Prodigal Refused

My hands run over my deck, seeking the familiar lines and curves. Itís specially made; no screen, no keyboard. All of that is taken care of in the matrix. The deck itself is nothing special, really; a Fuchi 5. Not a Fairlight Excalibur, but it can take on anything I throw at it and more.

I shift in my chair, hearing the squeak of the wheels as the center of gravity changes. Have to get Toby to oil that later.

Toby. The thought of my chummer, roommate, and general helper changes the course of my thoughts. A hand goes up to trace the circle of my datajack as yesterday comes into frightening focus. Iíve been trying to forget it, push the entire day to the back of my mind. But the memories come too fast, too strong. My planned foray into the world of bits and bytes, images in a non-real world of silicon information, is forgotten in the shadow of the past.

I was decking some normal information, nothing important. Just cruising along, occasionally checking out the Shadowlands board. Here where the mind and the hottest code rule, I am no longer an elf condemned to live out her life in a single room. My handleís Gargoyle, and my persona looks it. A stone statue, brought to life by the rising level of magic. Powerful. Strong. Not invincible, but dreking near.

Then I got a call from Toby. Heís a troll, and the only friend I have left outside the matrix. We used to run together in the Skulls. That was awhile ago. Over a year. Seems more like a decade. That was before Ė before the Blitz. After the Blitz, as those on the streets call it, Toby got a job here as doorman. Glorified bouncer, really. But heís happy, and it pays the rent.

I cut into the feed on the telecomm down at Tobyís booth, not bothering to switch from my persona. "Yeah?" I asked. "íSup?"

"Visitors," he growled back, looking slightly puzzled.

"Yeah? So? Buzz Ďem and send Ďem on in. Jeeze, I thought the Anverís were still doing the hangover thing."

Toby shook his head. "No. Theyíre visitors for you."

My persona blinked, and the meat froze. That didnít make sense. The Skulls were the only ones who I really knew, and they were dead. There were plenty of enemies, of course, but it didnít make sense. I was no threat to anyone now outside of the matrix. Although I can do plenty of damage thereÖ

"Can I use yer eyes?"

Toby nodded and relaxed for a second. That was all I needed. I hit a special switch and a moment of disorientation later, I was looking out through the cyber eyes of a troll. My/his/our view swept from the now blank telecomm to the lobby and the two elves there.

The meat froze, and I could faintly feel a chill running down my spine. I lost contact with Tobyís eyes as memories rushed over me.

Time rewound fifteen years, to when I was four years old. Comforting arms wrapped around me, the first and last time she held me like that, actually hugging me. Then the arms let go, leaving me alone with a new family. They were the Phillips. And they hated me. I didnít realize it at the time, I just had quite a few similarities with Cinderella. I used to pretend that I was, and one day, like her, my prince would come riding up.

I was eight when I ran away. All my illusions and dreams were gone. I was an elf, and my "father", a minor humanis policlubber, was regularly beating me and using me as a joy toy. School, my only solace, had opened up my eyes to just what "playing doctor" was all about. When I confronted him that night with my newfound knowledge, he beat me worse then ever. I was an elf, a fragging daisy-eater, little more then an animal. I was lucky to have a roof over my head.

Back in my room, I decided that I was better off without a roof if this was the price. So I ran. It was entirely spontaneous, and to this day I donít know how I managed after that beating. Perhaps thatís why I managed to get away. No one thought I could, let alone would, get away.

Toby found me, and brought me into the Blazing Skulls. I found family, one more loyal and kind then the ones that I had before.

We were together for nearly ten years, an eternity for the streets. Then the Blitz happened.

The Blitz was a strike by Lone Star against the gangs in our area for something we never did. They came in and killed as many gang members, of any and all gangs, as they could find. Those were the lucky ones. The cops used tasers, stun batons, monofiliment whips, and mages. No guns; too much collateral damage. All of the Blazing Skulls were killed except for Toby and me. Toby got away clean; he was getting interviewed for the job he has now.

As for me, I got taken on by a cop with a monofiliment whip. I didnít want to fight. I ran. And he took me in the back, slicing my spine in half. By the time Toby found me, I was nearly dead. I should have died. Instead, I still live. Maybe itís because of all the beatings I used to get from my foster father.

But now I canít walk; the lower end of my spine is chunks of bone in unnatural clusters. My face barely qualifies for the name after he took his whip to it. Iím totally blind. Toby keeps trying to get me to go cyber, but I never had the heart to tell him that my spineís too messed up for cyber legs, and I canít stand the idea of cyber eyes. Besides, you need a whole optic nerve to do that. I barely have a face. And after he bought me my wheelchair, deck, and dog drone, thereís never quite enough nuyen to pay for it all.

And I was staring at her, the woman who was responsible, if perhaps indirectly, for all of that. My mother.

I swallowed in the meat, then reconnected with Toby. "Send them into the trid room. Iíll talk to Ďem there."

He nodded and walked over. I disconnected and rerouted to the trid setup for use by all the residents of the building. Toby showed them in.

I ignored the man in the hooded sweatshirt. I was only paying attention to my mother. She looked around, then shared a look with the man. "Hello?" she called out.

The trid screen flickered, then an image of my persona appeared. "What díyou want?"

She hesitated, then stepped forward, the man moving into a protective position behind her and a bit to the left. Bodyguard. Not important. "I want to talk to my daughter, Shanna Ruathal."

