and defeated by the advanced electromancy skills he was supposed to have mastered (and that Alice had been able to effortlessly pick up while studying with him), he revealed that he only had a middling talent with electricity. He confessed that it had been a front the entire time– his real talent wasn’t elemental at all. He could dive into the wireless Matrix and manipulate it, changing things like a masterful hacker, entirely without any sort of equipment. He was a technomancer. His parents had kicked him out of the house when they’d found out that he was “some kind of freak mage”, and no one he’d spoken to had any idea what kind of magic he had. People were suspicious, and whenever anything inexplicably went wrong while he was around, anyone who knew his power would cast blame his direction. He used the computers at Alice’s home to show off a bit of what he was capable of, showing them some internal corporate memos that he was able to seemingly conjure from nothing.
Ken’s response was immediate. His gaze from behind his glasses became glassy, the look Alice had come to associate with Ken’s unique form of magic. Almost dreamily, he spurred the other two to action, getting them to grab their bags, still only partially unpacked, and move. They’d learned to listen when Ken got this way, and followed his instructions. He got the two of them out of the house mere moments before a corporate black ops team descended on Alice’s home. Chased by the sounds of gunfire and rising flames over her once home, Alice’s life was shattered, and she and her only two friends vanished into Boston. After a life of living in the sunshine, above the Boston Plate, Alice disappeared into the Boston underworld, the shadowy world beneath the Plate.
–to be continued–