Shadowrun Play > Play-by-Post

[5e IC] Mirror Dance [2076 Game Thread]

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Aria:
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Alyce’s Manor, Cornwall, UK]
 
Dream enjoyed Robyn’s hospitality very much, settling in to an comfortable armchair by the fire with a book and a hefty slug of apple brandy.  Petal perched near him, gazing at the flames
 
“These runners live better than we do!” she observed wryly
 
“Money certainly buys all this, but is it worth so very much?  Although the book is nice and doesn’t seem to draw those pesky imps like me ‘link would do!  It’s comfortable no doubt for an evening, but I would rather be out on the moors I think”
 
Petal snorted, easily seeing the lie, and Dream smiled as he had known she would
 
“So, you like Al, and what do you think of Miss Robyn?”
 
“Well she’s infatuated with him, for all the good it seems to be doing.  She has too much cyber to make me comfortable and she has a distressing liking for those foul cigarettes they both smoke, not to mention the drink and other things that I see swirling in her aura.  But her heart is a good one and she is true to her word… I’m looking forward to a helicopter ride, I don’t think you’ve ever taken me in one?”
 
“They are loud and overrated but I’m sure you will enjoy it” he replied with a smile…
 
#14
 
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Alyce waits for Al to shut the hood and slips an arm through one of his so that he can escort her to the pub.  Due to the hour, it is a bit quiet inside, although there are still a number of patrons present.  The waitress comes over to the pair as they enter.  "Good evening, Miss Lysander.  A special occasion?"
 
Alyce laughs and pats Al's hand.  "Good evening, Sandra.  I know it's not my normal night, but any time I get to spend with this bloke is a special occasion.  I thought I would bring him down to the local and show him off."
 
Sandra leads them to a small table and a pack of Lucky Strikes shows up as if by magic.  Alyce thanks her as she takes a seat and places her order for a pint then Sandra turns to Al to get his order.  Alyce opens the pack of fags and pulls two out for Al to light.  She barely gets two of her smoke rings off when the drinks appear on the table, along with a tin of Jammie Dodgers.  Alyce smiles as she removes the lid from the tin and digs a few of the biscuits out.  "You have to promise not to tell Stephanie.  She is always worried that I eat too many of these."  After creating a small pile in front of her, she offers the tin to Al and raises her glass.  "To adventures, Al."  After a sip or two, she puts the glass on the table and starts on her pile of biscuits.  "Thank you for agreeing to look at the auto.  I know she is not one of your hot models, but what do you think of her?"
 
#21
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“What do I think? Reckon she’s a peach, o’ course,” answered Al, wiping lager foam from his lips. It wasn’t American, and it didn’t come in a can, but it would do. “Righteous ride. Real pleasure ta drive. Hell, only reason I go fer the posh spaghetti jobs is performance - only way those sweet wheels can hold they own against one o’ my babies, well, hafta not only replace the engine, but you’d need to mod the chassis, shocks, what have ya. Hell, only thing left’d be the exterior panels, an’ that jist’d seem like cheatin’, not ta mention an affront ta the artistes done designed ‘er. Don’t git me wrong, they did brilliantly back then with what they had, jist a matter o’ tolerances - materials tech’s come a helluva long way, last hunnerd years or so.”
 
They talked like that for an hour or so. It was hard for him. Not in a loud sort of way that would get his heart rate up or anything - he was careful with that, knowing how nosy she was with all of her sensors, not to mention her tendency to jump to crazy conclusions whenever his vitals did spike for whatever reason. But it was hard in a quiet way. Hard keeping things simple, when parts of him wanted so much more. And hard knowing he wasn’t giving her what she wanted. Which was all why he should never have come down here. Better for him and for her if he just saw a lot less of her. Selfish indulgence was what this visit was.
 
But then Al was a master at selfish indulgences. 
 
Well, most of them anyway.
 
#23
 
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Alyce is really enjoying the time spent with Al and does not feel that she needs to bring up anything that might just reinforce to him how silly she is.  She has learned a bit about the auto while in the process of purchasing it and talks the specifics with Al while they sit and just enjoy each other's company and the atmosphere of the pub.  A number of people come up to say hello to the lady of the manor and it seems that Alyce knows most of the people in the village by now.  Of course, never forgetting a name is a big help in that.  After an hour of just talk, she knows that it is time to move on and she puts the lid on the biscuit tin before calling the waitress over.  "Sandra, I guess I have had enough of these for tonight.  Thank you for stocking them.  You may ring the bell as I leave, please."
 
The waitress nods and gives Alyce a smile she knows the woman cannot see.  Many of the local patrons actually seem glad to know Alyce and those present wish her and Al a good night as they depart.  As the two cross the threshold, Al can hear the ringing of the bell that signifies that someone is buying a round for those still inside.  Al escorts Alyce back to the auto and puts it in gear after helping her in and climbing in himself.  He competently guides the auto back to the manor, noting that some bright lights have been turned on off to the side of the large house, illuminating a rather big helicopter on its pad.  Alyce turns her face to the man next to her.  "Now THAT is my real baby right now.  It has been modified from the original specs and I think it will do us proud as a transport and utility left machine.  And I don't mean just getting us to London tonight.  Our experience with the plane brought me to thinking that we can support ourselves on some of our missions.  Go ahead and rip the engine of the Triumph apart then come and look the bird over."
 
#22
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“Missions. Makes it sound like we’s savin’ the world or somethin’. Reckon some of us jist earnin’ our daily bread. An’ don’t reckon we’ll ever git paid enough ta make any profit buyin’ toys like that. And yet…I do like the ol’ Snakehandler. Jist goes ta show what I’ve always said - no rhyme nor reason ta anythin’ anyone does in this so-called business. Guess I’ll go see ta yer wheels.”
Al did just that, making short work of identifying and removing the offending components. Once they were soaking in the solvent, he thought of washing up before going to check out the helicopter but decided it would be boring. He did, however, take the time to hunt out the hippie. Found him in front of a fire with his familiar or whatever she was. Easy to look at, he had to admit. Made him wonder…but he pushed that thought aside…too damned many unnatural notions came into his head on these sorts of jobs. “Lookin’ mighty comfy there, kemo sabe,” he said, speaking directly to the human and paying no further more mind to that spirit than had it been a lamp. “Gon’ go check out the lady’s whirlybird, ya got a mind ta come with.”
#24
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The men find Alyce outside at the helipad, looking over her Hughes Stallion WK-4 helicopter.  She and a man are walking around the outside of the large rotary aircraft, doing some sort of pre-flight inspection.  Alyce turns to face Al as he comes up, excitement on her face.  "Hey there, boys.  Come to see my new baby?  She's a beaut, isn't she?"  She motions to the man standing next to her.  Al has met him before at the restaurant next door to Alyce's book shop in London, but then he was the maitre d' there.  Alyce nods at Dream and Al as she says, "Al, you remember Richard?  He is Stephanie's fiancee and I brought him out to be my estate manager and general odds body.  Dream, meet Richard.  Al, Richard is my usual co-pilot but tonight he is giving that slot to you if you want it.  He will come along with Stephanie so they can do some errands in London.  You guys want to look around?  I can give you the five nuyen tour if you like."
 