My persona wavered and shifted to what I would look like if the Blitz never happened. "Like I said, what díyou want?"

The bodyguard moved forward. "How do we know youíre her? Any halfway decent decker could get her image by now and use it for an icon."

My persona shrugged. "Youíre the one that wanted to talk. I donít give a frag if you donít want to."

"Wait!" My mother stepped closer, pushing the bodyguard back. "Please, Iíll take youíre word for it. I Ė we Ė just need to talk to her. To you."

"Make up yer mind, Mother," I snarled. "I do have other things to do."

She paled slightly at that. "Then you know who I am."

"How could I not?" I snarled, "after all, youíre the one who left me Ė abandoned me! Ė with those bastards."

She shook her head. "I didnít know. There wasnít anything I could do. I was on the run myself Ė"

"Oh please. Donít try and shove that drek off on me. Itís not gonna work."

She was starting to get teary. "Please, hear me out. I honestly Ė "

"Save the speeches. Iím not interested. The past is dead. Say what you want and get out."

That pushed her over the edge. She broke down and started crying. The bodyguard took her aside and whispered to her. It was too low for human or even elven ears to make out, but I was using machines.

"Why donít you wait outside? Iíll talk to her."

She nodded and left the room so Mr. Bodyguard felt free to glare at me from under his hood. "That wasnít necessary," he snarled. "Whyíd you do that? Sheís your mother, for Godís sake!"

I sneered right back. " ĎGodí decided to ignore me a long time ago, chummer. So did she. You have no idea what my life has been like."

"Actually, I do." He pushed back his hood.

For a moment, pure rage and hate filled me, cliched as it sounds. I was staring at my own face, changed in subtle ways to be slightly more masculine. I didnít know I had a twin. Then the emotions drained away.

I laughed derisively at him. "Fine, brother, you have a hint of what it was like. But you still have no idea."

"How can you say that? You donít know what my life was like."

I could feel my hands clench in rage. "Believe me. Your story is better then mine."

He stepped closer, an unconscious echo of my Ė our Ė mother. "Let me decide. I want to get to know you, find out what you had to go through. Please."

Bastard. "You have no idea what youíre asking. Get out." My icon fragmented into spots of light, then dissipated. But I stayed, listening, waiting, after zipping off a quick message to Toby, asking him to remove the elves.

"Shanna! Sister! Come back!" The kind, pleading brother disappeared, replaced with an irate elven warrior. "You have this one warning!"

"I suggest you leave. Now," Toby rumbled from the doorway.

As he was dragged from the room, my brother shouted back, "You have to leave here sometime, Sister! Iíll be waiting for you!"

I couldnít hold back bitter laughter. Leave? I have trouble getting around the apartment. He truly had no idea.

My mind wanders back to the present. Toby is the only family I have left.

The door opens and I freeze. Itís a stranger. Toby always makes sure to make some sort of noise so I know where he is. This person is nearly silent. If it wasnít for the slightly noisy breathing, I couldnít find them.

"Sister. I decided not to wait."

My hands clench into helpless fists. Damn him. He has the gall to come here, to violate my last sanctuary.

"You shouldnít have." I can hear him start at the rasp of my voice, nothing like it once was, like his is. He comes slightly closer. Probably in hopes of seeing me better. Once Toby leaves, I turn off the lights. Thereís no need for them.

"Yes, I did. I had too. We are of the same blood Ė "

"Any blood I shared with you or her was spilled long ago! I have no ties with you and thatís the way I want it!" The street accent and slang disappear. Even ten years have trouble getting past disgust going back to when I was in the corp arcologies.

"What you want isnít important. What you are is. Just because you were raised by different parents shouldnít mean blood feud."

I throw back my head and laugh, but there is no humor in it. "Do you really think thatís all there is to it? Iím peeved Ďcause I was fostered? You are an idiot. I hate her because my foster mother saw me as legal slave labor. My father saw me as a sex toy. My brothers, as a punching bag. I hate her because of this." I wheel around the chair to face him, punching up the lights. He gasps and stumbles back. I get some perverse satisfaction from that.

I wheel closer to him as he continues to retreat. "Iím under twenty years old and Iím going to live out the rest of my life in this goddamn chair, unable to see, unable to walk, the next best thing to a vegetable! Then you walk in here, unscarred , unsuffering, dammit, able to see, and say that you know what my life has been like?!" All control is thrown to the winds. "You say that all I have to do is say ĎMother, I forgive you,í and then thereís a happily ever after?! Get a clue. This is real life. Thereís no such thing."

He stumbles out the door, nearly falling over as he pelts down the stairs. Good riddance.

"Argh. Shanna? You okay?" Toby. He sounds hurt.

"Yeah. You?"

"Little woozy. He hit me with some sort of tranq. Sure yer okay?"

"Iíll be fine. I just need to deck some."

He leaves me alone.

I sit in the dark room, staring up at the ceiling I canít see as my hands wander over my deck. The world of the matrix is the only place I can be whole. The only place I can see.

But I have to wonder; what if I told her the truth? Gone for a less extreme first viewing. I know she has wealth. Sheís pretty high up in a corp. I might be able to see in the real world, be able to truly walk. It would be childís play to get my brother back in here; a matter of calling out to Toby. Then, only a small step to actually walking and seeing.

I jack in.



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