Alyce leads the men onto the aircraft and motions with an arm.  The pilot and co-pilot seats are visible through an open door to the flight deck, while the main cabin can seat six in contoured leather seats that swivel from front to any direction and there is enough separation between seats to allow them to tip back nearly horizontal.  The loo and a small food preparation area are forward between the main cabin and the flight deck.  A bulkhead door is aft and is currently slid aside to reveal a cargo space.  Alyce points out some of the features.  "Posh seating for all of us.  This seat is set for an Elf and I have one that can convert to fit an Ork.  Plenty of entertainment options at your fingertips.  The fridge up front has cooled beverages. Al, you will find a case of your fav canned UCAS beers ready to drink and there are two more cases from which to swap out warm ones for cold.  Dream, I prefer wines and vodka so that is what else is available, but I can swap out for anything you prefer as I will be piloting this thing and not drinking.  Snacks, coffee, tea, and even some roast duck are available for the low low fee of a smile.  And don't worry about the blind girl flying.  I have been taking lessons and have my license already.  The sensor suite upgrades make it easy for me to get us to London all safe and secure.  If the worst happens and we lose rotor power, the glider feature will auto-rotate us safely to the ground.  So, I guess the big question is whether we are flying out tonight or getting some rest and leaving sometime after we wake up in the morning?  If we are staying, I can show Al the work I am having done on the boat house and sea dock."
 
23
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“Reckon I’m as firm a believer inna mañana principle as anyone,” Al answered, “but this bein’ a payin’ gig, well, Good Book says a man lives by the sweat of his brow. It also says ta kill vampires. Reckon my vote’s fer leavin’ post haste. Dreamy here’s the boss, though….”
#25
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Alyce nods at Al's comments and turns to Dream and Petal.  "I pretty much know what Al likes to eat and I have a couple of steaks thawing and a roast duck, but do either of you have any special likes or dislikes for food and drink that I should be aware of?  There is still time to lay in something if I do not already have it aboard, especially if we are not leaving right away.  Try out one of the seats, Petal, and let me know if it is comfortable enough for you."
 
#24
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Petal bounced up into the seat like a little kid with a delighted grin on her face, whilst Dream followed at a more sedate pace with a wry smile on his features
 
“Thank you, but I follow our kind’s leanings towards vegetarianism.  I’m sure I will survive the short hop to London…”
 
“I’ll have a beer” Petal piped up and Dream laughed, “I’m not sure you’ll like it much more than the cider you tried last week but you are welcome to try.” And turning back to Robyn “We haven’t had much excitement in the last few years, please excuse my companion’s exuberance, I assure you that when it comes down to it she will be a valuable part of the team…”
 
To which Petal stuck out her tongue at him and broke into a peal of little girl giggles and a look of disgust at the beer as she took a swig…
 
#15
 
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Alyce laughs and nods her head in sympathy with Petal.  "Yeah, I don't much like the stuff, either.  Like I said, I am more a wine and vodka girl."  She turns to Dream with a smile.  "I never really was a vegetarian.  Too much meat in my diet as I grew up, I guess.  I was one of the first UGE kids and my parents were completely unsure how to treat me.  In the end, they decided to treat me like any other kid.  Well, taking the fact that I lived in an EVO compound and was guarded 24/7 by Vory soldiers, I guess my life wasn't exactly typical.  Still, I don't think I turned out too bad?  I do have some nice salads in the fridge here so help yourself if you get hungry."
 
She walks to the door and looks over her shoulder.  "As it appears we are leaving tonight, I have some additional last minute checks to make.  I will be back in a few minutes so please make yourselves comfortable.  Alyce disappears out the door but is indeed back inside the helicopter within ten minutes, accompanied by Stephanie, Richard, and a huge black hound.  Alyce puts a hand on the hound's head.  "This is Alfie.  He takes care of me sometimes.  I usually just let him wander the estate but I thought that I would bring him along to London.  I think the plan is that he will go around to the shop and stay there until we are ready to come back home.  Please allow him to sniff you as I tell him that you are friends."  She faces Dream and Petal.  "I am sure that you can tell by his dual nature that Alfie is not just a normal service animal.  Nor is he just a pet.  I advise caution around him."
 
After having the Hell Hound sniff the hands and auras of both of the strangers, Alyce makes some clicking sounds and the hound goes to a vacant spot on the floor and lies down.  Alyce turns and walks to the flight deck of the helicopter and takes a seat in the pilot's chair.  Richard motions to Al.  "Would you care to sit co-pilot?"
 
#25
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“Heh. Reckon I always figured co-pilots was fer pussies. But I’m happy ta set up here with ya. An’ you,” Al scolded, swivelling his seat around to face Petal, “Ya ain’t gon’ finish that, give ‘er here. Ya don’t wanna eat meat, that’s on you, but one thing ol’ Al can’t abide, it’s a beer-waster.”
#26
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Richard steps aside as Al grabs the beer from Petal, who is still making an odd face over the taste of the beer.  She hands it off to Al with a smile.  "Sure, here you go.  Thank you for taking it."
 
Al walks up to the cockpit and takes the seat next to Alyce, who is strapping into the safety harness.  As he sits, she turns to face him and smiles broadly.  When she speaks, her words come over the intercom.  Please try to have your seat belts fastened while we are moving, just in case we hit unexpected turbulence.  We will be departing in a couple of minutes.  I will be out in the cabin in about an hour but if you need to speak to me before that, please use the matrix as I will not be able to respond otherwise.  There is no stewardess on this flight so the kitchen and bar are self service.  Anyone who wants to give Alfie a treat may do so; there is a bag of beef bones in the kitchen.  He loves them and it is a good way to make friends."
 
She points to the advanced control panel screens, dials, and gauges as she explains their purpose to Al "just in case".  Stephanie brings a briefcase into the cockpit and snaps it into a bracket on the floor and returns to the main cabin to take her seat.  Alyce reaches down and quickly types some sort of code on a number pad in the top of the case before placing her hand on a green plate that swings out from the case's side.  As the plate retracts, Alyce takes a cord from the side of the case and plugs it into a receptacle in the control panel.  She blows Al a kiss and says, "See you in a bit, Al.  I am off to lala land."  Reaching up to her neck, she slides a piece of skin open and grabs the lead of a long cable that she plugs into the case, immediately collapsing in her seat, the safety harness keeping her from falling out of her seat.  The timbre of the engines changes as the rotors begin spinning faster, eventually lifting the helicopter off the pad and into the air. 
 
Al gets a message on his 'link.  >>God, I love this, Al.  I am really living as part of the machine.  Better, I can jump to any of my drones or anything else tied into my network from here.  it is almost as much fun as roaming the matrix.  I am still a bit new at it, though, so no laughing unless I am laughing, too.<<
 
The large helicopter turns over the manor, flying above the village and heading off towards London.
 
#26
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Al voice-texted back <<Well, like she says inna Good Book, ta each his own. Better you than me, toots.>> He had pretended to listen politely as she explained the console, amused that she trusted him to be her co-pilot but didn’t think he knew how to use the instruments. Well, at least she was courteous enough to even have manual controls, since she clearly wasn’t going to use them herself. For all polite listening, however, he seemed to have missed the part about strapping in.
 
So he looked out the windows for a while, glad to be up front with the most beautiful woman in the world instead of in the cabin where the ghost-girl was tittering and giggling over the creature Alyce called a companion. To each his own.
 
As they got nearer London, he asked, <<You rent a helipad somewhere? Or maybe ya jist bought Buckingham Palace one day in between brain surgeries? Hear they got a nice lawn.>>
 
#27
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Aria:
>>Yes, I rent a pad at Heathrow.  I was not aware that Buckingham Palace is for sale; do you know what they are asking for that pile of rock?  Two cars will be waiting at the heliport when we get there; one will take Stephanie, Richard, and Alfie into London and the other is a rental for us to use.  I think I will let you do the driving, if you don't mind.  Say, how are my readouts doing?  You know, those monitors and gauges I was showing you on the left of your console?  Remember, those monitor me to make sure that I am doing OK in here and not in some sort of difficulty.  Take a quickie look and see what they say.  In extremis, you would need to take over the controls and those monitors will be your first hint that I am in trouble so I would dearly appreciate it if you paid at least some attention to those screens, just in case I have a heart attack or something.  OK, putting this thing on autopilot for a bit and coming out now.<<
 
Alyce's body moves slightly and she takes a deep breath before reaching down to disconnect the cable linking her neck to the case at her side.  She shakes her head a bit and faces Al.  "Wow!  What a rush.  Are you hungry or thirsty?"
 
She stands and stretches.  "I think I need to work on the ergonomics of that seat.  I get a bit stiff after being plugged in for a while.  I was going to fix you a steak and potato if you want.  Come talk to me while I prepare the food, if you want.  Oh, wait, let me deploy the babies."  She bends over to touch the console and seems to take a long time to push two lousy buttons.  The slight scent of her jasmine perfume wafts up to Al and she is close enough that he would only need to move a hand slightly to touch her, to feel her skin beneath his hands.  Even he can tell the difference in her breathing as she leans in next to him.  A slight noise from in front of him drags his attention to a row of small monitors that have been dark until now.  The top two are marked as BB1 and BB2 and he can see feeds from what must be a couple of drones flying outside the craft.  "Those are my two Bumblebees.  These have some non-standard mods on them, but nothing that decreases their lethality.  I have them jived up to where I only need to run the big girl at just under max normal speed and the babies can keep up."  She shifts a bit to point to the six monitors below the BBs and her body position puts her almost across Al's lap, such that he can feel the soft weight of her breasts on his thighs as she continues.  "Those are for the eye drones that I can deploy to give my sensors some additional coverage by tying them into the net."  She points to another monitor just to the side of those for the drones.  "That one is currently disengaged, but I have a bloody neat autocannon that mounts under the fuselage and is controlled from here if we ever need to use this girl on a mission.  Even ISaint might like that one."
 
Alyce stands and reaches out to touch Al very gently on the shoulder.  "I am glad that you came out to see me, Al.  Thank you very much." 
 
She turns and goes off into the kitchen area and announces that she is taking orders for breakfast as there is still over two hours before the helicopter arrives in London.  She takes a tray of thawed steaks out of a small fridge and tosses one down the aisle to where Alfie grabs it out of the air and starts in on it.  "Well, that is one satisfied customer.  Orders?"
 
Stephanie and Richard come forward to assist her with passing out beverages and salads as Alyce turns to Al.  "Are you the grilling sort, Al, or should I do the honors?"
 
#27
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“I’m more the sittin’ type,” Al replied matter-of-factly as he reclined with a beer. “Honor’s all yours, toots. Ol’ Al never dream o’ standin’ betwixt a womern an’ ‘er duties.”
 
With steak on its way, Al passed on the variety of colorful gourmet salads. His mind was on the job at hand. Vampires. He hoped it was true. Damned leeches spreading their unholy rot. He’d need some things. He pulled out his commlink and directed the Porsche to the short-term parking at Heathrow.
 
#28
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A silence descends on the cabin at Al's words.  Alyce holds up her spatula and Stephanie nods and comes to take her place in the kitchen while Alyce walks back into the cockpit and sits down with Al.  She talks calmly and in a soft voice so that the conversation stays between the two of them.  "Al. I am going to say some things that might hurt or they might not, but please listen to me.  I love you like no woman has ever loved a man and for that I am willing to put up with everything you do or don't say and do to me.  But there are times when what you say is very demeaning, belittling, or even quite insulting to me and to women in general.  You say these things as if they were nature's or God's laws and maybe you were brought up to believe that.  I will hope that you at least try to be more tolerant and think about how your words might affect someone before you say them.  I seriously request that you change how you refer to women in general and my friends in specific."
 
#28
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Al’s usual wolfish grin widened, teeth clamped onto his cigarette, and both hands came up in peace symbols. He gave Alyce a broad wink with the eye that faced away from the others, then said in a voice just loud enough for all to overhear, “Guilty as charged, toots. Ol’ Al’s been out amongst the heathen for nigh on three decades now, so reckon I’m well ‘nuff acquainted with they post-modernized sensitivities.” Then he gave her another private wink and pitched his voice so that only her enhanced hearing could pick it up. “Gotcha. Ain’t never had no mind ta keep maidservants myself, much less o’ the frog persuasion, so I’ll allow I warn’t thinkin’ on yer predicament, but I sure as hell ain’t here ta queer things for ye with the help. Reckon I can play along.”
 
#29
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Alyce's face takes on a determined look and she sits back in her seat to gather her thoughts before sliding forward.  Her words are spoken so that no one but Al can hear them.  "No, Al. You are not getting it.  I really think that your tone of voice and the words you say are demeaning and sometimes insulting to me as well as others.  What you just said is a good example of that.  You may not even realize how you are coming off to others and I do not know how to let you know other than to tell you.  Stephanie and Richard, and a number of other people work for me, but I do not consider them my servants.  To me, they are my extended family and I try to treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.  Please try to remember that when you talk to or about them, otherwise you just come off as rude and insensitive.  I love you, Al, and sometimes you frustrate me but that is the price of being in love, I guess."
 
Alyce stands and puts out a hand to the seat to balance her, but misses the first time.  She stumbles a bit then regains her footing, laughing.  "Must be some of that turbulence.  I will let you know when your dinner is ready."  She moves back to the kitchen and takes over from Stephanie
 
#29
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The steak was really good. Al was glad Alyce had broken off the discussion before he could reply, since at the rate he was going he might have talked himself right out of this meal. Which was at least twice, maybe even three times as good as a lamb tikka soyrito. The steak made him think of stakes. And then the seasoning made him think of garlic.  It was clear his mind had been turned to bloodsuckers. And how best to slay them. He’d heard they weren’t to be taken lightly. A quick search turned up dozens of “authoritative” texts on them. Like so many things, the problem  these days wasn’t a lack of info, but a surfeit. Not a problem - a quick mail to his friend Daniel and he had a manageable list of references. Downloaded them (and some were not cheap), ran them through his favorite manga conversion, and got to work.

#30
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Alyce finishes the meals to order and takes hers and Al's into the cockpit area, handing him his, along with a cold can of beer.  She sits in her chair and pops out the table from the armrest, placing her meal tray on it and begins to eat.  Flicking some mental buttons, she has some of the more recent psychobilly tracks play softly from hidden speakers in Al's chair and some concert cello music from hers.  Her sensors show that Al seems to be working something out and not much in a mood for talking so she decides to just sit in silence as she eats.  Her internal scanners are flipping through the feeds from the helicopter sensors as well as those from the two deployed drones.  She also checks the flight time and fuel consumption and smiles at the savings she is seeing in the new and apparently more efficient multi-fuel engine she had installed. 
 
When both are finished eating, Alyce takes the trays back to the kitchen and stores them in the appropriate racks before returning to the cockpit with another beer for Al.  Sitting in the pilot's seat, she straps into her harness and accesses the intercom.  "I hope everyone enjoyed their meal.  I am going to take the helicopter off autopilot now and finish taking her into London.  At current speed and outside winds, I estimate about 103.275 minutes to touchdown.  Give or take."  Alyce again pulls the cable from the side of her neck and slots it into the case at her side.  Her body goes limp as she jumps into the machine and takes control of it.  Al notes that the monitors labeled BB1 and BB2 begin to flash and their sensors show they are closing in on the helicopter.  The process to bring the drones back on board is simple and takes little time.  As soon as the monitors go blank, the helicopter picks up speed as it dashes through the night towards London.
 
#30
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Petal chuckled quietly to herself over the byplay between Al and Alyce, so much confusion and certainty wrapped up in one place!
 
“He’s a naughty man” she whispered to Dream
 
“He is what he is.  We do not know why he or his kind have the effect that they do on events around them but the warping effect should keep the Guild from realising what we are doing until it is too late…at least that is the hope”
 
“Would you like me to go on ahead and check on the lodge?  I’m bored with this helicopter business now…”
 
“Yes please my dear, that would be helpful…we will see you soon”
 
And with a faint waft of apple blossom she was gone…
 
#16
 
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On approach to her rented pad, Alyce ties into the sensors and cameras she had installed there and on the access drive and is happy to see that the autos she had ordered are present in the car park just outside the gate to the pad.  She calls out on the intercom to have everyone strap in for the landing and brings the large helicopter in smoothly.  Glad of her newly trained skillset, she returns to her body and disconnects the cable from the case, letting it retract into her neck, then disconnecting the case from the console.  Richard already has the door open and is assisting the others onto the pad and collecting any suitcases from the cargo area.  He walks over to a waiting fuel truck and talks to the two men there then returns to the helicopter to carry Stephanie's bags to the car.  The Hellhound bounds out of the machine and immediately goes off to sniff at the grass on the edge of the pad before settling on a spot to mark as his.  When all are ready, Alyce sends a command to the gate blocking the access drive and it opens to allow the group to approach the waiting autos. 

Alyce stores a small suitcase in the boot of the rental car but places her RCC in the front on the passenger side.  She exchanges embraces with Stephanie, Richard, and Alfie as they get in their auto then looks at Dream and Al.  "I assume that Petal will be meeting us somewhere so where are we going, and who is driving?"

#31
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Aria:
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Private Helipad, Heathrow, UK]
 
Doing his best to ignore the lady’s not so internal dilemma, Dream responded quietly “Yes, Petal has gone on ahead to our place near the Heath to check that it is undisturbed.  The proximity to the Heath will make it a little more comfortable for myself and Petal and I would rather go there than to somewhere nearer our target.
 
And I am more than happy for you to drive, I am surprised that you need to ask after you just flew us here from Cornwall!  London traffic may be bad but at least it notionally has Grid Guide to keep the worst of its demons at bay, not so this London air…” and he took a deep breath on a rebreather before continuing… “I always forget just how polluted it is here.  Please, lead the way…”
 
#17
 
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Alyce laughs as she bends into the auto to move her case to the rear seat.  She leaves the door open as she walks around the front of the car and slides into the driver's seat.  "It is not that I doubt my ability to drive, but I thought it polite to ask if you preferred to.  Do you want to stop anywhere along the way?" 
 
Once in the auto, she closes her door and straps into the seat then reaches out into the matrix to familiarizes herself with the various dials and monitors available on the console.  She sets the address Dream gives her into theonboard GPS and draws a cable from the side of her neck, slipping it into the rigger slot on the dash.  Alyce settles back into her seat.  "Alright.  I will be away from my body for a bit, so you will have to contact me through the matrix if you need to talk to me.  And we are off."  Her body goes limp as she jumps into the car and feels around in it.  She is a bit disappointed at the quality of the sensors, but is overall satisfied and puts the car in motion, heading out of the car park and off to the address she was given.
 
#32
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[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Shirlock Road, London, UK]
 
The terrace house was a slightly crumbling, unassuming example of countless others scattered across the outer streets of London. Parking some distance from the actual address, Dream led Alyce there, rather unnecessarily pointing out cracked pavements or puddles of the incessant London mizzle.
 
“Don’t worry, the curtains may be twitching but these aren’t the sort of people to upload images on their MeFeeds.  Even if they are I have taken the liberty of having Petal change our appearances so we are the most boring couple in London right now.  She will meet us inside, she’s rather keen to get going with this so please excuse her enthusiasms”
 
#18
 
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Alyce parks the auto where directed and unplugs from the dash after emerging back into her meat world body.  After securing the car, she slips an arm through one of Dreams and lets him escort her down the road to the address he had indicated was their destination.  The row of nearly decrepit structures on either side of the street tell a story of long years of abuse and little maintenance.  Once a proud example of the hopes and dreams of a nation trying to support its urban middle class, the area has deteriorated to the point that it would be hard to find any urban middle class still living here.  Now these homes are the living areas for old pensioners, prostitutes, drug dealers, and petty criminals of all stripes.  Still, it is a neighborhoodand is certainly in better condition than some of the places Alyce has lived in.  She has four eyes flying about her, allowing her to have warning if anything in the "not nice" category is waiting for them.  Otherwise, her ultrasound and radar sensors allow her to see the cracks in the pavement and the water puddles, but she is careful to thank Dream for his kindness.
 
She does, indeed, notice the fluttering of some of the curtains, but her eyes let he know that she has little to fear from the people peering at her and Dream as they walk.  Her agent is actively making continuous sweeps for silent icons and anything that looks like a wireless weapon.  Of course, that does not protect her from throwbacks or weapons with the wireless turned off, but there seems to be little interest in them other than mere curiosity, and that for only as long as it takes them to pass the houses with the people watching them.
 
She turns to Dream and moves closer against him, much as a prostitute might move against a client, and chuckles.  "I was unaware of the change, but thank you for letting me know.  Am I pretty or do I appear to be well used and lucky to have scored you for the night?" 
 
As they approach the house, she nods.  "I, too, am keen to get going on this.  Al has a pretty basic plan that needs to be fluffed out a bit, but I think that we are on the right track.  And Petal's enthusiasm will not bother me, although it does seem that her enthusiasm is a variable quality and she quickly loses interest in things.  She had appeared to be quite excited by the helicopter as were boarding it but her excitement paled before we arrived in London.  Is that to be expected in this case as well?"
 
#33
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Dream laughed, “Well in fairness to Petal, when you can fly through the glories of the astral a noisy vibrating helicopter is likely to lose its appeal after an hour or so!  When it is important she will be as focused as is needed, fear not.  Now, we must get ourselves off the street and await Al.  I must confess that Petal’s spell isn’t the most flattering, it will be better looking on your natural visage I assure you…”
 
#19
 
---------------
Alyce chuckles as she walks to the door with Dream.  "Unflattering doesn't bother me.  I was just curious if I was supposed to be a skag.  There was a time when I did not need a disguise to play that role.  It was back over forty years ago and I was living in the 'Zone."
 
She leans against Dream as he unlocks and opens the door and accompanies him inside.  She straightens up and looks around after he closes the door.  "You keep the room looking as it should be, eh?  Or is this an illusion as well?"
 
#34
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The asphalt was cracked on the one-lane road that ran along the south bank of the Thames between Oxford and Walton-on-Thames, a virtual ghost town, a once-rustic village that never recovered from a ghoul rampage in ’43. To Al’s left were brown fields, newly planted with winter wheat. On his right were heavy brambles alternating with seas of weeds taller than a man. The dirt track that ventured into one such sea was barely visible from the road, its entrance overgrown, the resilient growth still standing but frayed by the regular trampling by Al’s various cars. Once he was well into the ocean of green the dirt track was less overgrown, as Al had used some crap that made Agent Orange look like Weed-Off.
 
Pulling into the rocky clearing between his rusting Caravan and the boathouse that hosted his workshops (and housed his boat), he got out of the car and spotted Spike under the Caravan, night black coat almost invisible in the shadows, the lazy mutt too comfortable to bother coming out for a real greeting. He barked twice by way of hello. He was not alone. Near him under Al’s house was the snow white Akita. If she weren’t a bitch she’d have had big brass ones.
 
He walked up to the two. He could have squatted down to their level to be more sociable, but didn’t. Spike barked again, tongue hanging out of his mouth and drooling unselfconsciously. “Shut it, yatraitorous turncoat. An’ you…bad ‘nuff gittin’ all up in my dreams, ya gotta show up at my house?….” The Akita merely panted up at Al innocently. “The Chukchi Peninsula? Sure, wherever the livin’ fuck that is, put it on my to-do list.” Spike began chewing at a spot between his legs. The Akita, of course, was far too dignified for that. “No, ain’t goin’ now, doin’ somethin’. I’ll go after. An’ ya best make worth my while, cuz the voodoo god’s’re uppin’ they game, now they got competition. Now git.” He aimed a scuffed Doc Marten at the fluffy canine but it was too quick. Took off out from under the other side of the trailer. Spike whined.
 
“An’ you, you best watch yerself. Have yer soul, She will. Tell ya things best not heard.”
 
He went back to the car, pulled it into the big boathouse next to the Ferrari and the GMC, and unloaded a big plastic Home Warehouse bag onto a work table. He’d come here to work, but now he felt tired. He went into the Caravan, grabbed some beers, and drank himself to sleep in his clothes.
 
#32

Aria:
Al woke from troubled dreams, and contemplated them as he pissed out the door of the Caravaner. Damned Eater of Worlds or whatever it had been. Did something that happened in a place that wasn’t even real really happen? Well, some frog had said cogito ergo es. Al figured that rememberus ergohappenedus made just as much sense. Congratulating himself on his philosophical breakthrough, he buttoned his fly, grabbed some beers and soyritos, and went out to his workshop. Nuked the ‘ritos and cracked the first beer. Midday or so, by the look of the sun. He’d had a mind to get back to London by evening in case hiscoworkers wanted to go right away, but then realized he had it all turned around. Going against a drac, you naturally went in by day. Whatever, he’d go in the evening, then they could spend the night on prep if they wanted. While he watched trid.
 
He laid out the three handivacs he’d bought and charged them up. By the end of a couple of hours he’d figured a way to reverse the servos so that he could toggle between sucking and blowing (heh heh) and souped up the power supply to increase the power for both functions. Did it for all three. Might be too techy for the hippie. And Alyce, she had a sensor array put the damned USS Enterprise to shame, but he was damned if he could figure how she could pick up a mist. But he’d learned not to underestimate her. So he’d have handivacs for them if they wanted them.
 
Checked his ammo cabinet. Ten wood pulp capsules. He downloaded a how-to tutorial and watched it while he swapped out the loads to give them a bit of extra oomph. Then made ten more with the same extra charge. He rarely fired ten rounds in any fight, rarely half that. But what the hell - if he found he liked killing vampires - and he had no doubt he would - then they’d be useful later. Loaded two clips and pocketed the extras.
 
He loaded everything into the Bulldog, tossed the soyritos he’d forgotten about at Spike, and got the beast on the road for London. Punched the number. “Where y’all at?”
 
#33
 
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Dream shows Alyce to one of the bedrooms and she strips down and gets into the bed.  Part of her mutated brain is working on the problems at hand and searching for more information, assisted by a very good agent.  The other part was wondering what Al is doing.  She smiles as she considers that he is probably zonked out in a chair with a can of beer in his hand and the trid playing.  She wonders briefly if he ever spares any thoughts for her then sends notes to Gem and Grace to let her know that she has arrived in London safely.
 
Waking in the morning, she makes use of the loo and goes to the kitchen to see what she can do about some breakfast.  Her sensors pick out that this place has certainly not been well used lately, illusion or not.  She sets to cleaning the kitchen and sorting some food for breakfast.  By the time Dream is up and puts in an appearance, she has some bacon, eggs, and toast ready.  "Petal going to join us?  I was not sure so made enough to include her for breakfast as well.  I hope that you like your eggs with a bit of a kick and the bacon cooked hard.  I really don't much care for bacon fat so tend to cook it a bit beyond what some people like.  You are allowed to complain, but then you will be responsible for cooking your own food from here on."
 
Dream looks at the food and sniffs.  "Smells lovely.  Petal will be joining us shortly and she would love to try everything, but I am not sure that she will eat much.  She is not completely certain which foods she likes."
 
Alyce serves the food onto newly cleaned plates and brings them to the table that she has set for three.  "Eat up."  After a few bites, she says, "Not bad, actually.  So do you support our plan to go into the neighboring building then cross over to the target building and go get this mirror?  Or do you have a different idea.  If you accept the plan, what sort of support can you and Petal bring to the table?  I would think some sort of mojo slinging, but I do not know you well enough to guess."
 
#35
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“Much as I would like to impress you and Al with my vast array of mojo that may lead to an unsafe reliance on my skills.  I don’t doubt you have worked with many more versed in spells and power than I.  My gift is principally detection and divination, and so essentially what I bring to the table for this misadventure is Petal, her gifts far outweigh my own for any confrontation.  Both of us are able to provide a measure of astral scouting and once we are inside the mansion’s wards we will hopefully be able to find the location of the mirror quite quickly.  That should be worth more than combat spells.  Now that I have learnt the levitation spell I am less concerned about playing at being a monkey and clambering around outside buildings many stories in the air…I’m not as young as I once” he replied with a grin
 
“So will Al be joining us soon?”
 
#20
 
---------------
Alyce laughs easily.  "I am impressed by anyone who can use mojo.  Can you use that levitation on others or do Al and I take our chances the old fashioned way?"  She turns her face to the window, even though she cannot see through the glass and responds in a soft voice.  "I do not know when Al will be joining us as he rarely confides in me on such matters and this time is no exception.  I do know that he is a professional and is off looking into ways to help us complete the mission.  I have learned to not bother him in situations like this, so I think our best bet is to be patient."
 
After breakfast, Alyce does the wash up and starts a pot of hot water for her Earl Grey.  She slips into her room and returns to the kitchen with a tin of biscuits and small container of lemon wedges.  At the table, Alyce removes several Jammie Dodgers from the tin, stacking them in a pile in front of her before closing it back up and pushing it off to the side while she waits for the water to boil.  That she makes it all the way to filling the cup and adding a bit of lemon to her tea before she picks up one of the biscuits can be considered a near miracle ofself control.
 
After tea and biscuits, Alyce gets comfortable in the chair and sends her consciousness out to the matrix, her real world.  She had seen............something...........out there when she was looking into how to infiltrate the mansion.  That something had actually scared her just a bit and she wants to know what it is.  Something about it had seemed a bit familiar...............
 
Walking the matrix is not like walking anywhere else and Alyce's avatar travels the globe several times while she is away from her meat body.  Her agent detects nothing, yet Alyce is sure that there is something.  That she cannot see more of it than a shadow that moves as she approaches is frustrating and nothing she does helps solidify whatever it is or allows her to get close enough to see anything more definitive.  Finally, she devises a method to send a copy of herself in front of the shadow which causes it to turn aside for just a fraction of a second, but a fraction of a second at the speed of light and thought is a very long time and Alyce catches a glimpse of what she has been following and the image is her own face.  The other her grins malevolently at her avatar and for the first time since she began going to the matrix as a teenager, Alyce is frightened.  The shadow moves a bit closer then races off in a different direction asAlyce recalls her agent and slips back into her body, trembling.  She stands up, reaching out for the edge of the table that has inexplicably moved and her hand comes down on air, causing her to lose her balance and fall to the floor.
 
Pulling her knees to her chest, Alyce sits on the floor as she gathers her breathing and her wits.  While there, she runs a diagnostic of her ultrasound sensor to see why it had led her to think the table edge was in a different position than it really was.  When the diagnostic comes back with a clean bill of health for the scanner, she shrugs, concluding  that perhaps what she has seen on the matrix has unnerved her more than she had thought it had.
 
#36
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Alyce felt a hand on her shoulder and she realised with a start that she hadn’t even registered anyone approaching.  Petal’s voice comes gently and soothingly…
 
“Are you well?  Your aura is troubled…please, will you allow me to cast some healing on you?”
 
#21
 
---------------
 
Alyce tries to get herself back in order.  She must really be out of sorts if she did not detect Petal walking up to her.  Of course, she might have just materialized, which makes Alyce feel a bit better.  In a way, she feels lonely and pretty much alone.  She had grown attached to Al....Alfie....over the past couple of years and for more than his ability to detect astral beings.  Al does not like the Hell Hound so she has left it at home rather than create more issues with him than she already has, but that hound could sure come in handy at times.  She shakes her head as if to clear it.  "Thanks.  I think I may need to lay down for a bit and I would not mind at all if you can try some healing.  I am troubled, yes, and maybe that is showing in my aura.  I am seeing something odd on the matrix but I do not know what it is or why it is odd.  Maybe I have been pushing myself too hard.  Perhaps I will take  a nice holiday after this is over.  I have been approached by someone about an expedition into the Amazon and it sounds like fun."
 
Alyce stands without any trouble, her sensors working perfectly now.  She smiles at Petal and walks with her to the bedroom she was assigned and lays down on the bed.  "OK.  Work your magic on me.........and thanks."
 
#37
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“Ok, don’t be alarmed, I’m going to change forms, it is easier for some magics…just the way Dream envisaged me when he sought me out I suppose.  Or not, the metaphysics are something that I haven’t worried too much about, am I me because that is how he made me?  Or am I me because that…” and as she gently prattled on Robyn realised she was no longer talking to a twenty something young women but to a far younger girl, perhaps fourteen…the sweet lilt of apple blossoms was strong as Petal wove healing magic in to Robyn’s aura
“There, done what I can.  I’m not sure there was an injury but your aura is much calmer anyway so I managed something” and she grinned down at Robyn and in a mischievous tone asked
“So what is it about Al?  I know you can’t see how powerful he is, and perhaps you can see what an ugly bastard he is, his manners are atrocious and his cleanliness is a little hit or miss, well more miss really…so why does the beautiful elven maiden swoon whenever he’s near?”
#21
 
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Alyce actually does feel a bit better after the healing spell and says so.  "Thank you very much for that, Petal."
She does not pause one moment when Petal asks about Al.  "The answer to that question is that I love him.  I love him with all my heart and soul.  You are certainly not the only person who has questioned what I see in him and I will tell you what I tell them.  Al is the kindest, bravest, most honest man I know.  He has flaws, as do all of us.  He has accepted my blindness and my stubbornness and I have accepted everything he is.  I would go anywhere and do anything to be with him.....................if he would let me.  I know that he loves me, but there is something holding him back from jumping in.  He will not talk about it and I am afraid that I do not make that easier for him.  I am a skilled professional woman and I am very good at what I do, but my brain seems to go to mush whenever I am near him.  I say the dumbest things and display so much emotion that he runs away."
She sighs.  "I really wish that someday he will want to sit me down and tell me to stay quiet while he talks and then tells me what the problem is.  Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that the problem is me.  Despite my mind and my abilities, I am an emotional train wreck and I am sure that is why he won't stay with me.  And I am equally sure that I am not capable of being anything but what I am, and he sees that better than I do and so chooses to stay away from me.  This is a case of true irony, right?  I am so terribly in love with a man that loves me but cannot stand to be with me for more than a short while before I drive him away.  My heart has broken and I really do not know how to put it back together because that requires his help and he is not interested enough in me to do that.  I guess you could say that the real issue, once you peel what I think are the various layers away, is that I love him with a searing, soul-burning desire and passion, enough to be the stuff of legend and be retold to generations to follow as an example of how a woman can love a man.  To me, whatever faults he has are cosmetic and I can accept anything he is or wants to be, even if that is not with me.  Al, on the other hand, though he does love me, it is not with the same passion and fire.  I have faults that he chooses not to overlook, or perhaps simply cannot overlook.  Whatever the reason, he does not love me with the same intensity and passion."
She sighs again.  "Pretty bloody sad, really, when you think about it.  However, no matter how sad it is, it is what I have and what I am.  He cannot accept me and my flaws and I do not know how to change to be acceptable.  He has said a couple of times that he does not want me to change anything, but then he runs away when I am me.  I am sorry for blasting all of this.  You did ask and I guess I am hoping for a miracle of advice that will open my eyes to the solution.  Bloody fragging crazy, is what I am, and I suppose there is no cure for it.  I live every day with the fear, no, the abject terror that he will die some day and I will never have heard him say that he truly, truly loves me and accepts me entirely for what I am, just as I feel about him.  I am so fragging bloody lost, Petal, and so afraid."  Tears are flowing from sightless eyes by now.  "See?  What did I say.  Too emotional.  Thank you for staying and listening."
#38
————————

Aria:
Al’s fingers were tapping the steering wheel to Hillbilly Moon Explosion’s rendition of Jackson with Mark Philips as the lights of The Smoke hove into view. Traffic was heavy, and as usual he’d disdained the GridGuide. Compared to the fluidity of the Aguilar’s handling, the Bulldog drove like a real pig. Still, reflected Al with pride, after the work he’d done on her, she’d outperform most upscale cars on the road. Not to mention that she was a tank. Not that she looked it - same boring utility white as thousands of other builders’ vans in England, this one with Junk & Disorderly written in cursive on both sides and the rear, with a commcode and matching AROs pledging to haul away old furniture, garden waste, electric appliances, rubble, and unwanted mothers-in-law.                                                                                                                                                   
#34
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Whatever Petal had done brings a restful sleep to Alyce, something she has been missing for some time and it is already getting onto evening by the time she wakes.  Stretching, Alyce slides out of the bed and goes to the kitchen to make some tea.  While putting the pot on, she gets Al's message and smiles.  Damn, she just cannot keep from smiling every time she hears his voice.  Carrying the pot to the table she sends him a reply.  "Hey there.  Missed you.  Address is attached.  I hope that you are not driving that fancy auto as there is no garage and you would need an armed tactical response unit guarding it to keep it in one piece out here.  See you soon." 
#39
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Knowing he already had the nondescript base covered, Al simply kept driving, reaching Belsize Park in twenty minutes. The area around Royal Free Hospital was still incredibly upscale, and he’d been surprised to hear Alyce’s estimate of Shirlock Road. But he found it as so many other urban maelstroms - where a single street can demarcate economic night and day, depending on myriad social, demographic, and infrastructural factors. The terraced homes a stone’s throw from the Heath’s southern reaches should still have been commanding millions….who knew what had happened, but it was a slum now. Probably the Council had started using it for housing a few decades back and there’d been no reversing - only containing - the inevitable rot. At least the corps had had the good sense to put the welfare state out of its misery. He parked in front of the address and stepped out of the van. The anti-theft system activated automatically as he approached the house. He knocked on the door and looked up at the moon. Crescent. Dammit. Full would have set the tone for a Drac-hunt so nicely. But this was real life, not the trid. His life was so incredibly cool, sometimes he had to remind himself.
#35
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After she gets Al's message, she lets Dream and Petal know that Al is on the way and puts on more water for tea for the others and makes sure that there are some beers in the fridge for Al.
 
One of Alyce's drones lets her know that a van has entered the street the safe house is on and she focuses her attention on it as it approaches.  She smiles to herself when the vehicle stops and Al steps out of it.  Her heart gives a short skip when the drone sensor catches his face but she puts a mask on by the time he knocks on the door and she opens it.  "Hey there.  Nice to see you.  Got everything you need?  Catchy sign for the van, by the way."
 
#40
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 Al gave Alyce’s ass a smack as he blew past her for the kitchen. Beers were there as expected. Opening one, he answered her. “Can’t take credit. Real outfit. Jist lifted they sign. Reckon they’s gittin’ free advertisin’ out of it. Where’s the hippie an’ his otherearthly companion? Hey, lookee what I conjured up.” He shook the three handivacs out onto the table. Picked one up. Poked around until he found some flour and tossed a handful into the air, then sucked swathes of the powdery cloud into the device. “Some folks say that won’t work on a mistificated bloodsucker, but ol’ Al reckons physics is physics.” He thumbed a switch and blew what was left of the flour-cloud into nothing. Grinned. “Works both ways. Complete with handy hooks onna handle, clip it ta yer belt or what have ya.”
#36
 
-----------------
Alyce stands in the doorway savoring Al's touch.  She casts her memory back and cannot think of another time when he has swatted her arse, or even done much more than help her into or out of a car.  He did carry her back to the train when she had her breakdown, but that was certainly not the same thing.  No, this was different.  This was way different.  And it had felt good.  In fact it had felt really nice.  Shaking her head, she walks into the kitchen after him and hears him get and pop open one of the UCAS beers she had brought with her.  Her sensors see the handivac but they have a very hard time focusing on the flour as it drifts through the air.  She holds the one Al gives her and faces him.  "Oh, they are about someplace.  I think Dream went shopping and you never know where Petal is.  Nice girl, that Petal, by the way."  She shakes the handivac.  "Now, I am going to need some help with this, Al.  I cannot really see the powder and I am pretty sure it will be the same with the mystified vampire.  How about we work together on this?  Toss some powder in the air and give me a number to face so I can suck it in?"
 
For the next thirty minutes, Al tosses flour in the air and Alyce tries to catch it but it turns out to be harder than it looks and she sometimes mixes up which direction to face.  By the end of the experiment, they have it down and she is only missing a small bit.  Unfortunately, the flour supply has suffered considerably and both of them look a lot like ghosts, with white powder all over their hair, their faces, and their clothes.  There is a mess of flour on the table near Alyce and on the floor around her.  She is laughing out loud and clearly having a good time.  Stopping, she pants a bit then walks to within a few inches of Al and holds her handivac up between them.  "I think we are a bit.....floury, if that is a word.  Is it a word, Al?  If not, it should be.  We are floury.  Now, would you like a suck or a blow to try to clean you up?"
 
#41
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“Reckon a shower’ll do. Y’all can cook somethin’ while I’m in there. Or find find that she-demon, have her do it. Or jist order a curry, if’n yer feelin’ liberated. Whatever suits ya. See ya in a bit.” He wandered off to the bathroom and showered cold then hot. He didn’t figure Her plan was about anything but what She wanted, but in this case whatever She had in store for him would suit just fine. He’d said he’d get the mirror, and if they wasted a vamp, so much the better. Then he’d get about Her business. He towelled off, got dressed, found a bedroom that nobody seemed to be using, and went and lay down.
 #37
----------------
The smile stays on her face until Al leaves the room then she turns to face opposite the door in case he comes back right away for another beer or something because she does not want him to see the tears rolling down her face.  She had allowed herself to believe things might have changed with the way he had touched her, but he was so very quickly back to the other Al again, almost as if he had lowered some sort of barrier.  Without thinking, she quickly hacks the handivac in her hand and gets it going on its lowest level before running it through her hair, then her face, then over her clothing.  She will worry about a shower after she is sure Al is finished and doing something else.  Once her clothes are at least as free of loose flour as she can get them in this fashion, she runs the vac along the table to pick up all of it there as well.  Done, she carefully kneels on the floor and begins cleaning.  Her sensors cannot adequately show her the flour unless it is in a pile, so she feels along the floor, letting her heightened sense of touch tell her where the flour is and moves the vac to pick it up.  The process takes over an hour on her hands and knees, but she can smile at the job well done.
 
Standing, she puts two of the three handivacs on the counter but plugs hers in to recharge it and begins cooking a dinner.  First is a pot of water for a much needed cuppa, but she gets other food from the refrigerator as the water is boiling.  She gets the steaks broiling and begins on the salad, tossing it rather plainly because she does not know what sort of spices Dream and Petal like, if any.  Done with that, she finds her tin of Jammy Dodgers and piles up a small stack to go with her tea and sits down to enjoy it.  In her mind, she replays the moment when Al had come through the door and patted her arse, trying like hell to make sense of it.  He had not said any of his usual banter; had not called her toots, or any of the usual things, so she had assumed, mistakenly it seems, that he had meant it in some sort of intimate way.  What had she missed?????  Shaking her head, she decides that he must have had something on his mind and the pat had been completely nothing.  She smiles as she remembers how nice it had felt to just have him touch her like that.  Tea done, she gets up to finish her dinner preparations and sets the table for four. 
 
When all is ready, Alyce places the servings of steak, veggies, and potatoes at two of the chairs and the large salad bowl in the center for anyone to self-serve from.  A last check of her scanners shows that all is ready and she goes to her room, where she carefully removes her clothes so as to minimalize the spread of any flour that might be hidden in the folds and creases.  She wraps herself in a towel and leaves the room, stopping off at Al's and knocking on the door, her voice completely neutral.  "Your dinner is on the table, Al, and your seat is against the wall and facing the door.  There are a few cold beers in the fridge.  Don't let your steak get too cold.  I am off to shower."
 
In the shower, she does as thorough a job as she can with a minimal amount of hot water.  She had noticed the ARO of the sign that indicated the local hot water ration for the house and wanted to save some for the others, so a good portion of her shower is in cold water, but as the number of cold water showers in her life probably comes close to outnumbering the hot water showers, this is no real hardship for her.  Toweling dry, she wraps the towel around herself and goes back to her room to change into clean clothing before heading out to the dining room.
 
#42
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Al woke at the sound of Alyce’s call. He’d dozed off, having forgotten he’d told her to cook. A rare dreamless slumber, now broken after eight minutes. Well, no one’s fault but his stomach’s. Followed the smell of steak past the open door of the bathroom where the elf woman was showering, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. There was his meal right where she’d said it would be. Plenty of rabbit food for the hippies, too. But finding no one else in the room Al picked it up and found a sofa with an older-model trid in front to it. It didn’t get as many channels as it should have, but he found some professional wrestling and tucked in.
 #38
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Alyce dresses and walks out to find that Al has taken his dinner to the living room and is sitting on the couch watching the old trid device there.  She moves to the kitchen/dining room and takes up her dinner things before moving out to the living room to join him.  She sits on the couch that is more a love seat in length, but it does give enough room that two people can sit on it without crowding each other.  She hacks into the trid feed so that she can "watch" what Al is and finds the wrestling interesting.  Al seems content to eat and watch in silence, so she follows suit, simply being companionable without interrupting his attention. 
 
Alyce finishes eating and rises, bending over to pick up Al's empty plate from the floor at his feet where he had put it when he finished.  She moves around the rear of the couch so as not to disturb him and walks to the kitchen where she puts the kettle on for another cuppa and puts a large pot of water on to boil for the cleaning.  While waiting, she pulls another beer from the fridge and takes it out to Al, who instinctively reaches for it.  Returning to the kitchen, Alyce washes up the dishes, as well as what she had used in cooking the meal, and dries them before putting everything away.  Moving to the table, she sits down to enjoy her cup of tea.
 
#43
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Once more a young woman rather than girl, Petal joined Alyce.  After a brief pause she said in mock exasperation
 
“Humans! You are so wrapped up in your own heads that you can’t see…and I don’t mean with your eyes,” she added with a gentle touch to Alyce’s shoulder “I’ve been told it’s all very complicated and that when I’m a bit older I might understand you, eventually perhaps.  But I do understand emotion and the feelings you have for each other, probably better than yourselves.”
 
She settled down next to Alyce at the table “I know that Dream will chide me for interfering so if you want me to shut up then please say so…but don’t be so sure that the reason you aren’t as close to Al as you both seem to want is a fault of yours.  I’m not going to tell you what I see in Al, I’m not sure that would be fair without his permission, and I don’t doubt your professionalism, but we need you to be focused on retrieving the mirror… sorry, I don’t want to offend…”
 
#22
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Alyce sips from her tea and nods to let Petal know that she can continue.  When the girl is done, she puts her cup down and smiles.  "Thank you.  In my experience there is always a value in getting a second opinion and I am sure that you understand more about us mortals than you let on.  I do feel that there is something in Al's past that won't let him love me like he could and I have tried to get him to talk about it but he won't.  However, I also know that I am far too emotional when he is around and that has a tendency to send him away from me.  I am trying hard to work on that by remaining calm and just trying to accept him for what he is.  I do think I am better at that than I used to be."
 
"As to the mission, Al and I are professionals and will not allow our personal feelings to affect the mission.  Wait and see, if you doubt, and no offense taken.  Now, do you like some spices in your salad, or can I add anything to it?"
 
#44
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 Al chuckled softly to himself as he listened to the exchange - relationship counselling from a demon! After things quieted and he’d eaten a bit more, he said, “Folks that’s serious ‘bout keepin’ secrets don’t go ‘round sayin’ how they got a secret ta keep. So ya got some mystical insight into ol’ Al, you jist go right on ahead an’ git yer fifteen minutes. No skin off my nose, cuz you can read yer tea leaves an’ auras all day long, but ain’t no one know what’s in here - “ and he tapped his head “ - but me an’ the Good Lord…An’ even the two of us don’t know what lies ahead for me, cuz only one makes my fate is me, an’ I ain’t done made it yet."
 
#39
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Petal laughed “There are those that would disagree with you about Fate, but then again one of the reasons you’re here is the rather unique effect you have on Fate, so perhaps you are right…”
 
“Petal…” Dream interrupted, “Al and Alyce must resolve their relationships at another time, and without your help!”
 
“Yes boss,” she replied with a clearly unrepentant grin.
 
With an exasperated sigh Dream asked “So, are we waiting for dark?  Is there anything else we need to tackle before we leave?  Beyond a pair of gloves is there anything special I need to do to hide any forensic evidence?  I apologise for being new at this but no doubt you both started here once too and I am grateful for the experience you bring to bear on this matter…”
 
#23
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Alyce looks over at Al then back to Dream and says, "It might be good to go to the adjoining mansion in the dark, but would it not be best to try to skin a vampire in the daylight?"  She pauses and chuckles before adding, "And I am as new to this sort of B&E as you are, I suppose.  I am more used to breaking into hidden tombs where it does not really matter if any forensic is left behind.  I will have to defer to Al on this area." 

She turns to look at Al, a slight grin on her face.

#45
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“Well shee-it, why y’all lookin’ at ol’ Al? Ain’t no thief. Work fer a livin’, though I’ll allow misguided associations been somethin’ of a corruptin’ influence these last few moons. But though I can’t claim no experience with larceny, that don’t mean I ain’t an expert. First off, yeah, the courts’ll convict on a fingerprint match, though remind me sometime ta tell ya how that’s jist another gummint ploy ta keep the workin’ man onna leash. I mean, think about it, ya got what, eleven, twelve trillion folks inna world, I ain’t buyin’ they ain’t a one but what’s got the same fingerprints as another. But it’ll still git ya inna slam, so yeah, gloves. But me,” and Al held up his burnt hands, “mine done melted off when I was yay high. Ya want, I can burn yours off, or cut ‘em off, guarantee ya don’t git caught thataway. Then, ain’t no Guthrie been fingerprinted or biometricized in any other way in goin’ on five generations. Fingerprints nor dee-en-ay nor hairs nor spit gon’ burn ya if’n ya ain’t on file nowhere. But if’n ya are worried about that shit, well, ya can’t stop with gloves. Hell, these forensic guys they got now, ya need a damned spacesuit to not leave nothin’ behind. They even got what they call a temporal spectrometer - senses any dee-en-ay ya might’ve left had ya been there without a spacesuit. Theoretical forensic quantum metaphysicalities. So that’s why I say, jist don’t bother. We go in - by day like this one done said - an’ we have fun. Don’t worry so much."

#40

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